Fans love to brag about the big-time football talent from their school. No matter how great your college's biology or education program may be, it's hard to beat the feeling of a shout-out in the Monday Night Football starting lineup.
What would happen if we treated our music stars the same way?
We love our favorite musicians and loathe others just like we do with football. However, since they rarely name their alma mater on TV we don't tend to brag about them as much as we do with athletes. Today we're flipping that on its head to mine out the best musical talent from each city in the Sun Belt.
Since many schools in the conference lie in true college (read: small) towns, we've set a low bar. If famous musician X was born in, lived in or attended school in your favorite Sun Belt city, they're in. Even this lenient criteria left some obscure names in a few places (if you can prove Kanye West has stayed in a Las Cruces hotel, he may make the list).
With no further delay, we travel the 11 cities in alphabetical order:
Georgia State (Atlanta, Georgia): Outkast
MEDIA MARKET! MEDIA MARKET! This is the kind of cultural relevance the Sun Belt was after in inviting Georgia State. You could dedicate an entire website just to the ongoing parade of hip-hop talent flowing out of Atlanta. The ATL has become the undisputed capital of the genre.
It's hard to believe now, but Outkast put the South on the map. Before rap was Southern, it came from New York, and then from the West Coast. In 1994, Outkast changed all that with one little word: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.
Okay, maybe not so little.
From there, five classic albums established the duo as all-out superstars, opening the gates for dozens of Atlanta rappers to follow. If there's a knock on Big Boi and Andre 3000, it's that they're too popular. Your friend who pretends to like hip-hop just looooves Outkast, and some hits reached a toxic level of airplay ("Hey Ya!" anyone?).
The fact is that happened because Outkast's music was so undeniably good for so long. Hard to blame them if too many people love the stank.
Runners up: Too many to name, but we'll go with former Georgia State student Ludacris.
Appalachian State (Boone, North Carolina): Michael Houser, founding member of Widespread Panic
Lots of folks crack goat jokes when it comes to App State, but those in the know tell you there's more than one type of grass lover in Boone.
It's fitting then that the founding member of a jam band was born in none other than the home of Appalachian State University. Houser started Widespread Panic in the mid-80s while a student at UGA, and over the years grew it into an heir to the throne of the Grateful Dead.
The name of the group comes from the panic attacks Houser experienced as a child. He also wrote many of the band's most well-known songs.
Tragically, Houser was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2002, dying just a few months later at the age of 40. The band, of course, still tours to this day and enjoys the tribal following of a jam band.
Runners up: Country singer Eric Church. Folk musician Doc Watson. Michael Gregory of the Gregory Brothers (the guys who made "Hide yo kids, hide yo wife" infamous in 2010) (no really).
Arkansas State (Jonesboro, Arkansas): Rodger Bumpass
You might think you've never heard anything by Rodger Bumpass, and you might have laughed at his name. Well you're wrong!
Bumpass is none other than the voice of Squidward Tentacles on the TV show Spongebob Squarepants. Not only that, Bumpass is a bona fide graduate of Arkansas State who worked at Jonesboro radio and TV stations on his rise to the top.
So does Squidward have musical talent? Yes:
Runners up: Rockabilly singer Bobby Lee Trammell and country artist Buddy Jewell. No offense guys, but Squidward is both cooler and more famous.
ULL (Lafayette, Louisiana): Frank Ocean
Yep, the singer of Novacane, Thinkin Bout You and Pyramids enrolled at ULL in the fall of 2005. The reason? Hurricane Katrina. The storm destroyed Ocean's New Orleans studio and forced him to enroll in school further inland.
Ultimately, his stay in Lafayette appears to have been short as Ocean then traveled to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. The trip was supposed to last just six weeks but, as they say, the rest is history.
Runners up: Zydeco musician Fernest Arceneaux (local flavor y'all). Also, Cupid. Yes that Cupid.
New Mexico State (Las Cruces, New Mexico): Paul Wilbur Klipsch
You may not have heard Klipsch's work on the radio, but you've definitely heard Klipsch's work on the radio. Klipsch is the inventor of the Klipschorn loudspeaker (I'm doing the best I can here). He studied at New Mexico State and was a cornet player in the Aggie marching band, later establishing "Klipsch's law," which holds that distortion is inversely proportional to efficiency.
Basically, if you've seen and heard a horn-shaped speaker at a concert before, you have Klipsch to thank. He remains something of a legend in the audio world after his death.
NMSU was so proud of Klipsch it gave him an honorary doctorate and named a lecture hall after him in the early 90s.
The most awesome thing about him is he was known to wear a yellow "bullshit" button under his lapel. If Klipsch didn't like what you were saying, he'd flip that sucker over and let you know.
Runners up: These kids, because NMSU is totally having a breakout year in 2008:
South Alabama (Mobile, Alabama): Jimmy Buffett
Though he attended Auburn and graduated from Southern Miss, Buffett spent a chunk of his childhood in Mobile.
Buffet might have only three or four songs you actually know, but you've heard them more times than you can count whether you like it or not. Let's put it this way: what "Happy Birthday" is to birthdays, "Margaritaville" is to beaches.
Don't get me wrong, Buffett songs are good, his real genius though lies in marketing. There are two restaurant chains named after his songs, he's written books and draws thousands in concert. There's a Margaritaville casino, and if you go don't forget to pick up plenty of Land Shark beer. If you're a parrothead you can buy Margaritaville headphones, Margaritaville flip flops, Margaritaville shrimp and Margaritaville blenders.
At this point Buffett can sell you just about everything he names in the damn song. I need a frozen concoction to help me hang on.
Runners up: Country trio The Band Perry. Also, Rich Boy, whose 2007 rims anthem "Throw Some D's" proved to be his only hit. The song was later remixed by Kanye West, who advocated for, um, "some different type of D's."
ULM (Monroe, Louisiana): Tim McGraw
McGraw not only enrolled at ULM, he earned a baseball scholarship. Somehow though McGraw never earned a varsity letter despite being the son of a former Major League Baseball player. It was during college that the future superstar learned to play the guitar.
After his mother moved to Jacksonville, McGraw followed and attended a local community college. The death of his musical idol, Keith Whitley, in 1989 inspired him to drop out of school and move to Nashville. Again, we all know the rest of the story.
McGraw has connections to college football, appearing as Sean Tuohy in the 2009 film The Blind Side. He also once owned an Arena Football team called the Nashville Kats, but that doesn't count.
Runners up: Kevin Griffin (lead singer of Better than Ezra) and Rickey Minor, former bandleader on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Idaho (Moscow, Idaho): Josh Ritter
Idaho doesn't always pull its weight on the football field, and doesn't fare much better in the music world. Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter is the only artist of note.
Ritter's sparse sound appeals to an intelligent crowd, with Stephen King calling his 2006 album the best of the year (UPDATE: my wife informed me she is also a fan). Ritter actually first tried to write songs on a lute, and when that didn't work bought a guitar at K-Mart. When did they ever sell guitars at K-Mart?
Runners up: This punk rock song, which is called "Moscow, Idaho."
Texas State (San Marcos, Texas): George Strait
A man who needs no introduction, the King of Country is a Texas State alumnus who enrolled in the mid-70s and graduated with a degree in agriculture. While at TXST he performed in bars across the region. Strait nearly quit the music industry after several failed attempts to get a record deal, finally breaking through in 1981 as part of the "neo-traditionalist" movement in country.
Strait then went on a tear that lasted every bit of 20 years. He has 60 number one hits across all music charts, the most of any artist in any genre, and more than 20 platinum albums. For all the work, Texas State gave Strait an honorary doctorate. Now the athletic department just needs to convince him to make a few donations.
Georgia Southern (Statesboro, Georgia): Blind Willie McTell
Long before Paul Johnson or Erk Russell put Statesboro on the map there was Blind Willie McTell, a 1930s-era blues musician who later recorded for the Library of Congress's folk song archive. Blind Willie got a lot of his work as a street performer in Atlanta, and died in the 1950s from diabetes and alcoholism.
McTell never really broke out from the underground, but his song "Statesboro Blues" was made famous by the Allman Brothers in the 1970s, and his influence extended all the way to artists like Bob Dylan, who wrote a tribute to him with the lyrics, "And I know no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell."
Runners up: Luke Bryan and Cole Swindell. I'm already reading hate mail in my mind for not picking these two as the top dogs. Bryan and Swindell both sit atop the country music world at the moment and both graduated from Georgia Southern.
Swindell in particular is a huge supporter of Eagle athletics and literally wears a "GS" hat in almost every public appearance (unfortunately we can't say the same for Bryan).
Don't get me wrong y'all, I like both of these dudes and have seen them both in concert. It's just too early to call it for them over Blind Willie. BWM had rock legends writing songs about him 50 years after his prime. That's a high bar to clear.
Troy University (Troy, Alabama): Pinetop Smith
Pinetop Smith was an OG, and not the early 90s west coast rap type of OG. We're talking Al Capone-level OG. Ol' Pinetop was a boogie-woogie blues pianist in the 1920s. Though he was raised in Birmingham and later made waves in Chicago, Pinetop was born in Troy.
The entire term "Boogie Woogie" came from the name of a Pinetop song. In it, he talks over the music, telling everybody how and when to "Shake that Thang." According to Wikipedia, Pinetop perfected the song at a house party, which any former college student can appreciate.
Scheduled to make further recordings in 1929, Pinetop died of a bullet wound in a club shootout. No one knows if the bullet was intended for him and, get this, no known photos of the guy even exist. Now that's an OG.
Runners Up: Troy University band. As a former bandie myself, I know Troy has a smokin' marching band. The Sound of the South band even enjoys something of a rivalry with Jacksonville State's Marching Southerners. Do they have the best musician overall? Well, that remains to be seen.