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Memoirs, biographies top list of latest music book
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

» See more SOUND CHECK



There are music and lyrics.

And then there are words about music.

The music book world has been booming since Bob Dylan and Keith Richards had bestselling success with recent memoirs. This year is no different; the fall in particular, leading up to the holidays, has been filled with autobiographies, biographies, coffee table-sized photo books and other tomes about the world of music.

With that in mind -- and knowing you may be looking for a few more stocking stuffers and other holiday gifts -- here's a look at two dozen titles that have stirred up the most interest during the past few months...

BILLY JOEL: THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY by Fred Schruers (Crown Archetype): The subtitle is no more hyperbole; this tome is built from interviews Schruers conducted for an autobiography that Joel eventually abandoned but allowed the author to use for his own book. That gives "Billy Joel" an enviable and illuminating "from the horse's mouth" authority, and if Schruers maintains a level of fondness for his subject he doesn't let it get in the way of more critical observations about Joel's life and career.

SPECIAL DELUXE: A MEMOIR OF LIFE & CARS by Neil Young (Blue Rider Press): After the mess of 2012's WAGING HEAVY PEACE, it's easy to come into Young's second autobiography with low expectations. But this one's much closer to the mark of what we want, a more straightforward approach albeit with the twist of using his passion for cars as a vehicle fro his life's story. The direct, lighthearted tone makes for a nice ride for music fans and gearheads alike.

PLAY ON: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Mick Fleetwood with Anthony Broza (Little Brown): This one's curious, since Fleetwood wrote a perfectly good and particularly revealing memoir in 1991. But plenty has happened, in his life and with Fleetwood Mac, during the past 13 years, and he both reviews and brings us up to date in the same genial manner as its predecessor.

BROTHAS BE, YO LIKE GEORGE, AIN'T THAT FUNKIN' KINDA HARD ON YOU? by George Clinton with Ben Greenman (Atria): The Funkmeister, who worked the key years of his career in the Detroit area, has been a challenging man to follow over the years. But he puts everything into clearly organized context here with plenty of tales from the Mothership as well as copious details about his myriad, and ongoing, legal issues.

GIL SCOTT-HERON: PIECES OF A MAN by Marcus Baram (St. Martin's Press): The troubled genius, a visionary soul poet and progenitor of the rap and neo soul movements, gets his due in this admiring but also sharply critical and revealing portrait. Baram deftly balances the onetime Detroiter's virtues with the demons that helped lead to his death in 2011. His flaws are tantalizing, but his creative accomplishments ultimately make for the most memorable reading here.

RESPECT: THE LIFE OF ARETHA FRANKLIN by David Ritz (Little Brown): Ritz has never made a secret of his disappointment in working with the Queen of Soul on her 1999 memoir ARETHA: FROM THESE ROOTS, and some of that enmity clearly surfaces in his unauthorized biography. Franklin has disavowed some of the less flattering details within, but it's no mere hatchet job and Ritz also gives her musical achievements and socio-political impact their due.

THE UNIVERSAL TONE: BRINGING MY STORY TO LIGHT by Carlos Santana with Ashley Kahn and Hal Miller (Little Brown): Santana acknowledges his tendency to get a little cosmic right at the start of this weighty 535-page memoir. Fortunately he knows how to spin a good yarn as well, and the two balance nicely throughout this frank and richly detailed venture.

ROCKS: MY LIFE IN AND OUT OF AEROSMITH by Joe Perry with David Ritz (Simon and Schuster): The guitarist is clear-eyed and focused throughout this New York Times besteller -- something Perry writes that he definitely wasn't during Aerosmith's rise in the 70s. Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and inter-group dysfunction abounds, but Perry. to his credit, doesn't try to shirk responsibility for any of the tumult.

DANCING WITH MYSELF by Billy Idol (Touchstone): Idol's had times but very high and very low, and he's come out of them all wearing the same punky scowl that we've known and loved since the early 80s. The stories come as fast and furious as a rebel yell, and if Idol's more entertaining than repentant here, would we really expect anything else?

BRIAN JONES: THE MAKING OF THE ROLLING STONES by Paul Trynka (Viking): Though most know it as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' band, the Stones were originally guitarist Brian Jones' creation, and his decline both within the band and in his own life make for a resonant tragedy and a sad end that are nailed by Trynka. You'll go back to those early Stones albums with fresh ears after reading this.

ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN by Victor Maymudes and Jacob Maymudes (St. Martin's Press); ON THE ROAD WITH JANIS JOPLIN by John Byrne Cooke (Berkley): Tour managers usually see all and tell nothing, but the late Maymudes (via his son) and Cooke break the code a bit with these revealing looks at their most famous employers. Maymudes' account is particularly interesting, and compassionate, since Dylan is so famously inaccessible, though the mayhem of Joplin's world gives Cooke plenty of material to keep us engaged.

SOUND MAN by Glyn Johns (Blue Rider Press): The season's real disappointment. Producer/engineer Johns has worked with a genuine who's-who of music royalty, including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Eagles...the list goes on and on and on. But SOUND MAN is light on both insight and anecdotes, even about the recording and creative process. A fumbled opportunity.

INTO THE BLACK: THE INSIDE STORY OF METALLICA (1991-2014) by Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood (Da Capo): The British authors' sequel to BIRTH SCHOOL METALLICA DEATH covers some dramatic years but in a surprisingly clinical manner, with a reliance on others' perceptions rather than their own voices. But an abundance of choice details still make for an illuminating read.

POSSIBILITIES by Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey (Penguin): Hancock has had a rich and varied career, from the jazz elite to a brush with MTV pop stardom via "Rockit!" He's justifiably proud of all that, and while "Possibilities" gets a little dense at times, it's a fascinating dive into Hancock's inventive sensibilities and borderless creative drive.

I'M THE MAN: THE STORY OF THAT GUY FROM ANTHRAX by Scott Ian with Jon Wiederhorn (Da Capo): If you've attended or heard any of Ian's spoken word performances you know he's a natural raconteur, and that also comes through in this book, a memoir that's enriched by Ian's eye for smaller details that can be built into unexpected, captivating complements to the larger story he's telling.

THROUGH THE EYE OF THE TIGER by Jim Peterik with Lisa Torem (BenBella): There's a lot more to Jim Peterik than writing the "Rocky III" anthem "Eye of the Tiger;" in fact, his days in the Ides Of March ("Vehicle"), where he toured with Led Zeppelin and helped a drunk Janis Joplin find her way home, are even more interesting than his 80s run with Survivor. A worthwhile self-profile of a solid, working musician and songwriter.

TRANSFORMER: THE COMPLETE LOU REED STORY by Victor Bockris (HarperCollins): This was the definitive Reed biography when it was first published in 1997. Reed's death in 2013 allowed Bockris to indeed "complete" the story in the same detailed and provocative manner as its predecessor, making an already good thing even better.

GERED MANKOWITZ: 50 YEARS OF ROCK AND ROLL PHOTOGRAPHY (Goodman): Mankowitz made his name shooting the Rolling Stones -- whose Keith Richards and Billy Wyman wrote forewords for this book -- and Jimi Hendrix during the 60s, but you'll find plenty of more contemporary images throughout these 323 pages, including iconic 80s portraits of Wham!, AC/DC, Duran Duran and more.

BRIAN MAY'S RED SPECIAL by Brian May with Simon Bradley (Hal Leonard): You wouldn't think a single guitar would merit a full book, but the axe May made at home with his father is a charming tale, and he offers plenty of other insights into Queen's music and career to use the guitar as a launching pad for a larger story.

BON JOVI: WORK by David Bergman (Press Syndication Group): As Bon Jovi's official tour photographer from 2010-13, Bergman had all access both in front of he stage and behind the scenes. That makes this oversized volume a treat for any BJ fan that, unwittingly, captures guitarist Richie Sambora's waning days as Jon Bon Jovi's wingman.

DREAM WEAVER: MUSIC, MEDITATION, AND MY FRIENDSHIP WITH GEORGE HARRISON by Gary Wright (Tarcher/Penguin): The subtitle pretty much says it all; you finish Wright's book feeling like you've spent a good deal of time with your legs crossed and eyes closed. But there are plenty of warm remembrances about Harrison, including sessions for the landmark "All Things Must Pass," as well as Wright's quick brush with solo stardom during the mid-70s.

THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN: BARBED WIRE KISSES by Zoe Howe (St. Martin's Press): British writer Howe does a good job of getting past some of the deliberate mystery that was part and parcel of the Scotland's Reid brothers and their musical creation while also offering some keen perspective on the period between New Wave and the Britpop movement of the 90s.

THE FENDER ARCHIVES by Tom Wheeler (Hal Leonard): Guitar porn -- that's the only way to refer to this lavishly designed, scrapbook-style book examining one of the world's most famous instrument manufacturers. From blueprints to company memos to, of course, an abundance of photos, this will send you sprinting to the store to buy something Fender, even if you don't now how to play.



Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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