There are so many things to love about rock and roll. One aspect I've always enjoyed are the cool and fun regal titles that have been given to some of the musical greats. I call them the "Rock Royalty." Who are the rock royals? These are the musicians who defined an era or genre. Their royal titles, such as "King of Rock" or "Queen or Soul", weren't handed down by a bloodline or birthright as old world royalty was, but instead were earned, hard won, and given them by the people: their fans. That's a kind of democratic royalty I can get behind. Further, these royal musicians have lessons we can learn from them. While they each have their own individual story of how they succeeded, they all share the following one lesson:
Greatness is earned, not given
AC/DC sang, "It's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll." The great lesson we learn from rock royalty is simply that: In music, as in life, greatness isn't handed out just because you want it. Examine the rock royalty below and think of the long road each took to rise to the top of an often impossible industry. They worked hard, sacrificed and practiced long, long, long hours, usually for years before they "made it" and became "overnight sensations." They will all tell you that none of it happened "overnight."
What is it that you want in life? As you pursue your goals, don't get discouraged. Instead, follow the example of all the greats: work hard, practice long, don't give the critics much heed, and DON'T GIVE UP especially in the face of all the evidence that says you should. Hang in there. You can do this.
I should clarify that some of these royals are obviously related to rock, while others indirectly inspired and fed the genre in its early days. We have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, the fruits of the labors of these royals. Take a moment and enjoy them again now.
The King of Rock: Elvis Presley
Elvis' Life Lessons:
Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.
Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.
I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.
The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.
More than anything else, I want the folks back at home to think right of me.
The Godfather of Soul: James Brown
a.k.a. "Hardest-working Man in Show Business" and "Soul Brother No. 1."
James' Life Lessons:
Sometimes you struggle so hard to feed your family one way, you forget to feed them the other way, with spiritual nourishment. Everybody needs that.
Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things he's got it all.
The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing.
I want to say to you, Help yourself, so you can help someone else.
King of the Blues: BB King
BB's Life Lessons:
Growing up, I was taught that a man has to defend his family. When the wolf is trying to get in, you gotta stand in the doorway.
—B. B. King
It seems like I always had to work harder than other people. Those nights when everybody else is asleep, and you sit in your room trying to play scales.
—B. B. King
If you want to be a good blues singer, people are going to be down on you, so dress like you're going to the bank to borrow money.
—B. B. King
Everything I record, I just try to sound like me and come up with songs that suit what I do, and then just go for it.
—B. B. King
If there was no ladies, I wouldn't wanna be on the planet. Ladies, friends, and music - without those three, I wouldn't wanna be here.
—B. B. King
The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.
—B. B. King
I never use that word, retire.
—B. B. King
When people treat you mean, you dislike them for that, but not because of their person, who they are. I was born and raised in a segregated society, but when I left there, I had nobody I disliked other than the people that'd mistreated me, and that only lasted for as long as they were mistreating me.
—B. B. King
If you can't get your songs to people one way, you have to find another.
—B. B. King
The Queen of Soul: Aretha Franklin
Aretha's Life Lessons:
Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.
Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you're doing. If you're not going to be confident, you might as well not be doing it.
When God loves you, what can be better than that?
We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It's our basic human right.
I love 'Anne of Green Gables.' I have for years. That's one of my favourite things. She's such a can-do kind of girl; that's why I'm crazy about her.
I sing to the realists; people who accept it like it is.
Read my Rock Therapy blog post on this song:
King of Soul: Sam Cooke
Sam's Life Lessons:
There been times when I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come,
oh yes it will
I think the secret is really observation. Well, if you observe what's going on and try to figure out how people are thinking, I think you can always write something that people will understand.
First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald
Ella's Life Lessons:
The only thing better than singing is more singing.
Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong.
It isn't where you came from, its where you're going that counts.
The King of Pop: Michael Jackson
MJ's Life Lessons:
If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can be dealt with.
Let us dream of tomorrow where we can truly love from the soul, and know love as the ultimate truth at the heart of all creation.
The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.
The Empress of Soul: Gladys Knight
Gladys' Life Lessons
I always kind of thought I want to be a good person, I want to be right to my fellow men and love them like we're supposed to.
I know how hard it is to send two kids to college when you ain't got nothing. I know people may not think of me in that way, but this business gives you ups and downs.
King of Swing: Benny Goodman
Benny's Life Lessons:
One way or the other, if you want to find reasons why you shouldn't keep on, you'll find 'em. The obstacles are all there; there are a million of 'em.
To this day, I don't like people walking on stage not looking good. You have to look good. If you feel special about yourself then you're going to play special.
After you've done all the work and prepared as much as you can, what the hell, you might as well go out and have a good time.
If a guy's got it, let him give it. I'm selling music, not prejudice.
I remember Glenn Miller coming to me once, before he had his own band, saying, How do you do it? How do you get started? It's so difficult. I told him, I don't know but whatever you do don't stop. Just keep on going.
Lady Day: Billie Holiday
Billie's Life Lessons:
If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all.
You can't copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling.
You've got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body's sermon on how to behave.
If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music.
There's no damn business like show business - you have to smile to keep from throwing up.
People don't understand the kind of fight it takes to record what you want to record the way you want to record it.
I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know.
King of Rockabilly: Carl Perkins
Carl's Life Lessons:
After all those days in the cotton fields, the dreams came true on a gold record on a piece of wood. It's in my den where I can look at it every day. I wear it out lookin' at it.
If it weren't for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song.
Godfather of Punk: Joey Ramone
Joey's Life Lessons:
To me, punk is about being an individual and going against the grain and standing up and saying 'This is who I am'.
I enjoyed my life when I had nothing... and kinda like the idea of just being happy with me.
High Priestess of Soul: Nina Simone
Nina was a classically trained pianist, soulful singer, and powerful social activist.
Nina's Life Lessons
The worst thing about that kind of prejudice... is that while you feel hurt and angry and all the rest of it, it feeds you self-doubt. You start thinking, perhaps I am not good enough.
I'm a real rebel with a cause.
There's no excuse for the young people not knowing who the heroes and heroines are or were.
I had spent many years pursuing excellence, because that is what classical music is all about... Now it was dedicated to freedom, and that was far more important.
Once I understood Bach's music, I wanted to be a concert pianist. Bach made me dedicate my life to music, and it was that teacher who introduced me to his world.
This may be a dream, but I'll say it anyway: I was supposed to be married last year, and I bought a gown. When I meet Nelson Mandela, I shall put on this gown and have the train of it removed and put aside, and kiss the ground that he walks on and then kiss his feet.
Gods of Rock: Led Zeppelin
Robert's Life Lessons:
The past is a stepping stone, not a millstone.
I have to try and change the landscape, whatever it is.
There's nothing worse than a bunch of jaded old farts, and that's a fact.
How can you consider flower power outdated? The essence of my lyrics is the desire for peace and harmony. That's all anyone has ever wanted. How could it become outdated?
I've been scared and I've liked not hanging on to stuff where I know that I'm in my comfort zone.
I think that passion and love and pain are all bearable, and they go to make love beautiful.
Whenever I have bid a hasty goodbye to a loved one, I've always made sure that my record collection was safely stored away in the boot of the car.
Jimmy's Life Lessons
Let me explain something about guitar playing. Everyone's got their own character, and that's the thing that's amazed me about guitar playing since the day I first picked it up. Everyone's approach to what can come out of six strings is different from another person, but it's all valid.
I may not believe in myself, but I believe in what I'm doing.
I believe every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing. They just have to identify what makes them different and develop it.
I always believed in the music we did and that's why it was uncompromising.
I don't think the critics could understand what we were doing.
Architect of Rock and Roll: Les Paul
THE famous Les Paul electric guitar played by nearly every major rock and roller (and so many others), was invented, of course, by Les Paul, a successful musician in his own right. The Les Paul guitar changed and influenced music like no other. And, ahem, my son's candy blue Les Paul, "Alison", pictured to the right, was handcrafted by his luthier Uncle Eric. It's his pride and joy.
Les' Life Lessons:
ow I need to take a piece of wood and make it sound like the railroad track, but I also had to make it beautiful and lovable so that a person playing it would think of it in terms of his mistress, a bartender, his wife, a good psychiatrist - whatever.
The audience, they're not professionals. They just love music. It isn't necessary to play over their heads to be admired.
If I have to go around telling everyone how great I am, then there's something wrong with my act.
I have younger friends who don't work, and they aren't doing so well. My secret is to keep going, keep working.
Interested in more honorific nicknames in popular music: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorific_nicknames_in_popular_music
So what do YOU think of this list of rock royalty? Certainly some of the titles have been disputed, others are universally acknowledged. Of course, there are many other fantastic artists not included here. I included the ones that have been given royal-like "titles" by fans and the industry. Share your thoughts below...