You may have heard: a little music festival by the name of South by Southwest is happening in Austin, Texas, this week.
Over the past couple of decades, the annual gathering has brought together a motley crew of stylish musicians—spanning the eras of grunge to rap to whatever it is we’re calling that thing where a skinny guy playing a tambourine wears a trilby and suspenders with a white T-shirt—so we thought we’d take a look back at the festival’s illustrious history of onstage fashion.
People tend to forget that well into the ’50s and ’60s, before rock and roll really took hold, jazz musicians were still the epitome of subculture cool—and they’d gotten even cooler since the raucous ’20s of ragtime in speakeasies.
So when Charlie Parker hit the West Coast for a string of gigs in 1951 and chose an up-and-comer by the name of Chet Baker to play with him, a new subculture star was born. He may never get the biopic treatment like Ray or Cash, but his story runs about the same—just swap in a trumpet and Baker’s magnificent head of hair.
Chet spent his formative years in the Army and was still sporting the preppy civilian style he’d picked up on base during his rise to stardom. And you can see documents of the style continue in his wardrobe as his life visibly unraveled—succumbing to the same vices that plagued most of the greats at the time (which, sadly, he would never fully get over). He was a jazz legend, a stylish dude and an all-around badass...
It was with great pleasure that we were able to witness a bona fide Kempt style icon on stage last weekend. Yes, Huey Lewis, who delivered his famous brand of News, on the 30th-anniversary tour of his seminal album, Sports.
(The weather, by the way, was fantastically humid.)
Looking very much his handsome self performing for a black-tie benefit at the Saint Louis Zoo of all places, Lewis and the News brought it hard, with what could only be called a barrage of certified hits, those songs that everyone knows as soon as the first chord drops. “I Want a New Drug,” “If This Is It,” “Heart and Soul,” the list went on. A little “Power of Love” here. Some “Stuck with You” there. Sadly, Gwyneth couldn’t make it for a “Cruisin’” reprise.
The red carpet at a music awards show is often host to the most egregious of questionable fashion choices—mostly because musicians have never been ones to shy from experimentation or making statements.
Which is why we were happy to learn that a few prudent musicians chose to wear Billy Reid—it paid off especially for the Mumford boys as they collected the big award of the night, looking like the sort of guys you’d want to hear crooning with banjos despite their British accents. The other group that wore Billy’s stuff was equally well suited for the task, being fellow Southern natives, the Alabama Shakes. Even their songstress, Brittany Howard, wore a custom-made dress from Reid—lest you forget the man has mastered both sides of the aisle.
Long ago, in a mythical place known as Minneapolis, a baby named Prince Rogers Nelson was born. The ancient texts don’t mention whether he came out wielding a guitar and wailing in a dolphin-like falsetto (but it’s safe to assume he did).
There’s a fine sartorial line between Neil Young and, say, Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard. Both subscribe to function over form. Rather than laying out tomorrow’s clothes the night before, more often than not they simply wear last night’s clothes tomorrow. If they own mirrors, they’re of the rear-view variety. Neither is particularly attractive, yet both are widely beloved.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of the Civil Rights Movement, it was the age of funkiness, it was... the ’60s and ’70s.
And no one made that transition look (or sound) better than Curtis Mayfield. He lent a soundtrack to Martin Luther King Jr.’s message in the ’60s, and he lent a soundtrack to the blaxploitation film Super Fly in the ’70s, injecting some much-needed social consciousness into a wayward genre while also shaping a sound still found in rhythm and blues today. (A young Kanye West built his early career on sampling his Chicagoan forefather.) And all along the way, Curtis managed to match his musical creativity with equal measures of sartorial flamboyance—from gray flannel suits to bow ties to funkadelic leisurewear.
With all the mudslinging happening in Wisconsin this week, we couldn’t help but think of all the other Scott Walkers out there in the world. Their name being cursed by thousands if not millions of Americans, through no fault of their own.
And one especially stylish and enigmatic Scott Walker came to mind: the Ohioan-turned-Brit singer, bass player and songwriter who was on track to be a superstar before leaving it all behind in the ’60s.
He made waves overseas with his band, the Walker Brothers, and later on, as a solo act, gaining notoriety from the likes of David Bowie just before disappearing entirely from the spotlight. Before walking away, he spent a few dapper years in the limelight. There were scarves indoors, corduroy blazers and almost always a pair of sunglasses. It’s the stuff ’60s rock star legends are made of.
Sad news today, as word came down that beloved Band drummer Levon Helm is in the final stages. Our hearts go out to the man—a great musician and an icon to anyone who’s ever thought about holing up in a house in the country with a band and a few microphones. He’ll be missed.
A good funk drumbeat is a thing of beauty. The thump of the kick, the shiver of the hi-hat—but without the right ears, you might never be able to figure out what the drummer’s actually doing back there.
That’s where the Funklet comes in. It’s an interactive guide to those mysterious beats, courtesy of a lifelong funk aficionado and some clever Web work. So if you want to break down a classic funk beat—say, the powerful break from Bill Withers’s “Use Me”—the Funklet can show you the exact notation along with an interactive play-through tool that lets you speed it up and isolate the channels, along with a few other toys.
For the rhythmically inclined, it’s a pretty cool way to while away a Thursday afternoon. And for everyone else...there’s still time to learn.