A Recording Artist Finds Something Far Better
For countless youths around the world, the ultimate symbol of success is an idolized rock-music star. For this reason, rock musicians and rock groups have played a considerable role in shaping the attitudes of their fans toward life. In a series of interviews with an Awake! correspondent, a former rock star, whose records have sold in the millions, discussed what real success is to him. The following summary of high points from those interviews may prove to be helpful to anyone seeking to attain success in life. Young people may also be helped to reevaluate their own attitudes.
Question: What sort of training did your parents give you?
Answer: Not really a whole lot. When I was six years old my mother and father—well-to-do people—were divorced. Since I lived with my mother, my dad didn’t have much to say about my training. She was fairly strict, but from the time I was 11 they sent me away from the Virgin Islands, where we lived, to a boarding school in New England. Being on my own all the time, I didn’t get much training from my family.
Question: You mean moral training?
Answer: Right. I mean that when I did something wrong in later life I knew it was wrong, but I had no reason to do things right. Other people were doing wrong things and seemed to be getting ahead. Why shouldn’t I do the same? Nobody had taken the time to teach me anything different.
Question: Did your parents have any plans about your future—that is, how they wanted you to succeed in life?
Answer: My parents really wanted me to go either to Annapolis [the United States Naval Academy] or to West Point [the United States Military Academy]. So after I was expelled from one of the prep schools in New England, they sent me to a preparatory school for Annapolis, in New Jersey. My dad and his brother got me a chance to go there through the governor of the Virgin Islands. After a couple of years at that prep school, I decided I didn’t want the navy as a career. So my uncle planned for me to go to Syracuse University, get my MBA (Master of Business Administration degree) and get involved in Wall Street. But I wanted something else. You see, from the age of nine I was interested in music. At 14 I first played professionally in Puerto Rico. So it was only natural that after graduating from high school I went to live in Greenwich Village, in New York city. At that time, in the early 60’s, it seemed that everybody there was either an artist, a musician, a poet or a chess player—living the real “Bohemian” life.
Question: How much happiness did you find there?
Answer: Not a whole lot. There were five or six of us sharing an apartment. The group was making two dollars a night—and we were the stars of the show in the coffeehouse where we were playing! People like Richie Haven, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor and Peter, Paul and Mary used to play there in those days. At times, Bob Dylan would come in and do a guest set.
Question: What kind of moral climate was there?
Answer: The activity was immoral—I’ll just leave it at that.
Question: You went from Tommy Ray and his Carib Steel Band to the T-Bones, didn’t you?
Answer: That’s right. The T-Bones were a group recording out of California that took the Alka Seltzer commercial “No Matter What Shape Your Stomach’s In” and made a million seller out of it. They saw me in New York and asked me to join the group. That’s how I ended up in California.
We toured Japan around 1965. The T-Bones had had a number of hits over there that were very big. That trip really started me thinking. I began to see how crazy the world was—how, during war, one people had learned to hate another people; yet we’re all just people—one human race. Then there’s the way people look at you when you’re an entertainer—as if you’re not really human. Anyway, it all got me started thinking seriously.
Question: Did that lead to any changes in your life?
Answer: Not any profound ones, but there were some changes professionally for me. The T-Bones broke up and I got together a group called Shango. We wrote a song, as a joke, about the earthquake scares in California. It was called “Day after Day,” and the thing went to the number one best-seller spot on the west coast [of the United States]. This convinced me that now I was really going to make a success on my own. It was then that I met my wife in Las Vegas. After getting married, we bought a small farm in Palmdale, California, where I could write and prepare my album.
On the farm, we were growing all our own food and becoming introverts—not associating with anybody. Then one day two of the members of the old T-Bones came by. They were playing a club and asked if I’d play with them. So, not forgetting my plans for being a solo artist, we formed a group. The first song we recorded, in 1971, sold almost two million records within six months.
Question: Wasn’t your daughter Daisy born at the same time that your first record with this new group appeared?
Answer: Yes, Daisy was born in October 1971. I left on a five-week tour when she was only 10 days old. Being on the road and successful—I mean by the world’s standards—making up to $4,000 a night, there were many offers to engage in immoral activities. Because of the pressures, the traveling and the time I had to devote to staying on top—which is what I had always wanted—a real strain was put on the relationship between my wife and me. The situation became such that we separated. She went home to Texas and I stayed in Los Angeles.
Another reason we separated was that I hadn’t really found the happiness and peace that I expected from success and I had started to search for God. I had seen hypocrisy in Christendom’s churches, so I went into Eastern religions. I thought there was something more peaceful about a guru sitting on the side of a mountain meditating than there was about someone in a pulpit who drives a Cadillac. At least, that was the image I had of clergymen.
Meanwhile, I had finally got the financial backing to do the solo album that had been my ultimate goal all those years. I wrote it, sang it and recorded it. I thought it was a good album. But suddenly my whole life was to change completely and unexpectedly.
It was the drummer playing for us, who had drummed for Janis Joplin until she died, who led me to make this change. I’d always respected him. Not only was he a fantastic drummer; he was always conscientious. He would never lie, and that was unusual for most of the people I knew. His wife was studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, one day he asked me if I would come to one of the meetings. I’d never heard the name Jehovah before. Since the drummer was from Louisiana, I thought he was in one of those “bayou” religions from down there, or something like that.
I said: “I’ll go.” By then, with all my involvement in Eastern religions, I figured I’d got to save him by exposing this “crazy” religion.
I went to one of the Tuesday night group Bible studies in someone’s home in Burbank, California. They were using a Bible study aid called “Paradise Restored to Mankind—by Theocracy!” It was about the rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem and the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. I was thinking: “Who cares about rebuilding a building way back in 520 B.C.E.?” But I noticed the people there. Some were giving wrong answers, but nobody was saying, “Oh, you dummy! Why don’t you shut up?” There were all types of people, black, white, Spanish, young and old. Everybody had a loving way. There wasn’t this ego problem—especially coming from a show business group you notice that. Above all, these people looked happy to me. I wasn’t.
The book study conductor was a young man. I thought: “I’ve been all over the world. How can he know more about life than I do?” Still, he was calm and confident in his answers when talking about God. After the study, they asked the drummer and me to stay for coffee. We stayed till four in the morning. I asked every question that I could think of and the study conductor answered each one right from the Bible. By then I was convinced this was the truth.
I asked, “What do I have to do to join?” He said: “You don’t join Jehovah’s Witnesses. You become one.” This was Tuesday night, February 6, 1973. I had my first home Bible study on Wednesday. I cut my hair and changed my grooming on Thursday. That was to conform more to the modest appearance of someone who wants to serve God. Because I’d already given up drugs and all forms of uncleanness as part of my effort to learn about God, I was permitted to accompany some Witnesses in their teaching work on Friday. I’ve never stopped since then.
After all the years of looking for the truth, I recognized it immediately when I found it, and I wasn’t going to let it go.
Question: What about the solo album that you had just made?
Answer: The solo album was what I’d thought I always wanted. But I knew I’d have to go on the road to promote it. It was either do that or live the truth of God’s Word. It was my own personal decision because, if I got back on the road, the drugs and the immorality would be facing me every day. I realized that I would eventually succumb to it. I therefore made my decision right there: to serve Jehovah.
Question: So you quit music?
Answer: Professionally—yes. It was hard. To begin with, I had to get myself into Jehovah’s organization. That meant I had to get out from under all kinds of contracts and other obligations that would have put me all the more deeply into the way of life that I wanted to place behind me. The big reason I quit music—and I love music and still play in assembly orchestras of Jehovah’s Witnesses—was that I wanted to be happy! Of all the worldly persons I’ve known in show business, I’ve never seen a really happy one yet. The Witnesses have what these people are searching for: that “ultra peace,” the satisfaction that the world doesn’t have. The world doesn’t have it and so the people can’t get it. People don’t realize the truth of what Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you.”—Matt. 11:28.
Question: When people asked you, “Why don’t you keep on in music and use your music to promote your religion?” how did you answer them?
Answer: The point is: there’s nothing wrong with playing music. But the way I was in it, with the writing and the performing and always being on the road, I knew enough about the truth of the Bible to know that I couldn’t live that type of life and serve my Creator at the same time. True, I’ve met many Witnesses who are fine studio musicians and make a nice living at it. They go to the studio, make their music and go home. They have the right perspective of it.
Question: Did your new knowledge do anything to improve your deteriorated marriage situation?
Answer: My wife and I had always loved each other. It was only my quest for what I thought to be success that had made everything else secondary, including my marriage. Now, as soon as I began studying the Bible I telephoned her to tell her that I was changing my life. I prayed to Jehovah that she and I and our daughter could get back together again. Sure enough, that prayer was answered. In about a month they were with me in California. Within three weeks after that, my wife began attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall with me and my daughter. Although she came at first mainly because she didn’t want to be left home alone, one of the members of the congregation began conducting a home Bible study with her and she soon came to share the same convictions I had. So our family was back together again. We were happier than we had ever been before. I had to admit that this was what I’d been looking for all along.
Question: How would you compare the type of life you have now with the one you had before?
Answer: No comparison! This is life now. I try to help young people—and older ones too—to realize this. But I’m not so sure everyone wants to. For instance, kids used to come up to me and ask for my autograph—real nice, sincere kids. Even at that time I’d say: “Why do you want my autograph? I’m a person like you. I just happen to be in this business. Don’t worry about getting autographs. It’s not right.” People didn’t want to hear that. It’s hard to tell them, when you’ve done something they want to do, that they shouldn’t do it. They don’t want to hear it. At least, that’s my experience.
Question: Aren’t there still a lot of people attracted by the fame and money that the world tends to equate with success?
Answer: Perhaps people who are should reason a little and not have to learn by experience the way I did. Think: Everyone wants to be loved for what he is as a person. You find it obvious in the entertainment world that you’re liked only because you’ve got the money, the connections and the success. For me, I could not love God and my neighbor and live that kind of life because there’s no true love and human kindness in it.
Question: What is success?
Answer: For me, success is finding myself serving Jehovah God. My wife and I have had the real pleasure of helping six other persons to learn the truths of the Bible. They’ve been baptized to symbolize their dedication to Jehovah God and are now serving him right along with us. That’s true success.
It’s interesting how Jesus put it about the way leading to success. He said: “Narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life.” But that is the road to success, the only road to success. My wife and I pray that Jehovah will keep us and all our Christian brothers and sisters on that road!—Matt. 7:14.
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“I had seen hypocrisy in Christendom’s churches, so I went into Eastern religions.”