The Top 20 Greatest San Francisco Musicians: The Complete List

See also:

* The Top 20 Greatest San Francisco Musicians: Honorable Mentions

Here they are -- the 20 greatest San Francisco musicians ever:

Cameron Paul

20. Cameron Paul
Lists of pioneering American DJs often mention the usual suspects in New York and Chicago, but go back to the '70s and '80s and you'll find a small but innovative group of S.F. spinners that laid the foundations for what would later become turntablism. In his day, Cameron Paul was a local legend, a powermixer par excellence, who held storied residencies at Studio West and City Nights, as well as influential radio shows on KMEL and the now-defunct KSOL. Cutting with godlike ease through electro, new wave, hip-hop, hi-nrg, and disco, his sets were met with reverential awe, inspiring an entire generation of DJs to hit the decks and start scratching. Yet, far from just being a local legend, Paul took the nation by storm with his Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling remix of Salt-N-Pepa's "Push-It" (aka, the version you know), and a highly sampled back-catalog of essential DJ tools on his Mixx-It label. While others might have gone on to more fame, it simply wouldn't have happened without the man who started it all. -- Derek Opperman

Steve Miller

19. Steve Miller
There are few things that scream "nerd" harder than T-shirts, posters, and school folder doodles of mythological creatures. So give Steve Miller credit that he managed to make Pegasus cool in the late '70s, after making the winged horse a symbol for his bright brand of chart-topping prog-pop-rock. And that's the thing about Miller: He's never been cool, but he's always been awesome.

Miller has been a lot of things to the commercial music canon since launching his eponymous band in the psychedelic scene of 1967 San Francisco. Since arriving like so many others in an era-defining Volkswagen Bus, the Wisconsin-born, Texas-bred, Chicago-honed guitarist/singer has presented his personae as the Space Cowboy, the Gangster of Love, and a guy named Maurice in his breezy 1973 party vibe-summation frathouse sing-along "The Joker." But through it all he's been very serious about crafting a fluid, melodic style. Miller was already seven albums into a career of winding psychedelic jams when he reoriented his approach toward pop. And though he indulged echoing interludes and 16-minute space disco explorations, he'll always be best remembered for encapsulating San Francisco's atmosphere of trippy blues into easily palatable songs that are great for a toke and a grin. --Tony Ware

Michael Tilson Thomas

18. Michael Tilson Thomas
Symphonies across the nation have been scrambling for funds and bleeding ticket buyers for years now -- leading some pop music enthusiasts to pronounce the classical genre a goner. But Michael Tilson Thomas, esteemed music director of the San Francisco Symphony, offers a glimmer of hope. His wide-ranging repertoire and innovative programming has opened San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall to audiences across the globe and has placed the organization at the forefront of the classical music world. A fierce advocate for music education and accessibility, Tilson Thomas created a popular multimedia series called, "Keeping Score" in partnership with PBS. He has led the orchestra on 13 national tours and through a landmark 12-concert festival celebrating the work of American composers of the 20th century. His work has garnered a long list of accolades, including 10 Grammy awards -- eight of which recognize his recordings with the San Francisco Symphony. Friendly and charismatic, Tilson Thomas helms the symphony through its centennial year and, certainly, for more to come. --Jessica Hilo

etta-james-from obit.jpg
Etta James
17. Etta James
As a fierce and uncompromising R&B superstar, Etta James changed the industry for female blues artists and musicians alike. James lived a rough-and-tumble life. As a child, she bounced between homes in Los Angeles before she was moved to San Francisco's Fillmore district. It was here that her singing career blossomed. James was a talented songwriter with a knack for tongue-in-cheek, which made her lyrical exploits, youthful arrogance, and sexual confidence ripe for rock and doo-wop. At 15, James and her band the Creolettes were discovered by renowned producer Johnny Otis and signed with Modern Records. She went onto a solo career with Chess Records in the 1960s. In the thick of civil rights-era politics, much of her work went undercompensated or unrecognized -- leading to long battles with personal, legal, and health issues. Despite this struggle, James toured extensively and produced a smattering of chart-topping hits. She was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and earned six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards. James passed away earlier this year after a lengthy battle with leukemia and dementia. --Jessica Hilo.

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Grace Slick and Marty Balin right on real life San Francisco and the biggest San Francisco act If you count Hot Tuna, Jefferson Starship, Craig Chaquico, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Cassidy,Paul Kantner, Mickey Thomas, Jefferson Airplane, Skip Spencer, Grace Slick the QUEEN OF Rock ,,,, not JANIS,, she died 44 years ago .... Not much to look upto! OMG HUEY LEWIS and no frickin JOURNEY? Huey Lewis was and always will be a joke !


A dj makes the list, but not John Cipollina?  Epic fail.


As a SF native, and now living in Austin, as much as the City want want to lay claim to Janis, she was Texas born and breed. Although I am a young chick to bring this up, no Johnny Mathis? He was born and went to High School in the City, I don't think his musicianship and ability to cross over at at time it wasn't the norm cannot be denied.

Bill in SF
Bill in SF

I'm as Deadhead as anybody here, but I wouldn't have whined if you'd put Carlos Santana before Jerry.  This town's had a lot of great musicians.  I'd have left off Janis, though, because even though she was a great singer and did a lot of good work here, her music was really formed in Texas.

Dan Finger
Dan Finger

A DJ is a musician? Seriously?

Also, Jerry Garcia was a TERRIBLE musician. Unless you like rambling, incoherent 'jams' where he misses half the notes and is off-key with the other half. This list is embarrassing.

Huey Lewis? I think I just threw up on my soul.


Okay, you're talking about pop artists. You left out lesser names like Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Jerome Richardson, Wardell Gray, Vernon Alley, and a long list of others who apparently don't qualify because they didn't peddle garbage.


You put a dj on the same list with MTT and Etta James - ???. Fie on you. I've got 68 yrs. experience, two degrees, and you list a dj as a MUSICIAN !!. Maybe I should add him to my trio so he can twirl hats while we're being serious.

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