For casual fans of blues and early rock, the name Big Mama Thornton is often associated a a footnote to the rise of Elvis Presley, who covered her song “Hound Dog.” But as Michael Spörke set out to discover, there was a lot more to Thornton’s life and music. Today Michael took some time to tell us a little about the book, Big Mama Thornton: The Life and Music.Spörke_978-0-7864-7759-3

Music Tomes: What drew you to the story of Big Mama Thornton?

Michael Spörke: I discovered Big Mama Thornton through her song “Ball & Chain,” the version by Janis Joplin with Big Brother & the Holding Company. At that time I was writing the biography of Big Brother & the Holding Company, Living with the myth of Janis Joplin. Janis Joplin`s cover made me curious about the woman and her music. I did listen to more of Big Mama Thornton`s music and I just loved it. So I started to research about her. But I mostly found stories about her being a difficult person and other kind of sensational stories. But not so much info about her whole life. That was the reason for me to look deeper into her life. And what I found was a great life story that wasn’t told yet. So I did it, because Big Mama Thornton deserves it.

MT: You mention in the introduction that doing the book was a “race against time” since you interviewed many people that knew Thornton personally. How did you go about finding those people?

MS: I was searching for people who did know her personally. To find them I researched via the internet, books, old articles, posters and other materials, just the way you do it when you do historical research. I tried to find the musicians that she recorded or performed with, her managers and friends. And than I contacted those persons via phone and asked them for a chance to talk with them about Big Mama Thornton. This whole process took several years. And I´m very glad that most of the people that I asked for an interview agreed to work with me. Some people that I talked to years ago for the book are no longer with us now, like Big Walter Price, Jimmy McCracklin, Texas Johnny Brown and others. I feel blessed for being able to talk with those great musicians and preserve their recollections about Big Mama Thornton.

MT: Was there anything you found in your research that surprised you?

MS: Well, a few things, yes. Mostly it was fascinating to see how much the official image of Big Mama Thornton as the tough, difficult person, is so different from what many of your fellow musicians told me about. She was in fact a very sensitive and humorous woman and as Nat Dove, her long time piano player says, Big Mama was many things: a comic, a dancer, a singer, an actress, a songwriter, and a person of true passion. And there are a few other wrong “facts” about her, that have been told over and over again and I very happy that I could clear some facts. For instance a rumour is that Big Mama Thornton traveled with a woman that was her girlfriend. In fact this woman she used to travel with was her half-sister Mattie Fields.

MT: How did Elvis’ cover of “Hound Dog” affect Thornton?

MS: Well, first of all as Elvis Presley recorded “Hound Dog” to international acclaim, Peacock re-released Big Mama Thornton’s original version (Peacock #1612). So it brought her new publicity, but only very shortly. But while she could only reach the black audience with her first version of the song, Elvis had the opportunity to reach the black and white audience. It sure made her bitter that Elvis could reach much more people with his version of the song and therefore made more money with it than she did.

MT: What are you currently working on?

MS: I currently have a lot to do with promoting the Big Mama Thornton book and holding book reading and signings. Also, I’m working on a new edition of the biography of Big Brother & the Holding Company, Living with the myth of Janis Joplin. But there is a new idea in my mind for a new book. And it will be about another blues musician.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite Big Mama Thornton music?

MS: As for Big Mama Thornton: “That Lucky Old Sun”, “Summertime” and her record with the Muddy Waters Band
And in general: One of my all time favourites is the “St. Louis Blues” sung by Bessie Smith with Louis Armstrong in the backing band.

The Week’s Release (9/14-20)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?]

Gimme Indie Rock: 500 Essential American Underground Rock Albums 1981-1996, Andrew Earles, Voyageur Press, Sept 15, 2014

Motown Artist by Artist, Pat Morgan, G2 Entertainment, Sept 15, 2014

Yankee Twang: Country and Western Music in New England (Music in American Life), Clifford R. Murphy, University of Illinois Press, Sept 15, 2014

Arlo Guthrie: The Warner/Reprise Years (American Folk Music and Musicians Series), Hank Reineke, Rowman & Littlefield, Sept 16, 2014 (Paperback Edition)

Primus, Over the Electric Grapevine: Insight into Primus and the World of Les Claypool, Primus and Greg Prato, Akashic Books, Sept 16, 2014

Mavericks of Sound: Conversations with Artists Who Shaped Indie and Roots Music, David Ensminger, Rowman & Littlefield, Sept 16, 2014

The View from the Back of the Band: The Life and Music of Mel Lewis (North Texas Lives of Musician Series), Chris Smith, University of North Texas Press, Sept 20, 2014

Veteran Rock writer Joel McIver has written books on a wide range of musical interests. His newest takes a look at the Death Metal band Cannibal Corpse and is the official biography authorized by the band. Joel stopped by to tell us a little about the project, the band, and upcoming projects:Adobe Photoshop PDF

Music Tomes: How did you come to write the official history of Cannibal Corpse?

Joel McIver: It was a classic case of a) journalist interviews band for magazine, b) journalist and band become friends, c) journalist suggests book to band. This is how many, many rock biogs and autobiogs get started. The guys in Cannibal Corpse were on board with the book idea right from the start of the process and we’ve ended up with a great, entertaining, informative, slightly disturbing book.

MT: You note, as early as the first few pages, that while the themes and lyrics of the songs are often pretty gruesome, the guys in the band are just normal everyday guys. When a horror writer writes similar things in a book or screenplay they are lauded as creative and imaginative. Why do you think people think a musician’s work must be autobiographical?

JM: Great question. In this case Cannibal have been playing these songs for so long, touring them with such commitment and sticking to the super-graphic lyrical angle with such consistency that people understandably think that the band must take their lyrics seriously. Of course, they’re not endorsing or recommending the horrible things that take place in their songs, any more than Stephen King endorses the stuff that goes on in his novels. Cannibal Corpse are simply telling horror stories. Now, the music in the songs is a different matter and the musicians take that part of their craft very seriously indeed. Each of them is a world-class musician, composer and performer, a fact which sometimes gets overshadowed by the lyrical content.

MT: The band has been together for nearly 30 years. How do you think they’ll be remembered in the metal history?

JM: As pioneers, certainly, but also as a band which defeated the paradigm. On paper, the idea of Cannibal Corpse making a successful living for three decades out of frankly terrifying music simply doesn’t add up. The music is fast and complex, the lyrics are unsettling and the vocals demonic – and yet a large chunk of the international public buys their albums and concert tickets, enabling the band to pay their bills without resorting to day jobs, which so many other musicians cannot hope to do. What does that say about human nature?

MT: You were pretty familiar with the band when you started the project, but was there anything that surprised you to find out or any misconceptions you held?

JM: The depth of commitment that it takes to maintain a commercially successful band such as this one blew my mind. From record label to management to the musicians themselves, everyone has to work in perfect sync to make it all happen, and happen it does. A lot of corporations, let alone metal bands, could learn from the workings of Cannibal, essentially a finely-tuned machine that delivers a focused, consistent performance.

MT: You’ve written books on as varied musicians from the Sex Pistols to Erykah Badu. What draws you to a subject enough to write on it?

JM: I listen to all kinds of music, not just hideously grisly death metal, so I’m open to working with artists from various genres. Usually I choose subjects based on how interesting their careers have been, rather than what kind of music they play. Obviously the deal has to be right and various other logistical boxes have to be ticked for a book to work, but assuming that is the case then there really are no boundaries to my choices. I like the personal element: of the 26 books I’ve written since 1999, the ones I’ve enjoyed most have been those where I’ve formed a close bond with the subject, specifically the autobiographies of Glenn Hughes, David Ellefson and Max Cavalera, as well as the new Cannibal book. Each is a real insight into a creative personality.

MT: What are you currently working on?

JM: Three new books with various musicians and bands that you’ve heard of, to be announced later this year. I’m also the editor of Bass Guitar Magazine, which comes out 13 times a year, and I write for a bunch of magazines and newspapers. I got to interview Steven Segal for Classic Rock magazine recently, which was hilarious, and it’s Ryan Adams for Acoustic mag next week. It never gets boring around here.

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

JM: I have tons. Anything by Mick Wall, Martin Popoff and Mark Eglinton, plus I really liked Jon Wiederhorn’s biog of Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, Howie Abrams’ Merciless Book Of Metal Lists and Murder In The Front Row by Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew. Tom Gabriel Fischer’s amazing Hellhammer memoir, Only Death Is Real, which has an introduction by me, will blow your mind. I really enjoyed Dave Mustaine’s autobiography too: it’s completely venomous. I’ve probably missed out quite a few, there are hundreds of them.

Keep up with Joel at his Web site.


[Music Tomes is proud to partner with to present a review every month here on the site. Be sure to check out the other great reviews they have!]

mccartneymccartneyMan on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle
Reviewed by DrewA

Being a massive fan of not only The Beatles, but also Paul’s work with Wings in the 1970s, I was very excited when I’d heard about this book a year ago.  Thankfully, I’ve read the book and present here my full review for your information.

The Wings-era has always been underrepresented and almost dismissed when any discussion of Paul’s career is at hand, and I know that personally, as a fan, I’d always found this very frustrating, especially given the quality and quantity of material Wings produced. They were one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, although they’ve been almost forgotten beyond the realm of actual fans of the band. In this book, author Tom Doyle, who had interviewed Paul extensively over many years in the 2000s, focuses on the period beginning in the midst of The Beatles’ disintegration in late 1969 up to the release of the quasi-Wings/solo-Paul #1 album, Tug of War, in 1982, and everything in between. His general thesis for the book is that Paul was, literally, a man on the run in 1970s, from his past as a Beatle and his name and reputation, as well as from the law and the press (which I will delve into more later on in this review). The layout of the book is straightforward, with an introduction and an epilogue focused on more recent interviews between the two, while the individual chapters flow in chronological order from September 1969 up to the release of Tug of War in 1982.  What I like, however, is that leading into each chapter is a question from Doyle and an answer from Paul that frame the forthcoming chapter. Think of is as Paul setting up, from the present, what you’re about to view through the window into the past. A simple device that the author used, but one that I really liked.

I don’t intend to go through the entire narrative in detail, since that would defeat the purpose of reading the book to anyone who hasn’t done so yet. However, the overall arc of the book covers Paul’s nervous breakdown and deep depression in the midst of the Beatles’ breakup in the autumn and winter of 1969 when he and Linda retreated with their daughters to their Scottish farm. After wrapping up Beatle business (mainly recording and overdub sessions) in early 1970, Paul recorded and released his debut solo album, McCartney, and finished the year by suing his three best friends and former bandmates. The remainder of the dissolution of Apple Corps. and the Beatles’ partnership is covered in greater (and excellent) detail in Peter Doggett’s “You Never Give Me Your Money,” which will be the subject of a later review of mine. In any event, Doyle does touch on the surface of this as it pertains to Paul’s career in the 1970s, mainly in the background. He then takes us through the recording of Paul’s second solo album, Ram (one of my all-time favorite albums by anyone, ever, as a disclaimer), which gave Paul the germination of an idea to form a new band and build it from the ground up. What follows are chapters on the formation of the original Wings line-up, their early growing pains, trials, and tribulations, from their initial rehearsals and lack of material, to the release of their first two albums (Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway, respectively) and their first two tours; the first tour had the band showing up unannounced at small universities to play impromptu gigs until they could no longer outrun the UK press, and the second tour saw them playing more polished shows in Europe, traveling in an open-topped double-decker bus, earning a large fanbase while outrunning the European authorities for everything from marijuana possession to unpaid hotel tabs! Eventually, immediately following their first proper UK tour, the band splinters on the eve of recording their breakthrough album (and one of the finest albums of the 1970s, and all time), Band On the Run.

This perseverance in the face of ridiculous adversity is a recurring theme throughout the book, with Paul and Linda (and the ever-loyal Denny Laine) having to overcome their drummer and guitarist quitting right before Band On the Run, to the numerous problems they had keep a stable line-up together from here on out. Bringing Jimmy McCulloch and Geoff Britton in didn’t last very long before those two fought so much that Britton was sacked. Joe English then joined on drums to form the “classic” Wings line-up, the one that would record two further #1 albums (Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound) and break records on the mammoth Wings Over the World tours of 1975-1976. However, just when Paul was at his post-Beatles peak and had a sense of vindication, it all came crashing down again: Jimmy proved to be too combustible a personality and was sacked, Joe English quit, and Linda became pregnant again, grinding all momentum to a halt. Two more albums and a final line-up followed, leading into one of the most famous/infamous incidents in Paul’s career.

The 1980 Japanese tour followed a lacklustre 1979 UK tour and was to serve as the warm-up for a 1980 return tour to America. However, upon landing in Japan, half a pound of marijuana was found in Paul’s luggage. The rest of the story is very well known to everyone: he was jailed, the tour canceled, and he was eventually deported. There has been debate, none more so than from Paul himself, as to how and why it happened. The consensus he has come to is that he subconsciously sabotaged the tour in order to precipitate the end of the band as he was tiring of trying to hold yet another line-up together. In any event, he bookended the decade with a second self-performed album, McCartney II, and began work with George Martin (former Beatles producer, for those who don’t know) on what was half-heartedly mooted to be the next Wings album, Tug of War, before Paul disbanded Wings and made it his next solo album.

Throughout the book, in various asides, Doyle also touches on the evolving post-Beatles relationship between Paul and John Lennon, from bitter feuding and anger in the early 1970s, to a softening of feelings and a happy reconciliation in 1974. For the most part, their relationship was better as the decade went along, leading, however, tragically to John’s still-senseless murder in 1980. Even having lived through (OK, I was 10 months old when it happened) and read about it countless times, it still managed to bring a tear to my eye reading Paul and Linda’s firsthand accounts of hearing the news and how they felt at that moment. While obviously not the main thrust of the book, the Lennon/McCartney friendship was still a very important part of Paul’s post-Beatles life during the decade and it did have an impact on his music, so I was pleased that Doyle included these bits. It’s especially bittersweet given the fact that John was *this close* to collaborating with Paul during the Venus and Mars sessions in 1975 before certain…events, shall we say…conspired to prevent this, and robbed the world of what could have been even more glorious and joyous music.

While most of this book contained information that was already well-known, at least to me, it is still very nice to have it all laid out in order as a chronicle of the decade in Paul’s life and music. There were some bits of information that were new even to me, such as former Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell auditioning to be the drummer for Wings in 1974. However, there were also some inaccuracies, such as the apocryphal (and since disproved) story that, after a disagreeable court verdict during the court cases in the early 1970s, John, George, and Ringo threw a brick through Paul’s window. Also, the statement that 1976 was the last time John and Paul saw each other, as well as John’s 40th birthday in October 1980 being the last time they spoke on the phone…I don’t believe either of these are true. There are several interviews with Paul and members of his family stating that they’d visited the Lennons in the late 1970s, with James McCartney (Paul and Linda’s son) even stating he has a photo of John holding him as a 2-year old at the Dakota, which would have to be in 1979 (he was born in 1977). Also, Paul has said in numerous other interviews that he last spoke to John not more than 2 or 3 weeks before his death, in November 1980.  Perhaps memories have been fogged by the passage of time, but it seems a little more research on the part of the author in these areas may have been order. Maybe it’s just the nitpicking of an overanalytical fan on my part, but still, at least presenting the claims I stated as a counterpoint to the conventional wisdom would have been in the best interest of the narrative.  Another minor nitpick is how the departure of Joe English from the band was handled in all of a few sentences, with no mention of his being in a religious cult the last couple of decades made. Again, this is information that is available and I wish the author had delved into a bit more detail on things like this, but to the casual reader, it won’t matter as much.

What struck me throughout, through both new tidbits of information, as well as how Doyle presented it, is just how bohemian and countercultural Paul and Linda’s existence was in the 1970s. His vast fortune from the Beatles tied up in receivership, they lived off of Linda’s photography money and were often at a loss for funds in paying expenses until Wings because more successful in the middle of the decade. They lived a very free-spirited life, bringing their kids everywhere, including on tour, with them, smoking a LOT of pot (and getting busted for it), and living in relative squalor and grime (mainly on their Scottish farm). Even when the money came back, they lived very simply, in 2- or 3-bedroom houses with their four children, either on their farm or in their London or Sussex houses. While Paul has the image these days as a comfortable, rich, expertly put-together elder statesman of music, and John is seen as the hippie/counterculture Beatles, in fact during the 1970s it was quite the opposite, and Doyle documents numerous instances of John’s private jealousy not only at Paul’s success and wealth, but he ability to be rebellious and go against the grain without bringing the disdain from the establishment upon himself that John did throughout the 1970s. However, by the end of the book, Paul reflected back on those years with a contented decision to tone down and eliminate the marijuana smoking as well as clean up (in a literal sense) his home life. As a 40 year old father of four children by 1982, this of course made perfect sense.

While Doyle doesn’t necessarily come across as a massive Wings fan, it is clear that he likes Paul both as a person and as a musician, and he does a good job bucking the conventional wisdom laid down from the 1970s that Wings were a “joke” not to be taken seriously, showing how they were a very hardworking, respected, and successful band, not least of all thanks to Paul’s tireless (and nearly obsessive) work ethic, which he maintains to the present day. The writing style is engaging and enjoyable, and the book is fun to read and flew by quickly. Perhaps it’s a bit too breezy and could have dug down below the surface a bit more; I found the more recent interview bits with Paul quite interesting and wanted to learn more than what was offered. However, that again could be more of my own complaining as a more rabid fan. For the casual or devoted, but not obsessive, fan, this book will be more than enough.

Overall, this is a very, very good book that is informative and important in documenting this inexplicably forgotten era of Paul McCartney’s career, and is another book I’m more than happy to add to the bookshelf housing my collection of Beatles books.

(for more great content, please visit my site at and follow me on twitter @blackbookblur)

The Week’s Release (9/7-13)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?]

Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and off the Tracks, Victor Maymudes, Jacob Maymudes, St. Martin’s Press, Sept 9 2014

Johnny Cash FAQ: All Thats Left to Know About the Man in Black (Faq Series), C. Eric Banister, BackBeat Books, Sept 9, 2014

Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, Malka Marom, ECW Press, Sept 9 2014

Nashville Songwriter: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music’s Greatest Hits, Jake Brown, Benbella Books, Sept 9, 2014

Brian May’s Red Special, Brian May and Simon Bradley, Carlton Books, Sept 11, 2014

The Hip-Hop Underground and African American Culture: Beneath the Surface, James Braxton Peterson, Palgrave MacMillian, Sept 11, 2014

Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism, Paige A. McGinley, Duke University Press, Sept 12, 2014

In his new book, George Clinton: The Cosmic Odyssey of Dr Funkenstein, veteran music journalist Kris Needs dives headlong into the world of George Clinton, exploring his life and career as one of the most interesting and influential funk musicians of all time. But the book doesn’t only focus on Clinton. It also takes a few side trips giving great info on many involved in the P-Funk legacy. Players like Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, and Eddie Hazel are examined as musicians and important cogs in the wheel of the mothership. Kris took a few minutes to talk to us about the project:clinton

Music Tomes: The book grew out of a personal relationship between you and George Clinton. When did you first meet him?

Kris Needs: That may be exaggerating slightly! The book actually germinated then blossomed from being a massive P-Funk fan since the early 70s, collecting every record through the 80s by scouring the streets and record stores of New York City, then meeting George for the first time in 1989 when I interviewed him. Back then he was the wild, hyperactive funk dog with multicoloured hair who’d just been rescued by Prince. We had a blast and hit it off but the way George talked articulately and hilariously through the pile of records I stuck in front of him also provided a fantastic feature in the magazine I was editing at the time and planted the thought that a book would be a great idea one day! For years I thought it could never happen but I was encouraged by my girlfriend Helen, who managed to steer the idea through Omnibus Press and suddenly I was faced with what was undoubtedly the biggest challenge I’ve had to face in 40 years of writing about music: the story of George Clinton, the P-Funk Empire and all that sailed in it. Halfway through my writing it, George announced he was writing his own book so I upped the fan’s-eye and trainspotting angles, deciding to leave the the copyright battles and 21st century for George to talk about. I started thinking of my book as more of a companion tome to his.

MT: You have written extensively on the punk scene. What drew you to Funkadelic?

KN: I knew about Funkadelic before punk, after first reading about their 1971 UK visit and how George’s jock-strap shocked our innocent audiences. I found their first album in Kensington Market as a cheap import and never looked back. From seeing the Rolling Stones and Hendrix in the 60s I’d always been attracted to the wildest, loudest, furthest out artists, and the louder the better. Those first three Funkadelic albums beat anything else hands down for acid-fried mania and shattering guitar bombast. When punk came along much of it sounded tame in comparison! The way Funkadelic upset both musical and social traditions and broke the rules presaged punk anyway. I included one of their tracks on my Dirty Water roots of punk attitude compilation.

MT: Was there anything that you ran across that surprised you?

KN: Nothing in terms of behaviour or some of the tragedies which befell the groups, such as the death of Eddie Hazel. I was pretty surprised at how perfectly formed and all encompassing George’s musical visions were even at the very start of the Parliaments’ musical career. Listening to his earliest compositions and productions for labels such as Golden World – a voyage of discovery in itself! – it was eye-opening and often spine-tingling to hear his grasp of great lyrics (‘Heart Trouble’ is a masterpiece) and vocal arrangements.

MT: Clinton took the psychedelic aspects of music, particularly that of Jimi Hendrix, and them amped them up tremendously. How was the band received at the time?

KN: With a lot of confusion, sometimes hostility and even disbelief! George’s favourite quote, which he seems to drop in every interview he’s ever done, is “We were too white for the black stations and too black for the white stations”. Radio didn’t know where to slot Funkadelic in America and, at the time, the UK just didn’t have much of a radio outlet for hardcore black music anyway. I was an out and out Hendrix nut since seeing him on TV in December 1966 and really saw Funkadelic filling some of the huge, gaping hole he’d left after his death in September 1970. The aforementioned Eddie Hazel is still the closest thing to Jimi the world has ever seen and ever will see. He said he carried a bit of Jimi’s spirit in him and I can hear it every time. But you try telling that to your average rock fan – both then and now – and were quite likely to be met with a befuddled look. Despite the clenched fist salutes and earnest growling, rock fans have always been the most conservative in the world and Funkadelic were simply too heavy, too weird and too black for many of them. George had to go to Detroit in 1967 to find kindred spirits among John Sinclair, the MC5 and the Stooges. They were into free jazz, so already had the antenna to plug into the Funkadelic wavelength.

MT: Clinton’s work is one of the most sampled, but how do you think he is thought of today?

KN: I last saw him in May, when he was in Ibiza being honoured as a living legend at the International Music Summit. He can rise to that sort of occasion well, trotting out the sound bites and Mothership memories but obviously isn’t the rampant hound I first met 25 years ago. For a start, he’s given up the hard drugs and, as he says, is now addicted to lawyers, who he has been forced to employ to try and regain some of his copyrights and song rights. To this end, George is still gigging his ass off at 73, selling meet and greets, trying to raise cash to fight for his own music. He’s one of the few 60s black music legends still doing it so will obviously attract the long time fans but, hopefully, he can still pick up new fans as one of the most important cutting edge artists the world has ever seen.

MT: What are you currently working on?

KN: It never stops! I was going to be finishing a book about my old friends Primal Scream but the opportunity arose to do my long-planned work on Suicide and their home city of New York. They are the ultimate NY band and I want to make the definitive statement on this most unique pair of artists while capturing the lost city which spawned them.

As ever, I’m also writing for various UK music magazines, including Record Collector, Classic Rock, Shindig, Vive Le Rock and the Data Transmission dance music website. Keeps me off the streets and my ear to the ground! There’s also some other exciting stuff in the works (including me and Helen hoping to start our own magazine, suitably dealing with our obsessions: from P-Funk to Patrick MacGoohan!).

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

KN: It’s funny but today’s post just brought my 2 favourite books from when I was a kid; Our Own Story By The Rolling Stones was the first music biog I ever read (after getting it as a 10th birthday present in 1964!). I guess it all started there but, as I’d lost my original copy, it’s amazing to discover that I still knew every photo and word by heart!

The other one was Who’s Who In Pop Radio; a 1966 book about British pirate radio. Obviously, the US was spoilt for great radio in the 60s, as the Cruisin’ series attests, but we only had the boring BBC in the UK. To suddenly be able to tune in and hear the Yardbirds, Hendrix or the Strawberry Alarm Clock blasting out of your transistor radio, introduced by a DJ who sounded like they were alive, was alien and fantastic!

I’ve also just read Robert Greenfield’s latest Stones book, Ain’t it Time We Said Goodbye, which is built on notes he made as the only journalist on the band’s 1971 farewell tour of the UK. I’ve been collecting Stones books since that first one in 1964 and, much as I love the huge coffee table jobs, you can’t beat up close and personal eye witness accounts from back in the day. Plus he’s cleverly added his 2014 insights and clarifications. There are many more Stones books I could name (I wrote one on Keef myself over 10 years ago but now don’t feel I was qualified to take on such a task at that time).

I have to mention the Mott The Hoople coffee table book, We’ve Got A Great Future Behind Us. Befitting this mighty band, it’s the biggest book I’ve got, stacked with memorabilia. I was honoured to be asked to take part, so shared my memories from first seeing Mott in 1969 through running the fan club. Also from that era (in terms of artists I was thoroughly immersed in then), Victor Bockris has updated his Lou Reed biography Transformer for Harper Collins. It’s always been the definitive work and has been suitably brought up to date as such (with an amazing new cover photo!).

For one of my favourite books of all time, Funk by Rickey Vincent takes some beating, straddling the history of conscious black music with insight, knowledge and passion. John F. Szwed’s beautiful Space is The Place: The Life & Times Of Sun Ra is the ultimate word on music’s other intergalactic visionary. I could go on but thank you for having me!

After a long history in television journalism, Jack Isenhour dove in to writing, publishing two books on well known sports figures (Bobby Knight in 2003 and co-writing the memoir of Dennis Rodman in 2005). In 2011 he published He Stopped Loving Her Today: George Jones, Billy Sherrill, and the Pretty-Much Totally True Story of the Making of the Greatest Country Record of All Time chronicling the life of the song that many call the greatest. On the occasion of the book’s paperback release, Jack took a few minutes to talk to us about it:isenhour

Music Tomes: How did you get interested in telling the stories behind this song?

Jack Isenhour: Waylon Jennings brought me to country in the mid-seventies and George Jones made me stay. I wanted to find out what pulled me in and the story behind the making of “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, the best country recording ever, seemed like a good place to start.

MT: One of the themes that runs through the book is the question of authenticity. How do you see that playing out in today’s country music world?

JI: An authentic musician is one that feels genuine emotion when performing and arouses that same emotion in the audience. Add a twang and you’ve got country music. Of course the trick is defining “twang.” I know it when I hear it. Meanwhile, until someone comes up with a better definition, I’ll rely on former Country Music Foundation head Bill Ivey’s decades old “industry definition” of country music as “records that country radio will play and that country fans will buy.”

MT: What part do you believe nostalgia plays into the authenticity question? For example, songs, like “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” were considered too pop sounding when they were released, but are consider examples of “classic country” now.

JI: I think country fans have much more of a sense of history than other fans. In country music, “He’s not country!” is about the worst thing you can say about a singer. I never hear anybody wail, “He’s not pop!” Time is the ultimate decider of what’s country and what’s not. Does anybody still believe that Red Foley was really country?

MT: How do you think Billy Sherrill and his productions will be remembered in the future?

JI: I think Billy Sherrill is a genius and this man who named Tammy Wynette, co-wrote “Stand By Your Man,” produced “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and made Charlie Rich a star, should rank right up there with historic figures in country music like George Jones, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Owen Bradley.

MT: What are you currently working on?

JI: I’m writing a television documentary on the history of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. My background is in long-form television news: series and documentaries.

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

JI: Although it’s scholarly and a bit hard to read, Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity by Richard A. Peterson is the most mind–boggling book I’ve read about country music. It will change how you think about the subject.

The Week’s Release (8/31-9/6)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?]

Cold Sweat: My Father James Brown and Me, Yamma Brown and Robin Gaby Fisher, Chicago Review Press, Sept 1, 2014

The Elvis Archives, Todd Slaughter, Omnibus Press, Sept 1, 2014, (Paperback Edition)

Emeli Sande: Read All About It, John Dingwall, Omnibus Press, Sept 1, 2014

He Stopped Loving Her Today: George Jones, Billy Sherrill, and the Pretty-Much Totally True Story of the Making of the Greatest Country Record of All Time (American Made Music), Jack Isenhour, University Press of Mississippi, Sept 1, 2014 (Paperback Edition)

We Wanna Boogie: The Rockabilly Roots of Sonny Burgess and the Pacers, Marvin Schwartz, Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Sept 1, 2014

The Beat of My Own Drum: A Memoir, Sheila E., Atria Books, Sept 2 2014

Bowie Treasures, Mike Evans, Carlton Books, Sept 2, 2014

Death Punch’d: Surviving Five Finger Death Punch’s Metal Mayhem, Jeremy Spencer, Dey Street Books, Sept 2, 2014

Elvis and Ginger: Elvis Presley’s Fiancée and Last Love Finally Tells Her Story, Ginger Alden, Berkley, Sept 2, 2014

Eric Clapton Treasures, Chris Welch, Carlton Books, Sept 2, 2014

The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs, Greil Marcus, Yale University Press, Sept 2, 2014

Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, Linda Ronstadt, Simon & Schuster, Sept 2, 2014 (Paperback edition)

Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s, Tom Doyle, Polygon, Sept 4, 2014, (Paperback Edition)

Rock Star: The Making of Musical Icons from Elvis to Springsteen, David R. Shumway, John Hopkins University Press, Sept 4, 2014

Ken Sharp is a New York Times best-selling author who has written books on KISS, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Cheap Trick, and others. With his new book Kooks, Queen Bitches and Andy Warhol: The Making of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, he dives into the making of the classic David Bowie album. The book is also his first foray into self-publishing. Ken stopped by to tell us a little more about the book:

Music Tomes: Hunky Dory is one of Bowie’s classic albums, but what drew you to want to tell the story of its making?Bowie_book_cover_final

Ken Sharp: I’ve always been an enormous Bowie fan since I was a teenager. In fact, the first live show I ever saw was Bowie’s “Station to Station” tour at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. I tell a funny story about that show in the book which throws into the mix cocaine, baseball, booze and a severed eyeball.

My reason for putting together a book about Hunky Dory is that while it’s embraced by the Bowie community at large as a classic, I feel it often gets unfairly overlooked in the general music community. It’s the album that best showcases Bowie as a pure songwriter and is teeming with memorable songs ranging from “Changes,” “Life on Mars,” “Queen Bitch,” “Oh! You Pretty Things” to more obscure numbers like “Kooks.” It’s Bowie not hiding behind a character and as real as you can get with a constantly evolving artist like David. And while I love many of the albums that followed, Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Young Americans, Diamond Dogs, Station to Station in particular, this album was one I felt deserved closer examination. In doing so, I tracked down scores of folks involved with the making of the record, from Bowie’s band to record company personnel, music publishers, designers, music writers, etc. Best case scenario: I envision readers sitting down with the book, hitting play on Hunky Dory and scaling the creative back story behind this classic album as they immerse themselves in the wonderful music.

MT: How did you decide to make it an oral history rather than a critical look at the album?

KS: My specialty is oral histories; I enjoy the format and have explored that form with some of my past book projects–Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, Elvis: Vegas ’69, KISS: Behind the Mask, Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975). For me, it’s akin to assembling a documentary on paper and if I do my job right, allows the reader to be a fly on the wall throughout its creative journey.

MT: You chose to self-publish the book. How do you see the future of self- and digital publishing intertwining with music journalism?

KS: As with the music business, the power is reverting back to the artists and that’s a good thing. I think that also applies to the world of book publishing. And while I will still pursue working on projects with major publishers, for niche books like this Bowie project, self-publishing is the way to go. You have complete control, can tackle less mainstream projects with a smaller fan base. There’s an old saying, something like, he who travels alone travels quickest and that applies to self-publishing. You’re shaping your destiny.

MT: What are you currently working on?

KS: I have finished a new book, an oral history, titled Sound Explosion! Inside L.A.’s Studio Factory with the Wrecking Crew; which will be out late in the year.

Also, I’m working on a multi-volume book series about power pop music and have a few other projects in the pipeline. My problem is so much to do, too little time…

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

KS: There are so many and I’m certain to leave some out but here goes:

Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love by Peter Guralnick
Walk this Way by Stephen Davis
Love Me Do: The Beatles Progress by Michael Braun
The Beatles Anthology
Fifty Years Adrift by Derek Taylor
Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now by Barry Miles
The Beach Boys and the California Myth by David Leaf
Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock And Out by Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield
Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon by Tony Fletcher
A Wizard a True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio by Paul Myers
Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger by Dan Matovina
All These Years Volume 1 – Tune In by Mark Lewisohn
Conversations with Tom Petty by Paul Zollo
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCalin

Keep up with Ken Sharp, and purchase his book, at his Website.

That little ol’ band from Texas, ZZ Top, has long been a favorite of mine so I always welcome new info about the band and their music. It’s been quite a while since a book on the band has been released, probably due to the fact there is very little drama that has surrounded the band that contains it’s three original members and continues to crank out good music.zz-top

Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers: A ZZ Top Guide by Neil Daniels isn’t a strict biography of the band, but instead is a guide to the band. The book is split into four parts. The first, and largest part, covers the story of the band, from their formation to current day. Time is given to each album with an overview of the songs included and a look at the tours that supported them.

Part two focuses on the influences of ZZ Top, giving short bits of information on the country, rock, and blues artists that inspired them. Part three, entitled “ZZ Top Miscellanea,” gives a listing of awards, TV anf film appearances, and trivia. also included in that section are quotes from other rock writers giving their thoughts on the band. Part four wraps up the book with a discography of the band’s work and the work of it’s members outside of the band, as well as a detailed listing of past tour dates.

As has come to be expected from Neil, he has done a great job of researching and brings out a lot of good stories of the band and their music. These types of guide books are part of a growing niche he has been carving (which also includes his Neal Schon book reviewed here, and his newest one on Bryan Adams). Here he’s put together an excellent overview of the band that has something for everyone from those just getting started on ZZ Top to the hardcore fans.