“Making it” as a musician isn’t always easy — but it’s also not impossible! In this guest post, Ged Richardson from Zinginstruments shares what he’s learned from seven famous guitarists who overcame the odds…
Tired of getting knocked back? Feeling like your time as a world-famous guitarist will never come? Downright depressed about trying to make it in the music industry?
Yup. I know the feeling. It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
But here’s the thing: what you’re feeling is completely normal.
In fact, some of the best, most talented musicians experienced the very same feeling as you.
Don’t believe me? Here are seven examples of how persistence and dogged determinism helped make the world’s greatest guitarists and musicians.
1. Elvis Presley
If I told you the King, yes no other than Elvis Presley, was given his marching orders before his career took off, you’d think I was kidding right? No, I’m serious!
Elvis was told by the concert hall manager in the Grand Ole Opry (a famous venue in Nashville) in no uncertain terms “You ain’t going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.”
Looking back, that concert hall manager couldn’t have been more wrong. Someone needs to eat several King-size portions of humble pie.
2. Noel Gallagher
Before songwriter and guitarist Noel Gallagher shot to fame in the 1990s with his band Oasis, he endured a lifetime’s worth of setbacks. He battled through family strife, expulsion from school, and dead-end jobs — but he persevered with his music, writing three of his most popular songs (including “Live Forever”) in what he referred to as the ‘The Hit Hut’ (which was in fact a storehouse at the company he was working for at the time!).
Did success come quickly thereafter? Not at all. He auditioned as a singer for the popular indie band Inspiral Carpets and was promptly rejected. Instead, they gave him a job on the tour crew for two years. Tour crew! Now look where he is — filling arenas around the globe. Some achievement, I would say.
3. Django Reinhardt
In 1920s France, a bright new star was stunning audiences in the Parisian music halls with his virtuoso guitar playing. He was called Django Reinhardt.
At the tender age of 18, Django got his first major gig with English band leader Jack Hylton, quite an accomplishment for an uneducated Romani Gypsy. But tragedy struck soon after. A fire broke out in his caravan and he was badly injured. He injured his left hand, paralyzing all but two fingers on his fretting hand.
For many this would be the end of their playing career. But not for Django, who worked out a way to play the guitar using his two working fingers. He went on to create a whole new genre of his own with Stéphane Grappelli, known as ‘Gypsy Jazz,’ and the rest is history, as they say.
4. Paul McCartney
Songwriter and bassist Paul McCartney is the picture of charisma and confidence on stage when you see that old footage of the Beatles. But looks can be deceiving.
Sir Paul was prone to bouts of stage fright, often rendering him useless in front of screaming fans. Interviewed by the NME in 2009, he said: “So I remember being on the steps of Wembley Town Hall, literally getting ill with nerves, and thinking, ‘I’ve got to give this business up, this is no good.’” If he can play through the nerves, so can you.
5. Pat Martino
This jazz musician is one of the most revered and famous guitarists in the industry. Was it all a ride in the park for him? Far from it. Pat Martino was already established as a heavyweight guitar player, but at the age of 36 he suffered a brain aneurysm that put him out of action. And that’s putting it mildly. Surgery resulted in amnesia and loss of his ability to play guitar. Quite a setback for a guitarist.
With dogged determination he managed to relearn the instrument, while battling what he called ‘near-suicidal’ levels of sorrow. In 2004, Martino was named Guitar Player of the Year in Downbeat Magazine’s Readers’ Poll. Some turn-around, don’t you think?
6. Bob Dylan
In the late 1960s, folk-singing troubadour Bob Dylan was pretty untouchable — influencing the Beatles, among others. Or so he thought. When he toured the UK in 1966 playing a new electric sound, it quickly became apparent that his audience hated the new sound! Bob and his band were jeered and heckled throughout the shows, culminating in one resentful fan shouting ‘Judas.’
Did he succumb to the pressure and go back to playing folk guitar? Heck no. He powered through, ignored the naysayers and invented a new form of electric folk-based pop. We wouldn’t have classics such as “Like a Rolling Stone” if he’d given up.
7. Seasick Steve
The American blues guitarist Seasick Steve didn’t have it easy on his route to stardom either. Leaving home at the age of 13 to avoid abuse at the hands of his stepfather, he lived as a hobo for many years, catching rides by hopping on freight trains as he sought work as a farm laborer.
His rise to stardom didn’t come quickly or easily, but he persisted and eventually established himself as one of today’s best blues guitarists. He attributes much of his unlikely success to his cheap and weather-beaten guitar, “The Trance Wonder.” But I think it was more a case of a spoonful of talent and a whole lot of hard work, persistence, and determination.
So there you have it — seven cases of success against all odds. It’s both humbling and motivating to learn that these famous guitarists were knocked back in some way, but crucially overcame their obstacles to come up on top.
The lesson here? Frustration and adversity can help you — if you use it to fire you up. Never give up. If you want it badly enough, you can make it happen!
Classical guitarist Andres Segovia famously said: “The day I stop playing guitar will be the day after my death.” Now there’s perseverance!
Ged Richardson is an avid guitarist and blogger who writes about how to improve your guitar playing at Zinginstruments.