January 12, 2024


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Dire Straits had a huge hit with their song “Money for Nothing”. It’s so easy. All you have to do is pick up a guitar and you’ll go far.

What Mark Knopfler, who wrote the song, doesn’t sing about is just how long it took him to reach the top of the mountain of success. He was already over thirty when the song made it big. He’s not the only one who had to struggle for years to make a “mark” in music.

You can go all the way back to the beginning of Rock and Roll. Chuck Berry and Bill Haley, two of the early pioneers, both were singing songs that were popular with teens while they themselves were in their thirties. Both changed their style before finding a niche for themselves.

This “late blooming” is more common than people think. Some of the big names that took years to become popular might surprise you.

Debbie Harry did all kinds of jobs while looking to be discovered. She was even a “Playboy Bunny”. Even after getting a record contract, she was 33 when her third album finally gave Blondie some recognition.

Andy Summers was thirty-five when he joined The Police. Still, they didn’t make it overnight either.

Sheryl Crow struggled to make a living as a backup singer for years before getting a record contract. Everyone thought with the success of her first album that she was an overnight sensation. Sheryl was already over thirty.

Chris Stapleton kicked around for years before his first hit record. By that time, he was thirty-seven.

It was even later for Leonard Cohen. While he was admired as a poet in Canada while doing public readings, his biggest success as a singer/songwriter, came when he was almost fifty.

Jamie Murphy, leader of LCD Soundsystem, almost had to wait as long as Leonard Cohen. He and his group didn’t make it until he was forty.

Christine McVie kicked around with bands like Chicken Shack before joining Fleetwood Mac. She was thirty-two when RUMOURS became one of the biggest albums of all time.

Both members of The Black Keys were over thirty when they seemingly came out of nowhere to become stars. In reality, they had made several attempts before making it big.

Cyndi Lauper performed for years in cover bands in small clubs before getting her break. By the time she made her first record Cyndi was thirty.

Of course, not every rock star had to wait to be over thirty to make it big. But it still took a lot of hard work and effort for almost everyone.

The Beatles were an overnight sensation in the Untied States, but it is well documented what they went through before “Beatlemania” grabbed the world.

Their success paved the way for other English bands to score big hits while in their teens. Groups like The Kinks and The Zombies recorded at an age when they should have been in high school.

There are many stories of big-name artists having to really struggle in their early days. When Bob Dylan first came to Philadelphia to perform, he didn’t have money to stay in a hotel, so famed folk D J, Gene Shay, had him as a guest on his couch.

Bruce Springsteen slept on the couch at WMMR’s legendary DJ, Ed Sciaky’s, place. That was a step up from sleeping in his van.

Despite having two great albums, Bruce was almost dropped by his record label. A record executive told me that it was the fans in Philadelphia that saved him. While his first two albums were considered poor sellers, the vast majority of those sales were in Philadelphia. That led the label to think again about dropping him.

The fans of Philadelphia couldn’t save some popular local groups like The American Dream or The Nazz, but in both of those cases the groups made it possible for some of the members to have a career. The American Dream guitarist Mick Jameson didn’t give up. He went on not only to play with Foghat, but he also produced the platinum album FOOL FOR THE CITY. That first album by The American Dream, was the first attempt at producing for Todd Rundgren of The Nazz. It was the first of many for Todd. He even produced one of the biggest records of all time, BAT OUT OF HELL, by Meat Loaf.

Climbing that mountain to the top has never been easy, and it certainly hasn’t gotten any easier. The entire music industry is a mess. A musician doesn’t have benefits like a health plan, pension or 401 K. Given the state of the art, with diminished opportunities, things have never been harder for new acts to break in. Many things have to change to keep the music alive. Without a new generation of music makers, music will die on the vine.

Music is such an important element in our society, it must be saved. It has done more to promote human understanding, inner peace and harmony between people and nations than any army. A world without the power of music is unthinkable.

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