Many famous bands and musicians can trace their roots back to the banks of the St. Johns River, winding through Jacksonville on their way to musical fame and fortune. Some of Jacksonville’s homegrown talent has achieved greatness, notoriety, wealth and awards.
Ray Charles was actually born in Albany, Ga., but his family moved to North Florida when he was still an infant. After losing his sight due to untreated glaucoma at age 7, he attended the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine. It was there that he learned to read and write music in braille, as well as how to play piano. At age 15, he left school, and moved to Jacksonville shortly after his mother’s death. It was here that he first attempted to make a living by playing music as a sideman in small combos. He played at the Ritz Theater and toured in the “Chitlin Circuit,” a series of theaters, bars and juke joints that were open to black musicians. He moved to Seattle (reportedly because it was the farthest city from Florida in the continental U.S.) It was there his career took off when he met Quincy Jones, and began what would be a lifelong collaboration. His first solo hit, “Mess Around,” was released in 1953. Throughout the course of his career, he recorded more than 60 albums, won 12 Grammy Awards and was one of the inaugural inductees to the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, best known for their song “Sweet Home Alabama,” originated in Jacksonville, where they attended Robert E Lee High School. The band was originally named The Noble Five, but decided to name themselves after PE teacher, Leonard Skinner, who objected to their long hair. The song “Gimme Three Steps” was inspired by an altercation at the Little Brown Jug, a bar formerly located at the corner of Edison and Acosta in Riverside. A disgruntled boyfriend didn’t like the way his girlfriend was dancing with Ronnie Van Zant. He pulled a gun out and threatened the lead singer, who told him he didn’t want any trouble, he just wanted to leave. After making it to the car and driving away, the band wrote the song on their way home that night. Lynyrd Skynyrd was a cornerstone of Southern Rock in the 1970s, and their iconic hit “Free Bird” is one of the most requested rock songs of all time.
The Allman Brothers Band was founded in Jacksonville by Duane and Gregg Allman in early 1969. After Duane signed a contract with Capricorn Records in January of 1969, he began assembling the band. He and drummer Jaimoe were living in Jacksonville, and they began setting up jam sessions. Duane spotted Berry Oakley playing bass guitar at a club downtown, while drummer Butch Trucks was classically trained and played tympani with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. For awhile, the band performed free concerts in Willow Branch Park in Riverside. From these humble beginnings, the Allman Brothers Band has been called a founder of Southern Rock. Their live album, At Fillmore East, was included on Rolling Stone’s top 50 best albums of all-time.
Limp Bizkit, the band that did it all for the nookie, started that cookie in Jacksonville in 1995. Fred Durst, Sam Rivers and John Otto used to play gigs together here in their hometown before joining with DJ Lethal and recording their first five-song EP. They became famous through their association with Korn, and together were credited with the popularization of the nu metal genre. Their second album, Significant Other, was their first big hit with the single “Nookie.” Though the band has many critics, they certainly made an impression on the music world.
Cold is a heavy rock/grunge band that calls Jacksonville home. The band, originally called Grundig, made an impression on Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst while they were playing the Jacksonville clubs. Durst invited them to record two demos, helping them sign with A&M subsidiary Flip. The band released their eponymous first album in 1998. They’ve experienced many changes along the way, but they always find their way back to Jacksonville. They recorded Cold 2014 Live at a concert in Jacksonville Beach.
Ma$e is a sometimes successful, sometimes infamous rapper who became well-known after catching the attention of Puff Daddy in the clubs of New York. Born in Jacksonville, Mason Durrell Betha later moved to Harlem, changed his name to Murda Mase and joined a rap group called Children of the Corn. At a music conference in Atlanta, he met the then Sean “Puffy” Combs, who signed him on with Bad Boy Records. He became well-known as Puff Daddy’s sidekick and guest rapper before releasing his own solo debut, Harlem World, in 1997. He achieved much success, rising to the top of the rap charts, before surprising his fans with an announcement that he was giving up music to become a Christian minister. He worked with inner-city youth and became a popular inspirational speaker for a few years before returning to the music world in 2004, with a release titled, “Welcome Back.”
Yellowcard formed in Jacksonville after meeting at Douglas Anderson School for the Arts. Their breakout hit, “Ocean Avenue,” was named after the street in their hometown. The title track also mentions Cherry Street: “There’s a place on the corner of Cherry Street/We would walk on the beach in our bare feet.” Released in 2003, Ocean Avenue has been certified platinum. They celebrated their 10-year anniversary with a concert at Freebird Live and the release of Ocean Avenue Acoustic.
The Bold City has been mother and muse for many successful musicians throughout history. As the city continues to grow and evolve, it will surely continue to produce and inspire even more greatness.