Things About Musicians We Just Learned In 2021 That Made Us Say 'Whoa!'

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Vote up the facts about your favorite musicians you never knew before.

We learned a lot about musicians - and music in general - in 2021. We discovered the secrets behind David Bowie's biggest hits and soaked up stories from his biggest fans. We were flabberghasted to learn some rock urban legends are actually true. We delved into the country music scene, from its legendary outlaws to the '90s reign of Garth Brooks. And we made a pretty good argument that 1991 was the most game-changing year in rock history.

Below is a list of some of our favorite music facts we learned this year. Vote up the ones you're learning for the very first time.

  • How many people write fan letters to their favorite celebrities, hoping to get any kind of reply, even a form letter? Sandra Dodd got far more than that when she reached out to a still-unknown Bowie.

    In December 1967, Bowie received what he called his first American fan letter from the 14-year-old Dodd, who had received a promotional copy of the artist's first album from her uncle (who managed a radio station). She wrote Bowie telling him his music was as good as that of The Beatles, and offered to start a fan club in the states for him.

    Bowie was so happy to receive a fan latter from the US that he sent her a personal response, including his hopes for the future and self-aware typos:

    Dear Sandra,

    When I called in this, my manager’s office, a few moments ago I was handed my very first American fan letter - and it was from you. I was so pleased that I had to sit down and type an immediate reply, even though Ken is shouting at me to get on with a script he badly needs. That can wiat (wi-at? That’s a new English word which means wait).

    I’ve been waiting for some reaction to the album from American listeners. There were reviews in Billboard and Cash Box, but they were by professional critics and they rarely reflect the opinions of the public. The critics were very flattering however. They even liked the single “Love You Till Tuesday.” I’ve got a copy of the American album and they’ve printed the picture a little yellow. I’m really not that blond. I think the picture on the back is more "me." Hope you like those enclosed.

    In answer to your questions, my real name is David Jones and I don’t have to tell you why I changed it. “Nobody’s going to make a monkey out of you” said my manager. My birthday is January 8th and I guess I’m 5’10”. There is a Fan Club here in England, but if things go well in the States then we’ll have one there I suppose. It’s a little early to even think about it.

    I hope one day to get to America. My manager tells me lots about it as he has been there many times with other acts he manages. I was watching an old film on TV the other night called No Down Payment a great film, but rather depressing if it is a true reflection of The American Way Of Life. However, shortly after that they showed a documentary about Robert Frost the American poet, filmed mainly at his home in Vermont, and that evened the score. I am sure that that is nearer the real America. I made my first movie last week. Just a fifteen minutes short, but it gave me some good experience for a full length deal I have starting in January.

    Thank you for being so kind as to write to me and do please write again and let me know some more about yourself.

    Yours sincerely,

    (Signed, "David Bowie")

  • Music fans may have noticed that "Dream On," one of the songs on Aerosmith's self-titled debut album from 1973, has a sound that isn't consistent with the band's other tunes. The ballad was written by lead singer Steven Tyler and, according to the artist, was steeped in his affinity for classical composers.

    The meaning of the song is, as Tyler put it, "simple. It's about dreaming until your dreams come true. It's about the hunger and desire and ambition to be somebody that Aerosmith felt in those days. You can hear it in the grooves because it's there."

    The Aerosmith frontman explained why "Dream On" has a different sound from some of the group's other songs:

    I changed my voice when we did the final vocals... I was insecure, but nobody told me not to do it. I thought I didn't sound right on tape... I used this voice for [the entire album]... except "Dream On." "Dream On" is the real me.

  • Trace Adkins is known for being a tough-as-nails country guy. Not only has he survived a terrible car crash involving a school bus, a hurricane while working on an oil rig, and a house fire, but he's also survived being shot in the chest - by his wife. 

    In 1994, according to Adkins in his autobiography, his second wife, Julie Curtis, tired of her husband's drinking habits, told him to get out of the house, then pulled a gun on him. When he stepped toward her to try to take the gun away, she fired, and the bullet went through his lungs and heart. Friends and family were saying their final goodbyes to him in the hospital when he made a miraculous recovery.

    The marriage didn't last long after that. 

  • Kris Kristofferson Landed A Helicopter In Johnny Cash's Yard To Hand-Deliver His Demo
    Photo: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid / MGM

    In 1969, the Oxford graduate, Rhodes Scholar, former US Army captain, and helicopter pilot Kris Kristofferson was working as a janitor in Columbia Records' offices in Nashville, trying to break into the music business as a songwriter. He befriended June Carter Cash and occasionally snuck his demos into her purse, hoping she would find them and listen to them, perhaps sharing them with her husband Johnny. 

    Kristofferson was sure his song "Sunday Morning Coming Down" was the one to convince people of his ability, so during a routine Army Reserve helicopter flight training mission, Kristofferson veered off course, landing on Cash's lawn to hand-deliver the demo. In a TV appearance the next week, Cash said, "Here's a song written by Kris Kristofferson. Don't forget that name."

  • In a 2014 interview with Billboard, Billy Joel says that "good morale" is important to him, his band, and his crew - and that's why he now reserves the front row for fans that can't afford better seats. As he explains:

    We never sell front rows, we hold those tickets at just about every concert. For years, the scalpers got the tickets and would scalp the front row for ridiculous amounts of money. Our tickets are cheap, under $100, some in the $80s, the highest is about $150. I'd look down and see rich people sitting there, I call 'em "gold chainers." Sitting there puffing on a cigar, "entertain me, piano man." They don't stand up, make noise, sit there with their bouffant haired girlfriend lookin' like a big shot. I kinda got sick of that, who the hell are these people, where are the real fans? 

    It turns out the real fans were always in the back of the room in the worst seats. We now hold those tickets, and I send my road crew out to the back of the room when the audience comes in and they get people from the worst seats and bring 'em in to the front rows. This way you've got people in the front row that are really happy to be there, real fans. 

  • The Lead Singer Of Marcy Playground Says The Success Of 'Sex And Candy' Was 'Too Much' To Handle
    Photo: Capitol

    Alt-rock act Marcy Playground burst onto the scene in 1997 with a sly, laid-back tune called "Sex and Candy," which peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 after first getting some grassroots airplay from a San Diego DJ. The band stuck around long after, but never reclaimed that initial success.

    According to singer John Wozniak, the song's success was a complete surprise. "We were actually pretty frickin' flabbergasted with the hugeness of it all," he told MTV. "It was like going from playing fun little pickup games of grade-school T-ball to, all of a sudden, being a major-league baseball team in the pennant race for the World Series."

    After their follow-up LP flopped, the band canceled their contract with Capitol Records, feeling there was too much commercial pressure. "I don't mind having a hit," Wozniak said, "but 'Sex and Candy' was too much for anybody, especially as a first hit."

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