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The Top 10 Actors Turned Musicians

From the small stage to the silver screen to ... the stage again.

Jenny Lewis // Photo by Philip Cosores
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Editor’s Note: With David Duchovny releasing his debut studio album, Hell or Highwater, this week, we figured it was a good time to revisit our 2011 list of the 10 best actors turned musicians. Now, the question remains, should we add Fox Mulder to the list? How about ScarJo?

cos on filmActors. Love ’em or hate ’em, you’re bound to see their mugs every day. Seriously, unless you live like Ted Kaczynski — you know, as a recluse (not a bomber, gimme a break) — actors and celebrities stare you down day in and day out. They’re on your television (duh), they’re all across the ‘net (obviously), and they smile from the check-out stands at your local grocer (ohh). Despite what the sardonic headlines insist, they are pretty talented. Kardashians aside, you have to give them credit. Sometimes they deserve double credit…you know, when they’re multi-talented.

We’re not discussing their ability to sell bullshit, either. (We’re looking at you, Mr. Sean Penn.) We’re also not hinting at their knack to change face, or physical presence. (Christian Bale, how do you do it?) No, we’re talking about their raw talents. Some actors can do things that go outside acting. A few might dabble in painting, and prove incredibly worthy. Others might be great politicians… sh’yeah, right. For the most part, if any cross over into other industries, it’s more often than not into music. It just makes sense.

But not all can pull it off. Think about the real blunders of the past: Russell Crowe, Lindsay Lohan, Bruce Willis, Don Johnson, shall we go on? Okay, one last one: Steven Seagal. Horrible. (Actually, Don Johnson gets a bad rap. “Heartbeat” isn’t that bad. It’s a little cheesy, but think about the times. He nailed the time period.) Some can really pull it off, though. Enough that we decided to put together a list. Sure, some of our choices will no doubt come off as obvious, but others might surprise you. Regardless, this list is an honest carving of pure, real talent. These aren’t ironic choices. These folks deserve the spotlight, simply because they can deliver. They didn’t cross over for cash grabs — well, not that we’re aware of. No, they tried their hand and they succeeded.

So, take a gander. You might be shocked.

-Michael Roffman
President/Editor-in-Chief

10. Jeff Bridges

jeff bridges music The Top 10 Actors Turned Musicians

When you think of Jeff Bridges and music, your thoughts may not immediately settle on his own work in the field. The actor has been a part of many films with well-known soundtracks. You may think of his turn as The Dude, dancing to “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” during a dream sequence in The Big Lebowski. You may wander back to late last year where he reprised the role of Kevin Flynn, running from his controlling program Clu to the tunes of Daft Punk in Tron: Legacy. But if you just listened to the soundtrack of Crazy Heart without knowing anything else about it, his work on tracks like “Hold On You” and “I Don’t Know” is nothing short but brilliant. With a rich timbre that fits the country-fueled tunes, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Bridges released an album that was as successful as the film that started him down the path. Country may not be my favorite genre, but if Bridges wrote it, I’d definitely buy it. –Dana Grossman

09. Jeff Daniels

jeff daniels The Top 10 Actors Turned Musicians

For better or worse, Jeff Daniels will always be remembered for his portrayal of Harry Dunne in 1994’s incendiary Dumb and Dumber. His knack for slapstick and obvious chemistry with Jim Carrey is what makes that film the cultural icon it is today. But it sort of overshadows his other work. The man has hit mainstream success (Arachnaphobia, Purple Rose of Cairo, Fly Away Home), as well as indie success (The Squid and the Whale, The Lookout), and has flourished in just about every role thrown his way, crumby or ground-breaking. What you may not know about Daniels is that he’s a self-proclaimed folk artist. He’s recorded songs throughout his life, and has released two full-lenghts: Grandfather’s Hat, and Jeff Daniels Live and Unplugged. If you haven’t had the chance to check out Harry Dunne’s music, he did a captivating session with Daytrotter, which you can download for free here–Winston Robbins

08. Jamie Foxx

jamie foxx The Top 10 Actors Turned Musicians

Jamie Foxx is a triple threat. Not only did he become an enormous name in Hollywood after getting his start by joining In Living Color, eventually landing larger-than-life roles in blockbuster films (Ray, Collateral, Jarhead, Miami Vice, Dreamgirls, The Soloist, etc.), but he’s an established musician as well as a legitimate stand-up comedian. He’s released four solo albums, all of which charted on Billboard’s top 200, but that’s not where his musical legacy will lie, I’m afraid. The man has appeared on just about every keynote rapper’s albums as a featured guest, most notably on Kanye West’s club hit “Gold Digger” and other track “Slow Jamz”, which also features Twista. You have to admire a man who can sing, rap, produce, act, and do stand-up proficiently in every category. –Winston Robbins

07. Juliette Lewis

juliette lewis The Top 10 Actors Turned Musicians

She survived Quentin Tarantino’s perversion and a Mexican vampire nest in From Dusk Til Dawn; she went on a killing spree with Woody Harrelson’s red tea-shades in Natural Born Killers. Juliette Lewis is a darling and a psycho, a Christian follower of a trendy “cult”-ural conversation called Scientology, but more than that, she is now a musical entertainer.

Lewis’ career in rock has spawned two LPs under the banner of Juliette & The Licks, while later forming The New Romantiques, credited solely as Juliette Lewis for the album Terra Incognita. Taking into account the sexy romps of “You’re Speaking My Language”, the attack on society with “American Boy, Pt. 2”, even a Patti Smith vibe as of late…Lewis does not give a fuck what you think.

Move, ’cause Mallory Knox did it. –David Buchanan

06. Ryan Gosling

ryan gosling tour The Top 10 Actors Turned Musicians

Aside from being everyone’s man crush (it’s okay, you can admit it, this is a safe place), Ryan Gosling is a spectacular actor and musician, though the musicianship facet of his career is a fairly recent development. You may know him as Noah from The Notebook, that kid from Remember the Titans, or that little boy who used to be on The Mickey Mouse Club, but Gosling’s film career goes much deeper than that. Gosling’s days of mediocre acting jobs are behind him, and he’s now become a marquee name. His accolades include two Golden Globe nominations, two Academy Award nominations, and two Independent Spirit nominations.

In 2009, he decided to try his hand at music with his project, Dead Man’s Bones. By all accounts, this should have been a flop, but it was surprisingly endearing and honest. Their self-titled debut was dark, yet jauntily poppy, and was a collaboration with L.A.’s Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir, who added an eerie aesthetic that bolstered the album immensely. And although the performances by the group were few, they were successfully raw and full of energy. –Winston Robbins

05. Zooey Deschanel

she and him The Top 10 Actors Turned Musicians

Almost a full decade before She & Him entered anyone’s radar, Zooey Deschanel was already mixing together her interests in music and acting. One of her first appearances on-screen was the music video for The Offspring’s 1999 single, “She’s Got Issues”. A large movie audience got the first taste of her vocal abilities in Elf, where her deadpan character unknowingly duet-ted with Will Ferrell on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. From there, she starred in a variety of films, including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyBridge to Terabithia, and (500) Days of Summer. Musically, she formed a jazz cabaret act called If All Stars Were Pretty Babies, though they never released any studio recordings. Once she got working with M.Ward in 2007, she found the perfect outlet in She & Him. While many artists crossover and then stay in that field for a while, it looks like Deschanel will continue to move between the lines of her two professions as smoothly as her singing voice. –Joe Marvilli

04. Jack Black

Black and Gass of Tenacious D pose for a portrait at Mates Studio in North Hollywood

It wasn’t too much of a stretch for comedic actor Jack Black when he went from the silver screen to the world of rock and roll. If you’ve seen the vast majority of his films (High Fidelity, Orange County, and School of Rock, to name a few), it’s obvious rock ‘n’ roll is a very important part of Black’s personality. That’s why it made sense in 2001 for Black and acting companion Kyle “KG” Gass to team up together and officially form Tenacious D. What started with a short-lived television series in the late ’90s blossomed into a self-titled debut that captured nearly every fan of rock ‘n’ roll. In addition to playing the greatest song in the world (for the devil himself, no less), Tenacious D has gone on to sell millions of records, even headlining numerous festivals (let’s not forget their surprise Coachella performance).

Sure, the group’s long gestating 2006 film, The Pick of Destiny, was a flop, but nearly five years later it has become a stoner cult classic. What else did you want it to be? With promise of a new album and some potential tour dates with the Foo Fighters later this year — oh, by the way, Dave Grohl was their studio drummer — Tenacious D has solidified itself in the rock ‘n’ roll genre. In hindsight, Jack Black has become just as famous in the music biz as he has in the film industry. You might not think of this, especially when the guy’s arguing about cock pushups, but he’s definitely smarter than the average bear. –Ted Maider

03. Woody Allen

woody allen The Top 10 Actors Turned Musicians

Oy vey. When he’s not romanticizing about past love, or trying to seduce his latest leading actress behind the camera, director-writer-actor Woody Allen spends some time playing jazz. You heard that right: jazz. Since the ’60s, Allen has performed as a clarinetist for a handful of acts. (Fun fact: His stage name comes from legendary clarinetist Woody Herman. That one’s on the house.) This isn’t an old passion that he’s dropped, either. He continues to consistently play alongside The Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band every Monday night at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City.

Allen may be prolific for his filmography, but he’s turned some heads with this music career. In 1996, director Barbara Kopple followed Allen and his group around, documenting their tour in a film entitled, Wild Mans Blues, the soundtrack to the film being one of two albums the group’s since released. The other? 1993’s The Bunk Project. Not too shabby for Alvy Singer, huh? So, if you don’t subscribe to Bruce McCulloch’s hatred of the genre, perhaps your fanaticism of Allen doesn’t stop with film. –Michael Roffman

02. Jenny Lewis

9.-Jenny-Lewis

There’s something about a babe with a bass guitar. Jenny Lewis wears it well; a rock chick with a dress sense who can rock along with the best on six strings, as well as four, without looking like she’s about to collapse under the weight of the instrument. Lewis is a prime example of the actor turned fair musician and singer. From child acting through a raft of TV shows and teen movies, she earned her thespian spurs until finding her true mojo in 1998. At the still tender age of 22, she co-formed the band, Rilo Kiley, a made up name that sounds like it should be an anagram. The indie pop-rockers went on to release five albums over nine years, all of which would make a name for itself in the evolving indie market. She didn’t stop there, though. Lewis also has two solo records to her name, the first of which was brought together by Conor Oberst and has Lewis co-billed with The Watson Twins.

More recently, however, the songstress has been performing with her partner, Johnathan Rice, as Jenny & Johnny. The two released their debut album last year, titled I’m Having Fun Now. In between, however, Lewis has a host of contributions on her CV; everything from Elvis Costello to Brandon Flowers. On the topic of the Oscars, Jenny Lewis’ proved to be a contender when her tender-sweet song, “Barking At The Moon”, from the Disney animation, Bolt, fell on the long list of potential nominees for Best Original Song in 2009. Sadly, along with Springsteen’s “The Wrestler”, she didn’t make the cut in a year where oddly just three songs got through. Shame on you, Oscar! Any song with a lyric like “I may not see in color babe, but I sure can feel blue,” deserves its moment in the sun. –Tony Hardy

01. Steve Martin

stevemartin The Top 10 Actors Turned Musicians

He’s been a jerk, a father (to a bride, no less), an amigo, and, on the side, he’s one of the most compelling banjo players out there. Ever since it became a staple of his stand-up routines throughout the ’70s, Steve Martin has made no secret of his skills with the eccentric instrument. It’s worked, too. His debut album, Let’s Get Small, won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album in 1978, which he followed again a year later with his work on A Wild and Crazy Guy, which featured SNL-favorite hit, “King Tut”.

In 2001, Martin nabbed another Grammy, this time for Best Country Instrumental Performance on the remake of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”. He followed this Grammy success in 2009 by releasing his first all-music effort, The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, which brought him a win for Best Bluesgrass Album. It’s not all in the studio, either. Lately, he’s been picking up steam in the festival circuit with his group the Steep Canyon Rangers, appearing nationally at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, Merlefest Bluegrass Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluesgrass Festival, and, of course, Bonnaroo.

Yeah, it doesn’t get better than that. This guy fucking bleeds talent. –Michael Roffman

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