“Don’t quit your day job” is the taunt often aimed at those who can’t sing. Some famous musicians did just that, quitting their boring day jobs after their music careers started to take off.
It’s tempting to think of our favourite musicians as having always been that famous, as if they were just born into fame and fortune. Yet they often started in the most normal of jobs, working to make ends meet as they dreamt of becoming a musician.
That Starbucks barista? They could be the next big pop star. The uber driver who drove you home last weekend? He might be working on a punk record right now.
Read on to discover some of the most surprising day jobs that musicians had before they became famous, including a heavy metal legend working in an abattoir and a grunge icon cleaning toilets.
Ozzy Osbourne (Slaughterhouse Worker)
Ozzy in a Slaughterhouse? I could see that very easily. The Prince of Darkness flitted between labouring jobs after deciding to leave school aged just 15, including trainee plumber, apprentice toolmaker, and working on a construction site. He also worked in an abattoir and maybe that abrasive, gross environment had a hand in the Black Sabbath sound.
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Freddie Mercury (Second-Hand Clothes Stall)
Imagine rocking up to a Sunday Market and haggling with the frontman of Queen. Mercury ran a stall in Kensington Market in London alongside Roger Taylor before they were famous, although the flamboyant Mercury probably still stood out. They sold second-half Edwardian clothes and scarves and artwork. How stylish.
David Berman (Art Gallery Security Guard)
One of the great singer-songwriters of his generation, the late Berman (he died by suicide in 2019) worked as a security guard at New York’s prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art. He just so happened to be living with Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, who he formed the band Silver Jews with but the pair would find greater fame in the iconic 90’s group Pavement. It’s no wonder that Berman penned some of the finest songs of the last few decades: there’s a lot of time to think up lyrics while standing still watching people look at paintings.
Jack White (Upholsterer)
Ever wondered where White got the name Third Man for his record label? Wonder no more. Before forming The White Stripes, the garage rocker started a one-man business, Third Man Upholstery, after completing a three-year apprenticeship. Luckily he met Meg White around the same time and the rest was history.
Kurt Cobain (Janitor)
I don’t know about you but the janitors at my schools never seemed musically-gifted. Yet before becoming a legend with Nirvana, Cobain spent several years working for a janitorial service in his hometown of Aberdeen, Washington State. Such honest work probably helped Cobain feel like a relatable everyman even when he was ascending to the pinnacle of music.
Brandon Flowers (Bellhop)
Of course Brandon Flowers worked in a casino. As the frontman of The Killers, probably the biggest band to emerge from Las Vegas, Flowers had the most Las Vegas of jobs before finding fame. He worked as a bellhop at the Gold Coast Hotel in his native city at the same time as he started to form what would become The Killers.