Wednesday, April 4, 2012

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

While searching for a Monkees biography for a timely review, this title popped up in the recommended widgets. I had known for some time that the Monkees did not play in the studio for their first two albums, and it occurred to me other groups of the day would have made use of studio musicians. That the majority of the best-known songs recorded during rock and roll's first few decades had been performed by a core group left me wanting to know more, and author Hartman's meticulous biography of "The Wrecking Crew" traces their history from the days when popular music shifted from deep-voiced crooning to raucous rockabilly and on through the eclectic seventies. Some names are familiar, others not so much, but in a way that is probably fitting, given that the music (no pun intended) seemed to take center stage.

Kent Hartman's account of this group's evolution in The Wrecking Crew puts focus on a number of players, some within the crew and others the peripheral movers in the music business who benefited from their skills. Some names may be familiar with students of early rock -- drummer Hal Blaine who coined the moniker, the lone female Carol Kaye, and the rare crossover success story, Glen Campbell. For much of the 50s through the 70s, when singing groups tended the dominate the charts more often than actual bands, the Wrecking Crew handled the majority of studio performances, including songs by Simon and Garfunkel, Sonny and Cher, The Beach Boys (some of the crew would actually tour as ersatz members), The Monkees, The Grass Roots, The Fifth Dimension, and so forth.

The Wrecking Crew presents the evolution of the rock era through a series of vignettes that paint a colorful picture of the industry -- from tales of Sonny Bono's ballsy maneuvering into the business to dealings with the enigmatic Brian Wilson. The book presents a most fascinating history.

Rating: A


Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and book blogger.









Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rock and Roll Summer Reading Wish List

In a few weeks I will embark on a week-long trip overseas. In between periodic checks to confirm that my passport is valid, I've been filling up my eBook readers for the long flights ahead of me. I hope to whittle down my TBR stack if others cooperate, but I'm also looking forward to summer and many music-themed books I hope to enjoy. Here are just a few I've put on my summer wish list. (Book descriptions courtesy of Amazon.com)

Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone

Raised in Queens, New York, Johnny Ramone founded one of the most influential rock bands of all time, but he never strayed from his blue-collar roots and attitude. He was truly imbued with the angry-young-man spirit that would characterize his persona both on and off stage. Through it all, Johnny kept the band focused and moving forward, ultimately securing their place in music history by inventing punk rock. The Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002—two years later, Johnny died of cancer, having outlived two other founding members. Revealing, inspiring, and told on his own terms, this highly designed memoir also features Johnny’s assessment of the Ramones’ albums; a number of eccentric Top Ten lists; rare historical artifacts; and scores of personal and professional photos, many of which have never before been published.


My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman

As one of the greatest rock icons of all time, Gregg Allman has lived it all and then some. For almost fifty years, he's been creating some of the most recognizable songs in American rock, but never before has he paused to reflect on the long road he's traveled. Now, he tells the unflinching story of his life, laying bare the unvarnished truth about his wild ride that has spanned across the years.

The story begins simply: with Gregg and his older brother, Duane, growing up in the South, raising hell with their guitars, and drifting from one band to another. But all that changed when Duane and Gregg came together with four other men to forge something new—a unique sound shaped by soul, rock, and blues and brimming with experimentation; a sound not just of a band, but of a family.

Bringing to life the carefree early days of the Allman Brothers Band, Gregg holds nothing back—from run-ins with the law to meeting girls on the road, from jamming at the Fillmore East to experimenting with drugs. Along the way, he goes behind the scenes of some of greatest rock music ever recorded, without shying away from the infamous and painful deaths of his brother, Duane, and Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley. Speaking for the first time about the profound impact that his brother's death had on him, Gregg offers a tribute to Duane that only a younger brother could write, showing how, to this day, he still confronts the grief of losing his big brother, even as Duane continues to guide and inspire him.

Setting the record straight about the band's struggles in the face of death, Gregg shows how the decision to persevere came with a heavy price. While the rock and roll excesses of drugs, alcohol, and personality clashes led to a series of breakups that culminated with the band's permanent reunion in 1989, Gregg fought his own battle with substance abuse, going to rehab no less than eleven times and floating through a string of failed marriages, including his tabloid-frenzied relationship with Cher, before finally cleaning up once and for all.

Capturing the Allman Brothers' ongoing, triumphant resurgence as well as his own recent fight against hepatitis C and featuring over one hundred photos from throughout the band’s history, Gregg presents a story as honest as it is fascinating, providing a glimpse inside one of the most beloved and notorious bands in the history of rock music and demonstrating how, through it all, the road goes on . . . forever.


A Natural Woman by Carole King

Carole King takes us from her early beginnings in Brooklyn, to her remarkable success as one of the world's most acclaimed songwriting and performing talents of all time. A NATURAL WOMAN chronicles King's extraordinary life, drawing readers into her musical world, including her phenomenally successful #1 album Tapestry, and into her journey as a performer, mother, wife and present-day activist. Deeply personal, King's long-awaited memoir offers readers a front-row seat to the woman behind the legend.

The book will include dozens of photos from King's childhood, her own family, and behind-the-scenes images from her performances.

Working Class Mystic by Gary Tillery

John Lennon called himself a working class hero. George Harrison was a working class mystic. Born in Liverpool as the son of a bus conductor and a shop assistant, for the first six years of his life he lived in a house with no indoor bathroom. This book gives an honest, in-depth view of his personal journey from his blue-collar childhood to his role as a world-famous spiritual icon.

Author Gary Tillery’s approach is warmly human, free of the fawning but insolent tone of most rock biographers. He frankly discusses the role of drugs in leading Harrison to mystical insight but emphasizes that he soon renounced psychedelics as a means to the spiritual path. It was with conscious commitment that Harrison journeyed to India, studied sitar with Ravi Shankar, practiced yoga, learned meditation from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and became a devotee of Hinduism. George worked hard to subdue his own ego and to understand the truth beyond appearances. He preferred to keep a low profile, but his empathy for suffering people led him to spearhead the first rock-and-roll super event for charity. And despite his wealth and fame, he was always delighted to slip on overalls and join in manual labor on his grounds. At ease with holy men discussing the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, he was ever the bloke from Liverpool whose father drove a bus, whose brothers were tradesmen, and who had worked himself as an apprentice electrician until the day destiny called.

Tillery’s engaging narrative depicts Harrison as a sincere seeker who acted out of genuine care for humanity and used his celebrity to be of service in the world. Fans of all generations will treasure this book for the inspiring portrayal it gives of their beloved “quiet” Beatle.

Honky Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics by Loretta Lynn

One of the most beloved country music stars of all time gives us the first collection of her lyrics and, in her own words, tells the stories that inspired her most popular songs, such as "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Don't Come Home A' Drinkin'," and, of course, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl."

Loretta Lynn's rags-to-riches story--from her hardscrabble childhood in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, through her marriage to Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn when she was thirteen, to her dramatic rise to the top of the charts--has resonated with countless fans throughout her more than fifty-year career. Now, the anecdotes she shares here give us deeper insight into her life, her collaborations, her influences, and how she pushed the boundaries of country music by discussing issues important to working-class women, even when they were considered taboo. Readers will also get a rare look at the singer's handwritten lyrics and at personal photographs from her childhood, of her family, and of her performing life. Honky Tonk Girl: A Life in Lyrics is one more way for Lynn's fans--those who already love her and those who soon will--to know the heart and mind of this remarkable woman.