Pete Davies, writing in an obscure soccer book a decade ago, explained why lowly soccer clubs such as Wrexham were important. Yes, the World Cup is the pinnacle of the soccer world, yes, Manchester United is what everyone apparently wants to see, but you need a base for all that greatness, and that base comes from the small clubs who become part of their communities. Without the small clubs, soccer wouldn't insinuate itself so deeply into the hearts and minds of fans. The daily matter of caring begins at home.
In the same vein, it's worth remembering that the Rolling Stone Top 500 wouldn't exist without a base of musicians making a difference every day in the lives of their fans. Not everyone is the Beatles; more importantly, music is better for the fact that not everyone is a star on the level of the Beatles. The music community needs the musicians who work on a different, more intimate scale.
Recently, I've had reason to think about three musicians, acquaintances of mine at varying levels, musicians who help create the community that makes a Beatles possible. These aren't artists you'll find in the RS 500, but they are every bit as vital.
I grew up in Antioch with Dub Debrie. We played in garage bands together, later made some nice music in a Hot-Tuna-Goes-Acoustic way. I went on to do whatever it is I've done, as did pretty much everyone else in all those various musical groups we formed back in the day. All of us, that is, except for Dub. More than 30 years later, Dub Debrie is still making music, nowadays with his beloved, Anne Debrie, and their musical partner Tony Conroy. You can buy their music using Paypal ... I recommend doing so ... and while you're visiting the CD page, check out the cover of Scattered Debrie, which features a photo taken by my brother David. They'll welcome your purchases, but they make their living via live performances. You probably know someone in your own area like Dub and friends, good musicians and good entertainers who do it for audiences day after day, year after year, helping people have a good time, committed to the best music they can provide. Musicians like Dub provide the base from which musical community is formed.
I first encountered Dr. Frank when he was a DJ at KALX, the UC Berkeley radio station he was attending. (This was a few years before I began my own long career at Cal ... I was still in the factory in those days.) Frank was the best DJ KALX ever had, a perfect blend of irony and love of music, known as much as anything for his "Green Eggs and Ham" rap, I suppose. I would call up the station late at night ... the nice thing about college radio is, you call them up, the DJ answers the phone ... and rant about what a great DJ I thought he was. At least he didn't hang up on me ... I'm sure he doesn't even remember it, although it was a big deal to me at the time. Frank went on to help form the Mr. T Experience, a band that is still going strong almost 20 years down the road. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Frank a few years ago for Punk Planet, and found him as funny and articulate as you might hope from someone whose songwriting suggests someone, well, funny and articulate. (His song titles all by themselves tell short stories: "I'm in Love With What's-Her-Name," "The Future Ain't What It Used to Be," "I Love You But You're Standing on My Foot.") And his blog is as smart as any you'll read. His solo album may have been called Show Business Is My Life, but reading his blog you see a human being behind the show business facade ... well, actually, the facade doesn't exist on the blog, which is one reason it's interesting (another reason is that Dr. Frank's take on current events is never what you'd expect, and when you think you've figured it out, he throws a curve ball and you're back where you started). The All Music Guide says MTX plays "Punk Revival" music, a genre perhaps made most famous by fellow Bay Area artists Green Day. But, as with Dub Debrie, there is no Green Day, no "Punk Revival" movement, without bands like the Mr. T Experience, and there are few artists at any level of popularity who have been so consistently smart, smart-assed, and fun/serious/seriously fun as Dr. Frank.
Then there's Dale Miller. Dale sits behind me at Giants games, which is how I became acquainted with him. Funny thing about ballgames, you can hear most of what the person behind you says, but none of what the person in front of you says, so Josh and Sarah, who sit in front of me, were mostly a mystery to me until I finally broke down and asked where they were from etc., while I knew very early on that Dale, who sits behind me, was some kind of musician. Some kind of musician, indeed ... he's been at it even longer than Dub Debrie. He's got quite a few albums ... I've enjoyed Fingerpicking Rags & Other Delights since I picked it up a coupla years ago, and just today I discovered Azzurro Verdi on Rhapsody ... this one is opera arias arranged for solo guitar, and it may just reflect my own musical taste, but I much prefer Miller's versions to whatever are the originals. (And what fun it was to hear the toreador song pop up in the midst of it all!)
Dale Miller, like Dr. Frank and Dub Debrie, has been making music for many, many years, pleasing listeners, creating art, and helping in the process to make the musical community a larger and better place. They aren't on the Rolling Stone list, but that's not because they aren't good enough ... more it's a case of the scale of their work being more appropriate for a smaller, dedicated audience. So when you see me offering up opinions of the Velvet Underground or the Clash or the Beatles, keep Dale and Dub and the Doctor in your mind, because artists like them are what makes music matter so much in our daily lives.