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.

The Week’s Release (8/24-30)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?]

Benson: The Autobiography, George Benson and Alan Goldsher, Da Capo Press, August 26, 2014

Throwing Frisbees at the Sun: A Book About Beck, Rob Jovanovic, Jawbone Press, August 26, 2014

Sigur Rós’s ( ) (33 1/3), Ethan Hayden, Continuum, August 28, 2014

Hard Days Hard Nights: From the Beatles to the Doors to the Stones… Insider Stories From a Legendary Concert Promoter, Pat DiCesare, Headline Books, August 29, 2014

Blues All Day Long: The Jimmy Rogers Story (Music in American Life), Wayne Everett Goins, University of Illinios Press, August 30, 2014

Wayne Goins is a Master Jazz guitarist and Director of Jazz Studies at Kansas State University. He’s used his knowledge of the genre to write five Jazz-related books. Now he turns his attention to the blues, specifically the career and music of one-time Muddy Waters sideman Jimmy Rogers. Blues All Day Long: The Jimmy Rogers Story takes a look at the legendary blues guitarist and his ups and downs in the business. Wayne was kind enough to tell us a little more about the book:

Music Tomes: What drew you to the story of Jimmy Rogers?blues

Wayne Goins: In 2004, I was fortunate enough to have it brought to my attention by one of the trombone players in one of my big bands at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Cordero Lane told me that he was, in fact, Jimmy’s grandson. I actually was shocked at hearing this, and almost couldn’t believe him. I had him prove it to me by calling his mother Jackie Lane on his cell phone, right there in my office. She verified that she was one of the three surviving daughters of Jimmy Rogers. She lived in Topeka, which was only forty-five minutes away from Manhattan, and her son Cordero—Cody we called him—was attending KSU at the time. I also discovered that Jimmy D. Lane, Jimmy’s other son, was right up the road from me in Salina, about the same distance away as Jackie was in Topeka. This was amazing to me! I didn’t make the connection with Cody’s last name of Lane because I only knew the name of Jimmy Rogers, and didn’t know his real name was James A. Lane. Once I got into an extended dialogue with Cody and his mom, I realized that they still had family who lived in Chicago on the same side of town that I did, and in fact, were only three or four blocks away from my house on 64th and Laflin. I was so happy to hear this, and the first thing I did was immediately contact chief editor Laurie Matheson the publishers at University of Illinois Press in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois to see if I could get a book deal. They were extremely excited about the idea, and we had an agreement to move forward with the project. The next thing I did was book a couple of plane tickets for me and Cody to fly back home so that I could see this house and also interview the other family members—J.D. Mosley and Angela, two of Jimmy’s other children—and while I was there I also made plans to interview other legendary musicians in Chicago who played with Jimmy. They all were extremely happy that I was writing this book. Once the ball was rolling, it just grew and grew. So basically, this whole thing just kinda fell into my lap, and thank goodness I knew exactly what to do with it—not just talk about it, ya know, but actually act upon it.

MT: Unlike a lot of sidemen, Rogers broke out and had some solo success of his own. Why didn’t he pursue that direction for his career?

WG: Well, he actually did pursue it, he had his own road band once he left Chess Records, and eventually left Muddy’s band too. He played consistently around Chicago with several musicians and maintained his band until it got to be too expensive to maintain because club owners weren’t paying him enough money. The wear and tear on his vehicle, the paying his sidemen their fees, the personal issues with band members and their problems, the cost of gas when he traveled out of town—all that and more was adding up to be a scene where he felt like it just wasn’t worth it anymore to him. So he just chose to take a “time out” and be with his family and go into other lines of work for a spell, one that lasted about ten years. And then he made his comeback. But the whole time he was off the recording scene, he was still playing—in fact, he traveled and played with Howlin’ Wolf for a while. He also was having regular playing sessions with his good friend, “Left Hand Frank” Craig —they played guitar duo for years, and also was meeting in private with John Littlejohn who he always had as his “right hand” man! The brothers Louis and Bob Myers were also playing with Jimmy behind closed doors.

MT: How would you compare the career paths of Rogers and Buddy Guy, who played with Muddy Waters after Rogers left the band?

WG: I would say that Buddy Guy was a bit younger to the scene when Jimmy and Muddy first hit their groove of compatability in the late forties, but eventually Buddy came on. And one of the people who gave him an opportunity to shine was Muddy. He schooled Buddy and taught him the ropes and really looked out for him—in fact, the acoustic blues album called “Folk Singer” that Buddy played on with Muddy in 1964 is a great example of how sensitive Buddy could play when supporting Muddy’s deep blues style, its one of my favorites. Most people know Buddy as the” wild and crazy” kind of style that he became very well known for, in fact his album called “Stone Crazy” on Alligator Records is one of the best examples of that, I absolutely love the energy on that record! Buddy basically was Jimi Hendrix before Jimi Hendrix appeared on the scene, and even Hendrix knew that—Buddy was a major influence on him, they knew each other and were friends. Buddy was one of Jimi’s idols, and you can hear that all through Hendrix’s music. But back in the day, Chess wasn’t really hearing Buddy the way he wanted or needed to be, they dismissed him a little, I think. He tried Cobra Records in 1959 but that didn’t last, and at that point he came over and worked with Muddy on the Chess label. So basically, as Jimmy was moving out, Buddy was moving in. Many years later in the 80’s and 90’s people like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan gave a lot of attention to both Buddy Guy and Jimmy Rogers, so that’s another point where the careers of Guy and Rogers had similar trajectories—they are more popular now than ever because of some of the big arena rock and blues names who told the audiences around the world, “if you think this is something, check THESE guys out—they are the originators!” This is one of the major factors led to Buddy getting his Silvertone Records contract which reinvigorated his career, and it also is what led to Jimmy Rogers’s biggest album, called “Blues Blues Blues” which had all the heavyweights on it—Clapton, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin, Stephen Stills, Keith Richards & Mick Jagger from the Stones, Keb’ Mo, and others. Unfortunately he died before the record was released, but the biggest names in the business showed him lots of love before he left us. He definitely deserved it, too.

MT: You say in the book that learning the Jimmy Rogers story helped you meet yourself. What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing this book?

WG: Basically I learned that coming home is always the best way to get back in touch with what’s important, and this was a way to remind me of what my roots were—not that I ever really forgot anyway, but it was a good excuse to really dig deep and reconnect with my own personal history of being a blues guitarist and learning all that great Chicago blues as I played my guitar-playing uncle Jimmy Jones’ blues band in my early teens during the mid-70’s and also listening to all the classic blues 45’s as I sat at the feet of my father William Earl Goins—who was an incredibly talented blues harp player—from the time I was born on the West Side all the way through to when we moved to the South Side, only a few blocks from where Jimmy Rogers lived.

MT: What are you currently working on?

WG: I am thrilled to be able to tell you that I have a new contract with University of Illinois Press to do my next book on the legendary musician and griot Taj Mahal. If you think this Rogers book is good, wait until you see this one! I’m already in the process of writing, and have more than 25,000 words on the computer. Needless to say, I’m extremely excited about it. As far as Jimmy Rogers, I’m working on putting a blues band together right now to play for the Jimmy Rogers archive display that we will be showing at Hale Library on the K-State campus on September 11, this year, when I have the official book-signing. We will have an hour for the display, then a short blues concert where we will play the blues hits of Jimmy Rogers, and then the book signing will take place.

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

WG: Right now, I’m currently reading The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Van Ronk & Elijah Wald, which is a serious—and seriously funny—book about Dave Van Ronk’s life and times. But I just have to tell you: one of the absolute greatest books I have EVER read is keyboardist/guitarist Al Kooper’s autobiography, Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Survivor. It’s unbelievable, and I actually got to meet him at his house, and let me tell you—that man is the real deal, brother. Anyway, between the research projects of Jimmy Rogers and Taj Mahal, I’ve read so many things, it’s hard to narrow it down. But I would say, Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, by Von Schmidt & Rooney for the history of folk music in Boston; The Unbroken Circle by Fred Metting if you want to know how deep Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder’s music goes from a historical perspective. For blues, Chicago Blues by Mike Rowe is pretty unbeatable, and Can’t Be Satisfied by Robert Palmer is superb. Moanin’ at Midnight by Segrest & Hoffman, and Blues With a Feeling by Glover, Dirks & Gaines were also excellent reads. There are so many others but these are just a few of the stronger books that had a huge influence on my writing and wanting to for my part in making a contribution to extant body of blues literature.

Keep up with Wayne Goins at his Website

One day I came across this article a few months back on the legacy of John Mellencamp. I’m a huge Mellencamp fan from way back. Since the beginning of his career, in fact, when my mom and dad attended the Johnny Cougar days show at the Seymour National Guard Armory and brought home his debut album. I grew up between his birthplace of Seymour, Indiana, and his current home of Bloomington, so his music–and the Mellencamp sightings–were everywhere. The prospect of a new books on Mellencamp piqued my interest, so I reached out to the writer of the article, David Masciotra, who has such a book on Mellencamp coming out in 2015, to give us a little more info on the project.

Photo credit: Chester Alamo & Costello

Photo credit: Chester Alamo & Costello

Music Tomes: Tell us a little about Mellencamp: American Troubadour.

David Masciotra: Mellencamp: American Troubadour, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is what I call an “artistic biography.” It is a biographical look at John Mellencamp’s life through the vantage point he provides with his work; always generous in spirit, large in thought, and perhaps most importantly – because it is rock ‘n’ roll – fun.

An artistic biography keeps alive the idea that art is more important than gossip. American culture celebrates celebrity over artistry, and it treats even important artists – in music, film, literature – as if their divorce proceedings are more important than their work. American culture has also now reached a weird and miserable state of idolizing people who have done nothing to earn their status as idols. Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and the real housewives of name-your-city, are now household names when, unlike someone like John Mellencamp, they have done absolutely nothing to make American culture less boring, more interesting, richer, or deeper.

As fans of Mellencamp know, and readers of my book will learn, Mellencamp’s music is a hybrid of rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, funk, and folk. In the spirit and tradition of John Mellencamp, I have written Mellencamp: American Troubadour as a hybrid of biography, musical criticism, and cultural criticism.

It is about John Mellencamp, but because Mellencamp’s music is about America, it too is about America: The America when “holding hands meant something,” the America of “thundering hearts”, the America brimming with the electricity of integration and miscegenation, and the America forever suspended “between a laugh and a tear.”

MT: What inspired the project?

DM: I suppose I started writing the book – intellectually and emotionally – when I was thirteen years old. Because I am younger than the typical Mellencamp fan (29), I had never heard of John Mellencamp as a young boy. One summer afternoon, a neighborhood friend and I in the south suburbs of Chicago, were playing basketball in his driveway. His older brother came outside to work in the garage, and he put on the album American Fool. I immediately fell in love with the muscular drive of the music, the libidinous sleaze of the lyrics, and the strength and warmth in Mellencamp’s voice. It was at that moment that I also began my lifelong romance with rock ‘n’ roll.

In high school, I discovered the music of Bruce Springsteen, and became obsessive about tracking down all of his songs, collecting bootleg concert recordings, and attending his live shows. I wrote my first book – Working On a Dream: The Progressive Political Vision of Bruce Springsteen (Continuum Books, 2010) – after graduating college. Something unexpected happened as I grew older.

I found myself feeling more deeply and thinking more introspectively while listening to Mellencamp than when listening to Springsteen. I soon realized that the overblown romanticism of Springsteen’s songs appealed to me as a high school and college student, because the experiences that Springsteen imagined were the experiences I wanted. Once I accumulated actual experiences, his music seemed like the naïve and melodramatic property of fantasy. John Mellencamp’s music, from the other speaker, grew and gained, as I grew and gained in experience. The experience that informs Mellencamp’s music is not imagined or guarded, it is direct. It comes through him, not merely from him.

Tim White, the late editor of Billboard and a critical champion of Mellencamp, once said, “When you listen to John Mellencamp, you don’t think about John Mellencamp. You think about you.” White’s words capture my experience as a John Mellencamp fan. As a critic, I developed an enhanced appreciation of Mellencamp’s innovation, within rock ‘n’ roll, his consistency as an excellent songwriter, and mastery of a variety of genres.

I felt I needed to write about John Mellencamp’s music in such a way that would illuminate its greatness and relevance, while making social and cultural connections to the very ideas that have inspired some of Mellencamp’s best songs – the melancholia of life, the joy of surprise, the demand for physical release and sexual pleasure, America’s brutal and beautiful history of racial integration, small town life, and the ongoing disappointment of corruption and cowardice in American politics.

The Mellencamp story is an important one to American music, and it has far reaching implications for American culture. After all, he is man who began as a brand – Johnny Cougar. Year after year, through his own will, dedication, and authenticity – he discovered his own humanity, and through the creation of his music, shared that discovery with his audience. It is an inspirational story for anyone trying to author their own story in a culture of script doctors.

So, there is the personal motivation in writing this book – my own love for the music and my desire to right the wrong of my own writing history – and there are the larger musical, cultural, and philosophical ideas I felt were worthy of long form exploration.

MT: Do you feel Mellencamp hasn’t gotten his due over the years as a songwriter and representative of a Midwestern ideology?

mellenpicDM: That’s an interesting question, because on paper, Mellencamp is incredibly acclaimed. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a Grammy winner, and a recipient of the John Steinbeck Award.

Within the culture, however, there is a prevailing belief that Mellencamp is the “poor man’s Springsteen,” and he never quite receives the recognition he deserves. He acknowledges this himself. He once attributed it to his Midwestern roots and home, claiming that he and, one of his heroes and friends, Michigan native Bob Seger ,are always cast as “second string”, because they aren’t part of the coastal elite in arts and entertainment.

Regardless of the reason for it – and I do think there is a bias against Midwestern artists in music and literature – there is a failure among rock critics and fans to acknowledge some of the amazing achievements of Mellencamp’s music career. His albums Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee are probably responsible for the “No Depression” movement of alternative country and Americana. Before Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown, before O Brother Where Art Thou, and before Robert Plant and Allison Krauss, Mellencamp – alone in American popular music – was scoring hits with moving and poignant songs about everyday life in the American heartland, featuring traditional instrumentation – violin, banjo, dobro, accordion. Mellencamp called it “gypsy rock”, because it combines the blues of the delta, the gospel of the southern black church, and the folk of rural America, with the electric aggression of rock ‘n’ roll. It was a stunning innovation, and something that critics and fans routinely ignore.

In the mid-1990s, he wrote folk songs and dressed them up with the instrumentation and beats of R&B. In my book, I call it “funky folk”, and one of his former band members who helped him shape the sound – Moe ZMD – a keyboardist who had previously worked with Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur – called it “rock ‘n’ roll with a street edge.”

If you look at Mellencamp’s output from 1982, with American Fool, to 2010, with No Better Than This, you’ll find it nearly impossible to find any major American recording artist who has written and performed such an eclectic variety of high quality music with the same consistency.

One of the reasons I wrote Mellencamp: American Troubadour is that I wanted to make an argument that, while not hagiographic, is unapologetic in its insistence that Mellencamp is a true prizefighter of rock ‘n’ roll.

As for Mellencamp’s place in Midwestern art and culture, it is undeniably enormous. I wouldn’t use the word “ideology” to describe it, but in my book I argue that there is a Midwestern sensibility in art. In music, Bob Seger, John Prine, and Mellencamp have it. In literature, a reader can trace it in Jim Harrison, Sinclair Lewis, and Theodore Dreiser, and in the visual arts, there is Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry. There are many staples of Midwestern art – pastoral scenes, small town settings, colorful characters – but the heart and soul of it is the swirling of melancholia and joy. Mellencamp’s record title, The Lonesome Jubilee, captures it in a phrase as fine as any. While Mellencamp was far from the first to create art according to this sensibility, because of his popularity and visibility, at least within the past thirty years, he’s been the most successful exemplar of it.

The book has that same quality. There are passages that are full of joy – passages about Mellencamp songs like “Hurts So Good”, “The Authority Song”, and “Small Town” – then there are passages that are pretty dark, like the songs “Jackie Brown”, “Rain On the Scarecrow”, and “Human Wheels.”

Mellencamp is a songwriter and singer who is constantly trying to figure himself out, and his place in a troubled, confusing world. I’m trying to do that too, as are most writers, from people who write books like this to novelists.

There is something exciting and sad about it, because in the end, we all fail, but with the right focus and commitment, we all have some fun trying.

Keep up with David Masciotra at his Website.

neilrosenbergLast week the International Bluegrass Music Association announced their 2014 inductees into their Hall of Fame and on that list was author Neil V. Rosenberg. Rosenberg has been a longtime writer on the subject of bluegrass and folk music, editing several scholarly journals and penning books of his own. His book Bluegrass: A History is a seminal work in the genre of bluegrass.

“First of all, for someone whose career as musician and writer has largely been concerned with bluegrass music, I’m deeply moved by this honor,” Mr. Rosenberg says.

Mr. Rosenberg is the sixth writer to be included since the Hall of Fame was established in 1991. The list includes Pete Kuykendall, David Freeman, Bill Vernon, Charles K. Wolfe, and Ralph Rinzler. “I’m proud to be included in the list with this illustrious group,” he says.

“As an American who has lived for 45 years in Canada (I’m a citizen of both countries) I’m also proud to be the first ‘international’ inductee,” he notes.

Mr. Rosenberg is currently recovering from a heart attack and we wish him a speedy recovery and a heartfelt congratulations on his Hall of Fame induction.

Martin Popoff is arguably the most prolific rock writer publishing today. His new book draws from his deep interview archive to assemble The Big Book of Hair Metal: The Illustrated Oral History of Heavy Metal’s Debauched Decade. It’s filled with tons of fantastic pictures, from posters and backstage passes to rare publicity shots and album covers. A combination of oral history and timeline, the book is a fun ride through the past and some fun music.

Martin was kind enough to talk to us about the book, self-publishing, and the music itself:hair metal

Music Tomes: The Big Book of Hair Metal is an incredible collection that combines a lot of great pictures, a timeline of events in the evolution of hair metal, and a fantastic oral history. How did you start the process of pulling together the interviews from your archives?

Martin Popoff: I got into this format when I did a pair of similar books covering Deep Purple, only the cool thing about that, in terms of seeing the way events interlace, was that it was a timeline with quotes project, something like 600 pages, of Deep Purple, Rainbow, Whitesnake, Gillan, and every other subgroup of those guys. And yes, I loved that I was able to go through my archives and find quotes that made sense. To specifically answer your question, I guess almost from memory, for any event that I was going to ascribe a date to, I knew whether I had a good quote for that or not. It’s quite satisfying and easy way to write, because you don’t have to keep it all in your head and keep linear. If you find a date, you just go to that section and pop it in. If you find a quote, you just go to that date and pop it in. In other words, writing a book like this, you somehow don’t have to concentrate as hard as you do when you’re writing something that is just miles and miles of paragraphs. I guess also, you’re sort of asking, well, my interviews are all transcribed and in pretty good order in my computer, by date, in various folders, and there’s also a database, there’s even hard copies of most of them, and then there’s boxes and boxes of cassette tapes that are arranged using a numbering system.

MT: There are those that use “Hair Metal” as a put down. Where does that come from?

MP: There’s definitely good reason for that! The lyrics were silly and hedonistic, even materialistic, sexist. The guys looked ridiculous. There was a lot of copycat stuff going on, there were real and valid jealousies of all these bands quickly going gold and platinum and double platinum, and perhaps maybe not paying their dues. Lots and lots of reasons. Even down to the fact that if we call it hair metal, half of that is metal, and then you can argue up and down whether this is metal or not, or if it’s too poppy and melodic and well produced to be called any form of heavy metal. And yes, bands definitely take exception to being called hair metal. Including Motley Crue, who is on the cover, and people like Sebastian Bach. I say, lighten up. It’s just a term, and yes, it applies to both of those bands quite well, and even Guns N’ Roses, who somehow have been the most successful at avoiding getting tagged with that and being considered somehow great geniuses. It’s all hair metal, and that’s just fine by me, and should be fine by those guys too. Okay, to indulge a little more, hair metal, well, you always hear the argument that rock stars have always had hair, usually have long hair, and even the thrash guys had hair. Big deal. We all know why this is called hair metal!

MT: You cite Boston as a “proto-hair metal original.” Where does Arena Rock fit in to the evolution of hair metal?

MP: I think we are really using an amorphous, abstract term when we use the term arena rock. That’s even worse than hair metal. It’s like indie rock or alternative rock. When an indie or alternative band gets big, they’re no longer the alternative and if they get signed they aren’t indie. And arena rock logically would mean any band big enough in any genre, to play an arena. Anyway, I think Boston fits because of the wall of sound, the heavy guitars, the high melodic vocals, the hooks. It’s all just very sickly sweet hard rock, and that’s, in a very general nutshell, what hair metal is. And yeah, in terms of proto-hair metal, Boston applies, but so does Ted Nugent, Kiss and Aerosmith, but not necessarily Deep Purple, who is as arena rock as any of the American cats.

MT: In the introduction to the book you say that you listen to more of a variety of hair metal now then you did when it was popular. Why is that?

MP: Because at my age I need music to keep me happy, and hair metal is happy music. Plus just things like exercising and jogging. You need music that is uplifting, enthusiastic, optimistic, about fun in the sun, heck, even about reasons to keep fit. Slow, slogging heavy metal, the doom stuff, that won’t keep you motivated to keep running down that road. Now, I listened to tons of hair metal at the time, but it was also an exploratory time in music for me, being the right age, and being very curious about all sorts of music, so at that time, sure, there was also that thing in the back of my mind that was in everybody’s mind, about hair metal being ultimately pretty stupid. So at the time, I was into all that Minneapolis scene stuff, along with the more progressive forms of California punk, and also, like a great river that no one never talks about but is there all the time, every last band I grew up with in the ‘70s, who were making records in the ‘80s; you’re still into all of that at the same time. And then grunge was amazing too. I was living in Vancouver at the time, and buying up all that stuff and loving it. For all the exact same reasons hair metal died a precipitous death in and around 1991, I, too, agreed with all those reasons, the big one being loving grunge to death. But at the same time, I was loving the fact that some of the best hair metal albums were coming out late, like 1991, 1992, 1993, for the very logical reason that in the face of the death of the genre, bands had to really raise their game.

martinMT: You’re arguably the most prolific rock writer out there. What drives you to keep creating?

MP: Well, first off, there’s less liner notes and bio work, writing for print magazines work, and even writing for websites that pay work. That’s one thing. Also, my slow selling off of thousands of CDs and records and other rock memorabilia, we know that sales in all that stuff has declined as well. Or at least, definitely, the CDs. So I can’t throw a lot of hours at that as well. But even without all that, my favorite thing in this business to do is write these books. And the reason I like to do it is I like documenting history, assimilating all these different sources along with my own interviews and my own opinions and descriptions of things, and putting them into a book, so I can purge it out of my mind, and I know it’s there for history. I imagine that these bands are pleased as well. That somebody’s gone and put in the effort to do this, and it’s something they can show their grandkids as well. I just love knowledge, history, research. You know, but I never fool myself that it’s all that worthy a job. To me, the worthy job is the art itself, which is actually why most of these books are about the records, usually on a pretty strict song by song basis, which, I noticed that when a lot of these guys write their own books, they barely even go over. It’s more about the lifestyle. So I’m fulfilling a service there, writing about all the nerdy, geeky stuff, all the detail, interviewing producers and talking to engineers and stuff like that. Anyway, I digress. Basically, I’ve turned being a fan into a job, or hobby into a job. What’s more important is art. I’m pretty sure all these guys I interview think I’m a loser and I totally agree, in comparison to them. And that’s why I have to quit all this sooner than later, and get back to painting, drawing, illustration. I have so many ideas, and to me that’s the ultimate job. Oddly, I’ve got no desire to write fiction. And even more oddly, maybe this is just age, but I have little desire to make music, even though I do play drums, I definitely know I could write lyrics and I could even write songs if I had to, and I do plunk away at bass and guitar. But the idea of making music is way down the list past the idea of getting back to painting, which I’m sure I can be successful at. Everything I’ve done that I wanted to sell has sold. It’s stupid. I’ve wasted all this time, but on the list of cool jobs, I console myself that having written 50-odd metal books is quite high up the chain, just definitely below any job where you actually make art.

MT: You do a lot of self publishing. How you do you think the rise of self publishing–both print and digital–can benefit music journalism?

MP: The most amazing thing about this is you don’t have to rely on anyone. Any idea you can come up with, you can make it a reality, and sure, you have to put in a lot of hours, but there’s not really a lot of financial risk, other than the throwing away of all those hours, because with self-publishing, and the idea that you could make print books using a digital process rather than going to old traditional press, means that you can economically fire up 200, 300, 500 copies of whatever you want. There’s layout cost, the cost of the print job, but if you can find even a small modest audience like that and sell mail-order, it works out pretty good. Plus digital is very exciting. Have had some success with e-books, but what I really am sort of passionate about exploring more is putting out dozens… Well, I’ve already done dozens, but hundreds of short documents, for a low price of like $.99 or $1.99. That is a very intriguing business model that I’ve done a bunch of, in conjunction with a cool partner Chris Pike (buy his Budgie books!) but haven’t really had much success at. But basically, forget music, writing, this whole process opens up the door for anybody who’s passionate about anything or has become somewhat of an expert in any field. You can just go out and publish. There’s no more excuses not to do it. And sorry, you say, how can it benefit music journalism? Well, I guess it’s the same answer. Anything you want to write about, you can just go out and write about it. And you don’t need a publisher, you don’t have to go through all that rejection, you just have to put in the hours and spend a little bit of money. That’s it. Any obscure band you want to write about that there’s never been a book on… just get out there and do it.

MT: What are you currently working on?

MP: I don’t really like to talk about that, because you don’t know if you’re letting out secrets that a publisher doesn’t want let out or what. One thing I can say, because I don’t have a deal for it yet and I’ll just self-publish it if I don’t get a publisher, is a book called Who Invented Heavy Metal? Which, I’ve given a little talk on at a few conferences, and I have a sort of interesting, complex four-part answer, and basically I have to have it ready for a conference in Finland in mid-2015 anyway. So, publisher or not, I gotta get that thing ready, and I suppose that’s going to be the next book. But I have lots of ideas, in fact probably one idea a day, for a book project. It’s just getting the time to do it. Which, long story, but I’m trying to look for a publisher, maybe even something visionary like a digital publisher or app maker, somebody who wants to buy out my entire archive of interviews and all the books I have rights to, and all the books where the rights are going to revert to me, for a nice package deal, and then even go work for that publisher for five years, to free me up to write more and take a lot of these other tasks away. There is so much pent-up potential sales in what’s been done so far, and in my interview archive of 1600 interviews, that I think selling all of this intellectual capital in one big deal to a publisher, and then going and working for the buyer, is the way to go for the next five years, and then try get back to art.

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

MP: Man, I always draw a blank when asked this, because there are so many coming all the time, and I read them, and just like pizza, they’re all basically good. Plus I have so many friends that write music books, I don’t want to start naming them and then leave other guys out! I suppose in general terms, you don’t like it when it’s too much cut and paste and not enough original interview footage. My whole rule with doing any these books is I won’t write a book on anybody until I’ve talked to them 20 or 25 or 30 times. Always like to have something new to add to the table. And on top of that, I do realize that one satisfying part of this is weaving in my own opinion, criticism into this stuff. Some people like that, some people think it’s out of place and is stupid, and who cares what this Canadian idiot thinks? Also, I suppose, books can be too long-winded, in need of an edit, or off-topic from what you really care about. Which again, for me, and I get lots of positive feedback in this respect, I’m really that guy who wants to talk about every song on every album, even less popular albums, and not blow by anything too fast. God love him, I just got back from vacation and was reading Dick Wagner’s autobiography, and then the day I get back, he dies! I knew Dick and I interviewed him a few times, and he called me for advice on his book. But I’m amazed, although I loved the book, and I’m glad he covered what he did cover in it, I was amazed at how little there was about the specifics of writing and recording all of that Alice Cooper material. It’s just funny, the rock star himself, some writer, working on an authorized biography with a rock star, some unauthorized writer… everybody has their area of interest, and they will chew up their word count in that area of interest. Mine happens to be songwriting, most importantly lyrics, recording, the performances right on the record. Because, as a fan, that’s what you’ve got sitting in your collection that you go back to time and time again, is the studio albums. The live experience, live albums, talking about the tour, all that other stuff, to me… the lasting, most important part of all these rock stars is that little pile of studio albums that they’ve made. And that’s what I want talked about at length in any rock bio that I read, and that’s why I write them that way.

Keep up with Martin Popoff at his Website


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acdcThe Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC by Jesse Fink
Reviewed by SteveJ

One of rock ‘n’ roll’s basic tenets is that being in a band is like being in a gang; it’s all for one and one for all. One of life’s tenets is that blood is thicker than water. Combine those two beliefs and you have the core of Jesse Fink’s excellent new book The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, a fresh take on AC/DC filtered through the Scottish clan’s lens.

Those relationships, particularly that of former Easybeat George, and younger brothers Malcolm and Angus, build the AC/DC band — soon-to-become “brand” — brick by brick. They keep and streamline what works, and discard ideas that do not fit their vision, and personnel that betray the family’s code of silence. George (along with Harry Vanda) led The Easybeats, easily Australia’s greatest band, but excepting “Friday On My Mind,” the group was never able to break America. Their career was alternately undermined from both inside the band, and outsiders, including the press, radio and their record company. George Young never forgot those lessons, and schooled his guitar-playing brothers well. His and Vanda’s superior songwriting and production skills would be critical towards developing and nurturing the band until rhythm guitarist and riff-meister Malcolm could assume control and assert himself as the power behind the throne.

To their credit, the band’s decision-making process is guided by their vision of “what’s best for the band,” and, if cutthroat at times, it’s consistent. Even lead singer and lyricist Bon Scott’s place in the band comes under scrutiny when he is suspected of hard drug use. He would be safe — for now — but it would not be long before Scott would pay the ultimate price. The band, ever pragmatic, would replace him and reach even greater heights.

It’s that consistency and stubbornness to their craft, their sound and vision that is the strength of both the Youngs and AC/DC. Critics were often late to the party with bands like AC/DC, hailing them as “stupid” and suggesting “someone ought to pull the plug on them” (Robert Hilburn)” or dismissing them as having “nothing to say musically” (Rolling Stone’s Billy Altman). Of course, as the band became one of the biggest in the world, the critics would later revise their opinions, offering bouquets of backhanded praise.

Likewise, managers, record men and radio people — seemingly ANYONE who worked with the band and was interviewed for this book — are willing to take a fair measure of credit for the band’s success. It only reinforces to me just who is actually responsible for the band’s success; that would be the Youngs and the band itself.

Fink is also not afraid to call out other biographers of the band on inconsistencies and half-truths, perhaps promulgated by the Young’s themselves, and offer up tantalizing alternatives. Back In Black, the album that launched the band into the stratosphere, has long been rumored to have Bon Scott’s fingerprints on some of the lyrics (including the title song), rather than replacement Brian Johnson’s, who received songwriting credit on the album. Fink provides some compelling analysis, comparing Scott’s often tongue-in-cheek style to Johnson’s clumsy sexual metaphors and pointing out his lack of input on subsequent albums. The author, as do I, also favors the Scott-era’s penultimate album Powerage as the band’s definitive musical statement, rather than the more successful Highway to Hell or Back in Black, which gracefully closed the curtain on one version of the band while launching a new one. Powerage however, is a fresh, foot-tapping distillation of the blues and blues boogie; just listen to “Gone Shootin’,” by far my favorite song in the band’s catalog, and an overlooked classic.

I’ll leave the last word, however, to David Krebs, one-time manager of AC/DC and a powerhouse in the industry. He compared managing a band (and presumably the subsequent books about bands) to Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” in which “four separate witnesses to a rape and murder give accounts that contradict each other. No matter what, there will always be people who saw the same event in a completely different way.” And while I’m pretty sure that this is the first book to mention AC/DC and Akira Kurosawa in the same breath, that rings pretty true to me. Ultimately, Jesse Fink has delivered a fascinating, highly-readable, sometimes critical account of the Young brothers and AC/DC that all fans of the band should read.

If you want blood….you got it.

Follow me on Twitter @stevejreviews


The Week’s Release (8/10-16)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?]

The Next Elvis: Searching for Stardom at Sun Records, Barbara Barnes Sims, Louisiana State University Press, August 11, 2014

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Joel McIver, Omnibus Press, August 11, 2014 (Updated Paperback Edition)

Hotter Than a Match Head: My Life on the Run with The Lovin’ Spoonful, Steve Boone and Tony Moss, ECW Press, August 12, 2014

House of Fun: The Story of Madness, John Reed, Omnibus Press, August 11, 2014

Elvis Has Left the Building: The Day the King Died, Dylan Jones, Overlook, Aug 14, 2014

Lou Reed: The Life, Mick Wall, Orion, August 14, 2014 (Paperback Edition)

The Big Book of Hair Metal: The Illustrated Oral History of Heavy Metal’s Debauched Decade, Martin Popoff, Voyageur Press, August 15, 2014