Rocker Book Reviews by The Classic Rocker

Ratings on a scale of 5 – with Five Classic Rock Stars being highest.

For the comedian books – we’ll go with Classic Laughs!

Book covers link to their product page on Amazon.com for purchase or more information. It’s a continuously growing list and to keep with a countdown theme, we’ll start with the latest review, followed by five star reviews and work our way down…

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Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Painting Pictures With Words

This is not a “rags to riches” story that defines many other memoirs from famous celebrities. In fact it’s point of view is from the opposite and prosperous side of the tracks, but still has all the necessary highs and lows, privileged upbringing mixed with personal struggles, and insights about love won and love lost that kept me interested all the way through.

This is an eloquently written story about a sophisticated young girl who grew up to become a reluctant rock star. The daughter of the ‘Simon’ in the mega-publishing company Simon and Shuster, Carly Simon was from the upper echelons of money and society on Martha’s Vineyards and it shows in her descriptive and detailed writing style. She’s obviously the product of private schooling and an intellectual world not normally inhabited by the earlier mentioned subjects of “rags to riches” rock star bios. So don’t expect any half-forgotten or glossed-over remembrances of 1960s into 1970’s sex drugs and rock and roll.

Oh yeah… I mean “yes” it’s all in here, but told in a manner many of us would try to emulate in an attempt to score high on our written SATs to get into an Ivy League School.

It’s obvious Simon is a very good writer. And not only of music and lyrics, but also in telling her life story. Relying on her journals, memories and friendships she paints pictures with words. It’s easy to visualize her experiences with details that are rich and full. In addition to what she was thinking and experiencing, she describes sights, sounds, smells and even what she and others were wearing, eating, drinking and occasionally dosing at the time.

In many ways the last part of this book is almost a declaration of lasting love for her former husband, father to her children and music superstar James Taylor. Again, she relates in detail the highs and lows, his love won and lost, and how her life goes on regardless of whatever hopes and plans have succeeded or failed.

Simon does an excellent job of writing from her heart and mind, and not pulling any punches. An excellent read and highly recommended.

Amazon.com

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Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

More Than Van Hagar

Sammy HagarThis book was a welcomed surprise. I’ll admit to not knowing much about Hagar outside of being in the most tuneful edition of Van Halen and finding it impossible to drive at only 55 mph. But there is much more than only those two highlights and his journey through a rock ‘n’ roll life is a pedal to the metal entertaining read.

And yeah, I used that cliché because when it comes to Hagar’s outlook and drive it makes sense. Similar to any self-written memoir it’s going to come from the writer’s point of view. In this no-holds-barred telling of his life’s experiences – both achievements and disappointments – it doesn’t matter if some parts may seem to be clouded or biased without a second opinion. Hagar’s version carries an honest tone of a man setting the record straight and not worrying about any consequences.

For instance, his opinions of the Van Halen brothers swing from envy and closeness to anger and disgust. That happens in rock bands and why some break up (John and Paul with The Beatles) and others continue despite their differences (Mick and Keith with The Rolling Stones). They may spat and complain about each other in a magazine interview, but Hagar goes far beyond and paints a descriptive picture of total dictatorial alcoholics wasting away both mentally and physically. Some readers may also dispute the reasoning behind ending his first marriage, but it doesn’t hurt his likability in the long run. In many ways they come off as the main casualties of Hagar’s success.

To clarify what I mean by that, especially when it relates to the also ultra successful Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Hagar’s explanation about their failed investments during the early stages of his Cabo Wabo Tequila and club business venture will make sense. Hagar dragged the business into big profits and never needs to make another record or go on a reunion tour ever again unless he’s inspired. Van Halen needs the band to keep from going under. The result was a lot of jealousy that nixed a concert t-shirt plan but added a prominent tattoo on Hagar’s shoulder.

There is also a never-give-up tone that runs through the book that would be inspirational to any creative artist that believes in himself and is willing to work hard. His early attempts at playing rock ‘n’ roll are like any other young punk passing through a series of garage bands. He details his first real success in Montrose, his solo career, lead singer of the stadium-packing Rock Hall of Fame Van Halen, and currently with Chickenfoot. The tales of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are all included, along with his adventures with and thoughts about other major rock stars. It’s an enjoyable ride that never slows down to 55 and a fun way of getting to know the real Sammy.

Amazon.com

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Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Runnin’ Down The American Dream

pettyThis is the story of a southern kid out of Gainesville, Florida who would have never scored on anyone’s Most Likely To Succeed list. But we know Tom Petty proved any doubters wrong with a music career deserving of this detailed and entertaining biography.

You can feel the Florida swamp in this book. From the beginning best described as more hillbilly than country or rural during the 1950’s and early 60’s, Petty’s upbringing and family situation were far from offering a clue to his rock superstardom. Though his surroundings and earliest attempts at earning his living making music may not have been as extreme a rags to riches story when compared to his biggest influences, Elvis Presley and The Beatles, it’s an example of The American Dream for anyone with a clear focus, dedication, talent and luck.

The author relies on his connection with Petty and insight as a musician to give readers a more in depth look than a writer needed to rely only on media research and second hand interviews. Petty’s personal memories, thoughts, opinions and experiences are what make this book stand out from others about his life and career.

The added dimension that sets this apart from being simply a one-subject biography is an insider’s look into the life of a successful rock and roll band. The formation and maintenance of all Petty’s groups and partnerships including Mudcrutch, his Rock Hall Of Fame group The Heartbreakers and super group The Traveling Wilburys, are examined through each of their various stages of rise, fall and continuation. The impact of his solo career, marriage, fatherhood and other personal relationships are a stimulus, cause and influence in creating his song catalogue and recordings, touring schedules and private life, and fill out the description of a man that many non-fans would probably never recognize as a rock star if they passed him on the street.

Between bursts of creative energy and chart-topping hits, Petty comes off as an introverted and often isolated creative artist. This book is written with an honest and entertaining tone and gives an insightful glimpse into both his private and public life.

Amazon.com

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Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in The Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway and Chris Hodenfield

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Killer Entertainment

Dennis DunawayThe title is not misleading as any Alice Cooper or classic rock fan will know. But along with the simulated ways to destroy their lead singer on stage every night, what makes this a very enjoyable book is the inside story of how a group of talented young guys (and girls) created a monster that turned into one of the best-selling rock bands of the 1970’s.

Unlike the title, it wasn’t all about the on stage theatrics and props. Dennis Dunaway, co-author and bass player for the Alice Cooper group was at ground zero from the beginning and makes the story more entertaining than even their diehard fans should expect. An unlikely friendship between two high school jocks, Dennis and Vince (later the solo artist Alice Cooper) took them on stage as the “comic relief” poking fun at The Beatles during a talent show. The unexpected response started them on a long and winding and very weird road to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Dunaway states upfront that his memories are accurate and from his detailed accounts, that’s a believable claim. The writing is lively and keeps the pace moving. You feel as if you were present as they crossed paths with peers and heroes such as Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and many others on their way up the ladder of fame. You can practically smell the rooms, venues, vans and desperation. You can feel the confidence and occasional fear as they confronted or escaped from red neck audiences that wouldn’t tolerate hippies, let alone the innovators of glam rock with longer hair and more makeup than their girlfriends. KISS, The New York Dolls, Ziggy Stardust and the string of glam-bands that came later in the 70’s and the hair bands of the 80’s owe a debt of gratitude to the Alice Cooper band.

If you weren’t around during their biggest years or only familiar with the solo artist Alice Cooper, this is the account you need to read. It was a band effort and even though the breakup was both unexpected and unavoidable, this book takes you from the very beginning to the very end of the group effort. Dunaway avoids any bitterness or sour grapes over the abrupt ending of his superstar status and writes with pride of their achievements as a band and continued friendships.

You don’t have to be an Alice Cooper fan to enjoy this book thanks to the entertainment value. But if you are, consider it a must read. I’ve been a fan since hearing the song Eighteen when I was 18 years old – and “I like it” so much I’ve read the book twice.

Amazon.com

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Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll by Fred Goodman

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Sympathy For The Devil

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW: May 27, 2016

Allen Klein BookI’ve been looking forward to reading this book because Allen Klein has been depicted for so long as a sinister character in the history of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. His name will forever be associated with the darker aspects of these bands, such as the breakup of the Beatles and controlling the Stone’s music publishing, but there are always two sides to every story. This book tells that story, but with mixed results.

First of all it is very well written. The detective work the author put into the research was detailed and more in-depth than what I had expected. Klein’s childhood that included five years in an orphanage and his lifelong need to never be left alone or be perceived as inferior defines his journey. It also sets the tone for his adult personality, how he handled business dealings and his personal life. Whether it was a rival, a client or a mistress, he would never assume a back seat in negotiations and the end results.

Klein was an accountant with big dreams. His bulldog style for going over contracts and numbers for singer Sam Cooke opened his mind to a new style of doing business between artists and record companies. Though it seems he was a “Robin Hood” type of character earning deserved financial rewards for creative artists, he also looked out for himself. The pop music clients he worked with were happy to be rich. They only got mad when they realized Klein was getting richer.

With some of the boys (and girl) in the band.

With some of the boys (and girl) in the band.

My review is not meant to be an attack on Allen Klein. You need to read the book and make your own decision. I think some people will feel it is bias in his favor, since Klein’s son initiated the writing and made mountains of private business documents available to the author. For this reason I feel it is a bit one-sided in the family’s favor. But it is clear throughout that some of the artists will forever be thankful for Klein’s help (Bobby Vinton), while others will always associate him with the dark side of the music business (Paul McCartney). And if they were on the wrong side of his endeavors, he took personal joy and every legal loophole available to make them pay for their perceived disrespect. He bragged that his house was “paid for by Mr. Jagger” and when George Harrison abandoned him from defending his plagiarism case over My Sweet Lord, Klein bought the publishing for the song in question, He’s So Fine, and ended up the winner against his former client. His personality dictated if you left him alone or disrespected in any way, he would make you pay.

This is a good book. It’s easy to read and entertaining, especially when the author digs into the behind the scenes dealings with Sam Cooke, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Instead of simply listing contract terms and “the small print” that gave Klein his clout over both record companies and artists, it reads as good storytelling and is as interesting as the inside gems about the top rock stars he worked with. Are there insights and opposing views missing? I think so. But until someone else comes up with the darker side of Allen Klein from his rivals point of view, this is the best opportunity we have to understand the man that will forever be ingrained into the history of the two greatest rock and roll bands in popular music.

Amazon.com

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Crosby, Stills & Nash: The Biography by Dave Zimmer photos by Henry Diltz

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

CS&N – and Y – 40 Years Together & Apart

CSN Book CoverHere’s a confession. As a dedicated classic rocker I was never that much ‘into’ CSN&Y. During the late 60’s acoustic folk-rock troubadours were the rage, but John Lennon’s Working Class Hero and Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding covered those bases for some of us. When we listened to the Woodstock album the needle touched the vinyl most during tracks by The Who, Sly and The Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix and Ten Years After.

This book changed all that. Before reading, my CSN&Y digital playlist had zero songs. It now includes a complete look at their careers together and separately.

That says a lot.

The details and insights by the author with the cooperation of CSN&Y makes it seem there were no stones left unturned in exploring their individual and joint musical histories, creative processes, political beliefs and personal lives. It is also very clear David Crosby, Steven Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young have very different and distinct personalities that didn’t always mesh. The author doesn’t shy away from dealing with the many conflicts both in and out of the public eye, but mainly covers the music and impact they’ve had on generations when working in harmony.

The original 1984 biography has been updated twice: in 1999 and again for the group’s 40th anniversary in 2008. The beginning takes us through their musical influences and pre-CSN&Y classic rock bands, The Hollies, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, followed by the excitement of first blending their voices together and massive success in the late 60’s and 1970’s that went beyond what any of them had experienced before. But there is a lot more to their story and I found the added revisions taking us through 2008 just as interesting and enlightening.

The amount of research and photos makes this a must read for CSN&Y fans. For the rest of us that may not have fit into that category prior to reading, this will change your mind.

Amazon.com

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Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography by Fred Schruers

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Only The Good Die Young

Billy Joel Book CoverWith Billy Joel’s cooperation the title Definitive Biography fits this book like a boxing glove. That’s a reference not only to Joel’s youthful amateur boxing career, but also how this book reads when describing his life’s amazing highs and devastating hard knocks. It’s a fascinating story.

Like the best artists, Joel’s work is personal and why he has maintained a lengthy career. The book immediately delves into his family history and lays the groundwork for what is to come and why. Interviews with family (including ex-wives), friends, business associates and musicians give first hand insights into his career and personal life, making this a very entertaining book to read. His creative process gives new meanings to his songs and the author doesn’t shy away from writing about his marriages, including the super market tabloid worthy union with supermodel Christy Brinkley, love affairs, drinking problems, bouts with suicidal depression, world tours and interactions with other artists such as Elton John and Bruce Springsteen. Of course there is much more since this is his life story, and written with a tone that includes both humor and honesty.

What I found equally compelling were the business problems that have followed Joel throughout his career. Loyalty and trust were often the causes for his downfalls and details about bad contracts, bad managers, bad advisors, lawsuits, publishing rights, royalties, taxes and other dealings are almost a “what not to do” guide to a music career. But his success from Piano Man and The Stranger to Last Play At Shea with Paul McCartney, connection with daughter Alexa, and a loyal and continuously growing fan base appear to have made his struggles worthwhile.

For Billy Joel fans it’s a “must read.” If you’re not a fan it may not change your mind, but read it for the entertainment value. You can’t make this stuff up.

Amazon.com

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Robert Plant: A Life by Paul Rees

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Good Times Bad Times

Robert PlantI’ve finally learned the answer. As a first generation Led Zeppelin fan I could never understand why the remaining members didn’t give in to multi-million dollar reunion offers and give us one last tour. Yes, there have been a few concerts over the decades with the late John Bonham’s son Jason taking his place on drums, but nothing sustaining. And according to media reports, the lone holdout was always Robert Plant. This look into his life explains why.

The author takes us back to Plant’s beginnings, through the madness of Zeppelin, his numerous musical groupings and solo recordings, and into the present. There were many twists and turns, frustrating failures, good luck and heartbreaking tragedy in both his career and personal life. It is told through detailed research and interviews, along with flashbacks and flash-forwards, explaining how his experiences and subsequent mindset shaped his path.

Plant comes off as determined and impressionable both as an artist and a person. Led Zeppelin came across as rock gods with a management team that took no crap from anyone outside their small and protected circle. Plant grew to seem more aware of the cracks in the fortress and after the loss of his young son and best friend Bonham, drew away from the madness more for survival than artistic freedom.

The beginning of the book was not what I expected, but could definitely understand by the end. A creative flower child with the will of a taskmaster is a brief synopsis of Plant’s character. For Zeppelin fans the continuously rebuffed reunion offers will be answered. For Robert Plant fans you’ll understand why. This book is recommended for both.

Amazon.com

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Dancing with Myself by Billy Idol

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

The Idol Maker

Dancing with MyselfI’m impressed at how well this book is written. It’s intelligent, insightful and kept me thoroughly interested and entertained all the way through. Since there is no credit for a cowriter, I was concerned if Idol would have talent as a writer to achieve this and also remain unbiased in telling his life story. He was – and he did.

Though I’ve enjoyed his music, I never knew about Idol’s career or personal life. He came up through the British punk music scene as a member of Generation X in the late 70’s before embarking on a hugely successful solo career in the 80’s. But what will grab classic rock fans and especially baby boomers are his memories, experiences and influences growing up during the 1950’s and 60’s in England, America, and then back to England as a teenager. In a different generation it’s conceivable he could have been Ricky Nelson or one of The Beatles. Instead he embraced the evolution of pop-rock music as being individualized and revolutionary and threw himself into the punk rock scene.

His memories of this era in England are detailed and colorfully down and dirty. You can almost smell the raunch. He turned Billy Broad into Billy Idol with his sneer and spiked bleached hair, but was already laying the groundwork for his future. In other words, though he is associated with bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash that referred to The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin as “dinosaurs,” he broke the stereotype. Billy Idol was a punk who loved rock and roll.

Idol is brutally honest about his personal and musical successes and failures, and details his lifestyle of sex, alcohol and drugs. When reading books about rock stars it’s amazing so many have lived long enough to tell their stories. Idol survived, but it wasn’t pretty. The overindulgence was extreme and he spent many years living life on the edge. But during the occasions his personal fog lifted and there were moments of clarity the inner man doesn’t seem as tough as the image. His personal relationships and family bonds are described in detail and how his career and lifestyle affected each. Whether you’re a punk, rock and roller, or just looking for a good autobiography, Dancing with Myself delivers.

Amazon.com

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Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story by Rick Bragg

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

A Rockin’ and Rollin’ Life Story

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW December 24, 2015

Jerry Lee LewisThis is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in quite awhile. If you know anything about Jerry Lee Lewis as a performer, you know he doesn’t waste any time kicking himself into high speed. Off stage he was no different. His life story rocks, jukes, jives, swings, dodges, sinks to the lowest depths and rises to the highest highs. Somehow he survives to do it all again and always on his terms.

Told in his own words and expertly stitched together by author Rick Bragg, it’s as colorful as The Killer himself dressed in an orange tuxedo and pounding a piano to death during one of his 1970’s television appearances while giving second and third generation rock fans a lesson in how the originators got it done.

From his beginnings deeply entrenched with family and religion in Ferriday, Louisiana, sneaking underage into seedy clubs to hear how the blues should by played, and straining to hear “Mr.” Hank Williams on a distant and fading radio station, he followed his own rules, regardless of the consequences.

In the process he laid the groundwork for future generations of rock and roll bad boys.

Jerry-Lee-MyrnaThe book is Jerry Lee’s personal memories and opinions on whatever touched his life in any way, but also told with an honest bias that he didn’t mean anyone any harm, but also wouldn’t allow challenges to stand in his way from taking what was meant to be his in the end. His marriages, including the scandalous union with his 13 year old cousin Myra that shook his career to the foundation, wild on and off stage antics, his career at Sun Records and relationships with the members of The Million Dollar Quartet (especially Elvis Presley), addictions, money and everything imaginable that makes up the public image of the wildest man in rock and roll. There were also numerous tragedies that should have broken him, but only seemed to push him harder in all aspects of his life and career. These instances make this book a roller coaster of emotions, from laugh out loud to sorrow and admiration that Jerry Lee has lived this long to talk about it all.

Questions are answered, including how his nickname Killer did not come as a result of what others might lead you to believe, along with vivid memories and colorful explanations of other truths, lies and exaggerations. It seems every town, dive bar or concert hall has a Jerry Lee story and in his own words he’ll tell you why. I’d also like to add that I read parts of this book out loud to family members because of the entertainment value. When he gets rolling these segments were funnier and more outrageous than anything you’d hear on Comedy Central and written as only Jerry Lee Lewis could tell it. You can’t make this stuff up. Loved the book and highly recommend.

Amazon.com

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1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Musical Guidebook Through A Year Worth Remembering

1965As someone who in 1965 was only a year from becoming a teenager, I wondered how an author so much younger could bring out the spirit of the era. Facts are facts and any good researcher can list the hit songs and news events, but this book went far deeper than that. Whether you’re a historian, pop culture enthusiast or looking to relive a year that was pivotal for baby boomers in shaping in who we are and what music we listen to, this book will spike your interest and keep you reading until the end.

Starting at the beginning of 1965 and working methodically through to the end of the year, national and world events are put to a soundtrack that was not only the classic Top 40 hits, but also “deep cuts” and genres that widened the generation gap and defined various segments of society. The British Invasion, The West Coast Sound, Motown, soul, folk, country, easy listening, and the roots of psychedelic and The Summer Of Love were evolving musically and lyrically. Songs had meanings based on writers’ perceptions and opinions, from protest and drugs to teenage angst and puppy love.

Combined with catchy tunes and rhythmic beats, these songs are valuable insights into where we were – and where we were headed.

I found the author’s research into the origins of the best-known and most influential songs of 1965 fascinating. Not only did he go behind the scenes during the recording process, but also traced the roots of songs back to the originals that served as inspiration or were simply borrowed and updated to create newer hits. It was a year of massive changes in music and world events and this book maps it out.

Amazon.com

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A Natural Woman: A Memoir by Carole King

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

The Woman Behind The Music

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW March 7, 2016

41zYfFOdVOLIf you’re a fan of popular music, you’re a fan of Carole King. For almost six decades dozens of artists including The Shirelles, Aretha Franklin and James Taylor, to The Beatles, The Monkees and Grand Funk, have performed her songs. Her 1971 solo album Tapestry is a classic and she’s a deserving member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame and has received numerous lifetime achievement awards

We know that.

Now with her memoir, we also know the woman behind the music. King’s story is a balancing act between the pressures and glamor of show business success and her attempts to maintain a normal life for herself, her children and her husband(s) out of the spotlight. She didn’t always make the best choices, as she admits while taking us through her four failed marriages, but her series of ups and downs is what makes this story worth reading.

Carole King Grammy AwardsThe beginning of King’s career as a young wife writing hits with lyricist and husband Gerry Goffin is an insightful look into the pop music scene prior to the arrival of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and others that ended the creative assembly line at New York’s Brill Building by writing their own songs. King maintains she was happy staying behind the scenes or blending in as a member of the backing band for James Taylor during his recording sessions and concerts. But her gradual journey to a solo star in her own right is fascinating to read.

But so is the other side of her “balancing act” when she retreats so far away from Hollywood that she moves with her family to the wide open spaces of Idaho. She home schools her children in houses with no electricity or running water, while dealing with whatever husband is crashing and burning at the same time.

It was not a book I expected from someone so well known and successful in the music industry. It could be said the unexpected made it more entertaining, while at the same time her story has given new meaning to songs we’ve listened to for decades. I’m more of a Carole King fan after reading and highly recommend.

Amazon.com

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Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World by Candy Leonard

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Why You Are The Way You Are

51aWBC4mpeLFor anyone expecting a sugary-coated “for dummies” style overview of The Beatles, you are in for a surprise. This is a very intelligent and well-researched book on a phenomenon that has reached the half-century mark and is still evolving. At first I was worried it might read like a Master’s thesis on 1960’s pop culture, but that notion quickly vanished after the first few pages. What followed was a journey into every Beatles fan’s memory of, and relationship to, the band that changed and shaped the U.S. baby boomer generation within six short years.

Each step in the Beatles’ career from The Ed Sullivan Show to their breakup is examined. Perspective is also given into why the group’s popularity and personalities are so embedded into the psyche of a generation and has been handed down like family heirlooms to the generations that have followed.

Many adjectives have been used to describe the impact The Beatles had on U.S. teens and preteens that were growing up with The Cold War and nuclear armament, racial segregation, and the fear and chaos that ended the year 1963 in mourning. Would they have been as popular if all the pieces, including JFK’s assassination only 79 days earlier, had not fallen into place? Perhaps, but who knows for sure. What we do know, and what is the backbone behind Beatleness, is these four young men from England were unlike anything or anyone else in the U.S. Many boomers related to their music and personalities at a level that made them seem more like family members than pop musicians from a foreign country. And even for those who didn’t, there was no way they could escape their influence.

In addition to the obvious research and thought put into this book, much of the supporting evidence comes from fan memories and experiences. The boomer generation covers a wide age range, with the oldest to the youngest explaining how the Beatles influenced their personal lives in different ways.

Is this for the kids screaming out that Kanye West or One Direction should ever be compared to the Beatles individually or as a group? No. But should they read it? Yes. For boomers it’s a valid explanation on how we turned out the way we did. For everyone else it’s good insight into how you turned out the way you did. Give thanks to, or blame it on The Beatles. It’s your choice – and your reasons why are what Beatleness is all about.

Amazon.com

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Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith by Joe Perry and David Ritz

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Let The Words Do The Talking

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW May 4, 2015

517UjZWC-fLInstead of letting his music do the talking, the lead guitarist, songwriter and co-founder of Aerosmith has put his life story into words and takes readers on a scenic tour through the highs and lows. Of course it’s coming from Perry’s opinionated point of view, but in whole it conveys an honest introspective into the “how’s and why’s” of a career that has lasted over four decades, a place in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and has no end in sight.

Perry’s remembrances of his youth, family and developing musicianship hooked me right away, especially since I knew the outcome in advance. What I didn’t know, but should have realized was the depth of his dedication to the musical influences that made Aerosmith more than a few hit wonders with 15 minutes of fame in the spotlight. You can almost hear Perry endlessly practicing his guitar and feel his agony at working factory or dead end jobs just to support his musical aspirations.

Of course it would be impossible to write a book about Aerosmith without including the old clichés of sex, drugs and rock’n roll that are often the main themes for many tell-all books written (or ghostwritten) by rockers. Perry is more grounded in family and music (not always in that order), but didn’t shy away from many of the perks that come with being a rock star. There are plenty of these sordid details that earned the band the title of “Bad Boys From Boston.” The members all battled their individual demons, egos and rehab, but other than noting these events and Perry’s own introspective look at himself, the other prime mover and shaker in this book is Steven Tyler.

Aerosmith.The lead singer and former American Idol judge swings back and forth from being Perry’s spiritual brother-in-arms for life, to a loud-talking and egotistical fame seeker with a heavy dose of drugs, debauchery and dishonesty serving to derail the band at various stages. But in the end they’re stuck with each other and the chemistry is what defines Aerosmith.

For dedicated Blue Army fans of the group there may not be any information not already known or at least assumed. Friends, girlfriends, wives, managers and record execs are praised and pillaged, while many popular rumors and legends about the band are set straight, confirmed or denied. The last portion of the book is a gold mine of a Master’s Class in guitars and equipment used by Perry throughout his career in Aerosmith and his solo project, The Joe Perry Project. It’s technical information, but if you’re a player you’ll love it.

Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith is just like your favorite Aerosmith album. Once you get into it, Perry’s riffs will hold your attention until the end.

Amazon.com

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Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

The Public and Private Life of The Man In Black

51WZpYwABXLLike a history of old west, which Johnny Cash often sang about, this is a sprawling and epic look into his public and private life. It’s a rags to riches account without any of the sugarcoating we’ve come to expect from other writers that might have had a personal relationship with an artist and only wanted to protect the already known image or trash it for the sake of selling books. That is not the case with Robert Hilburn’s book on a true American music legend.

Cash is a member of both The Country and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And like many great creative artists he struggled through adversity, both born into and put upon himself through his own strengths and weaknesses, to earn his success. The amount of research the author put into filling out a total picture of the man, his surroundings and era is truly impressive. This is not a fluff piece or made for television “inside story.” It’s history.

Though most casual fans can name his greatest hits and forever link him with June Carter as his wife and musical partner, I knew very little about his personal life before reading. Now I do. His earliest days growing up country poor, relationship with family members, military service, first marriage and young fatherhood did not pave an easy road to success. His determination eventually led him to Sam Phillips and Sun Records and a music catalogue that is as mandatory for country and rock‘n roll as those by Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Together they’re immortalized now as The Million Dollar Quartet, but long after the others had faded into parodies of what they once were, Cash continued to grow and struggle as an artist. Throughout his personal life and career he continued to experience extreme highs and lows and each is described in detail.

The author states his case that Cash would want his true story to stand along with the music as his lasting legacy. In this regard he relies on personal interviews with Cash, his family, friends and musicians that were part of his inner circle. His behind the scenes personal life from his birth to his death, including marriages, affairs, religious beliefs, and ongoing struggles with addiction and the consequences of all are included. Taken together, as it is in this book, is what makes him more than just a musical outlaw remembered only as The Man In Black. He was someone who in many ways was lucky to live through it all. And though he’s not around anymore to tell his story, this book does.

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Changin’ Times: 101 Days That Shaped A Generation by Al Sussman

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

A Detailed and Entertaining Look Back at an Important Moment in Time

71SMV3YL51L._SL1500_If you’re old enough to remember November 22, 1963 and February 9, 1964 you already understand how the events occurring on those dates impacted not only our society, but also our world. That’s not over dramatizing; it’s a fact. The most obvious changes were in politics and music, and during the ensuing decades our memories tend to look at JFK’s assassination and the U.S. arrival of The Beatles as bookends to what is considered a dark and mournful period in our history.

In Changin’ Times: 101 Days That Shaped A Generation, author Al Sussman proves that wasn’t necessarily the case. In a highly detailed and well-researched book he takes readers from Dallas to a month past The Beatles debut on The Ed Sullivan Show (101 days in all) to when the floodgates actually opened for The British Invasion of music, fashion, films and other influences that changed a generation.

Sussman is well known in Beatles circles, but this is not a book about The Beatles anymore than it’s a book about JFK (though Beatles fans will love it). This is history and details exactly what was going on during this era. From national and international politics and events, to television, films, Broadway, sports, books, technology, and of course, popular music. The U.S. pop charts were already changing with Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Motown, Phil Spector and others, but the stage was being set for what was happening in England. This book explains how it happened.

Baby boomers will recognized many of the names and events, from their grade school Weekly Readers or as black and white memories from watching one of the (only) three network television channels. This will serve as a “where and when” timeline. For those younger this is valuable history lesson in “why and how” the repercussions of this era are still felt today.

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Face the Music: A Life Exposed by Paul Stanley

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Taking Off the Makeup

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW February 17, 2015

Paul StanleyI’ll start this off with an admission: I’m not a member of the KISS Army. They’re not the masters of my rock’n roll universe, so don’t in any way consider this to be a biased review. It could’ve gone either way. But with that said, here’s another admission: I loved this book.

This is an opinionated and inspiring bio. Paul Stanley was a kid with the odds stacked up against him right from the start. His journey included obstacles that would’ve broken many others, but instead drove him into creating one of the most charismatic and popular figures in rock. In his Starchild persona he has always been the creative force and crowd stirring front man for KISS. But for most of his career there was a completely different person hiding behind the makeup. Like a modern day Phantom of the Opera, which is a comparison that will make sense once you begin reading this book, Stanley reveals his inner emotions about the extreme highs and lows of a life and career that has made him who he is today.

paulstanleypromoshotUnlike other rock star bios that gloss over activities worthy of supermarket tabloids, Stanley pulls no punches. In addition to the fame, money and beautiful women that come with being Starchild, he also details the business and creative struggles behind KISS. Though I feel this is essentially a positive book, his assessments of former KISS members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss are pretty brutal. He makes good arguments on why he was so against only the four original band members being inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame instead of also including the current line-up. Even Gene Simmons, his partner and “brother” in the band, takes a few hits when Stanley writes about their differing opinions relating to KISS, outside careers and personal lives.

I was grabbed from the very first page of the prologue and enjoyed this book. In fact, I’m almost ready to enlist in the Army…

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The Beatle Who Vanished by Jim Berkenstadt

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

The Mystery of The Fifth Beatle

Beatle Who Vanished CoverAuthor Jim Berkenstadt proves he’s worthy of the title The Rock’n Roll Detective by solving the mystery of The Beatle Who Vanished. Like many dedicated first generation Beatles fans, I knew of Jimmie Nicol. I’d seen the video of his Amsterdam television appearance backing John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison when fans stormed the stage. I’ve also watched film of him joining in on hotel balconies in Australia to wave at 300,000 screaming Beatlmaniacs. For almost three weeks in 1964 he was a Beatle. What I didn’t know was where he came from and whatever happened to him after leaving the eye of Hurricane Beatle.

Before reading this book I had assumed Nicol was an in demand studio musician, similar to the members of Led Zeppelin that played on 60’s releases by Donovan, Herman’s Hermits and others. If Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones hadn’t formed a band, we may never have heard of them. Similarly, Nicol was an accomplished drummer who could’ve remained a highly paid and unknown session man, except for a life-changing phone call that overnight made him into a Beatle while Ringo Starr was in hospital recovering from tonsillitis.

The author’s research takes readers back into the pre-Beatles days of the London rock’n roll scene. Similar but also different than the Liverpool backdrop served up in every Beatles bio, it leads to what we all know is coming; the meeting of Jimmie and The Fab Three. His trek with them as a member of most famous group in the world playing concerts and partying through Denmark, The Netherlands, Hong Kong and Australia is an insightful and fascinating look into what Nicol called the “boxes” the Beatles were forced to live in. But following his tenure behind Ringo’s drums, the remainder of the book is a ride on a mystery train.

There’s no way I’ll serve up the ending. It has to be read to make sense. But the case of Jimmy Nicol has been solved and makes this mandatory reading for true Beatles fans that feel they know everything about the group. The book also presents a more worldly account of rock’n roll during the 1960’s than just repeating tales of English rockers coming to America during the British Invasion.

One other note about The Beatle Who Vanished; the debate lingers on about who was truly The Fifth Beatle. The names are well known, such as manager Brian Epstein, producer George Martin, or assistant and road manager Neil Aspinal. Claims can be made for each, but no one outside of John, Paul, George and Ringo ever played on stage with them after their first hit records and during the screams of mid-60’s Beatlemania. No one including Pete Best and Billy Preston felt the adulation of thousands that only hoped for a glimpse or a wave from one of the mop topped superstars. Jimmy Nicol felt this. He was there and had that experience, even if it was for only a brief moment of pop culture history. As it would for anyone, it had an everlasting affect on his life. This is the story of that person’s life.

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The Beatles: All These Years / Vol. 1 Tune In by Mark Lewisohn

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

We’ve Waited “All These Years” For This…!

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW April 5, 2015

Tune In book coverThis is part one of the Holy Grail of Beatles Bios. Lewisohn, already the author of numerous books on the group and music, took on a project that I’m sure more than a few of us thought, “It’s been done before.” As a first generation fan who has read many of the previous in-depth bios and personal memoirs from historians, associates, friends, hanger-on’s and wannabe hanger-on’s, I automatically assumed we had read it all and knew it all. This includes consuming every single word in the massive Anthology when the Beatles told their own story in their own words.

I was wrong. Those books only skimmed the surface. This one not only dug deeper, it’s an excavation.

The amount of research that went into this also massive narrative of the Beatles pre-fame years will blow your mind and turn you on to read the next two volumes that will take them through the fame and the fade. The stories and legends (some true; others shown to be embellished over time) are placed in a chronological perspective that not only fleshes out the true personalities of John, Paul, George, Ringo, Pete, Stu, Brian and George (Martin), but also the people and places that had both major and minor supporting roles in their success. Throughout the book it feels as if you are physically with them on their journey. The grit and desperation of war-ravaged Liverpool, their upbringings, beginning successes and (more often) failures, and the sleazy sweat and underworld danger of Hamburg are described in graphic detail. Amazing circumstances, heartaches, perseverance, talent and in some cases, just plain luck propelled these four young boys toward a level of success no one in their position should ever have dared dream of.

the-beatles-band-name

John, George, Pete, Paul and Stu – The Beatles

If you think you know the story of The Beatles but have not read this book, then you really don’t. It makes the other definitive bios obsolete. In future interviews if Paul or Ringo claim they can’t remember certain details about their early years as children, teenagers and beginning Beatles, I recommend they read this book – just as I recommend it to you.

And in case you doubt what I’m saying, I’ve read this book twice. I’m sure there will be a third time before Volume Two is released.

On a personal note, I ran into Mark Lewisohn, almost literally, at the 2014 Chicago Fest For Beatles Fans. As the author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland, I was preparing to do a program in the A/V (Audio / Video) Room. After a brief test to make sure my DVDs worked on the projector, I headed out of the room and Mark was standing outside the door looking in.

I did my best unintentional comedy double take by stammering out, “Wait… you’re the author… you wrote THE book and…” Very kindly he introduced himself and we talked for a few minutes. I was thrilled and flattered when Mark told me he had read both my books – and enjoyed them – while researching his next book in the series. I told him how much I enjoyed Tune In and asked when we could expect Volume Two.

Unfortunately he said it would be about seven years.

Seven years?!!! Honestly, I told him we can’t wait that long. I also made a crack that I could be hit by a bus before then and need to read the next book before anything like that happens. Since he’s known among Beatles authors as the historian that throughly researches every last detail through multiple sources, it’s a given we won’t see the next book until he’s uncovered, proven or dispelled everything there is to know of the Beatles’ story. But if I succeeded in putting the “hurry up!” vibe into his mind and we receive it before then – you can thank me.

Now I only hope Mark reads this as a reminder…

Amazon.com

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Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

The Definitive Bio on the Young Elvis Presley

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW September 10, 2014

ElvisThis goes down as one of the best biographies I’ve read, regardless of what life status, profession or era we’re talking about. It was insightful, in depth, exciting and touching. This is American history as much as any biography you’d read about a pioneer, politician, inventor, activist, war hero or sports star. This is the story of a young boy, Elvis Presley, who not only changed the lives of just about everyone he came in contact with, but also the world.

This is the Rosetta Stone for anyone who still has misconceptions or complete ignorance over the influence Elvis left on our society and answers any questions about what happened to him toward the end of his life and why. This book sets the stage. What the heck – it lays the groundwork in solid concrete. Read this and you’ll know immediately what I mean.

The thread that runs through this expertly written book is the background of a loving family growing up poor in the south during the end of the Depression and World War II. An only child, he was coddled by an overprotective mother and never-do well father, but the bonds were always strong between them. It’s a story of love, loyalty, dedication, immense talent and success. It also explores his deep-seeded morals and religious devotion, which made the heated scorn and criticism over his on stage gyrations and sexual attraction confusing for Elvis to understand or accept.

elvis-1956-cadillac-eldorado-convertibleBut the real story is of a young man – actually still a boy just out of high school – who achieves a magnitude of fame and fortune no one could have ever foreseen or dare dream of. His rise is stunning and life-changing. His notoriety pulled and separated him from things that other teens simply take for granted, such as dates at the roller skating rink, going to the movies, or just stopping at the corner drug store for a milkshake. He became a prisoner and reacted by surrounded himself with family and hometown friends (later to be called The Memphis Mafia) in an attempt to maintain a normal life. With the advantage of hindsight we know his lifestyle eventually destroyed him, but the reasons why it got to that point are made crystal clear in this book.

The excitements and heartaches are reported in detail. His rise to fame is exhilarating, while the end of this book will come close to breaking your heart. We’re left with a vivid picture of a very famous and in many ways still naïve young man saying goodbye to a portion of his life most others would have been hard-pressed to even survive with any type of sanity. His final wave from an army troop ship speaks volumes about his personality. It’s just too bad we all know what happened later.

This book carries my highest recommendation. It’s about a family and a young boy who grew up to become The King of Rock’n Roll. If you’re not an Elvis fan now you will be after reading.

Amazon.com

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Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

An American Dream Turns Into The American Tragedy

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW September 24, 2014

Careless Love CoverThe second part of this two volume definitive look at the life of Elvis Presley slams the brakes on one of the most famous and notorious tales of living The American Dream. Whereas the author’s earlier book, Last Train to Memphis, brought home the story of a young boy from a poor family who was blessed with unnatural talent and timing rising almost overnight to unimaginable heights of fame and fortune, Careless Love details his tragic end. A creature of habit and familiar surroundings, the outside world becomes his playground while his inner self struggles to make sense of it all through spirituality, a series of isolating “yes” men and women, and drugs.

In hindsight Elvis’ downfall is almost as sudden as his rise and the author once again does a masterful job of researching and writing every detail. We all know what’s coming at the end, just as we did watching the film Titanic, but like all great true stories the reader’s interest is held not by what happened – but how. The pieces begin falling into place during his stint in the Army while stationed in Germany. He’s introduced to drugs that will keep him awake on duty and to his future wife, 14 year old Priscilla Beaulieu. It continues through a string of Hollywood B-movies, numerous affairs and an immature lifestyle of “horsing around” supported by the guys now universally known as The Memphis Mafia. As long as they don’t say “no” Elvis remains forever young and they remain on the payroll.

There are many highlights such as his legendary come back television special, return to live shows in Las Vegas and the first worldwide concert broadcast, Aloha From Hawaii. But after that it rapidly all goes downhill. The American Dream becomes An American Tragedy and held this reviewer in its grip until the bitter end.

dec76newIf I were to throw in any minor criticism toward this book it would concern keeping track of everyone involved. This is not the writer’s fault. The small world Elvis inhabited in the first volume simply explodes in Careless Love and the girls, guys, musicians, directors, producers, promoters, actors and actresses, songwriters and countless others enter, exit, return and exit again throughout. The end of his life was a series of tours, excess spending and drug-induced behavior. It’s a lot to read about and as this book describes, impossible to live.

Elvis was much more than the overweight, bloated and almost comatose performer he had become by the end of his career. Last Train to Memphis proves that to anyone, while Careless Love confirms it. I highly recommend both – in the order they were meant to be read.

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Life by Keith Richards

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Satisfaction Plus!

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW December 21, 2014

Keith LifeSo much has been written over the past five decades about The Rolling Stones – and in particular Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Both are legendary figures in the world of rock’n roll. Mick claims not to remember much, which is why he returned a hefty advance to write his memoirs. Keith? The Stone with the reputation of being the most drug-induced rock star in history and the next predicted victim on every “crash and burn” list since the 1960’s claims to remember it all. And he does a great job of spilling the beans in this very fun book.

He has a lot to say – which is why I read this book twice. It was just as much fun the second time.

Every Stones fan already knows the story. Mick and Keith meet up on a railway station, Brian Jones puts together the band and manager Andrew Loog Oldham lock Mick and Keith in a kitchen until they become songwriters. We know that – but what’s so very cool about this book is that you get the true insider’s story from Keef himself. This goes for every milestone in the Stones’ career, including his insights about all the band members and revolving supporting cast. And he doesn’t hold back his thoughts. He makes it very obvious he and Mick have not been attached at the hip for many decades (Mick was reportedly upset about Keith’s written jabs at him), he didn’t care much for bassist Bill Wyman, he pretty much worships drummer Charlie Watts, and even though this has been referred to in many Stones bios, Keith comes closest to calling Brian Jones an asshole – and backs it up.

AR-AE491_Keith_GS_20131211131019I’ll have to admit I learned a lot about drugs through his memories. He doesn’t seem to regret any of his addictions and doesn’t have the standard cautionary tale of “this is your brain on drugs.” But he also claims to have been off “junk” for over 30 years and seems to look back at it as something that was just part of the rock’n roll lifestyle he chose to live during those long ago days.

The ending of the book focuses more on his latest band The X-Pensive Winos and immersing himself in the music of Jamaica. It’s not that The Stones are on cruise control, it’s just he has been so successful with his “day job” (Mick and the boys) that he can play around with other creative outlets.

This is a very enjoyable book with great firsthand insights into The Greatest Rock’n Roll Band In The World from one half of the legendary Glimmer Twins (he even tells you how they got that name), and how they’ve kept the show on the road for over five decades. Highly recommended – especially since I’ve read it twice!

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Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll by Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson and Charles R. Cross

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

The Inside Scoop

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW July 1, 2015

Heart Book CoverAnn and Nancy Wilson are Heart. Yes, there were more than a few talented and influential male band members along the way, but since this is a story told by the two sisters, it’s the story of their lives and influences. That’s one of the reasons why this book is so much fun to read right from the start. You get a real idea of the tight-knit unit of army brats who only had “The Big Five,” (as the family referred to themselves) as the only thing really consistent while growing up. Then came The Beatles. The sisters – as many of us baby boomers – would never be the same again.

I’m not going to tell the story – that’s what the book is for. But it’s a fun read as they survive their teens, pay their dues as musicians, and then hit the international arena of rock stardom with Heart. And yes, they did blaze new ground for female rockers, even though purists could site Janis and Grace Slick as really being the first chick hard rockers. But Janis didn’t survive and Grace… well, she barely did. Ann and Nancy are still rockin’ over four decades later.

HeartIt’s especially fun to hear their insider stories and opinions. John Cougar Mellencamp and Stevie Nicks are two who make an impact. And you can feel the two sisters morph back into teenyboppers as their biggest dream and fantasy comes true – a meeting with Paul McCartney.

I enjoyed this book. And what really sets it apart from other bios is that you know it comes from their hearts. It’s rock’n roll, but also family, life lessons and growing up. This is not a ghostwriter project. Ann and Nancy tell their story and (seemingly) hold nothing back. It’s a fun and rockin’ ride.

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Rod: The Autobiography by Rod Stewart

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Ooh-la-la!

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW October 30, 2014

Rod BookRod Stewart proves it’s true – blondes have more fun. This book was a very fun read and I couldn’t ask for a more insightful journey through the life of a superstar music legend. Unlike unauthorized bios or watered down versions written by ghost writers to smooth out a performer’s image and hide the wrinkles, Rod The Mod gives us the full scoop in a funny, candid and honest manner.

The book is well-written and I had a hard time putting it down. I also found myself reading certain passages more than once because they were outrageous and laugh out loud funny. It was like being a fly on the wall in the mansion (many different mansions) of one of most successful and popular performers in the history of rock’n roll. No argument there – he’s a two-time inductee into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so he knows the territory better than you and I put together.

Rod-Stewart-sb12His marriages and relationships with actresses and models have been tabloid news for decades, but here he doesn’t hold back his emotions and the “what went right” and “what went wrong” aspects. He was blessed – or cursed (your choice) – with an eye for beautiful women. But his ties to family, country, soccer and of course, music are also what fuels him. He even addresses his hair, model railroading hobby and art collecting in their own chapters. I enjoyed reading about these sides of his personality as I did his escapades with sex, drugs (okay – more booze than drugs) and rock’n roll.

In all, this was a very fun book. I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone interested in Rod Stewart, rock music, or the lifestyle of a famous rock star.

Amazon.com

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You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup by Peter Doggett

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

The Fab Dream Comes To An End

Beatles Money BookThis was a fascinating book. I’ve been a Beatles fan my entire life and have read almost every book there is on the Fab Four. In fact, I’ve even written a couple.

As every Beatles follower knows, the extreme excitement of Beatlemania and the joy surrounding the group faded in the late 1960’s. Yes, they still brought joy to us, but the animosity that developed between them during their breakup has been written about over and over. It’s pretty much become historical record.

This book starts after the breakup and is an intense journey through bitterness, anger, law suits and the occasional peace gesture by (at different times) the four members.

John Lennon’s murder is really brought home in this book and ended any fantasy of a Beatles reunion. The bitterness of George Harrison (which is confusing since being a Fab enabled him to live the rock star dream), the perfectionism of Paul McCartney (annoying to his former band mates), and Richard Starkey’s (he’s not called by his stage name – Ringo Starr – in this book), alcoholism and money problems were the true Hard Day’s (and) Nights of The Four Lads From Liverpool during 1980’s and 90’s.

The lawyers, managers, publicists and wannabe’s that staked a claim to the Beatles bank accounts are a major part of this story. The outside influences and real world events were very unfamiliar to the most famous 4-some in the world, who had lived very sheltered lives in a protective bubble during the peak of their massive fame.

The book is full of interesting stories and insights. For instance, we can thank Madonna and Sean Penn for the spectacular television special, The Beatles Anthology. If their movie Shanghai Surprise hadn’t tanked so badly at the box office, Harrison – who was the producer through his company Hand Made Films – wouldn’t have needed the cash from the Beatles TV project to stay out of bankruptcy. Otherwise, he would have undoubtedly continued to turn his back on the remaining band members (mostly McCartney) and the fame he road to the toppermost of the poppermost.

In all – I loved this book. But I also learned something. In the mid 1960’s it would’ve been fun to be a Beatle. After 1968 – not so much fun.

Amazon.com

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50 Years The Rolling Stones: Essential Anthology on The Rolling Stones, Rock’n Roll History by Hanspeter Kuzler

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

25 x 5 – The First Half Century of The Stones

Stones CoverAt first this epic long ebook seemed to be just another overview of what every Stones fan already knows about the group. But then it just seemed to grow deeper with more fascinating details than I had ever expected. Most of this information comes from the reprinting of numerous and long-ago newspaper and magazine articles, reviews and interviews with the band – some I actually remember from “those days” and enjoyed re-discovering decades later.

This ebook, though titled “50 Years…,” is actually part one of two. The author explains that the completed volumes will have 50 chapters – one for each year of the first half century of The Rolling Stones. This one covers the first twenty five.

Each chapter (year) is filled with historic details about the band and to put it in perspective with the times, also what was going on in the world that would shape their views and attitudes about life and music. There were lists of important album releases by other artists during each year and important articles (as mentioned above) about the band.

The most striking reminder for this reader was the young age(s) of the group members when all this was going on. When you think of the Stones now – 50 years together – the “news” is that they are still rocking when most others their age are retired or gone. It’s hard to remember that they were only in their very early 20’s and making great music and notorious headlines that follow them today.

The author’s research, yearly details and selection of reprinted articles turned this read into a time machine, giving true insights into what it was really like during the first 25 x 5 – Mick, Keith, Brian, Charlie and Bill. It also covers Mick Taylor’s tenure in the band, and the first decade or so of Ronnie Wood’s.

I would say you’d have to be a dedicated Stones fan to read each and every word – but I am and did. I also recommend it to others like me.

Amazon.com

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Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll by Joe Oestreich

Rating: FIVE Classic Rock Stars

Life In The “Almost” Fast Lane

Hitless WondersI almost heard alarm bells when somewhere toward the beginning of this book the author mentioned going for his advanced (either Masters or Doctorate) degree in creative writing. It started “reading that way” – as if this might be a term paper – and I almost put it down as being simply a diary of a band that never made it to “The Pros” (as the author puts it). But somewhere toward the middle, the storyline seemed to shift. It starting kicking butt – just like a great rock’n roll concert should. It was no longer a listing of people, places and events, but also brought out the feelings, emotions and dedication to what this author is all about: rock’n roll. It’s in his mind, blood and soul. He and his longest bandmate Colin, have no choice but to continue doing what they love. A lot of guys his age would rather hit the golf links and work on their beer bellies at the 19th hole. These guys would rather play a new talent night in front of ten people and live out the rock dream. I love it and if I owned golf clubs, I’d trade them in right now for a used Fender and amp and start practicing in my basement. These guys are my heroes. The author also makes it clear through his clean and insightful writing style that by giving up their rock’n roll dreams they would wither into suburban mini van shells of their former selves. Though all the band members have wives, girlfriends, families and even “real” careers (day jobs), this is an admission of what is truly important. Livin’ the dream – even if the dream doesn’t quite turn out as hoped for. This is a love story – between guys, dreams and rock’n roll. I enjoyed. Rock on!!

Amazon.com

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Queen: The Early Years by Mark Hodkinson

Rating: FOUR AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

From the Beginning To Bohemian Rhapsody

Queen Book CoverThis book has the feeling of reading the first part of a trilogy, which is a project the author should consider. It delivers what the title promises, the beginning and rise to fame of the band Queen. But like the band, I wish it had continued. It covers their childhoods, individual paths to meeting, developing their unique sound, and up until they record and achieve worldwide success with their first mega-hit, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Each member is considered individually and written about equally, including the late, legendary and over-the-top vocalist Freddie Mercury. Their childhoods, influences, former bands, failures and successes are covered in detail and offers good insights for both dedicated and casual fans. What I found especially interesting were the career options for Brian May (guitar) and John Deacon (bass) who were torn between higher education (especially on May’s part) and music. Mercury and Roger Taylor (drums) were more invested from the start and surprisingly, Taylor more than Mercury for a rock and roll lifestyle.

The book is well written and researched. It has a very European tone, which is appropriate since Queen was a very European band. Much of their early success was in America and Japan, which is detailed, though it can arguably be said that aspect of their fame changed in the years following the end of this biography.

The only element that might be missing comes from the era of Queen’s formation. Biographies of earlier artists, such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles, take place in the formative years of rock and pop music. Their unwavering belief in spite of overwhelming odds, near poverty, grimy and sweaty clubs playing music hardly anyone else wanted to hear at the beginning of their careers is missing from Queen’s story. It’s not their fault or the writer’s. Times had changed, doors and minds had been opened, and the youthful musicians of the late 1960’s and early 70’s already knew the music was more than accepted and the dream of rock stardom was more than possible.

Still, there were no guarantees and the members of Queen forged ahead to become one of the greatest rock bands of all time. This entertaining book will tell you how they got there.

Amazon.com

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Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones by Paul Trynka

Rating: FOUR AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

Out of Control Rock and Roll Fatality

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW: August 18, 2016

Brian Jones BookThis book will remind original Rolling Stones fans who started the band and for younger generations, who the blonde guitarist is in the old videos. Whatever era you fit into, it’s an enlightening look at the brief life of a musician who dedicated his extraordinary talent to making the blues mainstream, then became a rock and roll fatality as it all spun out of control.

In many ways the author pitches a good defense for Jones’ equally extraordinary personality flaws and doesn’t shy away from reporting the bad with the good. Jones may have been one of the most innovative multi-instrumentalists to lead the 1960’s British Invasion, but as a human being he was multi-deficient. Most of the formative blame is aimed at his conservative parents, but any morals he would assumingly have learned from this environment were lost once he discovered music. This freed him from many societal restraints including girlfriends and their pregnancies, hangers-on, ‘normal’ people (wankers) and friends that didn’t share his focus were used and disposed of. He picked the members of The Rolling Stones, named the group and decided what songs they would play. He taught Mick Jagger how to give a woman satisfaction and open guitar tuning to Keith Richards. But under the bravado that made him the original star of the band was an insecurity that already had him on a downward spiral at the first taste of success.

Brian JonesThe Stones’ devilish persona can be traced to Jones, but the image was exploited to a higher level by manager Andrew Loog Oldham and anointed by him upon Jagger and Richards. Jones’ paranoia was no match for the trio as they took over his band, his musical contributions (potential song writing credits) and his woman, Anita Pallenberg.

It’s tempting to call this an answer book to Keith Richards’ bio, Life. But in reality, it’s more the prologue. In the mid 1960’s Jones and Jagger were the stars of the band and Richards was the quiet creator of classic rock guitar riffs. After Jones was found floating in his swimming pool, the author makes a good case of Richards assuming his personality and riding it with Jones’ former girlfriend for all it was worth. Whether you agree or not – and even if you’re a fan of Brian Jones or define him as Keef did in his bio – this book won’t change your opinion. But it’s an interesting insight into a major pop music influence who has almost been forgotten during The Stones wicked half century of success.

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Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story, 1958-2009 by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Rating: FOUR AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

The Story, The Talent, The Scandals and The Weirdness

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW October 16, 2015

Michael Jackson BookThis is a long journey that takes us from young, talented, happy and abused Michael, to superstar, fabulously rich, depressed and weird Michael – and everywhere in between. It’s a good but sometimes opinionated insight into the public and private life of one of the most talked-about celebrities of the past fifty years.

The story of the Jackson family during the years covered in this book would make an almost unbelievable movie script. It covers the entire clan, with focus on father Joe Jackson as an abusive, strong-willed taskmaster dead set on making his kids stars at any cost. We learn about each sibling without the author revealing too many intimate details. For example, the brothers find wives and are successful with Michael, and mediocre (at best) without him. Sister Janet Jackson has become a superstar in her own right, but barely any mention of her breakthrough as cast member of the television show Good Times. The family is covered in how they related to and dealt with Michael from his standpoint, which works since he is the main topic of this book.

The sections describing The Jackson Five’s rise from Gary, Indiana to the top of the pop world is thrilling, but surpassed by Michael’s massive success as a solo artist. But the continuing undertone is the story of a boy who never truly became an adult, blaming it on his loss of childhood (due to his career) and a Peter Pan Syndrome. The hangers-on, including family and staff, turn into an army of “yes men,” not wanting to risk being cut off from his fame and fortune. With no one to impose any boundaries, Jackson’s life spins out of control personally, professionally, and with countless plastic surgeries, physically.

michael_jacksonThe book sometimes falls into a “tabloid-tone,” which is how Jackson’s life is viewed by many. The author (with a tabloid background) had interviewed him many times, along with family members and other important people in his life. He knows his subject. Two large sections of the book cover Jackson’s lawsuits and trial for child molesting and we’re left with more opinion, rather than definitive answers. Many of the most sensationalized details of his life that raged across media headlines are debunked as publicity stunts dreamed up by Jackson that went out of control and haunted him until his death.

As a music fan, I appreciated the details about his creativity, studio work, publishing (he bought The Beatles music catalogue), and battles with record companies, including Barry Gordy and Motown. This was originally a best-seller before Michael’s death and has been updated. I read the Kindle edition and found some of the formatting and misspellings to be distracting, but didn’t ruin my desire to continue reading.

I’ve been a Michael Jackson fan since his earliest recordings with The Jackson Five and this does nothing to change that. It’s a narrative into what happened and why, which in the long run is more of a tragedy than a success story.

For a video of Michael Jackson performing Billie Jean during Motown’s 25th Anniversary TV special check out this YouTube LINK. Say hello to the Moonwalk…

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Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounes

Rating: FOUR AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

The Evolution of R. Zimmerman into Bob Dylan and Beyond

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW September 4, 2015

414DlxhAWELThis was meant to be the definitive biography of Bob Dylan to mark his 60th birthday in 2001. In the years since, as he hit his 70th year and beyond, it still stands as an extremely well-researched and insightful look at a man who has done his best to remain mysterious and elusive as a celebrity, while keeping his private life shrouded in almost total secrecy.

For more than half a century Dylan’s songs have been listened to, shared, studied and analyzed as if they were micro-insights into the thoughts and opinions of a generation that prided itself on questioning authority and making a change in the world. When you discuss the 1960’s, it’s impossible not to also discuss Bob Dylan.

The making of an image that eventually became a legend is covered in detail. Fans of Dylan’s music will soak in every detail about the songs, recording sessions and endless tours. But what makes this book stand out is his story. Dylan himself was notorious for leading journalists down blind alleys or simply fabricating the “where, what and who’s” of his life. The author tracks down the details through public records, past accounts, studio notes, and interviews with friends, family, associates, musicians – and seemingly anyone that had anything to do with Bob Dylan, outside of Dylan himself and his first wife Sarah.

Dylan Forever Young

Forever Young

His early years in Minnesota as Robert Zimmerman may contradict any image his fans might have of a Woody Guthrie wannabe riding the rails with an acoustic guitar singing songs of America and life on the road. From a well-to-do family, he played piano in the style of his hero Little Richard with high school bands, proving he was a rocker long before turning folkie. He dropped out of college after his freshman year and headed to New York to find fame and fortune. Lucky breaks, chance meetings, generous girlfriends, supportive peers and a name change were equally as important to his success as his talent and headstrong ideas.

Dylan’s song inspirations and actual dedication to his early role as a rebellious leader (composer of Blowin’ In The Wind) for his generation are discussed, as well as his transitions through musical genres including folk, rock, country, religious and Traveling Wilbury. The motorcycle accident in 1966 that changed his career path, problems with management, record companies, first marriage, and a secret second wife are told in detail.

Ten years after the first edition of this book was released in 2001, there was an update for Dylan’s 70th birthday. As a Dylan fan I could discuss in detail the original version for being informative and entertaining. But as a reader and reviewer of the newer release, I found the updates to be forgettable and unnecessary.

For a video of Bob Dylan performing Blowin’ In The Wind on television in 1963, visit this YouTube LINK.

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It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll – 30 Years Married to A Rolling Stone by Jo Wood

Rating: FOUR AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

A fun and gossipy look inside The Rolling Stones’ protective bubble

Jo Wood Book CoverUnlike some rock biographies that only hint at or gloss over past bad behavior and dirty deeds, Jo Wood names the names and what was going on where and when. My first thought was that Ronnie Wood (with a hefty contribution from Keith Richards) would have to fight this one and offer his ex a big bucks payoff to keep it off the market. But then I realized when it comes to The Rolling Stones, there really is no such thing as bad publicity. Part of the allure is their five decades long image as carousing, drinking and drugging bad boys – and this book simply adds to the legend.

As a reviewer, I should only stick with the writing of the book itself, which is actually quite good. It was fun to read and I had a hard time putting it down, simply because each episode of Jo and Ronnie’s life together seemed more unbelievable than what had happened before. There were many anticipated “page-turners” and the author kept it moving at a lively pace. I thought the story bogged down a bit when she detailed her business ventures, which came off to me as advertisements for her products. But on the other hand, that’s who Jo Wood is as an entrepreneur and this is her story.

There were numerous questionable opinions throughout, such as Jo’s continued declaration of being a good mother to her children while spending years in the bathroom free-basing with Ronnie and partying non-stop for days without sleep on Stones’ tours. She gives credit to her family and nannies for their assistance, but her message reads loud and clear that she was not simply a dedicated party girl, but would do almost anything and put up with just about everything to hang onto Ronnie Wood.

And speaking of Ronnie Wood, whose name and reputation as a Rolling Stone is really the main incentive for reading this book; he comes off as a self-centered alcoholic and drug addict starved for attention. His only saving grace is a carefree and “anything for a laugh” personality in pubs, parties and on tour, with enough talent as a musician to compliment Keith Richards as the second guitarist in the Stones. Out of the spotlight he could be moody and mean, and continued a string of affairs with celebrities, groupies and “drinking buddies” who never seemed to age as he grew old enough to be his latest conquest’s grandfather. One cutting moment was when he looked at Jo the day after her fiftieth birthday and declared he never thought he would ever be married to someone that old. But instead of being a testament to their life together, he meant it as a statement about how his mind works.

This is a fun and gossipy look inside The Rolling Stones protective bubble. It may read as a fantasy for those of us on the outside, but it was everyday life for the inner circle. If you’re a fan, this is a welcome addition to your Stones library.

Amazon.com

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Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music – The Definitive Life by Tim Riley

Rating: FOUR AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

Dedicated fans will love, but too much for Lennon beginners

Lennon BookThis book has a lot of information. It also carries a little too much of the author’s personal critique and dissection about Lennon’s music and what was going on in his head while writing songs. I had a difficult time dealing with that since I doubt even Yoko Ono knew everything that was going on in his head.

I really debated giving this book four or five stars. It deserves both, so I’ll actually give it four and a half. The research the author did in putting together this massive narrative on John Lennon is mind-blowing and even makes reading the bibliography entertaining. The first part of the book about Lennon’s youth is detailed, fascinating and very well written. It  digs deep into his relationship between his two mothers – his real mother Julia (Judy) and Aunt Mimi who pretty much raised him. According to the author, these relationships and an absent father who abandoned him, shaped the mental state that controlled him musically, personally, mentally, and eventually into his relationship with Yoko Ono.

Between these detailed descriptions, the author falls too deep into his own mental process about Lennon’s music. In doing this he seems to skim over important career marks. For instance, if he can interpret Lennon’s song lyrics (always a reaction ‘against’ or crying ‘for’ his mother), then why couldn’t he do the same about his mental state during the Shea Stadium concert, Budokan or Manila? Those are part of any Beatles highlight film and they were hardly mentioned.

As a fan, I can say I learned a few new things about Lennon. But to reinforce my above rating, five stars means you can’t put it down. You need to read it. This book took two library check-out sessions (three weeks each) to dig through all the author’s music theory. In other words, it didn’t turn me into a hyper-active page turner desperate to find out what would happen next. In fact, I read two other books at the same time and finished both while still reading this one.

For dedicated all-consuming Beatles fans, I’ll recommend it. For the average or beginner fan, as George Harrison once sang: “It’s all too much!”

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Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks by Ronin Ro

Rating: FOUR AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

A look into the purple one’s haze

* FEATURED BOOK REVIEW October 16, 2014

41OeRFzDnRLHere’s an understatement: Prince has always remained a bit of a mystery even to his most loyal fans. For those of us on the more casual side of fandom, he’s almost an unknown. Of course we know his hit songs, the mega successful rock film Purple Rain, and his penchant for being different. For example, not every male rock or R&B star would choose bikini briefs and high heels for stage outfits or change his name to an unpronounceable symbol. For Prince, later known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince and finally once again, Prince, these were only surface revelations. What was going on off stage and behind the scenes are what makes this book probably the most insightful study to date about his career, artistry, business dealings, and personal life.

As a more casual fan I found there was too much detail spent on what seems like every single song Prince recorded, demo’ed, or worked on for other artists. For the purists this is the mother load. But because of the vast output of music Prince has produced before, during and since the pinnacle of his chart success in the 1980’s, this kept it from becoming the “page-turner” I would’ve hoped for in a bio. The man is revealed, or at least as best he can be without his personal involvement, but all the details about business dealings and recording sessions are once again, more for the dedicated than the casual fan.

prince-geetarThis book is impressive in the writing and amount of research done by the author. It reportedly took ten years of detective-like work to follow and uncover every path taken by an artist that changed his music, personality, lifestyle, band members, business associates and as mentioned above, even his name, like a chameleon. Do I know Prince better after reading this? I would say yes, though I didn’t know much about him before. The dedicated will love it, but as a casual fan I could’ve been told less and still enjoyed reading.

On an interesting note, this is the second rock music book I’ve encountered that references the small town of Vermilion, Ohio. Prince used a Post Office box in Vermilion for hidden business correspondence during the time he changed his name. In The Beatles In Cleveland the Fab Four stopped in Vermilion for ice cream during an early morning bus ride from Detroit for their 1966 concert in Cleveland. A little known footnote in the history of rock’n roll…

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Over the Top and Back: The Autobiography by Sir Tom Jones

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

A Working Man’s Story

Tom JonesI found this to be an entertaining book, but finished thinking it didn’t really give the true “insider” story of the author’s life. Tom Jones’ star power has seen many different levels for over six decades and in his own words he tells what he wants us to know about the ride, while apparently keeping the rest private.

His childhood in Wales and rise to fame is a rags to riches story, though he never actually lived in poverty (the family had a television). But life wasn’t easy. Hard work at menial jobs earned enough money to drink heavily in “working men’s clubs” and a teenage pregnancy resulted in a lifetime marriage.

Blessed with one of the strongest and recognizable voices of his generation it can’t be denied Jones put in the hard work to be a success. But there is an undertone of boastfulness running through his story. His long absences from home are explained as being needed to support his dedicated and loyal family and he delivered with riches none of them could have ever imagined.

On the other side of the coin it seems he used this book to deny any false rumors (he was never “pulled off stage”), but doesn’t address the ones probably most reported in the media. For instance, a famous singer he was supposedly involved with for years is only mentioned once as “a friend” he went to see in concert. I’m not so sure about that… He also makes a case for being inducted The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a lead singer and front man for various rock bands, even though his international image is as a tuxedo-wearing singer in super tight pants bumping and grinding through as many Las Vegas lounges as he did arenas. He doesn’t deny that, but also wants readers to know there’s more to him than Vegas and a hit television show.

As mentioned above, I still found this an entertaining book from start to finish. There are many stories about touring, performing, recording, drinking and being with his extended family. I didn’t mind his “working man’s” language and found it added color and realness into much of his story. But if you are offended by the dropping of frequent F-bombs take a chill pill before reading or grab another book.

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Good Rockin’ Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock ‘N’ Roll by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Defining A Legend

Sun RecordsEverything and more that you’ve ever wanted to know about Sun Records is covered in this book. If this were a film it would be classified under “documentary.” It appears no sound screen, tape machine or desk drawer was left untapped, un-listened to or unopened to give this account of the legendary recording studio that deserves its reputation as one of the birth places of rock and roll.

Owner Sam Phillips didn’t start out with that goal in mind. Sun Records was originally founded on the idea of recording the blues and country music that wasn’t deemed marketable by larger labels. That is the beginning of the story, but as music fans already know the “real” story took off when a young Elvis Presley wandered into the store front of the small studio in Memphis and ended up setting the music world on fire.

But it wasn’t Elvis alone. It was Phillips, the musicians, the setting, a feeling and inventive recording techniques that gave Elvis and Sun a sound that separated it from the competition.

What’s impressive is the enormous amount of research by the authors in detailing the recording sessions, musicians and record releases from the beginning to the end of Sun Records. It’s hard to believe anyone that ever walked through the front door wasn’t mentioned in this book. Of course the members of The Million Dollar Quartet, Elvis, Johnny CashCarl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis are the highlights. The account of their one-time, spur of the moment gathering in the studio with Phillips thankfully hitting “record” as they joined voices inspired the hit Broadway musical.

For diehard fans of early rock and roll, country and blues, this is a must read. Even if you already think you know the story of Sun Records, what you’ll learn will have your brain swimming in new information. But the novice fan might feel overwhelmed for the same reason. Along with The Million Dollar Quartet, Roy Orbison and Charlie Rich, each significant Sun artist is given his equal turn in the spotlight. This includes background details from birth and family, to music influences, performances, tours, past and future recording sessions and record releases, and finally how their careers continued or ended. Their complete Sun recordings are catalogued at the end of each chapter.

One final note: this is not a fast read. Being more of a “documentary” than a story based on facts, the details are a lot to take in. As a library reader for this one, I had to renew the book to finish, which is something I rarely do. But the extra time was worth it for an “informational read” rather than a simple joyride with The Million Dollar Quartet through Sun Records.

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Living Like a Runaway: A Memoir by Lita Ford

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Shredding with The Queen Of Metal

Lita Ford While reading this book I was asked by a friend for my opinion. I answered “scandalous” and that opinion hasn’t changed since. The Queen of Metal cuts loose and lays everything out there for all to read. Well, maybe not everything…

Lita Ford’s life is a story of extremes where there seemed to be no middle ground. Her biggest support team was her parents and they provided her with a safe, family atmosphere at home. However, her musical aspirations and drive to prove girls were capable of playing heavy metal rock guitar on an equal level as guys lead her down the legendary path of “sex, drugs and rock and roll.”

We can also add alcohol; attitude and a mysterious 13 years away from the music biz to the scandalous experiences that make this book a raw, inside account of Ford’s career and personal life.

I have to admit really not knowing much about Lita Ford, except for her MTV videos in the 1980’s. I had also read a book on her first break into the stage lights as a member of the all girl band and jailbait rockers The Runaways. The 1970’s group was her launching pad and she shares various details that only the members could have known.

Like her guitar leads, Ford doesn’t seem to hold anything back when it comes to writing about all the sex, drugs, booze and rock. It’s almost as if we have an invitation to read her diary. But a glaring hole in this book are the details about her very strange marriage and 13 years removed and isolated from her music career. She explains her children’s safety and well-being are why she was careful not to reveal too much about this time in her life, which made me as a reader want to know more about it. We don’t even learn the ex-husband’s name or how one of the most powerful women in the world of Heavy Metal could allow herself to be so dominated and removed from her previous reality.

The book was interesting, fast paced and as mentioned above, scandalous. If you’re a prude, enter carefully. If not, be ready to party like a rock star.

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How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin: The Untold Story of a Noisy Revolution by Leslie Woodhead

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Rockin’ In The USSR

Kremlin BeatlesThis is a very interesting and historical look at The Soviet Union and how western influences, most specifically The Beatles, changed a generation. But instead of beginning the story in 1964 when the mop tops were first being heard by fans outside of England, the book traces the influx of jazz and big band music on pre World War Two Russia before communist leaders slammed shut the iron curtain to block out these musical and cultural influences. It was a way to maintain strict loyalty to the party and cast an untrusting suspicious eye toward their western enemies.

The Beatles were the deal breaker. Pirate radio and desperate bootlegging methods carried their music to the generation of Russian youth in the 1960’s. They appeared to be a light of freedom and creativity that was just beyond the Russian horizon.

Though they are the main topic of this book, it is not really about The Beatles themselves. There are no insights into how the Fab Four felt about their Russian fans or any efforts to take their music “Back To The USSR.” Instead it is a series of meetings and experiences with fanatical Beatles loyalists including Russian rock musicians, artists, producers and others, mostly from the privileged, higher classes. The reason is they could afford the Beatles bootlegged recordings or had personal connections that traveled out of the country and returned with copies of the forbidden recordings. The less privileged and poorer teens had very limited access to this life changing music.

I’ve struggled to rate this book since there were segments fascinating to read, while others were overly consumed with Russian history and repetitive praise for the Beatles by their more affluent fans. I was also able to put it aside and read two others, so it wasn’t a page-turner that would earn the highest rating. But it does an excellent job of making a case for the “old guard” losing their iron grasp on a younger generation inspired by the music, attitudes and personalities of The Beatles.

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Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, the Faces… by Glyn Johns

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Behind the Scenes and In The Sound Booth

Glyn JohnsFrom the perspective of a music fan that grew up listening to the artists he’s worked with, Glyn Johns has always been a recognizable name. He’s credited as a producer and engineer on countless hit singles and albums beginning in the earth-shaking 1960’s and earned him a spot in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

With his book, we finally get to know the person behind the credited name. We also get to find out more about the “names” he’s worked with.

The writing is “to the point” and interesting as Johns takes readers through his early life and interest in music, which leads him to being at the right place at the right time. His early career as a pop artist fizzled out, but his behind the scenes work in recording studios suited him much better than pop star fame.

His insight into the artists and the process of recording their music is clearly remembered. Conversations, personalities, places, situations and technical details of his work with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin and the others listed in the title (plus The Beatles) give an intimate feel into how their best songs were created and recorded. That makes the majority of this book “must read” for baby boomers and classic rock music fans.

Maybe it’s only because I fit into both the above categories, but the final part of this book did not come off as exciting or interesting. Many of the artists Johns worked with later in his career might have been stars in his native England, but pretty much unknown to me on the other side of the Atlantic. The names in the title are what makes this book rock and worth reading.

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I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Over Excited Excitable Boy

Warren Zevon BookThis was a difficult book to get into because Warren Zevon does not always come off as a very likeable guy. But in the end I found it worth the effort to continue reading and have a better understanding of why he is so respected and missed by many of his peers and fans.

Written by his ex-wife Crystal, it is not a nice story, but also not a revenge piece or a way to kick him after he was gone. The two had stayed close until his death in 2003. After learning he was dying, Zevon asked her to write this book and not leave anything out; bad or good. I enjoyed the narrative format with memories from the author and a long list of his family, friends, lovers, business partners and musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Don and Phil Everly, Jackson Browne, Steven King and Dave Barry. Their interviews with excerpts from Zevon’s personal journal make this book interesting, detailed and entertaining.

As mentioned above, this is not a nice story. Zevon was a raging, angry and uncontrollable alcoholic and drug-user for much of his early career. Even after sobriety he allowed his numerous phobias to manipulate a career that never reached the heights he or his dedicated fans felt he deserved.

It is not a page-turner that will keep you speed-reading until the end. However, I found it easy to pick up and put down without losing context. And for anyone not already knowledgeable about Warren Zevon, you will learn he was a much more talented artist than simply the co-writer and performer of the massive 1978 hit Werewolves of London and one of Dave’s favorite guests on The Late Show with David Letterman.

As Zevon himself said, “I got to be Jim Morrison a lot longer than he did.”

Yes, he certainly did and this book is filled with examples to back up that statement of rock and roll excess. The excitable boy was not always likable as a person or drinking partner, or even when sober for that matter. But the total package summed up in this book makes it worth reading.

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Not Fade Away: The Life and Music of Buddy Holly by John Gribbin

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

A Good Overview

Buddy HollyIf you don’t know about Buddy Holly and his influence on rock and roll, this is a good start to your education. It’s an overview of his life and music, as the title says. But as a dedicated fan I would have preferred a more in depth look into both.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book. I did. Tragically, Holly lived a very short life, dying in a plane crash at the age of twenty-two. If he were still alive today I’m sure his accomplishments would’ve deserved an epic bio. Unfortunately, it isn’t so.

The author is obviously also a fan and it comes through in his writing. I’m not sure how much actual research was done, rather than piecing together Holly’s short life from previous works. But it doesn’t really matter because as mentioned, this is an overview. Sometimes it seems too “fan-inspired” with the author adding his personal commentary and excitement about Holly’s achievements, but it’s difficult to hide that when writing in a journalistic style about a topic you love.

For anyone just discovering Buddy Holly, you’ll leave understanding why he was one of the most important and again, influential artists of his era and beyond. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and many others stood on the foundation built by Holly’s music. It also brought home the point that everything he accomplished was done by the age of twenty-two. It’s even more amazing when you read that John Lennon was already twenty-four when The Beatles made their U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.

It was a great loss of a great talent and the author does a good job of making that clear. This is a good starting point to learn about Buddy Holly.

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U2: The Definitive Biography by John Jobling

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Bono and the Other Guys

U2 The Definitive BioThis is a career-spanning book on U2 and with more than four decades of worldwide success, it could not have been an easy task. The author did a great job researching and writing and for that reason the word “definitive” belongs in the title. He covers the band from the beginning (and ongoing) partnership, music, and dedication to success, while also exploring an undertone of greed, control and power.

Unfortunately, the story of U2 is not as compelling as the rags to riches sagas of Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and others. This is not the fault of the writer and he does not embellish any of the facts while giving readers insight into how the pieces of this rock and roll puzzle came together and continues to run. Of the foursome, I found Adam Clayton to be the most interesting. When it comes to celebrity bios, the best “page-turners” take us on journeys mixed with the highs and lows of success, failure, scandal and other events that keep readers interested in what happens next. Clayton more than fits that requirement.

Usually standing apart for various reasons (including the other members of U2 speaking in tongues and questioning their music for religious reasons), Clayton lived a rock star life that included success, defiance, overindulgence, “crash and burn” – and then bounced back for more. But much of his story seems to be skimmed over. For instance, he dates supermodel Naomi Campbell, but 18 months later he’s marrying someone else. The same can be said for U2 members Edge and Larry Mullen, Jr. Career and personal highs and lows are mentioned, but neither seems to have the charisma of Clayton. They just aren’t as interesting.

That leaves the “star” of U2, lead singer Bono. Already the subject of other books and countless news stories, he’s known for his vocal prowess, stage presence, political activism and fundraising efforts. His globe trotting efforts and meetings with world leaders is described in detail worthy of being featured articles in Time Magazine. This is an important part of the story, but relegates the other members to only being supporting players in a book about their band. In many instances it felt like I was reading about world events instead of U2.

I enjoyed the excitement of U2’s personal interaction, the music, and their rise to fame and world tours. It’s all in the book, but pulled into different directions by a focus on Bono’s story. As a fan, I’d also want to know what Adam Clayton was doing while Bono was out saving the world.

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The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret by Kent Hartman

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Goes Behind The Studio Doors

91Q94Jk6QgLThe secret is out. The Wrecking Crew blows the lid off everything we were led to believe about our favorite pop-rock stars while growing up in the 1960s. The rumors had always been around, that many of the Los Angeles groups of the era didn’t play their own instruments on the records. This book goes into detail revealing what studio musicians played what instruments on what hit songs.

This is a book for anyone interested in the pop-rock music scene of the 1960’s and early 70’s. Each chapter is enlightening and well-researched. Especially enjoyable were the insights into the talented and as proven later, self-destructive genius of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson (and drummer Jim Gordon).

It also helps music fans appreciate more the bands that actually played on their own records, like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In the process it draws attention to how these hidden background musicians influenced the lasting legacies and popular opinions still held for many groups from this era. For example, a stronger case can be made for inducting The Monkees into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A big strike against them was they didn’t play their own instruments. Maybe not on the first two albums, but in the long run it sounds like they played their own instruments on more hit recordings than The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Mamas and The Papas, The Turtles, The Union Gap, The Grass Roots… you get the picture.

This is the story of the background players, which is interesting and worthy of being told. But there’s a reason why we’re star-obsessed. It’s the “thing” (whatever it is) that puts someone into the spotlight and keeps the supporting crew at the back of the stage. These are the subjects of this book – the behind the scenes supporting cast. They’re worth knowing and reading about.

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To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown by Barry Gordy

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

More Than The Music

91hCk8sY6tL._SL1500_I can see why this book would be the inspiration for the hit Broadway show, Motown. It’s a positive musical romp through one of the most important eras of popular music with some of the biggest names in the industry. Of course a major part of this story is the mega-success of a black-owned business in America during the early to mid 1960’s. Detroit was already known as Motor City before Barry Gordy ever worked in a car plant and learned the factory system. After adapting this process to his record company, Detroit was known for being Motown.

This is Gordy’s side of this story and as the founding father of Motown he had the best seat in the house from which to tell it. Readers need to assume he’s giving us the inside scoop, but I couldn’t help thinking we weren’t getting all the details. As a former boxer from the rough streets of Detroit, it’s doubtful all business dealings were handled with kid gloves. And even thought that opinion is only based on reports from past articles and other books, they are not at all addressed, confirmed or denied, in this book.

The historical aspects of Gordy’s success are monumental. Motown broke through the color barrier and the restrictions “race music” had to fight to be heard on the most powerful and popular radio and television broadcasts (in other words; white-owned stations). It is a story worth telling and knowing about.

The supporting cast includes some of the most dynamic and talented performers of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s easy to visualize Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and The Jackson Five entering and exiting during different segments of the book with their classic songs providing the soundtrack.

Gordy’s memories are sandwiched between agonizing decisions to sell his company and are the perfect bookends for this story. Some of the less famous characters, including the various mothers of his numerous children, become confusing as the story continues, but I enjoyed the book and again, consider it an important story. The only reason not to go five stars was that it didn’t hook me as a page-turner. I had no problem putting it on the shelf and reading two other books before coming back to finish. Fortunately, the legendary Motown stars, known to all music fans, always made it easy to pick up the story from where I had left off and follow through to the end.

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Pop Goes To Court by Brian Southall

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Sue Me, Sue You Blues

41uxWFGtUlLThis is a fascinating read for the dedicated fan wanting to know more about the legalities that could come with being a rock star. It’s not all creativity and fun, or as it has been so eloquently put to sell rocker’s bios: “Sex, drugs and rock’n roll.” In many cases, a strong legal team is needed to clean up messy situations involving greed, shared partnership credits, plagiarism, band membership and use of band names, and even the interpretation of lyrics and hidden song meanings.

The author has done an impressive amount of research into rock star court cases, judgments, appeals and final verdicts. I enjoyed it, but will admit it’s not a book for everyone. The “sensationalism” element has been removed to reveal the hard facts argued by both sides for numerous cases in a court of law. Some carry a wide interest range for fans of classic rock, such as the break-up of The Beatles, George Harrison’s fight over the composition of My Sweet Lord, the long-running battle of family heirs to claim the estate of Jimi Hendrix, and the accusations against Judas Priest in providing a soundtrack for promoted suicide. Some weren’t as newsworthy, like the fight over copyright of the mega-hit Whiter Shade Of Pale, but still interesting to follow to the bitter end.

There are other cases that might only be informative to “deep” fans of rock. This is a reference to “deep cuts” on albums. In other words, a “deep” fan will know every track, while casual fans only know the hits. Some of the rock stars dragged into court were mainly stars in England and Europe and not as well known to music fans in the U.S. This may only be my problem, but I wasn’t as interested in reading about the artists I didn’t know.

This is a very intelligent book written by a very knowledgeable author. For that reason it deserves five stars. But for casual rock fans more interested in sensationalism rather than the cold, hard facts, it would be difficult to hold their attention from cover to cover. For that reason, it scores a four rating. But I will say I’m a fan of this book. Nice job.

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I Got A Name: The Jim Croce Story by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

A Learning Experience

51VDFDjLWALI’ll admit to knowing very little about Jim Croce before reading this book. When his songs hit the radio in the early 1970’s, we could sing along and laugh with him through Don’t Mess Around With Jim and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. They were fun party songs that separated him from the trend of mellow, folk-pop acoustic guitar performers of that era. But then he could switch to a mellow gear and touch us with Time In A Bottle and I Got A Name, which were also massive hits. At the peak of his career he died in a tragic plane crash. We remember his name and his songs, but he wasn’t with us long enough to know much more about him.

Written by his widow and her current musician husband, this is an intimate look at Croce’s life. It’s informative and insightful for a Jim Croce novice like myself, and fills in the blanks on why he is remembered as a storyteller for the common man. He was dedicated to his dream of making music his life and struggled hard to make it come true. His journey was far from being an overnight success and the years he spent scraping for money and playing gigs in dive bars, at colleges and simply for anyone that would listen have you rooting for his eventual success. The stories about his disappointments, including failed recordings, bad contracts and family relationships while growing up, make his brief moments as a star even more tragic. This is especially true while reading because we all know how it ends.

Again, this has been my only source of information about Jim Croce. I would feel his widow, who was with him since she was a teenager and also his frequent singing partner, would know more than anyone else. But because she waited almost 40 years to tell her story, I found the conversations she shares verbatim throughout the book to be distracting. Most of us would be hard-pressed to remember exactly what someone said a year ago, or even a few weeks ago. These exchanges are written in a style that would be better suited as dialogue for a movie script, rather than a written biography. If you can get past that, you will know more about Jim Croce – the good and the bad – by the time you get to the inevitable and tragic ending.

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The Bee Gees: The Biography by David N. Meyer

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

On The Outside Looking In

Bee GeesI didn’t know what to title this review, but guess the one above sums up this bio of The Bee Gees. One of the biggest selling pop music acts of all time, the Gibb brothers never seemed to fit into the upper echelon of superstars such as Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson or even Madonna. It’s hard to understand why because their talent was immense as songwriters and vocalists, but they always seemed to be a bit on the “outside.” Along with telling their life stories, this book attempts to explain why.

As child performers in Australia, they weren’t groomed to be pop stars. Managed by their father and his big band era influences, their stage outfits were from the Sears Rat Pack Jr. Collection and they were taught to always smile while singing pop standards that might have been hits in the 1940’s. In comparison, the Beatles were in leather jackets covering Little Richard songs and The Stones were earning a Masters Degree in Muddy Waters. But once the Gibb brothers discovered their talent for crafting hit singles they became famous, broke-up, reunited, went out of style, returned as the biggest group in the world with Saturday Night Fever, and then suffered the backlash of disco, family feuds and various addictions.

The author takes us on that journey and as a fan of The Bee Gees since their earliest U.S. hits New York Mining Disaster 1941, To Love Somebody and Massachusetts, (and I could go on and on), I found much of it quite interesting. The relationships between the brothers is especially compelling with oldest brother Barry being the dominate personality, Robin the most rebellious, Maurice the most distracted, and youngest brother Andy the most tragic (though he didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter).

My only negative is that this book seems to get bogged down at times trying to cover too much ground. If you’re a Bee Gees historian you’ll want to know all the minor details and supporting players – and this book gives you all that. But if you’re simply a fan like me and interested more in the family saga of these talented brothers you might be tempted to speed read over a few sections.

I know much more about The Bee Gees than I did before reading this book. That’s why I read it – and that’s why I enjoyed it.

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My Name Is Love by Darlene Love

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Ya’gotta love Love

Darlene LoveDarlene Love has a voice we’ve all heard. But you may not realize how much until after reading this book about one of the most in-demand backup singers in the music biz who has also found her moments in the center stage spotlights.

This is her life story and even on paper (or in my case, eBook) her words ring with the same feelings and emotions she conveys in her vocal prowess. Her journey through a half century in the music biz is filled with so many ups and downs it’s almost hard to keep track of all her achievements and disappointments. She describes it all in detail starting with her earliest childhood memories in Southern California and first experiences with racial discrimination after a move to Texas. Then launches her career as a member of The Blossoms, pop music’s longest-running girl group, and her first No 1 single, He’s A Rebel. Especially interesting are her insights about working with producer Phil Spector and struggle to gain recognition and restitution for the classic songs he released with her voice under alias names including He’s A Rebel, which is credited to The Crystals.

As a long time music fan, this book brought back a lot of great music memories. Her voice has been on more number one hits than anyone else and she shares her experiences with many of the top names she’s worked with over the decades. You root for her successes and feel the heartache when other singers such as her friends Cher, Tina Turner and Dionne Warwick catch breaks that propel them into superstar careers. But her drive to do what she loves keeps her going to this day.

It’s a tradition to watch Darlene Love sing Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) every holiday season on The David Letterman Show. She’s a star, but there’s a lot more behind the woman than just a big voice and that’s what this book is all about.

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Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City by Steve Miller

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

A Gritty and Tough PunkRockumentary

Detroit Rock CityThis book was nowhere on my “must read” list. But as a kid I’d spent a lot of time in Detroit and knew the names of the main streets and (some) of the neighborhoods. So I didn’t think I’d be a total foreigner in a foreign land and picked it up for a quick read until another book I was waiting on came in. It was just something to fill the void, you know?

But then I got into it. From the MC5, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Iggy and the Stooges and The Amboy Dukes with Ted Nugent – through Grand Funk, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, and The White Stripes. Yeah, I’ve heard all those bands, but this book is more than just about the musicians that broke out of Detroit. It’s mostly about the local rock music scene that bubbled beneath the surface and spewed these acts out into the big-time. And it’s as gritty, tough and drug-infested as the burned-out shell that was once the booming city of Detroit.

Anyway, that’s how I view what’s left of the city. After the riots in the late 1960s (my family ties left when grandma had snipers on the roof of her apartment building on Jefferson and grabbed a Greyhound Bus out’a Dodge) the place was never the same. But from this rubble came a rock and punk rock scene that rivaled what was happening in New York’s CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.

I used to hang out in Max’s during the late 70’s, but skipped the scene at CBGB’s and went to Great Gildersleeves, located next door. In other words, I was more rock than punk. And this book reminds me why. It’s an oral history with the punks and rockers, friends and managers, promoters, club owners, head-bangers, groupies, users and dealers giving a survivor’s look into the drug and booze filled music scene that ruled the dark streets, burned-out buildings and sleazy clubs where it was safer to relieve yourself in the parking lot than venture into the bathrooms.

The only real problem was remembering who was who. The unknown musicians are still unknown to me after reading, so the cast of characters was a bit confusing. But I got over it and just followed the plot lines.

If you wanna look back at your wasted youth or take an inside look at what was really going on in the inner city areas your parents would drive miles out of the way just to avoid, Detroit Rock City takes you there. It’s interesting as a non-celebrity documentary of a time and place, but I’m sure you’ll want to take a shower when finished.

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Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World’s Greatest Rock Band by Barney Hoskyns

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

A little dazed and a little confused – but still rocks

Led ZeppelinLike the band Led Zeppelin, this is a monster book. I was going to use the word “heavy” since it seems the term could have been invented to describe Zep’s sound and the way the band and their entourage laid waste to everything they came near, but that word doesn’t quite work. I read this on Kindle and there’s nothing heavy about electronic paper, (add snare drum shot here).

When I say monster, I’m talking about the length and depth of this book. I expected the story to end with the death of drummer John Bonham. For the fans, that was the death of the band. It could only live on after that as a memory. That’s also the impact it had on the remaining members, their “heavy” handed manager Peter Grant, and the rest of the Zeppelin team. No one outside of possibly singer Robert Plant and bassist John Paul Jones came out of this without some type of mental, physical or financial damage – or in many cases all three.

But the book doesn’t end with Bonzo’s death. It continues up to the present time describing how they’ve dealt with the loss of Led Zeppelin, the rare reunions, and other personal and business issues. It also explores the many different rumors, truths and real life adventures of the band’s founder, guitarist, songwriter and driving force behind the band and this book, Jimmy Page.

Like the title says, this is an oral history. The author took interviews with the remaining three Zeppelin survivors and older comments from Bonham (who died in 1980) and intertwined them with memories from a wide range of witnesses and participants in the Zep World. The end result is a bit disjointed and sometimes confusing since it was easy to lose track of who was who and sudden jumps between events, recording sessions, albums and tours. But the truth is that it really filled me in on the history and inner workings of the band.

It’s pretty common knowledge that Led Zeppelin had a notorious reputation for sex, drugs and rock’n roll, and was the protype for the now almost cartoonish rock star lifestyle. A lot of that essence comes out in this book. Grant and Bonham come off as rude, crude, drunken and drugged-out bullies, while Page is the evil heroin addicted puppet master in the background egging them on to more and more outrageous behavior and demands. They’re the poster boys for rock star bad behavior and that image comes out as loud in this book as any Zeppelin song you can remember.

Maybe if I had known more about Led Zeppelin’s inner workings of various road managers, guitar techs, accountants, groupies and hanger-on’s it would be easier to follow the story. But even with that said; I found it informative and enjoyable. It’s allowed me to go back and listen to their songs again with a renewed sense of interest. The music speaks for itself; there will never be another band like Led Zeppelin and I feel fortunate to have been around during their reign as rock’s biggest, baddest and loudest band. The big mystery is how they could have left such a great legacy of diverse and innovative music when they were so messed-up. A must read for Led Zeppelin fans.

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Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville by Michael Streissquth

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

From Old School To New: The Outlaws and Nashville

OutlawFor fans of the big three in the title, this book expertly details how they changed country music from safe to “outlaw” and the way Nashville does business. The old school record companies, artists and songwriters were set in their ways during the 1960’s but missing out on a youthful audience that was buying into the country rock of Bob Dylan, The Byrds and The Eagles. The attitudes and images of these newer performers were in extreme contrast to the twangy country crooners with slicked back hair and business suits that were controlled by record companies specializing in keeping their songs safe and simple for an existing market unwavering in their loyalty.

 Then Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson fought for control over their lyrics, music, recording sessions and images. It hadn’t happened to that extreme in Nashville before and the end result was branded the outlaw movement. Along with many lesser known writers and performers from the era detailed in this book, their career risking efforts laid the foundation for many of today’s most popular country artists.

 As a reader more interested in the rock’n roll landscape at this time, which was the later period of The Beatles, the aftermath of Woodstock and The Rolling Stones‘ Golden Age of early to mid-70’s classic hits, I was barely a casual observer of the outlaws and the Nashville country scene. I read this book to broaden my horizons and even though I understand and appreciate the groundbreaking efforts of these artists, it’s still not a topic that holds much interest for me. That doesn’t mean it’s not a well researched and written book. It is and I commend the author on doing a great job and holding my attention through to the last page. But I think it would be more enjoyable to a true country fan that already knows who Waylon, Willie and Kris are, rather than a curious rock’n roller.

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Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

The “I” In The Title Says It All

Pete Townshend BookPete Townshend’s memoir is exactly as titled: Who ‘I’ Am. In other words, it’s all about Pete. That’s fine – and what a memoir is normally about. But Townshend has never been a major solo icon (sorry fan club members). Yes, he’s had solo success as a writer and artist, but is known best as a member of The Who. His greatest triumphs – Tommy, Woodstock, Quadrophenia and sold-out tours were as part of a group. A very famous group that is recognizable for the “sound” they created together, sold millions of records, and is in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But in this book, his band mates are barely more than extras in the background. Townshend spends more time describing his boats and the audio equipment in his many home-based recording studios, instead of (for instance) meeting John Entwistle (a childhood friend), major disagreements with Roger Daltry (except once describing how Roger knocked him out), and more insights into the joys and frustrations that had to be daily events while working with the self-destructive Keith Moon.

Again, it is Townshend’s story and he’s very frank and honest in telling it. His mental state and musical muse always seem to be in question. He also talks about his battles with alcohol, drugs, relationships and sex. But mostly it’s about his creative process. The results were always more artistic and ambitious in comparison to projects by most of his pop / rock peers. But the leader of one of the world’s top rock bands (that position would be argued by Roger Daltry) should be expected to shine more light on the artistic and creative project – The Who – that made him famous in the first place.

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Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Well Written and Researched

Pink Floyd BookI’ve been a long time fan of Pink Floyd, but admittedly not a hard core fan. This book is well researched and serves as a decent historical account of one of the most popular and innovative bands in rock. But I feel the author had an uphill battle with this one.

One of the mysteries about Pink Floyd were the members themselves. Their photos rarely if ever appeared on album covers – and stage effects and props were the actual stars, relegating the members to the roles of background musicians at their own concerts. This was proven later in the band’s career when Roger Waters – the creative genius behind The Wall and many other Floyd classics – was easily replaced during the band’s highest grossing tours of the 1980’s and 9o’s.

The casual fan could relate more if the main characters were as familiar as John, Paul, George and Ringo. Or even Mick and Keith. The members of Pink Floyd stayed out of the spotlight, which means the author has to build a connection between the group and the reader.

He succeeds, but at the same time left this reader wanting more. The real meat of the Pink Floyd story is the battle of wills and nerves between Waters and David Gilmore. The lawsuits and bad-mouthing are all here, though it does get tedious and long-winded at times.

But the real heart of this book is the tragic story of band founder Syd Barrett. There have been books solely written about Barrett and this one details his drug-induced mental state with appearances and sightings throughout the band’s career until his death. The band owed everything to this fragile genius and never forgot it. These encounters and reports were the most interesting parts of this book. I wish there had been more of this story, but then again – maybe there wasn’t more.

In all I enjoyed reading. But it wasn’t the must read tale that kept me picking it up at every opportunity. For that reason, it took longer to read than a best-selling thriller. It was an informative journey through the youthful psychedelic 1960’s in England and into the big money world of corporate and stadium rock.

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Bowie: A Biography by Marc Spitz

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Revealing and Great Detective Work

Bowie BookIt’s very clear how much work the author put into researching this book. It seems he left no moon rock unturned or space capsule unexplored (thanks to Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust for the references). It wasn’t all smooth reading, but the parts that were – Bowie’s rise to fame and superstar status – seemed to breeze by at warp speed.

Bowie is interesting and confusing. It’s what sets him apart from other rock stars of his generation. The author met the challenge of finding him in this book. But after reading I still don’t feel I completely know who he is as a person and artist. But then again I doubt too many people outside of Bowie’s inner circle really do.

The tone and depth of this book seems to change as much as Bowie’s on stage persona’s. The book deserves a five star rating when it goes into the Bowie legend and history, especially in his early days as an artist and his struggles and efforts to make it. Then it propels us into the heady days of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. And beyond through London, Berlin, Geneva, Los Angeles, New York… It’s Bowie and though he’s like a chameleon, the author gives us at least an understanding of him

But the book becomes bogged down in attempting to dissect and understand Bowie’s artistry as a songwriter and performer. I thought it was distracting not only to mention every song on every album, but also a description of the music and suspected meanings. Okay, we can get that online just by doing a search for each particular song. As a reader I would have rather skipped the nonessential details and dig deeper into more about Bowie and how his life helped him develop these songs.

Still I enjoyed it and for every Bowie fan this is an important read. A must read? That depends on how deep your fandom goes.

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What You Want Is in the Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born by Michael Walker

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

From Pop To Rock

LimoThis was light reading about a heavy year in rock. Focusing on 1973, the author makes a pitch for this being the pivotal year of pop stars morphing into “rock stars.” This theory leaves out Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who were all established “rock stars” by any standards at the end of 1969.

But it’s easy to understand the author’s point of view and go with it. By 1973 it wasn’t just The Rolling Stones that could fill arenas and stadiums anymore; The Who, Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper (the band) had joined the club. These are the BIG three bands (the Stones toured the year before behind Exile On Main Street) covered in this book with details about their (arguably) career defining albums and mega-tours within those twelve months.

The LP’s are The Who’s Quadrophenia, Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, and Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies. Again, arguments can be made for Tommy, Led Zeppelin IV and Killer as career-definers. But that’s just personal taste. As someone who saw all three of these legendary bands live during this peak in their popularity, I enjoyed the author’s research as he describes the recording and touring processes with an insider point of view.

Most of the details about The Who and Led Zeppelin were really nothing new for fans. We’re familiar with the basic characters and stories from previous books and documentaries. It was much more compelling to follow the Alice Cooper band as the once loyal friends dealt with their monster success, over-excesses, musicianship, and watching the band splintering apart as they create Billion Dollar Babies. When the other members of the band woke up to the reality around them, it must have been like a scene from Welcome To My Nightmare to realize Vincent Furnier had legally changed his name to Alice Cooper and could launch a successful solo career while the others fell into obscurity.

Fans of any combination of these bands will enjoy this book. It’s also a good telling of the rock scene in 1973 for pop culture enthusiasts. I will say the cover and title are misleading. It’s not all about sex, drugs, booze and riding around with groupies in a limo, though those aspects of the story are not hidden. This one is mostly about the rock personalities and their music that made 1973 a very cool year to be a rock fan.

Oh, and as far as the title… It’s not mentioned “between the covers” of this book, but from one Classic Rocker to another – if you’re familiar with David Bowie’s song Fame (with John Lennon on backing vocals) you can sing along.

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A Girl Called Dusty by Sharon Davis

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

A Good Overview, But Not Definitive

Dusty BookDusty Springfield is my favorite female singer and has been since I first heard her soulful voice. I’ve watched her black and white TV appearances from England’s Ready, Steady, Go in the 1960’s with her high hair, heavy makeup and wondered what she was really like. This book gave me some of the answers, but wasn’t as definitive as I’d hoped.

It goes into detail about her recordings and song choices, and also her deep love for Motown and soul music. But I would have loved to know more about the girl and the woman herself.

The ending of this book, which is also the end of Dusty’s life, is beautifully written and it’s obvious the author had a strong connection with her. It sums up what she meant to the world of popular music and the influence she had on everyone who has ever listened to her unique and fabulous voice.

For that reason alone it’s a book worth reading.

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The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions On the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Beatles vs Rolling StonesI enjoyed this book – seriously. It was fun and a quick read. Was it completely accurate? Not always (Ticket To Ride was 1965 – not ’64 guys!) but it doesn’t matter. It had a feel good attitude throughout and I found it easy to go with the flow.

I’m not familiar with the duo authors or their rock’n roll radio show. I used the links at the end of the book to visit their websites and it’s obvious they have a passion for music and know what they’re talking about.

To an extent…

My only real criticism about their comparison between the two greatest groups in the history of rock’n roll is that they’re looking at it all in hindsight. It’s not their fault – they were just born too late.

It would be like a baby-boomer talking about World War II based on watching The History Channel or reading books. Yes, that’s how you learn about these things, but a guy who actually lived through it would have a better perspective than those of us not even born at the time.

It’s the same with the authors’ perspectives on the 1960s. They can match member against member, record against record – but miss the emotions and feelings of the decade. You had to be there. The Beatles were not the clean-cut smiling Fabs at first. Their hair and music were shocking and threatening to the older generation. A Hard Day’s Night smoothed that image out a bit for parental approval. When The Rolling Stones came over months later, they had to use a full-blown PR assault to be considered “badder than The Beatles.” Those of us who were the first generation fans will remember that.

When the authors were just coming of age in rock’n roll (late 70’s) The Beatles had already broken up. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were the bad boys they saw on MTV and filling stadiums. But in the 1960s they were always a step behind The Fab Four. The LP Their Satanic Majesties Request, which is praised in this book was in reality a low rent Sgt. Pepper wannabe released almost six months after The Summer of Love.

Don’t get me wrong – I love The Stones!! But they really didn’t become The Stones until after The Beatles split.

Still, the authors gave us a very entertaining book. And even if you were born too late and wondering what all the fuss is about, this is a good place to start.

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Mick Jagger by Philip Norman

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

Jagger Almost Revealed, But Not Quite

Jagger BookThe author has done a very good job researching and uncovering new details about Mick Jagger. But it turns out – for this reader anyway – that Jagger’s life appears to be too BIG just for this book. When you’re writing about the front man of The Rolling Stones, who’ve been the world’s most famous rock stars for 50 plus years, it’s tough to include every detail. But Norman includes most.

Some of the details are new to me, but others were big news stories that helped shape the legend of The Rolling Stones. Drug busts, death, violence, mega-hit records, women, children and even Knighthood. And in fact, a running joke through the book is that Jagger had to return a big-money publishing advance to write his memoirs – claiming he couldn’t remember much. According to the author, so many events and milestones that made up his life were so outrageous and headline making that it would be impossible for anyone to forget. But that’s just an example of what makes Jagger still a bit of a mystery.

In interviews he remains vague and secretive about much of his private and even professional, Rolling Stones life. He could be with a woman for years, have children together, and still make it seem in public as if they’re just good friends.

I enjoyed this book. When I mention the subject as being too big – it means the entire scope of Jagger’s career simply includes too many milestone events and other interesting facts that could have been examined in more detail. One of my favorite Stones public relations move was when the band announced the 1975 U.S. tour by performing Brown Sugar on a flatbed trunk in Manhattan. In this book it wasn’t even mentioned.

And though the decline and death of Brian Jones and the tragedy that occurred at Altamont in 1969 are told in detail, the violence and drug haze that surrounded the 1972 Exile On Main Street tour seems glossed over in favor of rehashing the story that writer Truman Capote (too old) brought Jackie O’s sister (too unknown) to meet the band. No Stones fan at that time really cared about Capote or Princess Lee – and we still don’t.

But those are very minor omissions and probably only noticeable to a Stones fan like myself. For a good overview of the life of one of the most famous and notorious rock stars of all time (only Elvis, John Lennon and Paul McCartney could top Mick in that category) I recommend this book.

Amazon.com

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Jimi Hendrix: The True Story of Jimi Hendrix by Sharon Lawrence

Rating: FOUR Classic Rock Stars

A Rock’n Roll Tragedy and Courtroom Drama

Jimi Hendrix BookThis book ranges from really good (first half) to being dragged down into a story of greed and courtroom drama (second half). It’s made clear the author’s relationship to Hendrix is as a needed friend. She pops in and out of his short life as someone he could talk with as his world exploded in fame, excess, and dealing with everyone and anyone who wanted a piece of the financial pie.

At times I was reminded of Philip Norman’s book, Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation with conversations written as if they actually happened in those very words. Maybe they did – I don’t know for certain. But it had been almost 40 years since his death that this book was written and unless these conversations were recorded (no where does it say they were) the author is relying on memory. That’s a long time ago…

I also felt some sugar-coating in this version of his story. Yes, everyone interviewed remembers Hendrix as a sweet and gentle, pure musician dedicated to his creativity and music. Though sex, drugs and a rock’n roll lifestyle is mentioned, that side of him is not what this book is about.

The author is also very convincing in relating how Hendrix died. What she describes can only come from someone within the inner circle. It was such a waste of talent and you can feel her anger and hurt in the writing.

The second half of this book takes place after his death. The author’s research is mind-blowing (which also describes what he did to the music scene in the late 1960’s) in detail about the greed and legal battles between the Hendrix family, his assumed family, and seemingly, just about anyone who had some type of business contact with him personally, or only with his legend and music.

It’s not a happy story, but I found it interesting and insightful in many ways. As someone who really didn’t know much about Jimi Hendrix, the first half was a must-read and the pages flew by quickly. The second half was another story – and not a pretty one.

In all I enjoyed this book and learned more about an artist whose influence is still being felt four decades later. I’m sure most Hendrix fans will agree.

Amazon.com

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The Band: Pioneers of Americana Music by Craig Harris

Rating: THREE AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

An Overview Of The Group That Was The Band

51Ss7--DA3LAt times it seemed this book was more about Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan than it was about the musicians in The Band. Both Hawkins and Dylan were important factors in the group’s formation and popularity, but I finished wanting to know more about the individual Band members.

I guess this can be justified by the actual length of time The Band was together. The classic line-up responsible for the hit songs, albums and film The Last Waltz, was short-lived. Their groupings and re-groupings as The Hawks (backing Hawkins), hooking up with Dylan, retreat from New York City to Woodstock, and developing their Americana back-to-the-roots music is the heart of the story. It was also about their musicianship. It’s made very clear that while other artists in the late 60’s and early 70’s were wind milling, posing and jiving onstage, The Band was more interested in keeping their showmanship on low voltage to concentrate on playing good music.

There were insights on each member, though as mentioned I would’ve liked more. Of particular interest was Levon Helm’s anger toward Robbie Robertson for being cut out of songwriting credits and having the rug pulled out from under The Band’s career when Robertson and film director Martin Scorsese staged The Last Waltz. The all-star concert and hit film marked the end of The Band. According to Helm, the concept was Robertson’s idea as a way to leave the group, even though the other members weren’t ready or agreeable to it.

The remainder of the book concentrated on the members’ solo careers and various attempts at reforming without Robertson, their chief songwriter. Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson are each  worthy of his own book, or at least an individual chapter in this one. Every song ever recorded by the members seemed to be listed, along with many musicians in The Band’s circle that were major, minor, or unknown except to die-hard fans. Even with some musical knowledge, I found many of the players and circumstances to be somewhat confusing and skimmed over these segments.

In all, this is a decent overview of The Band and their music. It’s not a definitive biography, but worth reading if you’re already a fan.

Amazon.com

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Seeing The Light: Inside the Velvet Underground by Rob Jovanovic

Rating: THREE AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

Shined Some Light on the Band

Velvet UndergrounThe Velvet Underground was one of the most influential bands for the avant-garde and punk rockers to emerge from the streets of lower Manhattan and into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But they’ve always remained a bit of an enigma when compared to the breakthrough artists that followed. These include Blondie, The Talking Heads and The Ramones, who picked up where The Velvets left off and went on to international fame.

The Velvet Underground never really got there on the popularity charts, but left their mark. To paraphrase a popular quote from Brian Eno to describe the group, “The Velvet Underground may have only sold 30,000 copies of their first album, but every person that bought it started a band.”

I never really knew much about the group except they were part of Andy Warhol’s NYC Factory scene in the mid to late 1960’s and covered by David Bowie (White Light/White Heat). They were pretty much finished by the early ’70s and I’m pretty sure I had no idea Lou Reed was one of the founders of the band when I first heard Walk On The Wild Side. That’s undoubtedly due to my Midwestern upbringing and for not knowing any of the 30,000 people that bought their first album – or any others for that matter.

So this book was read to fill me in on what I had missed. It did the job, but wasn’t the page-turner hoped for. The author writes as a dedicated fan and his thorough research examines every studio, live and bootleg recording that (seemingly) exists from the group’s days together and apart. But unless you already know the songs, it’s tempting to skim over the descriptions and insights about writing and recording. The group’s formation, break-up, replacement members and eventual reunion are also well documented, making that aspect a good history lesson for anyone interested in what this band was all about.

The segments about Warhol’s tenure managing the group and their performances at various New York art scenes make this book worth reading. But once they left his star power my interest seemed to fizzle out. It also left some questions unanswered, in particular the electric shock therapy on Lou Reed that opens the book. The bottom line is that the book didn’t make me run out and buy copy 30,001 of their first album, which is what a good bio usually does for me.

Amazon.com

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Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me by Pattie Boyd and Penny Junior

Rating: THREE AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

Could’ve Been Even More Wonderful

Pattie Boyd coverI really wanted to love this book. Actually, I was in love with Pattie Boyd during the 1960’s and thought it would rekindle this one-sided secret love affair. Ms. Boyd-Harrison-Clapton-Boyd was the blonde cover girl for everything that was fab in the UK during the Beatles’ reign and her hobnobbing with British rock royalty should have made this a page-turning gem. But in some ways I was left wanting more.

Boyd details her life as a young girl growing up in England and Africa, and her feelings of parental abandonment and close ties with her siblings and grandparents. There are also insights into her success as a model as she hits the pavement with her portfolio of fashion photos and rises from work in print to television and her first film appearance. It’s a job that changes her life and one that every Beatles fan reading this book has been waiting for. She’s cast to play a schoolgirl in the film A Hard Day’s Night and meets her first husband, George Harrison.

From there the story more or less skims rather than details. Yes, this is her life story, but her life became entwined with the Beatles’ story. I would’ve enjoyed her insights about dealing with the mania, concerts, recording sessions, movie premiers and other events she was part of, including the night their dentist secretly dosed them with LSD for the first time. There were also a few reminisces that didn’t match up to what was going on. For example she mentions George being on tour in 1967 when fans know their final concert was in August 1966.

Her reasons in leaving her husband for his best friend Eric Clapton are explained, and also dealing with his addiction to drugs and alcohol. But again, she left this reader wanting more. For instance, Harrison not only attended their wedding but also jammed with former Beatles Paul and Ringo. That was headline-worthy news when it happened, but wasn’t even mentioned. And as the bride – she was there.

I’ve read this book twice. The first was when it came out in 2008 and again six years later. The second time around reinforced my opinion that Boyd has much more to share. And I’m not talking about dirt or scandalous stories. That’s already in the book with her marriages to two best friends. But as someone who shared her life with two musicians that were major players in pop culture history, I hope she gives us a second chance by writing volume two. Combined with this one I think it would be a fab story. I already know I’d read it twice.

Amazon.com

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My Appetite for Destruction: Sex, and Drugs, and Guns N’ Roses by Steven Adler and Lawrence J. Spagnola

Rating: THREE AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

A BIG Appetite Causes A BIG Downfall

Steven AdlerI look at this book two ways: It gives an intimate and in depth insider look at a rock star’s life. It’s amazing, unreal and full of all the excesses you’ve only heard about and what most rock star books will gloss over. Others may not admit to the hardcore sex, drugs and rock’n roll lifestyle. They’ll hint at it, but not confess. Adler goes all out in this one and takes no prisoners. He names names, places and what happened. And it’s not pretty. This is a grungy trip through numerous addictions – drugs, alcohol, sex and fame. Seems he would do anything at anytime and not worry about the consequences. But that’s what came back and kicked his butt in the end – he didn’t know when to stop.

For G&R fans this might all be old information. These guys were huge when their debut album Appetite For Destruction came out, but they blew it. This is only Adler’s side of the story and it’s surprising he can remember any of it.

I also have to look at this book in another way. I want to just rate it on how it held my interest – and it did. Chapters were divided into short little bursts of unbelievable screw-ups and it turned out to be a fast and easy read. But I can’t say I’m a fan of Adler’s – sorry. The “party, party, party” stuff would be more than annoying after a short time and without money and drugs I don’t think he’d be the most popular kid on the block. That he got kicked-out of the biggest druggie band of their era says a lot.

But I’m not rating this on a personal level. It’s a book about a guy who makes it big and loses it all through addiction and it’s a compelling story. It’s also dark and seedy. If you’re into Guns N’ Roses or want a lesson book on what NOT to do if you become a famous rock star, then check this out. If you’re not into a walk on the wild side, take your reading appetite into different direction.

Amazon.com

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Standing in the Wings: The Beatles, Brian Epstein and Me by Joe Flannery

Rating: THREE AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

Well written, but not what I expected

Joe Flannery BookI really wanted to like this book. I really did. I found myself rooting for Flannery, but to my disappointment it never really sprouted “Wings” and took off. Then again, that could just be my problem because maybe I was expecting too much.

Since this book came out I’ve been hearing how Flannery was a big part of the Beatles story. But I was never familiar with him. Many of the band’s other associates have claimed their spots in Beatles history over the decades. There are even a few interchangeable hanger-on’s who’ve written books that offer at least some new insights into the well-known story. So I was very interested in finding out more about Flannery and how he fit into the Beatles story.

The book is very well written, but couldn’t sustain my interest. For dedicated Beatles fans, you can skip the entire first half. And even when the Fab Four make an appearance, it seems very brief and only during the very early part of their career. Brian Epstein is focused on more because of his friendship with Flannery as youths, but the main pop star of this story is the author’s brother Lee Curtis and his band The All-Stars.

Never heard of them? They didn’t make it over during the British Invasion of 1964 and the author gives plenty of reasons why. Personally I don’t know any of his recordings, so interest in his career is minimal.

There are highlights in this book that Beatles fans will find interesting. The true story behind the sacking of drummer Pete Best and the vivid descriptions of the scene in Hamburg, Germany during the time these young English bands were paying their dues. But again, it’s with Lee Curtis and not John, Paul, George and Pete (later Ringo).

Also confusing is the title. There is no mention of the band Wings even though the cover has a photo of Paul and Linda McCartney.

This is more the story of Flannery’s life than another Beatles tome and if you can get into it you’ll root for his success against an alcoholic father, various business undertakings and the narrow minded prejudice he (and Brian Epstein and many to this day) had to deal with in life.

Again, I really wanted to like this book, but it didn’t live up to my expectations.

Amazon.com

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AC/DC: High-Voltage Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Ultimate Illustrated History by Phil Sutcliffe

Rating: THREE AND A HALF Classic Rock Stars

A Good Introduction To AC/DC

AC-DC Book CoverThis was a good basic overview of the band AC/DC, but really didn’t go too deep into any aspects of the members’ personalities. Since the book wasn’t hyped as a definitive biography, I guess that shouldn’t have been expected or a surprise. So to be honest, I really don’t know much more about the group than I did before reading.

Instead it was billed as the ultimate illustrated history. The illustrations include a lot of flyers, posters, tickets and cover images of AC/DC album and single releases from various countries. Like many groups including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones early in their careers, AC/DC had different album covers depending on where they were released. Some were basically the same or very similar with different coloring or in many cases, different cartoon illustrations. Others were completely different, which made comparisons interesting.

I would’ve requested more rare shots of the band on stage and off with both Bonn Scott and Brian Johnson. And like I said, it gave a decent overview of these guys and more so deservedly, the Young brothers Angus and Malcom who started the band and keep it rolling. Each disk and song were also reviewed and remembered. But since the focus was on illustrated I hate to admit (and this is a callback folks) that I don’t know much more about how the group looked at different stages of their long career than I did before reading.

Though diehard fans would probably want more, this was a good introduction to the band. It’ll make you want to expand your collection of AC/DC disks and scream along with Bonn and Brian, but I consider it to be the warm-up act for a definitive biography.

Amazon.com

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Myths: The True Stories Behind the Most Infamous Legends by Gary Graff and Daniel Durcholz

RATING: THREE and a HALF Classic Rock Stars

Rollin’ Away The Myths

Rock'n Roll Myths CoverLike a two and a half minute blast of classic pop rock, this was a fun experience. Not too heavy and not too deep – just short blasts of rock’n roll myth-buster info researched by the two authors. Some of the legends have already been debunked (no, Paul is still not dead and Rod Stewart never serviced the fleet), while others can still be questioned (what’s the bloody truth Keef and KISS?). Rock fans of all ages will find their favorite myths are included, and cross the generation gap by reading up on acts they really know nothing about. In some cases, thanks to this book, they’ll know the myths before the music.

Each myth is a short story, which makes this a good book to pick up and put down when the mood and schedule fits. A great source of conversation starters when hanging around with your rock’n roll know-it-all pals. With this resource, you’ll know it all.

Amazon.com

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Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways by Evelyn McDonnell

RATING: THREE and a HALF Classic Rock Stars

Teenage Rock Girls Gone Wild

Runaways I had to take some time after finishing this book to let it soak in. If you’re a diehard fan of The Runaways, it is definitely written for you. For the rest of us it’s a researched look into a 1970’s rock group that is best remembered for its all-teenage girl lineup and as a launching pad for Rock Hall of Famer Joan Jett.

The author thoroughly covers the practically revolving door of members that came and went, including Lita Ford (heavy metal) and Cherie Currie (films), who both went on to have showbiz careers. There is also focus on the various bass players that never seemed to fit in with the hard partying core of the group, and the eventual tragic ending of hard core partying drummer, Sandy West. Along with their backgrounds, family situations and music, there is plenty of booze, drugs and sex that is also part of The Runaways legacy.

But the main player in this story of “teenage rock girls gone wild” is their manager, creator and puppeteer, Kim Fowley. He’s depicted as a sinister character and villain mastermind on the Hollywood music scene who acted as a casting director in putting the girls together. The Runaways was his idea, but he ended up losing control. In a way (and Runaway fans won’t like this) it was reminiscent of how The Monkees were cast for television in the mid-1960’s and broke away from the musical supervision of Don Kirshner – only with a much harder edge.

I can’t truly say I enjoyed the book, but that’s probably because I’m not a Runaways fan and only picked it up at a library for casual reading. Like most rock fans I had at least heard of them, but hadn’t listened to their music and knew nothing about the individual members other than Jett. Now I do. If you’re a fan, by all means read and enjoy. If you’re not, this book won’t turn you into one.

Amazon.com

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Everybody Must Get Stoned: Rock Stars on Drugs by R.U. Sirius

RATING: THREE Classic Rock Stars

Falls through the cracks of the generation gaps

71XMzwkdtOL._SL1217_Is this a bad book? No. Is it a fun book? Yeah. But held up against the deeply researched and page turning worthy books that earn and deserve five star reviews, this is like comparing a television sitcom to a five star epic movie.

The book lists what rock stars did drugs, what drugs, and rankings for each drug with the winner being the rock star that did the most. There are also side trips, such as a chapter on just The Beatles on drugs and a list of rock stars against drugs.

As might be expected, Keith Richards seemed to be the most named druggie, with Lou Reed nailing more mention than past tabloid headlines would’ve predicted. Sir Paul McCartney’s predilection for weed is reviewed and confirmed. The main problem for me personally, a reader that definitely fits into the baby boomer and classic rock subdivision of rock’n roll, was lack of knowledge about many of the main players. With zero interest in hip-hop and rap, many of the artists scoring on the various lists were unknown to me.

So if I had to come up with a real criticism, it would be the wide range of audience this book aims to please. If you’re up on your rock, punk, new wave, country, hip-hop, and rap stars from the 1950s to 2009 (when this book was released) you’ll probably enjoy reading it a lot more than I did. But if you’re stuck in your personal generational gap (older or younger – it doesn’t matter), then you may not know half the listed artists on the various “who’s taking what” lists.

Fun book? Yeah, it’s a fun way to spend time while hanging around the airport or a waiting room. With short sections and lists, it’s easy to put down and pick up again later without going through withdrawal.

Amazon.com

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Ain’t Too Proud to Beg: The Troubled Lives and Enduring Soul of the Temptations by Mark Ribowsky

Rating: THREE Classic Rock Stars

Tempting… But Turned Into A Ball Of Confusion

Temptations BookThe Temptations never fail to bring back great memories of Motown in its prime. The Supremes are always billed as the top group in Berry Gordy’s stable of acts from the mid 1960’s, but The Temptations were the soul of the label. David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks were the voices that put the act at the top of the R&B and pop charts, while Otis Williams was the glue that held them together. Melvin Franklin and Paul Williams were just as valuable in forming the classic line-up and Dennis Edwards was the voice that kept them going into the 1970’s.

If this book had only concentrated on those personalities, their relationships with each other and career with Motown, it would be a must read for all music fans. Instead it’s the music that made it more of a confusing read – and who would’ve ever thought that would be a problem for any project dealing with The Temptations?

There are insights about almost every song recorded by the group. And with a history nearing a half century, it’s too much. Sticking with the greatest hits – or even putting their career in perspective by also mentioning not so greatest hits would have been enough. As a reader, I would have liked this book to concentrate mostly on the men who made up The Temptations.

It’s there – don’t get me wrong. But readers must go through too many song details to find it. Each member of the classic line-up is worthy of a biography. The highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies, massive egos and personal despair are all here. And it’s not sugar coated. It also sets the record straight when compared to the 1990’s movie that relied on too much creative license.

The most interesting, of course, is David Ruffin. Blessed with massive talent and showmanship, he runs through this book like a drug-crazed madman bent on self destruction. Kendricks and Paul Williams also ride a roller coaster of success and failure, while Otis and Melvin hang on for dear life. The villain in this is Berry Gordy. The group simmers with anger over money and career direction, but could never find the same success without their close ties to Motown.

That in itself should be the story. Much of their music is classic and no story about The Temptations would be complete without mentioning it. It’s just that this book shouldn’t have mentioned ALL of it.

Amazon.com

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Beatles: Every Little Thing by Maxwell MacKenzie

Rating: THREE Classic Rock Stars

Enjoyable…

Beatles Everything BookI see this book has been out for quite awhile, but since I only just got around to reading it I feel compelled to review it as Something New, (U.S. Beatles album title – did you know that?). Most of the information in this book was either already known by loyal Beatles fans before publication, or easily found in other sources. It was still a very enjoyable book to read for Beatles fans. If you’re not a fan, I highly doubt you would get through it. It would be like a non-baseball fan trying to read the Baseball Encyclopedia.

Since this book was read in locations such as on a treadmill or in various waiting rooms, etc… I wasn’t able to keep exact notes or page numbers about this matter, but I did catch myself a few times questioning the validity of dates for certain events. As a Beatles fan who does know a lot about the group, I know there were mistakes.

But again – as a Beatles fan – I enjoyed it.

Amazon.com

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Linda Ronstadt – A Life in Music by Peter Lewry

Rating: TWO Classic Rock Stars

Disregard “A Life” in the title

71tOVoFTl0L._SL1500_Not what I expected at all. Then again, maybe that’s my problem. I should’ve taken the title literally when it said “In Music.” I also would’ve had to completely ignore the first two words, “A Life.”

Linda Ronstadt was a talent that stood out in what I remember as a male-dominated rock’n roll scene from the late 1960’s and into the 70’s. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper were the rock’n roll innovators, while Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Jackson Browne and The Band were giving country influences a rockin’ edge. This was pre-disco and Ronstadt was the female voice of both rock and country rock. She sang like no one else, and her remakes of classics by Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry gave these songs new life and exposure to a newer generation.

This book examines Ronstadt’s music, but that’s pretty much it. I know nothing more about her as a person than I did before reading. The author’s research appears to be scanning record labels and album liner notes, and repeating them. Quotes from past interviews and articles give brief overviews into what Ronstadt might have been doing in her career, but nothing more.

In all honesty I couldn’t finish this book. You can only read the backs of so many album covers until it’s time to move onto something of more substance. Before I was halfway through that’s exactly what I did.

Two stars are given for the diehard Ronstadt fan that desires to reread the track listings for songs on her albums. For insights into her career journey, influences and life, it’s best advised to look elsewhere.

Amazon.com

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Bob Dylan: A Biography by Sally Barber

Rating: ONE Classic Rock Star

Dylan’s entire life and career in under 30 pages

Bob DylanYou’re kidding me – right? I scored this book on Kindle from the library, so only time and not money was wasted. I also had no idea – being an eBook and no way to be forewarned by lack of pages – that there would be no real substance. This was no more than a pamphlet or flyer about one of the most relevant artists of our time with a career that has now surpassed half a century.

I gave it a ONE rating only because it could serve as an overview for the uninitiated Dylan novice. If you have a school book report due and Dylan fits the topic, but Cliff’s Notes aren’t available – you just scored too. This will tell you where he’s from, his real name and list of albums. Hope that’s all you need, because that’s about all you’ll get.

I read at the end (because I still needed something to do for the rest of the hour) this was hyped as a Hyperlink book.  Basically their policy is just an excuse to cut and paste online content or brief segments from other books to create this type of format. For anyone who wants to learn more about Bob Dylan, just go online and search. It would be a lot less frustrating than reading this.

No link to purchase from Amazon.com. I wouldn’t do that to you…

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CLASSIC LAUGHS WITH CLASSIC COMICS!!

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Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin

Rating: FIVE Classic Laughs

An Insider’s Look at The King of Late Night Television

41JlvR0dUaLAuthor Henry Bushkin was Johnny Carson’s lawyer and in Carson’s own words, “best friend” during the ‘70s and ‘80s. As host of The Tonight Show for thirty years beginning in 1962 Carson’s legions of dedicated fans stayed awake to laugh and be entertained by The King of Late Night Television. Each night he would swing from being the comedian or straight man, depending on jokes, bits and celebrity guests.

This book takes readers beyond The Tonight Show and into his personal life with first hand insights and experiences. Bushkin’s introduction to Carson sets the tone and will keep fans interested – and reading – through to the end.

It’s been known to fans for a long time that Carson was a complex personality. Outgoing and talkative on network television; reserved and very protective of his privacy off-camera, this book gives an insider’s view into his private life. Bushkin writes about Carson’s career and business dealings, relationships with other celebrities, wives, children, drinking, womanizing, run-ins with the Mafia (with Frank Sinatra usually nearby), vacations, tennis, and demand for loyalty from everyone involved. The best part is that he doesn’t always come off as the villain. He has faults as we all do, but a life in the spotlight magnifies everything he did – even if it’s only being late for a party filled with A-list celebrities waiting to rub shoulders and engage in small talk with him. But the bottom line is that he also had the talent and drive to fend off anyone with the slightest aspiration to assume his late night pedestal until he was ready to leave on his own terms.

It’s a page-turner, which makes this an interesting and fun book. While acting as his lawyer and friend, no one knew Johnny like Bushkin. You’ll also know more about him after reading.

Amazon.com

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My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke

Foreword by Carl Reiner

Rating: FIVE Classic Laughs

On stage and behind the scenes with an entertainer for all generations

Dick Van Dyke Book CoverI can’t imagine a baby boomer that doesn’t like Dick Van Dyke. What’s gone down as The Golden Age Of Television Comedy was basically before our time. Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner with Your Show of Shows, Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater, Jackie Gleason and Art Carney in The Honeymooners, and Lucy and Desi with I Love Lucy were all shows from the late 1940’s to the early and mid-1950’s. It was before our time and we only know them, similar to later generations of comedy fans, from reruns.

Rob Petrie from The Dick Van Dyke Show was ours. And unlike other television dads and husbands at the time, such as Ozzie Nelson and Ward Cleaver, he was hysterically funny. Supported by Mary Tyler Moore as wife Laura and a brilliant cast of actors and writers, the series is still in reruns and gaining younger fans more than half a century later.

This is Dick Van Dyke’s story and you can’t help but like him even more after reading. Life wasn’t all “Rosie” (with a nod to his love interest as Albert Peterson in the hit Broadway show and film Bye Bye Birdie) but he knows he’s led a charmed life and fills us in as if we were guests in the Petrie’s living room.

Giving much credit to his success to the “genius” of Carl Reiner, who created The Dick Van Dyke Show and wrote the book’s foreword, Van Dyke takes us from the small towns of Indiana, local radio and television, onto the lights of Broadway and Hollywood fame and fortune. It’s an interesting and engaging story without any scandal thrown in just to keep tabloid fans interested. He warns in the beginning there would be no dirt uncovered. He’s a family guy who specializes in family entertainment and there is nothing to expose that he hasn’t already discussed in interviews and during his public charity efforts to help others.

His struggles with alcohol and cigarettes are discussed honestly, though I felt his take on the affair that ended his marriage was a bit one-sided with numerous reasons why he let it happen. But in the end it resulted in a relationship that was very loving, caring and happy for a man that had given us so much happiness. He never abandoned his family or first wife for that matter, caring for her until her death. Through it all he stays positive sharing his values and faith – and his admitted “luck” for a career that has lasted more than sixty years and is still going.

I’ve got news for you – it takes more than luck. Van Dyke’s talent and energy seem endless throughout.

In addition to The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bye Bye Birdie and his later hit series, Diagnosis Murder, fans of the all time classic movie Mary Poppins will enjoy his insights into working with Walt Disney, the writers and the production process. He’s a show business icon for our generation and beyond, and his story is worth reading.

Amazon.com

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I Stooged to Conquer: The Autobiography of the Leader of the Three Stooges by Moe Howard

Rating: FIVE Classic Laughs

The brains of the operation

Moe HowardAm I a knucklehead for enjoying this book? Soy-tan-lee…NOT! Moe Howard (Moses Horwitz), the head Stooge with the pre-Beatles haircut, completed this autobiography just before he passed away in 1975. It’s a loving and informative journey recalling his private life and career that took him from Vaudeville and Broadway to films and unexpected superstardom (yes, it’s true fans) when the baby boomer generation went slapstick crazy over the trio when their short films were featured on kid’s television shows in the 1950s and ’60s.

Moe’s story is like watching a restored black and white film about a young boy growing up in Brooklyn, New York in the early 1900’s. It’s a vivid picture of life at that time – going to school, surviving bullies (his mother refused to cut his hair, so his “Stooge look” was a lot shorter in comparison) and falling in love with performing and show business. Showbiz history fans will enjoy his memories of breaking into the business on small local stages and teaming with his older brother Shemp (Samuel) to break into Vaudeville. During their countless small time, cross-country tours they met Larry Fine and played second-fiddles to star Ted Healy. Eventually a money dispute with Healy caused Shemp to go solo and their younger brother Curly (Jerome) took his slot.

But it’s not all showbiz since Moe was even more devoted to his wife and two children as he was to making audiences laugh. The laughs are there, but you feel the heartache in his writing when Curly and Shemp (who rejoined the act after Curly’s stroke) pass away, followed by the elation of sudden fame from early television. With Joe Besser and then “Curly” Joe DeRita, The Three Stooges moved into feature films and personal appearances with popularity similar to rock stars. In their golden years they continued to work until Larry’s stroke brought an end to the act and once again you can feel Moe’s loss.

This is a 2013 re-release of his book Moe Howard & The Three Stooges and includes a new introduction by his daughter. No one could deliver a poke in the eye, a slap in the face or throw a pie better than Moe. He also delivered with this book and a firsthand account of why The Three Stooges are still remembered and laughed at all these years later.

Amazon.com

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Hail, Hail, Euphoria!: Presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the Greatest War Movie Ever Made by Roy Blount Jr.

Rating: FOUR Classic Laughs

Hail, Hail The Marx Brothers!

Marx Brothers Duck SoupI’ve been a long time fan of Groucho, Harpo, Chico and yes – even Zeppo. I’ve read many bios and insider reports, so I really appreciate the author’s different outlook in this book. It’s a moment-by-moment review of the classic film Duck Soup, and also includes insider scoop about the brothers that relate to what’s happening on the screen.

Some of the personal Marx info most of us already know – but there was enough I didn’t know about to keep me entertained throughout.

Plus this book is a great reminder of how classic Duck Soup is. One of the greatest anti-war movies of all time. Groucho’s portrayal of a puppet president combined with the insane traits of a mad dictator ruling on whims and fake promises should make this an educational film for future generations studying how the world became so messed up. This should stand the test of time, until Planet of the Apes or The Time Machine become realities.

The ebook had some formatting problems – but nothing that was lasting or distracting. It was a fast read, entertaining and enjoyable.

Amazon.com

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The Importance of Being Ernie by Barry Livingston

Rating: FOUR Classic Laughs

Beyond My Three Sons

ErnieI enjoyed this book more than I expected. The main reason for reading was as a long-ago fan of My Three Sons. I remember following the male Douglas clan through a black and white television screen with Bubb and oldest son Mike. Ernie was the nerdy kid next door. Then he became the youngest son after the oldest took off, never to be heard from again. The series was a family favorite and I wanted to relive that era of fun television from the 1960s.

And I did thanks to Barry Livingston’s memories. But then it became the story of a typecast (as a nerd) child actor trying to beat the odds and establish a successful acting career as an adult. Many don’t make it, which is evident at the beginning and end of the book, but Livingston kept going. Along the way he falls into a few Hollywood traps that have derailed numerous careers, but he continued.

His journey through New York acting classes, small theaters, dinner theaters, Broadway, films and more television roles were especially interesting and eye-opening for anyone who might think Hollywood “kid” actors have it made. His meetings with Lucille Ball, Elvis and others also gave new insights into these legendary icons from a child’s point of view.

This is the personal story of a young actor every baby-boomer will recognize. It’s also a story about the ups and downs of show business and the hard work it takes to maintain a career if you’re not in the category of Lucy or Elvis. It’s a fun read.

Amazon.com

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Ernie Kovacs & Early TV Comedy by Andrew Horton

Rating: THREE Classic Laughs

Kovacs Without The Fun…

Ernie Kovacs BookAs a card carrying baby boomer, I remember Ernie Kovacs for being outrageous, unpredictable and funny. His shows were considered don’t miss viewing and his characters were… well, different. As it says in this book, the early television pioneers such as Milton Berle and Jack Benny just took their Vaudeville schtick from the live theaters to live television. They were the same acts and characters they had been doing for decades. But Kovacs came along and changed it all. He used television for laughs.

Rather than television simply broadcasting his antics, the medium became his comedy partner. Upside down visuals, off-screen noises, using the camera to make it seem he was talking directly to YOU in your living room, and way more. He was truly an innovative comic genius.

When you think about it, he had us laughing at the simplistic humorous nature of The Nairobi Trio. Could that happen today? I doubt it. But when the apes came on the TV screen everyone in my household and extended family would run into the living room to watch – and laugh.

If he had lived, Kovacs would have been honored by every award show that ever hit prime time – network and cable. He deserves numerous books and praises.

But this book misses that. Yes, it praises Kovacs and his talent, but it reads like a text book. Rather than the fun and joy you would expect from discussing Kovacs’ career and comedy, or the spontaneity he probably would’ve used to personally describe what he did, it delves into the background of too many humor theories (for lack of a better term). There are numerous quotes attributed to other works and very few photos.

You can analyze humor and personal creativity in many different ways. The problem I had with this book was the lack of humor and creativity in doing that.

Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and the author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland.

Copyright 2014, 2015, 2016 – North Shore Publishing

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