As we all know, Hollywood actors generally lead pampered lives that are the envy of just about everyone in the world — everyone that is, except for rock stars. Not only are rock stars equally as rich as the Hollywood elite, but they live life by their own rules, party like maniacs, start new trends, rebel against the system, and just generally reek of coolness. Yes, it’s true, rock stardom is the one thing that all actors wish they could have.
Many actors have tried to live out that dream by starting their own bands, and the results range from good to bad to downright embarassing. (It helps if you actually started your career as a musician.) Here’s a look at a variety of actors who have played in bands over the years, complete with videos where possible. All I can say is that sometimes all the acting talent in the world doesn’t help you look cool on stage!
Keanu Reeves – Dogstar
Dogstar has long been one of the prime examples of a crappy or mediocre rock band coasting by on the celebrity status of one of its members. Reeves formed the band in the early 90’s with his friend and fellow actor Robert Mailhouse, and before long they were playing shows with some pretty huge names including Bon Jovi and David Bowie. Heck, Weezer actually played their first show opening for Dogstar! Can you believe it? But despite all their high profile gigs, they never really achieved mainstream success… probably because they suck. Reeves eventually left the band due to a tight working schedule, although I’m not sure if they’re now officially disbanded or not.
Jared Leto – 30 Seconds to Mars
Jared Leto is one of the success stories of actors turned musician. 30 Seconds to Mars’ last album hit #36 on the U.S. charts and spawned numerous radio singles. The band has managed to carve out an identity for themselves separate from Leto’s own stardom, which may be part of the reason for their success, although he certainly plays the role of pretty boy rock star quite well too. Personally I’ll always think of him as the dumb-as-bricks Jordan Catalano from My So-Called Life.
Eddie Murphy – Whatzupwitu feat. Michael Jackson
Here’s a pretty embarassing foray into the music world that many people seem to have forgotten about. Back in 1999, Eddie Murphy recorded a song with Michael Jackson called “Whatzupwitu”. Not only is the song cheesy and nonsensical, but the surreal video is still held by many to be one of the worst music videos of all-time.
Billy Bob Thornton
Being the bad boy that he is, it makes sense that Billy Bob Thornton would dabble as a musician of some sort in his spare time. He is into blues and roots rock, and has released a handful of solo albums in addition to fronting a band called Tres Hombres. His first album Private Radio featured an earnest, if somewhat cheesy, ode to his then-wife Angelina Jolie. She divorced him a year later. Coincidence?
Jack Black – Tenacious D
Jack Black’s musical prowess and sense of humour have always gone hand in hand, and they are probably the main reason that he continues to have such a stellar career today. Would he have landed that big role in High Fidelity if not for his satirical band Tenacious D and the short-lived HBO series that it inspired? I doubt it. School of Rock is, to me, still his ultimate performance.
Kevin Bacon – The Bacon Brothers
Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael have been playing music together since they were kids, but officially became a band in the mid-90’s. Since then they have released 4 albums and contributed songs to a number of Kevin’s movies, in addition to offering their own take on the Kenny Loggins song “Footloose” from the movie in which Kevin starred. I can’t claim to be intimately familiar with their music, but the brilliant lyrics “Oh my god, my god / Where’d she get that body? / What’s she got on her iPod?” clearly speak for themselves.
Bill Paxton – Martini Ranch
Riding on the success of his performances in such movies as Aliens and Near Dark, Bill Paxton fronted a short-lived band called Martini Ranch back in 1988. Nowadays they’re regarded as pure 80’s cheese, but the band is noteworthy for a couple of their videos, one of which (“Reach”) was directed by James Cameron, and another of which (“How Can the Labouring Man Find Time for Self-Culture?”) featured Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo fame and closely echoed Devo’s offbeat art-school sensibility.
Bruce Willis – Bruce Willis & The Accelerators / Blues Band
That’s right, for the past 15 years Bruno himself has been singing and playing harmonica for a band called The Accelerators (recently renamed to The Bruce Willis Blues Band, I believe). Back in the 80’s, however, he was a solo artist and released an album called The Return of Bruno, promoted with a Spinal Tap-esque mockumentary. The hit song “Respect Yourself” was a team up with The Pointer Sisters. Not one of Bruce’s finest moments.
Jason Schwartzman – Phantom Planet / Coconut Records
Before Jason Schwartzman became famous as the precocious Max Fischer in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, he was already somewhat famous as the drummer for the band Phantom Planet (who are now more popular than ever, thanks to their song “California”, becoming the theme to The O.C.). It was his cousin, Sofia Coppola, who supposedly recommended him for the role in the film. He later left the band to concentrate on his acting, but then this year he released a new solo album under the name Coconut Records. And you know what? It’s actually pretty good!
Jada Pinkett Smith – Wicked Wisdom
Certainly one of the strangest actor-fronted bands in recent years would have to be the metal band Wicked Wisdom, featuring Will Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith on lead vocals! In one way, it’s like she is rebelling against Big Willie Style and his hip-hop career, trying to step out from under his shadow. If you’re into nu-metal, I’m sure the band is decent enough, and her voice really isn’t half-bad. Unfortunately, with the knowledge of who she is, it’s damn near impossible to take their evil imagery and aggressive lyrics seriously.
Russell Crowe – The Ordinary Fear of God / 30 Odd Foot of Grunts
You better believe that Hollywood heavyweight Russell Crowe wants to be a rock star. He lives his life like a rock star, and indeed he has been in a pub rock band called 30 Odd Foot of Grunts since the mid-90’s. They never really achieved much success (probably because they suck) but Crowe later changed the band name to The Ordinary Fear of God (maintaining the same initials so as not to lose money on monogrammed merchandise, apparently). He has since launched a solo career that included a collaboration with Alan Doyle of the Canadian band Great Big Sea.
Steven Seagal – Steven Seagal Band / Thunderbox
Ever the spiritually-centered and cultured soul, martial arts master and action star Steven Seagal has been known to play the guitar from time to time as well. His 2005 movie Into The Sun featured a number of songs from his album Songs from the Crystal Cave, including the single, “Girl It’s Alright”. He continues to write a blend of country, blues and world music, and occasionally tours with his band Thunderbox. Needless to say, most regard his music as little more than a joke, but apparently he has found enough fans out there to keep on doing it.
Juliette Lewis – Juliette and the Licks
If I was to guess what kind of band Juliette Lewis might be in, punk rock would probably be the first thing that came to mind. Indeed, she almost reminds me of Courtney Love and doesn’t seem out of place performing on stage, although to be fair, I definitely don’t think Juliette and the Licks would have received nearly as much attention without the help of her celebrity status. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters filled in on guitar for the band at one point, and also invited them to play an outdoor show with them at Hyde Park in England, which gave them huge exposure.
Sylvester and Frank Stallone
No discussion of actors in bands is complete without mentioning Sylvester Stallone, and his brother Frank. Although Frank has had small parts in a number of films over the years, his acting career has never come close to matching Sly’s. However, he has had some success with his music career, writing the song “Far From Over” from the movie Staying Alive, and a number of other noteworthy tracks. On the other hand, we can’t forget Sly’s god awful movie Rhinestone, in which he performed a number of country tunes with Dolly Parton!
That’s right, Mr. Miami Vice also had a burgeoning music career throughout the ridiculous 1980’s. His song “Heartbeat” was a top 5 hit at one point, but years later had the distinction of being voted MTV’s #1 most lame video of all time. Poor guy.
Who would have thought that portraying a well-known musical icon on screen would lead to a successful music career? After his performance in Ray, Jamie Foxx collaborated with Kanye West on the hugely popular song “Gold Digger”. Later in the year, he released his solo album Unpredictable, which went straight to the top of the Billboard charts. (It became just slightly more successful than his 1994 album Peep This, released around the time he was on In Living Color.)
Dennis Quaid – Dennis Quaid and the Sharks
Dennis Quaid and his band have been performing at L.A. clubs for years (I’m assuming their name is a tribute to his performance in Jaws 3). They describe their music as “rock ‘n’ roll and country-soul”. Quaid sings and plays rhythm guitar, and they do both originals and covers. I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about them outside of his involvement, but the good news is, you can book them for your next private corporate event! Maybe they do bar-mitzvahs as well.
Some other actors that are known for their musical side projects:
Adrien Grenier plays drums for a band called The Honey Brothers.
Gary Busey used to be a drummer for a band called Carp.
Scarlett Johansson recorded an album of Tom Waits covers to be released sometime next year.
Jeff Goldblum plays piano in a jazz band.
Are there others that we missed? Let us know, and maybe we’ll do a second installment at some point in the near future.