Iowa-Born Musicians


According to Billboard, the song “We Are Young,” by the band fun. was the first alternative rock song to reach number one on the Hot 100 singles chart since Coldplay‘s “Vida la Vida” in 2008. Key to breaking that dry spell for alternative acts is someone with an Iowa connection. The lead singer/songwriter for fun. is Nate Ruess, who was born in Iowa City. Ruess was just five when his family moved out of state, but he still has relatives in the Iowa who he visits regularly. Iowa has had a pretty decent run lately in producing music artists of note, though the state’s previous record in the music field had been rather paltry. Apart from turn-of-the-century (that’s 19th and early 20th centuries, for anyone who wants to jump in their WABAC Machine) singer Lillian Russell, tragic twenties trumpet icon "Bix" Beiderbecke, tragic Swing Era-bandleader Glenn Miller and recently departed crooner Andy Williams, the state didn’t produce many notable musicians in its first 150 years of history.

More recently, the phenomenal success of Slipknot helped shine a spotlight on Des Moines, where the band formed in 1995. Slipknot, of course, is a nine-member alternative metal act known for its outrageous and energetic live shows. Fronted by singer Corey Taylor, Slipknot became a jumping off point for a number of side projects that have achieved a modicum of success of their own. In truth, to describe the success of Stone Sour as “a modicum” would be ridiculous. The band, whose origin actually predates that of Slipknot, was revived by Taylor in 2002 and quickly developed a massive following of its own. Among other Slipknot personnel, percussionist Shawn Crahan has used hiatuses to found the bands To My Surprise and Dirty Little Rabbits, while drummer Joey Jordison shifted to bass for his stints with Murderdolls. Still another extremely successful band of the past decade has an important Iowa connection. At age 20, Pella guitarist/songwriter Dave Keuning moved to Las Vegas, where he put an ad in a local weekly to recruit musicians interested in forming a band. The result was the alt-rock group The Killers, who have sold millions of albums on both sides of the Atlantic. The aforementioned To My Surprise featured Brandon Darner as frontman, but when Darner was asked to join The Envy Corps in 2004, it was as lead guitarist. The Envy Corps, founded in Ames three years earlier by Luke Pettipoole, has had limited commercial success stateside, but has garnered a sizeable following in England, where it has spent considerable time recording and touring.

During the nineties, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins’s low, raspy vocals were a distinctive part of the female trio TLC. Watkins was born in Des Moines and lived in the capital city for nine years before her family moved to Atlanta, where TLC was formed. TLC’s fusion of R&B, rap, soul and funk was laid down on four multi-platinum albums combining for sales of over 50 million records worldwide, making them the second-best selling female group of all time.
Greg Brown

Among Iowa-born solo artists are Mount Vernon’s Dan Bern, Fairfield’s Greg Brown, as well as his daughter Pieta Brown, born in Iowa City, and Waterloo’s Tracie Spencer, a champion on TV’s “Star Search” who went on to have several chart hits. Two Iowa-born drummers spent decades-long careers with durable pop/rock bands: the late Richie Hayward, of Clear Lake, was a founding member of Little Feat, while Shenandoah’s Willie Leacox was an early addition to America. Current Iowa bands that have enjoyed much regional and some national success include Ames’ The Nadas, Indianola’s Index Case and Story City’s Radio Moscow. Check out these Iowa musical treasures, and I mean that literally, at the Des Moines Public Library. CDs check out for three weeks, free of charge, and can be renewed up to two additional times depending on demand.