David Abolafia

Appreciating the Music of Phoenix

David Abolafia

Phoenix may be known as Arizona’s Urban Heart, but it is a heart that beats to the sound of rock-and-roll. Many famous musicians were either born or got their start in this southwest metropolis, and the roster of big names spills over into pop, R&B, country and even heavy metal. Here’s a sample of who  you might find on an all-Phoenix playlist:

  • Dierks Bentley – Although he grew up in a nonmusical family in Phoenix, Bentley (who dropped his real first name, Frederick) moved to Nashville at age 19 to pursue his love of music. While working at the TNN television network, he finally got his demos heard by Capitol Records. Including his debut in 2003, he has issued a total of seven albums and been nominated for nearly a dozen Grammy Awards.
  • Glen Campbell – This country music legend (and renowned guitar player) has long been associated with Phoenix, due to his Grammy-winning single “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (written by Jimmy Webb). And in later life, Campbell and his wife took up residence there. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011 and retired from performing in 2012. A documentary about Campbell’s life, “I’ll Be Me,” was released in 2014 and his final studio recording – “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” which was written for the film – won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song and was nominated for an Academy Award.
  • Alice Cooper – First off, what many casual listeners may not know is that “Alice Cooper” was a band before it was a person. The band started in Phoenix in the late 1960s and included Vincent Furnier on vocals and harmonica. The band – whose wholesome-sounding name was chosen as a humorous contrast to its brand of “shock rock” — released seven albums between 1969 and 1973, and had hits with the songs “I’m Eighteen,” “Under My Wheels,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “School’s Out.” The band broke up in 1974, with Furnier going solo – and adopting the name “Alice Cooper” for himself.
  • Duane Eddy – Born in Corning, New York, the rockabilly guitar legend – known for his characteristic “twangy” sound – got his start in Phoenix in 1955, with the release of his first single (recorded with Jimmy Dell as Jimmy and Duane), “Soda Fountain Girl.” He continued and perfected his sound over the years on songs like “Rebel Rouser” and “Peter Gunn.” Since then, he has worked as an actor, songwriter and producer, and was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
  • Gin Blossoms – Founded in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, Gin Blossoms achieved massive success with their 1992 album, “New Miserable Experience,” behind the hits “Hey Jealousy,” “Until I Fall Away” and “Found Out About You.” Many of the songs on the album were written by singer-guitarist Doug Hopkins, who was kicked out of the band (due to alcoholism) shortly thereafter. Hopkins’ 1993 suicide prompted the title of their second album, “Congratulations I’m Sorry.”
  • Rob Halford – The man behind Judas Priest’s trademark snarl, Halford was born in England but currently resides in Phoenix. He co-wrote the band’s hits “Breaking the Law,” “Living After Midnight” and the Grammy-winning “Dissident Aggressor.” In addition to Judas Priest, Halford is the frontman for the bands Fight, 2wo and Halford.
  • Waylon Jennings – Born in Texas, the country music icon is the answer to the trivia question, “Who gave up his seat on the plane that crashed on February 3, 1959, killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper?” Jennings was part of Holly’s band at the time, and let the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) have his seat on the small chartered (and heated) plane because Richardson had the flu. Shuttling between Texas and Arizona in the early 1960s, Jennings eventually became the main artist at clubs in Phoenix and Scottsdale, where he developed his “rock tempered” style of country music.
  • Mr. Mister – Formed in Phoenix (though based in Los Angeles) in the early 1980s, the band attained huge success in the middle of the decade with the hits “Kyrie” and “Broken Wings.” Frontman Richard Page (who had resided in Phoenix since the late 1960s) stuck with his band, despite separate offers to replace the departed singers of Toto and Chicago. However, after four albums (the last of which remained unreleased for 20 years), Mr. Mister broke up in 1990. However, they achieved a modicum of renewed interest in 2009, when they were name-checked in Train’s hit single “Hey Soul Sister.”
  • Stevie Nicks – Born in Phoenix, the rock goddess (both as a solo artist and member of Fleetwood Mac) wrote her first song at age 16 and joined her first band when she was in high school. Around the same time, she met Lindsey Buckingham, who would become her professional and romantic partner. Together, they were invited to join Fleetwood Mac – an already-established blues-rock outfit from England – in early 1975. Their first album with the band, “Fleetwood Mac,” featured the Nicks composition “Rhiannon,” which would eventually be voted one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine. The album also included Nicks’ trademark song, “Landslide.” Nicks’ breakup with Buckingham was documented through music on the band’s next album, “Rumours.”

Stevie Nicks Trivia

Nicks’ song “Silver Spring,” about her relationship with Lindsey Buckingham, was not included on the “Rumours” album – despite having some of the band’s best guitar work – because it was too long. Eventually, it was released as the B-side to the single “Go Your Own Way,” which was a song Buckingham had written about Nicks!


  • Marty Robbins – The singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and racing driver was one of the most popular and successful country and western singers of all time for most of his near four-decade career. Robbins often topped the country music charts, and several of his songs also had crossover success as pop hits. Born in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, he joined the Navy at age 17 and served in World War II. During the war, he learned to play the guitar and started writing songs. Upon his return home, he began to play local venues in Phoenix, then moved on to have his own radio (and, eventually, TV) shows in town. A guest appearance by country singer Little Jimmy Dickens on Robbins’ TV show led to Robbins being signed by Columbia Records.
  • Jordin Sparks – Winner of the sixth season of “American Idol” at age 17, Sparks was born in Phoenix, the daughter of former professional football player Phillippi Sparks. Since 2007, she has released three albums, topped the Pop 100 with the song “No Air” and branched into acting on film, TV and Broadway.
  • The Tubes – An amalgam of two Phoenix bands (The Beans and The Red White and Blues Band) that met up when the two groups moved to San Francisco. Often to make money, the various members would go back to Phoenix – where they retained their popularity – and play local shows. After releasing their self-titled debut in 1975, The Tubes became widely known for their outrageous, critically acclaimed stage show, which included topical satire and subversive comedy routines. Their artistic pretensions eventually came into conflict with their pop sensibilities (epitomized by their hits in the early 1980s, “Talk To Ya Later” and “She’s a Beauty”), but the band has solidered on, and in 2007 was inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame.

To make your musical journey to Phoenix, or any of our other tune-worthy destinations, give us a call at (888) 269-0182 Mon – Fri 9am to 5pm.

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