history of jax music

by kellie abrahamson

in the beginning (1900s-1950s)
The earliest fame-bound Jacksonville musicians were James Weldon Johnson and his brother John Rosamond Johnson. James penned ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ in 1900 and it was performed as a poem in 1900 as part of Stanton’s celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Five years later, John set the words to music and by 1919 the NAACP had adopted the song as the Negro National Anthem.
The next big break for a local came in the late 20s when Arthur Blake aka Blind Blake hit the scene. A prolific blues guitarist and singer, Blake recorded 80 songs between 1926 and 1932, his distinct sound earning him the title “King of Ragtime Guitar.” Very little is known about Blind Blake’s life, everything from his real name to the cause of his death has been debated. One thing is certain- the music he made during his brief career has influenced blues musicians the world over.
No list of Jacksonville legends would be complete without mentioning Ray Charles. Considered by many to be one of the greatest artists of all time, Charles attended school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine from 1937-1945. It was there that he was taught to play piano and where he performed in front of an audience for the first time. In 1945 Charles moved to Jacksonville and began performing at the Ritz Theatre where he performed with Teddy Washington in the Tiny York Band. He remained here for just a year before moving on and taking over the music world.

the golden years (1960s-1970s)
Though there were a number of artists from Jacksonville that had small success stories here and there in the 50s, most agree that Jacksonville didn’t really come into its own musically until the 70s. Classics IV was the first indication that something special was about to happen in the River City. The pop rock group formed in 1965 with Dennis Yost on vocals and drums, James R. Cobb and Wally Eaton on guitar and Joe Wilson (later Dean Daughtry) on bass. Three years later the band enjoyed their first chart-topping single, ‘Spooky,’ followed by four more hits between 1968 and 1972.
In 1969, something changed Jacksonville and the music world forever and that was the formation of the Allman Brothers Band. Daytona boys Gregg and Duane Allman had gone through a number of bands (including the Almond Joys) and band mates before meeting Butch Trucks, a Jacksonville native who was performing in a local band called the Bitter Ind. (aka the 31st of February). Trucks and the Allmans were joined by Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson and the Allman Brothers Band was born. The group is said to be the “principal architects of Southern Rock,” their sound serving as inspiration for countless bands both here and around the country.
While they did form six years before the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t become a household name until 1973 when they were tapped to open for the Who during their North America tour. Another key player in Jacksonville’s Southern Rock revolution, Skynyrd produced four platinum-selling albums in as many years, each boasting a song that remains a classic to this day. Members of Lynyrd Skynyrd would go on to perform in other big name local rock acts like .38 Special and Blackfoot.
Rounding out the First Coast’s rock roots is Molly Hatchet, yet another example of Southern Rock at its finest. After a few years of performing in area bars and roadhouses, the band signed to Epic Records and released their self-titled debut in 1978. One year later Molly Hatchet’s sophomore record, Flirtin’ with Disaster, cemented the band’s place in rock history.

a new generation (1980s-2005)
While most of Jacksonville’s big-name Southern Rock acts continued on through the 80s, much of decade proved to be pretty quiet for our fair city. Sure, there were a few acts here and there that made minor waves, but nothing truly substantial came out of Jax until the Miami bass insurgence of the early 90s. The fad brought three local acts out of obscurity including 95 South, whose 1993 single ‘Whoot, There It Is’ reached #11 on the Billboard charts (not to be confused with Tag Team’s ‘Whoomp! There It Is,’ which was released a month later). A year later 69 Boyz got their break with ‘Tootsee Roll’ and Quad City DJs followed suit in 1995 with ‘C’mon ‘N Ride It (The Train).’
In 1994, Jacksonville’s scene took another turn with the formation of Limp Bizkut. The nu-metal group found significant success with hits like ‘Counterfeit’ and their spin on George Michael’s ‘Faith.’ Limp Bizkut front man, Fred Durst, in turn helped local alt-rockers Cold get their chance at stardom when he passed on their demo to an exec at A&M Records. The band was signed in 1998 and went on to produce two gold records.
Jacksonville was not immune to the pop punk resurgence of the mid-90s. Inspection 12 formed in 1994 while most of the members were still in junior high. The band was something of a regional success story and stuck around until they were finally noticed in 2000 by Fat Mike of famed punk label Fat Wreck Chords. The band transitioned to Takeover Records in 2005.
Yellowcard was not content to simply wait to be discovered. After self-releasing three CDs the punk outfit, which formed in 1997, headed to California to find their fortune. Small indie labels produced and distributed their next two efforts before Yellowcard was signed to Capitol in 2003. With singles ‘Ocean Avenue’ and ‘Way Away,’ the band became something of an overnight sensation, gracing magazine covers, performing at award shows and appearing on movie and video game soundtracks.

today and tomorrow
Today Jacksonville musicians are still making headlines and topping charts. Rock outfits Shinedown and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus have sold millions upon millions of records worldwide and indie pop phenoms Black Kids became international sensations when they hit the scene in 2006. And with emerging talents like the recently signed Shawn Fisher and the often buzzed about Sunbears! (who were recently tapped to record a song for Nickelodeon’s Yo Gabba Gabba), it’s clear that Jacksonville will be making many more contributions to music history.