youngs_frontWith his new book, The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC,Jesse Fink goes beyond a band biography to focus on the brothers, Angus, Malcolm, and George, that power the group that has become a hard rock staple. The Youngs delves into the relationship between the trio and those around them as they have built the band to superstar status. Jesse took a few moments to talk to us about the book.

Music Tomes: In the beginning of the book you talk about the heart wrenching circumstances in which you reconnected with AC/DC. How did that vulnerable state allow you to hear the band differently?

Jesse Fink: Yes, I make the point in the author’s note that good music “immortalises those beautiful, private moments of existential clarity” and “makes us embrace life and its vicissitudes.” I think what I went through – seeing my wife of 10 years leave for another man, experiencing unremitting loneliness, enduring years of depression, raising a young girl amid all this darkness – made me mentally stronger and more determined to dig myself out of the trough I was in. I found music helped me more than anything else and still does. Whenever I feel vulnerable or emotionally weak in some way I listen to music to give me that lift and make me focus on what I need to do to be a better person. Just listen to the lyrics to “It’s a Long Way to the Top”, for example. It’s a great code for living. You want to get anywhere in this life you need to work your hide off and never lose sight of your goal. Those guys in AC/DC inspired me and they continue to inspire me. They’re a living example of what hard work, self-belief, talent and mental fortitude can do. I take my hat off to them.

MT: What surprised you in your research?

JF: The story Mark Evans told me about the Young brothers having considered terminating the employment of Bon Scott. That was something I didn’t see coming at all. Also drummer Tony Currenti’s role in so much great Australian music, including “High Voltage”, the band’s unforgettable 1975 single, and Stevie Wright’s “Evie”. Tony is now working in a pizzeria in Sydney. He’s a musical treasure. It’s been wonderful to see him finally get some recognition from fans. He’s never got it from people inside the industry, that’s for sure. Another thing that surprised me was the number of important people who had lost contact with the Youngs. AC/DC are wildly successful, but a lot of people helped them along the way. Arguably those people deserved better treatment.

MT: You touch on the fact that a lot of the band’s critics come off as a bit classist when looking at the band. Why do you think the band connects so well with blue-collar, everyday people?

JF: They’re not trying to be too clever but of course they’re unbelievably clever. They just want to rock. And – it’s a point I make strongly – there’s nothing wrong with just wanting to rock. The lyrics don’t have to be Dylanesque for the music to be significant. Don’t tell me “Back in Black” isn’t one of the greatest moments in 20th century rock. It’s timeless; an epic song with so much emotion underpinning it. Bon Scott is also an icon of blue-collar, everyday people around the world. He lived life on his own terms, never apologised to anyone, and left us with some of the greatest rock songs of all time. Bon was a superb writer and a real wit. Those early songs reflect a lot of “everyday” life, especially the songs on Powerage. That’s why it’s my favourite AC/DC album.

MT: Have you heard from anyone within the AC/DC camp since the book has been released?

JF: Yes, many people who have worked with the band. Mike Fraser, their engineer, is a friend. Ross Young, Malcolm’s son, is a friend. Mark Evans, Tony Currenti, Doug Thaler, Tony Platt, Jerry Greenberg, David Thoener and many others who are AC/DC luminaries past or present have said very positive things about the book. I’ve had no direct word from anyone currently inside the band but Ross told me his parents enjoyed the book and that his mum loved it. I take that as a huge compliment. The fact Mark Evans thought it was the best book he’d ever read about the band was really unexpected and one of the highlights of my career. There are aspects of the book that are critical of AC/DC but above all it’s written with great love and affection for them – and I think smart readers recognise that.

MT: What are you currently working on?

JF: I have just written proposals for two music biographies: another AC/DC-themed book (there’s a lot more to this band) and a really exciting book on one of the most unknown tales in Southern rock. I’d like to write both of them. I’m also very keen on the idea of turning one of the chapters in The Youngs into a film and adapting the Southern rock idea into a biopic. The first is perfect for Will Ferrell and the second is tailor-made for Matthew McConaughey and Vince Vaughn. So I’m looking to connect with the right people and see these projects come to life, either as books or films or both. I think Southern rock deserves a great movie.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

JF: Recently I really enjoyed Rick Springfield’s Late, Late at Night. Props to the bloke for his honesty and his humour. He’s a very good writer. Wasn’t expecting it at all. Also Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business by Fredric Dannen (1991). What a book. It’s a classic about the venality of the American music business.

Aside from music books, the other thing I love to read are comic books. I’ve been reading them since before I discovered music biographies or criticism. As a matter of fact, when I took a break from Music Tomes I started Derby City Comic Con. So my love of the medium runs deep.

One of the creators I met during that time was Chad Lambert. Chad is a writer who has written several independent releases as well as writing Ape Entertainment title Kung Fu Panda. Now he has a new publishing venture and a comic on the cult classic WKRP in Cincinnati. Today Chad talked to us about the project.Cover

Music Tomes: You use your own story to bookend the story of WKRP in Cincinnati. What was it about the show that inspired you to get in to radio?

Chad Lambert: During the era of WKRP, deejays mattered. On-air personality mattered. As a child of the 70s, I found it intoxicating that you could sit alone in a room and talk directly to thousands of people. It’s more intimate than other mediums. I used to listen to Gary Burbank on 700 WLW growing up, and he could make you feel like you were sitting in the studio with him and Doc, laughing and having a good time with the BBC cast of thousands. There aren’t many personalities like that anymore. Bob and Tom still carry the spirit of comradery with their listeners. I miss that. But, back then, it was amazing to hear, and WKRP beautifully captured a time and place that I wanted to be a part of.

MT: The show has grown such a big cult following over the years. What is it about the characters that people identify with so much?

CL: The show was actually about its characters. Every episode was built around some type of character dilemma. You don’t see that in sitcoms very often. The Big Bang Theory reminds me a little bit of WKRP, because it’s about stories that only its characters can tell.

The plotting device of WKRP also made it more character-centric. They dropped Andy Travis – a normal guy – into the chaos of a failing radio station populated by crazy (ish) people. Andy served as the viewers’ tour guide though all the laughter and the insanity. In the first season, he reacted to situations as you would have. Once you got to know everyone (like Andy did), it became more of an ensemble show.

That show certainly prepared me for the real world of radio. Every station I worked for was a dysfunctional family of characters. Sadly, there were far more douche bags in the real world of radio than there were on the television version. But there were also some AMAZING people that I still love to this day.

MT: How did this project come about?

CL: Jaymes Reed has been my Letterer of choice for the last eleven years. He had pitched a biography series to Bluewater about legends of comedy and asked me to edit the first few issues he’d written. I was amazed at the quality of the work he’d done, so I signed on. Our first three issues were George Carlin, Lucy and the Three Stooges. I later pitched him the idea of adding television shows that had an impact on comedy, so our fourth issue was Saturday Night Live. At some point I casually mentioned WKRP and how I became a Cincinnati deejay because of it, and it became an obvious choice.

Somewhere around the release of SNL, we decided to self-publish our series so we could have more creative control. Nothing against Bluewater, but they aren’t exactly known for high-quality biography books. Our stuff was getting lost in all that “Celebrity of the Moment” crap, and we wanted to stand alone. That’s why we formed Levity Biographies.

MT: What are some of the advantages of working in a visual format like comic books?

CL: I absolutely love collaboration. I’m a storyteller, but it’s so cool to bring in visual storytellers to help tell the same story. Illustrators bring so many gifts that you can’t capture in prose. I love this medium because it doesn’t rely on just words. It’s a marriage of different disciplines all doing the same thing with the same goal.

MT: What are you currently working on?

CL: Levity is really close to finishing our next book, which covers the life and times of Redd Foxx. Jaymes wrote a great script, and I was honored to edit it. I’ve also been honored to contribute to this series, because I am such a fan of comedy. I get as much joy editing this series as I do occasionally writing for it. I hope we can do this series indefinitely. There’s certainly no lack of subject matter.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

CL: Well, my WKRP comic is pretty good (laughs). In all seriousness, I’ve been enjoying Jim Peterik’s new book Through the Eye of the Tiger: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Life of Survivor’s Founding Member. I am unapologetic in my fandom for such uncool bands as Survivor, but their story pretty amazing, and Peterik is an underrated songwriter, too. He was a hit machine for a couple of decades. I’m fascinated by the music industry, so it’s great to read a book that goes into the more unknown nooks and crannies of the business.

To get a copy of the book, go here

This Week’s Releases (11/3-8)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

Country Music: A Biographical Dictionary, Richard Carlin, Routledge, Nov 3, 2014, Paperback Edition

The Alternative Jukebox: 500 extraordinary tracks that tell a story of alternative music, BBC 6 Music, Cassell, Nov 4, 2014

Beatles: Here, There, and Everywhere, Nancy J. Hajeski, Thunder Bay Press, Nov 4 2014

Live Dead: The Grateful Dead Photographed by Bob Minkin, Bob Minkin, Insight Editions, Nov 4, 2014

Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia, Adam Lerner, Princeton Architectural Press, Nov 4, 2014

True Love, Jennifer Lopez, Celebra, Nov 4, 2014

Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, Terry Teachout, Gotham, Nov 4, 2014, Paperback Edition

Going Platinum: KISS, Donna Summer, and How Neil Bogart Built Casablanca Records, Brett Ermilio and Josh Levine, Globe Pequot Press, Nov 4, 2014

I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the Music That Shaped the Civil Rights Era, Greg Kot, Scribner, Nov 4, 2014, Paperback Edition

Into the Black: The Inside Story of Metallica (1991-2014), Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood, Da Capo, Nov 4, 2014

LIFE Unseen Tony Bennett, The Editors of LIFE, Time Life, Nov 4, 2014

Starting at Zero: His Own Story, Bloomsbury Publishing, Nov 6, 2014, Paperback Edition

Arctic Monkeys: Pretend Memories: A Biography, Rob Jovanovic, Red Planet, Nov 7, 2014

Cliff Richard & the Shadows: A Rock & Roll Memoir, Royston Ellis and Cliff Richard, Tomahawk Press, Nov 7, 2014

Today Henry Carrigan talks to me (Eric Banister) about my new book Johnny Cash FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Man in Black:

Music Tomes: Why did you write this book now?FAQcover

Eric Banister: There’s kind of a two-fold answer for that one. First, the opportunity to write a book in the FAQ series presented itself. The first artist I thought of was Cash. So the honest answer is that the timing was mostly serendipitous. But that’s not to say I wasn’t passionate about the subject matter. You have to be passionate, in at least some way, about any subject you dive deep enough into to write a book.

MT: How long did it take you to write the book?

EB: I wrote the book in a year. The advantage I had that enabled me to write it so quickly was that I’ve been a Cash fan since grade school. I had already read nearly everything that had been released on Cash. I had collected articles and info on him for years. I had or had heard nearly everything he had released. That gave me an advantage in getting the book turned around quickly.

MT: Your book arrives just about one year after Robert Hilburn’s monumental biography, Johnny Cash: The Life. What distinguishes your book from his?

EB: They are really completely different books. In fact I feel like Johnny Cash FAQ is an excellent companion to Robert’s book. The Life, while it talks a little about the music, focuses on Cash’s personal life (sometimes a little too much, but that’s my opinion) and digs in to the personal relationships that he had throughout his life. There’s a good amount of time spent on his romantic relationships and whom he may or may not have slept with. That’s all well and good, and I don’t mean to take anything away from the book because I did enjoy it, but in the grand scheme of Cash’s legacy, it’s not what will be remembered.

What will be remembered is the music. Johnny Cash will always be remembered as one of the greatest artists of all time, and that’s because of the music. My whole purpose was to look at Cash’s catalog, examine the songs, the song choices, the performances, and put them into a historical context to properly examine them. I spent a lot of time looking at contemporaneous reviews of his albums as they were coming out to see what writers were saying in the moment rather than through the lens of nostalgia.

MT: What three new things (and I’m sure there are more than three) did you learn about Cash while you were writing this book?

EB: Well let me see if I can narrow this down. Where I found a lot of fascination was in his work in the 1970s, which are often overlooked, so I’ll focus there. First, I found it very interesting how he developed as an artist throughout those years. He wrote fewer songs than he did prior to that, but he put together the House of Cash publishing company so that he could not only keep up with the best new songwriters, but also help their careers in some way. Having those songwriters around also fed his own creativity, which is reflected in several of that periods albums.

The second thing was that, while I knew Cash was a very spiritual person, it was interesting to learn how much he leaned on Gospel music throughout his career, particularly when he was recording other projects that he might not have had his whole heart in, like John R. Cash.

Lastly, I found it infinitely fascinating the depth of myths surrounding him and how much both he and his fans were, and still are, willing to go along with them. A quick example that I didn’t get to go into in the book was his relationship with the Grand Ole Opry. The story goes that he was kicked off the Opry for smashing out the footlights. But in every account of it, only one, Marshall Grant, pinpoints a timeframe! So I got with Opry historian Byron Faye and we looked at the appearances during that time and none of them lined up. So why does it keep getting retold? Well, I think in the beginning, it put him in the same outlaw image that was being crafted for Hank Williams. There were articles even early in Cash’s career that tried to draw parallels. It was also a good story for illustrating a division in what was perceived as bastion of traditional country and what people like to think Cash stood for.

MT: Why does Cash continue to command such persistent attention from music historians?

EB: I think it is because he is such a complex figure. It’s easy to look at him and see only one facet, but there are so many layers. Sometimes those layers seem to contradict themselves, but that’s something every person deals with. But with Cash, some of those contradictions were created by his own self-mythologizing, which adds to his complexity.

Speaking strictly musically, Cash was able to create an instantly identifiable sound that he was able to maintain for a large portion of his career. Even when he varied it, it remained recognizable.

Those two things—the music and the myths—combine to draw people in. The fact that he kept creating right up until his death adds to his mystique as an artist. He’s one of the few artists who have created in the public eye from his early twenties to his death. A career of that span has a lot to look into.

MT: After writing this book, in what ways did your view of Cash change?

EB: I wouldn’t say change, but definitely my opinion of him as a creative artist deepened. No matter what was going on in his life, he continued to create. He didn’t limit himself in creative expression, either. He was a songwriter, a singer, an actor. He dabbled in comedy, though he was often the straight man. His second television show, which consisted of six weekly episodes, was heavy on comedy and featured June, Steve Martin, and Jim Varney. Cash was the one who got to set up many of the jokes and you could tell he was having a great time.

MT: Do you have a favorite Cash song? Album?

EB: My favorite song is still the first Cash song I ever heard, “I Walk The Line.” Favorite album is a little tougher. I’d say that the two albums I’ve returned to the most are Any Old Wind That Blows and Gone Girl. Both of them show Cash stretching a little, but not so much that he sounds uncomfortable.

MT: What would you like readers to take away from your book?

EB: I hope readers will take away a better appreciation of Cash’s career beyond the Sun years, the prison records, and the American years. I hope they’ll use the books as a launching pad to discover Cash tunes and albums that they haven’t heard before. There is so much there that is great, but criminally overlooked.

MT: What’s next for you?

EB: I’m currently writing my third book. It’s part of another series, the Counting Down series by Rowman & Littlefield. I’ve taken on the task of writing about the 100 best songs in Southern Rock. After that, I’ve got a few other books ideas percolating.

Beyond books, I’ll keep looking for ways to expand Music Tomes.

MT: What are some of your favorite music tomes?

EB: I read so many music related books a year, both for research and for Music Tomes, so this is hard to narrow down. I’ll just toss out a few from the last couple of years that I really enjoyed. Producing Country: The Inside Story of the Great Recordings by Michael Jarrett shows a different perspective on the creation of country music through the years. That probably my favorite book of the year so far. I’m looking forward to Barry Mazor’s book, Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music.

If you’re new to digging in to music related books, I love everything from Peter Guralnick and Charles K. Wolfe, and recommend anything by them. Also, if you’re a fan of music writing, there needs to be a copy of David Cantwell’s Merle Haggard: The Running Kind on your shelf. Incredibly insightful and well written. As David’s writing always has, this book really pushed me when looking at the vast work of Cash.

Henry Carrigan writes about music and music books for Engine 145, American Songwriter, No Depression, Publishers Weekly, and BookPage.

This Week’s Releases (10/26-11/1)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

Chicago Blues (Images of America), Wilbert Jones, Arcadia Publishing, Oct 27, 2014

Excess All Areas: A Lighthearted Look at the Demands and Idiosyncracies of Rock Icons on Tour, Sue Richmond, BackBeat Books, Oct 28, 2014

Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, Rick Bragg, Harper, Oct 28, 2014

On the Road with Janis Joplin, John Byrne Cooke, Berkley Hardcover, Oct 28, 2014

Tom Petty: Rock ‘n’ Roll Guardian, Andrea Rotondo, Overlook, Oct 28, 2014

Love Becomes a Funeral Pyre: A Biography of the Doors, Mick Wall, Orion, Oct 30, 2014

Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music, Barry Mazor, Chicago Review Press, Nov 1, 2014

The Strat in the Attic 2: More Thrilling Stories of Guitar Archaeology, Deke Dickerson, Voyageur Press, Nov 1, 2014

Today you can find the term “Rock Star” attached to nearly everything from someone who excels in their field to energy drinks. But at one time, that term carried a lot more weight. In his new book, Rock Star: The Making of Musical Icons from Elvis to Springsteen, David Shumay, Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, takes a look at seven artists that carried the term when it stood for something different, perhaps higher. David was nice enough to talk to us a bit about the project:shumwayComps.indd

Music Tomes: How did you decide to focus on the seven artists you use in the book?

David Shumway: I was not intending to try to create a canon, which should be obvious since there is no chapter that focuses on the Beatles. My choices were informed by my interest in showing that rock stardom had broad cultural significance, and in investigating how it was linked to the social and cultural changes that are associated with the 1960s. I wanted stars who represented a range of these changes. They also had to be musicians of whom I was a fan, since, by my definition, one of the things stardom entails is an emotional bond the fan feels for the star. For this reason, it would have been hard to write about stars who did not matter to me. And, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend the time thinking about them. However, I should say that I am less a fan than critic even of those artists I like. For example, I can’t imagine writing someone a fan letter, and I’ve never had a great desire to meet rock stars.

MT: I’m sure you’ve heard as much about who you didn’t use as who you did. What struck me was that those you included seems to be artists with lengthy careers (with Elvis being the exception, comparatively) and that they seemed to have a fan base that values “authenticity.” What role did that play in your thought process?

DS: I did exclude Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison and the Doors because they did not have long careers. When I planned the book, I imagined that I would be telling the story of the development and/or changes of the persona of each subject, and there would be no story to tell about someone whose career lasted only a few years. As it turns out, none of my chapters actually deals with a whole career in detail, though the chapter on Springsteen comes closest. I didn’t have enough space in a single chapter, and I found that the persona or personas that really mattered tended to be associated with particular periods of artists’ careers.

MT: But the book is much more than just a look at the careers of these seven artists. It’s a deeper look at what created the “rock star,” correct?

DS: Yes, the book is about rock stardom as a specific cultural form. My premise is that by the late 1960s, rock stars had replaced movie stars as our culture’s most visible and iconic celebrities. That change was important because rock stars embodied different meanings than movie stars. The latter were primarily icons of personality. Greta Garbo, for example, was the tragic and enigmatic siren, Humphrey Bogart the tough, cynical man of honest commitments, and Cary Grant the sophisticated bon vivant. In the 1950s, a few movie stars, such as John Wayne and James Dean, have personas that embody more or less explicit politics, but with Elvis, we get a star who seems to challenge most the social hierarchies of race, class, gender, and age. After the Beatles and Rolling Stones, we begin to expect that rock stars will challenge convention and increasingly represent change. The changes rock stars represent are quite varied, including the breakdown of the distinction between high and low culture, the increasing intensity of consumerism, and the changing roles of women. As a result, people come to expect popular musicians to have something to say about important issues of the day, which is a major change from the days when they were assumed to be merely singers of silly love song

MT: You discuss in the conclusion the reasons that there aren’t rock stars being created today, citing, for one thing, the changes in the distribution of music. What is the world losing by not having the types of rock stars you talk about in the book?

DS: One thing that’s likely is that popular musicians are less likely to be taken seriously as social commentators, and even those who are will reach a smaller audience. So, the connection between music and politics that was established during the rock era has already begun to disappear. But I’ve been thinking lately about how listening is effected by recent changes in music distribution and technology. The shift from the model of purchasing albums to downloading songs has contributed to the decline of stardom, as consumers are less interested in who made the recording that in whether they like it. But I think it has also likely contributed to distracted listening. As Anahid Kassabian and others have observed, it has long been true that most listening to popular music is distracted, the music being a background for other activities. But stardom helped to encourage a more serious engagement at least with the music they produced. That was partly the result of the emotional bond that fans have with stars, but also the aesthetic interest that they have in understanding how new material adds to the star’s corpus. Of course, the latter need not be dependent stardom since any particular listener can treat the music of any artist no matter how obscure in this way. But stardom, in my view, encouraged many more people to listen in this way. This change in listening behavior would in turn contribute to decline of stardom itself.

MT: What are you currently working on?

DS: I’m writing a chapter for the Cambridge Companion to the singer-songwriter about the emergence of this category of performer in the late 1960s and early 1970s. My argument is that the singer-songwriter music needs to be considered a new genre developing out of the combination of folk and rock—different from the earlier “folk-rock.” It is a response in part to the political and cultural excesses of the 1960s, with 1968, the year when radicalism peaked around the world being the moment when this genre is first visible. But while it needs to be seen as more personal form, often confessional in character, it is not necessarily therefore politically regressive.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

DS: Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music; Simon Frith, Sound Effects and Music For Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop; Nick Bromell, Tomorrow Never Knows: Rock and Psychedelics in the 1960s; Steve Waksman, Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience; Anahid Kassabian, Hearing Film: Tracking Identifications in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music; Anthony DeCurtis, Rocking My Life Away: Writing about Music and Other Matters.

David Kastin is an award-winning author known for his writings on jazz for a variety of jazz publications and websites, as well as his book Nica’s Dream: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness, his biography. His new project, Turntable Publishing, is a boutique publisher focusing on examining, as their website says, “iconic albums of the LP era.” The first in the series, Song of the South: Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys, is his look at Randy Newman excellent 1974 album. Today he was kind enough to talk to us about the project.songofthesouth

Music Tomes: What drew you to Good Old Boys?

David Kastin: I’ve been a fan of Randy Newman beginning with his first album. It was just so different on every level. A lot of the songs had these lavish orchestral arrangements, but the songs themselves were these beautifully-observed miniature narratives filled with weird characters that somehow managed to be both satirical and compassionate at the same time.

By 1974, when Good Old Boys was released, Randy was one of my musical heroes – along with Dylan, The Beatles, Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin and Thelonious Monk, among others. So, I wasn’t surprised to hear another album of great songs and amazing arrangements. But GOB was also a surprise in a lot of ways.

Rather than being a random collection of separate songs, each with a different musical setting, GOB was a low-key “concept album” that had its own unified sound: a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, along with a strutting ragtime element and a dash of movie-soundtrack gloss. But blended together seamlessly. And the songs were also linked together in a way that made the album deeper than the sum of its parts.

It was only later that I found out that Newman had started out with the idea of creating a kind of post-modern musical about the American South based on the life of a fictional character named Johnny Cutler (the narrator of “Rednecks”). He had even cut an album’s worth of demos – titled “Johnny Cutler’s Birthday” – that was finally released almost three decades later as part of a Rhino CD reissue of Good Old Boys.

So, about two years ago, when I was looking around for a new writing project I homed in on GOB. It’s not only a great album on its own terms, but it’s got a fascinating backstory; and even though it’s very relevant to the era when it was created, it’s also universal and timeless. And that’s the story I try to tell in my book.

MT: The album plays between the triangle of artists like Neil Young writing condemnations of the South, black artists writing songs of hope, and the regional pride of Southern Rock. Was Newman’s aim to show a side that existed somewhere in the middle?

DK: You’re right. The South definitely had a big role in the politics and popular culture of the country when Randy was developing Good Old Boys. Especially, in regard to the racial turmoil that had been generated by the Civil Rights movement. And because of how pop music had come to focus on social issues over the previous decade, you had all kinds of music – folk, jazz, R&B and rock – using the events of the time period as subjects for their songs. In the early ’70s, for example, Neil Young was singing critically about the on-going racism of the South in “Alabama” and “Southern Man,” and at the same time, you had bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd writing expressions of Southern pride, including “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Randy was extremely conscious of America’s political landscape – especially where it concerned race. But in his work, he wasn’t interested in the kind of “message songs” that had grown out of the 60’s folk era. He was out to explore deeper issues about culture and identity. He often compared himself to writers like John Updike or Flannery O’Connor whose short stories explored the complexities of human nature rather than engaging in sloganeering or political labels. In Good Old Boys, Randy’s Southerners have both virtues and faults. Things aren’t black and white (pun intended), but there are always shades of grey.

MT: The majority of the songs are written from the point of view of fictional characters and sung in the first person. Did listeners have a hard time separating the narrator and the singer?

DK: From the start of his career, Newman was unique in that virtually all the other singer-songwriters of the period, including Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Dylan wrote their songs in the first person. The universal assumption was that the “I” in their song’s point of view was the songwriter. But Randy created this diverse cast of fictional characters who were the narrators of his songs and that led to a lot of confusion, and in many cases a lot of controversy.

Take “Rednecks” from GOB. The song is sung in the first person by an unapologetic racist who uses the N-word throughout the entire song! Even before the record was released Newman was giving interviews cautioning listeners not to be confused about who the narrator of the song was – that it wasn’t him. Not that it helped.

He also ran into the same problem a few years later with “Short People.” When people heard Newman singing “Short people got no reason to live” they got angry at him. As if he was expressing his own feelings. The same thing happened when he released a new song just before the 2012 presidential election (“I’m Dreaming of a White President”) that was told from a racist’s point of view. Even liberal commentators had a hard time coming to terms with just whose ideas we’re being expressed.

MT: This book is being released on a new ebook publisher. How do you think e-publishing changes things for music journalism?

DK: In the past few years, recorded music has gone digital, so it’s logical for books about music to do the same. It also makes economic sense in a music environment that has become so fragmented. The cost of traditional publishing is hard to reconcile now that the existence of a single mass audience for a handful of major pop acts is pretty much obsolete.

E-books can be cost-effective even when targeted to a niche audience, and – without the whole laborious process of traditional printing, shipping, and marketing – they can be produced and made available much more quickly.

Finally, there is the ability of e-books to supplement their narratives with music and video elements that can really make the subject come alive. This is slowly starting to happen. In particular, Peter Guralnick’s early books about blues, country and R&B are being reissued with musical samples, video clips, and portions from his original audiotaped interviews. I think this will be the model of the future.

Hopefully, as music publishers and record companies come to understand the potential of these kind of books to also sell records, they’ll be willing to adjust their fees for copyright permissions which are still prohibitive in most cases. I think for both music journalists and fans, the potential of e-books is tremendously exciting.

5. What are you currently working on?

As you mentioned, Song of the South is being published as an e-book. It’s the first volume in Turntable Publishing’s LP Companion Series, which I started in order to expand on what’s become a popular concept in music publishing: books about iconic recordings. Over the past few years, there have been explorations of jazz albums, like Ashley Kahn’s Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, and classic rock songs, like Greil Marcus’s Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads Of course, there’s also the long-running 33 1/3 series, many of which are great, but lately I think they have tended to concentrate on more obscure albums and have become a little too “meta.”

With the LP Companion Collection, I wanted to both provide a focus, by limiting the time-frame to the “LP Era” (1948-1988), while also opening it up to all genres of popular music. I’m convinced that there’s an audience for books exploring landmark recordings, whether it’s Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, King of the Delta Blues by Robert Johnson, or Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin.

So, right now I’m in the process of transitioning, at least temporarily, from writer to publisher. I’m already in the process of developing the next volume in the LP Companion Collection, which I hope to announce soon. It’s a project I’m really committed to. If any of your readers have suggestions for new titles, they’re welcome to chime in at

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

DK: That’s a hard one. There’s been so much good writing about popular music, especially over the past 25-30 years. I actually began by reading a lot of jazz writers and would recommend anything by Nat Hentoff, Whitney Balliet, and Gary Giddins. In particular the book Blues People: Negro Music in White America by LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) had a big impact on me.

Among the other books that meant a lot to me are Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta (a real classic) and Peter Guralnick’s books about blues and R&B (especially Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom). Like a lot of people, I was also influenced by Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, which showed that you could write about American popular music with the same kind of ambition and intellectual rigor as you could about American art or literature.

One book that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is by the journalist and novelist, Nick Tosches. The title has gone through a number of changes since it was published in 1977, but my favorite is: Country: The Twisted Roots Of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s a wild ride and should be much better known.

The last two Week’s Releases (10/12-25)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy from Anthrax, Scott Ian, Da Capo Press, Oct 14, 2014

On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom, Dennis McNally, Counterpoint, Oct 14, 2014

Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars, Neil Young, Blue Rider Press, Oct 14 2014

Young Neil: The Sugar Mountain Years, Sharry Wilson, ECW Press, Oct 14, 2014

Experiencing Led Zeppelin: A Listener’s Companion, Gregg Akkerman, Rowman & Littlefield, Oct 16, 2014

Geek Rock: An Exploration of Music and Subculture by Alex DiBlasi and Victoria Willis, Rowman & Littlefield, Oct 16, 2014

Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, Peter Bebergal, Tarcher, Oct 16, 2014

The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, Jesse Fink, Black and White Publishing, Oct. 16, 2014

The Flatlanders: Now It’s Now Again (American Music Series), John T. Davis, University of Texas Press, Oct 20, 2014

Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?: A Memoir, George Clinton and Ben Greenman, Atria, Oct 21, 2014

The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy, Joel Beckerman and Tyler Gray, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct 21, 2014

Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin, Dave Thompson, Backbeat Books, Oct 21, 2014

Nothing but Love in God’s Water: Volume I, Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, Robert F. Darden, Penn State University Press, Oct 24, 2014

In Channeling Elvis: How Television Saved the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Allen Wiener takes a look at the role television played in the career of Elvis. It’s an angle on the subject that is fresh and the book is an entertaining look at the synergy between the then-growing medium of television and the career of a legend.1785

Allen took a few minutes to tell us a little more about the project:

Music Tomes: Elvis was coming up at a time when television was a new and exciting development. What do you think Elvis’ early career would have looked like without television?

Allen Wiener: I think he would still have gotten there, but it would have taken a lot longer and been more gradual. His records were doing well and he was a presence on radio, but so were other new rock artists. He might have gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle there, although his voice and style were very new and unique and would have made him a star eventually. Television put him physically in front of the entire country in a single moment, and he really stood out visually on those early TV shows. He looked and performed so differently from anyone else, and his voice and the type of music he did were so new to most of the country, that he was bound to draw a lot of attention, which he did. I think television was the crucial element in quickly establishing Elvis as a superstar. When he first appeared on national TV in January 1956, he was not well known outside the South and was still barnstorming with country & western package shows. By the end of that year, after around a dozen TV appearances, he was a national sensation, had scored nearly a dozen Top 40 hits in Billboard, five of them reaching number 1, had a Hollywood contract, and had starred in his first film. Television deserves much credit for all of that happening so fast.

MT: It seems that throughout his career Elvis was able to utilize television to great effect. Was that something mapped out by Colonel Tom, or were there other influences?

AW: Colonel Parker deserves the credit for that. It was his idea to put Elvis on television as soon as he signed on as Presley’s manager. The recording contract he secured for Elvis with RCA Records included a provision calling for RCA to book TV appearances for Elvis. He even argued with Harry Kalcheim at the William Morris Agency, who wanted Elvis to continue touring for a while before appearing on TV, but the Colonel knew he could reach millions of people at once with a single TV spot, an audience that it would take months to accumulate through live concerts. So the Colonel knew what he was doing and his efforts were really responsible for Elvis’ early success. He also had the kind of business connections Elvis needed as a seasoned show biz veteran, who had managed stars like Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow (who also was his partner for a time). Of course, he might not have been as successful with a performer who was less exciting than Elvis, who was such a great performer and innovator, but Elvis needed someone like the Colonel to promote him successfully and map his course, while also looking after the business end of things. He was quite a genius at this and was particularly brilliant in making sure that no one got to see or hear too much of Elvis, which could lead to overexposure. Parker always made sure that the fans were left wanting more of Elvis. The Colonel has come in for a lot of hindsight criticism for his handling of Elvis during the final years, when it appeared he was using Presley as a cash cow and keeping him on stage when he was no longer in good health or performing well. He may deserve some of that, but he also deserves a lot of credit for Elvis becoming a star and sustaining his career so successfully for as long as he did. Of course, he had no artistic taste and didn’t seem to care at all about the quality of the work Elvis produced, particularly his formulaic movies during the 1960s, but I think Elvis is, perhaps, more responsible for that because he never really pushed for better quality material. He seemed to do whatever he was told, complaining only in private, never to anyone who might have been able to improve things for him.

MT: Some of Elvis’ performances caused quite a stir. What did having him on mean for a show host?

AW: His early TV appearances were on mid-1950s variety shows, some of which were hosted by older performers in the waning days of their own careers, including the Dorsey Brothers (Tommy and Jimmy) and Milton Berle. Their shows did not last after Elvis’ appearances and I think they enjoyed a short period of ratings success largely because of Elvis, who stood out immediately and stirred interest from the beginning. I wouldn’t put Steve Allen in the same category, even though he had been around for quite awhile too and was, in fact, starting a new variety show when Elvis appeared with him. He had been the original host of the Tonight show before that and was well known on television, but Elvis’ appearance on his show was a real coup for Allen. His new show went up against The Ed Sullivan Show, easily one of the most popular and highly-rated TV shows, so Allen had a very high bar to reach if he was to compete in that Sunday time slot. Sullivan, of course, had brushed off Elvis and the Colonel and thought Presley a hillbilly singer who was not good enough for his show. But Allen dealt Sullivan one of his few ratings defeats the night Elvis appeared with him and that really got Sullivan’s attention. He booked Elvis for three appearances almost immediately, and for the highest fee he ever paid any performer. So Elvis was very important to all of these television hosts. Of course, his later television appearances in the 1960s and 1970s were all on TV specials that centered entirely on Elvis and included no other stars.

allenwMT: What surprised you in your research?

AW: Several things, really, but most significantly the impression that, despite his hard-edged, rocker image, Elvis was a very compliant person off the stage and screen. He went along with anything he was told to do, almost never raising objections or asking that things be done differently from the way others arranged them. Everyone I spoke to from those shows commented on how shy, quiet, and polite he was, always addressing everyone as “Sir” or “Ma’am.” The most glaring example of this was his silence during rehearsal for The Steve Allen Show. Allen’s was a comedy show and guests were always put in comical sketches or settings, which often spoofed their public images. Serious actors, like Charlton Heston, would appear on the show that way and it was always for laughs. No one took it personally or thought they were being ridiculed. In fact, you have to be a star that the public instantly recognizes in order to be spoofed or the audience won’t get the joke. Elvis, however, felt he was being ridiculed when Allen decked him out in formal evening attire (white tie and tails) and had him sing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound. He also put Elvis in a comic sketch in a country and western setting, which Elvis thought was intended to ridicule his rural background. Yet, Elvis never said a word to Steve Allen about any of this or asked that anything be changed. He complained to his own entourage, and they all told him to speak to Steve Allen, that he was a star and a guest and had every right to weigh in on how he was being staged. But Elvis just sulked and said he would go along with what he was told. For years Steve Allen took a lot of brutal criticism for the way Elvis appeared and performed on his show and I think it’s unjustified. It didn’t help that Allen himself changed his own version of the story over the years and seemed to become defensive about it once he heard all the criticism, but I don’t think he was trying to hurt Elvis at all. He was trying to help himself and his ratings by fitting Elvis into his show. The one time Elvis’ attitude paid off was the 1968 “Comeback” special, Elvis, when he put himself in producer/director Steve Binder’s hands and Binder created one of the real triumphs of Presley’s career.

MT: What are you currently working on?

AW: Promoting this book! Which turns out to be a full time job! Seriously, I always take a break after each book and have not started looking for a new project yet. I hope something will catch my eye and give me a new idea. I have strong interest in history and the entertainment world, so I’m likely to look there again for a subject. I have started blogging and would like to continue with that, at least for a while.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

AW: Major Elvis sources are at the top of my mind right now, having spent a lot of time with them over the past few years, especially Peter Guralnick’s seminal two-volume bio of Presley, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley and Ernst Jorgensen’s Elvis Presley: A Life In Music. I love Good Rockin’ Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock ‘N’ Roll by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins, the story of Sun Records, which is such a major moment in rock history and, thus, essential reading. There are tons of books on the Beatles and I’ve read my share, but Nicholas Schaffner’s Beatles Forever remains a great read and brings back the joyful side of Beatlemania. I’ve always enjoyed the music of Harry Chapin and Bobby Darin and would recommend Peter Coan’s Chapin bio Taxi: The Harry Chapin Story and Jeff Bleiel’s book on Darin, That’s All: Bobby Darin On Record, Stage & Screen, Revised and Expanded Second Edition. As far as history goes, I strongly recommend That’s Not What They Meant!: Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America’s Right Wing by Michael Austin, which is a terrific corrective to all the claims by pundits about what the Founding Fathers “meant” when they wrote and ratified the Constitution. I belong to a history book club and our current selection, The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century by David Reynolds, coincides with the 100th anniversary of World War I.

Keep up with Allen at his Website:

Over its 40 years, Austin City Limits has become an institution and appointment viewing for music fans across the country. In Austin City Limits: A History Tracey Laird digs in to the shows origins and its evolution. Tracey was nice enough to talk to us a bit about the book.

Music Tomes: When approaching something like Austin City Limits, which is a television show, but also a cultural touchstone, how do you decide how that story should be told?ACL

Tracey Laird: It was important for me to tell the story from the present tense — in other words, to resist two competing impulses. On the one hand, there is the tug of nostalgia for the wonderful music and vibe of the progressive country era that begat the show. On the other hand, there is an impulse to reify Austin City Limits so that it seems more museum piece than living, dynamic entity whose story continues to unfold. The image that guided the project from very early on was that of a prism — figuratively speaking, a person could walk around the story of Austin City Limits and see something new, depending on the perspective or angle. Each chapter of the book feels to me like a different side of the prism, so my goal was to describe how I see it from different points of view and to connect the dots so that the picture becomes as complete as possible. I loved searching for ways to communicate both its changes and its continuity over 40 years, and at the same time convey the passion and enthusiasm of the remarkable people who make the program.

MT: Is it possible to strictly separate the show from its location, Austin, Texas, when talking about the rise of the perception as a music center?

TL: Not for me. We are not talking about a simplistic, causal connection and yet, at the same time, the show and the city cannot be separated. Austin City Limits grew up in a place where cultural boundary-crossing was normal. White, black, brown — Austin’s location made it a place where people of different heritage mixed it up, musicians included. Progressive country itself, the musical moment that gave rise to the show, encompassed a wide range of styles. Austin’s lively and constantly changing music scene attracted broader and broader notice over the course of the same years as Austin City Limits deepened its reputation. The city’s reputation spread in part because of efforts from many different corners — musicians, business people, civic leaders, and so on. By the time the city coined its well-known moniker “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin City Limits was the best-known evidence for the claim.

MT: For many years ACL was associated primarily with country music with a sprinkling of blues and roots musicians thrown in. In the last ten years or so they’ve seemed to expand to more “indie rock” artists and world music. Is that a reflection of Austin, or an acknowledgement of how the reach of the show has grown?

TL: I think of the early 1980s as ACL’s country music phase in very general terms, but even then memorable shows include people like Ray Charles or B. B. King, Flaco Jimenez or Pete Fountain. The 1990s leaned more on the term “roots music” but programmed shows with performers like the Manhattan Transfer. In other words, there was never a time when any general framework of genre ruled the bookings for Austin City Limits, although there are larger patterns.

Since the turn of the century, Austin City Limits has expanded even in the sense for what that identifies: not just a show viewed on TV, but available to stream on a laptop or mobile device. Now Austin City Limits encompasses the festival and the new venue as well. Those are forces that bear both on ACL as a media entity and on the city of Austin as its home, and it all expands the reach of ACL in terms of its meaning, its musical breadth, and its audiences. In some sense that breadth links back to the wide open spirit of progressive country, and certainly to the particularly expansive season 4 (the first one booked by longtime producer Terry Lickona). Perhaps that kind of wide-ranging musical span has come into its time, and audiences are ready to take in more.

MT: You wrote an excellent book on the Louisiana Hayride. Are there any similarities between ACL and the radio barn dances of old?

TL: What comes to mind is spontaneity. In its day, the Louisiana Hayride unfolded according to a general plan devised by the producer but remained very in touch with the spontaneity and energy that makes live music exciting. Radio has that “theater of the mind” aspect and a wonderful thing about live radio was the presence of the unexpected — the lingering sense that one never knows what will happen next.

Austin City Limits as a television production doesn’t tap into that imagination element of radio, but does convey a sense of emotional immediacy that comes from close-up camera angles. It also maintains the sense of spontaneity that most music on television misses because production norms favor multiple takes and a heavy editing hand. Austin City Limits director Gary Menotti sketches out a time-based plan during rehearsals, and that loosely guides the camera shots during the performance itself. When the music begins, however, the production stays out of the way. Artists don’t get asked to repeat a song or part of a song for the sake of the cameras because that kills the live energy. Austin City Limits shares that appreciation for concert energy with the Hayride and other live radio barn dances.

MT: This is the 40th season of ACL. Where do you think the future will take it?

TL: There is really no telling. ACL dwells in a unique space defined by quality performers across a broad range of genres. People who are excited and passionate about music come to ACL for a substantive encounter with musicians they already love, or with musicians they figure must be quality for them to appear on Austin City Limits.

It has an ability, then, to act as a sort of taste filter, an identity that springs from uniquely overlapping elements that define the show: Austin hipness, PBS quality, production excellence, and just plain good musical taste on the part of Terry Lickona, Jeff Peterson, and other members of the production team. And they really all do work as a wonderful team.

How could that extend? Perhaps it could be the kinds of movie theater live streaming events like those for the New York Metropolitan Opera or London’s National Theater. Perhaps it could be a live show that brings multiple high quality musicians — from different genres — to tour under the auspices of Austin City Limits. Most likely it will be something I find it hard to imagine right now.

MT: What are you currently working on?

TL: With my spouse (also a writer — with a Kindle book called Future Great), I am working on the prose for a coffee table-style book about Austin City Limits that features the wonderful photos of Scott Newton, ACL’s longtime still photographer. That’s scheduled to be out in the spring. Other things on my plate include an article about the Battle of New Orleans in music and popular culture, which will appear in an edited collection next year. I’m also working on a more wide-ranging essay about roots music as an idea and a genre label. As for bigger projects, I’m part of a task force for the National Radio Preservation Board charged with collecting information about radio archives. That work along with two years I spent doing a weekly Atlanta AM radio show reminded me how much I still love thinking about radio and how much else I have left to learn. I’ll see where that takes me.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

TL: One of the best music tomes I have read in the past year is Stephen Wade’s The Beautiful Music All Around Us, which resulted from twenty years of archival and ethnographic research, and focused on 13 Library of Congress historic field recordings. The book is a lovely piece of work, and beautifully written. The music department at Agnes Scott College (where I teach) brought him to campus for a short residency during which he performed and reflected on his work, which brought the whole project to life still further.

A lot of my reading during the academic year is connected to my courses, so recently I discovered the edited collection of writing by Ellen Willis called Out of the Vinyl Deeps. A course I’m doing on the Beatles led me to two good reads: a book by British journalist Leslie Woodhead, How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin, and another by Geoff Emerick, Here, There and Everywhere with Howard Massey. The former conveys a perspective on pop culture’s significance far afield from the U.S. The latter springs from Emerick’s work as sound engineer on many Beatles recordings — his memories of those experiences are pretty fascinating.