Category Archives: Books

Under the Big Black Sun, by John Doe

Title: Under the Big Black Sun

Author: John Doe

Publisher: Da Capo Press

Publication Date: May 06, 2016

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Did the world really need one more book about Punk Rock? Particularly by someone who stood at Ground Zero? Yes. Yes, it did. Below, check out some choice videos.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

There are bookshelves crammed with tomes about Punk Rock and plenty of those deal with the L.A. punk scene of the late ‘70s. But few are as refreshingly personal as John Doe’s Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk (Da Capo Press).

415yv6TFv+L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Though X founder and one of the godfathers of the L.A. punk scene, John Doe, pulled together the focus of this book, there are plenty of personal essays from his friends and fellow band and scene mates to help fill out this book, which he co-wrote with journalist/archivist Tom DeSavia. (The jacket credit reads “with Tom DeSavia and friends.” Meanwhile, Billie Joe Armstrong penned the foreword.)

Before the hardcore kids from Orange County took over the scene in the early ‘80s and turned it into an agro excuse to pummel other kids, punk rock in Los Angeles was a refuge for oddballs of every ilk that had trouble fitting in with their peers. It was a patchwork of Glam kids/Bowie acolytes, Rockabilly refugees, upstart fashion designers, East Coast immigrants, wayward military brats from port cities and Mexican kids who dug loud guitars. This disparate collection bonded over a common need to find solace in likeminded folks, as described again and again in personal essays throughout the book.

XTheBand_083115B

Along with Doe’s moving recollections of first emigrating to L.A. from Baltimore and finding Exene Cervenka (his bandmate and one-time wife) within days and starting the wildly influential band X, there are hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking memories from The Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey, Mike Watt, Henry Rollins and many more. The book also includes dozens of stunning black and white photographs from many of the journalists who documented the scene from its infancy.

Did the world really need one more book about Punk Rock? If you’re asking about this one, then yes. Yes, it did.

Peter Hook Has 2nd Memoir Due, Substance: Inside New Order

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Get ready for at least two less-than-salutory reviews from Barney and Stephen.

By Barbi Martinez

Bassman extraordinaire Peter Hook penned one of the best rock bios in recent memory with 2012’s Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division (It Books) – reviewed HERE. It was well-received, to say the least, although it probably didn’t do much in terms of patching up the long-standing feud between Hook, who regularly tours with his band The Light and performs Joy Division music, and his erstwhile bandmates. One of the, of course, is dead.

Hook returns to the memoir well in October for what’s essentially Part Two: Substance: Inside New Order (Simon & Schuster UK). Here’s the Amazon UK product description; no word yet on an American publisher. Incidentally, the BLURT editor got to see New Order twice shortly after they formed from the ashes of Joy Division, and he tells me, “They were just a three-piece and had not yet gotten Gillian for keyboards. Basically they were fulfilling previously-scheduled tour dates for Joy Division, which of course were cancelled following the suicide of Ian Curtis, and they were still playing mostly Joy Division songs in concert. I saw them on a double bill with labelmates A Certain Ratio in which they played two gigs in one week in NYC, alternating headliners. Pretty damn amazing.”

***

Two acclaimed albums and an upcoming US tour – Joy Division had the world at their feet. Then, on the eve of that tour and the beginning of what would surely have been an international success story, the band’s troubled lead singer, Ian Curtis, killed himself.
     ‘We didn’t really think about it afterwards. It just sort of happened. One day we were Joy Division, then our lead singer killed himself and the next time we got together, we were a new band…’Peter Hook
     That band was New Order.Their distinctive sound – a fusion of post-punk and ground-breaking electronica – paved the way for the dance music explosion of the ’80s and earned them the reputation as one of the most influential bands of their generation. Despite their success, the band has always been a collision the visionary and the volatile, and relationships have often been fraught with tensions.
     Peter Hook has written a no-holds-barred, comprehensive account of the band’s entire history, packed with outrageous anecdotes and including every set list and tour itinerary and interspersed with ‘geek facts’ of every piece of electronic equipment used to forge the sound that changed the direction of popular music.

The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones, by Rich Kienzle

Title: The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones

Author: Rich Kienzle

Publisher: Dey Street

Publication Date: April 12, 2016

Jones book

A terrific new biography does the country legend right. It’s a great excuse to dust off his old albums or to start stacking up on his catalog.

BY JASON GROSS

When most people think of ‘country music,’ they center on the huge pop crossover successes of the last few decades from the likes of Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Dixie Chicks, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Shania Twain and Miranda Lambert. But even before that, a handful of stars also made the leap into pop cultural consciousness- Willie, Dolly, Mr. Cash. And then there’s the artists who are legends in the field of country itself but not household names otherwise, such as Hank, Merle (RIP), Lefty and the man that Frank Sinatra called the 2nd greatest American singer (after himself of course) – a Texas boy whose legacy includes a decades-long trail of broken marriages, drug use, rehab visits, business flops, violent incidents, police incidents, vehicular mishaps, abandoned concerts and label leaping. Still, anyone who knows more about country than what you can read in the tabloids can tell you that at his best, George Jones, a/k/a Possum, epitomized the best things that style of music has ever had to offer.

With a career that spanned about 60 years (roughly the mid-50’s up until his death in 2013) and a lifestyle that would make most rock stars blush, author Rich Kienzle (editor at Country Music Magazine) had his work cut out for him. Surprisingly, for a legendary figure like Jones, his life has only been covered thoroughly in an 1996 autobiography (I Lived To Tell It All), Bob Allen’s clinical, somewhat moist 1994 bio George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend and 2014’s useful The Legend of George Jones, written by a pair of old friends. Because of his rough and tumble life, any Jones bio could easily become a sex & drugs & country tome. Because of his massive discography (dozens of albums, over 100 singles), being comprehensive about his music would take a door-stopper book worthy of Roberto Belano or David Foster Wallace. But with The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones (Dey Street Books), and in a mere 262 pages, Kienzle wrangles the seemingly impossible- he defies Jones in places but doesn’t hide his disgust of his crappy recordings or crappy behavior and takes in some granular detail of his most famous songs.

Starting with Possum’s early years with a drunken abusive dad and a supportive religious mom and a military stint, Kienzle details how Jones pays his dues in small honky-tonk joints, side man gigs and local radio shows before hooking up with producer/label-man Pappy Daily to start recording in 1954 (the same year Elvis started). Originally a Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell discipline, Jones soon developed his own full throated style, starting with rambunctious hits like “The Race Is On” and “White Lightnin'” and soon moving to tear-in-your-beer ballads like “She Thinks I Still Care” and “Walk Through This World With Me.” Jones also evolved from being an impressive singer-songwriter to becoming an even more impressive interpreter, again like that Elvis character, with songs coming from some of Nashville’s finest songwriters (i.e. Dallas Frazier, Harlan Howard). Because Daily saw Jones more as a manufacturing line than an artist, the producer had him crank out several albums a year (sometimes recorded within a single day) and led Jones through a series of novelties, ill-advised rock moves and syrupy ballads, which means that his catalog is kind of spotty and best heard through compilations – Fantastic Voyage’s 3-CD set Ragged But Right, Bear Family’s Heartbreak Hotel and Rhino Record’s The Best of George Jones are great places to start.

Though Kienzle’s narrative barely touches on the social and musical upheavals of the 50’s and 60’s (except for one funny run-in with the Rolling Stones), he does draw a good, detailed portrait of the sessions and label maneuvers that Daily did during that time, all the while as Jones’ self-destructive behavior would sometimes get the best of him, but not derail his career as it would later. By the late 60’s, a new direction made itself felt as country itself was going through changes, with smoothed down ‘countrypolitan’ sound coming into its own. Jones left Daily (and a few wives by then) to hook up with producer Billy Sherrill, who led him through a more managed and seemingly mannered background for his music. But one where he could let his voice sail too. Sherrill would help to guide him to new artistic highs, which unfortunately were accompanied by managers and ‘friends’ who got him to other kind of highs, with a coke habit.

On the plus side, the early 70’s also meant that Jones’ next marriage partner would throw him into high profile. Tammy Wynette was already a country star by the time she hooked up with Jones in ’69 and their union did produce a string of impressive hits (especially 1973’s “We’re Gonna Hold On”) and tours together. But Possum’s old destructive habits plus Wynette’s own pill addiction meant that the long term prospects for the couple weren’t a given, leading to a D-I-V-O-R-C-E, as Tammy once sang about, in ’75. This part of Jones’ life might be the only part of Kienzle’s book that leans a little too much towards tabloid sensationalism, though in fairness, the couple did give celeb watchers plenty of fodder back then.

For the rest of 70’s and through a good part of the ’80’s, Jones fell into a downward spiral of drink n’ drugs but to his credit, Kienzle doesn’t indulge as much in Jones’ indulgences here, maybe because by then, Possum’s seppuku-like behavior was more private. Luckily, Sherrill hadn’t given up on him, assembling an all-star duets album in ’79 (My Very Special Guest) with Tammy, Willie, Waylon, plus Linda Ronstadt, Elvis Costello, James Taylor and the Staple Singers- but even then, Jones’ voice/body/spirit were barely there, requiring two years of work to finish the album. Even his best-known song, 1980’s gorgeous, heart-breaking “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” took another two years to complete, not only because Jones thought it was too dreary but also because he was in no shape to sing it most of the time. After a disastrous Country Music Association Awards appearance in ’81 (detailed at the start of the book), Jones stumbled into his salvation with his fourth (!) wife Nancy Sepulvado, whose saint-like patience helped to get him finally on the wagon with his drinking.

(As a side note, I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville in ’95 and picked up a Jones-related curio from the gift shop- a cute little Jones teaspoon with his photo at the top, his name engraved on the inside bowl, a tiny guitar medallion in the middle, a Confederate Flag style background on the box and a “Made in Taiwan” sticker on the back. Turns out it was a souvenir coke spoon)

Unfortunately, by the time Jones was straightening out his life, the country hit parade has passed him by as the dawn of the megastar crossovers happened in the early 90’s. Though he was seen a living legend and some of the New Traditionalist pack (Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Clint Black) helped to boost his rep (especially on 1992’s all-star collaboration “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair”), Jones’ recording career slowed down as his hits disappeared and labels dropped his contract, forcing him to go the indie DIY route of putting out his own albums. By the turn of the millennium, his album output had crawled to a stall, with years of hard living finally catching up to him. By then at least, he was happy to play the role of respected elder statesman, not to mention actually showing up and finishing concerts, though that also became a chore as his health kept declining towards the end. But even just before he died three years ago, he was still tentatively planning a series of farewell shows to cap his career and maybe make amends for his years of dodgy concerts.

In the end, Kienzle’s take on Jones’ life is such a page-turner that you’d wish he would provide more detail, which there was plenty of in Jones’ life. And again, an encyclopedia-sized book would do the job but until that time, this will more than suffice. Country fans, Jones fans and just plain music fans would find this a good read and it provides a great excuse to dust off his old albums or to start stacking up on his catalog. Just make sure it’s the ‘greatest hits’ collections though.

 

BIG BLACK SUN KING: John Doe

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Did the world really need one more book about Punk Rock? Particularly by someone who stood at Ground Zero? Yes. Yes, it did. Below, check out some choice videos.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

There are bookshelves crammed with tomes about Punk Rock and plenty of those deal with the L.A. punk scene of the late ‘70s. But few are as refreshingly personal as John Doe’s Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk (Da Capo Press).

415yv6TFv+L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Though X founder and one of the godfathers of the L.A. punk scene, John Doe, pulled together the focus of this book, there are plenty of personal essays from his friends and fellow band and scene mates to help fill out this book, which he co-wrote with journalist/archivist Tom DeSavia. (The jacket credit reads “with Tom DeSavia and friends.” Meanwhile, Billie Joe Armstrong penned the foreword.)

Before the hardcore kids from Orange County took over the scene in the early ‘80s and turned it into an agro excuse to pummel other kids, punk rock in Los Angeles was a refuge for oddballs of every ilk that had trouble fitting in with their peers. It was a patchwork of Glam kids/Bowie acolytes, Rockabilly refugees, upstart fashion designers, East Coast immigrants, wayward military brats from port cities and Mexican kids who dug loud guitars. This disparate collection bonded over a common need to find solace in likeminded folks, as described again and again in personal essays throughout the book.

XTheBand_083115B

Along with Doe’s moving recollections of first emigrating to L.A. from Baltimore and finding Exene Cervenka (his bandmate and one-time wife) within days and starting the wildly influential band X, there are hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking memories from The Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey, Mike Watt, Henry Rollins and many more. The book also includes dozens of stunning black and white photographs from many of the journalists who documented the scene from its infancy.

Did the world really need one more book about Punk Rock? If you’re asking about this one, then yes. Yes, it did.

Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’, by Reverend Keith A. Gordon

Title: Rollin' 'n' Tumblin'

Author: Reverend Keith A. Gordon

Publisher: Excitable Press

Publication Date: March 11, 2016

 

www.excitablepress.com

Keith Gordon book

The Upshot: Latest installment in the blues expert’s compendiums of reviews is, at 338 pages, a cover-to-cover essential read for enthusiasts and novices alike.

BY BILL KOPP

I don’t claim to know whether Reverend Keith A. Gordon’s title is an honorific, or if he’s truly a man of the cloth. But what I do know is that he’s here to spread the good news. And that news takes the form of a new book crammed full of album reviews (with some book reviews thrown in for good measure).

Gordon has seen his blues (and related genre) reviews published in print and online in a variety of outlets, most notably Blues Revue, Blues Magazine, and here at BLURT. What he’s done now is put together well over 100 of those reviews into printed book form.

Gordon knows his stuff, so a review won’t simply review the music, but place it into its proper context. The Rev offers the context a reader needs – the artist’s previous works, other influential artists etc. – and bakes it into every review. Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’ focuses on reviews of albums that have been released (or reissued) in the last decade or so. What that means is that those interested in newer/contemporary blues acts have a fine guide in this volume, but those who are interested in picking up a good reissue, compilation or archival release have plenty of advice from Gordon.

The book is laid out well, if a bit idiosyncratically. For reasons known only to himself, Gordon organizes the artists reviewed in Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’ alphabetically…by first name. And since there’s no index, that means that if you’re looking for info on something from a particular artist, you’ll have to scan the entire Table of contents. Happily, that’s only four pages of information – set in type and size that older folks will appreciate – so it won’t take long to find whether or not he’s reviewed, say, Real Gone Music’s reissue of Don Nix’s Living By the Days.

Gordon has chosen well for this volume; there’s focus on both well-known and relatively obscure artists from today and the past. And he digs deep into the reviews, often providing a song-by-song rundown of an entire album. The black-and-white reproductions of the album covers are faint, but then that’s not why most reader will dig into a book such as this. More of a reference work than a tome designed to be read cover to cover, Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’ is a useful consumer guide to the world of currently-available blues (and blues-informed) music.

The book’s subtitle is The Reverend’s Archives, Volume 2, so if this is your kind of thing, there’s more where it came from.

Go HERE to read an interview with Gordon about his book, along with tips for, ahem, aspiring music reviewers.

THE GRAND TOUR: George Jones

George 1

A terrific new biography does the country legend right. It’s a great excuse to dust off his old albums or to start stacking up on his catalog.  

BY JASON GROSS

When most people think of ‘country music,’ they center on the huge pop crossover successes of the last few decades from the likes of Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Dixie Chicks, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Shania Twain and Miranda Lambert.  But even before that, a handful of stars also made the leap into pop cultural consciousness- Willie, Dolly, Mr. Cash.  And then there’s the artists who are legends in the field of country itself but not household names otherwise, such as Hank, Merle (RIP), Lefty and the man that Frank Sinatra called the 2nd greatest American singer (after himself of course) – a Texas boy whose legacy includes a decades-long trail of broken marriages, drug use, rehab visits, business flops, violent incidents, police incidents, vehicular mishaps, abandoned concerts and label leaping. Still, anyone who knows more about country than what you can read in the tabloids can tell you that at his best, George Jones, a/k/a Possum, epitomized the best things that style of music has ever had to offer.

With a career that spanned about 60 years (roughly the mid-50’s up until his death in 2013) and a lifestyle that would make most rock stars blush, author Rich Kienzle (editor at Country Music Magazine) had his work cut out for him.  Surprisingly, for a legendary figure like Jones, his life has only been covered thoroughly in an 1996 autobiography (I Lived To Tell It All), Bob Allen’s clinical, somewhat moist 1994 bio George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend and 2014’s useful The Legend of George Jones, written by a pair of old friends. Because of his rough and tumble life, any Jones bio could easily become a sex & drugs & country tome.  Because of his massive discography (dozens of albums, over 100 singles), being comprehensive about his music would take a door-stopper book worthy of Roberto Belano or David Foster Wallace.  But with The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones (Dey Street Books), and in a mere 262 pages, Kienzle wrangles the seemingly impossible- he defies Jones in places but doesn’t hide his disgust of his crappy recordings or crappy behavior and takes in some granular detail of his most famous songs.

Jones book

Starting with Possum’s early years with a drunken abusive dad and a supportive religious mom and a military stint, Kienzle details how Jones pays his dues in small honky-tonk joints, side man gigs and local radio shows before hooking up with producer/label-man Pappy Daily to start recording in 1954 (the same year Elvis started).  Originally a Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell discipline, Jones soon developed his own full throated style, starting with  rambunctious hits like “The Race Is On” and “White Lightnin'” and soon moving to tear-in-your-beer ballads like “She Thinks I Still Care” and “Walk Through This World With Me.” Jones also evolved from being an impressive singer-songwriter to becoming an even more impressive interpreter, again like that Elvis character, with songs coming from some of Nashville’s finest songwriters (i.e. Dallas Frazier, Harlan Howard).  Because Daily saw Jones more as a manufacturing line than an artist, the producer had him crank out several albums a year (sometimes recorded within a single day) and led Jones through a series of novelties, ill-advised rock moves and syrupy ballads, which means that his catalog is kind of spotty and best heard through compilations – Fantastic Voyage’s 3-CD set Ragged But Right, Bear Family’s Heartbreak Hotel and Rhino Record’s The Best of George Jones are great places to start.

Though Kienzle’s narrative barely touches on the social and musical upheavals of the 50’s and 60’s (except for one funny run-in with the Rolling Stones), he does draw a good, detailed portrait of the sessions and label maneuvers that Daily did during that time, all the while as Jones’ self-destructive behavior would sometimes get the best of him, but not derail his career as it would later.  By the late 60’s, a new direction made itself felt as country itself was going through changes, with smoothed down ‘countrypolitan’ sound coming into its own.  Jones left Daily (and a few wives by then) to hook up with producer Billy Sherrill, who led him through a more managed and seemingly mannered background for his music. But one where he could let his voice sail too. Sherrill would help to guide him to new artistic highs, which unfortunately were accompanied by managers and ‘friends’ who got him to other kind of highs, with a coke habit.

On the plus side, the early 70’s also meant that Jones’ next marriage partner would throw him into high profile.  Tammy Wynette was already a country star by the time she hooked up with Jones in ’69 and their union did produce a string of impressive hits (especially 1973’s “We’re Gonna Hold On”) and tours together. But Possum’s old destructive habits plus Wynette’s own pill addiction meant that the long term prospects for the couple weren’t a given, leading to a D-I-V-O-R-C-E, as Tammy once sang about, in ’75.  This part of Jones’ life might be the only part of Kienzle’s book that leans a little too much towards tabloid sensationalism, though in fairness, the couple did give celeb watchers plenty of fodder back then.

For the rest of 70’s and through a good part of the ’80’s, Jones fell into a downward spiral of drink n’ drugs but to his credit, Kienzle doesn’t indulge as much in Jones’ indulgences here, maybe because by then, Possum’s seppuku-like behavior was more private.  Luckily, Sherrill hadn’t given up on him, assembling an all-star duets album in ’79 (My Very Special Guest) with Tammy, Willie, Waylon, plus Linda Ronstadt, Elvis Costello, James Taylor and the Staple Singers- but even then, Jones’ voice/body/spirit were barely there, requiring two years of work to finish the album.  Even his best-known song, 1980’s gorgeous, heart-breaking “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” took another two years to complete, not only because Jones thought it was too dreary but also because he was in no shape to sing it most of the time. After a disastrous Country Music Association Awards appearance in ’81 (detailed at the start of the book), Jones stumbled into his salvation with his fourth (!) wife Nancy Sepulvado, whose saint-like patience helped to get him finally on the wagon with his drinking.

(As a side note, I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville in ’95 and picked up a Jones-related curio from the gift shop- a cute little Jones teaspoon with his photo at the top, his name engraved on the inside bowl, a tiny guitar medallion in the middle, a Confederate Flag style background on the box and a “Made in Taiwan” sticker on the back.  Turns out it was a souvenir coke spoon)

Unfortunately, by the time Jones was straightening out his life, the country hit parade has passed him by as the dawn of the megastar crossovers happened in the early 90’s. Though he was seen a living legend and some of the New Traditionalist pack (Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Clint Black) helped to boost his rep (especially on 1992’s all-star collaboration “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair”), Jones’ recording career slowed down as his hits disappeared and labels dropped his contract, forcing him to go the indie DIY route of putting out his own albums. By the turn of the millennium, his album output had crawled to a stall, with years of hard living finally catching up to him.  By then at least, he was happy to play the role of respected elder statesman, not to mention actually showing up and finishing concerts, though that also became a chore as his health kept declining towards the end.  But even just before he died three years ago, he was still tentatively planning a series of farewell shows to cap his career and maybe make amends for his years of dodgy concerts.

In the end, Kienzle’s take on Jones’ life is such a page-turner that you’d wish he would provide more detail, which there was plenty of in Jones’ life. And again, an encyclopedia-sized book would do the job but until that time, this will more than suffice.  Country fans, Jones fans and just plain music fans would find this a good read and it provides a great excuse to dust off his old albums or to start stacking up on his catalog.  Just make sure it’s the ‘greatest hits’ collections though.

 

Popkiss – The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records, by Michael White

Title: Popkiss

Author: Michael White

Publisher: Bloomsbury Press

Publication Date: November 20, 2015

www.bloomsbury.com

Popkiss 11-19

The Upshot: Finally bringing some clarity to the mysterious late ‘80s/early ‘90s indie label from the UK. Twee alert! These were seriously great bands.

BY TIM HINELY

The Sarah Records bus ride lasted from 1987-1995, and due to that relatively short timeframe a lot of potential supporters here in the United States obviously missed the bus, including yours truly. Oh sure, I liked Heavenly, East River Pipe and a few others at the time, but during most of the label’s existence, I was far too immersed in noisier sounds of the day. But upon belatedly discovering the first Trembling Blue Stars record in 1996 (thank you Geoff Leamon), I was sent on an obsessive path backwards to find all things Sarah, at least for a few years. (Worth noting: TBS included Bobby Wratten, leader of Sarah Records’ stars the Field Mice).

Canadian writer Michael White’s book has all of the bases covered as each chapter selects one or a few of the bands on Sarah. White himself even stated (and rightly so) that doing a chronological rendering would be way too much of an undertaking due to too many side roads in the label’s history. Some bands had many records, even careers on Sarah, including Heavenly, Field Mice, The Orchids, and Australia’s Even As We Speak; while other dropped by, released one or maybe two singles, and that was it, among them The Springfields, Eternal, Christines Cat, and The Rosaries.

The label, founded and run by Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd, meant so much to many folks who were tired of all the hype—Brit Pop, grunge, whatever—and loved the personal, handwritten notes the Haynes and Wadd would include in mailorder packages. So little has been written about Sarah over the years that White’s book is a much needed document, because before the internet, or in its early days, it was nearly impossible to find out any info on the label, at least here in America.

One of the things that seems to be a theme in the book is how reviled (unfairly) this label/bands were by the UK music press. Most of the writers for the British papers seemed to absolutely hate “this twee crap” (as a few of ‘em put it). There were some bright spots, like St. Etienne’s Bob Stanley who championed many of the bands in his writings (as on his own label, Caff Records). The thing was, Matt and Clare didn’t care; they stayed holed up in their little home in Bristol and continued to release whatever it was they loved. The way it should be.

For me, Popkiss brought some clarity to a mysterious label that I had many unanswered questions about. It’s indispensable for me. Maybe for you, too.

 

DOG EAT DOG, by Michael Browning

Title: Dog Eat Dog

Author: Michael Browning

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Publication Date: October 17, 2014

www.allenandunwin.com

 ACDC book

The Upshot: You know who writes great rock bios? Apparently not band managers.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

I’m assuming Michael Browning is a pretty big deal in the Australian music world – how else would you explain the fact that someone published his memoir, Dog Eat Dog. Even after finishing the book, I can’t imagine what exactly he did to justify 300-plus pages in tribute, even if it was all written by him.

As he details in the memoir, he started as little more than a dude who dug music who lucked into booking bands at music venues. Early on in his career he and a friend started a Hard Rock Café in Australia. They apparently asked the owners of the already established, soon to be globally famous restaurant if they could franchise the name; the owners said no, but they went ahead and nicked the name for their own venue, ultimately earning a cease and desist… That’s the story! The rest of the book unfolds in similar fashion; you keep expecting some kind of big payoff from each story after the buildup, but it never comes.

He ran his own booking agency as well as his own record label (no interesting stories there wither) and was one of the early champions of AC/DC, setting out to break them globally after signing on as their manager.  So what great secrets were revealed? Malcolm Young was often surly and Angus was a brat. No shit! I’m pretty sure that’s written into their press releases at this point.  Also, original singer Bon Scott drank and took drugs to excess. [Who knew! –Oz Music Ed.]

Browning was fired by the band in 1979 (though not confirmed in the book, but maybe because he couldn’t tell a decent story), around the release of Highway to Hell, so he wasn’t even involved with AC/DC when the band started to really come to the attention of the rest of the world. The last few chapters of the book pivot to another famous Australian band, INXS. But, of course, Browning stopped working with the band years before they would become famous.

 

 

Ken Sharp’s Cheap Trick Biography to Get Reprinted

RIAFT front

By Blurt Staff

Written by Mike Hayes with Ken Sharp, Reputation Is A Fragile Thing: The Story of Cheap Trick was published two decades ago, notched plenty of great reviews, and promptly went out of print. Now longtime journalist Sharp has announced he’s republishing the book in a limited run.

The details:

With such classic songs as “Surrender,” “I Want You To Want Me” and “Dream Police,” Cheap Trick captured the ears of the world with their apocalyptic brand of super-charged melodic rock and electrifying lie performances. chronicles the colorful, topsy-turvy career of rock’s hardest working band. Featuring a foreword by Roy Wood of the Move, the book is illustrated with over 175 photos—many never-before-seen—and rare memorabilia, the book contains a comprehensive band history, charting their evolution through such pre-Trick outfits as Fuse, Sick Man of Europe and The Paegans. A Complete U.S. discography and core set list spanning 1973 to 1997 round out this definitive portrait of a rock and roll cartoon come to life.

 

 

BOOKING THE REPLACEMENTS: Bob Mehr, ‘Mats Biographer

Replacments 2

With the eagerly-anticipated Trouble Boys finally in stores and earning reams of critical acclaim, we sit down with the Memphis-based journalist, who holds forth on what turned eight years of hard research into a genuine labor of love.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Music journalist Bob Mehr was about four years into his labor of love – writing the definitive biography on The Replacements, one of the most wildly underrated and misunderstood American rock bands of the past four decades – when the group surprised Mehr and just about everyone who knew them by offering up a proper ending to his book.

Twenty-two years after the Minneapolis band left the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park—a show that ended with them putting their instruments in the hands of roadies, who finished playing the last song as the members walked off—singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson took the stages at Riot Fest in Toronto, Denver and Chicago, along with hired guns Dave Minehan and Josh Freese. The sets were a little sloppy, but for those who had written off ever seeing their favorite band play live, it was worth the wait.

Energized, The Replacements went on a spring tour, playing sets across the U.S. that got better and better with each stop. They toured for the first time in Spain and Portugal, and as soon as it started, in typical Replacement fashion, it fell apart on stage one night at a show in Porto, Portugal, where Westerberg announced to the audience that this show would be the band’s last.

In the lead up to the latest split, Westerberg took to wearing different t-shirts on stage each night. When pieced together, the shirts spelled out the phrase:  “I have always loved you. Now I must whore my past.” And for anyone who followed the band starting with their scrappy, punk rock beginnings in the early ‘80s and up to their uncomfortable tenure on a major label’s roster years later, it was actually a perfect ending to a very non-perfect musical career.

Mats book

Mehr, who works as a music critic for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, lays out The Replacement’s story brilliantly in his new book Trouble Boys (Da Capo Press). Mehr was able to get just about every living member of the band (drummer Chris Mars was the only one to decline), former managers, producers, friends and family members to talk about the enigmatic cult music heroes. The result is one of the strongest music bios to come out in years, honest and surprisingly in depth. Mehr tells the story of one of the most influential American rock bands out there, that managed to serve as their own worst enemy, both craving and fighting widespread acceptance the entire way.

On a recent afternoon, Mehr spoke with BLURT—it should go without saying that the ‘Mats will always be close to this publication’s collective heart; we’ve written about them a number of times in the past, including this remembrance by our editor of the Let it Be tour, and this interview with filmmaker Gorman Bechard—about the genesis of the book, what he learned about the band, and whether he thinks the last one was really the last.

BLURT: How did this project first come about? Did a publisher approach you or did you bring this idea to the band first?

BOB MEHR: Yeah, I had some existing relationships with people in The Replacements and their camp and management and I’d done interviews with Paul and Tommy over the years. I’d met Paul in ’04 doing an interview for a defunct magazine called Harp [Ed. note: Harp was BLURT’s immediate processor, shutting down in 2008.], so I met him, and knew Tommy through Peter Jesperson, their longtime manager. And I had also done liner notes for the Rhino Records reissues, so I knew the band a little bit. But I first pitched the idea to Paul in a letter and I had dinner with Tommy and pitched it to him. He said, “Okay, I’ll do it if Paul does it.”

He might have been thinking that was his way out. But I sat with Paul in early 2008 for a Spin feature on the band and we had a long chat about what the book would entail, my approach and what I wanted to do with the book, and after that was over, a couple of days later I got the call that said he was in and thus began what would be a seven-and-half year journey. I sold the book in 2009 and have been working on it in earnest since then and finished at just the end of last year. It was a six-and-a-half year process.

I assumed Paul would be the most difficult to agree to this. How hard was it to get other people to talk to you for this book?

Well, Chris [Mars] didn’t participate and he was the only one in terms of member of the band who wasn’t involved. I had done some interviews with him in 2008 for the Spin story… I obviously wanted him involved, but because of reasons of his own he didn’t want to and had basically drawn a line in the sand between his past life in music and his current life as a very successful artist. But that just made it a challenge for me to represent him and make him a character in the book. It was a little harder, but you don’t always have the advantage of having direct access to the people you are writing about. I certainly didn’t in the case of Bob [Stinson]; he passed away some 20 years before. So it was just about making sure the story was told through as many perspectives, through as many sets of eyes as possible. Working on that is partially why it took so long. I didn’t want to put something out there that was half-assed or not the complete picture. That was really where the effort lay.

Was there anyone else that was hesitant to talk to you?

No, I think once it was clear that I had Paul and Tommy’s approval, the approval of “The Replacements,” everyone was pretty much in line. And I had done the liner notes for them and had been a music journalist for more than 20 years, so the people I needed to reach out to I already knew or they knew me… I talked to family, I talked to friends, former managers, producers, fellow musicians all along the way going from their childhoods up to the reunion these past few years.

I think one of the most interesting parts of the book was when they go down to Memphis in the mid-‘80s to work on Pleased to Meet Me and their connection to Alex Chilton. You live and work in Memphis now: do you think that gave you any more insight into that scenario?

To be honest, I’ve been in Memphis almost 10 years, but when I really started proposing the book I’d only been here a year, a year-and-a-half maybe, so I’m not a lifelong Memphis guy. I don’t know how much that helped. I know it may have for Tommy who had a really strong relationship with [Memphis producer] Jim Dickinson and then with his sons. I don’t think it hurt, but quite honestly I don’t think it helped much either.

The Replacements

The Replacements

During these interviews and your research, was there anything that really surprised you? Obviously not much about Tommy and Bob’s childhood has been written about before now.

There’s a million things from little funny factoids to really bigger picture stuff that was interesting. I think I found the perception that many had of Paul as being self-sabotaging or unambitious in terms of his career was partly true, what really struck me was that in the years before he found The Replacements how really ambitious he was and what a drive he had to first be the lead guitarist and then he wanted to be a singer. And to find a band that had the right energy and desperation and he, of course, found that in the Stinson brothers and Chris Mars. There was a lot of years for Paul leading up to The Replacements trying to figure out who and what he wanted to be and he was pretty relentless in pursuing that in his own way. The fact that he had a drive early on to find this special band that he had in his mind was a surprise.

Certainly understanding how The Replacements were viewed by the music industry in the mid-‘80s by the top A&R guys and the process by which they got signed was always presented as a moment of revelation; Seymour Stein saw them and signed them and that was it. But there was obviously a lot leading up to that and to understand how that process played out for a band that probably scared a few A&R people off early on.

And the third thing was what they were really like in the studio and the making of the records individually. Certainly the major label years were interesting because the record making process was more involved and there was more riding on the records and who they were going to work with; some of the producers that were thrown out there over the years, people like Glyn Johns and even Ry Cooder and all these names. It was interesting to hear the “what if” scenarios. Those are the kinds of things I found out that were most surprising to me.

The last couple of Replacements albums have always been polarizing, labeled by many as Westerberg solo records. In researching and talking to others about how each album was made, did you go back and listen to the records again? Did you change your opinion about any of them?

Yeah, I like all of The Replacement’s albums for different reasons. When you have a band that’s been together for 12 years that goes through as many stages and changes as The Replacements did… I don’t think they ever made two records that sounded the same. It doesn’t surprise me that they gained and lost some fans along the way, particular the last couple of records where the sound was a little different and the last record, All Shook Down, was more of a singer-songwriter record. I re-visited them as records and some of the recording sessions, listening to outtakes to get a gist of everything. I don’t know if it changed my opinion of any of those records, it just gave me a deeper appreciation of the songs. There’s just more love there when you know the stories behind the songs or what was going on with the band at the time the record was being made.

I’m assuming you saw Paul and Tommy last year when The Replacements reunited to tour?

Yeah, I saw the first couple of shows and four or five total which was interesting, because at that point I was kind of still in the middle of finishing the book. I hadn’t written the epilogue yet, but had been living and breathing Replacements for the last four years and at that point they were an entity again… They gave me a great ending to the book which I really didn’t have, coming full circle as they did with the reunion. They did a real favor for me.

Based on the final show last summer it seems like they are officially over, with Paul saying they will never play together again and Tommy mentioning they scrapped the songs they had been recording. Do you think this is finally it for the band?

You know, I like to answer that in an open-ended way and that’s my honest answer: I feel like the reunion went on longer than either of them had planned for or expected and it was obviously a tremendous, tremendous success on every level and I think naturally they have been doing their own things these past 20 years when they weren’t in The Replacements. I think it’s hard to resume a band like that full time. It’s never going to be the same as when you were 19, 20 or 21.

I wouldn’t entirely—and this is totally just my opinion, not based on anything else— discount the fact that they might do something together again in one form or another whether its records or a show or whatever. I just feel like what they have is so special and unique between the two of them and obviously people love and appreciate what they have together and the demand is there.

It’s hard for me to think you can walk away from something like that. But, then again, they did once for 20-something years. In my heart I hope they’re not done.

Below: author Mehr. Go HERE to read our review of Trouble Boys.

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