After interviewing Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo about the forthcoming release of Jaco: The Film, a documentary about legendary jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius he’s producing, it got us thinking about the music documentary in general. There have certainly been some well-known and acclaimed music documentaries produced throughout the years; The Last Waltz, Madonna: Truth or Dare and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster all come to mind. And while all these films are great in their own right – they all focus on mainstream, popular artists with huge followings. What about all the other fascinating documentaries surrounding some of music’s lesser-known but no less important artists? The unheralded musicians and producers and engineers behind the scenes? They may not all be household names, but that doesn’t diminish their impact in the world of music. There’s been a ton of amazing documentaries made in the last few years that have put a spotlight on these artists, singers, musicians and producers so we thought it would be a good time to compile a list of our favorites, and call some more attention to these talented filmmakers and artists. From Searching for Sugar Man to Last Days Here to Standing in the Shadows of Motown, there’s no shortage of good stuff out there. Here’s a list of 10 Great Music Documentaries You May Have Missed. So yeah…now you know.
Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
Directed by Malik Bendjelloul, it tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez – a Detroit folksinger who had a short-lived career in the early 70s with two well-received but non-commercial albums. Unbeknownst to him, he had become a pop music icon in South Africa (as big as Elvis or The Beatles) and an inspiration for generations.
You’re Gonna Miss Me (2005)
Directed by Keven McAlester, the documentary outlines the story of psychedelic rock pioneer Roky Erickson, detailing his rise in music with the 13th Floor Elevators, his lengthy institutionalization and his descent into poverty and filth as his brother struggles with their religious mother to improve Roky’s care and condition.
Muscle Shoals (2013)
Directed by Greg Camalier, this documentary celebrates Rick Hall, the founder of FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Faced with the racial hostility of the day, the producer/songwriter brought black and white together to create the signature Muscle Shoals sound evident in hits such as “Brown Sugar,” “I’ll Take You There” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
A Band Called Death (2012)
Directed by Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett, the documentary tells the story of Death, a band formed by three teenage African-American brothers in the early 70s that played punk music before “punk” was even a thing. They only completed one demo tape before disbanding, but decades later that tape made its way out of the attic and found an audience several generations younger – finally giving the band their long overdue recognition.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005)
Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, this movie tells the life story of Daniel Johnston, a manic-depressive singer/songwriter/artist who has a long line of famous fans – including Beck, Kurt Cobain and members of Sonic Youth – who credit the mentally-ill man as a genius and an inspiration.
Last Days Here (2011)
Directed by Don Argott and Demian Fenton, the documentary follows Bobby Liebling, lead singer of seminal doom metal band Pentagram, a group founded in 1971 and active sporadically throughout the following four decades. The film picks up with Liebling in his 50’s, living in his parents’ basement, having battled decades of drug addiction and personal demons as a new generation discovers his band’s music.
Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013)
Directed by Morgan Neville, this documentary tells the story of the backup singers to some of the world’s biggest pop stars – the folks who live in a world just beyond the spotlight. Through interviews with veterans and concert footage, the history of these predominantly African-American singers is explored.
Charles Bradley: Soul of America (2012)
Directed by Poull Brien, this documentary follows the extraordinary journey and rise of 62-year-old aspiring soul singer Charles Bradley, whose debut album rocketed him from a hard life – including a period of homelessness and constant poverty – to an inclusion on Rolling Stone’s list of the top 50 albums of 2011.
American Hardcore (2006)
Directed by Paul Rachman and inspired by Steven Blush’s book “American Hardcore: A Tribal History,” the documentary chronicles the underground hardcore punk years stretching from 1980 – 1986, including interviews and rare live footage from artists such as Minor Threat, Black Flag and Bad Brains.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002)
Directed by Paul Justman, this documentary tells the story of the Funk Brothers, a group of Detroit musicians who backed up dozens of Motown artists and played on an extraordinary amount of number one hits. Forty+ years later they reunite in Detroit to play their music and tell their unforgettable story.