When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to be a rock star (as did many of you, I imagine). While my friends were off breakdancing, playing with marbles, or arranging elaborate battles between G.I. Joe dolls, I was spinning my mom’s old Billy Joel, Elton John, and Eagles records on a Fisher-Price turntable, daydreaming of a life of hotels, screaming crowds, and platinum sales. It is, as I said, not an uncommon dream, and although I followed it longer than most (and probably longer than I should have), I never came anywhere near the kind of success I imagined, for two reasons: One, I wasn’t very good, and two, that life doesn’t really exist.
Well, I don’t know. Maybe it does if you’re Eric Clapton, or Barbra Streisand, or one of the very few artists who have sold a ton of records and/or haven’t been divorced often enough to ever have to worry about money. But really, for most stars — even the ones who have been lucky enough to score some hits and earn some name recognition — music is still a job. It’s a really cool job, but still, it doesn’t keep you from having to worry about ordinary stuff like professional security, career advancement, and financial stability. It isn’t very glamorous, but it’s about the best anyone who’s dreaming about “making it” in the music business can hope for — a rewarding life, but one not without many of the same workplace anxieties the rest of us experience. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to hear ourselves on the radio. We do, however, know what it’s like to look for work, or lose a job without warning; it’s a nerve-wracking ordeal, to which many of the people appearing on our favorite albums can relate.
It’s a side of the dream we don’t think about or discuss much, and in order to explore it, I reached out to three musicians who have experienced the ups and downs of a career in music, and they were all gracious enough to take some time to discuss what it’s like for a rock star to lose a job — and where to go from there.
For Dawayne Bailey, rock & roll was a ticket out of the sleepy Midwest and into stadiums around the world. Born in Manhattan, Kansas, Bailey moved to Los Angeles in the early ’70s, where he gigged for over a decade before getting his first major break as the guitarist in Gerard McMahon’s band. (Though he isn’t a household name, McMahon’s work will be familiar to anyone with a deep love of ’80s and ’90s melodic rock; his songs have appeared on albums by KISS, Roger Daltrey, and Chicago.) This, in turn, led to Bailey being asked to audition for Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. Bailey joined Seger on his tour for The Distance and played on Like a Rock before leaving to form his own band, Private Parts, which released one album before Bailey received another call to audition — this time for Chicago, which had parted ways with guitarist Chris Pinnick and was gearing up to tour behind Chicago 18.
Bailey stayed with Chicago for nearly a decade, touring steadily with the band and making limited appearances on three albums — Chicago 19, Chicago Twenty 1, and Stone of Sisyphus, which remained unreleased until last year — before being dismissed in 1995. In the years since leaving Chicago, he’s appeared on a number of albums for other artists (including Pat Boone’s In a Metal Mood) as well as releasing several solo projects, such as 2006’s Joyland.
Early in your career, you went from playing with Bob Seger to joining Chicago near the peak of their ’80s resurgence. Was this a shocking introduction to the business side of rock & roll, or were you prepared for it?
I wouldn’t say I was shocked. I grew up in Kansas and have always been close to Kerry Livgren and he always gave me advice about the business side of things — so I was somewhat prepared. I’ve also followed Frank Zappa’s advice by studying his interviews as well as reading lots of music biz books and keeping my eyes and ears open. I also hired music attorneys when I first moved to LA trying to sell my songs, and they taught me a lot about what to do and not do.
In addition to the Seger and Chicago gigs, you’ve performed in a hired hand capacity for other artists. Does working from that role affect the way you’re treated by performers? Does it impact your passion for the music?
It depends on the boss. I’ve been lucky. Bob Seger was a great boss and really fun to work with. Chicago was interesting because when I joined the band, I was the only sideman with seven bosses above me. It was fun but sometimes a bit frustrating. When they hired me, I had my own band where I was the boss and wrote and sang all the songs. Just 3 weeks before they hired me, I had just hired Martina McBride as a backing singer for my band.
As for the passion, that’s always been there, regardless of the business set up. The passion is what has driven me from day one. Performing music on stage and writing music off stage has always been very intense for me and not about the money.
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Along those lines: you were a contract employee of Chicago’s for many years. How were you able to emotionally balance being an employee of a corporation with being a member of a — for lack of a better term — rock & roll brotherhood? Did it create any conflicts for you?
I was there for nearly a decade, so eventually as you negotiate your annual contract with the accountant, it could get tricky…having to stand up for yourself and not get trampled on.
There was also the element of the brotherhood, which I never really felt a solid part of. I understood, though — they go way back with each other — and I knew I was standing in the spot they were used to seeing Terry Kath stand in. Overall, though, it was a blast playing with that band. Every band has conflicts, no matter the business setup. We’re all humans trying to stay positive on the road and have a good time. You also have the band crew/techs who help keep things light with the daily ups and downs of constant touring.
Did you always look at your gigs for other artists as potentially temporary, or did you feel like you were “home”?
With Seger, I knew he didn’t tour that much anymore — not as much as he did in the ’70s. So that always felt kinda temporary, but Chicago felt like home. They tour all the time and you travel the globe. Even though I didn’t feel like a tight member of the corporate brotherhood, I felt like as a job, it was stable, solid and home-like in that we just kept working and working non-stop.
If a person in most career fields wants to find a new job, he looks at listings online or in the paper, but a musician looking for a new gig has to take a different approach. Are there established channels, or is it more of a strictly “who you know” type of situation? What were your first steps after leaving Chicago?
Old school places for musicians and bands to find each other like Musenet and Musicians Contact have been replaced with the usual social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. It’s much more immediate — especially for younger, new, indie bands.
They can create an instant community with their fans who will house the band at their homes on the road instead of having to pay for some cheapo motel in the middle of nowhere. Musicians can find bands and vice versa much quicker than ever before. Older established bands still rely on the “who you know — word of mouth” model.
When I first left Chicago, I didn’t try to connect with yet another established road band as much as I tried to start a new band I was scheming while still on the road with Chicago. That evolved into working with an acoustic-based band (Shayna) that was a deliberate stark contrast to the brass pop of my former band. It was a healthy needed change of pace, and yielded new songs that are still some of my favorites today.
I discovered that world not online, but by networking face to face with bands in L.A. clubs and socializing with friends who knew someone who knew someone.
What are you working on now?
Love and positivity. Music has taken me away from my family way too much for way too long and I’m putting them first. That has also helped nurture the new music I’m writing and recording and given it more depth, meaning and purpose.
You have to cut out all of the BS and get to the core of what and who is most important in your life and for me, that elusive magic chemistry lies in family and friends. Not in some corporate band who will abandon you after years of service in the blink of an eyeball. I can’t think of anything better to be working on at this point in my life and career as embracing my family, which in turn enriches the music…and that ripple effect will resonate with everyone else.
Do you have any business advice for musicians who are just starting out?
Nice guys don’t always finish last. As a sideman or woman, hire an attorney to negotiate your contract, don’t do it yourself. As a songwriter, keep your publishing — just ask Paul McCartney. Invest in real estate — just ask Paul McCartney. (Always get a pre-nup — just ask Paul McCartney.)
Like Dawayne Bailey, Shaun Murphy has a Bob Seger connection; Seger was, along with the Moody Blues, Alice Cooper, and Michael Bolton, one of the many artists who hired Murphy to perform background vocals in the ’80s. She was already a pro at this point, having received her big break as one half of the duo Stoney & Meat Loaf in 1971, but she didn’t return to the spotlight until the mid ’90s, when she replaced Craig Fuller as one of the vocalists in Little Feat.
Murphy handled lead vocals on a string of five Feat studio albums — including 1995’s Ain’t Had Enough Fun, 1998’s Under the Radar, and 2000’s Chinese Work Songs — before departing the band in February of this year. She’s landed on her feet, though, assembling the Shaun Murphy Band with Randy Coleman, Larry Van Loon, Mike Caputy, and Kenne Cramer, then heading into the studio to record the recently released Livin’ the Blues, a collection that includes rock and blues standards (“Hound Dog”), covers of a more recent vintage (John Hiatt’s “It Feels Like Rain”) and Murphy originals (“Rock and Roll Everynight”). On the road promoting Blues, Murphy paused to reflect on her time in one of rock’s hardest-touring bands, the tumult of 2009, and what lies ahead.
You started working with Little Feat after the band had been around for some time, and saw your role expand after Craig Fuller left. Because of the way you eased into the group — and/or because you were privy to Fuller’s departure — did you look at your position in the band as something potentially temporary, or were you prepared to finish your career there?
I actually found out about Craig’s leaving the day they asked me to join the band. I had been a friend of theirs for a number of years, and had worked on all the reformation CDs. I was extremely happy to find myself on a bus in the middle of nowhere with six guys…(12, if you count the crew.) I’ve always had hopes of sliding off for the occasional solo CD, but until this time, it hadn’t come to fruition.
Rock & roll can be a glamorous career, but it’s one in which artists can operate entirely without a safety net. Were you financially prepared for your time with the band to end?
These are such troubling times for everyone, and it has touched the entire world, not just certain groups, like it has in the past. I think we were about as close to the collapse of the planet’s economic systems as we’ve been since the Great Depression. So to answer your question, no — things were pretty stretched thin. But there was nothing else to do but hike up my high heels and start to steppin’!
What have been some of the positive side effects of the change — either expected or unexpected?
I would have to say that the people I’ve met, and who have helped me bring all these fantastic events about, are so uplifting and inspiring. All of us coming into this project with hearts open and with spirits so high — it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had.
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Now that you’re establishing yourself as a solo artist, you must be assuming more responsibilities for every aspect of your career. Do you find it more difficult to balance everything, or is it more liberating?
It’s very exhilarating, and a heady feeling, to say the least. Having been part of groups all my life, being the boss is like changing species almost…I have the best of both worlds. The guys in the band are down to earth musicians who’ve seen the whole gamut in the music world, and are very seasoned. They keep me very centered.
Can you give us a few words about the new album?
I’m so proud to be able to give voice to some of the most incredible, indelible blues songs around — some of which I’ve been singing for a long, long time, others I’ve always wanted to put to disc, and some from new friends that I hope will have more in their arsenal for my next CD. Maybe even a co-write here and there. The budget was small, but I think the sound, production, and playing transcends anything any big budget could provide. I’m so happy the emotion came across — through everyone.
After John Wetton left Asia in the early ’90s, keyboardist Geoffrey Downes opted to carry on with the band, recruiting John Payne, a singer and multi-instrumentalist whose name might have been unfamiliar to most listeners, but who was no stranger to the business end of rock & roll. Payne had, after all, recently walked away from a chance to front the reconstituted Electric Light Orchestra — and on top of that, he’d been touring and recording with a number of bands (including CCCP, an outfit that found him splitting vocal duties with Carlene Carter) since the late ’70s.
Starting with 1992’s Aqua, Payne and Downes led Asia through five studio albums and almost 15 years of its existence before the original lineup reunited, capping off years of rumors and leaving Payne the odd man out. While the reformed Asia went on to record the reunion album Phoenix, Payne soldiered on with a new band, called GPS, before ultimately returning to the Asia name — sort of — through an agreement that allows him to record and tour as Asia featuring John Payne. It’s an unusual situation, to be sure — muddling band/brand names like this is what has gotten guys like ex-Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball sued — but one that oddly suits Asia’s strange and twisted path over the last 25 years or so.
Payne is currently prepping the release of a pair of new studio albums — one from GPS, and one from Asia featuring John Payne — but he made time to discuss the highs and lows of life as a professional musician.
Earlier in your career, you went from thinking about taking the “Jeff Lynne” spot in ELO II to taking over lead vocals in Asia. This must have put you in a position to deal with lawyers and paperwork at a pretty formative stage in your artistic development — how has this affected your ability to stay rooted in the joy of making music for music’s sake?
I started making music because it is my passion — I remember, at seven years old, wanting to be in a band. Lawyers and contracts, etc., are a necessary evil in this career. You can’t just bury your head in the sand and ignore the business side, otherwise you are left with no creative canvas to paint on.
I enjoy the music as much as I did when I started; in fact, I feel I have more to prove now — and I realise how lucky I am to have a channel to output my thoughts.
Did you always look at your time with Geoffrey Downes’ version of Asia as something potentially transitory, or did you approach it as more of a musical brotherhood than a business partnership?
It was a brotherhood. We worked solidly together for 16 years. It was a fantastically creative time and I’m proud of what we did — I did no external projects, only Asia. I learned and grew so much artistically in that time, and don’t regret a second of it.
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Following along from the previous question, were you prepared when Asia’s original lineup reunited? I don’t just mean emotionally — I mean financially, which is something a lot of rock fans don’t think about. Put another way: For most of us, an unplanned career shift can have a pretty devastating impact on a person’s lifestyle. Is it any different for someone in your position?
When you have put all your forces into something for 16 years…when that form of Asia was over for me, it had a huge impact on me. I wasn’t prepared for it emotionally or financially. I knew it was always a possibility. However, it was fairly devastating on my life, as all of a sudden I had no touring income or recording income — and added to that, I had a couple of years of legal bills to resolve the name ownership.
What have been some unexpected blessings from the path your career has taken since the Asia reunion? What’s next for you musically?
They say every cloud has a silver lining. I had two paths ahead of me: One was to roll over and give up, and the other was to push myself further and grow. The first project I did was the prog band GPS. GPS featured my two Asia buddies, Guthrie Govan and Jay Schellen, plus Spock’s Beard keyboardist Ryo Okumoto. Our fist album, Window to the Soul, received a lot of critical acclaim, and we’re planning a new CD for next year. Next, I was asked to perform as the Parson (formerly sung by Phil Lynott) in a UK stadium tour of Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds. It was an incredible experience, with a symphony orchestra and many of the original singers and musicians from the groundbreaking album.
Then, I finally finished legal negotiations over the Asia name — hence the birth of Asia featuring my good self. So far, we’ve toured successfully in the U.S.; I’m also pleased to announce that we’ve just finished writing a new Asia featuring John Payne studio CD to be released on Sony and a yet to be announced, high-profile U.S. label. The album is going to be called Arcana, bringing back the A to A titles again. And finally, I’m also working on an incredible project called Decoding the Lost Symbol, which is a concept album to be released within the special edition of the Dan Brown companion book. I’m writing, producing and singing on it, but there are also four very famous guest vocalists also planned for the album. The book’s author, Simon Cox, is a genius — he also wrote the bestseller Cracking the Da Vinci Code. So it’s been very liberating being fully in charge of my own destiny.