Music News

Notes from the Soundboard: Famous Fathers and Sons

Rufus Wainwright did his dad proud
Notes from the Soundboard is a new column appearing weekly on Crossfade,  focused on pop music's history and ongoing evolution. Lee Zimmerman shares insights and observations on how music continues to connect with the weirdness of the world. Click here to read past installments.

"It's not time to make a change, Just sit down, take it slowly.
You're still young, that's your fault, There's so much you have to go through..."
-- Cat Stevens, "Father and Son"

And you think you have pressure from your parents to achieve! Imagine being the offspring of a musical icon and having to follow in pop's footsteps. There's no shortage of examples of kids who've tried -- some successfully, some not quite as well. So with Father's Day rapidly approaching, we though it an apt time to look at some examples of children trying to carve their own careers in the shadow of some famous fathers.

The most dramatic example of this disparity between fame and one's forebears comes via the Beatles. With the exception of Ringo and his son Zak Starkey, a proficient drummer in his own right, there hasn't been a single member of the Beatles brood to come close to their father's fame or fortunes. And face it -- Ringo was hardly the most proficient of the bunch anyway.

Paul's son James made brief appearances on a couple of his dad's albums, but to call his a low profile is like admitting it gets a bit chilly in the artic. John's kid Julian attempted to establish a career in the early 1980s, scored some success and then faded into oblivion. His half brother Sean has followed the lead of his mother Yoko Ono by delving into quirkier realms, but lately he too has fallen off the radar.

As for George's boy Dhani, he's made tentative steps towards making music, but there's been no word as to when he'll emerge with his first actual offering.

Rufus Wainwright has emerged at the forefront of several siblings belonging to astute singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright and his wife, folkie Kate McGarrigle. Like his father, Rufus has a wry sense of humor, but he's also secured his role as a prominent Gay musician whose stylistic flourishes have given him a distinctive identity all his own. Sisters Sloan and Martha have also attempted to etch individual identities, but have yet to reach the level of Rufus' fame and fortunes.

When your dad was known as one of rock's most incisive and intelligent singer/songwriters, it becomes a daunting challenge to come close to that level of respect and adoration. Jordan Zevon helped oversee his father Warren's final posthumous effort and recently released his solo debut. Unfortunately, the album failed to gain much traction, leading to the suspicion that Jordan doesn't have the bite worthy of a werewolf of London.

Rebellion is the name of the game in the Earle household, what with the elder Earle's reputation for rowdy insurgency. Steve's boy Justin was given a middle name that expresses reverence for another great alt-country renegade, Townes Van Zandt, but even so, his own wayward adventures and run-ins with drugs and alcoholic abuse would seem to indicate he's more inclined to duplicate dad's hardcore heroics.

No doubt Hank III can relate; after all, his feisty disposition follows a family trajectory, beginning with his grandfather, the legendary country crooner Hank Williams, and continuing via his dad, Hank Williams Jr. Yes, crazy country boys seem to be part of a hereditary strain.

On the other hand, Teddy Thompson's father, Richard Thompson, has yet to secure a high profile, despite a prolific career as a singer, songwriter and guitarist that spans some forty years. So with a series of critically acclaimed albums to his credit, young Teddy may be the one offspring who might actually surpass his dad in terms of real recognition. A shame though -- the old man's got the goods that Teddy was fortunate enough to inherit.

Dweezil Zappa apparently forgave Frank for giving him such a goofy name, at least as evidenced by the fact that he carries on pop's legacy via Zappa Plays Zappa, a touring tribute consisting of some of his dad's musical associates. Nothing like mining the family jewels.

Finally, lets not forget Wilson Phillips, whose talents were drawn from two sets of notable patriarchs, the Beach Boys' inimitable Brian Wilson and John Phillips, a papa who was the driving force behind the Mamas and Papas. The three girls had some hits, but their artistic endurance proved somewhat less durable than that of their dads.

All in all, rock's offspring can claim a scarcity of success stories, although with time, that conclusion could change. And just because they've yet to match the old man's muscle, it doesn't mean they won't achieve that some day. To paraphrase the Who, these kids are alright.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lee Zimmerman