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Arizona Musicians

Music lovers 16 to 60 are likely fans of Arizona’s wide range of popular musicians. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy and Phoenix DJ Lee Hazelwood developed a signature twangy sound in a Phoenix recording studio in the 1950s. Rock legends like Alice Cooper and Stevie Nicks have inspired a generation of followers. International audiences delight in the distinctive “southwestern” blend of strings and percussion created by Joey Burns and his band, Calexico. More recently, Glendale-born Jordin Sparks is lighting up stages all over the nation after winning American Idol in 2007. These musicians and more are showcased at the Musical Instrument Museum's "I Am Arizona Music" exhibition.

Lalo Guerrero: The Father of Chicano Music

Watch Lalo Guerrero play a medley of old favorites, including “No Chicanos on TV.”

Known as the “Father of Chicano Music” Lalo Guerrero thrilled audiences from classrooms to the White House during his seven decade career. His fusion of American swing and boogie with traditional Spanish language ballads created a modern sound for an emerging culture of American-born Latinos, known as Chicanos. His eclectic musical style spanned genres from traditional mariachi, boleros and norteño to big band, Pachuco, topical music, parodies, children's music and rock and roll.

Born on Christmas Eve, 1916 in Tucson, Guerrero learned music from his mother and was to playing the guitar when he was just nine years old. Influenced by the new musical styles sweeping America, Guerrero brought this energy and innovation to Mexican folk music. His bilingual lyrics and experimentation with rhythms created a musical multiculturalism that examined Mexican-American identity while filling dance floors at the same time. His corridos celebrated multicultural folk heroes like Cesar Chavez, while songs like “No Chicanos on TV” entertained while making serious social statements.

Guerrero wrote hundreds of songs during his career, three of which hit the top ten on the Latin American charts in the U.S. and Latin America in 1950s and 1960s. International stars, including the Trio Los Ponchos, covered his compositions. His song “Cancion Mexicana” is considered the unofficial anthem of Mexico.

Guerrero was declared a National Folk Treasure by the Smithsonian Institution and has been inducted into the Mariachi Hall of Fame, the Arizona Entertainment Hall of Fame, and the Tejano Hall of Fame. In 1997, President and Mrs. Clinton presented Guerrero with a National Medal of Arts award for a Lifetime of Creative Achievement—the highest arts award in the nation. He was the first Chicano to earn this honor. And the list goes on.

Guerrero continued to make thoughtful, memorable songs well into his 70s. In 1990, Guerrero wrote “Barrio Viejo” to commemorate the Tucson neighborhood where he grew up. His 1995 album Papa’s Dream, a bilingual children’s recording with collaborators Los Lobos, received a Grammy Award nomination.

He died in in Rancho Mirage, California on March 17, 2005 at age 88. Watch footage of Guerrero reflecting on his childhood shot at the San Xavier del Bac Mission at the VAE You Tube channel.

 Father of Chicano Music Lalo Guerrero performs his song “Barrio Viejo”—a nostalgic tribute to his old neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona—at what would prove to be his final public appearance, in 2004. The event was the 40th anniversary celebration of America's first youth mariachi festival—Los Changuitos Feos.

Big Chief Russell Moore

“Almost all Indians have a natural musical talent. Every Indian schoolboy and schoolgirl should think about the study of music. It is a way-of-life and a useful and productive one. Music is a source of revelation, and a means of understanding one’s self and a means of understanding one’s fellow man.”

—Russell “Big Chief” Moore

The celebrated Dixieland trombone player Russell Moore, a Pima Indian known as “Big Chief,” toured on the international stage as a member of Louis Armstrong’s big band and leader of several Dixieland groups.

Moore was born August 13, 1912, in the Gila River Indian Community located just south of Phoenix, but moved to Chicago at the age of eleven to live with his aunt and uncle, where he studied classical music and developed a passion for jazz. His uncle taught him how to play trumpet, piano, drums and French horn before he made a trombone wail.

Moore moved to Los Angeles in the early 1930s and started working with celebrated vibraphone player and bandleader Lionel Hampton in 1935. He arrived in New Orleans, the home of Dixieland jazz, in 1939, and played with a number of jazz musicians. He is best known, however, as a regular in Louis Armstrong’s big band from 1944-1947. On the album Hello Dolly, Louis says “Take it, Big Chief,” as Moore launches into a trombone solo of the song “Someday You’ll be Sorry.”

He freelanced when the orchestra broke up, performing at venues such as Jimmy Ryan’s in New York City and throughout Europe. During the 1970s, he led his own Dixieland band and recorded his first albums, Russell ‘Big Chief’ Moore Powwow Jazz Band (1973) and ’Big Chief’ Russell Moore and Joe Licari with the Galvanized Jazz Band (1976).

Moore has played the International Jazz Festival in Paris, France, the Kennedy Center for the Arts in New York City, and many places in between. He has performed at inaugural balls for Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, and has played one of the receptions for the marriage Prince Charles and Diana. One of his favorite venues, however, was at the Gila River Indian Community, where he frequently gave concerts. In March, 1982, Moore was honored on the broadcast “First Americans in the Arts.” He died from diabetes in 1983 at age of 70.

The trombone music of “Big Chief” Russell Moore is immortalized in several jazz albums.

Duane Eddy, Lee Hazlewood, and Sanford Clark

Duane Eddy put the twang in rock and roll. His signature sound brought a new dimension to rock music and popularized the electric guitar. He is considered the most successful instrumentalist in rock history, influencing future rock artists throughout the world. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted Eddy in 1994, refers to Eddy as “one of the earliest guitar heroes.”

Eddy (born in 1938) moved to Phoenix from Corning, New York with his family when he was a teenager. A guitar player since age five (he was enthralled with cowboy songs Eddy dropped out of high school at sixteen and began playing with Al Casey in 1955. Eddy started experimenting with “twang” by playing lead on the bass strings of his guitar, a Chet Atkins-model Gretsch 6120 hollowbody. This sound matured into unabashed, gut-pulling reverberation when Eddy met Lee Hazlewood in 1957. Hazlewood, a Phoenix disk jockey and songwriter, helped Eddy develop low, haunting sounds by picking single-note melodies on the low strings of his guitar. Hazlewood, a brilliant producer, used a 500 gallon drum as an echo chamber to amplify the guitar’s reverberation during recording sessions. The result was Eddy’s signature echoing twang, evocative of both an outlaw menace and a freewheeling adventure.

Their first co-written single, “Movin’ and Groovin” earned Eddy a contract with Jamie Records. In 1958 their second song, “Rabble Rouser,” reached the Top Ten and broke Eddy as a national star. Over the next five years, Eddy released fifteen Top Forty singles and sold more than 100 million records worldwide. His album, Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar—Will Travel, charted for 82 weeks and became one of the first rock and roll albums released in stereo.

Eddy, with Hazlewood, constantly broke new ground. His musical style, containing elements of country, jazz and gospel, allowed Eddy to branch into the country and surf music genres and write theme songs for movies and television shows. The singles "Peter Gunn," "Cannonball," "Shazam," and "Forty Miles of Bad Road" helped rock and roll keep a strong outlaw feel as the genre was defining itself. His music has influenced Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, and even the Beatles. (In fact, he recorded with both George Harrison and Paul McCartney in later years.) Recently, the guitar maker Gretsh paid Eddy the ultimate homage by creating the Duane Eddy Signature Model 6120 for its line of electric guitars.

Hazlewood was not only a remarkable producer, he was a talented songwriter. In 1956, he recorded Sanford Clark singing his song “The Fool.” Featuring a smaller dose of rockabilly twang than Eddy’s music, the song nevertheless hit the billboard charts. The song’s popularity enabled Clark to open for Roy Orbison and Ray Price, though Clark himself never gained superstardom. However, the song has taken on a life of its own. It appears as a cover on numerous albums, including Elvis Presley’s Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 years old.)

Duane Eddy’s famous Gretsch guitar recorded through an echo chamber changed the sound of rock and roll forever.

Alice Cooper pioneered the shock rock scene with harsh melodies and gripping and grotesque performances throughout the 1970s. These days fans can hear from him every night on his classic rock radio show Nights with Alice Cooper, broadcast on over 100 stations throughout the U.S, Canada, and the U.K.

Original costumes from Alice Cooper’s shock rock days Black leather and gold lame clad Alice Cooper during his shock rock days.

Cooper was not always the macabre entertainer whose stage shows featured guillotines, snakes, and fake blood. He was born in Detroit in 1948 as Vincent Damon Furnier. He moved to Phoenix, after a series of childhood illnesses got his start in music with buddies from the school track team at Cortez High School. Vincent and his friends would don costumes and perform Beatles covers around the school and at local venues.

The group began performing their own songs, and soon dominated the Phoenix music scene. After several name changes and a move to Los Angeles, they realized a gimmick would help the band stand out. They chose the name Alice Cooper because it sounded meek and unassuming—exactly opposite the group’s performance style.

The band’s off the wall stage shows gained notoriety among the club scene and caught the interest of Frank Zappa, who recorded Alice Cooper’s first three albums. The band relocated Detroit, where their act was much better received, and finally scored a hit with the single “I’m Eighteen” on their third album, Love it to Death. Several hit singles (“School’s Out”) and albums (Billion Dollar Babies) cemented the band’s success. By the early 1970s, the stage show, complete with zany costumes, bizarre behavior, and ghoulish props, was a national sensation. The songs, dissonant and rebellious, captured the unrest and disillusionment of the emerging generation.

Alice Cooper went solo in 1975 and Vincent adopted the name legally. Subsequent years focused on performances, including tours, the television special The Nightmare, and a concert film, titled Welcome to My Nightmare after the solo album. Cooper’s alcoholism peaked in 1978, and he entered treatment.

In 1983 Alice moved back to Phoenix. He continued to rock and recover throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with significant breaks for fatherhood and golf. The freakshow idol developed a passion and talent for golf, and often declares that the game has significantly contributed to his recovery from alcoholism. When not on the course, he collaborated with rockers like Axl Rose, Marilyn Manson, and Rob Zombie on projects and albums.

Cooper reaped rock and roll recognition in the millennium, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, and the key to the city of Alice, North Dakota. The Nights with Alice Cooper radio show began airing in 2004.

Alice in 1977.

Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt was one of the best-known recording artists of the 1970s.

Tucson native Linda Ronstadt is one of the most versatile and commercially successful female singers in U.S. history. Over her four- decade career she became an icon for rock, pop, and country music, often by her talented arranging of other artists’ songs. She is also an actress, songwriter, and record producer.

In 1974, Rolling Stone called her “by far America's best-known female rock singer.” Not bad from the granddaughter of an Arizona rancher and the daughter of a mining engineer.  Thanks largely to a chameleon-like ability to reinvent herself, Ronstadt received eleven Grammy Awards, two Academy of Country Music awards, an Emmy Award, an ALMA (American Latino Media Arts) Award, and has released 17 gold, platinum, and multiplatinum albums in genres spanning pop and rock to country western, folk, and mariachi.

Born to a vocally talented family, singing was Ronstadt’s longtime ambition. She remembers her father, half Mexican and half German, singing with a deep baritone. She performed around Tucson with her brother and sister before arriving in Los Angeles in 1964, where she joined the folk group the Stone Poneys with a Tucson associate, Bob Kimmel, and guitarist Kenny Edwards.

Despite recognition of her talent as a singer, lack of focus and management scuffles bogged down her career for much of the 1960s. From 1964–1966, the Poneys tumbled through recordings and tours with session musicians and dubious commitments to each other and their music. (The third album of their contract, which Ronstadt finished alone, sold so poorly that she wasn’t able to collect royalties until Heart Like a Wheel went gold seven years later.) After 1966, she again drifted through a series of managers and session recorders. However, she did have some highlights, including an appearance on “The Johnny Cash Show.”

Canciones de Mi Padre, is the best-selling non-English language album in the U.S.

Her career took off after she met Peter Asher in 1972. Asher helped her wrap her album Don’t Cry Now, which achieved moderate commercial success under his direction. In 1974, Heart Like a Wheel skyrocketed to number one, selling two million copies with hits on both the pop charts (“You’re No Good”) and the country western charts (Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love With You”). This crossover success would recur with great regularity throughout her career.

After Heart Like a Wheel snagged a Grammy, her first European tour boosted her fame worldwide.  Fans loved her arrangements and song selections. By the 1980s, she had added R&B, folk, reggae, and show tunes to her performance list. Her albums sold like hot cakes.

Ronstadt collaborated throughout her career, recording with greats such as Aaron Neville and Neil Young. She formed special relationships with female artists, including Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and other female performers. Ronstadt formed a sort of professional guild with some of these singers. She, Parton, and Harris became very close, singing together on the 1987 collaboration album Trio and several follow-ups, including 1999’s Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions with Harris.

After her 1982 album Get Closer met substandard record sales, Ronstadt reached back to the early days of rock and roll for three subsequent albums. She reinvented songs as she reinvented herself, repopularizing the work of artists such as Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry to tremendous critical acclaim. She then branched even farther and released several Spanish-language albums, while continuing her collaborations and musical crossovers. She wanted to showcase the mariachi songs she grew up singing. The first album, Canciones de Mi Padre, or Songs of my Father, remains the best-selling non-English language album in the U.S. to date.

In 1990 she stepped back from full-press recording, retreating to Tucson to raise her two adopted children. However, the music lives on. Her heartfelt albums continue to sell and inspire, and she continues her musical collaborations. Her latest album, the 2006 Ann Savoy collaboration Adieu False Heart, earned a Grammy nomination. She was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Recording Academy in 2011.

Information from “Latin Music USA,” originally broadcast October 12, 2009 on PBS, and from Rolling Stone Artist Biography.

The Founding of the International Mariachi Conference

Linda Ronstadt’s appreciation of Spanish folk art helped bring the world-renowned International Mariachi Conference to Tucson!

The Tucson community has supported the mariachi tradition since the formation of Los Changuitos Feos, one of the first mariachi groups (LINK TO MUSIC WITHOUT BORDERS) in the U.S., in 1964. However, not all locations were as enthusiastic about this musical folk art. Mariachi was slowly dying out, even in its native state of Jalisco. By 1982, the Tucson community was intent on creating a way to rekindle mariachi. In 1982, the Tucson Festival Society, members of the Hispanic community, and La Frontera Center raced against the clock to pull off the first conference. Ronstadt wholeheartedly supported the effort, and used her clout as a musician to help however she could. Her promotion of the event helped it gain traction in and out of Tucson. She also pushed to establish the Baile Folklorico portion of the conference, believing that the dance enriched the music.

Mariachi was one of Linda’s numerous crossover music styles. Clip from "Latin Music USA," originally broadcast October 12, 2009 on PBS.

Stevie Nicks

Crowned the “Queen of Rock and Roll” by Rolling Stone Magazine in 1981, Phoenix native Stevie Nicks is the woman behind some of the most recognizable rock hits of all time. Despite a tumultuous personal life, she has enjoyed a quarter-century of musical success and continues to thrill audiences with solo performances and reunion tours with the iconic rock band Fleetwood Mac.

Her lifetime of solo and collective work has produced 40 Top 50 hits and sold over 140 million albums. She has received eight Grammy nominations for her solo work and has won the 1978 Album of the Year Grammy and the 2003 Grammy Hall of Fame as a member of Fleetwood Mac (as well as admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998).

Nicks began singing at four, under the instruction of her grandfather. When her parents gave her a guitar when she was sixteen, she wrote her first song the very next day. She met fellow rocker Lindsay Buckingham while attending college, and the duo dropped out in 1968 to begin a career in music. After years of struggle and lackluster sales of their only album, Buckingham-Nicks caught the attention of Fleetwood Mac on December 31, 1974—and musical history was made.

The addition of Buckingham and Nicks to the group synthesized Fleetwood Mac’s third and most critically and commercially successful period. Formed as a British blues band in 1967, the group slid toward progressive and inviting pop songs in the early 1970s. The addition of Nicks brought strong vocals, outstanding harmony, and another songwriter to the band; Buckingham brought his talent for musical arrangement. The fearless vocals and compelling lyrics on the 1975 album Fleetwood Mac, featuring Nicks’ signature song, “Rhiannon” and the oft-covered “Landslide,” catapulted the band into mainstream acclaim. 1977’s album Rumors, including Nicks’ #1 hit, “Dreams,” cemented the band’s superstardom. Rumors has sold 40 million copies and is the ninth-best-selling album of all time.

Stevie worked on launching a solo career while recording the double album Tusk with Fleetwood Mac, but tragedy would soon rock her ambitions. The day her 1981 solo album Bella Donna reached #1 on the Billboard charts, she learned that her best friend from childhood had terminal breast cancer.

For the next several years, Nicks toured and recorded with Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist. Nicks enthralled fans with her revealing lyrics and fearless delivery. Walking the knife edge between hard rocker and fantasy princess, Nicks became a style icon admired as much for her manner as her songwriting.

However, by 1986, drug use was beginning to affect her performance. After receiving treatment, she retreated to her home in the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley, a place which would become a refuge over the next ten years from continuing struggles with illness, drug abuse, and heartbreak even while she continued recording and touring. Nicks left Fleetwood Mac in 1994, not long after Lindsey Buckingham made his exit. 

The band members reunited in 1997 for the hugely successful tour and live album, The Dance. Shortly afterward, Nicks released a successful box set of her solo career. She continues to write, record, and perform. Nicks also works on her charity, Nick’s Band of Soldiers, which benefits wounded military personnel. In 2007 she sold her house in Arizona, and currently resides in Pacific Palisades. 

Stevie Nicks

Calexico: An Arizona Sound

From left: Jairo Zavala, Joey Burns, and Paul Niehaus from Calexico

It’s hard to find a band that embodies Arizona’s unique blend of culture better than the Tucson-based duo Calexico. Intricate strummed melodies layered with horns and keyboard evoke the tone of a mariachi, while introspective lyrics can resemble a honky-tonk ballad. The result is a sound that celebrates company and encourages solitude, that invites you in but keeps its secrets—a sound that revels in the blurred cultural edges of the borderlands.

John Convertino from Calexico

You could say this is exactly the vibe Calexico front men Joey Burns and John Convertino were going for. They did, after all, name the band after a town that straddles the line between California and Mexico. The two met in Los Angeles, where Convertino was playing with Howe Gelb in the band Giant Sand. Burns brought in the upright bass, and the trio moved to Tucson in 1994. Two years later, Calexico (originally named Spoke) released the album Spoke, followed by The Black Light in 1998. A concept album exploring the desert and its extremes of dark and light, the album excited critics and was designated one of the best records of the year in The Wall Street Journal. Their 2003 album, Feast of Wire, broke into the Billboard Heatseeker and Indie rock charts.

Over their next six albums (two of them soundtracks), the duo experimented with musical styles, sometimes setting indie rock elements to strains of tejano and cumbia, sometimes delving into instrumental studies. Along the way, they collaborated with respected artists such as Iron and Wine and Arcade Fire. Though Calexico is not well known in the U.S., they enjoy a measure of fame in Europe. Some listeners attribute this to the band’s ability to aurally paint the southwest in their songs. However, their music has been used in mainstream movie soundtracks and occasionally graces the NPR show, “This American Life.” Their 2012 album, Algiers, is touted as their most accessible to date.

Joey Burns reveals his favorite desert haunts.

Calexico’s Joey Burns chats about the band’s journey toward success.

Jordin Sparks

American Idol Jordin Sparks performs at the Commander-in-Chief's Ball at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. The ball, hosted by President Barack Obama, honored America's service members, families of the fallen, and wounded warriors.

R&B sensation Jordin Sparks, winner of the 2007 American Idol, is enjoying success as a singer and an actress. Sparks, at 17 the youngest winner of American Idol and the last female winner to date, sang the National Anthem at Superbowl XLII and performed at President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Ball.

Sparks’ 2007 self-titled first album sold over a million copies, and singles from her second album became hits in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. Sparks starred in the 2012 movie “Sparkle,” loosely based on the life of The Supremes, and has already been signed for her second Hollywood film. Her fun and splashy fashion sense led to a collaboration with Wet Seal on her own fashion line and her own fragrance, “Because of You…”

Spirited and spunky, Sparks is a true Arizona girl. The talented performer with the big voice swept the state’s talent competitions and even appeared with Alice Cooper in his 2004 Christmas show. Born in Phoenix in 1989, Jordin attended the Northwest Community Christian School and went on to Sandra Day O’Connor High School before she started homeschooling in 2006. Before Idol caused Sparks to fly she performed at sporting events for the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Cardinals, and Arizona Diamondbacks and won a slew of talent competitions, including Coca-Cola's Rising Star, the Gospel Music Association Academy's Overall Spotlight Award, America's Most Talented Kids, Colgate Country Showdown, and the 2006 Drug Free AZ Superstar Search. Since Idol she has received several Teen Choice awards, an NAACP Image Award, and a Grammy nomination. Keep an eye on this firecracker.