Rainbeaux has been a music journalist for 30 years. Her first job was cleaning kennels. She feels these rockers' pain.
From gravedigger to tennis pro to slaughterhouse grunt, these 10 rockers paid their dues (with interest) before they became stars. First, they had to endure plenty of employment without enjoyment. Here are the jobs they held while they were still slaves to the grind.
What Were They Before They Were Famous?
- Ozzy Osbourne: slaughterhouse worker
- Tom Araya: respiratory therapist
- Ace Frehley: jack-of-all-trades
- Lars Ulrich: tennis player
- Joe Elliott: steelworker
- Gene Simmons: elementary school teacher; assistant to editor of Vogue Magazine
- Joe Strummer: gravedigger
- Debbie Harry: Playboy bunny
- Patti Smith: toy factory worker
- Jonathan Davis: mmbalmer
1. Ozzy Osbourne: Slaughterhouse Worker
Ozzy Osbourne has always had a knack for reinventing himself, and the same was true before he commanded a stage. He was a plumber trainee, construction worker, car factory horn-tuner (apparently there is such a thing), and toolmaker’s apprentice. However, there was one job that even struck terror into the heart of the Prince of Darkness himself—being a slaughterhouse laborer. It’s unclear whether or not he bit off any heads while working there.
"I had to slice open the cow carcasses and get all the gunk out of their stomachs... I used to vomit every day. The smell was something else."
— Ozzy Osborne
2. Tom Araya: Respiratory Therapist
Okay, wait. A respiratory therapist? Is this the same guy who sings "Raining Blood, Angel of Death," "Evil Has No Boundaries," and "Show No Mercy"? Yep. As a respiratory therapist, Tom wasn’t devoted to jackhammering eardrums into submission; rather, he was dedicated to saving lives. He took care of people who had trouble breathing or were suffering from heart attacks, strokes, or shock.
For Tom, however, it was anything but a noble calling. He was only working at the Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, California, to help finance Slayer’s debut, Show No Mercy. When the album began taking off, Tom mercifully escaped day-job tedium.
I’d get up in the morning and deal with traffic, and then leave at three and deal with traffic.
— Tom Araya (during an interview on KNAC)
3. Ace Frehley: Jack-of-all-Trades
It’s hard to imagine that the legendary guitarist Ace Frehley was, at one time, a mere mortal who slogged away at a day job. Well, actually, several day jobs. He delivered furniture, drove cabs, delivered liquor, and carried mail. Luckily, KISS rescued him from all of that drudgery. Well, actually, his incompetence at work beat KISS to the punch.
"I lasted about six months [at my mail job], which is the average time I held a job!"
— Ace Frehley
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4. Lars Ulrich: Tennis Player
Whether walloping drums for Metallica or slamming tennis balls, Lars Ulrich has always been adept at non-contact sports. His dad, Torben Ulrich, and his grandfather, Einer Ulrich, were both professional tennis players in Denmark. Inheriting their knack for the sport, Lars quickly became an elite player, ranking in the country’s Top 10.
However, after the family moved to California, when Lars was 16, he didn’t cut it by U.S. standards. The door to tennis banged shut and the one to a phenomenal career with Metallica burst wide open.
"I realized that my ability wasn't enough to be a successful professional and the discipline necessary was not in me."
— Lars Ulrich
5. Joe Elliott: Steelworker
It seems that Joe Elliott was always a metal magnet—even before he helmed Def Leppard. For about four years, he was a steelworker in his industrial hometown of Sheffield, England. His boss eventually got wise to the fact that Joe was goofing off in the basement and fired him. However, it wasn’t all for nothing. He wrote most of the lyrics for Def Leppard’s first album, On Through the Night, in that basement.
6. Gene Simmons: Elementary School Teacher and Assistant to the Editor of Vogue Magazine
In rock music circles, Gene Simmons’s outrageously imaginative costumes have influenced the wardrobes of countless up-and-coming musicians. He is, in a sort of reptilian way, en vogue. He had exceptional typing skills and was hired as an assistant to the editor of Vogue Magazine in the mid-1960s (pre-KISS).
In his early 20s, Gene was also a sixth grade teacher at P.S. 75 in New York’s Spanish Harlem. He only lasted six months there before KISS skyrocketed. But, he was motivated by more than merely enriching young minds.
"I started teaching for the same reason as I started a band. I had a need to get up on the stage. Everyone needs attention, but some more than others."
— Gene Simmons, from an interview in "Rolling Stone" magazine
7. Joe Strummer: Gravedigger
At one point in his life, Clash's frontman Joe Strummer was in a grave situation—a dubious job digging plots at St. Woolos Cemetery in Newport, Wales. Prior to that illustrious career, he was kicked out of art school for painting a canvas red with used feminine hygiene products.
Richard Frame, a longtime friend that Joe met in art school, said that Joe wasn’t cut out for shoveling six feet under. However, that’s not what got Joe ousted. He was caught sleeping in a grave.
"He thought he was fitter than he was, but he was useless as a grave digger."
— Richard Frame
8. Debbie Harry: Playboy Bunny
Debbie Harry’s beauty is just as celebrated as her talent. From 1968 to '73 it earned her a gig as a Playboy bunny. However, being a waitress at that famed establishment was anything but dignified: “I was just a hysterical waitress,” she explains. “They were just all so wild; they’d come in wrecked out of their brains, wanting a zillion things.” Their constant drunken lechery was something Debbie had to creatively contend with.
"I fooled around with drugs and was consequently often half-asleep!"
— Debbie Harry
9. Patti Smith: Toy Factory Worker
What sounds cuter and sweeter than working in a toy factory? Apparently, many things. Patti Smith was viciously harassed by her co-workers while testing and packaging toys.
"The stuff those women did to me in that factory was horrible. They’d gang up on me and stick my head in a toilet full of p***."
— Patti Smith
10. Jonathan Davis: Embalmer
There are probably not a whole lot of people who would name “embalmer” as their preferred career choice, but Korn’s Jonathan Davis embraced it. He studied the grisly practice of cadaver preservation at the San Francisco School of Mortuary Science (often called “the Harvard of Mortuary Schools”).
After graduation, Jonathan was hired as a funeral home embalmer, as well as an assistant at the Kern County Coroner’s Department in California. He was later plagued by PTSD from his six intense years of dealing with the deceased.
If you wish you were a rock star, well, be careful what you wish for. You may have to do time suffering through some pretty miserable jobs before you’re playing a packed house at Madison Square Garden. The saying, “Don’t quit your day job,” will, unfortunately, become your mantra.