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(Credit: Beefheart)

10 musicians who gave up on rock 'n' roll

From the outside looking in, being a rockstar is the ultimate life, and nothing could quite equate to the joy that comes from playing to a show for thousands of people every night. Yet, for some, it’s a pitstop before taking their life in a completely different direction.

All those years spent playing toilet venues for £50, a fee that just about covers petrol costs, to breaking through, and making it flanked by the same friends that have been there every step of the way seems like something that only a fool would throw away for life as a civilian.

However, people change. That 18-year-old who started a band fuelled by a raging fire in their belly to take over the world can morph into a jaded soul who has conquered everything they wish to in music and wants to take their life in a disparate direction.

Even though for millions it’s a dream job, for a few, the love dies, and they don’t want to spend the rest of their lives playing songs they created in their youth. Instead, they boldly quit and resist the temptation to return to their former life.

Here are ten individuals who left the hedonism of rock ‘n’ roll behind in search of a quieter life.

Musicians who quit rock ‘n’ roll

Jeffrey Allen ‘Skunk’ Baxter

Baxter moved to Los Angeles in the early ’70s, which is where he became a founding member of Steely Dan. The bassist played on the group’s first three records before leaving the group to join The Doobie Brothers, with who he was a member until 1979.

His love for music dissipated, and in the ’80s, he became fascinated by technology, especially military hardware systems. Baxter eventually started working as a defence consultant for the Californian Congressman and was later promoted to work with the Pentagon’s Missile Defence Agency.

He told the Wall Street Journal, “My big thing is to look at existing technologies and try to see other ways they can be used, which happens in music all the time and happens to be what terrorists are incredibly good at.”

Cindy Birdsong

Although Birdsong wasn’t an original member of The Supremes, she still spent a long time in the group from 1967 until 1976. While the singer briefly took part in a reunion with Diana Ross and Mary Wilson in 1983, music was never her true passion.

Instead of trying to carve out a solo career for herself, Cindy took time out to look after her son, and her caring instincts led her to enrol as a nurse. A job that she initially did before joining The Supremes, and after the curtain closed on the group’s tenure, it’s where she returned.

Russell Senior

Russell Senior joined Pulp in 1983 and spent the decade in obscurity with the group before they became a household name. However, in 1997, he had enough, and the guitarist decided that it was time to move onto pastures new, later saying, “I liked the idea of ending on a high, I didn’t want to slowly fade away.”

Senior now works as an antique glassware dealer in Sheffield, which is some heavy change in direction from Pulp. Speaking about his exit from the group, he said: “I think the band were relieved, to be honest, because the atmosphere had become so poisonous — although treating my departure as if they had lost a plectrum was a bit hurtful.”

In 2011, he dusted off the guitar for Pulp’s reunion shows but has never made a full-time return to the industry.

Jim Martin

Jim Martin joined Faith No More four years after their formation back in 1983 and was part of the group’s rise, playing on their album, The Real Thing, which caught mainstream attention. He was fired from the group in 1993 and stayed associated with the industry for another decade before changing path.

Nowadays, his adulation now derives from growing award-winning pumpkins, which he takes tremendous care in. Speaking to the East Bay Times, Martin said: “Growing these [pumpkins] isn’t all that different than what I used to do in music. If you want to be good, you have to give it what it needs.”

Bill Berry

Former R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry’s decision to hang up his sticks came after he collapsed when suffering an aneurysm in 1995, making him re-evaluate his life. He re-joined the group after making a recovery, but his heart wasn’t in it anymore, and in 1997, he waved goodbye to rock ‘n’ roll.

“I didn’t wake up one day and decide, ‘I just can’t stand these guys anymore’ or anything,” he later said. “I feel like I’m ready for a life change. I’m still young enough that I can do something else. I’ve been pounding the tubs since I was nine years old, I’m ready to do something else.”

Since departing the group, Berry has ploughed his time into working on his hay farm in Georgia. However, now he’s in his ’60s, a caretaker does the day-to-day management of the land but quitting R.E.M. has never been a decision he’s lived to regret.

Alan Donohue

Remember The Rakes? They rose to prominence as one of the many jangly indie bands which emerged in the noughties and enjoyed two top 40 albums before their third record flopped, leading them to call it a day in 2009. Now, frontman Alan Donohue spends his days as a software developer in Brighton.

“I’d developed tech before so I went back to it. People call me a ‘developer’ or a ‘digital creative’ but old-fashioned types would say I was a programmer,” he told NME. “I work for a company in Brighton and one of my colleagues used to be in Utah Saints. Sometimes I jokingly tell friends that tech is where rock stars go to die, but in many ways, it’s a lot more creative and interesting than rock ‘n’ roll.”

Adding: “I’d enjoyed writing music that people connected with, but this work provides an intellectual challenge that music lacked.”

Captain Beefheart

The late Captain Beefheart was an enigma, he did whatever he wanted, and this attitude helped him create some of the strangest sounds known to man, but it also made him quit the industry in 1982. Confidantes tried to talk him into returning to music, but their persuasion was to no avail.

Don Van Vliet passed away in 2010 and spent the rest of his days expressing his creativity through the chasm of painting. Tragically, his health dramatically declined through the 1990s due to multiple sclerosis, which hampered the latter years of his life.

Bill Withers

Bill Withers was graced with one of the most soulful and characterful voices to have ever blessed the earth, but in 1985, he hung his microphone up and didn’t look back.

After conquering the world of soul, Withers had grown tired of industry politics and developed a disdain that outweighed his love leaving him to walk out the door. Withers was a family man for the last 35 years of his life, while royalties from earlier recordings meant that he never needed to return to the studio for financial reasons, and he chose to spend his time elsewhere.

Adam Ficek

Former Babyshambles drummer Adam Ficek was in the most debauched band of the ’00s and led by the then-notorious Pete Doherty at the height of his infamy. After leaving the group in 2010, Ficek went through a difficult period and came out of the other side with new-found wisdom, leading him to train as a therapist.

Ficek specialises in helping those within the music industry, a place where booze can often be easier to find than food, and welfare is an afterthought. He knows about the sector’s struggle with mental health first hand, and now he spends his time offering precious care to those in the same predicament that he found himself caught in.

Edwin Congreave

Following Foals’ headline show at All Points East in 2021, they revealed that it was Edwin Congreave’s final gig with the group as he heads back into education and joins the good fight to battle climate change.

“Next month I’m beginning a postgraduate degree in economics at Cambridge, and I hope in the next couple of years to join others in technical efforts to mitigate the imminent climate catastrophe. The future’s not what it used to be, as a good friend once sang,” he told fans in an emotional statement.

He added: “Music is a balm and a light, and so I couldn’t be prouder to have called myself a musician, and to have played a part in Foals’ journey from indie delinquents to bona fide rock stars.”

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