When pop musicians achieve superstardom, it often seems like they came out of nowhere. But a lot of famous musicians had humble origins as ensemble members or even backups for more famous performers. And others sometimes seek refuge from the limelight by starting up bands as side projects. Here are five surprising instances of famous musicians playing with other bands.
1. The Fab Four - backup band
It's hard to believe that one of the biggest groups in music history was once struggling to make ends meet while gigging in the raucous red-light district of Hamburg, Germany. But that was the case in 1961 when The Beatles agreed to record six songs as the backing band for singer Tony Sheridan, a British rocker who also mentored the group prior to their mop-top days.
The recordings included the single "My Bonnie," on which rock's famous Liverpudlians were credited as "The Beat Brothers."
2. Jimi Hendrix and The Upsetters
Before he became a psychedelic rockstar, Jimi Hendrix was a member of The Upsetters - the backing band for Little Richard. In hindsight, this episode is part of the iconic rocker's humble origins. But at the time, Jimi's brother Leon was ecstatic as his brother's incredible success.
"I couldn't believe he was playing in a backup band for one of our childhood idols," Leon Hendrix wrote in the memoir Jimi Hendrix: A Brother's Story (2012). "In my mind, my brother had finally made the big time, but he made sure to let me know that he wasn't there yet."
Hendrix's tenure with Little Richard included recording the the bluesy guitar licks on the single "I Don't Know What You've Got (But It's Got Me)" (1965).
3. Janis Joplin and George Orwell?
Nowadays, Janis Joplin is celebrated as a singer in her own right. But from 1966-1968, Janis Joplin was the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company - a psychedelic rock band that gigged alongside The Grateful Dead as part of the San Francisco music scene that helped hippie culture reach mainstream America.
Here's Joplin singing with her old band at the Monterey Pop Festival at the height of the Summer of Love in 1967.
4. Jimmy Page, mercenary guitarist
It's hard to imagine that the founder of Led Zeppelin was once one of many overworked session players hired by studios to play on miscellaneous albums or singles. Years later, Jimmy Page reflected on the inauspicious start of his career saying,
"At that point you never knew what you were going to be doing when you got to the session. In America, you were a specialist...but in Britain you had to do everything. I had to do a hell of a lot of work in a short time."
His work as a guitar-for-hire included playing on the title song for the James Bond adventure Goldfinger (1964), Petula Clark's poppy hit Downtown (1964) and The Who's gritty tune Bald Headed Woman (1965). But one of his favorite musicians to work with was Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan, who teamed up with Page for hits including "Sunshine Superman" (1966).
5. David Bowie's hiatus
In 1988, David Bowie felt like he needed to take a break from his solo career. So he formed the hard rock band Tin Machine, which released two self-titled albums before Bowie left in 1992. But it wasn't Bowie's first outing as part of a band. Before redefining rock music as Ziggy Stardust, Bowie was the lead singer of The Mannish Boys, which recorded the single "I Pity the Fool" (1965) with the help of session guitarist Jimmy Page.
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