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Rolling Back The Years: Oldest Musical Artists Still Touring Today

Rolling Back The Years: Oldest Musical Artists Still Touring Today

They say playing live music is a young person’s game, but some of the world’s most popular musical artists have been performing on stages all over the world since the 1940s! In this article we take a look at 10 of the performers whose talent is matched by their longevity, with many showing no signs of hanging up their guitars and microphones anytime soon.

Some of the greatest musicians in history have had remarkably brief careers, such are the trials and tribulations associated with life on the road as a touring performer.

The likes of Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Smiths and Nirvana enjoyed just a few years at the top before tragedy or internal tensions stopped them in their tracks, but thankfully for music lovers there are many great bands and artists whose careers have spanned several decades.

In this article we look back at the careers of music’s biggest names who somehow still find the energy to travel across the globe to the delight of adoring crowds who sing along to their biggest hits. We try and shed light on the secrets behind the longevity of artists who are still performing live to this very day.

If we’ve missed any of your favourites, let us know in the comments!

Kool and The Gang – performing since 1964

Image source: https://hr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kool_%26_the_Gang
Image credit: Andreas Lawen, Fotandi

When a group of seven local school friends called the Jazziacs performed an instrumental jazz and soul set at Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village, New York City, in 1964, few people in attendance could have known that they were watching a band that would make an unparalleled contribution to R&B, soul, funk and disco in the following six decades. They had to go through a few name changes first, becoming the Soul Town Band and Kool & The Flames before settling on Kool & The Gang and signing for the De Lite record label in 1969.

The name came from the fact that bass player Robert Bell had given himself the nickname ‘Kool’ and was known as such among the street gangs in his neighbourhood, and as Kool & The Gang the band released a self-titled album that made an impact on the R&B chart, followed by a live album that captured their inimitable sound and musicianship. Their records continued to sell well in the 1970s, with Open Sesame being featured in the soundtrack to the film Saturday Night Fever and the album of the same name earning the band two Grammy awards. It was in the 1980s that Kool & The Gang’s success peaked, with the band placing more singles in the top 10 of the pop charts during the first half of that decade than any other group. They are still performing today and have several shows lined up around the United States in the final months of 2023.

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Cher – performing since 1963

Image source: https://people.com/cher-announces-first-christmas-album-7967827
Image credit: AXELLE/BAUER-GRIFFIN/FILMMAGIC

Cherilyn Sarkisian, known around the world simply as Cher, started her pop career all the way back in 1963. Sixty sensational years later, she is still touring the world at the age of 77, performing hits like If I Could Turn Back Time, Believe, I Got You Babe, and Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves. Indeed, earlier this year she told reporters on the red carpet for a film about American comedian Carol Burnett that she is aiming to be ready to tour again by the end of 2023, but not before she records some new music first. “I’m going to England to make two albums so I want to get that finished first,” said Cher, who was born in El Centro, California, on May 20th 1946.

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The Rolling Stones – performing since 1962

Picture source: Alamy Licensed Account

If anything, this list was inspired by this group and with a brand new studio album arriving on October 20th, it is only a matter of time before The Rolling Stones hit the road again and extend their live career into a seventh decade.

In 2022 the band celebrated 60 years of The Rolling Stones with a tour that took them across Europe, albeit without former drummer, percussionist and backing vocalist Charlie Watts, who sadly passed away in August 2021 at the age of 80. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood are keeping the Stones alive and their first album of original material for 18 years will be called Hackney Diamonds. It will be the band’s 24th studio album of a discography that stretches all the way back to 1964 when they released a self-titled record that included songs like Little By Little, and Tell Me (You’re Coming Back). Since then the Stones have released classic records like Out of Our Heads, Their Satanic Majesties Request, and Let It Bleed that have helped to make them one of the most successful rock bands of all time, selling more than 240 million records.

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The Beach Boys – performing since 1961

Image source: https://www.nme.com/news/music/the-beach-boys-confirm-second-uk-show-for-summer-2022-3150499
Image credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

Teenage brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson created a band called The Beach Boys, and what started as a family musical project at their home in Hawthorne, California, turned into a piece of American history. It was Dennis Wilson who loved to surf and suggested the band write music that reflected the surfing culture of California in the 1950s and 60s, and that idea gave the band their first hit, Surfin’, which reached number 75 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The band has since become one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful acts in history, selling more than 100 million records around the world and charting more than 80 songs. Their classic album Pet Sounds was listed at number 2 in Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ and songs from the record will be enjoyed by audiences on the Beach Boys’ tour of North America, which is currently in progress.

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Bob Dylan – performing since 1959

Image source: https://www.nme.com/news/music/bob-dylan-announces-spring-2022-dates-for-his-never-ending-tour-3145234
Image credit: Matthew Baker/Getty Images

Bob Dylan and his band will set off on a tour of North America on October 1st, 2023, giving fans the opportunity to hear the 82-year-old singer songwriter perform songs like Blowin’ In The Wind, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and Like A Rolling Stone played by one of the most influential musicians of the last century – if he decides to play them.

Dylan has a reputation for choosing obscure songs for his biggest concerts, as though he has perhaps tired of the pressure to give audiences the crowd-pleasing hits they desire and instead try to challenge them or make them think, which is something he has done ever since he first started performing during his time at the University of Minnesota back in the late 1950s. After dropping out of university, Dylan moved to New York City and became known as a performer at the folk clubs in Greenwich Village. His first, self-titled album did not sell particularly well initially, but the release of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963, featuring songs like Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright and A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall, landed Dylan a place in the US album charts at number 22 and the album eventually went platinum. His songs became soundtracks to the civil rights and anti-war campaigns of the 1960s and he became an iconic figure. Now, with 40 studio albums to his name along with a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and even a Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Paul McCartney – performing since 1957

Image source: https://www.nme.com/news/music/paul-mccartney-live-photos-2022-got-back-tour-3254277
Image credit: MPL Communications Ltd/MJ Kim

On October 18th 2023, Sir Paul McCartney embarks upon the Got Back Tour, which begins in Australia and then takes in Mexico and Brazil before it finishes on December 16th. Paul is now 81 and he has been performing in bands ever since the age of 15, when he met John Lennon and joined his band, the Quarrymen, before the pair went on to change the course of music history by forming The Beatles together.

There is very little Paul McCartney has not achieved as a musician, and while it would be easy to turn to his 18 Grammy Awards, his MBE, his Academy Award, his knighthood or his Honorary Doctor of Music degree for a sense of his achievements, they only really scrape the surface of the impact his songwriting, musicianship and performances have made on people all over the world during his 66 years of taking to the stage.

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Dolly Parton – performing since 1956

Image source: https://eu.tennessean.com/story/entertainment/music/2022/03/07/pray-peace-dolly-parton-dedicates-2022-acm-awards-ukraine-russia-war/9419812002/
Image credit: Andrew Nelles/Tennessean.com

It was Dolly Parton’s uncle, Bill Owens, who got the country music legend her first gig all the way back in 1956. Dolly, who was just 10 years old at the time, had been writing songs on the front porch of her family home in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, since she was only five and had even made her own guitar out of an old mandolin with two strings taken from a bass guitar in order to be able to play along to songs she had written like Little Tiny Tassle Top.

Her first performances came on The Cas Walker Show where she was a regular feature, and within a few years she had made her debut at renowned country music venue the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. There she was introduced by Johnny Cash and received three encores after performing You Gotta Be My Baby, establishing the 13-year-old Dolly as a rising star of the scene. Record deals, more television appearances and a string of singles followed until Dolly had her first chart success with Put It Off Until Tomorrow in 1966, and since then she has never looked back. Classic songs like Jolene (1973) and I Will Always Love You (1974) followed as Dolly made music history, and she wrote the theme song to the 1980 feature film 9 to 5, which topped the charts. Dolly gains new fans with each decade that passes and in 2023 she announced that she would be releasing her first rock album, entitled Rockstar, featuring collaborations with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Miley Cyrus and Lizzo.

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Buddy Guy – performing since 1953

Image source: https://guitar.com/news/music-news/buddy-guy-farewell-tour-2023-featuring-eric-gales-christone-kingfish-ingram/
Image credit: Terry Wyatt/Getty

Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy was born on July 30th 1936 in Lettsworth, Louisiana, to parents who worked as sharecroppers. Buddy, who would go on to become one of the progenitors of a style of guitar playing that would influence the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, picked cotton as a child, earning just $2.50 for every 100 pounds he picked. Now, after releasing 19 studio albums, touring the world and even performing at the White House for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in February 2012, Buddy Guy’s name is etched into the history of rock and roll. He picked up a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 2012 among eight other Grammy Awards for his recordings, and December 8th 2018 was named ‘Buddy Guy Day’ by officials in Louisiana to honour his legacy. Buddy, at the age of 87, continues to play upwards of 130 nights a year, and you can catch him at his very own Chicago blues club, Buddy Guy’s Legends.

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Frankie Valli – performing since the early 1950s

Frankie Valli’s singing career is so long and storied that it is hard to put an exact date on when it began, but he stepped on stage as a teenager in the clubs local to his home in Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1950s. Frankie, who was born Francis Castelluccio in 1934, first became interested in becoming a performer when his parents took him to see Frank Sinatra perform at the Paramount when Valli was just seven years old. He told the Two River Times: “I looked up, and I saw him coming out on stage, and the way he was lit up, it was like he had an aura around him, and as a kid, I said, ‘Wow! Look at that! Someday I’m gonna do this.’” And do it he did, becoming the frontman of the Four Seasons in the 1960s and blowing away audiences with his powerful lead falsetto voice that helped the group score number one hits with songs like Walk Like A Man, Big Girls Don’t Cry and December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night). Now into his eighth decade as a performer, Frankie released his 12th studio album A Touch of Jazz in June 2021 and, despite being 89 years old he is currently in the middle of a tour that will take him around the United States in October and November, before he takes up his residence at Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino in the new year.

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Willie Nelson – performing since the 1940s

Image source: https://outsider.com/entertainment/music/willie-nelson-2022-tour-zz-top-jason-isbell-others/
Image credit: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Willie Nelson might be 90 years old but take a look at his social media accounts and you could be forgiven for thinking he was an up-and-coming new singer-songwriter, so busy is his schedule of tour dates and record releases. His latest record, called simply ‘Bluegrass’, is his 75th studio album in a recording career that began in 1962, but Willie has been performing on stage even longer.

Born in Abbott, Texas, in 1933, Willie Hugh Nelson joined his first group at the age of 10 when he became part of John Raycjeck’s Bohemian Polka Band in 1943. Willie was the group’s lead singer and guitar player and they toured around Texas, giving Willie an early opportunity to hone the foundations of his playing style and become well adjusted to performing in front of audiences – something he would go on to do around the world in the 80 years that followed. Willie’s first single, Lumberjack, was recorded in 1956 and in 1960 he moved to Nashville to work as a songwriter. His first album, …And Then I Wrote, was released in 1962 and he enjoyed commercial success throughout the 60s before renouncing the Nashville music scene and becoming an outlaw country music artist in a period that produced songs such as On The Road Again, To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before and Pancho And Lefty. Today, Willie stands as an icon of American music and an inductee in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He has also been recognised by the National Agricultural Hall of Fame for his activism in support of farmers.

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