We’re going through this list of musicians who made it after the age of 25 in alphabetical order, so from Fats Domino to Muddy Waters.
You can read part 1 here: Musicians from Andy Mackay to Eric Bell are covered in that section.
Fats Domino (27): This rock and roll pioneer got R&B hits since the beginning of the 1950s, but it wasn’t until August 1955 when he crossed over into the popular music charts with “Ain’t That a Shame”. From there, he got a bunch of other hits like “I’m in Love Again”, “Blueberry Hill”, “Blue Monday”, “I’m Walkin'”, “Valley of Tears”, “Whole Lotta Loving”, “Be My Guest”, “Walking to New Orleans”, and more!
Before the fame: He was born Antoine Domino in New Orleans. He started learning to play piano when he was 10. He started playing in bars in New Orleans when he was 14. Before he got famous, he attended Howard University, leaving to work as an ice delivery helper. At the age of 19, he joined Billy Diamond’s band and made $3/week playing piano. During this time, he got the nickname Fats because he reminded him of Fats Waller and Fats Pichon and because he liked to eat. In 1949, he got a record deal and in 1950, he got his first R&B hit with “The Fat Man”, which is considered one of the first rock and roll songs.
Fela Kuti (30-something): Multi-instrumentalist and Afrobeat musician from Nigeria. Not only was he an Afrobeat pioneer (and one of the most famous musicians from the genre), he was also a human rights activist, calling out corruption in the Nigerian government from the 70s until his death in 1997.
In the 70s, he started recording albums and gained popularity in Nigeria. He recorded in Pidgin English so they could be enjoyed by a wider audience. Famous classic rockers like Ginger Baker (who moved to Nigeria to work with him in the early 70s), Brian Eno, Paul McCartney, George Clinton, and David Byrne loved his music.
His most loved songs include: “Shakara”, “Sorrow Tears & Blood”, “Upside Down”, “Why Black Man Dey Suffer”, “Expensive Shit”, and “Who No Know No Go”.
Afrobeat, a term Fela Kuti coined, is a genre that started in West Africa, particularly the countries of Ghana and Nigeria in the 20th century. It mixes the sounds of Fuji music of Nigeria, Highlife of Ghana, American jazz and funk, Salsa of Latin America, and Calypso of the Caribbean. Fela’s music was daring, different, broke all the rules: no 3 minute songs, outspoken political lyrics, no compromises!
Before the fame: Fela Kuti was born in Nigeria in 1938, when it was still a British colony. His family were upper middle class with his father being an Anglican Minister and school principal and his mother being a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement. His brothers, Beko and Olikoye, were doctors. Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, is his first cousin.
When he was 20, his family sent him to London to study medicine, but instead he decided to study music at Trinity College of Music. While studying music, he formed a band called Koola Lobitos. In 1967, he went to Ghana to work on his music and that’s where he came up with the term Afrobeat. In 1969, he went to the US and spent nearly a year in LA, where he found out about the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party, and changed his band name to Nigeria ’70. They recorded some music in LA before being busted for not having a work visa.
Geoff Downes (27) and Trevor Horn (30): Keyboard player and bassist of short lived new wave band The Buggles, respectively. Their 1979 debut single, “Video Killed The Radio Star”, reached #1 in the UK, Australia, Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Switzlerland and reached #2 in Germany and New Zealand.
The music video for “Video Killed The Radio Star” was the first ever to be played on MTV when the channel started broadcasting on 1 August 1981. What an appropriate song to begin a new era of music.
Soon after that, they joined Yes to record their 1980 album Drama, replacing frontman Jon Anderson and keyboard player Rick Wakeman. Yes disbanded after that tour and reformed with yet again another new lineup a few years later.
Geoff Downes was in the supergroup Asia from 1981-1986, playing on hit songs like “Heat of the Moment”, “Sole Survivor”, and “Only Time Will Tell”.
Trevor Horn worked as a producer in the 80s producing for ABC, Yes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Spandau Ballet, Grace Jones, and Godley and Creme.
Before the fame: Geoff Downes was born in Stockport in 1952. He studied at the Leeds College of Music before moving to London to work as a session musician and composing advertising jingles. He met Trevor Horn in 1976 while auditioning for disco artist Tina Charles’ backing band.
Trevor Horn was born in Durham in 1949. He started learning to play the double bass when he was 8 and later taught himself to play bass guitar and to sight read music. As a teenager he got into the Beatles, the Kinks, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones.
He worked a series of day jobs and at the age of 17 he declared one day to his parents that he was going to pursue music. His parents were reluctant to support his dream because they wanted him to be an accountant. In the early 70s, he worked as a session musician in London and worked at recording studios in Leicester.
In the mid 70s he worked for a music publisher on Denmark Street and in the late 70s he worked on songs as a songwriter, producer, and orchestra director.
Ginger Baker (27): Drummer for Blues Incorporated, Graham Bond Organisation, Cream, Blind Faith, and Ginger Baker’s Air Force. He was widely considered one of classic rock’s best drummers. What stands out about his drumming is its jazz and African influences, long drum solos, and use of two bass drums instead of just one.
He first got international attention when he, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton formed the supergroup, Cream. Their sound mixed blues, psychedelia, and hard rock. In a period of only 2 years, they released 4 albums. Their first single, “Wrapping Paper”, was a minor hit, reaching #34 in the UK. Their second single, “I Feel Free” did significantly better, reaching #11 in the UK and #27 in Germany. Their biggest hits though, came in 1968: “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room”, reaching the top 10 in the US, but not faring as well in the UK, where they only made the top 30. They did much better on the albums charts though: Disraeli Gears reached #5 in the UK, #1 in Australia, #2 in France, and #4 in America and Wheels of Fire reached #3 in the UK; #1 in Australia, Canada, and the US; and #2 in France.
Before the fame: He was born Peter Baker in South London in 1939. He got the nickname, Ginger, because of his red hair. His mother worked in a tobacco shop and his father was a bricklayer and a lance corporal in the Royal Corps of Signals. His father died in the Dodecanese Islands during World War II.
In secondary school, he played football and was in the Air Training Corps. In the early 60s, he joined the Graham Bond Organisation – an R&B/jazz band. He and Jack Bruce were bandmates.
Cream were formed in 1966 when Eric Clapton, who was in John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, wanted to leave that band because it was confining, and he met Ginger Baker, who felt similarly about dealing with Graham Bond. Eric Clapton was the biggest of the trio, but he wasn’t as well known in the US, but this band was what would launch him and the rest of the band into international fame.
Holger Czukay (33), Jaki Liebezeit (33), and Irmin Schmidt (34): Bassist, drummer, and keyboardist of Can, respectively. Their 1971 album, Tago Mago, was considered groundbreaking for its unique experimental psychedelic sound. Their next album, Future Days, is considered an early example of ambient music.
Before the fame: Irmin Schmidt travelled to NYC in 1966 and spent time with experimental musicians. He returned to Germany inspired and wanted to start a band with Holger Czukay, a music teacher. In 1969, they released the album, Monster Movie, with vocalist and artist Malcolm Mooney.
In 1970, Damo Suzuki joined the band. He was travelling around Germany busking.
Howlin’ Wolf (41): Chicago blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player. He was best known for the songs “Smokestack Lightnin'”, “Killing Floor”, and “Spoonful”. These songs have been covered by musicians like the Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, The Who, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Cream.
His first R&B chart hit was with the song “How Many More Years”, which reached #4. His second single, “Moanin’ At Midnight” reached #10 on the R&B charts.
There was a blues revival in the 60s and during this time white youth were getting really into the music. Howlin’ Wolf capitalised on this and toured Europe in 1964 with the American Folk Blues Festival and appeared on Shindig! in 1965.
He also collaborated with other blues and blues rock musicians like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Eric Clapton, and Steve Winwood.
Before the fame: He was born Chester Arthur Burnett in Mississippi in 1910. His parents separated when he was a baby and his mother threw him out of the house because he refused to work on the farm. His uncle was abusive and he ran away to live with his father’s family. When he got famous, his mum wasn’t supportive of him and said she didn’t want any money from him playing “the devil’s music”.
He was 6’3″ and almost 300 pounds and had the nicknames Bigfoot Chester and Bull Cow in his youth. His stage name, Howlin’ Wolf, came from his grandfather who told him stories about wolves and that if he misbehaved the howlin’ wolves would get him.
He served in the Army from 1941-1943. Ike Turner discovered him in 1951 and the following year, he moved to Chicago.
His influences were the Mississippi Sheiks, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, Blind Blake, and Tommy Johnson.
Huey Lewis (32): Lead singer and harmonica player of Huey Lewis and the News, best known for their song “The Power of Love” prominently featured in the soundtrack of the 1985 film Back to the Future.
The band’s first hit was “Do You Believe in Love”, which was a top 10 hit in the US and top 20 hit in Canada. In 1983, they released their most successful album, Sports, which reached #1 on the US albums charts and had a bunch of hit singles like “Heart and Soul”, “I Want a New Drug”, “The Heart of Rock & Roll”, “If This Is It”, and “Walking on a Thin Line”.
“The Power of Love” was their first chart topper and there was a string of hits after that like “Stuck With You”, Hip To Be Square”, “Jacob’s Ladder”, “I Know What I Like”, “Doing It All For My baby”, and “Perfect World”.
Before the fame: Huey Lewis was born Hugh Cregg in New York City. His father was an Irish-American from Boston and his mother was a Polish immigrant from Warsaw. He was raised in the Bay Area.
When he was young, he hitchhiked to New York City and learnt to play the harmonica while waiting for rides. He apparently stowed away on a plane that went to Europe and hitchhiked there too. He made money playing concerts in Madrid and earned enough money to buy a plane ticket back to America. When he returned to the states, he got into the engineering programme at Cornell and dropped out in his junior year and moved back to the Bay Area.
In 1971, he joined the country rock band Clover. The band went to England in 1976 after getting discovered in LA. In 1978, he played harmonica on “Baby Drives Me Crazy” on Thin Lizzy’s live album, Live and Dangerous (he was named in that song when Phil Lynott introduced the band to the audience). That wasn’t the last time he worked with Phil Lynott, he also played on his 1980 solo album, Solo in Soho.
Before being known as Huey Lewis and The News, the band were called American Express. Under that name, they released one single, “Exodisco”, a disco version of the theme from the 1960 film, Exodus.
Hugh Masekela (28): South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, and cornetist considered the father of South African jazz. His best known songs were “Soweto Blues”, “Bring Him Back Home”, and “Grazing in the Grass”.
He moved to the US in the early 60s and was befriended by Harry Belafonte. He got a scholarship to study at the Manhattan School of Music and studied there from 1960-1964.
In 1967, he got his first chart hit with a cover of The 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up, and Away”. It was a minor success, reaching #71 on the pop charts and #47 on the R&B charts. That same year, he performed at the Monterey Pop Festival.
He made guest appearances on songs by The Byrds (“So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” and “Lady Friend”) and Paul Simon (“Further to Fly”).
Before the fame: He was born in the township of KwaGuqa in Witbank. His father was a health inspector and sculptor and his mother was a social worker. He liked to sing and play piano as a kid, later getting into the trumpet as a teenager after seeing the film Young Man With a Horn. Archbishop Trevor Huddleston bought him his first trumpet.
He was in Huddleston Jazz Band, the first youth orchestra in South Africa. When Louis Armstrong heard about this group, he sent one of his own trumpets to Hugh Masekela. In 1960, after the Sharpeville Massacre, he left the country with help from Trevor Huddleston, Yehudi Menuhin, and John Dankworth.
Ian Gillan (25), Roger Glover (25), and Jon Lord (27): Lead singer, bassist, and organ player for Deep Purple, respectively. The band got their first big hit with their cover of “Hush” in 1968. That song reached #2 in Canada and #4 in the US. The classic Deep Purple Mark II lineup of the early 70s were the most successful with hits like “Black Night” (#2 UK), “Strange Kind of Woman” (#8 UK), “Fireball” (#15 UK), and “Smoke on the Water” (#4 US).
Before the fame: Ian Gillan was born in London in 1945. Originally he wanted to be an actor, inspired by Elvis’ movies, but he also grew up a lot around music. He took a factory job making ice machines before making it big as a musician.
Before he was in Deep Purple, he was in a few bands like Wainwright’s Gentlemen and Episode Six. Neither band were that successful, but Episode Six toured Germany and Beirut and made appearances on radio. He and bandmate Roger Glover felt so restricted and like they were going nowhere so they left Episode Six in 1969. Deep Purple saw Episode Six live and were so impressed with Ian Gillan’s vocals that they offered him to be the lead singer and asked if he knew a good bassist. The band fired Rod Evans because they found his voice too poppy for the hard rock direction they wanted to go in.
Roger Glover was born in Wales and started playing guitar as a teenager. In secondary school, he was in a band that ended up merging with Episode Six.
Jon Lord was born in Leicester in 1941. His father was an amateur saxophonist and encouraged his son to play music. Starting when he was 5, he took classical piano lessons. He loved Bach, medieval music, and Edward Elgar. Later, he got into blues music. His biggest blues organ influences were Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and “Brother” Jack McDuff. He saw one of his idols, Buddy Holly, live in 1958 in Leicester. A couple other influences were Vanilla Fudge and Graham Bond.
Jon Lord moved to London in 1959 or 1960 hoping to become an actor. He graduated from Drama Centre London. He had a few small roles in British TV, but it didn’t make enough to pay the bills so he played piano and organ in nightclubs and as a session musician. He met Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice, and Rod Evans in 1967 and they formed a band called Roundabout before changing their name to Deep Purple.
James Brown (mid-late 20s or 30s depends on what you count as “made it”): Godfather of Soul and funk pioneer with a career spanning 50 years. In the late 50s, he sang with The Famous Flames. Their first single, “Please Please Please” reached #6 on the R&B charts in 1956. Getting famous for James Brown and the Famous Flames was a slow burn (pun intended) with the first singles not doing great commercially.
They didn’t achieve chart success again until “Try Me” in 1958, which was a top 50 hit on the pop charts, but topped the R&B charts.
At the age of 30, James Brown got his first top 20 hit with “Prisoner of Love”, which peaked at #18 on the pop charts. His famous live album Live at the Apollo came out that same year and is considered one of the best live albums ever and one of the best albums of the time generally speaking. It established him as an R&B superstar. It sold well, spending 66 weeks on the pop albums chart and peaking at #2.
In 1964, James Brown performed on the T.A.M.I Show. Other famous acts that performed include: The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Lesley Gore, Jan & Dean, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and The Rolling Stones. This was a great moment for James Brown because with his energetic performance, he upstaged the Rolling Stones.
The singles that really made him a household name and got him even more stardom came in 1965: “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)”. They were both top 10 singles and were important in the history of the development of funk.
Before the fame: He was born in South Carolina in 1933. He was mixed with Native American and Chinese. He had a very difficult and upbringing, living in poverty. He left school at the age of 11 or 12 and was often left on his own playing in the streets and hustling to get by. As a kid he performed in talent shows and learnt to play guitar, harmonica, and piano.
At the age of 16, he was convicted of robbery and sent to a juvie. While there, he formed a gospel quartet. While playing baseball, he met Bobby Byrd, who changed his life: helped him get paroled, wrote songs for him, was one of the Famous Flames, and helped launch his career.
In 1955, the Famous Flames contacted Little Richard and he got them in contact with his manager, who was impressed. They recorded a demo at a radio station, recording “Please Please Please”.
James Young (25), John Curulewski (25), Chuck and John Panozzo (26), Dennis DeYoung (28): Lead guitarist, guitarist, bassist, drummer, and lead vocalist of Styx, respectively. Styx formed in Chicago in 1972 and got their first big hit in 1975 with “Lady”.
However, when the song charted, peaking at #6 in the US, it was already two years old. The world wasn’t quite ready for Styx in 1973. Thanks to a DJ named Jeff Davis from WLS in Chicago, the song got big. He heard the song on the jukebox while eating pizza and fell in love with the song and asked the station manager to let him play it on his popular Saturday Night show.
From there, they got two other top 10 hits in the 70s: “Come Sail Away” (#8 US) in 1977 and “Babe” (#1 US) in 1979. In the 80s, their biggest hits were “Too Much Time on My Hands”, “The Best of Times”, and “Mr Roboto”.
Before the fame: Twins Chuck and John Panozzo played music with their neighbour Dennis DeYoung. Growing up, the Panozzo twins were paid to play weddings. In 1969, John Curulewski joined the band and in 1970, James Young joined the band. In 1972, they chose the name Styx because no one hated the name.
Before Styx took off, Dennis DeYoung worked as a primary school music teacher. James Young studied at Illinois Institute of Technology and graduated with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering.
Jerry Garcia (25) and Phil Lesh (27): Lead guitarist and vocalist and bassist, respectively of The Grateful Dead.
The band released their first album in 1967. It was only recorded in four days, therefore the band felt that it was rushed and didn’t do them justice because the live versions were much more magical. However, it was well received by critics. The band played at both Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. They also allowed fans to tape their shows, so that’s why there are so many bootlegs of their shows.
The band also believed in giving back to their community, the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood of San Francisco. They gave out free food, free lodging, health care, and would play many free concerts – more than any other band in the history of music. They had their own sound system designed for their concerts: The Wall of Sound, a special PA system.
In the 70s, the band really took off and got more popular even if their singles weren’t chart successes (the highest singles chart placement they had in the 70s was “Truckin'” in 1970, which only peaked at #64).
The band has such a big cult following/community, called Deadheads. They were known for following the band around and going to as many shows as possible – making money by selling tie dye shirts and veggie burritos. There’s a Grateful Dead Archive at UC-Santa Cruz. People have done academic research on the fandom!
What makes the concerts special? Why do people see a band over and over again? No two concerts are exactly alike, the setlist changes from show to show, the band really give you your moneys worth by playing at least two sets and an encore, and the jams. The fans wanted to hear their favourite songs so they kept going to multiple shows in a row.
Before the fame: Jerry Garcia was born in San Francisco and liked playing music from an early age. As a child, most of his right middle finger was chopped off in an accident, but he didn’t let that stop him. He moved around a bunch of times as a kid. At 18, he was forced to join the army because he stole his mother’s car. In 1961 and 1962 he met lyricist Robert Hunter and bandmate Phil Lesh. He formed the Grateful Dead in 1965.
Phil Lesh was born in Berkeley and before playing bass, he played violin. In secondary school, he played trumpet and got into avant-garde classical music and free jazz. While volunteering at a radio station as a recording engineer, he met Jerry Garcia, who talked him into being a bassist in his band. He had never played bass before and learnt on the job. His influences are Jack Bruce, Jack Casady, and Charles Mingus.
Joe Bouchard (28), Albert Bouchard (29), Buck Dharma (29), Allen Lanier (30), Eric Bloom (32): Members of Blue Öyster Cult. The band’s career took off in 1976 with the release of their album, Agents of Fortune. It was their first platinum album. The best known song on that album is “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, which reached #12 in the US, #7 in Canada, and #16 in the UK. The song is considered the band’s masterpiece. Decades later, the song was featured in an SNL sketch called “More Cowbell”.
The band’s other big hit, “Burnin’ For You”, came in 1981. It was popular on MTV.
Before the fame: The band formed in 1967 and were originally called Soft White Underbelly until 1971. Sandy Pearlman put together the band as an American version of Black Sabbath and to perform songs based on his poems. They recorded an album for Elektra Records in 1968 but it wasn’t released until over 30 years later. Eric Bloom was originally the acoustic engineer, but later became the lead singer.
They changed their name to Blue Öyster Cult in 1971 and released their debut the following year. They toured with The Byrds, Alice Cooper, and Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Joe (26), Lester (28), Willie (30), and George (37) Chambers: The Chambers Brothers were best known for their 1968 hit “Time Has Come Today”. The original version of the song was 11 minutes long, but the single was edited down to (depending on the version) between 2 minutes and 37 seconds and 4 minutes and 45 seconds long. The song reached #11 on the Billboard charts.
They had one minor hit after that, “I Can’t Turn You Loose”, which made the top 40 that same year.
Before the fame: The four brothers were from Carthage, Mississippi and grew up singing in church. The oldest brother, George, was drafted into the Army in 1952 and they had to stop singing for a while. After he was discharged from the Army, he moved to LA and his younger brothers followed him.
Originally, they performed folk music, but changed to a more electric sound in the mid-60s, inspired by Bob Dylan.
Koko Taylor (37): Blues singer considered the Queen of the Blues, known for her rough vocal style. Willie Dixon spotted her in 1962 and helped her get record deals. She released her first single in 1963 through USA Records. In 1965, she recorded “Wang Dang Doodle”, a song written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf. It reached #4 on the R&B charts and #58 on the pop charts.
Before the fame: She was born on a farm near Memphis in 1928. She moved to Chicago with her husband in 1952 and later in the decade she started singing in blues clubs.
Lemmy (26): Best known as the founder, lead singer, and bassist of Motörhead. He was one of the early heavy metal musicians and his raspy voice is easily recognisable. Before that, he was the bassist of space rock band Hawkwind, singing lead vocals on their biggest hit, “Silver Machine”, which reached #3 on the UK singles charts in 1972.
Motörhead got their first minor hit with their cover of “Louie Louie” in 1978, reaching #68 in the UK. “Overkill”, released the following year, was their first top 40 hit in the UK, peaking at #39. Their biggest hit, “Ace of Spades” (#15 UK) came in 1980.
Before the fame: Lemmy was born Ian Kilmister in Stoke-on-Trent on Christmas Eve 1945. He grew up there and in Anglesey in Wales, being the only English kid among the Welsh kids. In secondary school, he got the nickname Lemmy and he loved rock and roll, girls, and horses. To attract the attention of female classmates he brought his mum’s guitar to school and got attention even though he didn’t know how to play it yet. He saw The Beatles at the Cavern Club when he was 16 and loved John Lennon’s sarcasm.
In 1965, he joined The Rockin’ Vickers, who got a record deal and a European tour. Apparently, they were the first British band to play in Yugoslavia. He left the band in 1967 and moved to London. He worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix. In 1968, he was in the band Sam Gopal.
Finally, in 1971, he joined Hawkwind as a bassist despite having no experience playing bass.
Leonard Cohen (33): Canadian poet and singer-songwriter. He didn’t release his first album until 1967, at the age of 33. The album was a success in Europe. His first single, “Suzanne”, reached #3 in France and #9 in Spain. Martin Sharp wrote the lyrics for “Tales of Brave Ulysses” to the melody of this song.
The follow-up single, “So Long, Marianne”, was a top 30 hit in France. Folk artists like Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and James Taylor covered his songs. In 1970, he toured for the first time around the US, Canada, and Europe. He even played at the Isle of Wight Festival that year. In 1972, he toured Europe and Israel and the following year he returned to Israel to play for IDF soldiers in the outposts of Sinai during the Yom Kippur War.
In 1971, three songs from his debut album, “The Stranger Song”, “Winter Lady”, and “Songs of Mercy” were in the soundtrack of the Robert Altman film McCabe & Mrs Miller.
In the 80s, his most famous song, “Hallelujah” came out. A cover of the song by John Cale is heard in the 2001 Oscar-winning film Shrek.
Before the fame: Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal and studied at McGill University. He worked as a poet and a writer in the 50s and 60s. He published his first poems in 1954 and his first book, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956. He went to grad school and worked odd jobs, but didn’t like it that much. By 1967, he was disappointed with his lack of financial success from writing and decided to move to New York to try his hand at folk music. One of his inspirations was hearing Nico sing in clubs.
Lindsey Buckingham (26), Stevie Nicks (27), and Christine McVie (32): Lead guitarist/vocalist, vocalist, and keyboard player/vocalist, respectively of the 70s pop era (and arguably, the most successful and popular era) of Fleetwood Mac.
Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band in 1975 for their album Fleetwood Mac, their first album to go #1 in the US. There were multiple successful singles on that album: “Over My Head” (written by Christine McVie), “Rhiannon” (written by Stevie Nicks), and “Say You Love Me” (written by Christine McVie).
Christine McVie joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970. The band didn’t get much commercial success until the mid-70s when their sound turned more pop.
Before the fame: Lindsey Buckingham was born in Palo Alto, California in 1949. His first foray into music was playing with a Mickey Mouse toy guitar. His parents noticed his talent and later got him a proper guitar. His family were very athletic. His older brother, Gregory, won a silver medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Lindsey was encouraged to swim competitively, but instead he dropped out of that to focus on music. He never took formal lessons.
Stevie Nicks was born in Arizona in 1948 and moved around a lot in her childhood. Her grandfather was a struggling country singer and he taught her how to sing. She got her nickname Stevie because she couldn’t pronounce Stephanie properly, and instead it came out as ‘tee-dee’. She wrote her first songs when she was a teenager after receiving a guitar as a gift. She met Lindsey Buckingham while she was in secondary school. They both went to San Jose State University, but Stevie Nicks dropped out to pursue music.
In the late 60s, Lindsey Buckingham was in a folk band called The Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band, also known as just Fritz. They had some successes playing live, opening for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Stevie Nicks also was in the band. He invited her into the band.
Fritz broke up in 1972 and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks decided to keep writing songs. They recorded some demos and went to LA to try to get a record deal. They signed with Polydor Records and released Buckingham Nicks the following year. The album was a commercial flop. It didn’t help that their record label didn’t bother to promote it. It was such a failure that both Buckingham and Nicks had to work day jobs to pay the bills. Surprisingly, even after they became superstars with Fleetwood Mac it still hasn’t been remastered or released digitally.
Mick Fleetwood heard “Frozen Love” playing over the monitor speakers at Sound City and was so impressed that he wanted them to join Fleetwood Mac. At the time they were invited to join the band, Stevie Nicks was working as a waitress.
Christine McVie was born Christine Perfect in Lancashire in 1943. She started studying music seriously when she was 11. Later, she befriended two musicians, Stan Webb and Andy Sylvester. She also sang with Spencer Davis. In 1967, some ex-bandmates of hers formed a band called Chicken Shack and they were looking for a piano player and she asked if she could join and they said yes. She received awards from Melody Maker for best female vocalist in 1969 and 1970.
Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack would often play at the same venues and that is how Christine met John McVie. They got married in 1968 and she left Chicken Shack in 1969. She played piano on a few songs on the Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac album, Mr Wonderful. She officially joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970.
Lou Reed (30): Lead guitarist, lead vocalist, and songwriter for The Velvet Underground, who were not commercially successful at the time, but he wound up with a successful solo career that boosted interest in his work with the Velvet Underground.
His most successful song, “Walk on the Wild Side” came out in 1972 and it was ahead of its time. The song talked about transgender people, sex work, and drugs. It tells the story of Warhol Superstars making their way to New York City: Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallessandro, Jackie Curtis, and Joe Campbell. As conservative as American society is, the song was a top 20 hit. In the UK, it reached #10.
The breakthrough album the song was on, Transformer, was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson. Sadly, Lou Reed’s friendship with David Bowie didn’t last long because they got into a fight. David Bowie didn’t want to work with Lou Reed anymore because he felt he needed to clean up his act.
Before the fame: The Velvet Underground and Nico may be considered a classic now, but the album was a commercial flop in 1967 because of poor promotion and the world not being ready yet for their proto-punk sound.
Lou Reed was born in 1942 in Brooklyn, but raised in Freeport, Long Island. As a teenager he suffered from panic attacks and was socially awkward. He turned to music and learnt how to play guitar from listening to the radio. In university, he had a mental breakdown and his parents made him get electroshock therapy. It traumatised him and he wrote the song “Kill Your Sons” about that experience.
He studied journalism, film directing, and creative writing at Syracuse University and in his free time he hosted a jazz radio show. He graduated in 1964 and moved to New York City to work as a songwriter. A couple years later, they met Andy Warhol, who wanted them to be part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable and managed the band in the early part of its existence. Before their sophomore album came out, the band fired Andy Warhol. The band were falling apart and in 1970, Lou Reed left the band and moved in with his parents and took a job at his father’s accounting office.
In 1971, he signed to RCA Records and travelled to London to record his self-titled solo debut. Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman of Yes were session musicians on the album.
Manu Dibango (39): Released a few albums in the late 60s in his 30s, but did not become famous until “Soul Makossa” came out in 1972. “Soul Makossa” is considered one of the first disco records. A DJ named David Mancuso found a copy in a Caribbean record store in Brooklyn and brought it to parties, where people went crazy for it. Another DJ, Frankie Crocker, played it on New York City’s most popular black radio station, WBLS.
People were asking what the song was and people bought up copies. At one point, it was so hard to find that bands were capitalising on its popularity by releasing covers. Then Atlantic Records got a distribution deal for it and in 1973, the song peaked at #35 on the pop charts. “Makossa” means “dance” in the Duala language.
The song inspired two pop hits from later decades, Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something” and Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music”.
Before the fame: He was born in Douala, Cameroon in 1933. His father was a civil servant and his mother was a fashion designer. His parents were from two different ethnicities: Yabassi and Duala and marriages outside the ethnic group were looked down upon. Manu didn’t feel like he could identify with either. He grew up going to church and loved to study music.
Marty Balin (25), Paul Kantner (26), Jorma Kaukonen (27), Grace Slick (27, almost 28), Spencer Dryden (29): Members of Jefferson Airplane. Marty Balin was the the founder and one of the lead singers of Jefferson Airplane. Paul Kantner was the rhythm guitarist and a vocalist, Jorma Kaukonen was the lead guitarist and a vocalist, and Spencer Dryden was the drummer.
Grace Slick was the vocalist of Jefferson Airplane. However, she was not the first female member of the band. She joined in 1966, after Signe Toly Anderson left the band due to having a baby. In 1967, Jefferson Airplane released their second album, Surrealistic Pillow. Two of the biggest songs on the album had Grace Slick on lead vocals: “Somebody to Love” (written by her brother in law) and “White Rabbit” (written by Grace Slick herself). The former reached #5 on the Billboard charts and the latter reached #8 on the Billboard charts.
The band didn’t have another hit that big again. However, as Jefferson Starship, they got a few top 40 hits with “Miracles”, “With Your Love”, “Count on Me”, Runaway”, and “Jane”. As just Starship, they got their biggest hits, “We Built This City” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”.
Before the fame: Marty Balin was born Martyn Buchwald in Ohio and released his first singles in 1962. In 1964, he was in a folk quartet called The Town Criers. He was the founder of the San Francisco club, The Matrix, and Jefferson Airplane were formed as part of that business.
Paul Kantner was born in San Francisco. His mother died when he was 8 and he was not allowed to go to her funeral. His father sent him to a Catholic military boarding school and it was there that he got into science fiction. As a teenager, he got into the music of Pete Seeger and became rebellious. He dropped out of university after 3 years to become a musician. At one point, David Crosby and David Freiberg were his roommates.
Jorma Kaukonen was born in Washington DC and moved around all over the world because of his father’s job with the State Department. It was in Washington DC that he met Jack Casady and they formed a band together called The Triumphs. Paul Kantner, one of his classmates invited him to join his band that he and Marty Balin started. Kaukonen came up with the band name because of a strange friend who named his dog Blind Lemon Jefferson Airplane.
Grace Slick was born Grace Wing in Highland Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago on 30 October 1939. As a child, her family moved to California, eventually ending up in the Bay Area. She went to a private school and went to Finch College in New York City and the University of Miami before returning to San Francisco.
She married Jerry Slick in 1961 and took his last name. In the early 60s, she worked as a model at an I. Magnin department store. In 1965, she was in her first band, The Great Society with her husband and brother in law. At first, she didn’t think that she would be a musician as a career, but she was inspired when she saw Jefferson Airplane perform at The Matrix.
“Somebody to Love” was originally a Great Society song and their version was released in 1966.
Spencer Dryden was born in New York City in 1938 and raised in LA. His father, Wheeler Dryden, was born in England and was a half brother of Charlie Chaplin. Wheeler worked as an assistant director for Charlie Chaplin. He replaced Skip Spence as the drummer of Jefferson Airplane in 1966.
Mick Mars (32): Lead guitarist of Mötley Crüe, a metal band known for their backstage antics, outrageous clothing and hair, and heavy makeup. He came up with the band name. Mötley Crüe got their breakthrough when they played the US Festival on Memorial Day weekend 1983. The band’s sophomore album, Shout at the Devil, reached the top 20 on the US albums charts and did well in Australia and Canada too. The title track of the album reached #30 on the mainstream rock singles charts.
The following year, they opened for Ozzy Osbourne on his 1984 Bark at the Moon Tour. In the late half of the 80s, they evolved into a glam metal band. During this period, the band had success with singles like “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Dr Feelgood”, and “Kickstart My Heart”.
Before the fame: Mick Mars was born in Terre Haute, Indiana and raised in California. He dropped out of secondary school and played in various bands and worked menial day jobs. He got his name from a band mate who called himself Micki Marz. He was frustrated with the music scene and reinvented himself, changing his name to Mick Mars and dying his hair black.
In 1980, he put an ad in The Recycler looking for bandmates. In the ad he described himself as a loud, rude, and aggressive guitar player. Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee got in contact with him and he auditioned for the band that became Mötley Crüe. They were impressed with him as soon as they heard him.
Muddy Waters (35): Blues singer-songwriter considered the Father of Modern Chicago Blues. His first successes came in the late 1940s when he released singles through Aristocrat Records. His earliest success was “(I Feel Like) Going Home”, released in 1948 and reaching #11 on the R&B charts.
In the 50s, he got a bunch of top 10 R&B hits like “Long Distance Call”, “Still a Fool”, “Mad Love”, “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”, “I’m Ready”, “Mannish Boy”, “Forty Days and Forty Nights”, and “Close to You”.
In 1958, he did a tour of England and the audiences were surprised to hear his electric slide guitar playing, which was different from the acoustic folk blues the audiences were used to. The reception was that his music was very loud and alienated some old school fans, but there were younger musicians like Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies who loved that sound and it inspired a new generation of blues rock with bands like The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green era), Cream, Taste, etc.
In the late 60s and early 70s, he returned to his classic blues sound and he experienced a resurgence in popularity.
Before the fame: He was born McKinley Morganfield in 1913 in Mississippi. He grew up on Stovall Plantation and started playing guitar and harmonica as a teenager.
Check out Part 3 too! 🙂
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[…] Want to find out about more musicians who made it a little later in life? Read Part 2! […]
Goes to show you don’t need to be young to make great music! I recently discovered The Chambers Brothers and the amazing Time Has Come Today. RIP George Chambers. Did you hear that Huey Lewis is unable to do concerts because of a hearing loss problem, very sad.
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That’s so true. It’s never too late to follow your dreams. I didn’t hear about that. That’s a real shame. 😦
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[…] final part of this series on classic rock musicians who made it a bit later in life. Read parts 1 & 2 here. These musicians are a great example of why it’s never too late to become a rock star. Go and […]