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Musician biography book recommendations

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I always love getting my teeth into a good musician biography...authorised or unauthorised (the latter usually hits home a bit more truthfully)

Hank Williams - I Saw The Light biography by Colin Escott.....fascinating read on the music industry and how they worked releases/the business model used at the time to promote artists. Musicians could actually make a lot of money from Jukebox plays back in the late 40's....albums were used as a means to cobble together some out takes that weren't top drawer, Billboard singles chart was King, and getting the popular artists of the day to cover your song was a great way to rake in the royalty payments (particularly if you were a ''hillbilly country artist)...the cost to the industry from the change from 78's to 45's, the studio band costs, the fall out from the musicians union strike.

That's before you even look at Hank Williams and his life.....died at 29, just before the first wave of rock and roll....a great read...a very detailed read at that....the sheer detail may put some people off the book but if you're into that type of thing and the history of music...and even have a passing interest in Hank Williams this would be worth checking out.

Anyone have any other recommendations.......:)

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^ Yes, me too! Great post and great thread. Love the history aspects that book has to offer!

There's so many good ones! I think I have briefly addressed this subject elsewhere, but, again running the risk of repeating myself, I would, off the top of my head have to mention Nick Tosches' Hellfire (the deeply fascinating and somewhat disturbing story of Jerry Lee Lewis). Tosches also, around the same time, that is the early 80s, wrote a cool book called Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll: The Birth of Rock in the Wild Years Before Elvis. It's not as good a read, but the content is mindblowing, never the less, if a bit beside the point here, since it's not a biography, strictly speaking. 

Obviously, some of the later editions of Clinton Heylin's Behind The Shades (about Bob Dylan) are to be highly recommended.

And.. speaking of Heylin (and of the old ways of doing things), I would like to recommend most titles by Heylin, and most titles by Greil Marcus. Whether those guys cover a specific artist in biographies, or (as is often the case with Marcus) discuss certain angles on culture/music history, they are generally very entertaining and educational. In that genre of music history titles that are not biographies, one should also not forget Eric Lott's Love & Theft (yep, I think Dylan borrowed that one!).. or why not Woody Guthrie's Bound for Glory, for a fascinating glance down the vortex of the dust bowl past of the midwest and beyond. But I derail.

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I also love a good musician biography or auto-biography and I've got a bunch.  If I had to pick my favorite, it would be "This Wheel's On Fire" Levon Helm and the story of The Band'. Couldn't put that one down.  I should read it again myself.  It's been a while.

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Recently finished reading Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin that I would recommend. Great detail extremely well researched and it doesn't fawn all over Springsteen, it gives a rounded insight into the man and musician. I'm not a super Springsteen fan but really enjoyed the book...fascinating background into his childhood and how what he experienced growing up influenced and informed his work and personality both light and shade. His relationship with his father and his obsessive streak to succeed at any cost. While they are musically different in a lot of ways I can definately see similarities in Bruce and Tom Petty from an attitude perspective in the way they went about their business particularly in their early years although unfortunately Tom and Bruce don't share a similar approach to the live show experience...two brief mentions of TPATHB in the book. Well worth checking out this biography. ☺

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I've read a few over the years, aside from the Petty ones.

The Dirt about Motley Crue. Just scummy. Awful. I wasn't a fan of the band in the first place but heard it was a crazy read. More like disgusting and disturbing.

Red by Sammy Hagar. I'm not a Hagar fan at all so I skimmed it, mainly to hear about the Van Halen stuff and some of his more interesting experiences. Different. Interesting. I think I prefer this to his singing. Overall, I don't know how true his version of things are, but it was a book from the library so it was fine.

Strange Beautiful Music by and about Joe Satriani and another writer I think who helped. I could've read more on the making of albums but it's a good read. I love his music and his creative approach to albums is inspiring.

cheers

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I've read quite a few books on musicians and bands. These are some favourites:

 

"Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend" by Stephen Davis and "The Lizard King: The Essential Jim Morrison" by Jerry Hopkins are essential reads for Doors fans.

"The Beatles" by Bob Spitz is the Beatles bio to end all Beatles bios.

"Skydog: The Duane Allman Story" by Randy Poe provides a great look into his life and the early years of the Allman band.

Phil Lesh's "Searching for the Sound" might be, of what I've read, the best Grateful Dead bio ever written.

"Moon: The Life & Death of a Rock Star" by Tony Fletcher is a classic of the genre.

"The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music" by David Meyer is a must for fans of the under-pinnings of the country direction pop music took starting in the early 70s.

Paul Trynka's book on Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones is the best one.

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"Chronicles" by Dylan, of course; though you should probably not mistake it for an autobiography. It's at least 50% fiction, I guess.

"Bruce Springsteen And The Promise of Rock And Roll" by Marc Dolan I find even more interesting than Carlin's book. Dolan analyzes the evolution of Springsteen's songwriting and setlists and how he gradually became an artist who reacts more and more deliberately to society, politics, and the like. Really an eye-opener in some ways.

I also enjoyed Springsteen's "Born To Run" quite a lot.

"Broken Music" by Sting is a finely written and insightful account on a musician's personal and professional life in England in the sixties and seventies. Even if he had not become that famous, the book would make for an interesting read.

And, of course, the most astounding book of all (IMHO): "Invisible Republic" by Greil Marcus, more or less about Dylan and The Band's Basement Tapes.

Speaking of Marcus, his book on Van Morrison is also quite nice.

And, while not biographies in any sense, Barney Hoskyns' "Small Town Talk" on the Woodstock music scene and "Hotel California" on the dawning of Country Rock and Soft Rock in the seventies are highly recommended.

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Sam Philips - The man who invented rock and roll by Peter Guralnick is a great read, very detailed and well researched...over 600 pages..some great nuggets about Elvis, Johnny Cash Jerry Lee Lewis and Ike Turner among others as well.

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On 31/01/2018 at 12:31 PM, TwoGunslingers said:

"Chronicles" by Dylan, of course; though you should probably not mistake it for an autobiography. It's at least 50% fiction, I guess.

"Bruce Springsteen And The Promise of Rock And Roll" by Marc Dolan I find even more interesting than Carlin's book. Dolan analyzes the evolution of Springsteen's songwriting and setlists and how he gradually became an artist who reacts more and more deliberately to society, politics, and the like. Really an eye-opener in some ways.

I also enjoyed Springsteen's "Born To Run" quite a lot.

"Broken Music" by Sting is a finely written and insightful account on a musician's personal and professional life in England in the sixties and seventies. Even if he had not become that famous, the book would make for an interesting read.

And, of course, the most astounding book of all (IMHO): "Invisible Republic" by Greil Marcus, more or less about Dylan and The Band's Basement Tapes.

Speaking of Marcus, his book on Van Morrison is also quite nice.

And, while not biographies in any sense, Barney Hoskyns' "Small Town Talk" on the Woodstock music scene and "Hotel California" on the dawning of Country Rock and Soft Rock in the seventies are highly recommended.

 

I love those two: "Small Town Talk" and "Hotel California" (Barney Hoskyns).

I also really like "Never a Dull Moment" by David Hepworth. Not a biography of one band, but a great write-up in which he makes a case for 1971 being the best year in rock history. I don't agree with him about that, but it's an interesting and entertaining read all the same.

"Fire and Rain" by David Browne, specifically about the year 1970 and particularly about The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, CSNY and James Taylor. It was from this book I learned that Paul Simon taught a class on songwriting in New York at the height of his fame. Imagine taking that class.

And then I should also mention Lemmy's autobiography: "White Line Fever". I don't listen to his music but a friend told me I should read the book and I really liked it.

EDIT:

I forgot to mention Graham Nash's autobiography. It's full of interesting anecdotes but it was also sometimes an irritating read because I think Nash is incredibly full of himself and seems to take credit for everything. I don't think he's a particularly exciting songwriter or singer but he's certainly lived a full life and known a lot really interesting people, and thus has a lot of exciting anecdotes to tell.

And, I also want to mention John Lydon's "Anger is an Energy". Especially the first bits about his youth are really exciting to read about. He comes across as a quite sympathetic person who's suffered a lot of hardship but still managed to make a good life for himself. Good on him.

And.. Brian Eno's diary from 1995 (or is it 1996)? 

Currently reading Duff McKagan's autobiography, "It's so Easy". Sure, there are all the obvious rock and roll cliches which sometimes annoy me, but what I really like about it is that it describes a time that I love reading about (anytime between the 1930 to early 90s, basically before everyone was on the internet and had mobile phones, after which I think the world has become a less interesting place) and a bunch of people trying to chase and live their dreams, a subject matter I will always enjoy and appreciate, and also, he seems like a quite sympathetic and reflective person. A good combination of nostalgia and motivating go-for-your-dream-attitude. Enjoying it so far. It's in stark contrast to another Los Angeles 80/90s 'druggie' rock star autobiography, "Scar Tissue" by Anthony Kiedis, who I usually think comes across well in interviews, but in this book he just comes across like a narcissistic, self-obsessed moron (sorry!). Which makes me think, I would love to read an autobiography by John Frusciante. I have watched several YouTube videos of him talking about music and it's just so interesting what he has to say about it. Maybe he could also write something interesting about it.

There are many other autobiographies/biographies that I like, but these were the ones that first came to mind. Great thread and great picks - I'm definitely inspired to read some of the other ones mentioned in this thread :)

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It might be awkward and a stupid idea, but what if they had a book interviewing both Stan and Steve and their respective takes on being the backbone of the band. Maybe the two drummers would have a few similar takes. Classy book though, focusing on the music both studio and stage.

Of course, this would be years in the future, anything now would seem like exploitation even if it's not.

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Just finished reading Brian Wilson 'Wouldn't it be nice, my own story' with Todd Gold. A stunning book, part heartbreaking, insightful, always compelling, and tragically bitter sweet towards the end. An absolutely fascinating read, couldn't put it down and finished it in 2 days. I was never a mega fan of The Beach Boys apart from the singles but this is compelling stuff about human frailty, family dynamics, abuse, power, business sharks and creative genius. It has it all. One of the best books I've ever read! 

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On ‎01‎.‎02‎.‎2018 at 8:22 PM, Lifeshouldbesung said:

"Fire and Rain" by David Browne, specifically about the year 1970 and particularly about The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, CSNY and James Taylor. It was from this book I learned that Paul Simon taught a class on songwriting in New York at the height of his fame. Imagine taking that class.

That's definitely a great book, too.

The idea of a songwriting class held by Paul Simon is, to me, as intriguing as it is surreal. :lol: I sure would have liked to be there, no doubt, to hear what he had to say. On the other hand, I certainly would not have liked him taking apart one of my songs. Which he apparently did. I don't know how that could do anybody any good. The reason, as I remember it, for Simon to teach that class was that he wanted to share experiences and give advice from the inside of the music industry, because he felt he would have found that helpful when he started out. But how picking apart somebody else's songs could be of any help there is beyond me. Nobody did that to his songs when he started and he did fine. But at least two participants of the class enjoyed his advice and started a carreer afterwards. So what do I know.

Paul Zollo's "Songwriters on Songwriting" (interviews with songwriters about, well, you guessed it... songwriting) is another favorite of mine, and here Simon goes into detail on the subject matter. His may be the longest interview in the whole book. But Petty's in there as well, and offers, as usual, fascinating insights.

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2 hours ago, TwoGunslingers said:

The idea of a songwriting class held by Paul Simon is, to me, as intriguing as it is surreal.

 

Yeah, surely intimidating to have your words tested on the eyes and ears of one of the giants. Simon definitely made some of the important tunes to the soundtrack of my life. (Or to quote TomFest in a neighboring thread, "I am totally smitten with the little man.") That said, I can't think of when he penned a great one, last, himself...? 1986, was it.. or to be really hard on him.. 1975? Nevertheless.. Paul Simon is Paul Simon. 

 

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37 minutes ago, Shelter said:

Yeah, surely intimidating to have your words tested on the eyes and ears of one of the giants.

True, and not only the words, but melodies and harmonies and rhythms as well!

 

38 minutes ago, Shelter said:

 Simon definitely made some of the important tunes to the soundtrack of my life. (Or to quote TomFest in a neighboring thread, "I am totally smitten with the little man.")

So am I. :lol: 

 

38 minutes ago, Shelter said:

That said, I can't think of when he penned a great one, last, himself...? 1986, was it.. or to be really hard on him.. 1975?

Well, I really like his 2011 album So Beautiful Or So What. The Afterlife and the title track are standouts.

On Stranger to Stranger there was only one song (Wristband) that really caught my attention, but that was a great one IMO.

Boy, I really made a habit out of this off-topic thing...

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