All the right notes: First jobs of famous musicians

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Without music, life would be a mistake, according to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

FILE PHOTO: Grandmaster Flash attends the 2018 Pre-GRAMMY Gala & GRAMMY Salute to Industry Icons presented by Clive Davis and The Recording Academy honoring Shawn "JAY-Z" Carter in Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 27, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Yet some of the world’s most famed musicians did not begin their careers belting out hits onstage. They had to endure scrappy jobs, just like the rest of us.

For the latest in Reuters’ “First Jobs” series, we talked to a few notable music makers about the gigs that got them started.

Grandmaster Flash

First job: Delivery boy

“I got a job as a delivery boy for a fabric store at Broadway and 38th St. I was walking around the garment district looking for work, and luckily I met the owner of that company, who needed someone to deliver swatches around Manhattan.

“I don’t even want to remember how much they paid me – probably around $150 a week. But that money went towards buying my first turntables. I had seen them in the window of an electronics store in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, and they cost $75 apiece. I had to do a lot of deliveries for that money.

“These were the first turntables that had enough torque, to put my fingertips on the record and start repeating the breaks, all this stuff I was envisioning in my head. That was the beginning of rap music.

“I still have those turntables. What I learned from that time: what is in your head may be what the world is waiting for – so see it through.”

Lars Ulrich, Metallica

First job: Clubhouse attendant

“I grew up in a tennis-playing family, and we all belonged to a club in Copenhagen, Denmark. In that clubhouse was a little café, and the earliest job I can remember doing was tending to that counter, giving people Coca-Colas and sparkling waters, and diving into the freezer for popsicles and ice-cream bars.

“They did pay me, but it was more of a social thing, because from the age of 10 to 15 I was hanging out there every day after school anyways. My paycheck was enough to sustain an occasional trip into the heart of Copenhagen, to buy records by artists like Bob Marley, Kiss, Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest.

“I remember being amused looking at my paycheck, because I would make something like 175 Danish kroner, and then they would take out like 46 percent in taxes. I was bewildered by that, because at 12 years old I didn’t understand any of that stuff.

“I was pretty good at tennis, since for a while my dad was the best player in Denmark. At one time the Danish Davis Cup team consisted of my dad, my uncle, and my grandfather. I ranked in the top 10 for my age group in Denmark. But then we moved to Newport Beach, California, and I didn’t even make the local high school team. I wasn’t even in the top 10 on my street.”


First job: McDonald’s

“I was in the 10th grade, trying out for the football team, and after three practices I got a call from McDonald’s. I had to quit the team, because I wanted to make some money. I was only 15, but I actually lied on my application and said I was 16.

“I stayed there for a year, flipping burgers and mopping floors. Then I went to Popeyes, and I thought I was really moving up in the world. I got paid a little more because my homeboy was a manager there. Nobody really knew I was trying to rhyme, though.

“I worked for Popeyes six months, and then after I graduated was when everything started cracking. I started kicking it with Eazy-E all the time, and then NWA blew up.

“The lesson from that job is that if you want to get paid, you got to work for it -- whether it’s music, or McDonald’s. You can’t sit around. Get up and go get it.”

Nancy Wilson, Heart

First job: Restaurant singer

“I tried to be a car mechanic, then a restaurant hostess, and then a dishwasher, but I kept striking out. A local restaurant in Bellevue, Washington called The Thunderbird was looking for a singer to do live sets, so I started doing acoustic sessions there.

“It was terrifying. I had done stuff with my sister Ann in living rooms and church groups and even drive-in movie theaters, but never anything by myself. They didn’t pay me much, but whatever I earned went towards buying records and getting a better guitar.

“I would sit in the corner, with my mic and miniature PA system, and try to take requests. People would ask for stuff like Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, The Beatles and The Moody Blues.

“Unfortunately they always asked for Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’. It’s one of those campfire-type songs with a million verses. Lo and behold, every single time someone would request it. I still haven’t recovered to this day.”

(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Editing by Lauren Young