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Jobs Famous Musicians Had Before They Were Famous

From working the register to working the crowd, here are some jobs famous musicians had before they made it big.

Photo by Nainoa Shizuru on Unsplash

While there are a number of celebrity dynasties, many stars got to where they are through talent, hard work, and persistence. The music business is particularly demanding, with many musicians working day jobs alongside their music careers even after their first album. From David Bowie's job as a butcher's delivery boy to Kurt Cobain's stint as a janitor, many musicians have spent years working the register or sweeping floors to support their creative craft and their dream of making it big. Here are some jobs famous musicians had before they were able to turn music into a successful career.

Mick Jagger worked in a mental hospital.

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Sir Michael Jagger, better known as Mick Jagger, is one of the all-time greatest legends of Rock N Roll music. Alongside guitarist Keith Richards, Jagger heads the Rolling Stones, a band that has been a staple of Rock music since the British Invasion, and is still active after more than fifty years of touring. Jagger and Richards met each other in primary school when they were around six or seven and formed the first iteration of their band (first called Blues Incorporated) before they were 18, so there wasn't a whole lot of time for Jagger to get a day job before becoming a full-time musician. While studying at the London School of Economics, however, Jagger had a part time job at the Bexley Mental Hospital, where he worked as a porter (similar to a custodian). Most people probably don't think of mental hospitals when they consider jobs famous musicians had before they made it big time, but really this was just another low-paying day job of the era.

Keith Richards was a ball boy.

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By most accounts, Keith Richards was less interested than his partner Mick Jagger in doing anything besides make music. When the duo moved into a London flat, Jagger was still attending classes at the London School of Economics, while Richards had dropped out to pursue music full-time. But alas, not even the great Keith Richards is immune from a spot on this list of jobs famous musicians had before they were famous. When he was a young boy, Richards worked as a ball boy at a tennis club. He mainly got this job through his parents, who would play tennis every weekend. At least he got to learn the ins and outs of the game.

P!nk Worked at a McDonald's.

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If you look at a list of jobs regular people had, you'll see a lot of custodial jobs and fast food gigs. A list of jobs famous musicians had is no different. Many famous musicians and other celebrities worked for minimum wage before they caught their big break. In particular, McDonald's has employed a number of celebrities before they were famous. A notable entry on that list is P!nk, who worked at the fast food chain at an young age before joining an R&B trio at the age of 16. Unlike some celebrities, who claim to have fond memories of their early restaurant jobs, P!nk has said that she is afraid of reliving that experience—broke and working the register at a McDonald's. But considering the number of Grammy Awards and multi-platinum albums under her belt, I don't think she's in danger of returning to McDonald's any time soon.

Gwen Stefani worked at a Dairy Queen.

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A lot of jobs famous musicians had came when they were young, just before superstardom. Gwen Stefani's musical career began rather early, as she was asked to be the lead singer in her brother's ska band, No Doubt, in the late 1980s, before she turned 18. By 1991, the band was signed by a record label, but Sefani's career as a star lead singer wasn't solidified until 1995 with the release of their breakout album Tragic Kingdom. In fact, she was in college when the album was released, deciding to take a semester off to tour and promote the album. The success of that album led to a tour that ended up lasting nearly three years, so Stefani embarked on her music career and didn't return to college. Before all this happened, however, Stefani's first gig was making Blizzards and dipped cones at her local Dairy Queen in Anaheim, California.

Jonathan Davis was an embalmer.

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Some jobs famous musicians had before they were famous sort of make sense. After all, most people have a regrettable stint working the register at a fast food joint whether it's too pay for school or to help support their family. So seeing McDonald's and Dairy Queen on this list shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Jonathan Davis's (of the band Korn) pre-fame gig as a professional embalmer, however, is another story. This wasn't just a day job: Davis went to college at the San Fransisco School of Mortuary Science before getting jobs in a funeral home and the Kern County Coroner's Department in Bakersfield, California. In a demented sort of way, working every day at a funeral home actually makes sense for the lead singer of a metal band—former gravedigger Rod Stewart certainly would have approved. Interestingly, before becoming a professional embalmer, Davis apparently also had a stint working for Toys R Us.

Kanye West worked at The Gap.

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After fast food, the most common menial jobs famous musicians have had before they got big are in the retail sector. A far cry from his current streetwear fashionista status, Kanye West's high school job was in customer service at a Gap location in Chicago. West rapped about his time at the retail chain in "Spaceship" from his 2004 album The College Dropout: "Let's go back, back to the Gap, look at my check, wasn't no scratch." West's lyrics go on to imply that he stole from the company as well, which is in line with his later interviews about not being able to afford the nice clothes he was surrounded by at 15. West has since changed his views on frugality, as evidenced by the $500 shirts in his Yeezy clothing line.

Jack White was an uplholsterer.

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Most of the time when you read about jobs famous musicians had, it's a footnote about something odd they did for a couple seasons before dedicating themselves wholly to their musical craft. Jack White, however, not only embraces his history as an upholsterer, he's even tapped into those talents as recently as 2016, when he refurbished a 50-year-old couch at a recording studio in Memphis. White's record company, Third Man Records, is named after the minimum three fastenings needed to upholster something, a concept that inspires White to strive for simplicity in his music. In fact, Third Man Records is actually the successor to White's actual upholstery company, Third Man Upholstery.

Lemmy was a roadie.

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A lot of jobs famous musicians had were dead-end, low-pay, dreadful day jobs that served only as a means to an end. Before joining Motörhead and helping to redefine what metal music is, legendary frontman Lemmy had a job that was probably still low-pay, but probably about the best dream job for a wannabe rock star. He was a roadie for none other than Jimi Hendrix in the late 60s. Roadies, also known as the road crew, handle all the tech and equipment for bands on tour, handling just about every aspect of a concert short of performing the music. For his efforts, Lemmy was paid £10 per week, with the added incentive of plenty of acid.

Lars Ulrich was (almost) a professional tennis player.

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Metallica's drummer Lars Ulrich is another front runner for most unexpected jobs famous musicians had before playing music full-time. The son and grandson of two successful Danish tennis players, Ulrich was trained in the game of tennis from a young age, and was ranked in the top ten of his age category when he attended the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy at 16. It wasn't until then that he decided the humdrum life of a tennis star wasn't for him. Soon after, he would meet James Hetfield through a newspaper ad, and together they formed Metallica (and introduced the world to some of the coolest metal album covers ever).

Ozzy Osbourne was... a bunch of things.

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One of the most storied and legendary musical figures of the 20th century, it's no surprise that some of the most interesting jobs famous musicians had are on Ozzy Osbourne's résumé. The British rocker joined the band that would become Black Sabbath in 1967, when he was 19, and went on to create some of the most iconic rock sounds of the 70s. By that time, he had already held a slew of peculiar professions. These included not-so-unusual day jobs like being a construction worker and a plumber-in-training. He also worked in an abattoir, which is just a French way of saying Osbourne worked in a slaughterhouse. Most curiously, Osbourne apparently also worked as a "horn-tuner" in a car factory, which I didn't even know was a thing.

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