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Busking Yesterday: The Top 7 Buskers of All Time

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There have been some famous musicians who have busked for reasons ranging from rejuvenation, curiosity, to projects and so forth.  Paul McCartney actually busks “Yesterday” in a scene in 1984’s Give My Regards to Broadstreet and he goes unrecognized, though he does earn some change.  Bruce Springsteen has done some famous busking episodes himself in Copenhagen, Boston, and Moscow.  Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, Bon Jovi, George Michael, Ben Franklin—sneaked that one in there—, Sting, and Tom Jones have all hit the streets well after becoming famous.  Some musicians have actually gotten their start with busking though.

Here’s my version of the top seven.

1.      B.B. King played in the streets of Mississippi where he was known as Riley B. King to those who bothered to ask his name.

2.      Roy Harper of “Have a Cigar” fame began busking in the mid-1960s before being discovered at Les Cousins folk and blues club in Soho.

3.      I recall hearing Leon Redbone was a busker (though I cannot find anything currently on the Internet about this) and was discovered in Toronto, if I remember correctly, by either Flo & Eddie or Peter Gzowski.  Some of the other aspects of his life are quite mysterious.

4.      Rod Stewart used to hang around Leicester Square with the likes of Wizz Jones and busk for the theatre crowds. They are number 4—you may put them in the order you see fit.

5.      Davy Graham—hell yeah.

6.      Tracy Chapman is one of the most famous current artists who began as a busker.

7.      Violent Femmes came out of the starting box in 1983, fresh off the streets, with their eponymous LP—one of the best albums of the era.    Nothing from their subsequent releases matched the quality of the first and their later albums were overlooked, shame too.

Here in Canada buskers were eagerly sought out for a while. Many were hoping to discover the next big thing, so bands like Moxy Früvous, Crashtest Dummies, and The Barenaked Ladies all got their starts on cold, windswept Canadian streets. And that’s a good thing. 

Yesterday and Today

While McCartney may just get some change from passersby when he reworks, brilliantly mind you, the most covered song in the business, “Yesterday,” others got the change they needed. Many musicians like the immediacy of the live show, Andy Partridge and some others excepted, but there is something literally visceral about being there on the street, dependent upon someone slowing down enough to hear you and choosing to reward you for the experience. It’s a whole other stage and some make the transition and some don’t. Gotta’ love those who do.


And one from Danny McEvoy: 



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