For the love of the art, many musicians balance a day job with side gigs.
“The only truth is music,” Jack Kerouac wrote. There may be one other truth: making music doesn’t always pay the bills. Many musicians, artists and writers don’t start out working full-time in their creative fields. It may take years before they can make a living doing what they love, and many are never able to rely solely on income derived from making music. A lot of musicians will take on flexible jobs where they can have time off for out-of-town side gigs or work a day job in an office to have nights and weekends free for rehearsals and shows. Sheryl Crow was a schoolteacher, Kurt Cobain was a janitor, Rod Stewart worked at a cemetery and Brittany Howard worked for the postal service. Many musicians today work in coffee shops, restaurants and bars. For many others, though, the day job is a unique aspect of life.
I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass (Ceilings)
Paula Boggs Band. Courtesy of Paula Boggs.
Seattle’s Paula Boggs of the Paula Boggs Band always knew her heart was in music, but there were other life lessons to learn first. She earned a law degree but also had a four-year commitment to the US Army to fulfill, which included not only her lawyer duties but also becoming a paratrooper. Once her feet were back on the ground, she became a staff attorney for the White House and later senior deputy counsel for Dell Corporation and Chief Counsel for a hometown company by the name of Starbucks.
Paula Boggs interview. Via The HIP Spotlight.
It took over 30 years and a family tragedy to set the wheels in motion for Paula to return to music and create her own sound, which she describes as “Seattle Brewed Soulgrass.” Her songs, filled with the essence of soul, bluegrass and Americana, offer lyrics that relate to both her life and society. Even as her music lights her passion, Paula still is connected to public service and the corporate boardroom, through speaking engagements and as an advocate for disenfranchised youth by teaming up with My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Rollin’ on the River
Paul Brown at a gig. Courtesy of Kath Galasso.
For Paul Brown, Grammy-nominated record producer and keyboardist for The Waterboys and The Brothers Brown, a near-death experience gave him the push he needed to leave his day job and pursue music as a full-time career. After the passing of his mother when he was 12, Paul and his brothers were sent to live at the Tennessee Preparatory School in Nashville. It was there he found music, only to lose it when he was no longer allowed to practice. Eventually Paul ran away from the school, ending up back in his hometown of Memphis, where the lure of the Mississippi River led him to become a deckhand on a tugboat hauling crude oil up and down the river.
Paul backstage at a gig. Courtesy of Paul Brown.
For two and a half years while Paul continued to practice music, he learned all he could about the boat, thinking a life of working on the river might be his future. However, the boat’s captain, also a musician, told Paul he was too good of a musician not to be playing. Paul struggled to decide between the day job and pursuing music full-time until one night when they were in St. Louis and the tug hit the Eads Bridge. The winch wire snapped, causing a spark and setting the barges on fire. Fortunately the barges were full, so they burned instead of exploding. Not so luckily, three of the four barges were engulfed in flames and drifting toward the boat. The barge closest to the almost powerless boat was not on fire but was leaking and slowly pulling the boat down. At the last minute the crew was able to disengage the winch wire and the captain maneuvered the boat to safety.
When the owner of the boat refused his request for a leave of absence after the accident, Paul quit the river, becoming homeless for a while until his first music gig. His timing proved to be lucky, however. Three months later the same boat was involved in another accident, and tragically four members of the crew were killed.
If I Were a Carpenter and a Lady
Amber Farris at a gig. Courtesy of Kath Galasso.
Before the band moved to Nashville, Southern blues-rock band Somebody’s Darling played all around their hometown of Dallas. Before her musical path took her to the Music City, songwriter and lead singer Amber Farris not only played guitar but worked in the office of the iron-and-wood custom furniture company owned by her uncle Kevin and his partner Donnie. When Donnie passed away suddenly, the company was without its woodworker. In order to help keep the business going, Amber decided to “figure out how to do this” and learned the art of carpentry.
Amber in her carpentry workshop. Courtesy of Amber Farris.
While music is the focus of her life, Amber still hasn’t retired from carpentry. Though she’s writing songs as much as ever, lately she has also been building treehouses. “As much as I love music, I love to dabble in everything. I can’t settle for just one thing.”
Hit Me with Your Best Shot
Arnie at a gig. Courtesy of Kath Galasso.
Americana singer-songwriter Arnie “Tokyo” Rosenthal was a musician early on before he took a 20-year hiatus to focus on a few different careers, then circled back to music. First there was his venture into the early cable TV industry, where he ran a couple of networks, including the Financial News Network, which is known today as CNBC.
FNN had a sports division. Having been an amateur boxer, he was pulled more and more into the world of boxing. After the network was sold, he became a blow-by-blow boxing commentator in both radio and TV, calling fights for HBO, Star Boxing and Prime Network, among others. But broadcasting was only part of Arnie’s boxing involvement. He also managed over 50 fighters, including six world champions, created and promoted a weekly televised women’s boxing series and was a pioneer in pay-per-view broadcasts.
Tokyo with Vaden and King. Courtesy of Arnie Rosenthal.
Somewhere along the line Arnie became known as Tokyo. Leaving a day job in the corporate world behind, Toke rediscovered his musical voice. Always the promoter, he finished up his second season of The Tokyo Rosenthal Program, a syndicated radio show devoted entirely to the Americana genre of music, and still heads out on the road throughout the US and the British Isles singing tunes from his five albums.
Take This Job and Shove It
Most musicians never quit their day job. Rather, sadly, many give up on their music dream. We’re grateful for the ones who persevere and overcome the odds to hold on to the dream.
So next time you hear the guy mixing your smoothie quietly humming a tune, you just might want to take a closer listen.