Ultimate Cult Heroes

As featured in the 28 May issue of NME magazine, musicians pick their unsung idols….

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75 Michael Rother

Michael Rother was half of the band Neu!. However, his solo stuff has really blown me away. His minimal use of melody in his songs is so emotive. The hooks are incredibly catchy, I can listen to his stuff over and over again. There’s something about his personality that I really like, too. He’s really quiet and reserved, almost the anti-rock star. He’s a guy that loves making beautiful, interesting music.



74 Scott Walker

Scott Engel, a ’60s teen idol in The Walker Brothers, couldn’t cope with fame, suffered a breakdown, joined a monastery, tried to commit suicide, then reinvented himself in 1967 as a romantic balladeer. His subsequent solo output was reduced to one album a decade, each more void-staringly abstract than the last. Walker’s music is some of the most breathtaking ever written, his voice colossal, his songwriting daring.

73 Robert Fripp

King Crimson’s ‘In The Court Of The Crimson King’ was the record that made me want to be in a band. It blew my tiny child mind. The man behind the music was Robert Fripp. Fripp felt that music offered “the capacity to re-experience one’s innocence” and listening back to ‘Zootime’, our first seven-inch, I couldn’t believe how indebted to King Crimson it sounded.


72 Taste

I listened to Rory Gallagher’s records from the age of 12 or 13. It was the glorious guitar playing that first inspired me to really go after the instrument. Not that I had any ambition then, other than just learning how to play. I saw him in Macroom in 1976. I love his early stuff, the pure energy. That was the era of the trio: Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream… and Ireland had Taste.


71 Lee Mavers

Now that Syd’s gone there is nobody else in UK music surrounded by such enduring mystique as Lee Mavers of The La’s. The perennial lost boy of Merseybeat, but he endures because of the quality of those songs he left behind: ‘Tears In The Rain’… ‘Callin’ All’… these ‘lost’ tunes are as strong as the likes of ‘Feelin’’ and (almost) ‘There She Goes’.

70 Gene Clark

He’s one of the most underrated writers ever. He was the best writer in The Byrds, but his album ‘No Other’ is one of the best albums ever made, it should be up there with ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. He got all the best studios, all the best musicians for it. Listen to him singing, listen to his words. I think he’s a great songwriter who you can learn off.

69 David Berman

When David Berman decided to stop the band I was sad, but then he put out a book of annotated drawings. Everything he does is part of the same landscape that he’s been creating throughout his career. It’s totally original, and like all the best art I feel his work is a world in itself for me to return to whenever I choose.


68 Klaus Nomi

Nomi was so confusing that none of the record shops knew where to put him. In California, he was seen as a death rocker. I’d go in my local record store and see his albums sandwiched between Diamanda Galas, Lydia Lunch and pitbull punks like Christian Death. It didn’t matter what he was singing about, he sounded dramatic and fabulous.

67 Jandek

“I drive I don’t know where I’m driving/I am I don’t know what it is to be/You can just find me floating, sometimes/down rivers of t-tears”. These were my first moments spent with Jandek, on ‘Remain The Same’ from ‘Graven Image’, and by God does it sound like you’re in there with him. He lays himself bare but reveals nothing; he is the antimatter of song.

66 Captain Beefheart

My first boyfriend had pulled out Captain Beefheart’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’ from his parent’s record collection and I knew that this was going to be a lifelong love affair. Then I heard it. It was too much for my 13-year-old mind to comprehend. I wouldn’t come across it again for another five years, when it swanned back into my life insisting on a second chance. It was the most exciting music I had ever heard.

65 Cage

He found himself aligned with Eminem in the late ’90s after rumours spread that the talented-yet-generic-sounding Detroiter had switched to emulating the semi-biographical narrative flows that defined his NYC contemporary. But if it was Em’s cartoony fun and technique that powered his meteoric rise, Cage’s reptilian rasp, gruesome imagination and extreme ‘realness’ proved at least some trump.

64 Billy Childish

I can’t think of a single person alive today who writes with such honesty. Sexual encounters with dogs, being abused as a child, kicked out of art college and feeling the wrath of Jack White are all events that have carved him into Britain’s greatest cultural icon. If you need any further convincing, look no further than Kurt Cobain’s record collection, which was littered with Billy’s music.

63 Fugazi

They have this very strict ethos about music – it has to be pure and absent of money-making schemes, they won’t charge more than a small amount for tickets to their shows, they don’t sell T-shirts… I mean, they have respect for bands who do go out and become successful and sell millions of records and make lots of money, it’s just that it’s not their kinda thing.

62 Roland Kirk

‘The Inflatable Tear’ is about how he got an eye disease when he was two, and one day the nurse who was treating him put the wrong medicine in his eye and he went blind. He can remember the last minute he could see and the first minute he couldn’t. The music is very primitive and instinctive. Like, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense because your head doesn’t, does it?

61 Stiv Bators

Oh man, Stiv Bators is probably the biggest influence on Cerebral Ballzy. His Dead Boys stage antics totally ripped off Iggy, but who givesa fuck? Cutting himself and getting blowjobs onstage and the sheer, earnest straightforward rebellion. Watch the vid of ‘Ain’t It Fun’ and you’ll see what I mean. He’s just such a stylishly badass songwriter, and his style? Second only to Richard Hell.


60 Talk Talk

They were marketed as a Duran Duran copy band, and when they realised what was going on they withdrew into themselves. You can hear on certain tunes the sound of someone desperately looking for something. I don’t know what it was, but you’ve got to go somewhere to come back with that music. They gave me something to aim at… which I’ll probably never achieve.


59 Tuli Kupferberg

Tuli Kupferberg is a favourite ‘cult’ musician of mine, though as he liked to say, he wasn’t actually musically skilled enough to play “anything but the radio”. Even through The Fugs’ later incarnations up until Tuli’s death in 2010, he continued to plough his own wonderfully unique lyrical furrow of politics, humanism, satire and outrage, sung in a voice that was more ghetto griot than pop idol.

58 Gesualdo

Gesualdo was an Italian composer who, because of mental illness, murdered his wife and her lover, and wrote music in the 16th century that was so progressive and extreme that no-one attempted to recreate his style until the 20th century. He wasn’t revered in his lifetime, and after his death he was forgotten. It wasn’t until centuries later that he was rediscovered, and his work is a huge inspiration to me.

57 Television

Television’s first record still sounds as fresh today and as all-round awesome as it did in 1977. They played Copenhagen and I saw them in this tiny venue. I got the sense that here was a real band who were really connecting with each other. Some of the songs on that first album, like ‘Friction’, are just so intricate. ‘Marquee Moon’ is one of my secret tracks for Metallica to play. I’m gonna try and sneak it in without anyone noticing!

56 STP

I’d have to choose something no-one knows about, which is STP – Julie Cafritz’s band after Pussy Galore. It was four girls from New York and it was just this great band. They were the progenitors to that whole riot grrrl sound.


55 Hair Police

They’re a noise band from Kentucky and they put out this record called ‘Constantly Terrified’. We played with them in Detroit… being onstage with Hair Police, it’s all about the drinking, being drunk, just thrashing out to that kind of music.

54 Wolf Eyes

I always describe Wolf Eyes as being this conflagration of MC5, The Stooges and the history of noise music. They play as if they are the MC5 or The Stooges – the music’s inspired by noise music history. They’re like the first ‘noise’ band to come on like a rock’n’roll band.

53 Violent Femmes

Their self-titled album was one of the very first records I considered all mine, rather than any of my older siblings’. It came out in 1983 and still sounds great. The band were these nerds who were punk, or violent toughs who were femmes, or aggressive musicians playing acoustics – it sounded so complicated and it blew open my ideas about maleness in rock. It was wussy and tough at the same time!

52 John Callahan

He’s a quadriplegic political cartoonist from Portland, Oregon, but he put out this incredible LP in 2006. It feels strange and psychedelic. I was thinking about it a lot in terms of stuff I’ve done with Conor [Oberst] and M Ward. The lyrics are amazing. He just has a crazy way of looking at stuff.

51 Arthur Lee

Leader of LA ’60s folk-rock troupe Love, Lee wrote almost all the songs, and even claimed he could play every instrument better than anyone else in the band. After two patchy albums, he conjured up 1967’s ‘Forever Changes’. His keening voice, sweeping strings, horns and acoustic guitar, should have made him a star, but instead Love simply fell apart. One of music’s ultimate cult heroes.

50 Laura Nyro

I can’t really remember how I discovered her, but I think it was through a girlfriend. I just went WOW. It reminded me of Broadway. She was a street singer, and she was a white girl singing with all these black girls. She’s as pure a songwriter as I’ve ever heard. I’m just addicted to her stuff, everything from ‘Eli And The Thirteenth Confession’ to ‘New York Tendaberry’.


49 Antiseen

They’re probably the only band in the world that would cover Anti-Nowhere League and then also cover Sun Ra. They take their music right the way across the board. And they’re also huge fans of professional wrestling (laughs). At the time I got into them, I did not like professional wrestling at all – I really have to credit them for getting me into it!

48 Moondog

Moondog was a blind street musician and poet prominent in the ’50s and ’60s. His father, when he was a child, took him to a Sun Dance, and this famously affected the way he viewed rhythm. He’d record songs in tropical bird sanctuaries or by the Hudson River, with the sound of the foghorns blaring in the background. He was hugely unconventional and original, and I love him.

47 Arthur Russell

Never to be constricted by genre or expectation, Arthur’s compositions varied from disco to folk to avant-garde classical to minimalist cello drones. The albums ‘Calling Out Of Context’ and ‘Love Is Overtaking Me’ showcase his dexterous skills at their best. Hearing Arthur’s music for the first time was so profoundly influential, like a painter discovering a new colour to use on their canvas.

46 Venom

I read this alarmist right-wing book about cults in my school library, and there was a section on satanic cults. They had a whole chapter about Venom’s ‘Black Metal’ LP. It quoted the lyrics to ‘Sacrifice’ about drinking a chalice of blood – and I remember thinking “This is so stupid and crazy.” I had to buy the album.

45 The Walkmen

They’re not peers, they’re older, but when I came to New York I interned at the studio they used to run in Harlem. Their first LP (2002’s ‘Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone’) came out before I went to college, and it had such a distinct sound. I love every song. It’s the band I’ve paid most in my life to go see.


44 The Descendents

The Descendents don’t have a political agenda or the sense of humour of a band like the Ramones. They’re straight-up suburban punk. They still have this guttural energy and anger which comes from a different place. Just because you grew up in the suburbs doesn’t preclude you from making exciting and important music.


43 Fela Kuti

Even though his music isn’t a huge influence I’d say ‘Expensive Shit’ was probably the first African record I listened to a lot. In my teens, I was into punk rock, and looking at the album cover, it fits that aesthetic. I learned the back story about Fela getting busted for drugs. It was my introduction not only to the music, but also to the political situation.


42 Black Flag

In terms of punk and hardcore, it’s gotta be Black Flag. With Black Flag, Henry Rollins established the whole touring circuit and tour ethic that bands like Trash Talk still totally follow now. They toured so hard and put 100 per cent into everything they did, and out of that they just established this whole new thing. People like me and my band are still fucking with it today, which is pretty unique.


41 Tom Waits

He’s an artist who makes me not afraid of growing old. He creates characters in his songs better than anyone I’ve ever come across. He inspired me to want to make an instrument out of human skulls. As a musician, you go through stages where you think you know everything about music or lyrics or whatever. Tom Waits made me realise I don’t know everything.

40 Ryan Adams

I like how he pretty much does what he wants to musically. He doesn’t write the music his record label wants him to and he doesn’t just try to please fans. I heard that one of the shows he played was full of songs he had just written on the flight over. Plus, he’s probably made his millions, and is married to Mandy Moore.

39 Sparks

I saw them on Top Of The Pops 2 doing ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’. I liked that somebody could get something so extreme across and yet it’s still so catchy and direct. A couple of years ago I heard this guy talking behind me about doing this European tour back in 1973. I turned around and it was Ron Mael. I completely froze. Just what do you say to guys like that?

38 Damo Suzuki

Japanese-born Damo Suzuki busked his way around Europe before being invited to join the now-legendary krautrockers Can in 1970. Otherwordly and unhinged, his unique use of melody and rhythm is timeless and inspirational. ‘Vitamin C’ and ‘Mushroom’ are great examples of his psychedelic funk style: heavy, rhythmic and perfect for the dancefloor.

37 Nick Drake

Nick Drake’s unique style of guitar-playing contributed hugely to his enduring appeal. His songs are just timeless, built on inimitable tunings and technique, while remaining totally understated. By the time of his death at 26 he had only released three albums, and while the singer-songwriter genre has a larger pool than most, he ranks alongside the very best.

36 Bob Lind

As soon as I heard this man’s voice, I was sold. The album for me is ‘The Elusive Bob Lind’. My favourite track is ‘What Color Are You?’, and the rest of the album is amazing. He started off at 23, in 1966, and has played with everyone from Jarvis Cocker to Richard Hawley. The first time I heard Bob was on Jarvis’ compilation, ‘The Trip,’ so thanks Jarvis!

35 The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew were a large group of LA session musicians in the late ’50s to the ’70s. Chances are you’ve never heard of them, but you’ve probably been listening to them all your life. They worked behind the scenes, often cutting an album in a 15-hour day. They were so good they defined an era while all the time staying totally unknown.

34 John Fahey

He first presented himself in the late ’50s as forgotten bluesman Blind Joe Death. The unbridled playing of his earlier records won me over instantly, and his later works are nihilistic and challenging. That’s what I love about Fahey. He’s made music in every decade we’ve had pop, never followed trends but always been relevant and exciting.

33 Mark E Smith

The frontman of The Fall is notorious for having a vocal delivery basically styled on a tramp shouting. After witnessing the bemused, ‘Why is that drunk man yelling at me?’ looks from those watching Gorillaz’ 2010 Glastonbury headline slot, when Smith put his unique imprint on ‘Glitter Freeze’, it’s clear that his singular vision to his craft is never likely to become part of the zeitgeist.

32 Neil Finn

He’s the biggest influence on my songwriting. My sister used to play Crowded House songs when I was younger and I was intrigued about the way he wrote. He talks in metaphorical terms; he’ll explain how much he’s in love with somebody by talking about a daisy chained up in a lion’s den. It always made a lot of sense, and as I grew older I thought I could do it too.

31 Edgar Jones

There’s a guy from Liverpool called Edgar Jones, who used to be called Edgar Summertyme. He was in the band The Stairs. He’s incredible – he’s just known as Edgar in Liverpool. That guy gets far out, man. He gets further out than anybody else. People in London seem hell-bent on pushing music forwards, but those cats in Liverpool? They’re going back in time, and Edgar goes further back than anybody.

30 Alex Chilton

I was really obsessed with his music and particularly his solo stuff. I like Big Star but I went backwards to the Box Tops and then jumped forward to ‘Like Flies On Sherbert’ and pretty much everything else. I briefly met him when I worked at Domino [Records]. I was trying to get in touch with him to get him to sign and do a record with Domino, but sadly it never happened.

29 My Bloody Valentine

When I first heard them, I was quite young and into Sonic Youth, The Jesus And Mary Chain and Dinosaur Jr. My Bloody Valentine were a band of that ilk. It might sound a bit wanky but there’s something violent and vicious, yet soft and poetic about their sound.

28 Rosemary Clooney

I love The Four Freshmen, but Rosemary Clooney is the hero I have to mention here. She did that song ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’, which I learnt by just copying her. What was it about her that I liked? Her voice! She’s a very beautiful singer, and I just like the sound of her voice. She has this great tone – I’ve loved it all my life.

27 Mike Patton

My brother came home with this CD called ‘Mr Bungle’, and I just thought, ‘What the hell is this?’ That album’s literally the sound of a toilet flushing, and then some Transylvanian organs and songs about porn and sex and… John Travolta. It really threw me. But he’s got such a range in everything he does, that’s why he’s so great.

26 Django Reinhardt

Django fused two of his fingers together when saving his guitar froma burning caravan, so folklore would have it. And yet he went on to become the best guitarist who ever lived. I used to love his records, every new chord I learned from Django would sound horrible out of context, but in context it’d be perfect. And from every chord I’d end up writing a song.

25 The Sonics

They really blow me away because they were so far ahead of their time. To hear this sound coming out of the speakers and realise it was the same time as The Beatles were singing ‘I Need You’ is incredible. It’s true punk-rock and, like The Modern Lovers, The Sonics had this late-’70s sound, but in the mid ’60s. I love finding these people – it’s really inspiring.

24 The Meters

No-one can emulate these guys. The drummer, Zigaboo, plays with that New Orleans swagger – almost behind the beat, lazily hitting the groove. Then you’ve got George Parker, just the funkiest bass player on the planet. They lock things down and then you hear the guitar and organ just floating over the top. Listening to these guys set us off in a new direction as a band.


23 Chas & Dave

Chas n Dave burst into ‘The Banging in your Head’ and two old sorts give it the old edmonton shuffle! I’m not sorry to say that by the time they do ‘Gertcha’ this libertine is engaged in the time old ritual of a good old knees up… All night they’ve nattered between songs to us like old friends, and now they introduce the encore of ‘There aint no pleasing you’. It’s irresistable.

22 Chrisma

I was in this junk shop and I came across ‘Chinese Restaurant’ by Chrisma. It had the most incredible cover, these two people outside a Chinese restaurant with the guy looking like he’s just had his face cut from his mouth to his ear. I bought it on the strength of the cover, and it was absolutely brilliant. There’s a song called ‘Black Silk Stocking’ which is just phenomenal.

21 Junior Murvin

Junior Murvin is a guy with massive talent. We made ‘Police And Thieves’ together, and then The Clash made their cover of it later. He had a very special falsetto voice, like Curtis Mayfield. An international falsetto voice, we used to say – because you could hear him very clear all over the world. And when he started we used to say he sing like a girl! Or, maybe I should say he sing like a lady?


20 Cocteau Twins

There was a joylessness and obtuseness to a lot of ‘independent’ ’80s music, and you couldn’t get more obtuse than the Cocteaus. Heaven knows what their mission was. For me, the perfect time to listen to them is when I’ve been up all night talking about books and the possibilities of reincarnation. Then I stagger home and drift off listening to ‘Victorialand’.

19 The Funk Brothers

I can’t think of a tougher, more talented group than Motown’s house band, The Funk Brothers. To my ears, no single band has slashed and burned so hard while breaking hearts and heads at the same time. The core rhythm section of Benny Benjamin, Uriel Jones, Richard Allen and James Jamerson never leaves me cold. At their best, they make me wanna claw my eyes out.

18 Lux Interior

Lux was one of the great rock’n’roll showmen/shamen. He seemed to want to burst free from his body and explode outta this world, taking his audience with him. Lux Interior and The Cramps were possessed by the wild, free spirit of rock’n’roll music and that is a truly beautiful and wonderful thing. Thanks for the music Lux. We miss you.

17 Harry Partch

I first heard Harry Partch when I was 17. I was unprepared for the sound. It was unearthly, exotic, woozy and cool. I then found out that the reason it sounded so unique was partly because he invented all the instruments only to accommodate his new pitch system. It seems obvious that in order to write your own music – why not create your own notes and instruments?!


16 Jock Scott

Basically, he’s this fantastic poet and terrible singer, spewing tragi-comic tales of crushing heartbreak, and psychedelic sex and drugs experiments in Butlins. He must be almost 60 now, but there is more fire, spontaneity and mischief in Jock than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s like a heroic drunk who’s as bright as a button.


15 Son House

When I was about 18 somebody played me Son House. I didn’t know that you could do that, just singing and clapping. It meant everything about rock’n’roll, everything about expression and creativity and art. One man against the world. ‘Grinnin’ In Your Face’ is my favourite song. It became my favourite song the first time I heard it, and it still is.

14 Wendy Carlos

With what we would consider a prototype synthesizer, she made ‘Switched-On Bach’ – the first electronic music album to be certified gold and then platinum. Wendy is responsible for people taking electronic music seriously, but her reclusive nature at the height of her success prevented her from reaching any celebrity status.


13 Delia Derbyshire

Working largely in the 60s, Delia made otherworldly pieces by recording sounds to magnetic tape, then splicing the tape with razor blades. She is responsible for the much-revered Doctor Who theme song, for which she was uncredited – all too common at the BBC at the time. Perhaps ironically, she gave up on music when the synthesizer was born, reasoning that electronic music had become too impersonal.

12 Clara Rockmore

Born in 1911, Clara was a violin prodigy whose career was cut short by health complications in her teenage years. Her future as a violinist vanished; but Clara soon discovered the theremin which, because it needn’t be touched to be played, was perfect for her sensibilities and condition. She was world renowned in her time, but history remembers her as little more than a novelty.

11 Warren Ellis

The members of Grinderman and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds are a list of cult heroes in their own right. But one of the most intriguing associates of both bands is Warren Ellis, who also plays violin in the instrumental trio Dirty Three. Dirty Three’s gigs are the kind that shoot straight into your top five of all time. And that’s mostly thanks to Warren Ellis.


10 Slowdown Virginia

It was Tim Kasher’s [from Cursive] first band. We started our label [Saddle Creek] ’cos we were all in love with this band and wanted everyone to hear it. We got all our friends to kick in money to make a CD. They were into the Pixies, high energy, amazing melodies. This was in ’93. I was 13. Up until then I wasn’t really playing music, but seeing them, I saw how it was possible.

9 M Doughty

As the frontman of ’90s New York hipster-hop ‘slacker jazz’ band Soul Coughing, he encapsulated the sound of post-everything beat music. Even stylistically, the image of Doughty wearing black-rimmed spectacles had a resounding impact. Equally accessible and cryptic in words and tone, he’s thoroughly deserving of cult status.

8 Link Wray

I had loads of people I could have chosen for this: But Link Wray was amazing. He was one of the first guitarists to take it to the next level. His record ‘Rumble’ – which probably everyone knows even if they don’t realise it – is just one of the best guitar songs of all time. My old man has got it on his jukebox, and I still think it’s brilliant to this day.

7 Jay Reatard

We’ve been fans since high school. Jay was young when he started out and you can read his discography as a timeline of his life – his progression from punk to pop, from fucked-up to a little less fucked-up. Whether he was onstage, recording, or just hanging out, he had an air of violent confidence; it made him attractive as an artist and persona.

6 Bobby Conn

I was in Chicago a few years back, and Bobby Conn gave me a copy of his first, self-titled record. It’s quite out-there, but also contains the pure pop gem that is ‘Never Gonna Get Ahead’ (a song about not using oral sex to advance your career). It draws you in to his world, which seems nothing like yours. You’ll love it, I’m sure. Whoever you are.

5 Teedra Moses

When I was about 15 my friend’s dad was always in touch with new soul records. He put his daughter onto Teedra Moses and we rinsed the life out of ‘Complex Simplicity’. She’s been out of the loop since her record label went bust, and has been writing for other artists and releasing mixtapes. But you know what? I want a new album, Teedra!

4 John Cooper Clarke

I used to pull pints in this bar and Johnny Clarke was there supporting The Fall. He came on, and while I couldn’t see him, I could hear the laughter, he was totally commanding this crowd. I first heard him when I was starting to write lyrics, and it showed me what you could be capable of with language. It really gave me a push, you know?

3 Guided By Voices

They’re the band that reassured me that maybe I could make music. When I was, like, 15, 16, I had a best friend who just knew all these bands. He would never play them for anyone, but for some reason he would for me every once in a while. He started playing Guided By Voices. It was almost like hearing for the first time.

2 Jehst

Not only is Jehst the best British rapper of all time, he’s also one the greats on an international level. He has the wordplay of a poet laureate, but the raw, uncompromising ferocity of somebody like Eminem. British hip-hop is so much more than the mainstream recognises, and the best will remain underground, where it should be.

1 Syd Barrett

No musician ever made the distinction between ‘rock’n’roll star’ and ‘cult hero’ more clear than Syd Barrett. Collaborators remember him once suddenly “wearing lipstick and high heels, believing he had homosexual tendencies”. A dark, sporadically beautiful and to this day fascinating character – and the “sporadically” bit is absolutely key.