Arkansas Music Poll: Acts 

Johnny Cash comes out on top.


1. Johnny Cash


Was there ever any doubt? Johnny Cash, that regal, weathered monument served 46 tumultuous years as the poet laureate of redemption and damnation, revolutionizing and ultimately defining the singer/songwriter tradition. Will there ever again be another figure who looms as large over the American musical landscape? Is it even conceivable that we'll ever see another artist who transcends musical cultures like the Man in Black? He's the great uniter, beloved by, yes, the country world, but idolized by punk, rap, metal and beyond. He's undeniably the greatest musician Arkansas ever produced but, beyond that, is he the greatest, most influential American musician, period? Watching video of Cash as a wiry 23-year-old, sweating through "Folsom Prison Blues" suggests that if he was, it took him years to realize it. But even then, from his first, hectic Sun sessions in 1955 to his final, frail American Recordings session, recorded days before his death in 2003, the sharecropper's son from Kingsland maintained a mythical status that's only grown larger since his passing.

2. Al Green


In 1974, Al Green, with a mangled, broken hand in a silk sling, hit the Soul Train stage in support of his new album, that future classic "Call Me." Now, it's hard to tell specifically what he was high on — other than just "a bunch" — as he turned the Lord's Prayer into a slurred, stumbling intro before purring and howling, gorgeously, through "Jesus is Waiting," a righteous booty jam in every sense. What easily could have been a humiliating disaster of a performance instead became one of the most thrilling performances ever televised. It's definitely one of the most notorious. Does Al Green contradict himself? Of course! Al Green contains multitudes! The sensuousness, the playfulness, the bold, graceful electricity of it all is still jarring. All at once, he's a man of the flesh, a man of the cloth and a man of mischief. But above all, he'll forever be known as the great Southern soul man, a vocalist in the ranks of Pavarotti and Piaf.

3. Levon Helm


Around 2000, when complications from throat cancer put Levon Helm's primitive tenor in jeopardy, not only a great voice hung in the balance; a living record of a bygone, Turkey Scratch, Arkansas dialect, clipped and round, was at stake. It's that instantly recognizable voice that rings through some of the greatest tracks from his time in The Band. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Up on Cripple Creek," "The Weight" — each an untouchable classic due in large part to that Helm twang. But still, he doesn't consider himself a singer. Your favorite drummer's favorite drummer defines himself as a drummer who'll use a mic if absolutely necessary. There's never been another who could drum and sing, simultaneously, with as much style as Levon, the reedy metronome jiving and bobbing away behind his kit. And he's still at it, drumming and, against the odds, singing again. Now in Woodstock, N.Y., he opens up the barn-studio, adjacent to his house, for weekly Midnight Rambles, hours-long jams featuring a rotating cast of musicians. All of whom, you can bet, owe a debt of gratitude to St. Levon, the toothy-grinned, gentleman saint of new Americana.

4. Ho-Hum


The music industry isn't known for being just. But one day, when up becomes down, white goes black and the powers that be rediscover great music, the world will love Ho-Hum the way Little Rock loves Ho-Hum. There was a small glimmer of hope that would happen in 1996 when Universal released the band's debut, "Local." But a departmental shift at the label left the Ho-Hum without promotional support, and the band parted ways with the label. Back home, Ho-Hum became a cottage industry unto itself with Playadel, its own imprint label; and over the next 10 years, the band released nine albums full of gorgeous and deceptively witty Southern pop. Few acts are as prolific, even fewer are as outright beloved. Perhaps accidentally, Ho-Hum even spearheaded the model for local music success: bands good enough to be known nationally, but content to remain hometown heroes.



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