They are the heroes of every bustling city center shopping street up and down the land, with everything from a blind man channeling Stevie Wonder on the keyboard to some ginger kid strumming teenage heartbreak next to a penny flecked baseball cap. Buskers are in many ways the true essence of the music industry, pouring their soul into sets that most people block out during their commute in favor of the rubbish their phones have told them they should be listening to.
However, there have been some busking heroes who happen to bend the ear of the right person, that passing record exec who spots the opportunity to harvest another soul, launching a street warbler onto the world stage or in front of gob smacked members of a royal family, who then beg for an encore. Here are some of the best rags to riches stories.
To kick this off we thought we’d pay homage to a blues legend who could lace a note with soul so profound you had no choice but to listen. He started his career teaching himself to copy songs he heard on the radio, and to make ends meet he would finish a day picking cotton by busking on the street.
That raw street vibe never left him, and he rode it all the way to becoming one of the most highly revered artists of his generation.
Most buskers do what they do for the stories they inevitably pick up after a day on the cobbles. Many say they have formed bonds with drunken passersby, hen parties, unwanted backing singers and other such vagrants, whether they’re playing flamenco-inspired versions of modern tracks or trying to pluck the heart strings of bystanders with ballads.
No doubt Ed Sheeran experienced all this and more when he used to busk all over the UK, kipping on friends’ sofas as he went on his merry way. Eventually, his nomadic music journey took him to the US where some industry hotshots took pity on the ugly kid and decided to make him a millionaire.
It’s not too difficult to imagine Beck out on the street busking; after all he does resemble someone who’s been dragged through a hedge backward having spent the night on a park bench.
He learned his trade on the mean streets of LA, dodging drive-bys and trigger-happy cops to emerge as one the most eclectic musicians in the world. It is unlikely he would be the artist he is today without those rough and tumble experiences under his belt.
He may look like a shriveled raisin pickled with brandy and Botox now, but back in the day Rod was just your run of the mill Leicester Square chancer, who even then resembled a strung-out scarecrow.
It turns out that the busking habit is hard to kick too, because the perma-tan crooner is often drawn back to where it all began, out on the street, performing to no one but pigeons and British builders munching on Greggs pasties and sipping Iron Bru.
Chapman was a dedicated street performer in Cambridge, Massachusetts before she became a platinum selling artist. Harvard Square was her main busking spot, and although she frequented the lesser known Tufts University rather than its more prestigious neighbor, she caught the ear of the daughter of a record producer and the rest, as they say, is history.
Give “Fast Car” a listen on the old Tube and you’ll get a good idea of what Chapman had to go through to make it from curb crooner to superstar performer.
9 Grammy Awards, 10 studio albums and it is hard to believe that Sheryl Crow started out busking, but she did, so there!