10 Famous Musicians You Didn’t Know Started Out in Other Famous Musicians’ Bands


Just like everyone else, we occasionally disappear down the Wikipedia rabbit hole here at Flavorwire central, and yesterday we discovered something we never knew before: Richard Fairbrass once played bass in David Bowie’s band. Richard who? You might not recognize his name, but you totally know who he is: the Right Said Fred guy! It turns out that long before “I’m Too Sexy,” Fairbrass was a bass player for hire, and played with various UK luminaries, Bowie included. This discovery led to further investigation, and… well, here’s an unashamedly geeky list of ten musicians who go their starts in the band of other other famous musicians.

Richard Fairbrass

See? There he is in the video for “Blue Jean” — pause at about 0:57 and see for yourself!

Luther Vandross

Also on the Bowie tip: one Luther Vandross, who sang backing vocals on Young Americans when he was just a young American himself. Throughout the 1970s, Vandross was an in-demand backing vocalist, his smooth tones appearing on records by artists like Chic, Chaka Khan, Todd Rundgren, and Roberta Flack — Bowie spotted his talents and recruited him to co-write and do vocal arrangements on several album tracks, and then took him on tour.

Steve Vai

Before he took his place in the pantheon of Hirsute Manly Guitar Gods, Vai served an apprenticeship with one of the all-time greats, a man whose compositions and persona were so outlandish that he often doesn’t quite get the respect he deserves as a guitarist: the one and only Frank Zappa. Vai actually started out as a transcriber for Zappa, and eventually ended up as part of Zappa’s touring band. He played with the great man for a couple of years in the early 1980s before going solo; he’s spent the next 30 years making terrifyingly complex music that appeals to men with long hair.

Alison Goldfrapp

Yep, that’s her singing on “Pumpkin,” off Tricky’s all-time classic Maxinquaye. Can’t understand what she’s saying? Neither can anyone else!

Sheryl Crow

Before she released “All I Want to Do” and became insanely popular — allegedly screwing over her co-writers in the process — Crow made a living singing advertising jingles and also, more notably, working as a backing vocalist for Michael Jackson. She sang with him throughout the Bad tour, which lasted from 1987 until 1989.

Noel Gallagher

This is arguably the best of the lot, because Gallagher wasn’t even in ’90s Madchester also-rans Inspiral Carpets — he was the roadie. Still, he clearly absorbed a lot from watching the band night after night, and put what he learned to good effect in Oasis. Lucky old us, eh?

Courtney Love

Long before there was Mike Patton, there was Courtney Love. She had a brief tenure as the singer in an early incarnation of Faith No More in the early 1980s, eventually getting fired because the band wanted a “male energy.” Doesn’t she sound like Patti Smith?

Iggy Pop

It’s all true — before Iggy was one of the most compelling frontmen in rock ‘n’ roll history, he was a drummer. He played in several bands around Ann Arbor, but also spent time in Chicago playing with various bluesmen. He discusses his time as a blues drummer in pretty fascinating detail here. (Sadly, there’s no record of these years, so the clip above is him drumming with the Iguanas.)


These days, of course, we all know him as the indestructible, drug-hoovering iron man of Motörhead, but before that, he played bass in ’70s space rock behemoths Hawkwind. The band fired him in 1975 for… well, for being an indestructible, drug-hoovering iron man, and he went on to form the first incarnation of the band that’d sustain him and his lifestyle for the next four decades or so.

Shannon Hoon

And finally, who knew that Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon — oh come on, you remember them — sang backing vocals on a bunch of tracks from Guns N’ Roses’ overblown 1991 double album Use Your Illusion? (He’s in the “Don’t Cry” video, above, too.) It turns out that Hoon and Axl Rose both hail from Lafayette, Indiana, and that Hoon’s sister Anna was friends with Rose at high school. An early incarnation of Blind Melon also opened for Guns N’ Roses in 1992, and Rose’s patronage definitely helped kick-start their career — a career that was cut short, sadly, by Hoon’s death from a drug overdose in 1995.