It's Not Only Rock 'n' Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of Their Creativity

It's Not Only Rock 'n' Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of Their Creativity

by Jenny Boyd, Holly George-Warren

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B. B. King, Joni Mitchell, Keith Richards, Queen Latifah, and more than 70 other iconic musicians discuss the creative process in exclusive interviews

"I was amazed at how many people have shared an experience I thought was so rare."  —Eric Clapton

In this exciting, original, and inspiring book, 75 of the world's most iconic


B. B. King, Joni Mitchell, Keith Richards, Queen Latifah, and more than 70 other iconic musicians discuss the creative process in exclusive interviews

"I was amazed at how many people have shared an experience I thought was so rare."  —Eric Clapton

In this exciting, original, and inspiring book, 75 of the world's most iconic musicians reveal, many for the first time, their thoughts on creating music. Psychologist Jenny Boyd has probed the minds and souls of these artists and has delved into the drive to create, the importance of nurturing creativity, the role of unconscious influences, and the effects of chemicals and drugs on the creative process. Music legends who contributed exclusive interviews include Rosanne Cash, Eric Clapton, David Crosby, Mick Fleetwood, George Harrison, John Lee Hooker, Branford Marsalis, Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Ravi Shankar, Ringo Starr, Ice-T, and Warren Zevon. With candid photographs and in-depth analysis of what makes great musicians tick, this will be of interest to any musician or music fan.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An often-fascinating glimpse into the inner lives of performing artists."  —Publishers Weekly

"The substance and revelations that are garnered in this book are second to none."  —Mick Fleetwood

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It's Not Only Rock 'n' Roll

Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of their Creativity

By Jenny Boyd, Holly George-Warren

John Blake Publishing Ltd

Copyright © 2013 Dr Jenny Boyd and Holly George-Warren
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78219-793-5





What exactly does the word creativity mean? I have struggled with that question and its ramifications for many years. In the past I considered creativeness and talent as going hand in hand, talent being a natural ability or aptitude, which perhaps was inherited genetically. It was my belief that only those special people who were born with a great gift could create something novel and extraordinary. I have since come to see that talent and creativeness are two entirely different things. Simply having talent does not always guarantee that one is creative; conversely, one does not require an exceptional gift to be creative.

In its most basic form, creativity is a universal, innate quality. Its prerequisites are traits we as human beings naturally possess: curiosity and a sense of wonder. These inborn characteristics are essential for exploring our surroundings and thinking intuitively and imaginatively, fundamental aspects of creativeness.

Creativity can also be used in another sense, to describe the creation of artistic and highly specialised pursuits. In addition to that basic sense of wonder and curiosity, creative people also have a prodigiously developed interest in something. The root of this interest could be hereditary: for example, a strong capacity for understanding or feeling music, an innate gift for painting or drawing. This kind of special talent, coupled with the natural instinct for discovery, draws a person to explore a particular area. Such a person has a fixedness of purpose, a complete absorption and passion in doing the things that make up the creative process.

Although we will be concentrating our discussion on professional musicians, whose creativity belongs in the latter category, we will see that there are several elements common to both types of creativeness. In a few cases the artists may even fall into the first group, as do most people. The overwhelming difference is that all of those I have interviewed for this book fit the description given by psychologist Frank Barron, a pioneer in creativity research, who wrote: 'Creative individuals are persons whose dedication is nothing less than a quest for ultimate meaning. Or perhaps it is not so much that they are dedicated as that they understand themselves to have been elected and have accepted the office. What is enjoined upon them is to listen to the voice within and to speak out.'

Barron's 'voice within' is that deepest part of our being, labelled the 'unconscious' by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the fathers of modern psychiatry and psychology, respectively. The unconscious is the part of our psyche that does not normally enter our awareness but that – in my opinion – can be reached through the creative act.

Creativity is more than just producing something, though. The much greater meaning to creativeness was aptly described by psychiatrist and author Silvano Arieti: 'Creative work ... may be seen to have a dual role: at the same time as it enlarges the universe by adding or uncovering new dimensions, it also enriches and expands man, who will be able to experience these new dimensions inwardly.' This latter aspect of creativity was termed 'self-actualisation creativeness' by Abraham Maslow, a psychologist who has studied and written extensively on the creative process.

The 75 musicians here range greatly in their degrees of talent, yet each is remarkably creative. How have those whose talent is not as brilliant come to lead creative lives equal to those who are musical geniuses? What is it about their psyches and their lives that have made their careers possible? I sought out musicians from the complete spectrum of popular music – rock, jazz, blues, soul, funk, hip-hop, pop, folk, country – to ensure a variety of artistic backgrounds.

Equally important, I wanted to find out if and how their ability to create enriched their lives. Has it enabled them to know themselves and therefore be more fulfilled? Have they undergone what Maslow considered the climax of self-actualising creativeness, the peak experience? If so, what is such an experience like, and what has been its effect on their lives?

I chose to study musicians because I believe their gift is very special. More pervasive and accessible than any other art form, music touches almost everyone. Musicians are the torchbearers, the spokespersons of our time. Their songs express not only the feelings and ideas of the individual but of his or her generation and its culture. I also hoped that the artists' answers to these difficult questions could help those of us who do not feel particularly gifted in one area but who have the capacity for self-actualising creativeness. (The complete list of interview questions, as well as a brief description of each musician interviewed, can be found in the Appendix.)

How Nurturing Fosters Creativity

To look at drawings and listen to stories created by children, it is obvious that they are naturally imaginative and inventive. In fact, Maslow described a childlike nature as being an element of creativity, writing: '... Self-actualisation creativeness [is] in many respects like the creativeness of all happy and secure children. It [is] spontaneous, effortless, innocent, easy, a kind of freedom from stereotypes and clichés ... It seem[s] to be made up largely of "innocent" freedom of perception, and "innocent" uninhibited spontaneity and expressiveness.'

What happens, then, to these qualities, along with the vivid imagination and the instinctive creative urge that are so apparent in the young? It seems that in order to thrive, creativeness must be nurtured and encouraged. Unfortunately, many of us find our creative inclinations crushed by our parents, the school system, and society in general, whose intentions are to enforce the status quo.

I asked musicians what their childhoods had been like. Had their musical talent been recognised at an early age, and if so, had it been encouraged? Was their environment conducive to an interest in music? Were they given inspiration and motivation to play music at an early age? I have come to the conclusion that although the majority of them had musical parents, this was not a prerequisite of their being creative. Regarding the age-old psychological question of nature versus nurture, 95 per cent of those interviewed told of the nurturance and encouragement they received while growing up. I believe that these were the vital components needed that gave the musicians the courage and faith in themselves needed to pursue their creative yearnings.

Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, who has researched the genesis of creativity, emphasised: 'On the whole, environment seems to play a much larger role than heredity in the emergence of genius. Though intelligence is to some measurable degree subject to genetic inheritance, environmental family and intergenerational influences appear far more important in the development of a potential creator.' Certainly, almost everyone knows talented people who do not use their gifts. Could it be they were inhibited during childhood from expressing themselves freely?

Indeed, the vast majority of artists I interviewed were encouraged by parents or grandparents to develop their innate artistic talents, regardless of the parents' own musical skills. Of those given encouragement, the only slight difference I could find between the ones with musical parents and the ones without was that children with musical ancestors tended to become aware of their special talents at an earlier age than those whose parents had no musical knowledge. Most of the artists described their parents as music lovers who made music an important part of their family life. Their childhood stories convinced me overwhelmingly that a nurturing environment can foster creativeness.

Encouragement from Grandparents

Some musicians recalled first finding inspiration and encouragement from an enthusiastic musical grandparent. Years ago, when I accompanied my sister Pattie and Eric Clapton to his grandmother Rose's house, the first thing I noticed in her sitting room was a large upright piano. Eric later told me that his grandmother, who had raised him because his mother was young and unmarried, had instilled in him a love for music that she herself shared: 'I think I wanted to be a musician from the minute I was born. I wanted to play anything my grandparents would get for me, which included violin and drums. When I was really young, my grandmother used to encourage me "to do a turn". It was a big thing that everyone would have their own song. My gran would have a certain song if it was Christmas or if people had come round to visit. As a tiny tot, I was inevitably put up in the big bay window, they would pull the curtains, and I would sing "I Belong to Glasgow". That was before I was aware of show biz. It was a very musical family background. Rose played the piano very well.

'When my mother came back [to the Clapton household], she introduced jazz into the house. She was a big jazz fanatic — things like Benny Goodman, Harry James, or swing and big-band jazz. This was all very prevalent in my home when I was nine or ten. I clicked on that, especially Glenn Miller.'

Keith Richards, guitarist and songwriter for the Rolling Stones, fondly described his grandfather's early influence on him: 'I first started holding guitars and bashing away on pianos when I was a little kid. My grandfather used to run a dance band, and he turned me on to the playing of music. We were very close to each other. He had seven daughters and lived off the Seven Sisters Road in London, which was pretty ironic. He had this incredible sense of humour – for one guy to live in a house full of eight women, you've got to have a laugh!

'When I used to visit him, a guitar would be on top of the piano, and I thought that's where the guitar lived. Just a few years ago I found out that he used to put the guitar there especially for my visits. He'd take the guitar out of its case, polish it up, and leave it there. He never asked, "Do you want to play?" He would just let me look at it, and slowly I would ask if I could touch it.'

Another well-known British guitarist and songwriter, Peter Frampton, vividly remembered his grandmother's role in introducing him to music: 'My father's mother had a piano – with the candlesticks on it and everything – on which she used to play vaudeville music. One day when I was five or six, we went for a visit, and she produced a ukulele. I thought it was marvellous, so she gave it to my father for me to play later on, when my hands were big enough. A couple of years later I ran across the dusty case in our attic and asked my dad what it was. He reminded me of the ukulele, and so I asked him to show me a few chords. My father played guitar in a college dance band before the war, so he knew the basic chords and how to tune it.

'I was about seven-and-a-half when I started playing, and I became obsessive about it at a very early age. When I was eight or nine my grandmother took me up to Shaftesbury Avenue and showed me all of Tin Pan Alley [the music centre of London]. She also took me to Selmer's [a famous music shop], where I remember seeing [early British rock 'n' roll guitarist] Hank B Marvin's guitar in a glass case. She encouraged me more than my parents [did] at the very early stage.'

Singer and songwriter Stevie Nicks was encouraged musically by her parents, but her ultimate inspiration was her grandfather, whose songwriting ability greatly influenced her. She fondly recalled her early years: 'My mom said that I started singing when I was very young. They always had music going for me because I seemed to have such a love for it. Even as a baby in a crib, I wanted music. My dad's father was a country and western singer, so he brought music into my life as soon as I was able to understand music at all. I was singing duets with my grandfather when I was four. My grandfather rode the railway trains across the country and played in different places. He played harmonica, fiddle and guitar. He wasn't a great musician, but he was a really good songwriter. I'm kind of the same way. I consider myself a good songwriter, but I don't consider myself a very good musician.'

Musical Encouragement in Working-Class Families

Many musicians I interviewed came from backgrounds where money and luxuries were in short supply. Fortunately for these artists, though, their parents managed to provide them with a guitar or other instrument and, most important, the encouragement to play music. This proved true when the parents were not musically inclined themselves. I'd first met the late George Harrison's parents back when the Beatles were at their peak. I thought how wonderful it must be for them to witness their son's achievements.

When I interviewed George for this project, he explained that his parents' love of music had ignited his desire to play guitar: 'Neither of my parents were musicians, but they did have an upright piano in the house, and my dad, who was a merchant seaman, bought a lot of records and a wind-up gramophone from the States. There was always music about the house, and they also liked to dance. My mum was often singing. Since they really appreciated music, they encouraged me. When I was 12, I wanted to buy a friend's guitar, and my mother gave me the 3 pounds and 10 shillings to buy it. My mum really liked the idea of me playing, because Dad was always out working at night or doing shift work.

'There was a friend of my father's who, he remembered, used to play guitar when they were on the ships together. My father had sold his guitar because he needed the money, but this guy had continued playing. So my father called him up and asked him if he would show me a few things. This guy owned a liquor store, and whichever evening of the week he closed the shop, I'd go down there and he would show me how to play the guitar. I'm sure that set a certain pattern in my music, because he taught me all those old songs. He taught me all the chords to what you would call "dance band music", and that stayed with me until this day. He was a great help to me, showing me where to put my fingers and how different chords follow each other, just by playing songs, really. In retrospect, I think he had an enormous influence on me.'

As a founding member of The Hollies, Graham Nash was also part of the new sound that emerged from northern England in the early sixties. He, like George, was encouraged by his parents to follow his dreams – something that was rare for most kids whose hardworking parents feared the economic instability of a musical career. Graham said of his early years: 'My father was an engineer, a foreman in a moulding company in Blackpool, England, and my mother took care of the family. I had friends who played guitar and seemed to have talent, but they were dissuaded from their destiny by their parents who said, "You've got to get a real job; this will never last. Go to the factory like your grandfather did and his father and your father and get a gold watch at 65."

'I think my parents recognised something in me that they encouraged instead of deflated, and I'll always be grateful to them for that. I was always encouraged as a boy to follow my natural instincts; my mother and father instilled in me that if I followed my heart, I'd come to no harm. Neither of them were musicians, although I found out about six months before my mother died that she was living her life [vicariously] through me. She had ambitions when she was a young woman of going on the stage and performing.

'At 13, I was given the choice of either a bicycle or a guitar; fortunately I chose the guitar. There was no doubt in my mind I would be a rock 'n' roll star. I would practise my autograph at school and draw the latest Fender guitars and drum kits and stuff. I had no fear of audiences, and I could always sing. When I first met Allan Clarke, who later joined The Hollies with me, we were five years old and would sing in the school choir. We would stand up in front of the school and sing hymns in harmony. It was no big deal at all; in fact, it was a kind of a thrill. I continued to perform with Allan, and from the age of 13, I knew that I would be a hit. I don't know why; I don't know what that was based on. I knew that Allan and I had something that pleased audiences, and we obviously translated that to mean that we could make it out there. I think that was also seen by our parents, which was the reason why they encouraged us.'

Blues guitarist B. B. King grew up in the poverty-stricken Mississippi Delta. While most middle- and working-class Americans of the day viewed a guitar as a luxury, music was integral to the rural African-American culture from which B. B. King emerged. He described his first encounters with the stringed instrument: 'For some reason I was always crazy about the guitar, and most families in the area had some type of old guitar – that's the one thing families in the area I grew up in could afford. When we went to church, the preacher, who was my uncle's brother-in-law, played the guitar.


Excerpted from It's Not Only Rock 'n' Roll by Jenny Boyd, Holly George-Warren. Copyright © 2013 Dr Jenny Boyd and Holly George-Warren. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jenny Boyd is a clinical consultant with many personal ties to the music world. Holly George-Warren is a Grammy-nominated writer, editor, producer, and music consultant who has written and edited more than 40 music-related books, many as the editor of Rolling Stone Press from 1993-2001. She writes for such publications as Entertainment WeeklyNew York Times, and Rolling Stone; has served as an archivist/​curator for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation and The GRAMMY Museum; has edited and packaged the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame annual induction book every year since 1995; and has appeared as a music and pop culture expert on CBS Saturday Morning, MTV, VH1, CMT, PBS, and NBC. She lives in upstate New York.

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