At 17, Musician Salem Meade Already Proves She Has What It Takes to Soar

Don’t worry, darling.

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  • Written & photographed by
    Kat Monk

“One day, she dreams of becoming a true rock star. I think she is already there y’all. Just check out her skills on the guitar,” said Grammy winner and talk show host Kelly Clarkson as she introduced then-15-year-old Salem “Darling” Meade as a guest on her TV show. After watching her play, Kelly said on-air to Salem, “You are a total mini Joan Jett.” She then surprised Salem with a virtual appearance by Melissa Etheridge, who invited Salem to one of her shows. 

While Salem was learning Mandarin at age 4, her instructor told her mom that she might excel at violin. Maybe that was the moment a musician was born. Not long after, Salem started playing the instrument. At 5 she began piano, and by 7 she was learning how to play acoustic guitar.

“I didn’t have any guitar idols until I saw my guitar instructor shredding before one of our sessions,” she explains. “I knew I wanted to shred just like Molly.”

By the time she turned double digits, she was wearing a pink bandana in her hair and playing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” on the guitar. When Guns N’ Roses reposted the cover video, it got 6.5 million views on Facebook alone.

Joining another guitar player she met at Coast Music Conservatory in Hermosa Beach, Salem was a founding member of XYZPDQ (the band name stands for “eXamine your zipper pretty darn quick”). They practiced multiple times a week for two years before making their debut at the Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair Battle of the Bands, leaving everyone in awe as they took the event’s top prize.

“Playing on stage makes me feel free. I get to express my creativity and passion, and it feels like an escape from reality in the best way.”

Salem started as the rhythm guitar player, but it was not long before she became not only the lead guitar player but the band’s lead singer too. “Playing on stage makes me feel free,” she explains. “I get to express my creativity and passion, and it feels like an escape from reality in the best way.”

In 2020 Salem was named a finalist in the gospel/inspirational category of The John Lennon Songwriting Contest for a song she co-wrote entitled “I’ll See You.” The international songwriting contest, run by Yoko Ono and judged by renowned musicians and industry veterans, allows songwriters to not only express themselves but also gain recognition.

Around the same time, she was endorsed by Gibson guitars as one of 14 teens out of thousands internationally who applied to be a part of Gibson G3–Class of 2023. As a member of G3, Salem received career growth opportunities, mentoring and the chance to develop lasting connections.

“The Gibson G3 program keeps all of us at Gibson focused on our artist-first culture that is engaged and connected to music,” says Jenny Marsh, head of the program. Salem has shared the stage with Orianthi, an Australian artist, and Malina Moye, a lefty guitarist endorsed by Fender.

Salem has many guitar idols these days. “I love Eddie Van Halen,” she says. “It is so much fun to play his songs. I can’t even tell you how fun.” Celebrity rock guitarist Steve Vai left a comment on an Instagram video showcasing Salem’s guitar skills. He stated how impressed he was with her playing.

For a short while, Salem was the lead guitar player and backup vocalist for the all-girl band Pumps. This experience gave her an opportunity to songwrite with legendary music producer Bob Rock, best known for producing rock bands and musical artists such as Metallica, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith. Ultimately, she realized finishing high school was her priority and left the band.

Even as Salem became enmeshed in rock music, she never gave up the violin. Recently she passed the level 8 Royal Conservatory of Music violin examinations. To pass, a student must perform rigorous selections at an advanced level.

One of her most memorable moments so far took place last summer at DiPiazza’s in Long Beach. “After we were done playing, I was informed that Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas was not only watching us but filmed us too,” she says. “As I was putting away my gear, Fergie was telling us to keep going for it and not give up. It was one of the coolest things to happen to me.”

As she embarks upon her final year of high school, Salem has already enjoyed once-in-a-lifetime career moments that many aspiring musicians would just dream of. While she might not know what the future holds, there is one thing she knows for sure: She wants to attend a college close to Los Angeles so she can continue her musical career.

We can’t wait to see what stage Salem conquers next. As Melissa Etheridge told her, “You got this, girl!”

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