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Musical Space: When An Actor Starts A Band

Lots of actors and actresses try their hands at being musicians. It shouldn’t surprise me I suppose, but once I started researching it, my list of names became unmanageably long.

Kevin Costner, David Duchovny, Keanu Reeves, Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, Russell Crowe; there are hundreds of albums by people famous as actors and I like to wonder why.

I hate to say it, but a lot of these come off as vanity projects--another way to leverage fame. Not to give too many examples here, but do you remember Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time”? I had a hard time taking this one seriously when it charted in 1985, maybe because he took himself so seriously.

Others are on the opposite end of the seriousness scale. Like Johnny Depp, who played bass in an alternative-rock band called “P” with Gibby Haynes. I must say his bass playing isn’t bad at all. Depp’s latest project includes Alice Cooper.

Then some actors go all-in as musicians: Juliette Lewis with her band The Licks; Zooey Deschanel’s duo She and Him - here I have to mention the involvement of Wichita native Mike Coykendall. And as funny as he is, Steve Martin approaches his musical career with utter sincerity. I could listen to his band The Steep Canyon Rangers for days--great playing, great production.

Actors succeed when they find the emotional motivation behind their material, and the same is true when they’ve strapped on a musical instrument - something musicians can learn from.


Listening list:

*Eddie Murphy “Party All The Time” charted 1985


*Juliette Lewis and the Licks, “Hello Hero,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VF5woqlt9zQ

*Zooey Deschanel: She and Him, “Thieves,” from Volume 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeAgLIaHj0M

*Ryan Gosling: Dead Man's Bones, “Pa Pa Power.” Dead Man’s Bones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FA0zncJOx0E

*Billy Bob Thornton, “Your Blue Shadow,” Private Radio (2001) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1frq-iMZUg

*Johnny Depp: P, “Michael Stipe,” P (1995) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DE413Th6K4

*Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers, Rare Bird Alert, title track. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=De_hw6TJbHw

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.