Like the rest of us, rock stars didn’t start out at the top of their profession, and had to get day jobs in order to pay rent and put food on the table while they pursued their dreams; here is a list of some of the early gigs of a handful of famous musicians. So if you now have a job that you hate, hang in there; you won’t have to do it forever, hopefully.
(Note: This list is in random order.)
MICK JAGGER: PORTER AT MENTAL HOSPITAL
In addition to an early job selling ice-cream cones at a beach resort, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones later worked as a porter at Bexley Mental Hospital in London while he was studying economics in school; the job consisted of running errands and transporting patients about in a wheelchair. Sounds like a somewhat interesting job, and even more notable is the story that Jagger lost his virginity at the hospital to a co-worker in a supply closet. This surely prepared him for all the groupies who followed during his long rock-star career.
EDDIE VEDDER: SECURITY GUARD
Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder started off as a security guard at the La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla, California, near San Diego; Vedder worked the overnight shift, and eventually made his way up to a supervisor position. Appearing at a 2012 fundraiser in Tampa, Florida, for President Barack Obama, Vedder credited a U.S. government security-guard training program for getting him the job; it allowed him to save up enough money to buy guitars and microphones for his eventual musical career, he said. No word on whether the "Glorified G" singer carried a gun while on duty.
TONY IOMMI: SHEET-METAL WORKER
At the young age of 17, the legendary Black Sabbath guitarist worked in a sheet-metal plant in industrial Birmingham, England; on his last day on the job, he was assigned to a machine he had had no previous experience with. As he was pushing a piece of metal into it, the machine clamped down on his right hand, and when Iommi instinctively pulled his hand back, he pulled off the tips of his middle and ring fingers. Devastated and depressed after the accident and thinking that his dreams of a musical career as a guitarist were over, Iommi eventually created homemade thimbles from a melted plastic bottle for his injured fingers and used light-gauge banjo strings for his guitar, enabling him to play again. He later down-tuned his guitar, which slackened the strings and made them easier to bend, which helped Iommi create Sabbath's signature heavy, raw guitar sound. So perhaps it was destiny that Iommi’s accident in the metal plant led to the sound of metal music itself.
TOM WAITS: DISHWASHER/PIZZA COOK
Idiosyncratic singer-songwriter Tom Waits got a job at Napoleone’s Pizza House in National City, California, another suburb of San Diego, when he was about 16 years old. Waits started off as a dishwasher and worked his way up to cooking pizzas, often until 4 a.m. on the overnight shift. He immortalized the place in several of his songs, including “The Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours At Napoleone's Pizza House),” I Can't Wait to Get Off Work (And See My Baby On Montgomery Avenue)” and “Shore Leave.” A must-visit place for Waits fans while in San Diego, Napoleone’s is still open today and currently features plenty of his songs on the jukebox; Waits has said that listening to songs on the old jukebox at Napoleone’s by artists like Ray Charles and Patsy Cline inspired him to become a singer.
FREDDIE MERCURY: MARKET VENDOR
Freddie Mercury did not work for anyone else, he worked for himself; he owned and ran a stall in London's Kensington Market along with Queen drummer Roger Taylor. The place was kind of like Houston's Traders Village, or more accurately one of our indoor flea markets; Kensington catered to hippie and bohemian culture at that time, and Mercury sold his own original artwork and second-hand clothes. Interestingly, Mercury and Taylor kept running the stall after the release of Queen’s first album; other members of the band also held down various day jobs along with their university studies.
ELVIS COSTELLO: DATA-ENTRY CLERK
Elvis Costello and I have at least one thing in common: We both held day jobs doing data-entry work for a period. Unfortunately, I don’t also share his gift of musical and vocal talent. Costello did data-entry for a bank at one point and also pounded the keys for Elizabeth Arden, a cosmetics company. Speaking from personal experience, I can say it’s not the most exciting job in the world, but it does give you plenty of time to think; perhaps Costello used this time to plot his future musical career?
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
CHRIS CORNELL: FISH HANDLER
Chris Cornell worked for several years as a fish handler at a Seattle seafood wholesaler; the job consisted partially of throwing away fish guts and cleaning up the slime the fish left behind at a market. The smell was not too nice, but it was hard for Cornell to find a better job at the time as a high-school dropout; luckily, he found fame and fortune with Soundgarden. Cornell returned to his roots in the food industry in recent years, after a fashion, by opening up his own restaurant/bar called Black Calavados in Paris, where he lives during part of the year.
OZZY OSBOURNE: SLAUGHTERHOUSE WORKER
It’s hard to imagine Ozzy Osbourne working 9 to 5, and during his younger years he seemed to follow a Charles Bukowski Factotum type of life, jumping from job to job. Ozzy's early gigs included construction worker, trainee plumber, horn-tuner at a car factory (?) and slaughterhouse worker. There, Ozzy reportedly sliced open dead cows and removed all the contents of their stomachs, a chore that made him vomit daily from the smell. Kind of interesting that later on in life during his solo career, Ozzy bit the heads off of both a live dove and a bat, but he got his start tearing apart dead animals. Ozzy says he has had nightmares of being chased by some of the cows from the slaughterhouse.
BON SCOTT: POSTMAN
AC/DC’s legendary original singer, Bon Scott, attempted to join the Australian Army in his youth but was denied after being labeled “socially maladjusted” because of early stints in juvenile institutions after running afoul of the law. It was a long way to the top for Scott as he worked a number of odd jobs before finding rock stardom, including truck loader, bartender and postman. Today it's hard to imagine the late singer waking up early to sort and deliver mail, as the bartender gig seemed more his speed. Scott started his first band, the Spektors, in 1966; he was actually the drummer and only occasionally sang lead vocals.
TOM ARAYA: RESPIRATORY THERAPIST
Despite singing about death a lot in Slayer, Tom Araya held a job as a respiratory therapist helping patients to heal in a hospital; Araya earned a decent salary and used his earnings to finance Slayer’s debut album, Show No Mercy. After sporadic attendance at work and the hospital’s denial of his request for time off in 1984 for Slayer’s first European tour, Araya says, he fired himself after being threatened with termination.