Music History

Before They Were Famous: Previous Jobs of Rock Superstars

[Another list from the current intern-in-residence, Dorothy Lee. – AC]

Unless you’re born to royalty, almost no one is famous right out of the box. There are years of struggle and dues-paying before luck intervenes and delivers you a life so charmed that it’s practically criminal. Here’s a list of jobs big rock stars had before things blew up.

  1. Chris Cornell worked as a seafood wholesaler where his duties involved wiping up fish slime and disposing of fish guts. He also worked as a sous chef at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle before he was in Soundgarden.
  2. Eddie Vedder worked as a night security guard at the La Valencia Hotel. He might not have been the best security guard however, as rumour has it that he was eventually fired for playing his guitar instead of doing his job.
  3. AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young worked in a bra factory as a sewing-machine mechanic.
  4. In the 1960’s, David Bowie worked as a butcher’s delivery boy when he was 13 years old to help pay for saxophone lessons with legendary Ronnie Ross. Eleven years later, Ronnie played the saxophone solo in Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side” which Bowie produced.
  5. During his time in the army, Johnny Cash was assigned to the cryptographic intelligence unit and worked as a military code breaker, and he was apparently quite good at it!
  6. Kurt Cobain worked as a janitor and was once asked to describe grunge from the perspective of a janitor. He explained it like this: “It’s a fine mixture of cleaning solvents, not to be used in the toilet. When I was a janitor I used to work with these guys Rocky and Bullwinkle. They’d clean the toilet bowls with their bare hands and then eat their lunch without washing their hands. They were very grungy.”
  7. Courtney Love worked as a stripper at Jumbo’s Clown Room in Hollywood to help fund her music. She explained: “Stripping funded my band. There was a lot of temptation in terms of drugs back then. I was like, OK, when I make a million dollars, then I’ll do all the drugs I want. Which I did, by the way”. She also worked as an exotic dancer in Portland, Japan, Taiwan and Alaska.
  8. Before becoming famous, Ozzy Osbourne worked as a trainee plumber, car factory horn-tuner, construction worker and butchery worker. Here’s a quote from Ozzy about working in the butchery: “I had to slice open the cow carcasses and get all the gunk out of their stomachs. I used to vomit every day; the smell was something else.”
  9. Rod Stewart worked briefly as a gravedigger at the Highgate Cemetery in London. As indicated in his autobiography, his main job was to mark out plots rather than to dig the graves. He also worked in a funeral parlor in North Finchley.
  10. Joe Strummer of The Clash also worked as a gravedigger at St. Woolos Cemetary in Newport, South Wales when he was in his early 20s. During this time, he was also the part-time singer and rhythm guitarist for the band The Vultures.
  11. The Killers’ Brandon Flowers worked as a bellboy at the Gold Coast Casino in Las Vegas. He admitted that he once went through a bag that belonged to Morrissey’s guitarist, Boz Boorer. This is what he had to say about it: “I shouldn’t have done it, and I still feel bad, but I went through one of them. I just wanted to see what Boz was listening to”.
  12. Serj Tankian of System of a Down earned a marketing/business degree from California State University and formed his own software company making “proprietary vertical industry modular accounting software”.
  13. Kiss’ Gene Simmons worked as an Assistant to the Editor at Glamour and Vogue magazine.
  14. Chuck Berry was caught for an armed robbery and served three years in Algoa Intermediate Reformatory before he was trained to work as a beautician for a short time.
  15. Metallica’s Lars Ulrich grew up in a family of professional tennis players. Both his father and grandfather were professional tennis players for Denmark, and Lars was instilled with a love for tennis. At age 16, Lars attended the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida and was ranked in Denmark’s top 10 for his age, but he realized that this wasn’t the right career for him: “At the academy, I realized that my ability wasn’t enough to be a successful professional, far from it, and the discipline necessary was not in me”.
  16. Greg Graffin of Bad Religion earned a PH.D. and had a number of jobs teaching, including at UCLA and Cornell University while he was in the band. He also published several acclaimed books in his field.
  17. Korn’s Jonathan Davis studied at the San Francisco School of Mortuary Science and became a professional embalmer, and worked at a California funeral home. In an interview with The Guardian in 2015, Davis said his experience at the mortuary college was intriguing: “I’ve pulled so many dead bodies out of cars. It’s like a puzzle. Trying to figure out how someone died. It gave me attention too. It was f***ing weird. I got into it for attention and ended up liking it.”
  18. During the early 1970’s, Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor both had their own stalls on the top floor of the Kensington Market in London which is now demolished. Freddie sold clothing and many of his own paintings and drawings, and he was still working there when Queen released their self-titled debut album in 1973.
  19. Rush’s Neil Peart traveled to London, England when he was 18 years old, with the hopes of furthering his career as a professional musician. Although he had played in several bands and did some occasional session work, he was forced to sell jewelry at a shop called The Great Frog to support himself.
  20. When Mick Jagger was 18, he worked part-time as a porter in Bexley Psychiatric Hospital, and lost his virginity in the hospital to a nurse in a store cupboard.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37854 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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