Steven Tyler, Jason Isbell & Other Sober Musicians Share Their Stories

By Kelly Burch 01/18/19

A group of famous sober musicians discussed their past addictions and getting sober for a new GQ profile.

Steven Tyler

Famous musicians aren’t known for being a sober bunch, and yet many successful musicians are in recovery. Recently a group of sober musicians spoke with GQ about how they are surviving and thriving in recovery.

Joe Walsh, 71, guitarist for The Eagles, said that even after decades of Alcoholics Anonymous he still lives day by day.  

“I have 25 years of sobriety,” he said. “But the important thing is, I haven’t had a drink today.”

Aerosmith’s frontman Steven Tyler, 70, said that his experience with drugs started with marijuana. 

“I grew up in the woods listening to the wind. It was just the silence and Mother Nature, no one around—it was an awful lot of magic there,” he said. When I started smoking weed, in ’65, ’66, it kind of enhanced those magic feelings.”

Walsh said he turned to drugs to help him ease symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and Asperger’s. The relief was instant, he said.

“I felt like Superman onstage, and I played that way. I thought cocaine and alcohol was the combination, and it was just a kid trying to feel better. And I chased that initial solution to my problems for 30 years or so,” he said. 

Tyler said that living the rockstar lifestyle made drugs feel like a natural part of life. 

“You have a shot of Jack Daniel’s and you play Madison Square Garden and you get offstage and you go clubbing with Jimmy Page—come on,” he said. “After two encores in Madison Square Garden, you don’t go and play shuffleboard. Or Yahtzee, you know? You go and rock the fuck out. You’ve done something that you never thought you could, and you actually think that you are a super-being.”

Over time, however, the drug use came to interfere with the art, Tyler said. 

“It absolutely works for a while. But then things go wrong. You become addicted, it’s something you do all the time, and suddenly it starts influencing your greatness,” he said. 

Still, Tyler was afraid that getting sober would affect his work. 

“I thought I would lose my creativity,” he said. 

Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, 39, said that before he got sober he told himself he was afraid he would lose his art. However, he realized afterward that he was making excuses. 

“Now I know what was really scaring me was just the thought of getting sober,” he said. “The addiction in your brain, that’s a tricky son of a bitch. It had me convinced for a long time that I wasn’t going to enjoy my life, that nobody was going to enjoy being around me if I wasn’t raising hell all the time.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.