Beatles Gear, by Andy  Babiuk (Backbeat Books). Considering how much had been written about virtually every facet of the Beatles when this was published in 2001, you could be forgiven for wondering exactly what yet another coffee table book with the group as its principal subject could offer. That in mind, this might just turn out to be the last great Beatles book. For one aspect of the band that no one had ever examined in great detail was the equipment they used to play concerts and record in the studio. Mark Lewisohn's The Beatles Recording Sessions was a classic study of how they recorded their music in the studio, yet even that didn't get into fine details about the specific guitars, drums, keyboards, amps, etc. they used. Babiuk, himself a musician and guitar expert, undertook remarkably thorough research to trace what the Beatles played and how the equipment came their way, down to looking through old receipts dating from before their rise to fame. In another writer's hands this could have resulted in a dry manual of sorts, but it's actually written in a very entertaining, lucid manner that should interest most general readers, not just gearheads. That's not to say there isn't a lot of gearhead stuff in here, specifying the origination of certain guitar models or the exact construction of certain instruments. Even if you just skim those parts, though, there are plenty of fascinating, little-known stories here: the birth of the famous logo on Ringo's drums, the hustle of guitar manufacturers to get certain lines into the Beatles' hands in the mid-1960s, the remarkably ragged equipment the Beatles suffered with in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and at the most futuristic end, their pioneering use of the Moog synthesizer during the Abbey Road sessions. The text is intelligently sprinkled with first- and second-hand interviews with people who worked with the Beatles in some capacity, or with authorities on certain instruments and equipment the group employed. Hundreds of photos of the band and their instruments, some quite rare, augment the text in this sumptuously designed, large-format volume.

Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan , by Howard  Sounes (Grove Press). If you've read extensively about Dylan, one of the most documented musicians of all time (and for that matter one of the most documented figures in all of popular culture), do you really need another biography, this one running 500 pages? Maybe not, but even Dylanologists will have to admit that they'll probably run across information they've never seen before in this exhaustively researched tome. For those who haven't read a Dylan bio yet, this makes a good starting point, though other bios (specifically ones by Clinton Heylin and Anthony Scaduto) are also highly recommended. Sounes didn't gain the participation of Dylan himself, but he talked to a ton of people who've known and worked with him, from the singer's childhood through the end of the twentieth century. Not many of those interviews are quoted extensively, but as a result you do get a well-rounded perspective of the man, his music, and his background. Some fairly shady areas of his life are not exactly cleared up, but detailed in more depth than they usually have been elsewhere. Among them are the famous 1966 motorcycle accident that put Dylan out of commission for a while; his childhood in Minnesota; the Rolling Thunder revue tour; and his near-secret second marriage. The prose is straightahead and un-flashy, and while some might wish for more color at some points, it reads well and is hard to put down if you're seriously interested in the subject. It also maintains sufficient distance from Dylan's music to offer learned, yet balanced, critiques of his records and the incidents in his personal life that might have fueled his art.

Captain Beefheart: The Biography , by Mike  Barnes (Cooper Square Press). Captain Beefheart isn't the easiest musician to document in biography form, due to the challenging, at times inaccessible reach of his music and the enigmatic, often inscrutable nature of his public pronouncements. This 350-page book is a thoroughly researched and entertaining read, however, and indeed is much easier to follow than Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) is on record or in speech. Beefheart himself, unsurprisingly, did not make himself available to the author for questioning. But Barnes fills in a lot of gaps both through archive quotes and first-hand interviews with many of the musicians that have drifted in and out of his Magic Band, including John French, Bill Harkleroad, Gary Marker, Gary Lucas, Moris Teper, and Eric Drew Feldman. An equal amount of focus is given to all the junctures in his quite long career, from his early doodles with teenage friend Frank Zappa to his beginnings as a blues-rocker through Trout Mask Replica and his erratic 1970s work. A straightforward recount of what happened when -- quite valuable for a career such as Beefheart's, which zigzagged all over the place and has often been distorted by rumor and confusion -- is balanced with astute critical commentary on each of his albums. Space is also given to his post-recording career as a respected painter, though that's only dealt with in the final section. The picture that emerges is that of an insecure artist, often playing intimidating mind games with his band to get the results he wanted, yet also instilling an artistic admiration that made musicians eager to work with him even after being taken advantage of. It also leaves the impression of a man more concerned with acceptance by his listeners than some would expect, but utterly unequipped to navigate the treacherous waters of the musical business, and unable to shape his music into something commercial if he even tried.

Necessity Is...The Early Years of Frank Zappa & the Mothers of the Invention, by Billy  James (SAF). Although there are several books about Zappa, the 1960s years that saw his best work with the Mothers of Invention have never been covered in a thoroughly satisfying manner. This book doesn't do so either, but at least it does shed some light on the creation of his best albums and most interesting tours, albeit through members of the Mothers rather than Zappa himself. The text is largely based around interviews with Mothers of Invention members Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Jimmy Carl Black, Roy Estrada, Motorhead Sherwood, and Buzz Gardner, with Preston and Bunk Gardner contributing especially heavily (there are also insightful extracts from second-hand interviews with Ray Collins and Flo & Eddie). The ex-Mothers have a good number of interesting, at times very entertaining anecdotes about their zany, theatrical stage performances and the challenges of working with taskmaster composer Zappa. There are some stories about the great albums of the period -- Freak Out, Absolutely Free, We're Only In It for the Money, Lumpy Gravy, Uncle Meat -- that clear up some of the chronological and logistical confusion about when and how the records were constructed. What this is still missing, obviously, is a perspective from Zappa himself, who was the most important musician in the group. What's particularly missing is a sense of how he developed so quickly from the bush league producer and R&B musician of the early 1960s into the brilliant satirical songwriter he was by the time of the first Mothers album, and the nitty gritty of the motivations behind his compositions. Though most of the book covers the Mothers of Invention from the mid-1960s through the breakup of their first incarnation in 1969, it also discusses contributions of the '60s Mothers to subsequent Zappa projects, and the Grandmothers band consisting of ex-Mothers of Invention.

Roy Buchanan: American Axe, by Phil  Carson (Backbeat Books). Roy Buchanan was a cult blues-rock guitarist who at times seemed to be studiously avoiding the limelight, not pushing himself or taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by his reputation. It might thus seem to be a feat to construct a 280-page biography of a figure whose past was shadowy, and who even at his most renowned was reticent and even mysterious. Carson does an excellent job in this thoroughly researched biography, written in a manner insightful and entertaining enough to keep even those with a casual interest in Buchanan, or an intense interest in only isolated pockets of his career, absorbed from start to finish. Prior to his emergence as a reasonably successful album act in the 1970s, Buchanan had actually spent about fifteen years on the road with various rock and bar bands. Some of them were very good (particularly rockabilly singer Dale Hawkins's unit), and some of them nothing more than lounge bands that seemed like inexplicable wastes of Buchanan's prodigious talent. This is actually just as interesting a section of the book as the one dealing with his more famous 1970s and 1980s work, bringing to life a time when hotshot guitarists could live from hand to mouth and drift from place to place on America's backroads. Of course, Buchanan had his own self-effacing, unambitious nature to blame for his obscurity, and in large part got his national exposure in the 1970s by capitalizing on a rep as the world's greatest unknown guitarist. That rise to semi-fame is also covered well, and although the author goes rather easy on Buchanan's weaknesses, he does detail Roy's inability to come up with reasonable quantities of original material, shortcomings as a singer, his problems with drinks and drugs, and mercurial moodiness. His controversial death (officially he hung himself in a prison cell, though some doubt he committed suicide) is covered with depth, but not in an exploitative fashion. As to the long-circulated rumor that he turned down a chance to be the Rolling Stones' guitarist, this book doesn't answer it definitively, but in so many words, it points out that it almost certainly didn't happen.

Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century, by Charles  Shaar Murray (St. Martin's Press). The title alone is a sign of this book's major problem: there are too many damn words. Not that you couldn't write a 500-page biography of John Lee Hooker, one of the greatest bluesmen of all time, and one whose recording career stretched over a half century. And there is a lot of good information here, much of it taken from conversations with Hooker himself, at other times from family members and close professional associates, such as guitarist Eddie Kirkland, producer Bernie Besman, and manager Mike Kappus. The problem is that Hooker's career, interesting enough on its own terms, is over-contextualized. The author goes into several digressions, some lasting for lengthy chapters, as to the roots of folk and the blues, and the overriding sociocultural forces that have shaped the blues and its audience, occasionally drawing on other critics' theories and academic philosophy. That has its place in a history of the blues (probably an academic one). But it's distracting and, at worst, annoying for those who want to find out about John Lee Hooker, musician and man. It's a shame this wasn't more tightly edited, for when the text sticks to Hooker's story, it becomes much more readable, at times even moving along very well. There are inside glimpses of Hooker's early Detroit recording sessions, his prime as an R&B artist at Vee-Jay Records, the broadening of his audience with trips to Europe in the 1960s, the remolding of his work for the folk circuit, his collaboration with Canned Heat, and his against-all-odds rise to genuine popular stardom in the 1990s. Unfortunately, even then the writing's peppered with self-referential asides, tangents, and pompous jokes. These are nothing new for those familiar with the Charles Shaar Murray's style, but they're nonetheless sometimes exasperating and even infuriating.

Miles to Go, by Chris  Murphy (Thunder's Mouth Press). Murphy worked as Miles Davis's roadie, and then general road manager, from 1973 to 1976, and then for a while in the early 1980s. This is his memoir of his time with the jazz great, modest in scope and length, but probably of interest to serious Davis fans. Murphy paints a much different portrait of Davis than other biographers have (and Davis himself did in his autobiography), remembering him as a kindly and generous, if irascible and sometimes irritating, musician, man, and employer. Few jazz critics would regard these eras as artistic high points in Davis's career, and arguably Murphy is too generous in his assessment of the music Davis made during them. There are, nonetheless, interesting stories about Davis and his peculiarities, whether his reclusive existence in his dark New York home, his openness to rock music by artists that some might never suspect he ever heard, and his subtle interactions with other musicians as leader of his band. Davis's wife Cicely Tyson comes off poorly, as a selfish and materialistic woman who would freeze the trumpeter's friends out of his circle, though Murphy does note that she had some good influence on him too. There are also quite a few general stories of how life on the road was like working for a popular act during the time that aren't strictly Davis-related, but are reasonably entertaining. The book is well-written and passes quickly, though it seems to have been padded a bit to make the 200-page mark, after which there are a couple inessential appendices of interviews with other people who worked with Davis, and a comparison between Davis and Ernest Hemingway.

Just for a Thrill: Lil Hardin Armstrong, First Lady of Jazz, by James L.  Dickerson (Cooper Square Press).
Lil Hardin Armstrong is primarily remembered as Louis Armstrong's second wife, though actually she was an accomplished early jazz pianist, playing in bands with him in the 1920s. Without her encouragement, there's some doubt as to whether he would have been confident and assertive enough to assume the leadership of his own bands and step out as a star in his own right. A problem with doing a biography of Lil is that she had been dead about 30 years by the time the author undertook the task, and virtually all of her associates were long gone as well. This hasn't prevented Louis Armstrong from being a biographical subject long after his passing, but there are many more vintage source materials to draw from in his case. Still, this is a useful, if modest, work that will be appreciated by jazz scholars and Louis Armstrong aficionados. Dickerson illustrates, without hectoring, how much Lil influenced her husband personally and musically. As many details of her fuzzy early life in Memphis and Chicago are filled in as are available, and her relationship with Louis, which after extremely intimate beginnings quickly declined into remote separateness, is gone over in considerable detail. To his credit, Dickerson does not neglect Lil Hardin Armstrong's achievements as an artist in her own right. Her contributions to the classic Hot Fives and Sevens recordings are discussed at length, as are her much lesser-known subsequent discs, in which Louis Armstrong did not figure. There's the sense, though, that a good amount of text about Louis Armstrong (apart from his relationship with Lil) was put in to fill this out to book length, given the relative scarcity of material about Lil Hardin Armstrong.

Lennon in America, by Geoffrey  Giuliano (Cooper Square Press). The years of John Lennon's life covered by this volume (1971-1980) might not have been as interesting as his experiences with the Beatles in the 1960s. But they were interesting, as Lennon struggled with an up-and-down solo career and marriage in his adopted home of America. Is Giuliano the journalist best qualified to write about it? Anyone who's read his previous writing about the Beatles (together and solo) won't have to think two seconds before replying: "Of course not!" If you've never read about Lennon's post-Beatles life before, there is much controversial and colorful detail to be found here. That would include his volatile marriage with Yoko Ono, which Giuliano contends was not nearly as harmonious as they strained to present it in public (he is not alone in that view, it should be noted); his fractious squabbling with Paul McCartney and George Harrison; his dissolute time in Los Angeles when separating from Ono; his extramarital affairs, with May Pang and others; and his sexual obsessions and drug indulgences, which are delineated quite extensively. Much of it, as the subtitle of this book trumpets, is based in part on lost Lennon diaries. If Lennon's life was really as sordid as Giuliano makes it out to be, so be it, but it has to be backed up with more solid reporting than this. The diaries are, for reasons not made totally clear, never quoted verbatim. Lennon, on the other hand, is often quoted verbatim, without any attribution as to specific sources other than a general bibliography at the end. Giuliano didn't interview him, and it's not clear exactly who else he interviewed, since many of the stories are not attributed to any specific (and sometimes general) source, and many of the non-Lennon quotes not attributed either. As is his wont, the author is harshly judgmental to the point of annoyance, regardless of your feelings about Lennon, and seems eager to cast stones upon Ono at every opportunity. His repeated trashing of Ono in print, of course, does not preclude the inclusion of a couple photos of Giuliano  chummily posing with the Ono family a few years after Lennon's death. There are numerous minor but aggravating, obvious factual mistakes and inconsistencies throughout the book too, as when he writes that one of Lennon's sexual fantasies was about the rising singer Madonna, who was still unknown when Lennon died in late 1980.

American Magus: Harry Smith , Paola  Igliori (editor) (Inanout Press). Harry Smith is most known as the ethnomusicologist of sorts who assembled the influential Anthology of American Folk Music for Folkways Records in the early 1950s. He was also a respected experimental filmmaker (particularly for his hand-painted films) and painter, and collector of string games, paper airplanes, and Ukrainian painted Easter eggs. He was a volatile eccentric who many similar cultural edge-cutters in New York credit as a genius and inspiration. Whether that's enough to build a biography around is questionable, and certainly this collection of interviews with those who knew him is not the best or most well-organized way to pay him tribute. The text largely consists of about twenty question-and-answer transcripts that appear to have been lightly edited or not modified at all, interspersed with photos, illustrations, and prose by or about Smith. As a result, the reader gets the feeling that she or he is looking at the raw materials and notes that could have formed the basis for a readable book, rather than reading a book that does full justice to Smith's accomplishments. Those accomplishments, incidentally, were so diffuse -- Smith was a Renaissance man of the underground, never making a specialty of any one or two of his interests -- that it would be difficult to undertake a good biography in any form. There are some interesting observations here and there, some by noted figures like Moe Asch (founder of Folkways), Allen Ginsberg, and filmmakers Jonas Mekas and Robert Frank. But there's also a lot of repetition in the coverage, and some of the interviewees are rambling and indeed boring. Many of them hail him as a genius, but a sense of exactly what the core of his brilliance was remains elusive. Descriptions of his violent rages, almost always forgiven on the grounds of his genius, suggest that most of us would have done our best to avoid interacting with Smith if at all possible. Occasionally sections of the text are in bold, presumably for emphasis, but used so indiscriminately as to be a distraction. The best piece here (an interview of Smith himself, concentrating on his Anthology of American Folk Music work, is actually a reprint from Sing Out! magazine. A large appendix that details his collection of artifacts is so dry as to amount to a waste of paper.



P.F.: Traveling Barefoot on a Rocky Road, by Stephen J. McParland (CMusic Publishing). The "P.F." of this book's title is P.F. Sloan, the singer-songwriter most noted for penning "Eve of Destruction," who also wrote or co-wrote numerous other fine folk-rock and pop-rock tunes in the 1960s, as well as making some underrated solo recordings. Although this biography is a small-press production, it's fairly well-written and amazingly, even insanely, detailed. The bulk of the 275 pages covers his intriguing career as a staff writer, producer, arranger, musician, and recording artist at Dunhill Records. During this time, particularly 1965-66, he was involved in the composition of a ridiculously eclectic assortment of records -- many of them hits -- for Barry McGuire, the Grass Roots, the Turtles, Herman's Hermits, Johnny Rivers, Jan & Dean, and others. He also made some unfairly overlooked singles and albums that revealed him as a talented singer-songwriter, combining young adult social consciousness with a keen melodic-pop rock sense. McParland taps a staggering wealth of  first-hand interview material from the eccentric, oft-reclusive Sloan, as well as numerous key professional colleagues, and also draws from an impressive variety of secondary sources to fill out the picture. There are a wealth of intriguing anecdotes along the way, although some of Sloan's stories should be taken with a grain of salt; if taken at face value, he seems to have been a Zelig of sorts of the 1960s, often present at key moments in other performers' careers to facilitate their success with behind-the-scenes contributions. The meticulous incorporation of record collector details might lose some general readers, and Sloan's multi-faceted career necessitates some jumping around and repetition, although for the most part the text reads well. It's an interesting look not just at one of the 1960s' most interesting cult figures, but also an oft-fascinating tale of an unusually rapid artistic transition, in Sloan's case from lightweight surf and teen idol tunes to some of the heaviest protest and social commentary of the mid-1960s. Sloan's equally rapid fall from grace, due to personal problems and heinous financial/artistic conflicts with Dunhill, are also documented. Here the story gets tougher to plow through, more due to the decreasing quality of Sloan's music than to McParland's writing. The author is perhaps too sympathetic to Sloan's side of the story from 1970 onward, during which Sloan has only sporadically made music. Also, one feels that something crucial is missing from the account of Dunhill's quest to oust Sloan from the business: namely, a clearer explanation of why exactly Dunhill was so determined to make life miserable and get rid of a songwriter who was making so much money for the label. The book wraps up with an exhaustive discography listing the recordings Sloan has made or contributed to in various capacities.

Random Precision: Recording the Music of Syd Barrett 1965-1974, by David Parker (Cherry Red Books). Syd Barrett recorded just one complete album and a few other stray tracks when he was leader of Pink Floyd in 1966-68, and just two solo albums (with enough outtakes left to make a third). So how, you might wonder, do you get a 300-page book out of listings and descriptions of his recording sessions? Well, because Barrett is such a fascinating figure that there are no shortage of stories about how he and his fellow musicians cut his slim repertoire, and because many of those songs, whether with Pink Floyd or on his own, were so fascinating too. Rote details of dates, producers, studios, engineers, and takes are here, not only for everything Barrett officially released, but also for all known BBC radio sessions, demos, and outtakes. But this is set apart from some other similar studies by its emphasis on details about the music, and anecdotes behind the recordings, drawing heavily on first-hand interviews with some people who were there. Those include early Floyd producer Joe Boyd; various engineers, among them Peter Bown, Alan Parsons, and John Leckie; early Floyd managers Peter Jenner and Andrew King (the most entertaining and in-depth interviewees); and Hugh Hopper of Soft Machine, who played on some solo Barrett sessions. It's unfortunate that the author was unable to speak with early Floyd producer Norman Smith, or any other members of Pink Floyd themselves. Yet this is still loaded with cool tidbits about Syd and his songs, though the sections on his work with Pink Floyd are more interesting than those dealing with his solo ones. The only major reservation is that the extended quotes from interviews should have been more concisely edited; seemingly every pause or interrupted thought is included. There are about 100 pages of appendices listing unreleased outtakes, concert appearances, album details, and more. Occasional photos, reproductions of studio documents, press clippings, and gig ads help break up the text.

Josh White: Society Blues, by Elijah Wald (University of Massachusetts Press). Josh White is a twentieth-century folk music pioneer who for the most part hasn't gotten his critical due. He was too blues for some folkies, too folk for some blues fans, and too smooth and commercial for some purists. This fine biography does a good job of not just covering his life with admirably thorough research and detail, but also placing his achievements in respectful yet balanced perspective. The author spoke with members of his family and key musical and professional peers, such as Pete Seeger and Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman. Although White's early years as a guide for blind blues musicians remain shrouded in some mystery, Wald did dig out many stories of those formative experiences, noting when their veracity might be suspect. He then covers White's rise first as a blues recording artist, and then through the burgeoning left-leaning New York folk scene of the 1940s, with plenty of anecdotes about his on-stage charisma, as well as informed analysis of his recordings and musical style. The most controversial juncture in White's life, when he spoke with the House Un-American Activities committee about his alleged ties with Communists in the early 1950s, is given considerable space. It was an action with enormous repercussions, as many of the people White had associated with during his rise to fame felt betrayed, though Wald again takes a reasoned viewpoint, noting the pressures White was under and the full extent of his compromises with the authorities. Enough background information about the folk revivals of the 1940s through White's death at the end of the 1960s is given to place his work in the appropriate context. Many folk music studies tend toward the academic and reader-unfriendly; this is a welcome exception, reading well without sacrificing depth.

Jeff Beck: Crazy Fingers, by Annette Carson (Backbeat Books). Jeff Beck is one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, a reputation that rests primarily on his work in the 1960s with the Yardbirds and the Jeff Beck Group, and in the 1970s as a jazz-rock fusion solo artist. His life may not be as exciting as the best of his playing, but it's interesting enough to make this straightforward biography a good read. There are plenty of quotes from Beck and key bandmates and accompaniments, starting from his days as a teenager struggling to afford equipment. It's true, unsurprisingly, that his story's most interesting when he rises to stardom with the Yardbirds, with whom he pioneered feedback, distortion, and psychedelic soloing. There's a lot on his brief but tumultuous stint with that band, and a good chunk too on the heyday of the Jeff Beck Group's best lineup, which featured both Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. It gets less compelling, no doubt, after the mid-1970s, though Carson does take the story through the end of the 1990s, detailing every record and tour. It's a bit heavy on gearhead detail about his equipment and technique that might hold musicians in greater thrall than general fans, and the tone veers away from anything sharply critical, though Beck's done his share of unimpressive records. But it's well-written and readable, and fans not just of Beck, but also of British rock in general, will find at least selected portions of it valuable.

Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records, by Nadine Cohodas (St. Martin's Press). Chess Records is most famous for recording more great post-war Chicago blues than any other company, and also cut a good deal of notable jazz, rock'n'roll, and soul. This is a thorough history of how the label was founded and run by Leonard Chess and Phil Chess, though Leonard was the chief driving force behind the enterprise. Well-researched and clearly written, this is the tale of one of the most influential independent record companies ever, from the time the Jewish immigrants moved into the business in the 1940s, after running businesses in the Black part of Chicago. Major bluesmen like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Howlin' Wolf were the artists most responsible for vaulting Chess to success. Yet it reached further peaks with the rock'n'roll of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, and then in the 1960s with the soul of Billy Stewart, Fontella Bass, Ramsey Lewis, and others, though the company faltered soon after Leonard Chess' death in 1969. The author takes a balanced view of Chess' strengths and faults, noting that it was not the most musically knowledgeable record moguls, yet emphasizing that it had the wisdom to delegate the creative music-making effectively to those it hired. The numerous stories that have circulated as to its unfair financial treatment of the artists are also discussed. Yet the author commendably refuses to take these as gospel, taking care to also detail its acts of generosity and point out when particularly nasty stories about the brothers are unsupported by reliable evidence. If music fans have any quibbles with this volume, it's that the stories about specific musicians and recordings are not as numerous as they could have been, given the vast Chess vault. Still, those stories are filled in by other existing books and liner notes. This is a good overview of the family that ran the label and how the business was run, aspects that are sometimes overlooked by more purely musical studies.

Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña, by David Hajdu (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The early careers of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Richard Fariña, and his wife Mimi Baez Fariña were notably intertwined. Joan Baez was instrumental in aiding Dylan's rise to stardom. Her sister Mimi married a friend and competitor of Dylan's, Richard Fariña, and they made their own less widely known contributions to folk and folk-rock before Richard died in 1966. This book is a detailed, often fascinating look at how they intersected with each other professionally and personally, giving insights not just into the lives of these celebrities, but into the folk world of the first half of the 1960s in general. There are plenty of intensely personal, and sometimes controversial, stories for those who want them, including Baez's appropriation of repertoire and style from her friend Debbie Green; her stormy romance with Dylan, and Dylan's withdrawal from Baez after Joan had helped him gain a foothold with a mass audience by featuring him at her concerts; Richard Fariña's fanciful self-mythologizing; and the sometimes arrogant way these artists and their associates clawed their way to fame. Yet the most interesting parts of the book are not on Dylan, but on the less heralded Fariñas. Richard Fariña was a colorful character worthy of a biography of his own, and there are numerous page-turning anecdotes about the charming rogue that do much to uncover his mysterious life. His prior marriage to folk singer Carolyn Hester is covered, as is his progression from a virtual non-musician to a talented songwriter and dulcimer player, partnering in marriage and music with Mimi Fariña to produce two underrated early folk-rock albums. His death in a motorcycle accident in 1966, just after the publication of his acclaimed novel {-Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me}, signals the end of this book's scope, as after (or even by) that time the foursome were going in progressively different personal and artistic directions anyway. The research (including numerous first-hand interviews of those in the quartet's circle) is extremely through, and the writing effectively balances coverage of events with insight into their volatile personalities and rivalries. The result is an astute and entertaining glimpse into important aspects of 1960s music and counterculture.

Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth, by Kim Cooper & David Smay [editors] (Feral House). Bubblegum music has struggled for respect ever since the genre got a name in the late 1960s. It's given its due and then some by this 325-page volume, which is not so much a conventional history as a collection of nearly 100 essays and articles on aspects of bubblegum rock and pop. The heyday of bubblegum in the late 1960s and early 1970s gets most of the ink, but other manifestations of bubblegum, all the way up to 2000, are also covered. Even devotees shouldn't feel guilty about skimming some of these large-format 325 pages; you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone interested in so many facets of the genre. But even if your interest in bubblegum is somewhat casual, there really is a lot to dig into here. Contrary to what some would expect given the topic, the writing is mostly of a very high and professional standard, and often very witty, though perhaps over-generous in its critical evaluation of this oft- (always-?) frivolous style. There are not just features on important bubblegum acts, but also interviews with key songwriters, producers, and session singers, like Toni Wine (a female voice of the Archies), Richard Gottehrer, and Jeff Barry; labels specializing in the product, like Bell and Hanna-Barbera; TV shows, movies, and artifacts spawned by bubblegum; and kitschy pop with some (maybe vague) relationship to bubblegum, like the Eurovision contest. Certainly you'd have a hard time finding an article and discography of bubblegum records printed on the backs of cereal boxes elsewhere. Greg Shaw's article about his surreal encounter with Monkees-Brill Building-Archies mastermind Don Kirshner is particularly hilarious.

Embryo: A Pink Floyd Chronology, by Rick Hodges & Jan Priston (Cherry Red Books). For dedicated Pink Floyd fans, this diary-like guide to their live appearances, recording sessions, radio sessions, and film and television work between 1966 and 1971 is valuable. Yes, it only covers the first half dozen years of their career, but it can be reasonably argued that those are certainly the most <I>interesting</I> half dozen years of their career. The details of what happened where are pretty exhaustive, and the text is broken up by some period press quotes (by both members of the band and critics), as well as reproductions of black-and-white gig posters and announcements. You really do need to be a major Pink Floyd follower, though, to get much out of it, since the text is pretty functional, and often limited to rote details of what happened where. The songlists from numerous concerts, along with some descriptions of the music when the authors have listened to unreleased tapes of these (which is frequently the case), will be of special interest to collectors. It's disappointing, however, that there are barely any critical evaluations and detailed accounts of the actual music on the tapes, which is what you really want if you want to gain an appreciation for their in-concert progression and, dare it be said, try to obtain some of these illicit recordings. Bizarrely, there is word-for-word transcription of the band's between-song spoken comments and introductions whenever these are available. These might help identify whether you have that specific tape, but make for dull reading, particularly as the musicians didn't say much during their shows, and what they said wasn't too interesting.

I Come for to Sing, by Bob Gibson & Carole Bender (Kingston Korner). Bob Gibson was an important figure in the folk revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s, though not the most talented singer or songwriter in that idiom. This is his autobiography, told largely in his words, with transitional passages by co-author Carole Bender that are vital in informing readers about the basic outline of Gibson's life and career. Also important, and among the most interesting parts of the book, are comments from many who knew and worked with Gibson, including important folk and folk-rock performers like his sometime partner Hamilton Camp, Roger McGuinn, Shel Silverstein, Pete Seeger, Peter Yarrow, Bryan Bowers, and Josh White, Jr. One might think that a 400-page book on Gibson might be too much, or of too little interest to command attention, if you're not a fan of his work, or find his records not nearly as interesting as his legend. That assumption, though, wouldn't be correct, because the text will interest anyone who's interested in the mid-to-late twentieth century American folk scene, whether they think much of Gibson or not. He interacted with many leading folk figures, and there are plenty of interesting stories about the birth of the folk boom in clubs like Chicago's Gate of Horn (Gibson's base when he was at his peak); Albert Grossman (Gibson's manager); his recordings for Elektra Records; and his influence upon younger musicians like McGuinn. His dysfunctional family problems and battles with drugs, resulting in a retirement from the business for several years in the mid-1960s, are not overlooked. Although his national visibility peaked in the early 1960s, there's a good deal of coverage of his post-1970 activities, in which he continued to spread the folk gospel via songwriting classes, performances for children, and a musical play based on the life of Carl Sandburg. Though it's true this could have used a little editing, particularly in the extensive quotes of reviews of his shows (there are eight pages of reviews of the Sandburg play), there's a lot to dig into here. The extensive appendices include a discography, a reprint of Gibson's instructional songwriting manual, the script of his Sandburg play, and an overview of the Chicago club scene. It's packaged with the CD Stop Along the Way, recorded at his sixtieth birthday party concert.

The Ultimate Biography of the Bee Gees: Tales of the Brothers Gibb, by Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook and Andrew Môn Hughes (Omnibus Press). Is a nearly 700-page recount of the Bee Gees' lives and careers too much? Perhaps, but it's unquestioned that this will almost certainly stand as the most definitive, exhaustive biography of these superstars. Even though the authors tread fairly lightly on the (not too) seamy side of the legend, including drug use, alcoholism, and troubled family lives, there's a staggering amount of detail on their rise from a pre-pubescent trio to stardom as popsters in the late 1960s and disco kings in the 1970s. Along the way numerous comebacks (often successful) were staged, with stylistic evolutions so unpredictable that their music was in some ways unrecognizable from that of the harmony pop trio that first recorded in 1963, when two of the three were barely teenagers. Voluminous research has gone into this volume, including interviews with numerous associates from all phases of the Bee Gees' career, some quite obscure. For anyone interested in the group's trajectory, there's much to dig into, including a wealth of coverage of their relatively little-known early years as recording artists in Australia in 1963-66, and a good amount on the youngest brother, teen idol (and non-Bee Gee) Andy Gibb. Much of the information will seem superficial to all but super-fans, though, since lots of it's taken from period tabloid reports of  the group's personal lives, with minute details about their marital spats, homes, and mood swings. When an entire page is devoted to a story about a road manager looking after a cat that once belonged to Andy Gibb, you're really getting to a level of detail that's stretching the patience of even the most fanatical. It's also true that some fans of the Bee Gees' early work might not want to read about their disco years and increasingly boring post-1980 output, and vice versa. Nonetheless it's readably and attentively related, with a good deal of insight into the writing and recording of their best work of the 1960s and 1970s.

Eyewitness: The Who, by Johnny Black (Carlton ). In the manner of Black's previous book Jimi Hendrix: The Ultimate Experience, this is a sort of chronological diary of what happened on important dates in the Who's career, embellished by numerous quotes from the musicians, their associates, and (occasionally) press reviews. The bulk of the occasions noted are concerts, but the real highlights of the reading material are the accompanying quotes, which take up the bulk of the 300-page book. Those quotes are interesting reading, often documenting some little-printed incidents and perspectives, especially when they're from people who haven't often been heard from regarding the Who, like audience members and fellow musicians. On its own terms this is a good and quick read, yet it really would help -- and add to the integrity of the project -- if the specific sources for each quote were documented. Most of them are not, although there is an overall list of sources (some from the author's own interviews, many from other books and periodicals) used at the end. This leaves one to wonder not only where these remarks where made, but also whether they were made at the time, five years later, or thirty years later. It should be noted that the unfairly little-known book The Who Concert File documents the Who's concert appearances in far greater detail, with its own share of personal recollections.

Colonel Tom Parker: The Curious Life of Elvis Presley's Eccentric Manager, by James L. Dickerson (Cooper Square Press). Colonel Tom Parker was a colorful, shady figure, and although much has been written about him in numerous Elvis Presley biographies, there seems to be enough cannon fodder to work up a compelling book on Parker himself. This isn't it. The author did interview a number of people associated with Parker (the Colonel was, unsurprisingly, not interviewed), and also did some investigation into his mysterious background and business connections. Yet his most controversial findings are often at least as much speculation as undisputed truth, and some of those findings, while confirming Parker's image as something of a sleazeball, actually aren't that interesting. It may be that Parker had associations with various Southern segregationist politicians and mob figures, for instance, that to some degree affected his business operations, but these are often so tenuous that one really can't say for sure. It may be that Parker's gambling habit led him to go into an inequitable 50/50 agreement with Presley starting in 1967, with a share going to powerful Las Vegas interests, but it's not backed up by unassailable evidence. It's true that complications regarding sale of an aircraft could have gotten Elvis, his father, and Parker into some legal trouble, but that story, combed over in great length, is boring and rather insignificant. There are some noteworthy stories here and there -- such as Parker's plan, aborted, to replace Scotty Moore and Bill Black with Hank Snow's backup musicians in 1955 -- as well as some details about his pre-Presley management of country stars Snow and Eddy Arnold. But much of this will already be known to those who've read widely about Elvis elsewhere. It's related competently but dryly, in a manner which leads one to expect greater revelations than are actually delivered.



Neil Young: From Zero to Sixty, by Johnny Rogan (Calidore Books, UK). Rogan, one of the most thorough biographers in the history of rock writing, had already done a bio of Neil Young (simply titled Neil Young), published in 1982, prior to the publication of Neil Young: From Zero to Sixty. Make no mistake, though: this gargantuan 700-page critical biography is an entirely different book than Rogan's previous Neil Young study, and is not just an update of that prior work, but a completely reworked volume with much more text and information. Even by Rogan's own standards -- this is the author who did a previous 700-page book on the Byrds, after all -- it's an impressive, meticulous volume that will likely stand as the definitive biography of Young, one of the most significant rock artists of the twentieth century. In great detail, it follows his career from Winnipeg teen bands and Toronto coffeehouses through his rise to stardom with Buffalo Springfield and his lengthy, multi-faceted solo career. Rogan did a good number of first-hand interviews for this project, often with rather obscure but important behind-the-scenes associates and friends of Young's, and astutely draws from a wealth of other interviews (of both Young and others) from the 1960s to the 1990s to fill out the picture of the enigmatic musician. In spite of its daunting length, it's not at all a cumbersome read or exhausting in its trivia, as Rogan never lets the plethora of facts overwhelm the story and the music. He writes passionately but objectively about Young's numerous musical (and personal/political) twists and turns, balancing coverage of his tours, recording sessions, family/romantic ups and downs, and friction with various musical collaborators, providing extensive critiques of virtually all of his recordings. There's also a comprehensive discography, including lists of numerous bootlegs, rarities, and unreleased compositions. If there's any flaw, it's that the prose is very occasionally marred by rather rash or harsh judgements as to Young's personal and musical motivations. That's a quite small reservation for a book that stands among the best rock biographies.

John Barry: A Sixties Theme: From James Bond to Midnight Cowboy, by Eddi Fiegel (Constable, UK). Fiegel's book is a straightforward biography of the most interesting and successful British film composer of the twentieth century. The one reservation prospective readers might have is that -- as the title indicates -- this concentrates primarily on his 1960s work. His life and musical development before the 1960s is covered in depth, actually, and the 1960s soundtracks form the core of the book, but his post-1970 output is summarized in a mere ten pages. But really, since most would agree that the 1960s were by far the most exciting period of Barry's music (and personal life), that shouldn't count as a significant loss. There's a bounty of detail and anecdotes about the conception and composition of numerous classic soundtracks, including the early Bond films like Goldfinger and Thunderball; The Knack; Midnight Cowboy; The Lion in Winter; and Barry's first major film work, the 1959 cult pseudo-beatnik film Beat Girl. For this reason alone, the book might pique equal interest among music and film buffs, as there are plenty of inside stories about how many of the movies Barry scored were produced, as well as bits about actors and directors like Michael Caine (sometimes from the actors and directors themselves). Barry's less celebrated rise to prominence in the British music industry as leader of the instrumental-pop-rock band the John Barry Seven is also thoroughly described, and there's enough about his 1960s Swinging London bachelor lifestyle (including a marriage to Jane Birkin) to satisfy those with an interest in that milieu. Aided by plenty of first-hand interview quotes from Barry and his associates (and even a few from Birkin), it's a breezy read that moves along pretty well, even if it doesn't reach its peak pace until Barry himself hit his stride as a film composer.

Elvis, Hank, and Me: Making Musical History on the Louisiana Hayride, by Horace Logan with Bill Sloan (St. Martin's Press). From the late 1940s to the late 1950s, Horace Logan was producer of the Louisiana Hayride on Shreveport, LA's KWKH, a widely syndicated radio show that was for a while second only to the Grand Ole Opry in exposing country talent over the airwaves. His memoir, as the title signifies, has a good deal about his experiences with Elvis Presley and Hank Williams, both of whom made a lot of apperances on the show in their early careers. Perhaps he builds up his role in their rise to fame a little, although he might have been the first one to use the line "Elvis has left the building." Yet this is a fairly interesting and well-written look not just at the show, but also at much of the country music industry as it matured in the 1950s. Working for the program also led Logan to get to know other important musicians well when they were starting out, including Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, and Kitty Wells. There are some interesting stories about the quirks and excesses of Presley and Williams, but there's also a valuable perspective on how the Shreveport-based show competed with the more powerful Nashville-based Grand Ole Opry. Logan feels that Shreveport lost a chance to compete with Nashville as a country music base, due to his station's unwillingness to invest in or broaden into music management and publishing. For those whose interest in country music extends a little beyond celebrities, it's a worthwhile inside look behind the scenes of its mid-twentieth century evolution.

Rock on Wood: Ronnie Wood: The Origin of a Rock & Roll Face, by Terry Rawlings (Boxtree, UK). Is it a challenge to get a 220-page bio together of a guy that's played an important secondary role in major bands, and a lead role in some minor bands, but never exactly been a star in his own right? Yes, although Rawlings makes a game effort, combing over Wood's childhood and emergence as a notable guitar player in the 1960s and 1970s in considerable detail. It is not too well known that prior to his first big band (the Jeff Beck Group), Wood served time in {the Birds and the Creation, a couple of good 1960s mod bands that never had big hits in Britain and were totally unknown in the United States. There's a lot of coverage of those years, and for serious aficionados of 1960s British rock, the book might be worth picking up for that text alone, though more casual fans may not be too interested in that portion. Wood's tenure, not an altogether pleasant one, as bassist in the Jeff Beck Group is next, and the most in-depth part of the book goes over his work in the Faces, the band in which he reached his creative peak. Oddly, there's only cursory coverage of the twenty-five years he had served with the Rolling Stones as of this book's printing. It's implied that Wood felt this era needed a separate volume, though it can also be reasonably argued -- in fact, the author himself does so for a bit -- that Wood's most interesting work was behind him after joining the Stones. There are plenty of first-hand quotes from Wood, his family, his wives, and bandmates like Rod Stewart (and even some of the Birds). There's not enough description of his songwriting and the making of some of the records, however, and the author is given to smug and smart-ass asides in his prose that aren't as amusing as he probably intended them to be.

All the Rage, by Ian "Mac" McLagan (Billboard). McLagan was keyboardist for the Small Faces and the Faces, and has worked sessions and concerts for dozens of artists, including the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Bragg. This is his memoir: 375 pages of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll, from the 1960s to the 1990s. In the overcrowded field of rock autobiography, McLagan distinguished it from much of its competition by actually writing it himself, instead of using a pro co-author. Nonetheless, it reads like many "as told to" books of this sort, and while there are some good stories and funny observations, it could have done with some editing. The highlights -- the fairly straight tales about the musical chemistry of the Small Faces and Faces, the tours with the Stones and Bob Dylan, the slow process during which he weaned Keith Moon's wife away from the Who drummer and married her by the end of the 1970s -- are balanced by a good number of similar anecdotes about hedonistic excess that you might be tempted to skim. Sometimes these are told in a quite humorous and witty fashion; at other times the story stops or limps to a halt after a buildup that leads you to anticipate something more entertaining. Given the right level of writing skill, this kind of volume can be excellent, as Al Kooper -- another keyboardist whose career was a solid, though not brilliant, resume of stints with important bands and sideman credits -- proved with his Backstage Passes. McLagan's book is a far more marginal work.

Don't Forget Me: The Eddie Cochran Story, Julie Mundy & Darrel Higham (Mainstream Publishing, UK). This biography of the important early rockabilly star is an adequate retrospective of his life, though the prose is pretty functional and not too strong on colorful detail. Facts and research, though, are the most important things to get right, and the authors do supply those, going over his studio sessions in particular in considerable depth. There are also quotes from memories from numerous important colleagues of Cochran's, including songwriter and girlfriend Sharon Sheeley (who was in the car accident that took Cochran's life, but survived); early duet partner Hank Cochran; Liberty Records executive Simon Waronker; bassist Connie "Guybo" Smith, who often played on Cochran's records and live shows; and fellow musicians Glen Glenn, Phil Everly, P.J. Proby, Duane Eddy, Sonny Curtis, Big Jim Sullivan, and Joe Brown. There's a lot of coverage in particular of Cochran's 1960 British tour, which was his last, as he died right before he was to fly back to the United States. The volume could use more insight into his artistic muse and motivations -- there's not as much as one would hope on his songwriting, or his pioneering use of overdubbing. Also, Cochran's influence on musicians that emerged after his death, such as the Who, isn't discussed at all. The basic thread of his life is here, though, from his origins as a teenage country music hopeful through his rise to stardom in the Hollywood record industry when he incorporated pop and rock into his sound.

This Is Pop: The Life and Times of a Failed Rock Star, by Ed Jones (Canongate, UK). Ed Jones was bassist and very occasional songwriter in the Tansads, and this is his memoir of his lengthy, fractious stint in that British 1990s indie band. If you've never heard of them either, take note that this is not so much a history of an obscure group as an inside look at the grind of trying to form a band and even make a living, let alone get famous. There are far more failures, or at least treadmills, in this game than the star stories that comprise the vast majority of music biographies. Jones's work is one of the few well-written volumes (he is also a professional journalist) to ably document the flip side of the coin: the endless van rides to shabby gigs, the penny-pinching contracts (and these are with indie labels), the hassles in getting your record played and reviewed, the fierce squabbles within bands over individual writers getting songs on albums and artistic direction, the problems in combining musical and personal lives (Jones and his wife separated briefly at one point, and his sister developed fatal cancer during his final days in the Tansads). Jones does not mince words in his recounts of the weaknesses, bullheadedness, and hot buttons of his fellow band members and label/promotional support teams, admitting to his own personal shortcomings too. Fortunately it's not a whine, but written with enough of a sense of humor and bemused irony to keep the reader amused. It can be patchy going at times (for one thing, there are so many characters involved that it's hard to keep them straight), but moves along pretty well for the most part, particularly at the junctures when the band seems to be getting somewhere, but manages to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Some generally witty comments and quotes dot the margins, the best of those being from Jones's wife, who would have preferred that he gave up and spent more time at home.

Halfway to Paradise: Britpop, 1955-1962, by Spencer Leigh & John Firminger (Finbarr International, UK). It's thin, it's very hard to find (particularly in the United States), and the layout is unattractive, with blocks of quotes in very small print, and functional reproductions of vintage clippings. Nonetheless, if  you're interested in pre-Beatles British rock'n'roll, this is an interesting and valuable repository of oral history. The text consists primarily of quotes drawn from more than 150 performers, interviewed by Spencer Leigh, a longtime presenter on BBC Radio Merseyside, and the author of other rock books (and numerous reissue liner notes). Grouped into thematic chapters/quote clusters -- teen idols, trad jazz musicians, producer Joe Meek, Billy Fury, the Shadows, music television programs, and more -- the voluminous recollections help form a picture of an exciting and (from a twenty-first century perspective) innocent era. Many, many big names, certainly in the UK if not elsewhere, chip in with memories, including Cliff Richard, John Leyton, Chris Barber, Lonnie Donegan, Helen Shapiro, Joe Brown, Heinz, Screaming Lord Sutch, and Marty Wilde. It not only covers rock'n'roll, but all forms of British pop from the era, including straight pop balladeers and trad jazz. American readers might be a little lost due to the unfamiliarity of many of these figures across the Atlantic, but if you have any grounding in infant British rock at all, it should be of value. The text chapters are alternated with reprints of photos and press clips from the time that are interesting mostly as curios.

Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World, by Ruy Castro (A Cappella). Originally published in Brazil as Chega de Saudade, this is the English translation of a 350-page history of the birth and evolution of bossa nova music. Castro's research is superb, based around interviews with many of the style's leading figures, in particular Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Those (and Gilberto's more than Jobim's) are the stories that dominate the book. However, dozens of other musicians, performers, and arrangers -- many of them unfamiliar to North Americans -- are also woven into the story, from Dick Farney (a pre-bossa nova American-style Brazilian pop singer), Nara Leao, and Newton Mendonca (co-author of "Desafinado" and "One Note Samba") to Sergio Mendes and Joao Donato. Bossa nova's inception was a complex web of interacting forces, and these are detailed in depth, from the formation of fan clubs for American pop singers in the early 1950s and the origination of the term "bossa nova" (at a concert for the University Hebrew Group of Brazil) to the genre's international exposure in the United States, the subsequent launch of icons like Joao Gilberto, his wife Astrud Gilberto, and Mendes to worldwide stardom, and Frank Sinatra's collaboration with Jobim. The personal idiosyncrasies of many of the key players are relayed in almost embarassingly personal tales of their struggles to formulate the music and financially survive in the 1950s, with Joao Gilberto in particular coming off as a sponging layabout. Perhaps this is due to nuances not translating from the original Portuguese, but it's not the easiest book to follow if you're not a bossa nova expert, with such a busy revolving door of characters, none of whom remain in focus for too long, except Joao Gilberto and Jobim. In addition, the prose is coy and prone to small joking turns of the phrase that might not get in the way of the story, but don't add much enjoyment to it. The volume ends with a discography and a glossary of Brazilian terms that might be unfamiliar to the English-speaking reader.

Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King, by Lloyd Bradley (Viking, UK). There are not many histories of reggae music in book form, and those that exist tend to be hard to follow in their coverage of the music's zig-zagging, sometimes poorly documented evolution. So a 550-page history of reggae that is aimed, more or less, toward the general reader, giving wide-scope history of most of its developments from the mid-1900s onward, is welcome. For all its length and depth, though, this book is still not the ideal overview of the form. Many notable musicians are discussed only in passing or only via some general contributions, and those without deep reggae backgrounds may find the course hard to follow. Although Bradley has laudably written this as something that can be informative and entertaining, not just scholarly and analytical, his prose is dotted with many colloquialisms that not everyone might find smooth and engaging. In its favor, the book's strengths are many: extremely in-depth research; extended quotes from a wealth of first-hand interviews with important reggae musicians and producers; and a lively passion for the music. It's best when weaving connections between reggae's evolution and social changes in Jamaica (and Britain), showing how economic, religious, and political movements have helped shape the sounds. Sometimes these strands can be quite unexpected: for instance, a big factor in the emergence of Studio One as an innovative incubator of progressive sounds was its willingness to let musicians smoke ganja on the premises. Post-1980 reggae is dealt with hastily and cursorily, which could be viewed as a plus or a minus: it seems like the final twenty years of the twentieth century are glossed over, but undeniably these were far less interesting times for reggae than the pre-1980 era was.

Groovy Bob: The  Life and Times of Robert Fraser, by Harriet Vyner (Faber & Faber, UK). Robert Fraser was probably the most well-known London art dealer of the 1960s, his gallery featuring cutting-edge modern work by Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, Jim Dine, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenberg, and others. He was also one of Swinging London's most influential socialites, mixing with numerous stars in other media, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; he went to prison for a few months in 1967 in the same drugs-related case that involved Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (who escaped prison sentences). This is an oral history of his life, largely devoted to extended quotes from those who knew and worked with him, and often linked by excerpts from letters by Fraser and excerpts from gallery reviews. Although Fraser's eye for ahead-of-its time art was apparently unparalleled, he was also extremely irresponsible and morally suspect, particularly with regards to living up to his financial obligations, even to close friends. That makes 300 pages of company with his memory an unsympathetic and at times draining experience. While there are some interesting stories about his relationships with artists and musicians, along with portraits of Swinging London at its peak, the many stories of his sexual debauchery and substance abuse are not so absorbing. The frequent testimonies to his lively character and influence are not as interesting as Fraser evidently was, and the choppy structure of the cuts between various memories and personal letters, particularly in the earlier parts of the book, can work against holding reader interest. As to why a rock music fan might care to check this out, there are quite a few quotes from Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and Marianne Faithfull about their interaction with Fraser in the mid-1960s. A few interesting Beatles and Rolling Stones-related stories are here, particularly regarding Fraser's influence on the design of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP cover; the early 1967 drugs bust at Keith Richards house in which Fraser was also caught; Fraser's summer 1968 exhibition of the "You Are Here" piece by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which marked the couple's first appearance in the media; and the Magritte piece that inspired the design of the Apple Records logo. These are just a portion of the text, however, and not so revelatory that Beatles or Stones fans would consider the book an essential investment.


  • Desperados: The Roots of Country Rock, by John Einarson
  • Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival, by Colin Harper
  • The Story of the Animals: Newcastle's Rising Sons, by Sean Egan
  • In My Life: The Brian Epstein Story, by Debbie Geller, edited by Anthony Wall
  • Cream, by Chris Welch
  • Only the Strong Survive, by Jerry Butler with Earl Smith
  • The Complete Book of the British Charts: Singles and Albums, by Tony Brown, Jon Kutner & Neil Warwick

    Desperados: The Roots of Country Rock, by John Einarson (Cooper Square Press). Actually, this 300-page book is the first comprehensive history not just of the roots of country rock, but the heyday of country rock. It documents the birth and peak of the genre in Southern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when some of the best ingredients of country and rock -- as well as folk, pop, and bits of blues and soul -- were brewed together by the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, and several others. Einarson has earned his stripes as a major rock historian via previous biographies of Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, the Guess Who, and others, and draws upon more than sixty interviews with major names and cult figures to weave together the evolution of the style. Refreshingly, the accounts take in not just the well-known innovators, but also less recognized pioneers and practitioners like Hearts and Flowers, the Dillards, Great Speckled Bird (led by Ian & Sylvia), Rick Nelson, Nashville West, Gene Clark (as a solo performer), Steve Young, the International Submarine Band, and even Longbranch Pennywhistle}, the late-1960s group with J.D. Souther and a pre-Eagles Glenn Frey. Einarson includes succinct yet detailed overviews of almost every important country-rock release of the era, behind-the-scenes views of how the material and recordings were conceived, and perspectives on how the performers in this fairly small and sometimes incestuous scene influenced each other. It could be argued that a few performers don't get as much space as they could have and are somewhat overlooked by the narrative. Surprisingly, there is virtually nothing on the Beau Brummels' late 1960s efforts, Neil Young's country-oriented pieces during the Harvest era, or (much more obscurely) the Gosdin Brothers' late-1960s Capitol album, which is an overlooked country-rock milestone. Readers not familiar with the genre might find the focus jumpy on occasion, as the prose moves from performer to performer quite rapidly in order to integrate all of their stories. For those at all interested in country-rock, however, this fills a major gap in rock scholarship. -- Richie Unterberger

    Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival, by Colin Harper (Bloomsbury, UK). You know that popular music documentation is getting to be a serious business when a 360-page history of Bert Jansch appears. Not that the folk-blues-rock crossover guitarist isn't worthy of such a treatment, though he's rarely sold a lot of records, and has usually been a cult figure. Harper has exhaustively researched Jansch's life and music, devoting the bulk of the text to the 1960s, when his development and influence were at their most interesting. As the lengthy title indicates, Jansch's story is interwoven with the history of the entire British folk and blues revival. There are plenty of stories about the development of the '60s folk scene in London and Edinburgh in particular, and some coverage of fellow travelers such as Anne Briggs and Davy Graham. As a readable, often entertaining account of how Jansch's peculiarly moody and eclectic music was crafted and impacted the folk world, it's pretty good, starting from his bohemian Edinburgh roots, through his rise to prominence as a solo recording artist and a member of the folk-rock group Pentangle. Structurally some might find the text problematic, though, for several reasons. Although Jansch cooperated with the author and provided many quotes, he's a taciturn enigma, not often given to detailed memories. Also, while the book starts with a pretty wide scope in which Jansch is just a part of an overall view of the British folk scene, it steadily narrows so that Jansch, from about the mid-'60s on, is the book's sole subject, creating an inconsistent focus. And, inevitably, it's less interesting after the 1960s years, though the author does his best to charge through Jansch's erratic and sometimes depressing ups and downs from 1970 onward. There is also puzzlingly scant coverage of Pentangle's peak years, when they were actually stars in Britain and fairly well known abroad. Granted Jansch was just one of five talents in Pentangle, and not always the central figure as performer or songwriter, but he did add much to the group, and more discussion of their late-1960s recordings would have been in order. However, it does assemble a staggering amount of information about the man, aided greatly by first-hand interviews with many of his peers, from fellow Pentangle musicians to people he influenced, including not just the usual folkies and folk-rockers, but also Pete Townshend. -- Richie Unterberger

    The Story of the Animals: Newcastle's Rising Sons, by Sean Egan (Helter Skelter, UK). There was one previous, albeit now hard to find, book about the Animals (Andy Blackford's Wild Animals). That begs the question as to whether another one about an excellent, but not quite top-drawer, 1960s band is needed. Egan's volume has some flaws, but overall it definitely is superior to Blackford}'s, even if Blackford's boasts better pictures. Egan is a better writer, and covers the entire history of the band -- including the late-1960s psychedelic incarnation, in which Eric Burdon was the only member remaining from the original lineup -- in satisfactory depth. He offers opinionated but knowledgeable critiques of all of their 1960s recordings, in addition to incorporating first-hand interview material from most of the musicians that passed through the band. Where the book does suffer is from the imbalanced proportion of quotes from the various members, as well as the total absence of quotes or memories from keyboardist Alan Price (who declined to be interviewed), bassist Chas Chandler (who died before he could be interviewed, although he's represented by some second-hand quotes), and producers Mickie Most and Tom Wilson (the first unavailable for comment, the second long dead). Drummer John Steel provided considerably more info than anyone else in the original Animals, and while it's interesting to have his perspective, it's curious that Eric Burdon -- the most important Animal -- is not often quoted, and for the most part is directly quoted only about the 1967-68 era. Those reservations aside, it's an interesting and acceptably rendered story. And while there's no getting around the fact that the British Invasion-era Animals made better music than the psychedelic version -- a viewpoint that Egan, running against critical convention, disagrees with -- this book undoubtedly contains more comprehensive coverage of the group's 1967-68 period than you'll find anywhere else.

    In My Life: The Brian Epstein Story, by Debbie Geller, edited by Anthony Wall (Thomas Dunne Books). The interviews contained in this book formed the basis for a BBC documentary on the life of the Beatles' manager. It's an oral history of Epstein, consisting mostly of extended quotes from those interviews, with a little bit of linking text to make the story easier to follow (though it's fair to say that many readers who pick this up will know so much about the Beatles that they won't find those links necessary). Among those interviewed are many of his friends and business associates, as well as some of the musicians he managed, the most crucial of those being Paul McCartney, the only surviving ex-Beatle who participated. In addition, though, there are memories from Gerry Marsden, Billy J. Kramer, Johnny Gustafson (of the Big Three), Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, fellow British pop manager Simon Napier-Bell, American promoter Sid Bernstein, and a bunch of cronies whose names will be familiar to Beatles fans if not the general public: Peter Brown, Alistair Taylor, Geoffrey Ellis, and Nat Weiss. Does it contain a whole lot of information, or even dirt, that big Beatles fans might not already know? Not really, although it is still interesting to read the variety of perspectives on a complicated man who did much to make the Beatles succeed and innovate various facets of the rock business. At the same time, he made some very poor business deals, and his personal life was frequently unhappy, due to insecurities and the difficulties of being a closeted homosexual at a time when very few prominent men were openly gay. This culminated in his death in August 1967, the circumstances of which are combed over in the book's final section, although the reasonable consensus seems to be that it was an accidental overdose. If there's one thing missing, it's a sense of exactly what Epstein's feelings about the Beatles' music, and rock music in general, were, since his own taste seemed to run to much staider classical and jazz. Still, not a bad read, and a zippy one as it only runs 175 pages. -- Richie Unterberger

    Cream, by Chris Welch (Miller Freeman). Veteran British rock writer Welch, who actually hung around with and interviewed Cream at their inception in 1966, previously authored another Cream bio, Strange Brew. A little confusingly, this book, published less than ten years later, has an entirely different text. Some quotes appear in both books, and of course each covers much of the same ground, but for the most part the more recent volume has different text. The second go-round is the superior one, because it draws much more extensively upon interview material from all three of Cream's members, as well as frequent Cream lyricist Pete Brown and roadie and longtime Clapton} friend Ben Palmer. It's a breezy read that should only take a night (after all, the group were together only a little longer than two years), but it's reasonably substantial. The basic outlines of their varied pre-Cream stints in the Yardbirds and John Mayall (Clapton) and the Graham Bond Organisation (Bruce and Baker) are given, and Cream's rise from a club band to international superstars between 1966 and 1968 forms the bulk of the book. There's intelligent discussion of their live work, songwriting, and studio recordings, with a special section devoted to analysis of each member's instrumental styles. There are plenty of good vintage photos and record sleeve reproductions throughout, and the book ends with a useful chronology of their live shows, radio/TV/film appearances, and recording sessions.

    Only the Strong Survive, by Jerry Butler with Earl Smith (Indiana University Press). Jerry Butler's autobiography, co-written with brother-in-law journalist Earl Smith, is better written than the average such "as told to" work. It covers much of the soul star's life and musical highlights, yet it's a curiously gap-filled volume. It goes through the story of his life in a pretty straightforward manner up through about 1960, covering his Chicago boyhood, the formation of the Impressions, and his subsequent split from that group as the others became jealous of his lead billing. Yet from that point on, his musical career is detailed largely in isolated highlights, such as the recording of "Moon River" and "Make It Easy on Yourself"; his split from Vee Jay in the mid?1960s as that company fell into bankruptcy; some of his best singles with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in the late 1960s; and his work with various associates, from Betty Everett}, Curtis Mayfield, and LaBelle to managers and backup musicians you've probably never heard of. Because the writing is pretty solid and intelligent, soul fans will find some entertaining and insightful stories. But the lack of continuity means that it will be hard to grasp the significance of Butler's musical contributions, on record and otherwise, in their totality. Butler's had an interesting career as a politician too since the 1980s (serving on the Cook County Board of Commissioners), yet this is also covered perfunctorily, although throughout the book Butler emphasizes the social conscience and self-empowering qualities of soul music and its positive effects upon culture. -- Richie Unterberger

    The Complete Book of the British Charts: Singles and Albums, by Tony Brown, Jon Kutner & Neil Warwick (Omnibus Press, UK). This mammoth, 1250-page doorstop is just what the title says: a complete index to the chart performance of British singles and albums, from 1952-1999 (though albums had their own charts only from 1958 onward). (For that matter, all entries on the EP charts, which only ran from 1960-67, and for the compilation album charts, which only ran from 1989 onward, are also included.) The entries are easy to use and interpret, noting the peak chart position of each item, its label, the date it entered the charts, and how many weeks it stayed on the charts, not to mention a complete tally of the total number of hits and chart weeks logged by each artist listed in the book. Supplementary chapters provide a list of all the #1 singles and albums in Britain during this period, with the date it reached the top and its length of occupation of the top position noted; details on the performance of all the various-artists albums to make the charts; and an index, by title, of all chart entries included in the volume. There are brief notes under many of the entries that relay a key detail about the item: who did the original version, a film in which it was featured, a vocalist who was featured on the recording, and various such interesting trivia. There's no conventional text, other than a very brief foreword by Paul Gambaccini. It's not the kind of thing you want to browse through for hours at a time, granted, but it's an extremely useful and handy reference work for dedicated music historians and fans. For the record, all chart positions were compiled from Record Retailer/Music Week, with the exception of singles from November 15, 1952-March 5, 1960 (taken from New Musical Express) and albums from November 8, 1958-March 5, 1960 (taken from Melody Maker). -- Richie Unterberger


    The Beatles Anthology, by the Beatles (Chronicle Books). About five years after the Beatles history video project Anthology, and the three-volume double CDs of rare/unreleased material that accompanied it, the book component of the Anthology extravaganza was issued. Like the Anthology video, it was devised as a way for the Beatles to tell their story in their own words, with occasional contributions from a very select few friends/collaborators. So although The Beatles Anthology bears the byline "by the Beatles," this is in fact not a standard text narrative but an oral history, largely comprised of extended quotes by Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, produced especially for the book. Filling in the volume are a ton of vintage quotes by John Lennon (who of course, having died in 1980, was unable to contribute fresh observations), as well as occasional bits from longtime road manager/assistant Neil Aspinall, publicist Derek Taylor, and producer George Martin, along with even more occasional soundbites of 1960s quotes by McCartney, Harrison, Starr, Brian Epstein, the Maharishi, and even Stuart Sutcliffe. As a visual work, The Beatles Anthology is mighty impressive: the oversized coffee table book contains hundreds of photos, many rarely or never before seen, exquisitely reproduced and laid out. As a written document of the Beatles' experiences, the volume is also extremely impressive, though not without its flaws. For most readers, the flaws will be minor or unnoticed, as the group speaks with considerable candor, intelligence, and insight about all aspects of the Beatles' lives: the music, recording, touring, infighting, volatile business affairs, Liverpool childhoods, cultural impact, and more. For the Beatles expert, much of the stories and facts will be very familiar. Yet it must be conceded that even the Beatlemaniac will probably find anecdotes and perspectives that they have never come across before, whether it's George Harrison talking about how "Within You Without You" was cobbled together from elements of a Ravi Shankar piece, or Paul McCartney reflecting at length upon why Harrison might have gotten fed up with McCartney's tendency to dictate what George should play on guitar. It's 350 pages of great entertainment on that level, but if you've read a bunch of Beatles bios and autobios, and seen the Anthology video, you'll know much of it, and in fact recognize some quotes as having been taken from those sources verbatim or near-verbatim. The Beatles do go into some testy matters that were glossed over or entirely omitted from theAnthology video, particularly their breakup and Phil Spector's role in the production of Let It Be. Unavoidably, of course, the perspective is skewed toward their bias, particularly as some key characters -- pre-Ringo drummer Pete Best, Yoko Ono, Allen Klein, and others -- have no say at all. It's also an unavoidable problem that Lennon's vintage quotes cannot benefit from the perspective and depth that the surviving trio of Beatles' contributions were allowed to reach. Yes, it's a hugely enjoyable and valuable book, one that actually justifies its huge ($60) list price. Just be aware that it only presents a few (albeit the most important) sides of the story, and not all sides of the incredible tale of the Beatles' career.

    The Beatles Files, by Andy Davis (CLB). From 1963-69, the Beatles were frequently photographed by the Daily Mirror, one of Britain's most popular newspapers. More than 400 of these pictures, the majority previously unpublished, are reproduced in this slim (150-page) coffeetable hardback volume, with accompanying text by Andy Davis. Sure, this is for the hardcore Beatles fan; there are better pictorial-oriented books on the group, and the narrative consists of basic commentary on the circumstances of the photos, with skeletal outlines of their major career developments. For what it is, though, it's not bad. The photos are reproduced well, and are often hard or impossible to come across elsewhere. Some of the images are pretty cool: the Beatles with Gerry & the Pacemakers, Brian Epstein, and Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas sitting on a low wall in 1963, for instance, or Paul McCartney conducting the Black Dyke Mills Band in 1968 with Martha his sheepdog (the Martha that inspired "Martha My Dear") at his side, or a sad-looking Pete Best in his Liverpool home in 1965. There are also some seldom-printed quotes and press extracts (often taken from the Daily Mirror) in the text, giving a sense of how the Beatles' actions and accomplishments were received and critiqued by the media at the time. It can easily be read in a night, and isn't a bad supplement to a large Beatles library, though there aren't many photos of the group members after 1967 (and only one from after 1967 including all four members), as they'd stopped playing live and become less accessible to photojournalists.

    The Beatles Unseen Archives, by Tim Hill and Marie Clayton (Dempsey Parr). There are 600 photos, and almost 400 pages, of the Beatles in this glossy-stock, large-format paperback, spanning their entire recording career, and also venturing a little into their solo years. Taken from the archives of the British Daily Mail paper, many are from negatives never previously printed. In truth, though, a lot of the images are familiar to even mild Beatles fans, whether or not these are the exact same photographs they've seen before: filming their movies, touring the world, marrying, getting busted for drugs, and so on. The images are reproduced well and are fun to look at, but there aren't too many rare or unusual finds that really stick out. Highlights include the Beatles touring a snowy Washington, DC on their first US visit, dressed up in costume for a Magical Mystery Tour launch party, George Harrison packing at his family's Liverpool home before the first American tour...nothing too extraordinary in other words. There are captions and small paragraphs of text throughout, but these are very cursory, and probably tells most Beatles admirers nothing they don't already know. Not a bad thing to have, and easy to get through in a night, but not one of the more essential photo-oriented studies of the Beatles to hit the market. If you want something similar with more entertaining text, there's Andy Davis' Beatles Files, taken from the archives of another British paper, the Daily Mirror; it's a much slimmer volume, but the writing goes into the circumstances behind the photos with more depth.

    Michael Bloomfield: If You Love These Blues: An Oral History, by Jan Mark Wolkin and Bill Keenom (Miller Freeman). Except for about five years in the mid-to-late 1960s, Michael Bloomfield wasn't that prolific a recording artist. Also, although he achieved some fair sales with his albums with Al Kooper, the Electric Flag, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he really wasn't that big a star either. So is there enough material to justify a full-length oral history of the man, fully based around extended interview quotes from those who knew him (with a few of Bloomfield's own observations thrown in from archive interviews)? When it's as well done and interesting as this volume is, the answer is an emphatic yes. The authors accumulated memories from dozens of people who knew Bloomfield, for a night or for decades, usually from first-hand conversations (supplemented by some material from outside sources), including a good many important musicians and industry people with whom the guitarist crossed paths. The illustrious list includes Carlos Santana, Elvin Bishop, Al Kooper, Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites, John Hammond Jr., Charlie Musselwhite, B.B. King, Butterfield keyboardist Mark Naftalin, Butterfield drummers Billy Davenport and Sam Lay, Maria Muldaur, Bill Graham, and Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records. The stories are interesting enough in and of themselves: of the young Bloomfield becoming an acolyte and friend of Chicago bluesmen in the early 1960s when very few Whites were in the audiences of blues clubs, innovating hard electric blues-rock with the Butterfield Blues Band and as a sideman to Bob Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited, and making fitful attempts to reach beyond the blues-rock template with the soul-rock-psychedelia of the Electric Flag and his Super Session album with Al Kooper. What also emerges, however, is the portrait of a sensitive, intellectually formidable, yet troubled man unable to make the most of his talents, particularly in the 1970s, when medical and drug problems seem to wear down his resiliency and drive. The book also illustrates how Bloomfield's influence was greater than is apparent from his (at times quite impressive) discography, inspiring musicians such as Dylan and numerous San Francisco psychedelic bands not only with his skill, but also his generous and humorous spirit. It's good absorbing reading, its appeal not solely limited to Bloomfield devotees, effectively augmented by a thorough critical discography and a bound-in CD of seven rare electric and acoustic recordings from 1964.

    Follow the Music, by Jac Holzman & Gavan Daws (FirstMedia). Co-author Jac Holzman founded Elektra Records and ran the label until 1973, in which time it had grown from a tiny esoteric folk and classical company to one of the most successful indies of all time, famous for recording Phil Ochs, Judy Collins, Tim Buckley, Love, Fred Neil, Tom Paxton, the Stooges, the MC5, Paul Butterfield, and above all the Doors. This uneven but generally absorbing semi-autobiography follows the oral history format: there is no authorial prose, just quotes, ranging from brief to massive, from Holzman and dozens of Elektra artists, staff members, and peripheral figures in Elektra's evolution. For anyone with more than a passing interest in sixties rock and folk, there's a mountain of interesting stories about the records and lives of the Doors, Collins, Butterfield, and most of the notable Elektra roster, including not just their flagship artists but also relatively little-known ones such as Judy Henske, Kathy & Carol, and Joshua Rifkin. A frustration is that readers with a real wide interest will find the distribution of print to Elektra cult artists uneven: there's just a little on Fred Neil, Tom Rush, and the Dillards, for instance, and virtually nothing on Clear Light, David Blue, and Eclection, to name a few examples. Also, there's more ink than some would like on successful but less hip seventies musicians like Bread, Harry Chapin, and Queen. Holzman needed a superhuman drive to build his company into an industry power, and although some unflattering aspects of his character and controversial incidents are discussed, a hagiographic tone sometimes seeps through. In addition, some of the business-oriented details of the story, such as the build-up of distribution and negotiations behind the eventual sale of Elektra to Warner Brothers, will lose readers that aren't curious about the financial side of the record industry. These reservations, however, are far outweighed by the wealth of illuminating inside anecdotes and observations. Too, these are underscored by subtle reminders of how the kind of personal, maverick, taste-driven record-making that Elektra excelled at in the sixties would largely vanish in subsequent years. The 2000 paperback edition of Follow the Music, incidentally [ISBN # 096612210-0], comes with a bound-in CD of 26 songs by Elektra folk, blues, and folk-rock artists of the 1950s and 1960s, including Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, Tim Buckley, the Incredible String Band, the Dillards, Judy Henske, and Fred Neil.

    Red Dust and Broadsides, by Agnes "Sis" Cunningham and Gordon Friesen (University of Massachusetts Press). From the 1930s through the end of the twentieth century, Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen were social activists and political radicals. The married couple made their biggest impact by founding and producing Broadside, the topical folk song magazine that provided exposure in the 1960s for new singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Malvina Reynolds, Janis Ian, Eric Andersen, and many others. This is their joint autobiography, and those who are interested primarily in their musical activities might be disappointed to note that only about a tenth of the 350-page volume focuses on the Broadside years. Their lives prior to the 1960s were not dull at all, involving growing up in hardship in the rural Midwest, working in left-wing political and art organizations while withstanding considerable harassment in the post-Depression era, and living in harsh poverty in New York City after World War II, due in large part to journalist Friesen getting blacklisted for his politics. Yet the book is not as exciting as their story most likely was. The writing is jumpy -- due in some, but not entire, part to the narrative voice alternating between Friesen and Cunningham -- and there is a great concentration upon folksy but mundane incidents from their early lives in particular. Given its length, the text unaccountably gives little or no coverage to some of their most interesting and trying experiences; you have to read editor Ronald D. Cohen's detailed afterword to get a clearer picture of the key turns of events in their lives. It's like a somewhat raw record of their recollections that would have taken more focus, or more of a writerly eye, to really make their times compel the reader. That's unfortunate, because there are accounts of twentieth century American radicalism here -- Communist organizing during the Depression era, the Green Corn Rebellion during World War I, and the terrible life-threatening indigence suffered by many of the inner-city poor during the supposedly prosperous 1950s -- that are all but buried by mainstream history. As for the coverage of Broadside, there are some interesting anecdotes and perspectives of the perennially struggling but very influential magazine. Yet even here, one senses that a whole bookful of incidents that could have been related for the Broadside years alone are just given the basic tour, with little specific stories or memories on the community the couple helped anchor, and the recordings Broadside produced.

    This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band, by Levon Helm with Stephen Davis (A Cappella Books). Helm, drummer and frequent vocalist in the Band, tells the story of the group from his viewpoint in this autobiography (reissued in 2000 by A Cappella Books), which also includes some coverage of his career as an actor, childhood, and post-Band projects. His anecdotes of growing up in humble circumstances in Arkansas are folksy and not so gripping; the narrative gets going properly when Helm joins Ronnie Hawkins' backing group in the late 1950s. This is the band that, with a series of personnel adjustments, would become the Hawks, who would become the Band, and Helm delivers a bunch of raisin'-hell-on-the-road stories before they hook up with Bob Dylan in 1965 and begin their transformation into more serious artists. Actually Helm left the group for a couple of years in late 1965, discouraged by the boos for Dylan's early live electric performances, so the coverage of the era leading up to the formation of the Band proper is a little patchy. It's the late-1960s Band era, of course, that gets more ink than anything else. Helm has a lot to say, most of it interesting, about the group's teamwork and creative process. He also has a lot to say, much of it controversial, about the problems that quickly led to their creative decline and dissolution, specifically citing Robbie Robertson. Make no mistake about it: Helm feels that Robertson took way too much songwriting credits and publishing for the Band's original material than he deserved, disenchanting the other members and dampening their incentive to write after the Band's second album. He's also bitter about Robertson's decision to kill the Band by retiring from touring for The Last Waltz, a movie that Helm participated in grudgingly. And for good measure he adds a lot of criticism of The Last Waltz director Martin Scorsese, and original Band manager Albert Grossman. Throughout the text, there are supplementary extended quotes by fellow Band member Rick Danko, producer John Simon, and some other people that knew Helm, somewhat impeding the flow even as they add valuable perspectives. Helm does offer a valid viewpoint that doesn't quite lose its cool, and contrasts interestingly with the attitudes of Robertson toward the Band's past. Barney Hoskyns' Band biography is a more critical, objective, and well-written portrait of the group, but Helm's autobiography is a worthwhile supplement to that volume.



    contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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