I’ve been busy with school, so busy I can’t write another post. Don’t worry, this blog is still in my thoughts. As you may know, I am an immigrant myself, going to school in a different country. I have no family in the country I live in. Being an immigrant is a challenge, especially when you don’t know anyone of the same background that you can relate to and talk about your culture with. As you can imagine, it’s all bottled up and if I do speak about Venezuelan things and events, no one understands. I especially miss the food: rice, beans, and fried plantains.
Why was I thinking about immigration? I have a lot of family who are immigrants. I have cousins who are immigrants. My mum was an immigrant. It’s an issue that is not only talked about in the US election, but in other elections around the world. The US election is always on my mind since I have family there. It’s a disaster: two unlikeable candidates that not even 10% of the US population have chosen. How did we get here? A combination of cheating, media bias, and people just not caring enough about elections, I’d say.
I can only speak in an informed way for US politics. On the one side, you have Republicans who are very xenophobic and anti-immigration. Donald Trump, whose mum was an immigrant, wants to build a wall, as one example. He’s said horrible things about Mexican immigrants and Middle Eastern immigrants, and many other groups beyond that. In short, he’s incredibly racist. He talks like a Nazi. He cannot be our president.
Democrats can be just as bad too. Rewind to the 90s and there was President Bill Clinton enacting laws that would deport people quickly (no due process) and separate them from their families, increase border control, and more. Here’s a video.
Now I know that Hillary is a totally separate person from Bill, but I don’t think I can vote for her because of so many ethical reasons, which I’ll not go into now or this will just turn into me rambling about politics.
I don’t understand why people hate on immigrants so much. Immigrants are not lazy. They work hard and many immigrants start their own businesses. Many of them want to blend in and be a part of the culture of the country they moved to. Immigrants are less likely to break the law. Immigrants pay their taxes too. We earn the jobs just as much as native born citizens.
How does this all relate to classic rock? Many classic rockers are immigrants and they each have different stories. Some of them immigrated as children, some were escaping persecution, some immigrated before they got famous, and others immigrated after they got famous. Chances are, one of your favourite musicians is an immigrant. Besides, a lot of famous people own properties in more than one country. Let’s take a look at some rock stars and their immigration stories. This is not an exhaustive list, but if you have other examples, feel free to share in the comments section.
Immigrants to Australia: Over a quarter of people living in Australia are foreign born. Over a million British-born people live in Australia. Here are just a few examples, most of them being born in the UK:
AC/DC: Brothers Angus and Malcom Young were born in Glasgow, Scotland. Their family moved to Australia when they were kids. Bon Scott was also born in Scotland. He moved to Australia with his family when he was six.
The Bee Gees: The three Gibb brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice were born on the Isle of Man to English parents, Hugh and Barbara Gibb. The family moved to England before moving to Australia. Barry Gibb started his first bands, skiffle groups while in England. The Gibb family moved to Australia in 1958. The Bee Gees returned to England in 1967 and recorded the album Bee Gees 1st. Most of their albums from that point were recorded in either England or the US.
Billy Thorpe: Lead singer of Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, a band that started off with a more pop sound, but turned more rock in the early 70s. Born in Manchester. His band were influential to the pub rock genre. He died at the age of 60.
The Easybeats: One of the first Australian rock acts to make it big. “Friday On My Mind” was their biggest hit. Their music is a lot like the Yardbirds and The Beatles. All five of the founding members were European born. Harry Vanda and Dick Diamonde were born in the Netherlands. Vanda came to Australia as a teenager. Diamonde was 4 when his family emigrated to Australia. Stevie Wright and Gordon Fleet were born in England. Stevie Wright was 9 when his family emigrated. Angus and Malcolm Young’s older brother George Young was born in Scotland. He was 16 when his family emigrated.
Glenn Shorrock: Born in Kent, England and moved to Australia with his family when he was 10. He was a founding member of the bands The Twilights, Axiom, and the Little River Band.
Jim Keays: Frontman of The Masters Apprentices. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland and moved to Australia with his family when he was 5. As well as being a musician, he was a writer for Go-Set, an Australian pop music newspaper geared towards teenagers. He died in 2014 at the age of 67.
Lynne Randell: One of Australia’s best known pop singers. She was born in Liverpool and her family emigrated to Australia when she was 5. She was most famous for touring with The Monkees and Jimi Hendrix. She also wrote for the magazine Go-Set. She died at the age of 57.
Mike Furber: Frontman of Mike Furber and the Bowery Boys. Born in England and emigrated to Australia with his family when he was 10. As a teenager he started the band The Bowery Boys. He died at the age of 24.
Olivia Newton-John: Born in England and moved to Australia with her family when she was 6. When she was 18 she recorded a single for Decca Records in the UK, but missed her then boyfriend who lived in Australia, so she would frequently travel between the two countries. She lived in England until the mid 70s and moved to the United States.
Red Symons: Born in Brighton, England and moved to Australia when he was 9. In fact, he was on the same Australia bound ship as Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb of The Bee Gees.
Immigrants to Canada:
Ann and Nancy Wilson: Ann Wilson moved to Vancouver when she was in her early 20s to live with her boyfriend at the time Michael Fisher. Michael Fisher moved to Canada so he could escape the draft. Nancy Wilson followed her sister a few years later. Heart recorded their first two albums in Canada.
John Kay: Frontman of Steppenwolf. Born in East Prussia, then part of Germany, now part of Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia. Because of the war, he and his mum fled to another part of Germany for safety. He and his mum moved to Canada in 1958, when John (then known as Joachim) was around 14. He founded a band called The Sparrows, who later relocated to California and recorded albums as Steppenwolf.
Roger Fisher: Moved to Canada to join the rest of the members of Heart. He later on was in the band Alias, who were based in Toronto.
Immigrants to France:
Anna Karina: Born in Denmark. She moved to Paris when she was 17. She had very little money and did not speak French. One day she got very lucky and was discovered by someone who worked in an advertising agency. From there, her modelling career started. She is best known for starring in a lot of Jean-Luc Godard’s films. She also was a singer.
Jane Birkin: Actor and singer originally from England. Her career took off with the movies Blow Up and Wonderwall. In the late 60s she auditioned for the movie Slogan, where she co-starred with Serge Gainsbourg, who was her partner for over a decade. She and Serge Gainsbourg recorded albums together.
Immigrants to Germany:
The Beatles: As any Beatles fan would know, they spent time in Hamburg before they got famous in England and around the world. They arrived in Hamburg in 1960 and performed in clubs like the Kaiserkeller, The Top Ten Club, and the Star-Club. They had some problems like George Harrison being underage at the time – which led to him being deported a few months after he arrived. Paul McCartney and Pete Best found a condom, attached it to a nail in the wall, and set it on fire in their room. They were also deported. The band all came back in 1961 and played at the Top Ten Club. The Beatles recorded the single “My Bonnie” with Tony Sheridan, who also lived in Germany. Tony Sheridan lived in Germany until his death at the age of 72.
Damo Suzuki: Lead singer of German rock band Can. He was born in Japan and came to Europe in the late 60s to busk. He still lives in Germany, decades later.
Immigrants to Switzerland:
Tina Turner: Moved to Switzerland in the 90s. She speaks fluent German and in 2013 she relinquished her US citizenship after becoming a naturalised citizen of Switzerland.
Immigrants to the UK:
Alan Merrill: American singer, best known for performing the original “I Love Rock N Roll” with his band The Arrows. He moved to Japan in the late 60s after signing a contract with Watanabe Productions. He moved to England later on and founded The Arrows in 1974. He was more successful in Japan and the UK than in his birth country. He has since moved back to his hometown of New York.
Bob Geldof: Frontman of the Boomtown Rats. He was born in Dún Laoghaire, a suburb of Dublin. He is part Belgian and part Jewish. His band, The Boomtown Rats, moved to London in 1976, when they were signed to a record label. He still lives in England.
Bob Siebenberg: Originally from Glendale, California. Moved to England to join Supertramp. Has since moved back to the US.
Chrissie Hynde: Founding member of The Pretenders. She was born and raised in Akron, Ohio and moved to England in 1973. Before becoming famous she worked in a punk clothing store called SEX owned by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. After a few years of attempts at starting bands, she finally made her big break with The Pretenders in 1978. She still lives in England.
Dervin and Lincoln Gordon: Members of The Equals, one of England’s first multiracial bands. They are twins who were born in Jamaica. Not much is known about when they came to England.
Eddy Grant: Frontman of The Equals and most famous member of the band. He was born in Guyana and moved to England when he was 12 to join his parents. He founded The Equals in 1965. In 1968 they had a hit with “Baby Come Back”. Eddy Grant also had a solo career in the mid to late 70s.
The Foundations: Many of the members of the band were from the Caribbean and they arrived in the UK as teenagers or adults. They were one of the best known multiracial rock bands of the 60s and the first to have a #1 hit in the UK. Eric Allandale was born in Dominica, Clem Curtis was born in Trinidad, Mike Elliott and Pat Burke were born in Jamaica, Colin Young was born in Barbados, and Tony Gomez was born in Sri Lanka.
Jimi Hendrix: Originally from Seattle. Moved to London in 1966 after being discovered in a New York City club when Linda Keith, then Keith Richards’ girlfriend told the Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham about him. He was snubbed by Andrew Loog Oldham and producer Seymour Stein, but former bassist for The Animals, Chas Chandler was impressed. It was in the London Astoria that Jimi Hendrix first set his guitar on fire. The reason he did that was to have a more dramatic stage presence than The Who. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed in 1966 and they recorded 3 studio albums.
John Kongos: Born in South Africa to a Greek family and moved to England in the late 60s. His biggest hits “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” and “Tokoloshe Man” were recorded in England.
Linda McCartney: Started off as a photographer. She got her break in taking pictures of rock musicians when she was working for a magazine and was invited to take pictures of The Rolling Stones during a record promotion party. From there, she took many pictures at the Fillmore East. She met Paul McCartney in 1967 and married him in 1969. She and Paul recorded albums together as Paul and Linda McCartney and in Wings.
Manfred Mann: Born in South Africa and arrived in England in 1961 after getting a work visa. Before becoming famous with the band named after him, he worked as a music teacher, writer for Jazz News, and was a piano player at a holiday camp.
Millie Small: Jamaican singer best known for her version of “My Boy Lollipop”. It went to #2 in the UK in 1964, when she was 18. At the age of 17 she left Jamaica for England when she was discovered by Chris Blackwell after winning talent contests. In the early 70s she lived in Singapore.
PP Arnold: Born in Los Angeles and grew up with gospel music, which had an influence on her singing. She joined the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, but left in 1966 so she could pursue a solo career in London. From there, she signed onto Immediate Records, the same label that the Small Faces were signed to. She sang on a few Small Faces songs. She felt like she was better received in England than in the US saying, “A young black woman on her own in America in a white environment would not have been treated as well as I was in England.”
Rory Gallagher: Irish blues rock guitarist who moved to England in the late 60s with the band Taste. The band broke up in 1970. Rory Gallagher recorded many of his solo albums in England.
Saxa: Born Lionel Martin in Jamaica. Best known for his work with ska band The Beat.
Scott Gorham: Originally from Glendale, California. Moved to England in 1973 in the hopes of joining Supertramp. He joined his friend Bob Siebenberg a few years after he moved to England. Obviously, the plans of joining Supertramp didn’t pan out, but he ended up joining Thin Lizzy.
Suzi Quatro: Born in Michigan. Moved to England in 1971 after being discovered by record producer Mickie Most. It was in England where she became the first female bass player to be a superstar. Her songs were more successful in the UK and Australia, than in her birth country. She still lives in England.
Immigrants to the US:
Carlos Santana: Born in Mexico and moved to San Francisco as a pre-teen. He learnt to play guitar at the age of 8. His father was a mariachi musician. One of his biggest influences was Ritchie Valens, the first Hispanic rock star and one of the few Mexican-American rock musicians of the early years of rock and roll.
Cherry Wainer: Born in South Africa and is likely South Africa’s first rock star to make it big. She moved to the United States later on in life. She died in Las Vegas at the age of 79 in 2014.
David Bowie: First moved to the US in the mid 70s. He was influenced by American music and his stage last name of Bowie came from the name of an American historical figure, Jim Bowie. In the 90s, when he married Iman, they decided to move to New York City. He died in New York two days after his 69th birthday.
David Byrne: Scottish-born member of the Talking Heads. As a baby his family moved to Canada. He arrived in the US at around the age of 8 or 9. When he went to Rhode Island School of Design he met future bandmates Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. They moved to New York in the mid-70s.
Duncan Faure: Born in South Africa. While he was living in South Africa, he was in the popular band, Rabbitt. Unfortunately for Rabbitt, they were not able to tour the US or Europe due to boycotts of South Africa. Left for the UK to join the Bay City Rollers, but later on moved to the United States. He now lives in Las Vegas.
Eddie and Alex Van Halen: Both born in the Netherlands. Their family emigrated to the United States in 1962. The two brothers are US citizens now. They were influenced by many genres from classical music to blues rock. They formed Van Halen in California.
Enrico Rosenbaum: Frontman of Minneapolis-St Paul prog rock/psych band, Gypsy. Born in Italy. It is not known when exactly he came to the US, but he graduated from high school in St Paul, Minnesota. His parents were Holocaust survivors who lost everything during the war. He died at the age of 35 in 1979.
Gene Simmons: Born in Israel and moved to the US at age 8. His mum was a Holocaust survivor. Both of his parents were born in Hungary.
Genya Ravan: Born in Poland and moved to New York with her family when she was 7, not knowing any English. She had two brothers who died in the Holocaust. Wrote a book called Lollipop Lounge, Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Refugee.
Helen Reddy: Born in Australia. She first went to the United States when she was a teenager to pursue a singing career. She encouraged Olivia-Newton John to move to the US.
John Cale: Born in Wales. Moved to the US in the early 60s to further his musical training. In 1965 he and Lou Reed co-founded the Velvet Underground. He returned to the UK in the 70s.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono: Moved to New York in 1971. Yoko Ono moved a lot in her childhood and for a time lived in New York before that. Their son Sean Lennon was born in New York. Five years later John Lennon got his green card.
Jon Anderson: Moved to California in 1995. In 1997 he married his wife who is American, Jane. He is now a US citizen.
Joni Mitchell: Born in Canada. She moved to New York in the 60s. She later on moved to California.
June and Jean Millington: Both born in Manila, Philippines to a Filipina mother and American father. They moved to the US in 1961.
Neil Young: Born in Canada. As a child, he briefly went to school in Florida. He moved to the US in the 60s. He was in the Los Angeles-based band Buffalo Springfield and later on joined Crosby, Stills & Nash. He revealed later on in an interview that he was undocumented until 1970, when he got his green card.
Peter Frampton: Lived in many parts of the US. His daughter, Mia, was born in Nashville. Moved to a suburb of Cincinnati with his then wife in 2000. He has moved back to Nashville and is now a US citizen.
Skip Spence: Member of Jefferson Airplane, who drummed on their first album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. He also was in the band Moby Grape. Born in Canada and moved to California in the 50s with his family. His best known solo work was the 1969 album Oar. He played all the instruments on the album. He died in 1999 at the age of 52.
Tommy Ramone: Born in Hungary to parents who survived the Holocaust. The family left during the Hungarian Revolution. He was about 7 or 8 when he came to the US. Before joining The Ramones, he did production on the Jimi Hendrix album Band of Gypsys.
Trevor Rabin: Member of the bands Rabbitt and Yes. Born in South Africa and moved to England in the late 70s after plans for Rabbitt to tour the US and Europe fell through. He stayed in England for three years before moving to California. He is now a naturalised US citizen.
To conclude this post, these rock stars come from so many walks of life. Immigrants are not a monolith. They have so many different stories. The Diversity of Classic Rock is about uniting us all under the legendary music of classic rock. I hope you liked this post! If you have any comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section.
Didn’t know Tina Turner migrated to Switzerland. Fancy that. Tax reasons, perhaps.
Of course, some of those on your list were not exactly immigrants, more extended tourists (e.g.: The Stones in France). Nevertheless, interesting stuff.
By the way, Red Symons (in your Australia list) was guitarist (and occasional songwriter) for Skyhooks, whose mischievous pop-rock dominated Aussie Charts in the mid-late 70s.
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Thank you! Yeah, countless famous people really just moved for tax reasons rather than to work or because their family moved there. And of course, a lot of the musicians on the list and even some not mentioned split their time between two or more countries.
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