We know and adore them for their onstage performances, songs that have shaped generations, and lyrics that induce euphoria. But what about the life of musicians and rock stars away from the limelight? Let’s take a look at some interesting backstories about world-famous solo artists and band members.

Brian May is an astrophysicist

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As the lead guitarist of Queen, Brian May formed part of one of the most legendary and influential rock bands in music history. He is also among the most educated rock stars. Prior to the worldwide success of Queen, May achieved honors degrees in physics and mathematics at Imperial College London. After spending time at the Teide Observatory, Tenerife, he co-wrote two respected research articles, entitled MgI Emission in the Night Sky Spectrum and An Investigation of the Motion of Zodiacal Dust Particles.

May is a founding member of Queen, having formed the band with drummer Roger Taylor. He wrote some of the bands biggest hits such as "Hammer to Fall," "Tie Your Mother Down," and "We Will Rock You." He continues to perform today, and was ranked number 26 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists.

Charles Bradley was a James Brown impersonator

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Lauded for his classic soul voice and heartfelt lyrics, the late Charles Bradley’s rise to fame took many twists and turns. Abandoned by his mother, raised by his grandmother, and then taken back by his mother, Bradley ran away from home at the age of 14. He ended up in a juvenile detention center, where he trained to become a chef. While doing so a co-worker mentioned a likeness to James Brown, someone Bradley had idolized since seeing him perform at New York’s Apollo Theater.  

After overcoming stage fright, Bradley would perform for several decades as a James Brown impersonator under the name Black Velvet. He was eventually discovered, during a show in 2002, by a co-founder of Daptone Records. Nevertheless, he didn’t release his first album until 2011, at 62 years old. The 2012 documentary Soul of America chronicles the star’s incredible rags-to-riches journey.

Chuck Berry aspired to be a photographer

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He is recognized as being a pioneer of rock and roll, is in the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists, and wrote hits including "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene," and "Roll Over Beethoven." But life wasn’t always as straightforward for Charles Edward Anderson Berry. He was charged with armed robbery in the 1940s and served three years in a young offenders institution. After his release he worked as a carpenter, as a janitor at the Fisher Body automobile manufacturer, and trained to be a hairdresser. Money earned from early gigs was used to purchase cameras and other photographer equipment.

Chuck Berry’s big break arrived in 1955, when Muddy Waters recommended him to the co-founder of Chess Records. What followed was six decades of musical entertainment and thousands of duck walks.

Ringo Starr battled crippling illnesses as a child

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Richard Starkey, aka Ringo Starr, is one of The Beatles, therefore immortalized by music lovers. Yet before becoming one of the Fab Four, life was tough for the drummer. At age 6 he was diagnosed with appendicitis and, during a routine appendectomy, was unlucky enough to develop peritonitis. The latter caused him to fall into a coma and resulted in a recovery period of 12 months. Misfortune struck again at the age of 13, when Starr spent two years at a hospital with tuberculosis.

The last of the illnesses proved to be the catalyst for Starr’s career. Nurses gave him an improvised mallet for him to nurture his motor skills. This was the start of his love affair with drumming, and he made a name for himself playing in a leading Liverpool band called the Hurricanes. In 1963 he accepted John Lennon’s offer to join The Beatles. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him in the top 20 of the 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.