Chad Wilson Bailey has tried several times to leave the music industry, but the universe just won’t let him quit.
Sporting shoulder-length silver hair and a suave, vintage-rock aura, the 47-year-old Phoenix resident has built quite the resume as a full-time musician over the years — from performing for a 35,000-person crowd in New Zealand at 21 to signing an Atlantic Records deal and pursuing a brief audio engineering stint.
But his path to success wasn’t an easy one, Bailey says.
Citing the 2000 creation of Napster, a controversial file-sharing software that allowed users to share electronic copies of music, the subsequent downfall of the traditional record label industry and the challenges imposed by self-branding via social media, Bailey says he teetered toward throwing in the towel — or, more accurately, his guitar — at multiple points throughout his career.
“The universe has a way of making things happen for you when you are unable to make the decision yourself sometimes,” Bailey says. “God, or whatever source, will just put you in a certain situation to make things happen.”
With the universe’s backing, Bailey has now taken the Arizona entertainment stage by storm.
Bailey, a California native, jams weekly at some of the state’s most notable venues, luxurious resorts, and renowned country and rock bars, blending elements of classic rock, blues, Motown, jazz, new wave, alternative rock and pop.
Primarily performing statewide, the singer and songwriter is available for solo, duo, trio and full-band performances. He also embarks on occasional international and national appearances as well, according to his website.
“I really love music and the way it connects people together — that’s my favorite thing about being an artist,” the multi-instrumentalist shares. “I’m kind of an old school rock-and-roller at the end of the day.
“When you’re really able to make the listeners feel something deeply, that’s definitely one of the most rewarding things. Anytime you can get people up and dancing, that always feels great.”
When it comes to performing, variety is Bailey’s forte. Each gig is “highly improvisational” and carefully crafted for the specificities of his audience, his site continues.
Bailey’s ability to cover a horizon of music’s most-celebrated icons, such as Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, creates a personal, immersive, vibrant and encapsulating experience for his listeners.
“The majority of my shows are a request thing,” Bailey states. “I come up with a set list and then it kind of changes into a request hour.
“I do a lot of older stuff. There is a lot of nostalgia at my shows.”
Bailey also incorporates pieces of his own music, he says.
The musician has released over 30 original songs as a solo artist via three albums.
His most recent album, “Origin of Light,” can be streamed on Alexa, Amazon and Spotify.
Another skill that sets Bailey apart from the rest is his use of “live looping” during his shows.
A loop station is a portable device enabling a musician to mimic “band sounds” by quickly recording a section of their set in real time and playing it “back on repeat” or “on loop.”
As a one-man-band, Bailey says the device has been instrumental in his growth.
“It’s all live, so I do it in front of the audience in real time,” he says. “From a technical aspect, that part was really challenging for me, and it still freaks me out every time I do it.”
Born in Orange County, California, and raised in Fairfax, Virginia, Bailey says he was drawn to music at an early age.
“There was always a lot of music in the house,” Bailey recalls. “My dad and mom both listened to a lot of music and always had records playing.”
At 14, the aspiring musician picked up his first guitar. He recounts being heavily inspired by punk rock at the time.
After attending a few guitar lessons, Bailey explains he was mainly self-taught.
“I locked myself in my room and was learning off of a record player,” he says.
“I would put the needle down to listen to the part and try to play it and then pick the needle up again and try to play it again — I eventually got a cassette player.”
Bailey went on to play in a band with his friends at 16, covering songs from the Doors, the Kinks and The Who, he shares.
At 19, Bailey moved to Boulder with his group to pursue music on the road. About a year later, he traveled overseas to attend university in New Zealand in 1994, Bailey explains.
The young musician balanced studying anthropology, accounting, Pacific culture and religion, while performing in a local band called Nacho Mama, he continues. In 1995, the group was on the set list for the renowned Mountain Rock Festival, Bailey says.
Bailey says he decided to leave school after roughly three years and move back to Colorado after realizing how “important” music was “to me.”
“It always felt like that was what I was supposed to do,” he says. “It just seemed really natural to me to be playing music.”
Bailey formed a trio band with his brother in Boulder, where the three performed at local bars and restaurants for several years.
One day, the California native encountered an “accomplished musician” with a “strong management backing him and money backing him” — changing the trajectory of Bailey’s career.
“It was my first experience meeting a musician who had a professional group supporting him,” he says. “I had always been doing it on my own.”
Bailey soon formed a band with the fellow artist, and the two men began juggling performances between Colorado and Los Angeles, Bailey says.
Around 2000, the duo landed a contract with Atlantic Records, but the celebration was short-lived, Bailey recalls.
“We recorded the album, but it sort of all fizzled out, which was about in 2000, when Napster was downloading and record labels were closing doors,” Bailey says.
“We got lost in the shuffle and the band broke up.”
Disappointed, Bailey, as well as his brother, turned to audio engineering to stay in the industry, the musician says.
“It was our first experience with the idea that you could actually make money in the music industry without being an artist,” Bailey says.
“We went to audio engineering school so we could remain in music and make a living.”
Nonetheless, Bailey was once again recruited into another production contract to make music, he explains.
While he tentatively agreed, he says the outcome proved to be another blow.
“It’s hard getting your heart drug through the dirt and gutter,” Bailey says. “And being told over and over again that you’re going to be a star and then nothing happens.
“You get tired, so I was hesitant to do it again. I almost ended up signing a deal with DreamWorks Records, and it ended up falling through at the last minute.”
Bailey says he hit his breaking point and chose to close that chapter of his life.
He moved to Arizona in 2006 and snagged a well-paying job underwriting mortgages for varying banks. Bailey even became certified in the field, he says.
“Honestly, I was pretty happy doing that overall,” Bailey says. “Because it was a steady income.”
But it wasn’t long before the music bug crept back into his life. Bailey began performing monthly as a solo artist around local Arizona bars.
However, one monthly show soon transpired into four monthly shows, Bailey says, and later evolved into 10.
“It got to the point where I was doing some of these shows where I was bringing my guitar to the office and I’d change into my clothes in the bathroom,” Bailey says.
Five years ago, Bailey took the plunge to quit his office job and recommit to singing and songwriting full time — and he hasn’t looked back.
“It was absolutely terrifying,” Bailey recalls. “I had a mortgage, I had bills, I had a car.
“I remember being really freaked out about it, but I worked really hard at it, and I still work hard at it,” he adds.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit early last year, Bailey says he relied on weekly Facebook Live performances to stay afloat. He also partook in several socially distanced shows, like block parties and patio performances.
“People were beyond generous. I was not even expecting to make what I did make,” Bailey says. “It totally helped us keep our head above water and supplemented my loss of income.”
Bailey says he also utilized the additional down time during quarantine to focus on his upcoming album.
“COVID Martini,” the album’s working title, is a “cross between ’90s rock and kind of jam band,” Bailey says. “It’s definitely got a much more jammier vibe to it — but each album I do is kind of a little different from the last one.”
Bailey and his wife, Amanda, wrote the album in one week, he continues.
The couple’s writing process inspired the album’s working title, Bailey says.
“We would sit down with a couple of dirty martinis in the studio and work on the songs,” he says. “We bought some new gear, and we were going to work on this new album and new concept, and then my PC broke — and a couple of other items of equipment.”
He adds, “Suddenly, I had no studio, and we were like, ‘We’ll just use the old-fashioned way.’ So, we grabbed some vodka, some ice, some olive juice, a guitar, a notebook, and pen and paper.”
Bailey says he is hoping to release the album by November.
The 47-year-old is also releasing his revised single “Not Long to Go.” The song, from “Origin of Light,” was reworked under the guidance of Otto D’Agnolo, a local producer and host of Amazon Prime’s “The Recording Artist.”
According to the show’s website, the series selects musicians to re-record original pieces from “complete” scratch during live two-hour recording sessions in D’Agnolo’s studio.
Chad Wilson Bailey
For a list of shows, see his website chadwilsonbailey.com.