A few years ago the dearly missed Happiness Stan wrote up a piece on an English cult artist I’d never heard about before, Frank Sidebottom. Despite Stan’s typically charming and personal presentation, this artist was hard to swallow. However, I had to give Sidebottom props, at first site, for being annoyingly funny. After that post faded from The Main Stage and after Happiness Stan faded from these Hallowed Halls I never gave Frank Sidebottom another thought…until this past summer, when my wife and I were desperate to see a new movie and came across the description of something called Frank.
Did anyone outside the London squatter and tube station busking scene of the 1970s know who Tymon Dogg was before he appeared as guest bandleader on The Clash’s Sandinista, where he sings and fiddles his way through one of the 3-album set’s most-challenging long songs? The vibrato on Dogg’s voice makes Feargal Sharkey’s voice sound straighter than John Wayne.
Listening to the previously unknown Dogg take his best shot on a major-label release this morning I started thinking about other unknown or cult artists who were dragged into the spotlight on a major artist’s record. The Clash made a habit of this practice in the latter half of their career. I thought of the English folk singer, Roy Harper, who no one in America (at least) had ever heard of prior to getting called in to sing lead on Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.” Was he well known in England when he got the call (and before Led Zeppelin name-checked him)? At the risk of exposing myself as grossly ignorant, has anyone heard Roy Harper sing beside the moment the Floyd invited him to shine on like a crazy diamond?
Surely there are many other cult and unknown artists who’ve gotten their big chance in the spotlight? Who stands out for you? Are there interesting circumstances behind this person’s sudden appearance on the big stage? Did anyone grab that moment and explode onto the scene as a star in his or her own right?