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Essential Listening

Ten Richmond bands you should know.

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You may wonder about my criteria, particularly if you're from one of the many great bands left out. Basically, I considered a few questions that seemed important: Did the band or artist have die-hard local fans? Were they respected outside of Richmond? Did they make memorable albums that stand up today? Did I ever see them in concert, and if so, did I leave happier to be living in Richmond?

In other words, this is by no means a definitive list.

Note: All due respect to Pat Benatar, whose first album I bought in the form of a vinyl-shaped slab of gum (remember Chu-Bops?), she wasn't herself until she left town. Ditto with singer/songwriter Aimee Mann, whom I dated in the late '70s at Midlothian High School, only to unwittingly become the inspiration for the abusive opera stud in her famous '80s video "Voices Carry." Kidding.



Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters (1940s): It doesn't get much more revered in country music than these gals. All it takes is one listen to a sweetly angelic song like "Fair and Tender Ladies," and you can understand what the fuss was about. These onetime Richmond radio ladies were founding matriarchs of country music, and while little June Carter would later marry Johnny Cash and form the first family of country, it's Mother Maybelle (especially) who will be cherished as a source of inspiration as long as the history of recorded music is preserved.

Check out: the upcoming June Carter Cash collection "Keep on the Sunny Side" (Sony Legacy)



Mr. Wiggles (mid-1960s): Also known as Richmonder August Moon, "Mr. Wiggles" was the stage name he took in the mid-1960s as a fiery young R&B/soul singer — opening concerts for world-class musicians from James Brown to Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. A prolific writer and producer, the enigmatic Moon works at Urban Beat Studios on Hull Street (see Word & Image, page 15). Some call the catchy Mr. Wiggles song "Homeboy" the unofficial anthem of Richmond.

Check out: Greatest hits.



Honor Role (1983-1989): Back in the days before punk was a sorrowful MTV parody of itself, early '80s American bands like the Minutemen and H�sker D� still destroyed stages with a great presence and the songs to back it up. When bands like these needed an opener in the area, one of the groups they called was this original and inventive Richmond post-punk outfit led by guitarist Pen Rollings and vocalist Bob Schick — quite the talented pair.

Check out: "The Pretty Song" (Merge)



GWAR (mid-1980s to present): When you talk about Richmond bands, you have to mention the shock-rock metal monsters of GWAR, one of our most successful touring acts of the past 20 years. Last New Year's Eve, I watched them tear Paris Hilton in half onstage, while a tall Mohawked punk in the crowd started a fight with what looked like a posse of Aryan skinheads and a middle-aged man vomited through his nose into a nearby garbage can. That pretty well sums it up.

Check out: "Scumdogs of the Universe" (Metal Blade)



The Alter-Natives (1986-1992): This hard-rocking instrumental band was on a revered indie label (SST), but more important, it showcased a greatly expansive sound that melded elements of free jazz, punk and space rock — seemingly before its time. One of the few nights I saw their explosive live show, the guitarist was busted by a junior Nazi student cop at JMU for smoking indoors.

Check out: "Buzz" (SST)



Avail (late 1980s to present): While they didn't originate here, this product of the D.C. hard-core scene has been around long enough to qualify as a Richmond band. They've toured the world, rocking spots from Berkeley to Croatia with their catchy blend of melodic blue-collar punk fueled by honesty and sweat (and featuring the awesome talent of local drummer/artist Ed Trask, who anchored another great Richmond band, Kepone).

Check out: "One Wrench" (Fat Wreck Chords)



Bio Ritmo (1991 to present): Few bands in Richmond history have made people dance like this original salsa crew. They have played many memorable shows, like the time they opened for The Meters at the Flood Zone, and all those free Wednesday ladies' nights with sweaty women swooning down front. The faces may have changed, but the group is still making irresistible music that grooves with the best salsa bands anywhere, from New York to Puerto Rico. Richmond is blessed to still have them.

Check out: Their classic debut, "Que siga la musica" (Shameless)



D'Angelo (1991 to present): Arguably the most famous artist from Richmond to make it big on a national scale, D'Angelo (Michael Archer) won Grammys and other big-time awards for his new-school R&B and soul music that drew comparisons to the work of Marvin Gaye. Nowadays, his troubles with illegal substances seem to have temporarily derailed a promising superstar career. Here's hoping Mr. Brown Sugar can get back to making sweet between-the-sheets music. Baby oil companies are praying.

Check out: "Voodoo" (Virgin)



Labradford (1992 to present): One of the most critically respected post-rock bands, Labradford was the atmospheric sound-collage project of former Plan 9 employee Mark Nelson on guitar/vocals and Carter Brown on keyboards. The band members have since relocated to Chicago and become involved in other projects, but their heady, experimental ambient music remains cherished by indie record-store nerds everywhere.

Check out: "Mi Media Naranja" (Blast First!)



Lamb of God (1998 to present): The River City's newest metal sensation, Lamb of God — formerly Burn the Priest — is conquering the world one medieval mosh pit at a time and proving that Richmond is still one of the nation's leading exporters of disturbed, angry white dudes. Must be the water.

Check out: "As the Palaces Burn" (Prosthetic)



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