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The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma

The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma

by Ben Sidran

Nardis Books, Unlimited Media Ltd

Here’s a classic “rags to riches” story set in the post-war Rock and Roll boom. Tommy LiPuma grew up in Cleveland’s tough Sicilian goomba neighborhoods. He spent much of his childhood in the hospital and initially took up his father’s trade of barbering. Cleveland had a recording scene in the ’50s, and Tommy cut the hair of the producers and promoters. That led to a job packing records, and then selling them. His father was aghast when Tommy left home, moved to L.A., and abandoned the family trade, but it was a brilliant move. He soon met Leon Russell, also new to town. Right time, right place, right personalities.

His career was launched, and Tommy had one foot in the tough street scene and one in the studio, but his biggest asset was the gift of gab. Now we read about the good stuff: the undoubtedly redacted tales of sex. drugs, and the power of promotion in the L.A. music scene. Tommy discovered, or at least made famous, dozens, including Dave Mason, George Benson, and Dan Hicks, and went on to win a shelf full of awards.

All standard stuff, but storytelling style here grabs you and keeps you grabbed. The Sicilian toughness and native entrepreneurship made America great for them even if it wasn’t all legal. As we read, we learn what a producer does, exactly: He does everything needed to make the record happen, except sing and play himself. That includes booking studio time, hiring session players, mixing, pressing, and promoting. He learned the hard way, by jumping in with no formal or even informal training, and ended up with six pages of successful songs by artists from Jazz to power pop.

Along the way, stories reveal the inner workings of the L.A. scene, from the bars on Sunset to the mansions above Beverly Hills. My favorite is how Lenny Bruce accidentally fell naked from his hotel room and survived. It was a wild ride, and not everyone survived the drugs and fast living. This biography shows a classic slice of American musical history, written in a breezy style with multitudes of short-but-fascinating tales of art, excess, and the cream of stardom.

It’s a great read for the beach or your mandatory quarantine.

The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma: bensidran.com/project/nardisbooks

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The Big House Collection

The Big House Collection

The Allman Brothers Band Museum at The Big House

This book is faithfully dedicated to every member of the Allman Brothers Band and their families, crew members, management, friends and various disreputable people who journeyed down the road that went on forever.

The Allman Brothers Band formed on March 26, 1969 in Jacksonville, Florida led by the musical innovation of Duane Allman. Along with Allman, the band included Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson, Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley, Dickey Betts, and Gregg Allman, and their unprecedented sound arguably gave birth to so-called Southern Rock and forged a path for many new groups to follow. The band relocated to Macon, Georgia a few days after its creation to be managed by Phil Walden under Capricorn Records (co-owned by Walden and Frank Fenter) and to practice at their newly established Capricorn Studios. It wasn’t until 1970 that Linda Oakley-Miller would rent the 18-room sprawling Tudor house for $225 a month, and it would remain home and gathering place for the band until 1973, the “Big House.” Not all of of them “officially” lived there, however. In his foreword, John Lynskey points out that “while the Big House was important to the band, it was Berry and Linda’s home,” a fact often overlooked. There was enough success and sorrow to pack into a lifetime during that short span within and without its walls, but with the help of Oakley-Miller among many others, it has been restored to its former glory.

The hardcover, 224-page labor of love with its glossy, high resolution photos and in-depth descriptions is a must have for any Allman Brothers Band fan. Segmented into five chapters, “Instruments,” “Clothing,” “Posters,” “Assorted Items,” and “Paper” with stunning images and corresponding notes, it offers a small glimpse into the treasure trove of artifacts housed within the museum’s walls. The material does span all eras of the band but there is a heavier focus on the earliest years. There are also poignant commentaries preceding each chapter from the aforementioned John Lynskey and Linda Oakley-Miller as well as Galadrielle Allman, Kirk West, and Kirsten West, plus a heartfelt closing from Richard Brent, The Big House Museum Director. It was Kirk and Kirsten West who truly spearheaded the restoration of the house, purchasing and renovating it in 1993, and the eventual creation of the museum. Be sure to read Kirsten’s words on page 185. They are profoundly moving and really place you along on the Wests’ inspiring journey to Macon.

Macon itself has a rich, storied history and while you are there you can explore it for yourself or take a guided tour with Rock Candy Tours. Places such as Rose Hill Cemetery, H&H Soul Food (sometimes “Mama” Louise Hudson is even there), Robert McDuffie Center for Strings (formerly Beall House, where the iconic Stephen Paley photo for the eponymously named first Allman Brothers Band album was taken on its steps), and the newly renovated Capricorn Studios are just some of the many sites to visit while you are there.

On a personal note, I’m proud to be one of the hundreds of supporters who backed this project through a Kickstarter campaign. 895 fans pledged well over $100,000 for this project to see fruition. The book is available at The Big House Museum online gift shop, which also offers many other band-related items for sale. Due to the current health risks the museum itself is closed but when it does reopen, the book can be purchased on site in the gift shop along with many other unique offerings. Whether you’re a casual or die-hard fan and you’ve never made the pilgrimage, I highly encourage you to do so. If you can’t get there, then this coffee table book is the next best thing. The museum is chock full of memorabilia that is updated and rotated often. There is something magical about taking that first step over the threshold. I have read countless comments from people who say that the tears flowed down their cheeks as they entered for the first time, and I count myself among those. It’s a powerful place. Once again, I defer to the words of John Lynskey:

If you’re lucky enough to be in the right spot at the right moment in the Big House, perhaps you will feel a surge of positive energy swirl in and pass through your body, an echo of the time when a band of brothers called this house their home.

I know EXACTLY what he means. I feel it EVERY time I am there. But don’t just take my word for it – see for yourself.

The Road Goes On Forever…

www.merchmountain.com/product/allman-brothers-memorabilia-book thebighousemuseum.com www.rockcandytours.com

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Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me

Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me

by Howard Bloom

Backbeat Books

It’s a fantastic tale, this publicist’s-eye look at rock and roll. Howard Bloom started in rock journalism and wrote most of the text for Circus magazine back in the 1970’s He worked out of a closet but had a knack for discovering the right artists at the right place and right time. Bloom hobnobbed with and managed bands from REO Speedwagon to Prince to ZZ Top. He understood the power of touring, the power of a good backstory, and that his audience consisted of mostly 16.5 year old boys. But his real genius allowed him to create that tribal feeling all great music infects us with. There’s the usual stuff about growing up in Buffalo and failing at violin, failing at jazz and failing at piano. But as they say: “those who cannot do, teach” and he taught many musician the inner ropes of the trade and how to claw to the top. Staying up there is much more difficult, but if you’re not close to the top, you fail anyway.

The stories flit along in a breezy, snarky style. Endless meeting with names of the famous and infamous, horror stories of road managing bands, piles of drugs and rivers of booze and the wrong sort of sex, it’s all the here. Sometimes all these stories sound too good to be true: how many coincidences can one man handle? But you want them to be true because they are what we all want to believe if you’ve got talent, you’ll make it. But to make it, you need skilled handlers, and Mr. Bloom is “Da Man.”

And as to Michel Jackson? Jackson’s career took a path so familiar to those who soar too high and melt their wings. Jackson grew up in show business, possessed real talent and through luck, creativity and good management he made it to the top, and went one step higher. But after the rave success of the Thriller album, he hypertrophied. Now the bad advice and high living caught up to Michael and the rest of the Jackson family. Their act collapsed, and in a flash the world turns from adoration to abomination. This might be the darnedest book about the entertainment industry ever written, and I highly recommend it for fans and talent alike. But as Neil Young advised us “It’s better to burn out than it is to fade away.” It’s just that that decision is rarely your own.

backbeatbooks.com

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Me and Mr. Cigar

Me and Mr. Cigar

by Gibby Haynes

Soho Teen

Every so often I take a look at young adult fiction, and this item caught my eye as it was penned by Gibby Haynes, front man of the infamous Butthole Surfers. The book has its charms, not the least of which is its surreal tone and intimate knowledge of current club drugs and their multitudinous side effects. We meet a young man G. Oscar Lester III, lost on the edge of puberty and very lonely. Mom and dad are wealthy but distant, and the big kids hassle him at school. This is what big kids have done since Cain messed with Abel. G Oscar adopts a mysterious dog he names “Mr. Cigar,” and the two stick to together well into his “old enough to know better” years. Mr. Cigar is no ordinary dog, he seems to have a psychic knowledge of where and when his master is in trouble or lost. The story fast-forwards to Oscar’s college days. Mom and Dad are still distant and uninvolved, but Oscar finds a cool side gig hosting raves and taking a cut of the MDMA concession. Mr. Cigar has picked up a few tricks as well, he now appears with a light show projector built in o his fur. Is he real or robot? Hard to say but the light show is AMAZING. This is clearly a dog with a future. When the rave deal finally gets busted Oscar and his friends decide to rob a bank, a task which rarely goes well. It’s not so much a cautionary tale, but it certainly goes into odd corners of the human condition and explores them with relish.

The book reads fast once we pass though the childhood trauma. Most chapters occupy a mere one or two pages. This gives the story a film treatment feel, and I’m sold. If this ever became a film, I’m there opening night. Interesting and unexpected turns pop up constantly and keep a jittery tension in the story. It may take a few chapters to sort out your opinion about where reality divorces fantasy, but it’s a split that’s clearly waiting to happen quickly. Depending on your age and your position on raves you will gladly gift this story a young person trying to fit in, or you will set your own hair on fire. It’s that sort of book: challenging and well written, and controversial as all get out.

www.sohoteen.com

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The Ox: The Authorized Biography of The Who’s John Entwistle

The Ox: The Authorized Biography of The Who’s John Entwistle

by Paul Rees

Hachette Books

(Rock-n-Roll is) the absolute ultimate vehicle for self-destruction. -Pete Townshend

I am a huge fan of The Who, but when I heard there was going to be a biography of John Entwistle, I thought “why this guy?” While Pete Townshend was smashing his guitar, while Keith Moon was detonating his drum kit, while Roger Daltrey was prancing on stage swinging his microphone like a lasso, poor old John Entwistle would duck towards the wings of the stage clutching his collectible bass to his chest. He was the unshakable anchor of the band. The “Quiet One” who never moved and the best rock bassist ever. But really…a bio on him? What does he have to say?

For Who fans, Paul Rees covers a lot of ground already trodden on by other sources and interviews. He follows suit in rising up the ghost of Keith Moon and dusting off his legend to Homeric proportions. He quotes from both Who I Am by Pete Townshend and Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite: My Life by Roger Daltrey. He pulls from recorded interviews with Entwistle as well. What is new for Who fans is that Rees had access to copious notes Entwistle wrote towards publishing his own autobiography. These notes shine a light on a different side of the Quiet One. He looks back at his own life with humor. He’s straight to the point but not mean-spirited. His notes allow insight into a man who staked his reputation on being enigmatic and stone-faced.

What Rees shows us is a man with a wicked sense of humor who pulled all the strings on Moon’s antics and received none of the consequences. He knew how to push Daltrey’s buttons, too, often creating a volatile situation within the band. Daltrey has physically battled with both Moon and Townshend knocking them both unconscious. Yet, Entwistle manages to walk away unscathed.

We also learn of the great respect Townshend had for the Ox (a nickname Entwistle chose for himself. He hated being known as The Quiet One.) John was a real musician playing in his school’s orchestra and moving on to playing trumpet in a big band combo. This lead to jazz and skiffle gigs. Upon hearing his first Duane Eddy single and feeling the power of early rock and roll, he moved to electric bass. He became an innovator of this new instrument and turned the bass into a second lead guitar.

Townshend relied on Entwistle’s knowledge and experience to help guide the Who recordings. It was John who produced the soundtracks to Tommy and Quadrophenia. He had a large role in The Kids Are Alright and compiled the songs for the Odds and Sods album.

John always appeared to be the stone-cold sober one. The drug exploits of Keith Moon are well known. Pete Townshend’s alcohol problems are also public record. What Rees reveals is Entwistle’s own entanglement with drinking and cocaine bingeing. Interviews with his friends and handlers show the lengths John took to hide his cocaine habits. He was a stoic keeping the truth of his addictions secret to all but a few close friends. His cocaine use came to the surface in the mid-Seventies, but it appeared pale in the face of Moon who snorted mountains of the stuff in one day.

This book could appeal to people who are not rock and roll fans or ever heard of The Who. Rees details John’s upbringing and his early foray into drinking hard liquor. How sudden fame lead him to drugs. John was a huge collector of clothes and other items including guitars and knights in armor. Although he had a quiet and somber demeanor, his desire to be flashy and to own lots of things spiraled out of control spending more money than The Who was taking in. What was he compensating for? Turning to sex and drugs seemed a normal next step for him. Although it lead to divorce, separation from his son and ultimately his life.

Some other notes of worth: This book is very British. If you don’t know a quid from a bob, you might get lost in some of the passages dealing with how much a mountain of cocaine costs in 1976. The interviews are kept in their colloquial tongues. Also geography might be an issue. He gives an extensive listing of their early tours. How far they traveled to get to a gig from London and back every night meant nothing to me because I don’t know every little shire in the UK.

Also, Rees really makes Roger Daltrey out to be a total tool. I’ll have to read his autobiography Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite: My Life for a balance.

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The Pilgrim: A Wall-To-Wall Odyssey

The Pilgrim: A Wall-To-Wall Odyssey

by Marty Stuart

BMG

Marty Stuart was a country music veteran when he released his 10th album, The Pilgrim in 1999. He had been playing music professionally since he was 12 – in fact, I saw him playing mandolin with Lester Flatt at my high school in the ’70s when he was 15 or 16 years old. After Flatt he joined Johnny Cash’s band before heading out solo, in the mid-’80s. Stuart was part of the rebirth of country music that saw him, Travis Tritt and Dwight Yoakam find success on the charts, but by the mid-’90s the bloom was off the rose so to speak, and Stuart needed something new.

The Pilgrim: A Wall-To-Wall Odyssey chronicles what that turned out to be. Largely ignored upon release, The Pilgrim has since become to be regarded as a masterpiece of pure country songwriting, with Stuart in the role of a man from his birthplace of Philadelphia, Mississippi. After Bill Monroe’s death in 1996, Stuart started collecting his remembrances of the bluegrass legend, that over time became the title song. He gathered his road band, The Rock & Roll Cowboys and headed off to Memphis, where they recorded the song in Sam Phillips Sun Studios.

This lavish tome tracks the origin and birth of The Pilgrim, from the sessions that included Emmylou Harris, George Jones, Ralph Stanley, and Johnny Cash. The initial reaction to the record marked a turning point in Stuart’s career, to the point he fired his band, his manager and struggled to find his place in an industry that had been his entire life. Today, with his band The Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart is a star, with best-selling albums and even a show on RFD-TV. But as he recounts, The Pilgrim holds a special place to him, as well as thousands of devoted listeners. As a concept album, it sits alongside Willie Nelson’s The Red-Headed Stranger, both records being told from the viewpoint of a loner, out of step with the world. The book contains a CD of the album, with bonus tracks called A Traveler’s Companion, featuring cuts left off the original release including more Emmylou, Ralph Stanley and Earl Scruggs. Listening to the record today shows the timeless beauty of the craft and passion Marty Stuart was able to summon, with songs such as “Hobo’s Prayer”, “The Observations of a Crow” and the title track echoing like few moments in country music. The journey Stuart took in his artistic life with The Pilgrim is compelling, and this book is an enjoyable, informative look at a classic.

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The Ragin’ Cajun

The Ragin’ Cajun

by Doug Kershaw with Cathie Pelletier

Mercer University Press

I’ve read loads of musical memoirs, but rarely have they been as compelling as The Ragin’ Cajun from the “Louisiana Man” himself, Doug Kershaw. Born in the southern Louisiana bayou in a little town called Tiel Ridge, Kershaw describes a way of life that most would find completely foreign. Raised on a houseboat, Kershaw and his brothers (Rusty and Peewee) lived in the deep swamps where simply getting by was extreme. They lived off whatever the bayou gave them, from mink hides to fish. He grew up speaking Creole French, didn’t own a pair of shoes until he was sent to school and suffered the loss of his father due to either a suicide or a drunken accident with a shotgun. He was surrounded by Cajun music and was able to play most any instrument but settled on fiddle, and he used it to take him from grinding poverty of the bayou to sharing the stage with jazz violinist Jean Luc Ponty and renowned classical violinist Itzahk Perlman.

His first national recognition came from appearing on Johnny Cash’s TV show from the Ryman, where he first met Bob Dylan. Kershaw’s mix of cajun, rock and roll and rockabilly were new to ears in 1969 (a situation that hasn’t changed much since then) and he had his first hit with the autobiographical “Louisiana Man”. It made him a star, but the downside was steep.

The Ragin’ Cajun documents Kershaw’s struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, starting with pep pills that musicians used to combat fatigue. Soon a potent combination of uppers and Chivas came to rule his life, ending his first marriage and rendering him nearly destitute. He is unsparing in his account of that part of his life, and by all accounts Kershaw is a real SOB – or as Mama Rita, his mother said it a fils de putain, – high or sober.

Thankfully Doug Kershaw survived, and at age 83 still performs a bit, and has written one of the most enjoyable accounts of a musical life in The Ragin’ Cajun. The Louisiana Man is a unique voice, a genuine rarity in American music. Laissez les bons temps rouler – Doug, you did good.

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The Book of the Year 2019

The Book of the Year 2019

by James Harken, Andrew Hunter Murray, Anna Ptazynski and Dan Schreiber

Hutchinson / Penguin

“May you live in interesting times.” That’s the ancient Chinese curse we are living though today. Blame sun spots, blame Facebook, blame Ink19, but there’s just a ton of ways for people to mess up their lives and the world in general. This handy compendium of factoids and tales of the weird and wonderful comes from the jolly old United Kingdom via No Such Thing as a Fish as it wrestles with the existential question “Are we or are we not a part of Europe?”‘ While they pontificate, the world keeps spinning and weird stiff keeps happening. This is a handy compendium, suitable for gift giving once you’ve skimmed through it yourself. Clearly, you would like some examples, and I’m happy to oblige.

We begin with a man who crossed the Atlantic in a barrel and without sails, oars or much of anything else beyond luck. Why? Mostly to get in the sort of obscure books I write about. Then there’s the Russian “Whale / Spy” captured complete with a harness and Russian listening equipment. Who isn’t impressed that Honey Bees can count to three? And my personal fave is the adverting campaign by Carlsberg beer that reprints the worst consumers comments about their own product on billboards. The even published this glowing zero star review: “I am confused as to how you will use my quote regarding Carlsberg as “The rancid piss of Satan” in an effective advert but, by all means, feel free. ” It almost makes me want to try one. Almost.

The Harvard-based “Ignoble Prize” get special mention here with a report on “a team from France who measured the temperatures of the scrotum’s of postmen; a team from Japan who estimated the daily saliva consumption of a five-year-old, and a multinational group of scientists who looked at how, and why, wombats produce cube-shaped poo.” Haven’t we all wondered about the “Wombat poo “problems? I have. I could go on, but you get the idea. This book need not be read in any order sequence; it’s a great fun to open it at random and wonder at will. Highly recommend and reasonably price, and the answer to any tough gift giving opportunity coming up soon in your own. Enjoy.

global.penguinrandomhouse.com

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The Miracle of Saint Lazarus

The Miracle of Saint Lazarus

by Uva de Aragon

Books and Books

Detective Maria Duquesne is handed a cold case that no one else wants. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, a car ended up in a canal and the driver and his infant daughter are dead. Case closed. The baby’s mother can’t accept that her child is dead. No body was ever found, so the mother clings to that sliver of hope, never giving up on her conviction that her baby’s alive. The cold case is reopened when the the mother is convinced she saw her daughter, now in her 20’s, at a Florida Marlins game.

This is the jumping off point for an engaging story that takes us back to the chaos of the Mariel Boatlift, the confusion following Hurricane Andrew and deep into Miami’s Cuban community. What initially seems like indulging a Mother’s obsession, leads Detective Duquesne on a wide-ranging quest to find out what happened and if the girl is actually alive. To solve this mystery, the detective follows leads that take her back to the chaos following Hurricane Andew, the confusion of the Cuban refugee camps and the informal, expansive networks of the Cuban communities from Havana, to Miami and New York.

Uva de Aragon’s novel is a police procedural that is perhaps more realistic than most fictional crime stories. Like a real police investigation, the cold case is frequently interrupted by more pressing, immediate cases that need our Detective’s attention. To crack the case, we have to dive into the exile experience, life as a refugee and the sometimes illegal things people do to get by. We are introduced to a cast of quirky, but mostly sympathetic characters that Aragon makes us really care about. Cuban and Hispanic communities are rendered in vivid detail. You can almost smell the Cuban coffer, taste the picadillo and hear the music that is so much a part this world.

The Miracle of Saint Lazarus is ideal for readers who love the unraveling of a mystery but don’t want to the pages dripping with blood. There is a murder to be solved, but discovering who the victim was and how he fit into the complex relationship of the community are the bigger mystery. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I can tell you that the mystery has a most satisfying conclusion.

With the demonization of immigrants that we see these days, The Miracle of Saint Lazarus is very timely. De Aragon explores what drives people to risk their lives to come to the United States and the sometimes dodgy things they have to do to make a life here.

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Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story

Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story

by Billy Vera

BMG Books

Written by singer/songwriter (and former Specialty Records reissue producer) Billy Vera, with a foreword from the man himself, Art Rupe, this account of a methodical businessman who transformed his love of gospel music into a world-wide successful record label illustrates how one man with a good set of ears can set the world rocking.

Art Rupe (who, at a staggering 102 still comes into the office!) formed Juke Box Records in 1944. After a few struggling years, he left his business partners behind and formed Specialty Records, where he released sides by Percy Mayfield, Roy Milton and Jimmy Liggins. His love of gospel music led him to releasing records by the Swan Silvertones, Sister Wynona Carr and the Soul Stirrers, who featured up and coming vocalist Sam Cooke, although Rupe decided not to release Cooke’s more secular work, including “You Send Me.” Rupe had success with New Orleans mainstay Lloyd Price, who’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, released in 1952, became a standard (and led ultimately to Price being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998). Along the way Price befriended a wild piano playing Georgian and encouraged him to send a demo record to Rupe.

That was Little Richard, and the rest is flamboyant, outrageous history. Born Richard Wayne Penniman, Little Richard took a New Orleans beat and merged it with strains of gospel, rockabilly and a large dose of, well, Little Richard on his way to stardom. The accounts of his early work (marked at times by Richard’s erratic work tendencies) are insightful and give testament to Art Rupe’s innate sense of musical trends and good ears.

Rupe sold Specialty Records to Fantasy Records in 1991, but not before launching the careers of three Hall of Famers (Cooke, Price and Little Richard) and forming an indisputable body of early rock and roll and gospel recordings that literally changed the world. Vera, who assembled later CD collections of material from the Specialty vaults brings his years of experience as both a music historian and performer, as well as a long friendship with Rupe to this definitive look at one of rock’s building blocks, Specialty Records. Highly recommended.

www.ipgbook.com/rip-it-up-products-9781947026360.php?page_id=32&pid=BMG