Shelf Life 2018-05-31T00:51:24+00:00

Reckless Daughter, A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe

As I read David Yaffe’s thorough and sweeping story of young Joan Anderson from Alberta’s transformation to superstar Joni Mitchell, I took my time. I reimmersed myself in her deep catalog as I slowly read her bio. With each chapter and phase of her career I once again got lost in her brilliant music; Clouds, Blue, For the Roses, Court and Spark, Hejira, Turbulent Indigo. The scope of her creative output takes your breath away. No record producers, just her trusty engineer and massive intuition and drive. Yeah, lots of egos, lovers and crazy music scenes. I ate it up. There will never be another Joni, totally unique and a constant musical companion throughout my life.

with Joni in Berlin, 1990

Inside Out, A Personal History of Pink Floyd by Nick Mason

It was nice to see this massive coffee table book finally come out in paperback. A few years ago the English copy cost me over thirty English pounds and must have weighed seven pounds. If you love Pink Floyd this is a must. Drummers always seem to have the right perspective. Sitting behind their drum sets perched up on risers they sit in a unique spot to taking in the unfolding drama and excitement below. Nick has been Floyd’s stellar drummer since 1966. His wonderful wit and precise memories make for a great read. Put on a Floyd album and start reading one delightful detail after another. Through all the craziness of Rogers’ nasty divorce from the band, Nick and Rog have stayed very tight. So Mason’s perspective is both honest and refreshing.

ABBEY ROAD by Alistair Lawrence

From Edward Elgar, George Martin, the London Symphony to Pink Floyd and of course, the Beatles, it’s all here. In a beautifully laid out British coffee table book you get the history of this amazing place. A converted Georgian mansion with nine bedrooms in St. John’s Woods, London that became a world famous recording studio. This grand facility is a working laboratory of sorts. A place were musical magic is made. A few years there was a serious series of meetings. The topic was, “Do we make this place a museum or keep it going as a world class set of rooms that happen to be some of the finest sounding studios in the world?” The working studio won out (thank goodness). This is one juicy pictorial.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Here’s one I just couldn’t put down. A complete surprise. His honesty, unending musical passion, delivered in one great story and observation after another. Intimate and hilarious, what a delightful. I kid you not, it’s easily the finest music memoir I’ve read in years.
We get to follow Bruce through all the chapters of his story. I loved hearing about his early years; his first guitars, all the bar bands and cutting those first three or four records. Later he shares about being at a birthday party (along with Dylan) for Sinatra out in LA, hanging with Obama (and Dylan again) at the White House and being alone with the Stones in a New York studio rehearsing for a charity concert. He really pulls back the curtain on his life. We see the very human side of Springsteen as he levels with the reader especially about his struggles with depression. This one kept me up really late as a flew through the pages.

The Cello Suites, the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece by Eric Siblin

Canadian writer Eric Sibling devotes a full book to one of the greatest pieces in classical music; the Cello Suites of J. S. Bach. Bach was orphaned at ten, sang in a choir at fifteen and was fixing organs by the time he was eighteen. The whole time Johann is drinking in everything MUSIC put in front of him. Violin, keyboard or voice, it didn’t matter. He was completely obsessed. After author Siblin gives us rich Bach background we start on a journey like some detective story. Where did these magnificent solo cello pieces come from? And, how did the young Spanish cellist Pablo Casals discover the set in a bin full of music manuscripts in a shop in Barcelona over a century ago? These days the suites are considered the pinnacle for any top cellist. I’ll never forget seeing Yo-Yo Ma perform them in a church in NYC. It was one of my greatest musical experiences as he sent all those sensational implied Bach harmonies echoing around the old church. You don’t have to be a classical student love this tale.

Kind of Blue, the Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece by Ashley Kahn

This is the story behind Kind of Blue, the greatest jazz album of all time. Released in 1959, the word is, it still sells a thousand copies a month. I’m sure that will continue for the next few centuries. And how many times have I bought the damn thing over the years? Let’s see, a couple of the albums, then the cassette, CD, the re-mastered re-issue, the SACD and streaming as I write. Kahn gives us the whole set-up to these incredibly productive sessions. There were just two recording dates. Miles and his band were completely ready. They’d all been preparing for a lifetime and here they were in Columbia’s 30th Street Studios. It was a one time church converted into one of the finest sounding recording studios on the planet. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderly, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb and Wynton Kelly.

Jazz lovers be forewarned, this book is gonna suck you right in!

Chronicles, Vol. 1, by Bob Dylan

I never get tired of this read. Bob’s story stays on my devices so that when I travel or have a little time to kill the world according to Zimmerman is there. Open it up anywhere, put on a Dylan album for the soundtrack and be delightful. Yeah, I know, I’ve heard the criticism before that it’s his take on the facts, but really, isn’t that what life is about? Chronicles, Volume One is just such a pleasure. What grabs his attention musically and otherwise is so damn unique and revealing.

Composed, A Memoir by Rosanne Cash

From a Beatle bopper living in SoCal in the 1960s to one of the most important singers in Nashville and finally now in New York City, Rosanne Cash is music royalty. Hey, she’s Johnny Cash’s daughter and that big shadow is present in so many parts of her wonderful autobiography. Yet, Rosanne is her own woman and with fifteen albums she knows her way around the world of music. The stories flow like some river. I loved hearing about her falling in love with the superb guitarist John Leventhal (who is now her husband). The book shares that beautiful moment in time with her recollection of John playing next to her at Electric Ladyland Studios. While on the road her tours take her to many of the same towns and halls her Dad played in. The story about going to Scotland (the Cash ancestral home) is a truly magic moment.

Bill Graham Presents by Robert Greenfield

Since I live in Bill Graham’s old backyard there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and all that he did for  music. I cruise by the Fillmore on my way to the radio station daily. Would the music world be less important, less grand and somehow duller without his mark? The answer is yes. Over the years I met him a couple of times and we talked about (surprise!) music and bands. Intense passion was what Bill was all about. In the middle of a monologue about the biz, he paused and a wide smile leaked out. Graham’s journey to San Francisco and entry into the world of rock, jazz and the blues is so rich. Veteran music writer Robert Greenfield gets it right. In fact, I never read music bios over because I’m just so busy with the next one sitting on my night stand but I just had to take second pass at this inspiring story.

Greenback Dollar, The Incredible Rise of the Kingston Trio by William Bush

With their tight harmonies and polished lean sound (just a banjo and a couple of Martin guitars) they took America’s college campuses by storm back in the late 1950s and early 60s. It was called folk music! A time when anyone could sing along while someone played a few basic guitar chords. At parties, dorm rooms and summer camps we were making music. Even Bob Dylan admitted to falling for their sound early on.

Here’s the Trio’s story. Three guys coming out of the Bay Area who worked like crazy. Getting better and better as they took on club dates in San Francisco’s North Beach district in the late ’50s. Their deal with Capitol Records nearly killed them as they delivered three LPs every twelve months as well as keeping up with 250 concert dates a year. Even hard gigging jazz musicians rarely keep-up that pace. Catchy tunes like Tom Dooley, MTA, Greenback Dollar and Desert Pete. All hits! They were Capitol’s cash cow right before the Beach Boys and the Beatles’ arrival on the label. Nick Reynolds, Dave Guard and Bob Shane were often on the cover of Life Magazine, these guys were huge. Later John Stewart joined after Dave left and for another ten years they continued on. Biographer William Bush obviously knows their history and loves the Trio sound.

with Bob Shane of the Kingston Trio, March 2014

On a personal note, I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I met them back in 1963 as I stood at the backstage door after one of their concerts. Twelve years old with my program in hand the Kingston Trio circled around me talking about their show, records and guitars while I got their autographs. Right then and there I knew I wanted to be around music for the rest of my life. What a night!

Clapton’s Guitar, Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument by Allen St. John

If you’ve ever wondered about American acoustic guitars, you know, Martins, Gibsons, Guilds, Taylors, Schoenbergs as well as all the top independent builders, here’s your rabbit hole. Jump right in. Steel stringed guitars are magic and some go for more than the price of a nice car. Guitar player, collector and writer Allen St. John has written a top notch book about Eric Clapton ordering a new six string from a superb Virginia builder named Wayne Henderson. Rosewood, spruce, mojo and tons of building experience separate the beauties from the clunkers and Henderson not only builds but he plays! Throw on some Doc Watson, Norman Blake or Tony Rice and get lost in a truly American story.

My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman (with Alan Light)

I finally got around to the Gregg Allman book, My Cross to Bear, which came out recently in paperback. What was I waiting for? It’s so much better than I could have imagined.

Like the Keith Richards’ autobiography, I’m surprised at how deep and honest this read is. Man, in detail, we hear how the Allman Brothers Band struggled, starved and clawed their way into existence. The whole time honing their chops as they became, for a spell back in the early ’70s, the #1 band in America. Ya, there’s some Cher gossip, as well as lots of road stories. BUT, the main thing is, the curtain is pulled back on Gregg’s amazing life.