Rock Therapy: Lessons from 15 "Rock Royalty"

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.

PLAYLIST: LISTEN TO ALL OF THEM AT ONCE

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.
—Elvis Presley

Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.
—Elvis Presley

I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.
—Elvis Presley

The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.
—Elvis Presley

More than anything else, I want the folks back at home to think right of me.
—Elvis Presley
 


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.
—James Brown

Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things he's got it all.
—James Brown

The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing.
—James Brown

I want to say to you, Help yourself, so you can help someone else.
—James Brown
 


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.
—Aretha Franklin

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.
—Aretha Franklin

When God loves you, what can be better than that?
—Aretha Franklin

We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It's our basic human right.
—Aretha Franklin

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.
—Aretha Franklin

I sing to the realists; people who accept it like it is.
—Aretha Franklin

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
—Sam Cooke

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.
—Sam Cooke
 


First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald

Ella's Life Lessons:
The only thing better than singing is more singing.
—Ella Fitzgerald

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.
—Ella Fitzgerald

It isn't where you came from, its where you're going that counts.
—Ella Fitzgerald
 


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.
—Michael Jackson

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.
—Michael Jackson

The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.
—Michael Jackson
 


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.
—Gladys Knight

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.
—Gladys Knight

 


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.
—Benny Goodman

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.
—Benny Goodman

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.
—Benny Goodman

If a guy's got it, let him give it. I'm selling music, not prejudice.
—Benny Goodman

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.
—Benny Goodman
 


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.
—Billie Holiday

You can't copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling.
—Billie Holiday

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.
—Billie Holiday

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.
—Billie Holiday

There's no damn business like show business - you have to smile to keep from throwing up.
—Billie Holiday

People don't understand the kind of fight it takes to record what you want to record the way you want to record it.
—Billie Holiday

I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know.
—Billie Holiday


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.
—Carl Perkins

If it weren't for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song. 
—Carl Perkins.

 


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'.
—Joey Ramone

I enjoyed my life when I had nothing... and kinda like the idea of just being happy with me.
—Joey Ramone
 


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.
—Nina Simone

I'm a real rebel with a cause.
—Nina Simone

There's no excuse for the young people not knowing who the heroes and heroines are or were.
—Nina Simone

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.
—Nina Simone

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.
—Nina Simone

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.
—Nina Simone


Gods of Rock: Led Zeppelin

Robert's Life Lessons:
The past is a stepping stone, not a millstone.
—Robert Plant

I have to try and change the landscape, whatever it is.
—Robert Plant

There's nothing worse than a bunch of jaded old farts, and that's a fact.
—Robert Plant

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?
—Robert Plant

I've been scared and I've liked not hanging on to stuff where I know that I'm in my comfort zone.
—Robert Plant

I think that passion and love and pain are all bearable, and they go to make love beautiful.
—Robert Plant

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.
—Robert Plant

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.
—Jimmy Page

I may not believe in myself, but I believe in what I'm doing.
—Jimmy Page

I believe every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing. They just have to identify what makes them different and develop it.
—Jimmy Page

I always believed in the music we did and that's why it was uncompromising.
—Jimmy Page

I don't think the critics could understand what we were doing.
—Jimmy Pag


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.
—Les Paul 

The audience, they're not professionals. They just love music. It isn't necessary to play over their heads to be admired.
—Les Paul

If I have to go around telling everyone how great I am, then there's something wrong with my act.
—Les Paul 

I have younger friends who don't work, and they aren't doing so well. My secret is to keep going, keep working.
—Les Paul


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...