Category Archives: Book Review

Hit Men by Fredric Dannen

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Although I enjoyed it myself and it granted me the inside info I was looking for, I really can’t say I would suggest reading this book to everyone.  It’s a rather dry, almost legal report of the inner workings of the music business from the 50’s to the 80’s.

Don’t get me wrong, Dannen did a respectable job trying to make it interesting, but the subject matter just got the better of him.  Granted if you are a bitter musician or a waspy business guy, you might think this book is a page turner.  Personally, I was trying to fill in some gaps in my musical knowledge, sort of get the who’s who on the music business side of things.

Basically the book outlines documented (and some not so-documented) crooked dealings in the Music Industry.  Focusing mainly on payola and the group of promotors who were the record companies agents of payola after it was outlawed in 1959 who were referred to as “The Network”.  Instead of giving you a synopsis of the “story” that the author cobbles together or give you any more detail, I will try to acomplish for you what I originally sought by reading this book.  I will do this by giving you a quick overview on the cast of characters covered in the book.  Keep in mind the book doesn’t cover every important higher-up in the music industry during those years,  it focuses mainly on the more corrupt individuals or the ones directly involved in Payola or “The Network”.

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Alan Freed:  Internationally renown “Rock and Roll” DJ and all around important figure in rise of Rock N Roll, also known as Moondog.  Not only did he heavily promote the music, he is considered the one who coined the term.  Even though it was common practice at the time Freed was accused of taking Payola in 1959 which pretty much ended his career.

Morris Levy:  One of the longest running and possibly most crooked music executives in America.  Spent 30 years as a music business insider from the 50’s straight into the 80’s.  Best known for creating Roulette Records, he had his hands in many different aspects of the business.  He was convicted (as a conspiritor) in a federal Extortion case in 1986, he died shortly after.  A close friend to Walter Yetnikoff – see below.
William Paley:  CEO of CBS and the man who is probably responsible for turning the company into a media powerhouse.  Paley purchased a struggling radio company in 1928 and renamed it CBS, from there he successfully expanded into television broadcasting, and record companies (mainly Columbia Records among others) until he stepped down in 1977 and named Thomas Wyman the new president of CBS. 
LIEBERSON_Goddard_phE Goddard Lieberson:  The sharp dressed, sophisticated president of Columbia records from 1956 to 1967, then again in 1973 to 1975.  Under Leiberson’s leadership the label produced and released mainly classical music and Original Cast Recordings. 
Clive Davis:  A protege of Goddard Leiberson, Davis took his place as President of Columbia Records in 1967.  Davis had a hipper sensibility and was able to land a large group of new and emerging Rock N Roll artists.  Ousted from Columbia in 1973 for allegedly using company funds to pay for his son’s bar mitzvah, he went on to found Arista Records and land even more big talent as president there until 2000.  Davis is currently president of Sony Music Entertainment which has now absorbed all of the record companies that Davis had previously worked for.
Walter Yetnikoff:  President of Columbia Records from 1975 to 1990.  Infamous for his outlandish behavior and some-times abrasive style, Yetnikoff helmed Columbia during one of its most successful & profitable periods.  The book focuses quite a bit on Yetnikoff mainly because of his colorful style and his insistance on using the outside promotion power of “The Network”.
DickAsher Dick Asher:  Served as deputy president under Walter Yetnikoff.  He is another main focus of the book, as counterpoint to Yetnikoff.  Asher was a military man, straight-laced and sensible.  He was the first to challenge the use of “The Network”, although his attempts were unsuccessful.  He was fired from CBS by Yetnikoff in 1983 for vague reasons.  He later served as president of Polygram Records.
09WYMA Thomas Wyman:  Took over as CEO of CBS from founder William Paley in 1977 until being ousted by Paley and majority stock holder Laurence Tisch in 1986.
Allen+Grubman Allen Grubman:  The Lawyer to the stars and good friend of Walter Yetnikoff, he has represented the music industries biggest stars including Madonna, Elton John, and Mariah Carey.  His unconventional practice of “not sueing” and representing both the artists and the record companies has made him highly desirable for both sides.  
Mo_Ostin-c Mo Ostin:  Started ou at Verve Records and then was hired as president of Reprise Records by Frank Sinatra.  In 1963 he became the president and later the CEO of Warner Bros. Records where he worked until 1994.
  Ahmet Ertegun: He co-founded (w/ Jerry Wexler) and became president of Atlantic Records in 1947.  He continued to be involved in the company all the way until his death in 2006.  Atlantic Records was sold to the Kinney Conglomerate in 1967 which later became part of Time Warner. 
FDisipio Fred DiSipio:  One of the head promotors in “The Network” suspected of paying radio stations to play songs.  In 1986 was seen having a meeting with members of the Gambino crime family and mob boss John Gotti.  
ad9fea4b-f6c4-5e2e-a3b8-1e8e2e7cf86f.preview-300 Joseph Isgro:  Another member of “The Network”, the group of independant promotors that the major labels were making rich to administer payola to radio stations and get records played.  Isgro repeatedly got in trouble with the law throughout the 80’s and 90’s
.   Frank Dileo:  Hired as the VP of National Promotion for Epic Records (Owned by CBS) in 1979 by Walter Yetnikoff.  Took over as Michael Jackson’s Manager in 1984 after the huge success of Thriller.  Also known to have connection with the Gambino Crime family.
  Neil Bogart:  Best known as the president of the party-minded and drug fueled Casablanca RecordsDied in 1982 of Cancer which was probably brought on by his wild lifestyle. 
  David Geffen:  Mentioned along with Tommy Mottola (See below) as music industry up and comers in the 70’s and 80’s.  Founded Asylum Records in 1970 which merged with Elektra Records two years later.  In 1980 he founded Geffen Records which eventually became known as DGC, was eventually sold and reabsorbed into other companies a bunch of times. 
  Tommy Mottola:  Another up-and-comer Mottola rose quick to become the head of Sony Music Entertainment in 1990.  Most well known as the Ex-husband of Mariah Carey. 
 TischLaurence Laurence Tisch:  Self made billionaire and Wall Street investor became president and CEO of all of CBS in 1986.  Along with Walter Yetnikoff, helmed the sale of Columbia (CBS) Records to Sony for $2 billion in 1991.


It Still Moves by Amanda Petrusich

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Published by Faber & Faber in 2008, It Still Moves is one part road trip dairy, one part cultural study, and one part musicological thesis.  The author Amanda Petrusich a contributing writer for Pitchfork.com and tons of other music publications.  She has also written one other book:  Pink Moon (about the classic Nick Drake album of the same name) as a part of the 33 1/3 series by Continuum Books.  I found her writing to be well thought out, organized, and meticulously researched.  She uses a well planned road trip to a string of important musical destinations as a vehicle to parcel the more historical/factual info in as a story.   The travel portion of the book does come off as a little forced at times, as she very obviously tried to make the best of a few of the less than inspirational experiences at a few of the featured locations.  Overall the book does a wonderful job at delivering a full/wide view of American Music, hitting all the cornerstones of what “Americana” is thought of, including The Blues, Country, Folk, and the more recent interpretations and combinations of the those styles.

The book is composed of 17 parts including an introduction and epilogue.

Here is a rough guide to what they cover:

  • Intro – Just that, acts to identify what the book is going to try to accomplish which is mainly to discover just what “Americana” is.
  • Chapter 1 – Examination of the American Highway, and how that relates to American music.
  • Chapter 2 – Focuses on the history of the Blues kicked off with a visit to Beale Street in Memphis Tennessee.
  • Chapter 3 – Sam Phillips, Sun Records, and the birth of Rock N Roll also in Memphis.
  • Chapter 4 – Elvis Presley and his impact on popular music with a visit to Graceland.
  • Chapter 5 – Further examination of the Blues through travels to Clarksdale Mississippi.
  • Chapter 6 – Country music by way of Nashville Tennessee.
  • Chapter 7 – Alternative Country
  • Chapter 8 – Continued travels through Virginia and Kentucky.
  • Chapter 9 – Minstrel shows and early radio.
  • Chapter 10 – Appalachian folk music, The Carter Family, and early Country music.
  • Chapter 11 – Americana by way of Cracker Barrel.
  • Chapter 12 – John Lomax, Leadbelly, Moses Asch, and Folkways Records.
  • Chapter 13 – Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and Smithsonian Folkways.
  • Chapter 14 – Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and the Folk revival of the 1960s.
  • Chapter 15 – Independent Folk.
  • Epilogue – Continued ruminations on the definition of Americana.

The driving question here is “What is Americana?”, which I think is an important one to ask.   Although I’m not sure the book fully answers it, then again I’m not sure any book can or should try.  Americana, at least when it relates to music, is just one of those terms that is too complicated to define.  Whenever you are trying to precisely define a label that is used as a shortcut to describe an art form you inevitably will get your self into trouble.  It is a journal full of pitfalls, contradictions,  and personal opinion.  Although I personally often fall back on the genre/sub-genre/style labels in my writing, I try not to be restrictive with my labels when setting something in stone.  Take Neil Young for instance, can you really say he is strictly a “country-rock” artist?  If you do, you are completely omitting all of his work that does not exactly fit into that label.  I prefer to keep it simple and classify things in general terms like Pop/Rock.

Just for fun here is a link to the Webster Dictionary definition of Americana.

I would also like to offer a playlist of music that is directly mentioned in the book or inspired by the books subject.

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Chronicles – Volume One by Bob Dylan

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My opinions of Bob Dylan have always been conflicted… I have always enjoyed his early recordings but have been mystified by his post-1970 output.  As I have aged, I have come to understand the extremely important role he holds in popular music and American culture.  This realization has brought me to put more effort into understanding his music and the easiest way for me to interface better with an artist’s output is with hearing the story behind it. After researching the myriad of book options available on the life of Bob Dylan, I’ve decided to start with the one written by the man himself.

Dylan’s writing is powerful, yet still conversational.  Throughout the book I felt as if I was chatting with him over dinner.  His tone is of someone who is reluctantly, sometimes self-possessedly, getting things off his chest.  The book was not as structured as I had expected… but having known something of his past, as everyone does, I should have expected the books structure would be a bit abstract.  My main surprise was that he jumps around his life, each chapter a different time period which is not clearly defined.  I, like many fans, were hoping for Volume One to chronicle his life before fame and his early career much like Martin Scorsese’s film No Direction Home.

The book is broken up into 5 parts.  Here is a guide to give you an idea of exactly what periods he covers.

1.  Making up the Score (takes place in 1961 soon after signing on with John Hammond)

2.  The Lost Land (continues the narrative from the previous chapter with more scenes from 1961 and flashes of his upbringing)

3.  New Morning (focuses on the recording of the album of same name – recorded 1970)

4.  Oh Mercy (focuses on the writing and recording of the album of the same name – 1987-89)

5.  River of Ice (takes place in 1962 right after making his first Demos with Lou Levy of Leeds Music with more flashbacks)

It seems like years pass while Dylan is telling his story, and in some ways, they do as he gets sidetracked and gives little glimpses of his upbringing or his pre-NY life.  The highlights there are info on his upbringing in Hibbing MN, his brief stop-off in Minneapolis/ Dinky Town before he took the train to New York City.  He also touches upon his experiences in early Rock N’ Roll bands which give you a little more insight into his musical influences.  Those portions were of most interest to me as I have first-hand knowledge of that geography, being from Minnesota myself.  Mainly though, he is engaged in telling the story of when he first arrived in New York or, in the case of chapters 2 & 3, what happened during the recording of two of his post-1960’s.  Dylan gives little info on his family members, probably out of respect for his and their privacy.  He doesn’t really talk much about his parents and only mentions his wife in passing.  Only 4-5 years of his life are covered in the book (plus bits and pieces of his pre-NY life.)  Some of my favorite parts of the book are when Dylan makes references to things or events that are more recent.  For example he, at one point, references the classic Dylan book Invisible Republic by music writer Greil Marcus… Or when he tells the story of his failed attempt to retrieve Woody Guthrie’s unused song lyrics and he goes on to (almost bitterly) report that those lyrics were used 37 years later by Billy Bragg & Wilco for Mermaid Avenue Volumes 1 & 2.

What is left is a tremendous amount of ground for him to cover and, considering this is supposed to be a 3 part series.  As a reader, I worry that he won’t finish it or at least get to the most interesting bits.

It’s obvious that Dylan is a great artist, on par with the great painters or classical composers.  In fact he seems at times to be the complete embodiment of the archetype.  He is a man that is extremely creative, self-absorbed to a fault, 100% left brain.  I found myself wondering if he had been born in a different time if he would have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, considering his behavior at times.  He even seems to portray himself as quite the narcissist, but then again what artist or musician isn’t at least a bit of one?  One of the things that struck me about Dylan was the shear amount of powerful cultural figures he crossed paths with, so much so he almost seems like a magnet for brilliant people.

In the end I was left a little disappointed.   Although the book is enjoyable it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Dylan has to offer. If you have a curiosity for this fellow I would suggest reading a biography (not an auto-)… although I do not have a specific one to suggest.  Beyond that is the wonderful documentary I mentioned before, directed by Martin Scorsese.  In the end though, even that cuts off a little abruptly and doesn’t cover him past his late 60’s material.

A wonderful audio accompaniment to this book (for at least the NYC chapters) is The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (buy it /listen to it) that Columbia Records released last year.  Consuming them together is an ideal way to do it but alone it sheds a lot of light on the kind of material he built his style on… mainly a lot of old folk and blues songs.

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Complicated Shadows – The Life & Music of Elvis Costello

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This Biography on Elvis Costello was written by Brit music journalist Graeme Thomson and published in 2006.  Thomson is no stranger to the music biopic as he has written books on a couple of other luminaries such as Kate Bush and Willie Nelson.  He has also written for Esquire, MOJO, Maxim, Rolling Stone, and Time Out magazines.

This book brought me along on a journey through Costello’s recorded output and shined a light on his background.  The book has its weaknesses just like any, in particular my major complaints would be it wasn’t detailed enough and it was a pretty straight chronological reporting of his life up to 2004.  The major setback for the author was his inability to land an interview with the subject of the biography.  Even though the book suffers from not getting some imput directly from “the horse’s mouth” per say, he does a pretty good job reconstructing Costello’s history through other source material.  He then very resourcefully and resoundingly relies upon interviews with the other characters in Costello’s life and the deep catalog of established interviews and other material published over Costello’s then 30 year career in the music business.  The author focuses quite a bit on Costello’s the countless live shows and tours he has ventured on throughout the years, and although the information is much appreciated it gets a little heavy when he brings up slight set list changes that happened between dates.

The book very happily enlightened me to many aspects and happenings in Costello’s life.  I had always been a very cursory fan of Elvis since first hearing his music in the later 80’s, but I had become more and more interested after continuing to hear new and compelling compositions from him throughout the years.  Through this book I was able to re-experience his music from the beginning and give myself a depth of knowledge to what was going on in the background while all this wonderful music was being created and performed.  Among the aspects of Elvis’s life that gets a lot of coverage (much to his chagrin) is his romantic life.  From Elvis’s failed first marriage to Mary, to his high-profile affair with Bebe Buell, and beyond to his unofficial marriage to former Pogue Cait O’Riordan and finally up to date with his current wife jazz pianist Diana Krall.  Now, I’m totally understanding to his personal right to privacy in these matters but you have to understand that the friction from these relationships makes up the majority of the emotional backbone to his music.

Other great focuses are his surprising influences (Country-Western), his professional relationship with Stiff Records co-founder and eventual manager Jake Riviera, his early public abrasive-ness including his bout with the media in 1979 after an incident in which a drunken Elvis uttered some offensive racial slurs to members of the Stephen Stills band.

Overall in the face of a few short comings it is an insightful and enjoyable read which I would suggest to any one who considers themselves of Elvis Costello fan.

Usually I would follow a book review up with a playlist to highlight the music covered in the book, but because of the wealth of great material I will be posting a series of playlists split by distinct eras.  Stay tuned.

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Deep Blues by Robert Palmer

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First of all, this book first published in 1981 was not written by Robert Palmer, the singer that brought you the hit song “Addicted to Love”.  The Robert Palmer that wrote this book was a distinguished music journalist from the 1970s to the 1990s.  He covered music for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and many other publications alongside his two non-fiction music books:  Deep Blues and Rock & Roll: an Unruly History. Palmer died in 1997 leaving behind a large body of work including his work in music production, film, and his own music, of which this book is his crowning achievement.  Palmer is a hugely important music journalist as he bridged the gap between rock journalism and ethnomusicology.  He had a unique perspective as a talented and successful musician in his own right who was able to hang with the rocks greats while still giving you an insight into the history of the subject he was covering.  Beyond that short intro I would direct those that want to find out more about him to this link if it so pleases.

The books caption, “A Musical and Cultural History, From The Mississippi Delta to Chicago’s South Side to the World”  actually sums up the books composition quite well.   Among the cast of characters that is covered in the book is Muddy Waters, which Palmer relies on heavily on to move along his telling of the Blues history.  The term “Deep Blues” is actually something that Muddy used to describe blues of high emotional quality which was highly influenced by the sounds coming from the Mississippi Delta.  Palmer picked up on this and his interview with Muddy act as the backbone of this book.

The book is split into 5 sections:  a prologue, three main parts and an epilogue.  The prologue acts as an overview of the musical form.  Part I delves deeply into the genesis of the form and its original practitioners.  Palmer also focuses heavily on one of the Blues most interesting and important early figures, Charley Patton.  Part II then focuses on the next big player in the history of the blues, Robert Johnson.  One of the major draws of this book is the detailed history of Patton and Johnson, who previously and still are to a certain extent, mysteries.  Also covered in part two is Muddy Waters, and early Chicago Blues.  In Part III things get a little more involved, starting with the history of the highly influential radio program King Biscuit Time at Helena, Arkansas radio station KFFA. That radio program then acts as a connection point for the next handful of the musicians that are covered in this part of the book, as most of them played on the program at some point or played with the programs original stars Aleck “Rice” Miller (aka Sonny Boy Williamson II) and Robert Lockwood Jr.  Among those that are covered are the two aforementioned players and Little Walter, Junior Wells, Elmore James, and Jimmy Rogers.  This part continues covering the Blues from Memphis and the early recordings made by Sam Phillips at the Sun Records Studio.  This includes brief coverage of Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm, B.B. King, Albert King and Howlin’ Wolf.  The epilogue then ties up some loose ends with some of the previously covered characters, then spreads out and covers Blues players from some other areas including John Lee Hooker, Son Seals, and Otis Rush.  The epilogue also rounds the book out with some discussion of how the Blues influenced music across the world.

In my opinion the book is on the list of must reads when it comes to material on the history of music.  It was one of the first to shed some light on such an uncovered genre with its extremely mysterious beginnings.  Those parts of the book that deal with the early history the Blues are some of its most compelling material.  I should also mention that the book is in no way a definitive look at the genre.  It is pretty focused in what it covers which is a gritty / country Mississippi Delta born blues.   With that being said there are some very large blind spots including the early blues from the eastern states also known as “Piedmont Blues” or any of the jazz based city blues of the 20’s and 30s’.  Also not given much attention is the Blues that came out of Texas or Louisiana.  My only real negative critique of the book is that it is a little abstract in its structure.  Palmer really jumps around a lot and it was hard to take all that information in when it is presented in such a disorganized manner.

In 1991 Robert Palmer along with Director Robert Mugge released a similarly entitled film, Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads as a companion to the book.  The film mostly covers the Blues musicians that were still performing that kind of Delta influenced music in the late 80s and early 90s, along with little bits and pieces of history from Robert himself.  In addition to Palmers two main published books, there is also the recently published collection of his work called Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer if you are interested in sampling more of his works.

I would like to offer two playlists specially selected to act as musical companions to this book and my review of it, linked below.

Deep Blues:  Part 1 – Mississippi Delta to Chicago
Deep Blues:  Part 2 – Chicago & Beyond

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Lester Bangs – Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung

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It was always inevitable that I eventually would pick up some Lester Bangs, seeing as he could be considered the king of all music snobs and is one of the most influential figures in music criticism.  Best known for his album reviews in Rolling Stone and the more underground Creem, Bangs starting getting published in 1969 and was still working all the way up to his death in 1982.  Lester started writing on Rock N Roll just as the hippie dream of the sixties was dying.  For Lester the 70’s were a tough time for music but a great time to establish himself as an eccentric music critic.  By the time he had made a name for himself by blasting the music industries status quo, Punk (a term that he has said to have coined) started bubbling out from under America’s rough urban areas.  Punk rock was visceral and exciting and he wasted no lime wading into the thick of it.  By the time of his tragic death in 1982 Lester was still truckin’, albeit a little less enthusiastically as he had to adjust to another shift in popular music  – this time the “new wave”.

Lester’s comes from an unconventional place as he wrote record reviews and cultural critiques that were influenced by drugs, drink and the beat authors whom he read heavily in his early years.  Surprising at first, as it usually doesn’t have much of a form.  Instead of giving you straight criticism of albums or bands, Lester tells you a story, or come from the opposite angle completely by employing fake praise and searing sarcasm.  Additionally Lester had a rather inconsistent view point at times and if you look at his writing as a whole you will find many contradictions.  He would constantly flip flop on certain bands, or write a cultural piece that would come in clear conflict to other things he had said or written.  Definitely a complicated and talented figure.  I found his writing for the most part to be funny, confrontational, insightful and extremely bizarre.  While most of it is enjoyable, a lot of it comes off as over complicated, muddled, confusing and completely absurd.

This book in particular is far from a complete work.  It is just a collection that was edited and compiled by Lester’s friend and colleague Greil Marcus.  Marcus took great pains to sift through Lester’s  unfinished scraps and unpublished works to include along with his selections from published writing.  The works are not presented chronologically as one might expect they are put in sequence by shared themes.  The bands you will find material here are Lester’s staple groups such as Iggy Pop and the Stooges, The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, Richard Hell, Rod Stewart, and some more obscure garage rock bands such as Question Mark and The Mysterians, and the Troggs (just to name a few).  You will also find some great criticism of David Bowie, James Taylor, Grand Funk Railroad, The Guess Who, and again Lou Reed.  The segments on Lou Reed are some of the most enjoyable in the book, as you read all about Lester’s love/hate relationship with this artist.  Particularly great is Lester’s depictions of several of interviews between the two in which they go back and forth being incredibly insulting to each other.

For those who are looking to go beyond the definitive collection of Lester’s writing, you can find a more expanded compendium of his writing in Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste:  A Lester Bangs Reader.  In addition there is also a biography available entitled Let It Blurt:  The Life and Times of Lester Bangs – America’s Greatest Rock Critic by Jim Derogatis.

I also included a playlist via Grooveshark.com featuring a bunch of songs that were discussed in the book or that I know to be some of Lester’s favorites.  Towards the end of the list as an added bonus is 5 tracks from Lester Bangs himself as he produced and recorded some music towards the end of this life.

http://listen.grooveshark.com/#/playlist/Lester_Bangs_Favs_Songs/18406999

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Can’t Be Satisfied – The Life and Times of Muddy Waters

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Published in 2002 and written by author Robert Gordon, Can’t Be Satified is a biography of Muddy Waters.  The book is a loose chronological telling of Muddy’s life which is broken up into 15 chapters, each featuring a set number of years.  Gordon does a great job piecing together the history of a man for which there wasn’t many living subjects or decent records.  The author does his best with what remained which included old news paper & magazine articles, recordings, video, and interviews with any and every living relative, friend or business colleague.  The book is mostly given in story form but breaks from this quite a bit to include references to other related notes, or excerpts from actual interviews or sources.

Through out the book Gordon takes time to flesh out many of the supporting cast including his influences and Delta Blues founders like Son House, Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Sonny Boy Williamson.  You get a little closer look at the many musicians that made up Muddy’s band members and fellow Chess Records artists including Willie Dixon, Son Simms, Otis Spann, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Howlin’ Wolf… just to name a few.  Gordon takes a lot of time exploring Muddy’s career as a recording artist and performer but also takes time to flesh out his family life.  He documents what he could of his relationship with all his wives and what childern that he claimed from those marriages and from other affairs.

At first glance the book is fairly thick and unless you page through the end you will be surprised to find out the last quarter is actually just notes, acknowledgements and an index.  Included are a detailed bibliography, chapter by chapter notes, guide to Muddy’s recordings, and a few other interesing tidbits.

Here are some interesting facts about Muddy Waters:

  • His real name is Mckinley Morganfield which he changed to Muddy Water later in life and then finally to Muddy Waters after a record company misprinted his name on one of his early recordings.
  • It was not a secret that Muddy was a womanizer.  Through Muddy’s life he married 3 times and had many children with his wives and other women (I could not find an exact number).  One of his children is Blues musician Big Bill Morganfield.
  • Obviously Muddy’s Chicago shows were highly sexually charged, so much so that its said that Muddy would frequently expose himself to the audience after being goaded into it by the ladies in audience.
  • One New Years Eve, Muddy obviously getting a little out of control partying it up accidentally shot his friend and employee Bo (Andrew Bolton) in the leg.
  • Shortly after the death of Leonard Chess in 1969, while on tour in 1970, Muddy got into a bad car accident in which left 3 people dead including tour mate John Warren.   Muddy suffered 3 broken ribs, a broken pelvis, sprained back and a shattered hip; he was bed ridden for months.

Check out more about Muddy Waters at the following links.

Muddy Waters Allmusic.com page

Muddy Waters Wikipedia page

www.muddywaters.com

There is also a companion video to this book called Muddy Waters – Can’t Be Satisfied released in 2003 on DVD.  It’s not great but it does the trick if you want to see footage of Muddy or if you just want a quick overview of his life.  There was also supposed to be a companion CD released which would compile the authors favorite tracks across Muddy’s whole career but I don’t think he was ever able to work out all the licensing.  If you are interesting in hearing Muddy’s best, check out my related post about Muddy’s music featuring a embedded playlist with all of Muddy’s best stuff (career spanning) here.

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Shakey – Neil Young’s Biography by Jimmy McDonough

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For the last couple of months I have had the great pleasure of reading this book and re-examining the catalog of Neil Young.  I have been a fan of Neil’s music ever since a friend turned me on to Decade (1977 career retrospective) in high school.  This book allowed me to literally dissect Neil Young’s immense body of work piece by piece, learning the background of what I was hearing.

The material is extremely interesting, or as Young would say “innaresting”.  The format in which the information and story is delivered is genius.  The book surpasses what your garden variety biography would deliver with a mish mash of chronological story telling, excerpts from interviews with Young himself, short biographies and quotes from the large cast of characters that have occupied Young’s life, all mixed in with commentary from the Author.

The book covers Neil’s life up to around 1998 including a quick but detailed history of his Grandparents and Parents lives.  Once you get to his High School days you will learn all about his influences and his early musical ventures.  Moving further on though his musical career the bulk of the book is about the music he created as a solo artist, with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Crazy Horse, and the many other incarnations of his backing groups.  Among the characters that are covered include his manager Elliot Roberts, the producer for many of his albums David Briggs, early collaborator Jack Nitzsche, and most of the members of the bands he was involved with.

My only qualm with the book is that I think Jimmy McDonough is a little heavy handed with his opinions about some of Young’s work and decisions.  Most of the time he is right and he tells Young to his face, but I do think he has some pretty high expectations.

I have always found Young to be a fascinating character, and I was surprised by some new facts.  For example before he moved to America, Young was in a group called the The Mynah Birds with Rick James (Beotch!) of all people.  They even recorded an album for Motown which sadly has never seen release.  Another strange connection was his involvement with Devo which I covered in a recent post which you can see here.   The last little tidbit I’ll offer is his involvement in the toy train industry.  In the early 1990’s Young purchased part of the Lionel toy company and eventually bought them out.  Also check out the ever eccentric Young’s newest projects on this recent post.

Usually I include a playlist with each of my music book reviews and I fully intend to do so for this one as well.  Actually it will be more like 3-4 playlists, each covering a different era of his recording career.

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Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad

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Our Band Could Be Your Life:  Scenes From the American Indie Underground 1981 -1991 by Michael Azerrad

Published in 2001, Michael Azerrad’s 3rd Rock book chronicles the early histories of 13 original American Indie rock/Hardcore bands.  Including the following:

Black Flag
The Minutemen
Mission of Burma
Minor Threat
Husker Du
The Replacements
Sonic Youth
Butthole Surfers
Big Black
Dinosaur Jr.
Fugazi
Mudhoney & Sub Pop Records
Beat Happening
 

Azerrad deftly puts together each of the bands histories, explaining their background, how they laid the ground work for today’s network of independent labels and venues, and explained how they influenced the world around them.   He makes careful note to qualify his decisions to cover only certain bands and out of those band to focus on their independent releases.  For example, he limits his coverage of The Replacements (one of my favorite bands) up to just after the release of Pleased To Meet Me.  One obvious omission from the book is R.E.M., having come into existence around the time the book is covering and being on independent label IRS.  Azerrad explains that he purposely did not include R.E.M. since they were one of the first Indie groups to sign to a major label and become hugely popular.  The title of the book is taken from a song by the Minutemen.

Check out some of my favorite tracks from the bands below.

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Rip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds

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Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds

Another must read that I stumbled on in the past year.  This book chronicles a choice selection of underground music from 1978 to 1984, deemed Post Punk by the author and the music press of the time.

I always found the term hard to classify as most designations of rock music are.  In recent times it has been an oft used term; thrown around to describe a ton of newer bands influences.  Alway a cool tag word but never really explained, much like Punk itself and Proto-punk.  Simply put Post Punk is the underground music that sprung up after Punk met an early end and imploded in its original true form with the Sex Pistols rise and fall.  Post Punk would carry on that legacy along with all the off shoots of straight ahead punk rock including British Punk, West Coast Punk, Hardcore, and Oi.  This new music would shed all that was overwrought about the music that they grew up on, expand sonically and turn image and politics inside out.

Reynolds splits the book into two parts, sectioning off the early heavily punk influenced stuff in the first part and then tackling the more pop and guitar band driven music in the second part.  He breaks it up into easily digestible chunks that focus on a geographical or ideological scene (or covers whatever bands he feels are strongly related sonically together, which may or may not be in the same area).  Each chapter is full of his own insights into what made the band what it was and why the music sounded as it did.

He fills out the landscape by explaining what was going on in the world in each respective area at that time.  Included in this landscape was of course the bands but also a rich drama including fledgling record labels, record label heads, managers, Svengalis, producers, fans, and groupies.  A huge number of bands are included, some of them might be a little surprising at first because of their status as 80’s pop music, one hit wonders or their seemingly non-relation to Punk Rock or Rock N’ Roll.  Below is the long list of band/labels that are covered in the book (please note some of the bands only get a few paragraphs).

Post Punk Bands: Post Punk – New Pop & New Rock:
Public Image Ltd.
Buzzcocks
Magazine
Subway Sect & Vic Godard
Pere Ubu
Devo
James Chance & The Contortions
Suicide
Lydia Lunch
Teenage Jesus & The Jerks
DNA
Mars
Lounge Lizards

Brian Eno
The Pop Group
Alternative TV
The Slits
New Age Steppers
Rip Rig & Panic
New Hormones
Fast Products Records
Cherry Red
Desperate Bicycles
Thomas Leer
The Normal
Mute Records
Swell Maps
Gang Of Four
The Mekons
Delta 5
Au Pairs
Talking Heads
David Byrne & Brian Eno
Wire
Dome
Cabaret Voltaire
The Human League
The Fall
Joy Division
Martin Hannett
The Passage
Factory Records
A Certain Ratio
Durutti Column
Scritti Politti
LMC
Flying Lizards
This Heat
Rough Trade Records
The Raincoats
The Red Crayola
Young Marble Giants
John Peel
Throbbing Gristle
Whitehouse
Nurse With Wound
Clock DVA
23 Skidoo
The Residents
Tuxedomoon
Factrix
Chrome
The Sleepers
Flipper
The Specials
Madness
The Beat
The Selecter
Dexys Midnight Runners
Malcolm McLaren
Bow Wow Wow
Adam & The Ants
Gary Numan
Ultravox
John Foxx
Visage
Spandau Ballet
Martin Rushent
Soft Cell
Japan
DAF
Orange Juice
Josef K
The Fire Engines
The Associates
Heaven 17
Trevor Horn
ABC
B-52’s
Pylon
Club 57
Mudd Club
Jean-Michel Basquiat
ZE Records
Kid Creole & The Coconuts
Was Not Was
Material
99 Records
Bush Tetras
ESG
Liquid Liquid
A Certain Ratio
New Order
Bauhaus
Batcave
Siouxsie & The Banshees
The Cure
The Birthday Party
Killing Joke
The Virgin Prunes
Theatre of Hate
Sisters of Mercy
Southern Death Cult
Echo & The Bunnymen
Zoo
Wah! Heat
The Teardrop Explodes
The Blue Orchids
The Waterboys
Big Country
Simple Minds
U2
Black Flag
The Minutemen
Husker Du
Mission of Burma
Meat Puppets
SST Records
Psychic TV
Some Bizarre Records
Coil
Foetus and Jim Thirlwell
Einsturzende Neubauten
Test Dept
Swans
Depeche Mode
The Art Of Noise
Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Propaganda
Grace Jones
Please hear the music for yourself.   I have created two playlists that feature the music that this book covers.  I will warn you the music of some of these bands is not for the faint of heart.  This was a period of great experimentation and even I think some of it is a bit too abrasive and shapeless.

Playlist:  Post Punk Part One

Playlist:  Post Punk Part Two – New Pop & New Rock

www.simonreynolds.net

There is an actual CD compiled by Mr. Reynolds which was only released in the UK and is rather rare. Rip It Up And Start Again companion CD compiled by Simon Reynolds

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