So, after a long hiatus, I'm back with yet another edition of the Midwest music mix list. This time, we'll explore the musical scene in Iowa!
Iowa was unfortunately immortalized as the place where "the music died" after a 1959 plane crash in a cornfield that took the lives of music legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P "The Big Bopper" Richardson, but I found plenty of great musicians that called the Hawkeye state home while adding to its musical legacy.
- American Pie-Don McLean I vividly remember when McLean released this tune in 1972 and the endless controversy and interpretations of the lyrics that McLean finally agreed to reveal after selling the original song manuscript of the song in 2015. Although McLean grew up in New York and first rose to fame in California, this song about a musical tragedy in the Midwest is perhaps what people know him best for.
- Cathy's Clown-Everly Brothers Close vocal harmonies were a hallmark of the Everly Brothers' sound and the spate of hits they had during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Don was born in Kentucky and his younger brother Phil was born in Chicago, but the Everly family moved to Iowa where the boys spent much of their childhood and some of their high school years. The brothers started their careers by singing with their parents Ike and Margaret on the radio. The brothers began recording by the late 1950s and toured with Buddy Holly. While harmony was a hallmark of many of the Everly's recordings together, their life together in later years, unfortunately, wasn't nearly as harmonious. Phil died in 2014 while Don continues to record and performs as a solo act.
- Davenport Blues-Bix Beiderbecke Beiderbecke was a musician and composer known best perhaps by fans of early jazz and Dixieland music for his ability as a coronet player during a few brief years in the late 1920s. He may be even more well-known for his brief but troubled life. Beiderbecke quickly became one of the most influential jazz musicians of the era, and his legend lives on a slew of early jazz recordings, a book called Young Man with a Horn and a 1950 film of the same name starring Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall. He mostly taught himself to play the horn by ear and left his native Davenport to play in various bands and in various locales primarily around the Midwest. Beiderbecke found fame among jazz musicians and rabid jazz enthusiasts in his life time and in the early years following his shocking death at the age of 28 of ill health exacerbated by acute alcoholism. His legend and influence earned many accolades from the 1960s to the present time, and I remember first learning about him myself during the 1980s.
- In the Mood-Glenn Miller Miller was another "man with a horn" and he played the coronet at one point, although his instrument of choice was the trombone. Miller was born just a year later (1904) than Beiderbecke but his career lasted into the mid-1940s, until he disappeared during a plane flight over the English Channel in 1944. Born in Clarinda, Iowa, Miller moved around the region, attending school in Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado while becoming interested in becoming a professional musician. Miller originally worked as a freelance trombonist and became frustrated with the slow growth of his career before finally hitting his stride during the late 1930s. Miller volunteered for military service during World War II and disappeared during a flight planned to go from England to Paris. He earned a posthumous Bronze Star medal from the Army Air Forces.
- Before I Forget-Slipknot This heavy metal (and it IS heavy) came to life in Des Moines in 1995 and still lives on with its arresting image and video visuals. The band puts me in mind of the Detroit band Insane Clown Posse with its emphasis on supernatural and horror-themed images. Slipknot shows with energetic head banging, stage diving, fighting and macabre imagery and costuming can make for disturbing viewing and listening for casual listeners, but it sure doesn't look dull! The band had multiple Grammy nominations in Metal and Hard Rock categories from 2001 through the present day, scoring a win for Before I Forget (Best Metal Performance) in 2006.
- Chicken Fat-Meredith Wilson Wilson fondly remembered growing up in Mason City and playing flute and piccolo as a member of various bands as a young man, but he is best known as a composer, conductor and playwright with works like the score to Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator movie (1940), radio programs during the later 1940s and his play, The Music Man, which won a Grammy for Best Original Cast Album (Broadway or TV) in 1959. But it's his novelty song, "Chicken Fat" that ended up as the theme song for President John F. Kennedy's youth fitness program and became mercilessly embedded in the memories of school children during the early 1960s (ack!).
- Moon River-Andy Williams Andy Williams had a popular television variety show, which won 3 Emmy Awards during its 1962-1971 run. Williams sang pop and easy listening music, selling more than 100 million records worldwide. Henry Mancini's "Moon River" became one of his biggest hits. Born in Wall Lake, Williams began performing with his three older brothers while living in Des Moines and eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1943 before going on to motion picture and television stardom. He opened the Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri during the 1990s, and he lived in Branson at the time of his death in 2012.
Be sure to check out previous posts in this series that include music mix lists for Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, North Dakota, Illinois, and Wisconsin, as well as second lists for Michigan and Ohio.
Do you have favorite Midwestern artists or tunes I've yet to mention in this series? Let me know! I've yet to do Midwest Music Mix lists for Missouri, South Dakota, Nebraska or Kansas, so I'd be particularly interested in doing lists for those states, but I'd also be willing to do new lists for states I've done in the past as well.
©Dominique King 2016 All rights reserved