Actors in Bands: The Good, The Bad and The Embarrassing (Videos Included)

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!

Don Johnson
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.

Jamie Foxx
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.

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  • Wow, impressive post… and hilarious. Though some of the Youtube links are dead, sadly.

  • Oops, thanks for the heads up. I updated the Dogstar link. Any others dead?

  • This has got to be one of the best features yet. Great job Sean!

    I knew about a few of these but most of them come as a complete shock. Of the bad, I can’t figure out which one is worse.

    Other dead links: Eddie Murphy, Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Willis and the first of the Jason Schwartzman videos.

    Thanks for the hysterical (and sometimes sad) read.

  • Liz

    My dad actually has Bruce Willis’ first album. On cassette tape. I admit it, I had a weird urge to go see his band when they were at Casino Niagara this summer, but when I found out tickets were $75 I quickly changed my mind.

  • Greg

    One you forgot was Kevin Costner. His band is actually playing at the Casino in Niagara Falls very soon.

  • James

    What? No love for the Hoff?

  • Yeah, no collection of Moviestar music videos is complete without the Hoff’s legendary ‘Hooked on a feeling’ cover.

  • Jason

    Actually, Ediie Murphy’s first foray into the music biz was in 1985, when he released the ironically titled album “How Bad Could It Be,” which featured the tragically embarrassing single “Party All the Time.” Check out a poodle-permed Rick James and others dancing in the booth while Eddie rocks the mic:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5LX16zia2k

  • Okay I updated a couple more links, but it’s weird, a lot them are still on YouTube, I guess you just can’t embed them. For the Bruce Willis one, click on the link to watch it on YouTube directly.

    Thanks for that Eddie Murphy vid Jason, that is classic shit.

    As for the Hoff, you guys are totally right. I guess I was mainly thinking of film actors but he should be included in the second installment if I do another.

  • I actually don’t mind Murphy’s “Party All the Time”. It’s pretty bad by today’s standards but it was a pretty catchy tune back then.

  • Jeremy

    Don’t forget about Johnny Depp’s band P.

  • casey

    yeah, johnny depps band, The Kids, played a gig down by me back in January. The audience was surprisingly empty, I dont think anyone actually thought he would show up.
    Here is a youtube link to my video from the show.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn9MNiUhD8U

  • Steph

    Here’s the only other one I could think of:

    Big Japan – Adam Brody (The O.C.) and Bret Harrison’s (Reaper) band. They’re pretty good, actually.

  • Matt

    Coincidentally, Yahoo!Movies is doing a similar piece like this except that they are profiling musicians that have dabled in film.
    http://movies.yahoo.com/summer-movies/Hancock/1809801452/photos/380/9989/#info

  • They all suck!

  • Scott

    My favorite actor/musician has yet to be mentioned…that would be Minnie Driver, who has released two surprisingly strong albums of country-tinged pop music. Apparently, she was a musician before she was an actor, believe it or not. She writes her own songs and has a wonderful singing voice. Download the song “Beloved” off iTunes – you won’t regret it.

    Also unmentioned but notable – Mare Winningham has released a couple albums of folk music – she has a nice voice and also writes her own songs.

  • jn

    also,

    Jennifer Love Hewitt

    Alyssa Milano

    Shawnee Smith

  • Julie

    Also Paul Dano has a band called Mook that is pretty decent.

  • Robert Downey Jr. has a musical career too. He released a record, maybe years ago, called “The Futurist”, and rumors say that he’ll make another record. Well’ I don’t like his music but he’s got a good voice! On the other hand, i ADORE Tenacious D, Jack Black’s rockband, they’re truly AWESOME!!! Jared Leto made a good job too, with 30 Seconds To Mars…they’re not bad. I don’t think other actors had such brilliant musical careers.
    I’m waiting for a Ewan McGregor’s music project, he’s got such a good voice!!

  • someone

    also how about Mark Wahlber in “Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch”

  • someone

    also how about Mark Wahlberg in “Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch”

  • Mason

    Has no one heard of She and Him? Actress Zooey Deschanel is the “She”. I myself love her voice, ever since she sang in Elf.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtlO0RXktlo&feature=related

  • max

    Hilarious. But you forgot about John Corbett:
    http://www.johncorbettband.com/home.html

  • Ariel

    And what about Clint Eastwood?
    :)

  • Jack

    No Viggo Mortensen?

  • Alex Sahounov

    How could you forget Philip Michael Thomas, he of “Just The Way I Planned It”?

  • Dia S

    I saw Scott Bakula do a performance on some late night TV show. Not bad at all.

    I don’t think Val Kilmer has a band but, he sang everything in Top Secret and probably in The Doors movie, too.

    Jada Pinkett-Smith has just become my hero! :)

  • cecil

    GARY BUSEY in a band!!
    Wings Hauser did a heap of solo work…its all up on his my space.

    http://www.myspace.com/wingshauser

  • tmvaz

    How could you forget “Band From TV?” It’s a charity band…but still released a CD. Members include:
    * Hugh Laurie – Keyboards, Vocals
    * Greg Grunberg – Drums
    * James Denton – Guitar
    * Bonnie Somerville – Vocals
    * Bob Guiney – Vocals
    * Teri Hatcher – Vocals
    * Lance Austria – Vocals
    * Jesse Spencer – Violin
    * Brad Savage – Bass, Vocals
    * Adrian Pasdar – Guitar
    * Chris Kelley – Guitar
    * Barry Sarna – Keyboards
    * Jon Sarna – Percussion
    * Bryan McCann
    * Chris Mostert – Saxophone

  • How about Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band?

    http://www.myspace.com/ltdanband

  • Bill T.

    Chevy Chase was in a band back in the late 1960’s if I recall. He played drums & may have even sang background vocals. The band was named Chamaeleon Church and they played psychedelic pop music. The original l.p. on vinyl can be found for between $20 & $30. Another actor with an l.p. out is Joe Pesci believe it or not. It’s quite rare but I do have a copy. It’s called “Little Joe Sure Can Sing.” I’d have to dig it out to be sure but I believe the release date to be 1967. He sings popular songs of the day. There is no mistaking the vocals either. It sounds exactly like you’d think it would sound.

  • Bill Thomson

    I’m not sure where my last comment disappeared to. I had forgotten to add a band. In 1982 Billy Bob Thornton was with a band called Tres Hombres. The were a ZZ Top tribute band. From my research I’ve found that they released one vinyl l.p. titled Gunslinger. It’s very rare but will be remastered soon & available on c.d. Prior to tres Hombres Billy Bob was in the McCoveys, Stone Cold Fever, Hot Lanta and Nothin Doin. He has been in other bands recently who have released c.d.’s. Bill T.

  • Cody

    I had actually started a collection of albums released by actors and actors’ bands, which, while not extensive and wildly incomplete is fun and surprisingly good every now and then.

    I have ‘Return of Bruno’, I actually have all of 30 Seconds to Mars’s albums (they are actually pretty good – not always my style, but I do listen occasionally). I purchased Billy Bob’s ‘Private Radio’ around the time it came out. I rock out to Eddie Murphy’s ‘Party All the Time’ which is always hilarious. I have the Bacon Brothers’ cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Jersey Girl’ and I’m pretty sure I have a Don Johnson MP3 or two. I have the album ‘Terra Incognita’ by Juliette Lewis’s new band The New Romantiques, but, to be honest, haven’t listened to it, yet. Check out her performance in Natural Born Killers, btw, she’s great.

    Like an idiot I don’t have any Dogstar albums, though. And I had no idea about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s band which sounds (hilariously) awesome. (I do have a few Fresh Prince albums having grown up in the 90s). I’ve always been meaning to listen to Russell Crowes’ band (I bet that’s “great”).

    And – missing from this list, but awesome – is the band P featuring Giddy Haynes from Butthole Surfers on vox and his friend Johnny Depp on guitar. Depp also sat in for the slide guitar track on Oasis’s ‘Fade in/Fade out’. Word is that he was actually in the pursuit of a music career before acting fell into his lap.

    And (I don’t know if this counts) I have all the Blues Brothers albums. Rock.

  • Cody

    Hey, also, doesn’t William Shatner have some albums? Spoken word set to music? There is his famous cover of ‘Rocket Man.’

    Also, Uncle June from the Sopranos put out an album of Italian music.

  • matthew

    What about toni collette? I think she has one of the best bands never heard…which is really a shame…

  • Alison

    You’ve forgotten Billy Boyd, who is lead singer and one of the songwriters for the band Beecake. They have a myspace page (www.myspace.com/beecakeband) and there are lots of videos on YouTube.

  • Ryan Gosling has a band called Dead Man’s Bones.

    Also (a relatively unknown, but very talented) actor Michael Pitt has a band called Pagoda.

  • There’s a couple you left out.

    Dan Akroyd: Not one, but TWO bands. The Blues Brothers, of course, and his more recent foray The Have Love Will Travel Revue (with Jim Belushi).

    Lou Daimond Philips has a band too, called The Pipefitters, who are apparently quite good.

  • Raven

    Milla Jovovich has releases a cd on her own blues/folk kinda feel but most notably has sang with Puscifer recently on The mission. Personally think she has an interesting voice and even is releasing songs on her website available for remix.

  • Goon

    The Puscifer song with Milla is seriously one of the better songs of the past year

  • Spindellini

    steve martin-banjo
    also love zoey’s voice and viggo.please listen to viggo’s take on art whether it be acting singing art
    it’s the second question in the interview
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWexFvaC5n4&feature=related

    what about all the actors that do musicals- matthew
    broderick, hugh jackman, nicole kidman etc etc back in the day being a performer I thought you were expected to sing or dance too. ( I can do none of these things- I am in awe of people that can do one.)
    its a good thing some can sing- jeff bridges -golden globe, and reese witherspoon oscar
    -hope robert pattinson cuts an album despite having to worry about landing on a list like this.
    -dont understand why people like it if actors can lend their voice to film but dont want them to sing apart from it
    -actors must get something fulfilling or fun out of it if they are doing it for so long without being mad successful at it, like study groups where you don’t study much or book groups that don’t discuss books but drink wine instead. An excuse to perform or have an outlet doing something you enjoy while chilling with friends. Why do people fish catch and release? They must get some sort of rush out of it. If people don’t like it they don’t have to buy tickets or cds.
    I liked an interview where viggo explained his take on art whether it be acting, singing, painting. everyone’s perspective should have value. and the fluffy stuff we mock today sure was fun or people still wouldnt dance to ymca, macarena, or electric slide, or the chicken dance or hokey pokey for that matter (have I revealed too much, like needing the directions built in–oops ) hey- now i understand the need for explicit lyrics in songs- its instructional for “dummies”
    like me for posting this and you for reading such a long post.dummies that is-in my defense I
    -perhaps it is our own jealousy of others talent that we act as if they are greedy pursuing more than one dream if they have already had success i.e. they have had more than their share so hope they fail, that’ll teach em! Of course I am bias the other way when it comes to taylor swift and joe jonas wanting to try acting-so hello pot and kettle. most other people seem fine with the singer to actor crossover like beyonce and bon jovi -go figure.
    love viggo’s take on art -it’s the seond question she asks

  • Spindellini

    steve martin-banjo
    also love zoey’s voice and viggo.please listen to viggo’s take on art whether it be acting singing art
    it’s the second question in the interview
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWexFvaC5n4&feature=related

    what about all the actors that do musicals?- matthew
    broderick, hugh jackman, nicole kidman etc etc back in the day being a performer I thought you were expected to sing or dance too. ( I can do none of these things- I am in awe of people that can do one.)
    its a good thing some can sing- jeff bridges -golden globe, and reese witherspoon oscar
    -hope robert pattinson cuts an album despite having to worry about landing on a list like this.
    -dont understand why people like it if actors can lend their voice to film but dont want them to sing apart from it
    -actors must get something fulfilling or fun out of it if they are doing it for so long without being mad successful at it, like study groups where you don’t study much or book groups that don’t discuss books but drink wine instead. An excuse to perform or have an outlet doing something you enjoy while chilling with friends. Why do people fish catch and release? They must get some sort of rush out of it. If people don’t like it they don’t have to buy tickets or cds.
    I liked an interview where viggo explained his take on art whether it be acting, singing, painting. everyone’s perspective should have value. and the fluffy stuff we mock today sure was fun or people still wouldnt dance to ymca, macarena, or electric slide, or the chicken dance or hokey pokey for that matter (have I revealed too much, like needing the directions built in–oops ) hey- now i understand the need for explicit lyrics in songs- its instructional for “dummies”
    like me for posting this and you for reading such a long post.dummies that is-in my defense I am procrastinating something else.
    -perhaps it is our own jealousy of others talent that we act as if they are greedy pursuing more than one dream if they have already had success i.e. they have had more than their share so hope they fail, that’ll teach em! Of course I am bias the other way when it comes to taylor swift and joe jonas wanting to try acting-so hello pot and kettle. most other people seem fine with the singer to actor crossover like beyonce and bon jovi -go figure

  • Dan F

    Scott Bakula is *really* good (used to do stage stuff), and I never knew Don Johnson did “Heartbeat”…! Pretty solid!

  • He wasn’t in a band but Patrick Swayze did co-write and sing a top ten hit for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack called “She’s Like the Wind”.

    Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees.

    Gwyneth Paltrow with Huey Lewis.

    Jenna Malone sings in a band called The Shoe.

  • How about mentioning an up and comer with a new hit show (by CW standards anyway) Alyson Michalka. Her renditions of “I Want You To Want Me”, “Brand New Day”, “Amphetamine”, and “Someone to Fall back On” as well as some really good original stuff that she wrote and sang. I usually don’t expect TV actors to produce good stuff (and they rarely do!), but she is the exception to that rule.

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  • HadiNizami

    hugh laurie from House M.D and Flight of the Peonix is the lead vocalist and pianist in Band from TV and is looking to release his own blues album in 2011

  • chopsx7

    Didn’t Leonard Nimoy do the “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”?? I assume there was an album to go with it. There was a SWEET video to back it up too.

  • Pat

    Stick to the movies pal. You look stupid just holding the guitar. Just like DAVE Gilmour Will never embarrass himself with a acting role ..

  • You didn’t mention Dead Man’s Bones with popular actor Ryan Gosling. He’s been getting a lot of attention lately due to a string of great movies he’s been in.
    Check out a youtube video here -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGakxDyjwzc