He Ain’t Famous, He’s My Brother

- July 23, 2012

"Minimal sibling rivalry in the music business"

If your brother or sister is a big-time, successful musician do you dare pursue the same career knowing damn well you will forever be in the shadows? Is it a help or hindrance to have a famous surname? Do you want to make it big, or are you content to compose/perform because it's in your blood and can't imagine doing anything else?

That guy who sings with the Rolling Stones has a baby brother, Chris, who issued two long players in the mid '70s. Yes, he's an adequate singer but it’s no surprise his releases didn't entertain the record charts to any significant degree. Granted even Mick, with his brand name, hasn’t had much of a solo career; I can't name any popular song of his but maybe that's just me. When Chris's first LP—You Know The Name But Not The Face—came out in 1973, I was patronizing a local Michigan vinyl emporium and noted that one of the wise guys employees added a handwritten note to the cover: "Rod Stewart’s brother." The younger Jagger resumed album issues in the '90s and continues in a rootsy blues/folk/cajun vein to this day.

Three of James Taylor's siblings have thrown their voices into the music business ring. Livingston, Kate and Alex all had records in the early 1970s with varying degrees of notice and sales. It was Alex who turned them all onto "black music" when they were kids. "Alex is responsible for everything we've been able to do" Livingston was quoted as saying in 1981. "James was his student." Alex, who died in 1993, had two hits if you count Kentucky Fried Chicken and Levi's jeans commercials.

Speaking of the Taylors, let's look at the ambitious Simon clan. Lucy and Carly worked as the Simon Sisters, mildly scoring with their 1964 "Winkin', Blinkin' and Nod," but they split when Lucy married. With her husband, David Levine, Lucy won a Grammy in 1981 in the category of Best Recording for Children for In Harmony/A Sesame Street Record and again in 1983 in the same category, for In Harmony 2. She also had some success writing for Broadway, and was nominated for a 1991 Tony Award for Best Original Score for "The Secret Garden." Oldest sister Joanna pursued opera as a mezzo-soprano but is currently a real estate broker in New York City.

How could Erma or Carolyn Franklin possibly compare to middle sister Aretha? Both are now deceased but each gave music a solid try. Erma is remembered mostly for her original, pre-Janis Joplin powerhouse “Piece Of My Heart.”

How about brothers in noteworthy bands who each subsequently embarked on solo careers? Tom Fogerty was the leader and singer of the Golliwogs, the band soon to be known as Creedence Clearwater Revival. But younger brother John became CCR's voice and principle composer. Inevitably frustrated, Tom left the group in 1971 and went solo to a tepid response. Sadly, Tom died in 1990, the result of an HIV-tainted blood transfusion. Meanwhile, John Fogerty’s career continues to flourish. Dire Straits included Mark and David Knopfler and it's obvious who has the thriving solo career. Ray and Dave Davies were members of the original Kinks and both have done albums outside of the group. While Dave does get some respect, Ray commands the attention.

The Everly Brothers enjoyed tremendous success in the late ’50s and early ’60s. As their standing at the top waned (in the wake of the British Invasion) the Everly’s subsequent LPs still garnered critical acclaim. Following their split in 1973, Don and Phil's solo careers were all but ignored.

Mike McCartney hoped to avoid association with brother Paul by using the stage name Mike McGear. Prior to being on his own, he enjoyed some notice in the U.K. with his group Scaffold. As a solo artist, especially in the States, not so much.

A whopping14 years separate Simon Townshend and the Who's linchpin Pete, and the younger guitarist knows what he's up against. He has performed with the group on tours as well as on members’ side projects. Despite the odds, Simon also has a solo career. His 1983 album "Sweet Sound" wasn't completely ignored but he's far from a household name.

Harry Chapin had an impressive 10-year run before his 1981 auto crash death. Brother Tom has had as decent, if lower key, career with children's music and social causes.

The offspring of singing stars have generally fared better at chasing success. Jakob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, Rufus and Martha Wainwright and even Gary Lewis made names for themselves. Might it be that they appeal to a generation different from their parent’s fans?

The movie industry, on the other hand, has been more amenable to acting siblings. Jake and Maggie Gyllenhall, Jeff and Beau Bridges, John and Joan Cusack, Dennis and Randy Quaid, Owen and Luke Wilson and the Arquette clan are regularly gainfully employed. Although we don’t know their family dynamics at Thanksgiving dinner, they’re likely less competitive than their musical counterparts.