Music Features

Say My Name: Or, How I Named My Band After Myself

You're in a band. You and your mates are bashing around band names. You consult underground Web sites, obscure political theories, and species genealogies. You look at tree names, drug slang, hot rod pin-up girls, drug slang, character names, and drug slang. Nothing fits. But then the shy, unassuming bassist quietly says why don't we just use our names? It hits you all at the same time, like a lightning bolt. That's it!

And you have rightly entered a musical subculture. Your band is now one in a long line of proper-name bands, bands that have used either given or family names to name their band. It is unclear how far back this goes, but one would guess, pretty far.

The most successful of these, commercially and artistically, would have to be Simon & Garfunkel. Say what you will about their folk rock - all right, thanks for asking. I will. Not a fan. But this sentimentalist junk made it to the top of the charts in the 1960s and 1970s: somehow the excruciating harmonies and horrid lyrics spiked the vein of the culture in those days. Five hundred thousand people flocked to Central Park to see them, and it wasn't because of the weather.

I decided to research this little-known phenomenon of proper-name band names. What I discovered was an intriguing mishmash of groups from different genres, each with their own unique career arc and story that use this naming convention. Jazzbos, folk rockers, and pop rock bands have all decided this route beat out the agonizing search for a band name. Without further ado, in a few easily digestible categories, are summaries of the trivia, relevant information, hits, and opinions on selected proper-name groups.

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For unknown reasons, a crop of progressive rock super groups adopted the proper-name mantle in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Attempting to align themselves with jazz quartets and quintets, I suppose, was the main motivation, but unfortunately, most of the music from these groups bore little in common with jazz, with perhaps the one exception of number of notes played. Unchecked experimentation and musical drama are the name of the game here.

Anderson-Bruford-Wakeman-Howe: The Yes offshoot that didn't own the rights to the name Yes was Anderson-Bruford-Wakeman-Howe. They made one record with the great Tony Levin on bass, who for reasons unclear, did not merit inclusion in the ponderous band name. Were sued by the legal Yes faction for titling a tour and album An Evening of Yes Music Plus. Brilliantly, this group (minus Levin, though he did contribute session work) resolved the conflict with the legally entitled Yes to become an eight-piece version of Yes entitled Yes, who released the ingeniously titled record Union (the last Yes record before the halfway-decent 90215) in 1989. The Dead Milkmen pretty much nailed this one with their song Anderson, Wakeman, Buttholes and How!

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Fast facts: Masters of symphonic rock. Lit two cannons at the end of a 1970 festival show; rehearsed in a cinema; released a triple live album. Lasted about nine years. Chart peak for an album at #4, and for the single Touch and Go (after reuniting in 1985) at #2. Six years after break-up, became Emerson, Lake and Powell for one album (an album of rehearsals was released in 2003. Not sure what that says.) Main hit was Lucky Man. Main attractions were bombast, aggression, showmanship, and Britness.

Jon & Vangelis: Another priceless art rock concept group that lasted four records, featuring Yes' vocalist and a Greek composer. Best known for the strange tune The Friends of Mr. Cairo, which crept all the way up to #31 in 1981 (and was a bigger hit in Canada, apparently a place more friendly to odd singles) and features an unusual mix of synths, Jon Anderson's high-register vocals, a bizarre, spoken film noir narrative, a disco bass line, and the sound of machine guns and bullets. Riding the success of the Vangelis-composed Chariots of Fire soundtrack, this duo cleverly used the ampersand in their name rather than the more traditional "and," for reasons that remain unclear to this day.

Giles, Giles and Fripp: Winning the proper-name Blowhard sweepstakes MUST be Giles, Giles & Fripp. Pre-King Crimson Robert Fripp, with the brothers Giles, released one album that sold around 1000 copies in 1968, and they never played a live show. This group will always be associated with King Crimson, even though the Giles brothers rescued Fripp from his gig in a hotel orchestra. For some reason a collection of outtakes was released in 2001: the music, according to allmusic's Bruce Elder, is described as "a strange mixture of light jazz, psychedelia, droll humor, Goon Show-Monty Python-style comedy..." And there I must stop. As, thankfully, did Giles, Giles and Fripp.

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As a result either of the inability to agree on a band name, or just simple laziness, there are a few key entries into the proper-name band name pantheon a result of marriages. These include:

Ian and Sylvia: Married well into their musical life as a duo, ex-rodeo rider Ian Tyson and Sylvia Tyson recorded popular folk songs that eventually morphed into country and folk rock in the 60s and 70s. Actually sort of good, in 1970 the duo took part in Festival Express (with Janis Joplin and The Band, among others), a rock' n roll train concert that rocked all the way across Canada. Wrote a Canadian classic called Four Strong Winds, but divorced shortly after their recording career as a duo ended. Influential male/female harmonies and a diverse blend of musical styles have served their legacy well over the years.

Windy and Carl: Bringing da space rock to Dearborn, Michigan, Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren have been making music under this name since 1993. They run a label and own a record shop; in other words, indie music icons. Their guitar-drone music has its roots in Spaceman 3 and My Bloody Valentine, but continues to evolve to this day. In 2005, released a daring, limited edition, two-song EP dedicated to the death of Flea, a dog. Song one was called Sketch for Flea, and song two Ode To A Dog.

Paul and Linda McCartney: One album and one album only is attributed to this couple: 1971's RAM. A pleasant, quirky and loose record, it includes a few McCartney-style (is there such a thing?) rockers like Smile Again. Expectations were high after the demise of The Beatles, especially set against Lennon's unmatched Plastic Ono Band LP and Harrison's triple LP All Things Must Pass. Still, RAM begat a fruitful musical and personal relationship that birthed the band Wings, vegetarian frozen entrees, and an enormous fortune.

Delaney and Bonnie: What happens when the only white Ikette marries a famous LA session musician? Delaney & Bonnie happens! Delaney Bramlett, who unfortunately egged Eric Clapton on to sing rather than just play guitar, was a best friend of Duane Allman, and generally very well connected. It was only until they toured as Delaney & Bonnie & Friends did they receive attention, mostly due to the presence of the aforementioned and overrated Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and others. Soon, Joe Cocker and Derek and the Dominoes poached most of their band. The marriage lasted five years and Bonnie later became an actress, which goes to show you: don't get married and play music. Unless your band is Sonic Youth.

Ashford and Simpson: Talk about an equal partnership: this working relationship has lasted over 40 years and their marriage almost as long. You may have heard these songs: Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing, Let's Go Get Stoned, I'm Every Woman, Solid As A Rock, Ain't No Mountain High Enough. Yup, they wrote 'em. Plus, they have maintained a successful recording career in their own right. Numerous top ten albums and singles have helped make them a contemporary black music institution.

Captain and Tennille: Yes, still going strong into 2007! The Captain wasn't really a captain, but earned his nickname when, as a Beach Boy keyboardist, a Beach Boy called him that for always wearing a sailor's cap onstage. Covers included Love Will Keep Us Together and Muskrat Love, both massive hits. This slightly sickening and married duo had a highly successful run in the 1970s, and the Captain had to assert numerous times that the name of his group was Captain and Tennille, "not THE Captain and Tennille." Currently, the duo takes great strides to promote the orchestra of Reno, Nevada.

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As we have already spoken of the unfortunate Simon and Garfunkel, I need not write anything more about them here, except to say, WHY? The folk (and bluegrass) tradition may be one of the genres in which proper names - see forefathers such as The Stanley Brothers - are in keeping with the genre's definitions and style (see here for a comprehensive resource of folkers who go by their proper names.)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: CSN / CSNY (depending on Neil Young's mood) excel at folk/activist music, and have been doing so for many years. Songs include Woodstock, Teach Your Children, Helpless, and Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. The use of their surnames was a conscious choice of independence, so that none of the members would be tied into a band concept. Which worked nicely, because with the comings and goings of Young, there were in fact two bands at work, and the whereabouts of Young would ultimately be a brilliant marketing move. Perhaps that's too cynical a statement. Ohio reached #14 in 1970, incredible for a song that suggested that president Richard Nixon was responsible for the Kent State murders.

Peter, Paul and Mary: A super group put together by Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman, Yarrow, Stookey and Travers will always be known for Puff The Magic Dragon, a song based on a poem written by a 19-year-old. The group has vehemently denied the marijuana connotations of the song - fair enough. But the trio will mostly be known for their covers of folk songs like Blowin' In The Wind and Leaving on a Jet Plane that feature their willowy harmonies and musical simplicity. Still active, a beanbag dragon is available for sale on the band's Web site for a mere $12.

Tegan & Sara: Uber-twee Canadian folk-rock female-sister duo is maybe the most current of groups included in this group. They rose up through Canadian rock in the classic way: winning the "Garage Warz" competition in Calgary, Alberta. Neil Young became enamored of them and signed them to a record deal, and touring and general hi-jinks ensured. Pretty darn cute girls, they also have one of the worst rock n' roll Web sites I've ever seen.

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Soft rock was a genre whose effect spills over to today. Notable proper-namers of the original soft rock years (1970, say, to 1977) include:

Sonny and Cher: Sonny met Cher when he was working under Phil Spector and when she was 16: Need I say more? Changed their name from the clunky Caesar and Cleo to the better Sonny and Cher, and went on to sell upwards of 80 million records. Released two cinema disasters, Good Times and Chastity, the latter named after their child. They crossover into the marriage category, but what is notable about their lives is that they both used pop music as launching pads into careers as variety show hosts, actors, and politicians. Sonny died after hitting a tree while skiing. Cher's continued popularity is mind-boggling, which is just one man's opinion, and one report has her net worth tagged at $600 million. That's not a misprint. She'll be in Vegas in 2009.

Seals and Crofts: A spongy duo responsible for Summer Breeze and Diamond Girl, these Texas-born Baha'ists popped in and out of the charts in the 1970s, recording five gold albums and one anti-abortion screed, Unborn Child. Seals lives on a coffee farm in Costa Rica; Crofts remains in the US. Both have been very involved in the Baha'i religion, and have recorded and performed under the banner of this religion many times. Baha'ist persecution continues to this day in Iran, among other countries. Bonus Points: Jim Seals' brother is Dan Seals, who worked in a group called England Dan & John Ford Coley - England Dan being Dan's nickname due to his Beatles-loving ways and an adoption of the quartet's Liverpudlian accent.

Loggins and Messina: To create a sub-genre of music is, to me, one of the penultimate achievements of a musician's career. Fela created AfroBeat; NWA, gangsta rap; and Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina blessed us with Yacht Rock. Gracing us with songs like Your Momma Don't Dance and Thinking of You, the duo lasted about six years until Loggins felt the need to go solo and hit with tunes like Footloose, This Is It, and the lite rock classic Danger Zone. Also co-wrote with members of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. The duo followed up 1971s Sittin' In LP with 2005's Sittin' In Again, and a plush monkey wearing a vintage Loggins and Messina t-shirt is available online for $14.95.

Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds: Lesser known than the L&M partnership, this trio hit it big in 1970 with Don't Pull Your Love (Out). The group lasted three years... wait a second. When the original drummer, Tommy Reynolds, left the band in 1973, the other two members replaced him with a new singer, Alan Dennison. In a gutsy move, the newly formed trio decided to keep their name intact. This trio hit with Fallin' In Love, but soon changed their name to Hamilton, Joe Frank and Dennison, after which, in a gutsy example of karma rearing its head and slapping them upside their collective heads, they were never heard from again.

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So many bands have adopted other proper names to fit their band concept that a few merit inclusion here.

The Ramones: See the film End of the Century for pretty much everything you need to know, but here goes anyway. Not Ramones-by-birth, but in the spirit of New York greasers and gangs, adopted this tough-sounding name to overcome the potential liability of the name Hyman-Cummings-Colvin-Erdelyi. Johnny Ramone did end up actually being a tough guy: attempting to organize this group of miscreants made him unpopular both inside and outside the band. The Ramones made CBGBs famous; were the first punk rock band; ¾ of the original lineup are dead; and never achieved even minor commercial success. Bassist Dee Dee became, in 1989, the rapper Dee Dee King. He released a 12" single called Funky Man and, to even my surprise, has a myspace page. His CD goes for $60+ on Ebay.

Band of Susans: A band with (originally) three Susans, the Glenn Branca-esque outfit was big in the US underground and worked hard on the touring circuit to get their abrasive, guitar-centric sound out to the masses. At one point featuring Page Hamilton (who went on to form Helmet immediately after leaving BoS) and Mark Lonergan, they never counted less than three guitarists in the band. Leo Fender was a fan; after the breakup of the band, two co-founders, Robert Poss and Susan Stenger, briefly joined Wire's Bruce Gilbert to form a band that merits honorable mention for this article: GilbertPossStenger.

Fleetwood Mac: The origins and history of this band are nuts enough, but the fact that bassist John McVie gave part of his name to the band but wouldn't join due to making too much money with the Bluesbreakers in 1967 set the tone for much of the Fleetwood Mac story. Really, one of the most fascinating bands of rock history, the Mac is divided into two parts: the pre-Peter-Green-LSD-freak-out blues version, and the full-on studio-rock masters superstars that included Stevie Nicks and Christie McVie. I can include them here due to their name - a smashing together of Mick Fleetwood and McVie's names, actually credited to Peter Green (pre-freak-out) who named his rhythm section Fleetwood Mac - but they could also be part of the 'married couples' section due to the complexity of the marriages/divorces/love quadrangles contained within the band.

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In this section, I've put groups that don't fit the above categories; that are too original to fit any genre; and that are just downright unbelievable.

Buckner & Garcia: This group of jingle-makers stuck some microphones in front of video games in 1981 and struck pay dirt. The track Pac-Man Fever was a monstrous hit, selling two million copies, but other tunes like Do The Donkey Kong and E.T. I Love You were dismissed by their record company, and the songs-from-video-games fad quickly died. Their Web site, though, contains Flash versions of the above games, which is tremendous.

Medeski, Martin and Wood: MMW is a modern jazz / improvisational group with a nearly devotional following. Honestly, I've never heard their music, so, you ask, what can I say about them? Clues on their message board include: a deep interest in something called 'stash hats;' their improv described as "rippin'"; and taping of shows is encouraged. Then I listened to a few tunes, and some of it, I have to say, was downright funky. Sometimes John Scofield joins them to become Medeski, Martin, Scofield and Wood. Finally, a not-terrible jam band!

Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart: Yet another example of band members circumventing music business legalese. As one half of The Monkees wanted nothing to do with The Monkees and as only the four members could legally use the name together, Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz recruited Monkees songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to form this artfully named group. They toured the fair circuit playing Monkees tunes, and released one LP in 1976. In the end, the whole enterprise existed to keep the Monkees flame burning, which rode various waves of success through the 1980s and beyond. Davy Jones currently sells "Davy Jones Love Beads" for $18.00.

Hall and Oates: Part soft rock, part hair rock, part dance rock, Daryl Hall and John Oates were the natural heirs to the soft rock throne (think Sara Smile and She's Gone) until they decided to move to New York. There, to their credit, after ten not very successful LPs, they took control of the studio and the hits DID NOT STOP. Kiss On My List, Private Eyes, You Make My Dreams (Come True), Maneater, One on One, Say It Isn't So, and Out of Touch were all top ten hits. They are the most popular duo of all time and are sampled and cited everywhere. Oates also birthed the shirtless/white afro/mustached look and uttered this: "We should have an easier name to pronounce."

Peaches and Herb: A credit to perseverance, "Herb" Fame was the remaining constant in this duo. The original partnership with "Peaches" Barker lasted about five years up until 1967 when "Peaches" Barker quit. Herb enlisted another singer, had a few years of success, then retired to become a police officer in Washington, D.C. Music called him again, though, and with a third singer, hit it big in 1978 with Shake Your Groove Thing and in 1979 with Reunited. This version of Peaches and Herb became the first black performers to ever perform in China. Herb went back to law enforcement in 1983; came back out of musical retirement in 1992 with Peaches #4, and Herb and Peaches #5, as of 2007, are touring again. It unclear whether Herb remains with the police department or not.

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