Rock Reads: Turn it Up by Ron Eckerman

Reviewed by Kevin Wierzbicki

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Eckerman is a concert tour manager and he was handling Lynyrd Skynyrd around the time of the release of their Gimme Back My Bullets album. In Turn it Up! (a reference to the beginning of "Sweet Home Alabama") Eckerman reveals that he didn't really want the job; he was aware of the band's reputation for being difficult and he didn't even (at the time) particularly care for their music. Against his better judgment Eckerman signed on for a six-week stint where besides handling the business of tour management he had to basically baby sit the booze and coked-up band, sometimes heading off the brawls they were trying to start and other times just picking up the pieces afterwards. About the time his initial stint ended Eckerman was starting to like the band, particularly singer Ronnie Van Zant, and he had earned their respect too. So he re-upped, essentially agreeing to road manage Skynyrd permanently, and that meant that he was with them when their plane crashed in 1977, killing Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, back-up singer Cassie Gaines, fellow band employee Dean Kilpatrick and the plane's 2-man crew. So really Eckerman tells two stories here; the plane crash plays out via each chapter's introductory paragraphs while a very detailed description of life on the road with the southern rock hellions comprises most of the book. Eckerman's marriage was hanging on by a thread during this entire period, another factor that was sucking the sanity out of his life but that adds flavor to a story already packed with outrageous personalities and situations. By book's end, where Eckerman wakes up in the hospital and groggily hears of the crash carnage, he's told his story in such a way that the reader feels the loss as their own. A bit sadly though, in the final pages Eckerman states that as Skynyrd's tour manager he feels that he was the only one who could've prevented the tragedy by canceling the ill-fated flight, suspecting that the backfiring of the plane's engines on a previous flight indicated a lack of airworthiness. Turn it Up! though is definitely not written with the relief of guilt in mind; Eckerman clearly loves rock'n'roll and the men and women who make it and it shows on every page here.

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