5 musicians who found success later in life

Who knew that music's elite class had so many late bloomers.

October 3, 2017

When Charles Bradley released No Time For Dreaming in 2011 to wide critical acclaim, his success felt natural and hard won. After a long career gigging around the U.S., his weathered scream felt reminiscent of old-school funk and soul and fit into the genre like an old bespoke suit. Fame had finally arrived at 62 years old and Bradley took it in stride. Through his music, Bradley was able to shake loose the awkwardness of youth and strip away the frills. We were treated to the steadfast confidence that only comes with understanding pain; Bradley wasn’t here to mess around, he had things to say and the experience to say them openly.

So when he passed away it felt unfair. How could a man who covered “Changes” by Black Sabbath in such frighteningly beautiful fashion leave, what felt like, too soon? This got us thinking: What other great acts found commercial success later in life? And I suppose more importantly, what did that success look like? So we scoured, debated and pared down a list of artists we thought fit the bill.

 Sharon Jones

Sharing bittersweet similarities to Charles Bradley, Jones was a fellow Daptone Records signee who released her debut album, Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, at the age of 46. As a gospel singer throughout the 70s, Jones worked as a corrections officer on Rikers Island and an armoured car guard for Wells Fargo before appearing on a recording session with funk legend Lee Fields in 1996. After battling a cancer diagnosis in 2013, which postponed her Grammy-nominated album, Give the People What They Want, Jones bounced back with tour dates the following year. It’s on songs like “100 Days 100 Nights, Stranger To My Happiness” and “Retreat” where you can feel the joy Jones had for performing — also, the music video for “Retreat” is, well, a visual treat. Sadly in 2016 Jones passed away as the result of a stroke.

Leonard Cohen

We now know him as a Canadian Music icon, but it wasn’t always as straightforward when it came to Cohen’s musical career. As a celebrated poet in the late 60s, he never truly found a commercial audience in the U.S with his music. Beloved in the U.K, Songs of Leonard Cohen came out in 1967, when he was 33, and didn’t chart until 1987 when he was 53. His infamous Isle of Wight performance, where the 46-year-old Cohen took the stage amid an aggressive crowd that had booed both Jimi Hendrix and Kris Kristofferson off the stage, is indicative of his career. Captured on tape by documentarian friend Murray Lerner, you a sedated Cohen (high on tranquilizers) calmed the crowd with a personal story about his father taking him to the circus before launching into “Bird On A Wire.” It’s a performance that needs to be seen and heard to be believed.

Wayne Coyne

As the lead singer of The Flaming Lips, Coyne worked at the seafood restaurant chain Long John Silvers for years while touring. Coyne continued working there until 1990 and it wasn’t until 1993, when Coyne was 32, that the group got their first big break with the single “She Uses Jelly.” But even then, it wouldn’t be until 2002 until the group would release arguably their greatest album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Known for their elaborate stage performances—with Coyne often descending into the crowd in an alien mothership plastic bubble—the group often makes the list for “Best Bands to See Live” with good reason.

James Murphy

It’s hard to believe that LCD Soundsystem haven’t always been a part of our collective listening experience. In reality, Murphy was 35 when the group finally released their critically acclaimed, self-titled debut album and it wasn’t until 2010’s This Is Happening that they landed in the top 10 for the first time in the U.S. Before his success with LCD Soundsystem, Murphy played with groups like Falling Man, Pony and Speedking and almost had a career writing sitcoms when he was offered a writing position on Seinfeld. Believing the show wasn’t going to work, Murphy passed and continued focusing on music.

Sixto “Sugarman” Rodriguez

As a folk singer in the vein of pre-plugged in Dylan, Rodriguez’ success in the U.S was short lived but translated notoriously well in the Australian and South African music scene, becoming something of a legend to his overseas listeners. Before two documentarians and super-fans found Rodriguez and flew him out to Cape Town, Rodriguez had led a relatively quiet life in Detroit, Michigan. The 2012  film Searching for Sugarman shares their journey trying to track him down and piece together his legacy.  As a commercial and critical darling, the documentary  helped spark life in Rodriguez’s career and he still continues to tour through 2017. Despite the success, Rodriguez still lives in the same Detroit home.

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