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The Most Influential Bay Area Bands And Musicians
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The Most Influential Bay Area Bands And Musicians

Picture of Ned Cogswell
Updated: 12 January 2017
The Bay Area has long remained an important and powerful musical center since the rise of the counterculture movement in the 1960s. With the advent of pop music and commonplace musical experimentation, San Francisco and its neighboring areas have produced some of the most important musical groups in the last few decades. In this list, we will chronicle the changing musical tastes of the Bay Area and see how its music has evolved from the early 1960s.

The Seismic ’60s

Grateful Dead

This wasn’t much of a hard choice really, but it would be criminal to not include ‘The Dead’ in this list. With the rise of American counterculture and the ongoing War in Vietnam, the Bay Area exploded with a huge number of uncommon musical sounds. Although this list only features two artists per decade, most would agree that the Grateful Dead had the most impact of any Bay Area countercultural group. Founded in 1965 in Palo Alto, The Grateful Dead forever changed the musical scene by constantly exploring and combining new genres like country, folk, psychedelic, jazz, and bluegrass. If you don’t know about the Grateful Dead, you’re really missing out on a huge part of the Bay Area’s history.

Sly & The Family Stone

After debating heavily over which other 1960’s band should take this slot (and there were a ton to choose from), it was decided that Sly & The Family Stone was another integral musical force that was different enough from most ‘hippie’ or countercultural groups. Founded in 1967 by the influential Sly Stone, the group went on to essentially develop the funk and soul genre that everyone knows and loves today. With its unique multi-gender and racially mixed lineup, Sly & The Family Stone was a huge Bay Area powerhouse that shook up the world of music until its dissolution in 1975 due to drug problems and inter-member conflicts.

The Sexy ’70s


As one of the first major Latin rock groups to break out in mainstream America, Santana broke racial boundaries and went on to become one of the largest rock groups of all time. Mexican-American Lead guitarist Carlos Santana formed the group in 1967, but it wasn’t until around 1969 when the band finally found mainstream success. Having sold over 90 million records throughout its lifetime, Santana has become a huge icon to many in the Latin community. After winning eight Grammys and three Latin Grammys, they seem to have no end in sight and have an album planned for release in April of 2016.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Although they hail from the El Cerrito area, Creedence Clearwater Revival (or just Creedence) sounds just like some good ol’ boys from the heartland of the American South. Taking influences from Southern rock and blues, the band has seemingly created their own unique genre called swamp rock or roots rock. Creedence is similar to British group Led Zeppelin in that they essentially took inspiration from the South’s music and transformed it into something unique and fresh. You may often hear Creedence on the radio as they quickly became a staple of American radio play, but their real influences can be heard in modern blues and Southern rock and roll.

The Shifting ’80s

Dead Kennedys

The Dead Kennedys are often seen as one of the most influential hardcore punk band in the 1980’s punk rebellion against the overarching hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s. With its aggressive, politically charged-style of music, the Dead Kennedys were a giant middle finger to the status quo that many young punks learned to despise. Although the Dead Kennedys were influential in the American punk scene, they were one of the first bands to make a major impact in the United Kingdom. The Dead Kennedys can be seen as a direct result of the Cold War and the shifting musical attitudes of the 1980s.

Faith No More

With no real discernible genre, Faith No More has long remained an important innovator in the San Francisco music scene. Although the band has had numerous lineup changes since its formation in 1979, the most famous member is easily Mike Patton, Faith No More’s eclectic lead singer. With his incredibly impressive six-octave range and experimental style, Patton helped shape Faith No More into one of the most strange and wonderful bands to have ever come out of the Bay Area. With its most recent album release in 2015 garnering rave reviews, Faith No More is still going strong and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

The New ’90s

Third Eye Blind

Even though they are not as critically acclaimed as other members on this list, Third Eye Blind still played an important part in the transformation of the music in the 1990s. This San Francisco rock band was formed in 1993 and apparently garnered the largest publishing deal ever for an unsigned artist when they were signed to Elektra Records in 1996. A huge commercial success in the late 1990s, the band’s grunge/post rock-influenced style helped propel them to success as the band eventually sold over 12 million records throughout its lifetime. After releasing their fifth studio album, Dopamine, in 2015 and having it reach number 13 on the Billboard 200, Third Eye Blind still proves itself a powerful force nearly 20 years after its incarnation.


Although not originally from San Francisco, punk legends Jawbreaker eventually settled in the Mission District after releasing their debut album. After settling down in the Bay Area, they went on to become one of the most important acts in the 1990’s emo and punk movement. Jawbreaker became a symbol for a whole generation of unhappy teenagers in a seemingly stagnant period of American history. Although they struggled heavily as a band (with numerous draining tours and fights between members), they ended up shaping Generation X with bands like Nirvana and Sunny Day Real Estate. Along with this, Jawbreaker’s leader singer Blake Schwarzenbach became a punk cult icon and is remembered today as one of the best songwriters of the 1990s.

The Terror 2000s

Mac Dre

Rest in peace, Mac Dre. You know you’ve heard it before. Whether its Drake or Yo Gotti, countless rappers and musicians have referenced this influential 1990’s and 2000’s musician. When hip-hop finally started to gain mainstream success in the Bay Area, Mac Dre (born Andre Louis Hicks) capitalized on this and became one of the first rappers to really gain a major following. Born in Oakland and almost constantly in trouble with the law, Mac Dre left a huge footprint for other Bay Area rappers to follow. Although he was tragically gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Kansas City in 2004, he still remains a Bay Area legend and cultural icon.


The Bay Area beast with over 20 studio albums and countless mixtapes – E-40 has long reigned supreme in the greater Bay Area. Born and raised in Vallejo, Earl Stevens has rapped professionally since 1986. E-40 is almost constantly releasing new music (with 12 albums released since 2010) and has performed with nearly every major hip-hop artist to have ever existed. As well as being an extremely successful rapper, E-40 is also a businessman and self-made entrepreneur who has invested in Microsoft and even released his own energy drink, cocktail and beer. Keep up the good work E-40.

The Millennial 2010s

Lil B

Although somewhat of a controversial choice, you cannot deny the influence that Lil B (born Brandon Christopher McCartney) has had on the Bay Area and hip-hop at large. With his own brand of new age love and understanding, Lil B has made himself a symbol of hip-hop in the new century. Coining the term ‘based’ to describe a positive and tolerant lifestyle, the Based God has become extremely successful through his use of social media platforms like MySpace and Twitter. Although many people originally wrote Lil B off as a fad, he still remains an extremely popular figure who continues to show off his unique brand of music and lifestyle.


Deafheaven flipped the music industry on its head when its own style of blackmetal-shoegaze started to receive some of the highest awards in the music industry. Although a controversial band for straying from normal metal conventions, Deafheaven has continued to be extremely successful since their founding in 2010. Its 2013 album Sunbather achieved a 92 on Metacritic and garnered countless ‘best of year’ awards. Like the city of San Francisco, Deafheaven seems to be constantly evolving and changing its sound so that it always sounds fresh and unique.