Despite the boom of the Internet and networking globally, busking has always, and likely always remain, a prime place to gain an audience and some tried-and-true notoriety. The below artists began their career as busking champions, playing to a live dynamic audience on an often daily basis, and earning attention through their off the cuff style and willingness to just wing it in the streets.
The blues have never been moodier. BB King began his career as a busking mastermind, as the amateur music player “Blues Boy.” It wasn’t long until he earned the stripes BB King and earned an equally important recording contract. His debut “Singin the Blues” charted and moved him away from street busking, but those beginnings earned him attention from the likes of T-Bone Walker, and the rest is history.
Bob Dylan has always been known as one of the greatest street buskers. Of course, he’s MORE known for “Blonde on Blonde,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Blood on the Tracks” and so on and so on and….
Yet Dylan, known then as Bob Zimmerman, gained a following performing at coffeehouses in Minneapolis, and busking on the streets to a few scattered people intrigued by his traditional folk.
Dylan had a long history afterwards, and is still going strong just releasing his latest album “The Tempest.” But there is no denying his history as one of the most famous old-school buskers.
Dixie Chicks were lucky to gain a recording with a popular label, and the appropriate funding to do so, but before these circumstances lined up, the trio of Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, and Natalie Maines began on the street for local fans. Their bluegrass and country-tinged sounds gained some early attention, and they moved on rather quickly from street performances.
Declan Patrick MacManus began his career In Liverpool, playing in a small-time pub band. His street performances were interestingly intimate, and featured some classic Costello material. Of course, his sound and stage name weren’t ironed out at the time, but his history as an English busker will always remain well intact.
Now, Clapton is known far more for “Layla” and his blues-centered intricate guitarwork, than for his brief albeit fascinating work as a street performer. After some time, Clapton got involved with the Yardbirds and his classic mid-60’s sound continued in that vein and stamped him in as a legendary performer. With his years in “Cream” and decades of solo work and production, Clapton always retains his past in the eclectic world of street busking.
Jazz is always rife in historical street buskers, just through the very nature of the genre. James Morrison may not be the household staple of other names listed here, but his multi-instrumental talent could be found in the streets of Australia in the early 80’s. His pure talent and classic background primed him for bigger and better things, but street busking remained his home and proved in a rather contemporary way that busking is still effective.
“Pieces of You” debuted in 1995, and still remains a pioneering country-rock album of the era. Yet 20 years prior, Jewel obtained a following singing in small-time clubs and pubs to a modestly sized audience. Being a surfing girl, she found a tight community that soon gathered her cult following and some attention from managers and executives charmed by her soft crooning and guitarplay.
Rapper and MC’s have always been notorious in the busking scene, yet in a rather different way. Their focus has solidly remained in attention-grabbing wordplay and dynamic movements, as opposed to true instrumental playing ability. Kanye West began his professional career as a producer for many big-time names, before becoming a massive MC himself. Yet interestingly, West’s background begins with street performances in Chicago, Illinois. So beginning as a raw MC, than a producer, back to a rapper (and arguably back again to producing) West’s career has remained multi-talented and purposeful towards one goal- being an artist.
Norah Jones church background has always lent itself to a credence of performing live. She began singing for church and inevitably drove her worship and voice to the streets and the local community. Though Jones quickly established a name nationally with her debut album “Come Away with Me” her stage presence and focus on organic singing will always respect her history as a street performer.
Before his massive success I the 80’s as a solo musician, and as one of the key members of “Faces” in the 70’s, Rod Stewart found a notable following spinning the local circuit at clubs and the streets. Rod Stewart still retains a strong focus on performance, and though his street performing past is far behind him, Rod Stewart is still acknowledged as one of the key street performers of the era.
The Violent Femmes
When the punk rock movement led by The Clash and The Sex Pistols began to fizzle out in the 70’s, The Violent Femmes gained a following performing street corners with their bizarre mix of punk, folk, and dance. They were welcome in clubs and pubs, and eventually were noticed by Jimmy Honey-man Scott of The Pretenders, at a busking “show.” A few albums later and a few chart-topping hits including “Add It Up” and “Gone Daddy Gone” and the Violent Femmes earned national exposure, always lending favor to their DIY work ethic.
Ryan Merkel is a freelance editor writing guest posts for BigPond Music.