Hi it’s George Knight, your humble late night host here on WUMB. If you’re looking for a thorough explanation of the mathematical relationships of vocal harmonies, or a diatribe on manufacturing techniques of sitars, you won’t find them here. For this column I’ve gone with something a bit lighter… band names.
To start off, you have your run of the mill stage names. Kristian Matsson is known to the music world as The Tallest Man on Earth. The man who was born James Edward Olliges Jr., was known for a while as Yim Yames, and is now simply Jim James. McKinley Morganfield became Muddy Waters, Ellas Otha Bates turned into Bo Diddley, Joni Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson, Elvis Costello’s birth certificate says Declan Patrick MacManus (he took his stage name in honor of Elvis Presley and his Dad, who used Day Costello as a stage name), and Doc Watson’s Mom first named him Arthel Lane Watson.
There are bands that take their names from their members. There is a Mumford (Marcus) in Mumford and Sons, but alas he is not the father of his bandmates, he just thought “and sons” sounded old-timey. Then there’s The David Wax Museum (self explanatory), and Fleetwood Mac, who were named after Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.
Some of my favorite cheeky band names include The Seldom Scene, Trampled By Turtles, The Flying Burrito Brothers – who were neither brothers nor burritos – and The Be Good Tanyas (a band that contained no Tanyas).
Then there are literary band names. New Riders of the Purple Sage got their name from a Zane Grey novel. Grateful Dead is also the title of a book by Gordon Hall Geroud, and Robert Zimmerman became Bob Dylan as tribute to Dylan Thomas.
Quite a few band name sounds like they’re one person, when they’re really a collective effort. Barnaby Bright is a band, not a person. Same with Bon Iver, Uncle Tupelo, Dawes, Gomez, Ollabelle, James, Dawes, and Elliott Brood.
And then, there is the most simple, straightforward, pure name for a musical act there has ever been. For that we thank The Band, for calling it like it is.
Thanks for letting me ramble a bit. Please join me on WUMB Monday through Thursday from ten to midnight, and Saturday noon to two. -George