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Nick Brignola

Photo: Martin Benjamin

The 10 best Capital Region musicians and bands of the past 30 years

If you’ve spent any amount of time around the Capital Region music scene, you know that its various players are an incestuous bunch. Not like that, but it’s not unlikely to find one drummer keeping time for four different singer-songwriters, or one frontman belting it out in front of four different backing groups. So when it came time to count up the votes for this category, we faced a vote-tallying quandary: How would we tackle the more prolific or restless performers if the voters did not reach a consensus on one particular project that the performer was involved in? Steve Gaylord, for instance, has plied his wares in a few different bands (Beef, the Wasted) over the years, along with performing under his own name and as Gay Tastee; accordingly, different members of our voting pool named different Gaylord projects. So we decided to pool votes that pointed to a similar creative force. Hence, “Steve Gaylord,” as a brand name of sorts, lands at No. 5 on our list.

The pooling also helped when it came to our No. 2 and No. 7 entries. Val Haynes led the Units in the early 1980s, then the band changed their name to Fear of Strangers after another Units claimed usage of the moniker; later, Haynes cut two critically acclaimed records as Lonesome Val for the Bar/None label. Clearly, votes for any of the three acts spoke to an appreciation of Haynes’ craft, and thus she’s our No. 2 best musical act of the last three decades. Eddie Angel reaped the benefits of having been the ax-master for Los Straitjackets these last few dozen years, but his various other contributions to the rockabilly canon—particularly the Neanderthals, with fellow local boy Johnny Rabb—put him over the top and on our list at No. 7.

Other acts on our list were easier to pin down. Indeed, the remaining bands are a who’s who of bands that coulda-shoulda-almost put our area on the map: Blotto are, to this day, our area’s most widely known export; sing “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard” to anyone over 30 and they’ll either start singing along or stomp on your toes to make you stop. The Kamikaze Hearts are the youngest act here, by a few years, but quite possibly the most celebrated local act of the last decade. The Figgs and Super 400 both continue to put the “power” in power trio; both acts seem to just now be reaching their stride. The remaining three acts were simply ahead of their time: Mid-’90s rockers Subduing Mara just missed getting in on the alt-country boom; the Clay People fused industrial and metal years before like-minded acts topped the alternative charts; and Mambo-X’s world-beat-influenced pop predated the success of indie favorites Vampire Weekend by a good 20 years.

But at No. 1, with not a challenger in sight, sits the late, great Nick Brignola, looking down from the heavens with baritone sax in hand. As it should be.


Survey respondents ranked up to 10 choices, and points were tallied as follows: 10 for 1st place, 9 for 2nd, and so on.

1. Nick Brignola (49)

2. Units/ Fear of Strangers/ Val Haynes (38)

3. Tie: Blotto (35); Kamikaze Hearts (35)

5. Steve Gaylord/ The Wasted/Beef (34)

6. The Figgs (30)

7. Eddie Angel (29)

8. Tie: Mambo-X (25); Subduing Mara (25)

10. Tie: Clay People (24); Super 400 (24)

Honorable mention: Johnny Rabb (22), Section 8 (22), The Wait (20), Home (19), Lee Shaw (18), One King Down (15), Alex Torres and the Latin Kings (14), Adrian Cohen (12), Withstand (12)

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