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Black History and Classic Rock

Celebrating the African American influence


African American musicians have long been associated with Jazz, Blues, Hip-Hop and Soul music, but there is also much to celebrate about their influence on classic rock. Our great respect and gratitude for these artists as we celebrate Black History Month.

Jimi Hendrix

When it involved Jimi Hendrix, electric described more than just the kind of guitar he used -- it described his stage presence, his personal life, and his influence on rock. The list of artists who point to Hendrix as a major influence would fill several pages; a very small sample would include Eddie Van Halen, Peter Frampton, Ace Frehley, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ted Nugent, Robin Trower, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Lukather. He first came to America's notice when he played the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. He secured musical immortality with his hard rock rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock in 1969.

Billy Preston

Photo by Vince Bucci / Getty Images

Billy Preston's notoriety as The Fifth Beatle was well earned. The label on the single version of "Get Back" lists the performer as "The Beatles with Billy Preston" making him the only artist ever to get that kind of marquee billing on a Beatles release. He was a keyboard prodigy, having started playing piano at age 3, and began recording gospel albums when he was 16. Although his collaboration with The Beatles was his most famous, he also worked with a long list of artists that included Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Bob Dylan and Eric Burdon. His catalog also included nearly 30 solo albums, recorded between 1962 and 2001. He died of kidney failure in 2006.

Buddy Guy

Photo by Jeff Kravitz

Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton are among the guitarists who have proudly professed that their work was strongly influenced by electric blues legend Buddy Guy. A consummate showman, Guy has been known to play with the guitar over his head, behind his back, with drumsticks, or while cavorting with the audience. He performed with Clapton and Cream bandmate Jack Bruce, Stephen Stills and Led Zeppelin for a 1969 British film, Supershow, a documentary about blues rock. In an interview with Musician magazine, the usually taciturn Clapton said, "Buddy Guy is by far and without a doubt the best guitar player alive. [I]f you see him in person, the way he plays is beyond anyone. He really changed the course of rock and roll blues."

B. B. King

Photo by Rob Loud / Getty Images

Hendrix, Guy, and Clapton are among the many who cite electric blues master B.B. King as a primary influence. King ranks third (behind Hendrix and Duane Allman) on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Now in his 80s, King still performs occasionally, at events like Clapton's Crossroads Festival in 2007 and the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in 2008. It is estimated that he has played more than 15,000 live performances over the course of more than 50 years.

Richie Havens

Photo by Jim Dyson / Getty Images

To say that folk rocker Richie Havens was a good choice to open the Woodstock festival in 1969 would be an understatement. The crowd gave him a nearly continuous standing ovation throughout his performances, and he stopped doing encores only because he ran out of songs. His distinctive guitar work and soulful vocals have put him in high demand since he began working his way though the Greenwich Village coffee house circuit (along with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez) in the mid-60s In 2009, he returned to the site of the original Woodstock festival for a 40th anniversary performance at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Havens died of a heart attack in 2013 at age 72.

Clarence Clemons

Photo by Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images
The E Street Band would have been quite different without the presence of The Big Man, saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Had he been able to pursue his original dream, he would have been a pro football player, but after he was injured playing college ball (as a lineman for Maryland) he turned to music. He met Bruce Springsteen in 1973 when both were playing bars in Asbury Park, New Jersey. They continued to be close personal friends, and band mates, until Clemons' death in 2011. His sax was a key element in the band's sound, most famously, his long solo in "Jungleland." He also recorded with Jackson Browne and Aretha Franklin.

Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson

Photo by Danny Clinch, courtesy Evolution Talent

When Duane Allman was putting together his Allman Brothers Band in 1969, his first recruit was Jaimoe, a drummer who had been touring for several years with Otis Redding, and Sam & Dave. A back injury forced him to leave the Allmans in 1980, and the band split up two years later. When the band was reincarnated in 1989, Jaimoe was there, playing a key part of the band's subsequent resurgence of popularity.

Sam Clayton

Courtesy Little Feat

Sam Clayton has been an integral part of Little Feat since 1972, before which he played with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. Percussionist and vocalist Clayton has appeared on all but two of the band's 25 albums. Feat, best known for songs like "Oh, Atlanta" and "Dixie Chicken," and albums like Feats Don't Fail Me Now and Sailin' Shoes have earned the admiration of fans and fellow musicians alike. Jimmy Page (ex-Led Zeppelin) has called them "my favorite American group." Says Bonnie Raitt, "I heard Sailin' Shoes and went crazy. Musically, they're my favorite band."

Lonnie Jordan

Photo by Vince Bucci / Getty Images
Keyboardist Lonnie Jordan has the distinction of being the only original member of War still in the lineup. The multi-racial band, the brainchild of Eric Burdon (ex-The Animals) and producer Jerry Goldstein, was part psychedelic, part funk rock, part reggae. They used music to take a stand against racism, crime, and hunger. Best known for songs like "Spill The Wine," "Low Rider" and "Why Can't We Be Friends," War have performed and recorded continuously since forming in 1969.
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