Not all struggling musicians sleep on couches or hold down menial jobs in their quest to hit the big time. Here is a list of 8 rockers who held down teaching jobs before making it big.
Rock Stars Who Were Teachers
The teacher-turned-rock star is not your typical Rolling Stone bio, but there are several instances where this did in fact happen. To keep our list from getting too unwieldy, we used the following criteria:
Rock musicians who were teachers before becoming famous. We didn’t include musicians of other genres, or those who went on to teach after becoming famous.
Oddly enough, the list below seems to cover a relatively narrow time-frame from the late 60s until about 1986. Perhaps the days of the teacher-turned-rock star are over?
#8. Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music)
Bryan Ferry is best known as the lead vocalist of the band Roxy Music, which had a string of popular singles in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. Ferry studied fine art at Newcastle University and went on to teach pottery at Holland Park school in London in the late 1960s. It was there that he met several of his future Roxy Music band-mates. He described the job in 2014:
“When I was putting Roxy together I was teaching odd days, and this school asked if I could teach pottery two days a week. That was fun — all the students were girls. It was a very good atmosphere, playing music during the lessons — I’d let the girls bring their own records — and then at nights rehearsing with the band. I made some pieces at the time, small experiments with different glazes and stuff. I still have some.”
#7. Dennis DeYoung (Styx)
“I came out of college with a degree in education, and I was a music teacher. I would go into my 40 minutes in front of a class, then the next audience would come in. I saw teaching as one of the noblest professions, and it’s really undervalued. I don’t know about other cultures, but certainly in our culture.”
#6. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)
Dire Straits first appeared on rock music radar in the late 1970s with the hit Sultans of Swing. That wasn’t long after front-man Mark Knopfler had ended a 3-year stint as a college teacher.
“I finally got a job teaching English in a college, which I was delighted to have because it proved to be a real steadying influence. There happened to be guitar classes at the college, and there was a guitar teacher there with whom I used to play. In addition, I also would go out into country schools and teach little kids basic guitar and singing a few times a week.”
#5. Joe Satriani
Guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani has achieved commercial success over the past 30 years as a solo artist and with acts such as Blue Oyster Cult, Alice Cooper, and Chickenfoot, to name a few. Prior to making it big, however, he taught guitar for 10 years in Westbury, NY and in Berkeley, California. Some of his renowned pupils include Steve Vai, Kirk Hammet of Metallica and David Bryson of Counting Crows.
#4. Sheryl Crow
After graduating from college as a voice and piano major, Sheryl Crow taught music at an elementary school in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton. The job allowed her to play gigs on nights and weekends, before she moved to Los Angeles 1986 after finding some success recording jingles for clients such as McDonald’s.
#3. Brian May (Queen)
Hailed as one of the most educated rockers in history, Brian May of Queen taught math at Stockwell Manor School in Brixton before becoming a rock star. May described his teaching experience in a 1999 interview:
“It turned into something I really enjoyed, it was very challenging. The biggest challenge was to get people to stay in their seats – seriously! It was quite difficult. You couldn’t get the children to attend unless they were incredibly interested in what you were saying. The kids were bored more than anything else… I used betting on horses to teach statistics which you wouldn’t perhaps normally do.”
Gordon Sumner, who would later be known as Sting, taught English in the mid-1970s before achieving global success in the band The Police, and later as a solo artist. In a 1979 interview, he recalled his teaching experience. “I have a B.A. in education from Warwick University. I was a teacher at St, Catherine’s Convent School. I taught English, Music and Soccer to nine and ten year olds. I was the only man on the faculty. In fact, I was the only teacher not in a habit.”
In 1981, Sting said that the 1980 hit Don’t Stand So Close to Me was also inspired by his classroom experience.
“I wanted to write a song about sexuality in the classroom. I’d done teaching practice at secondary schools and been through the business of having 15-year-old girls fancying me – and me really fancying them! How I kept my hands off them I don’t know…” L’Historia Bandido, ’81
On the 2001 DVD …All This Time, Sting is said to have backed away from that assessment of the song, stating that it was not related to a personal experience.
#1. Gene Simmons
Shortly before making it big as the fire-breathing, blood-spewing demon in KISS, Gene Simmons was a 6th grade teacher at P.S. 75 in Spanish Harlem for a few months. Rumor has it that Gene was fired for replacing the works of Shakespeare with Spiderman comics, which he reportedly said would be more interested for the kids to read.
Simmons was quoted in Rolling Stone as saying, “I started teaching for the same reason as I started a band. I had a need to get up on the stage. Everyone needs the attention, but some more than others.”
In a 1978 interview, during the height of KISS’ popularity, Simmons said of his teaching gig:
“The reason I quit after six months is that I discovered the real reason I became a teacher. It was because I wanted to get up on stage and have people notice me. I had to quit because the stage was too small. Forty people wasn’t enough. I wanted 40,000.”
Several notable teacher-musicians didn’t make the cut, such as Greg Graffin, Art Garfunkel, or Ron Wood, all of whom taught after becoming famous. Do you have any ex-teacher rock stars to add to the list above? Tell us your choices in the comments below.