Rock Reads Edition Part 2

We suggest giving the gift of a music-related book this holiday season; here are six that are hits with us! All titles are available from Amazon.

"Elton John @75" - Gillian G. Gaar - Motorbooks/The Quarto Group

Elton John @75

This book celebrates the life and career of Elton John by remembering 75 significant career moments. And longtime fans will be familiar with many of the milestones that author Gaar expounds on here, beginning with early recording "Your Song" and the days that led up to the nascent superstar years of 1970-76. A non-stop documentation of music history from then out, "Elton John@75" looks at every album and hit single, big on stage appearances like at Live Aid, recording with John Lennon, the Tommy rock opera adaptation, coming out as bisexual, appearing on "The Muppet Show," and on and on through to his recent farewell tour. Gaar's commentary is informative and precise and sometimes humorous and it is tucked in amongst a massive collection of 300 photos and depictions of ephemera. Also included in this very attractive collectible are goodies like a poster from a 1976 show in Philadelphia and a previously-unpublished glossy print.

"The Birth of Rock 'N' Roll: The Illustrated Story of Sun Records" - Peter Guralnick and Colin Escott - Weldon Owen

The Illustrated Story of Sun Records

When most folks think of the importance of Sun Records in rock history they probably think of Elvis Presley, and rightfully so. But stars like Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins also had their careers nurtured by the famed Memphis-based label and they all get play here along with lots of the label's lesser-known acts. The book begins with a few chapters about Sun Records founder Sam Phillips including his pre-Sun business The Memphis Recording Service. Chapters are short but packed with informed commentary and things like the famed Million Dollar Quartet session, Sam's other labels (Phillips International and Flip), a look at the artists who "got away" and even the creation and evolution of the Sun Records labels that were on the records. The bulk of the book though looks at 70 of Sun's most significant releases; of course here readers will find well-known singles like Presley's "That's All Right," Perkin's "Blue Suede Shoes" and the Johnny Cash hit "I Walk the Line." But lesser-known artists like Rosco Gordon, Charlie Feathers, Billy "The Kid" Emerson, Warren Smith, Sonny Burgess, Billy Riley and many others are spotlighted too. Each two-page entry includes commentary from co-author Guralnick and a full-page photo of the artist. The complete Sun Records discography is presented at the book's end. Essential reading for those interested in the early days of rock 'n' roll, with lots of eye candy too.

"Biblical: Rob Halford's Heavy Metal Scriptures" - Rob Halford - Hachette Books

Rob Halford's Heavy Metal Scriptures

Having released his memoir "Confess" in 2020, Rob Halford, The Metal God and longtime lead singer for Judas Priest, is back with a treatise on all things metal, something that fans can rightfully think of as "The Book of Halford." A fast and fun read, Halford expounds on things that concern a working metal band (or any band, really) and some of it has a bit of an ick factor. Struggling to make ends meet in his early professional days, Halford admits he "borrowed" underwear from retail to wear to shows and then put them back on the shelf without washing them. There are plenty of funny moments too, like when the band played a prank on their skittish manager, convincing him that their plane was going to make an emergency landing in the sea. Rob talks about outrageous after show parties, the making of music videos, dealing with tour managers and their idiosyncrasies, procuring decent food on the road and not paying a fortune for it, and much more. Along the way the reader will learn things about Halford, like that he has an ongoing desire to take an album on tour and present a full theatrical show. There's all the usual stuff too; the bassist overslept! Halford's style of writing makes it all very good fun.

"Lennon, The Mobster & The Lawyer: The Untold Story" - Jay Bergen - Devault Graves Books

Lennon, The Mobster & The Lawyer: The Untold Story

When folks think about John Lennon beyond the music, the first thing that likely comes to mind is how he was murdered on the streets of New York City. Not many are going to think of the story that Bergen relates here; as the book title indicates, the story has rarely been told. To put it in a nutshell, the situation refers to legal action between Lennon and Morris Levy over songs from the era of Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll album, which Levy wanted to release as Roots. The story gets, as you can imagine, a bit convoluted. But Bergen does a fine and entertaining job of laying out the details without indulging in too much legalese (Bergen is the lawyer referred to in the book title and, while now retired, he practiced law for 50-years.) Levy is the mobster referred to in the book title; while not exactly a mafia member Levy was proven time and again to be a scammer. Several stories play out here simultaneously; most endearing of which is how the legal challenges become the basis for Bergen and Lennon to cement a friendship.

"Rock and Roll Warrior" - David Libert - Sunset Blvd. Records

Rock and Roll Warrior

While Libert is not a household name he is well-known in music business circles where he worked in various capacities with acts like George Clinton, Prince, Alice Cooper and the Runaways; consequently he has quite a story to tell and he tells it with gusto here. After talking about his youth in Paterson, New Jersey, Libert details time with his band the Happenings ("See You in September".) When he left that band Libert began managing other acts and the bulk of the book chronicles his time as road manager for Alice Cooper in the early 1970's during the Billion Dollar Babies era. While he doesn't dwell on any particular subject for too long there are tales of interacting with the mellow Cooper and his not so mellow manager Shep Gordon. Cooper eschewed drugs except for alcohol but his band and crew did not and there are amusing stories of the lengths gone to in order to acquire cocaine. Libert details how, when the band was on tour in Brazil where the coke was cheap, that roadies would hide copious amounts of blow in the likewise copious amounts of band gear, ensuring it would not be found reentering the United States. He also explains how he collected each crew member's stash to keep them from taking it into Canada, instead shipping the illicit items to the promoter of the next U.S. show who would present the package to Libert upon the band's arrival. Besides revealing tricks like that that likely would not be gotten away with today there are amusing stories too, like how Libert got made up like Cooper to ride an elephant for a promo spot after the elephant spooked and it was determined that Cooper himself shouldn't risk his neck for the stunt. Fun too are the segments relating Libert's work with George Clinton and his affiliated groups, the precarious relationship that Libert had with Prince and stories of his time and interactions with the Runaways and their manager Kim Fowley. Near the end of the book Libert is candid about how he got arrested for selling cocaine and the consequences of the bust. A riveting read through and through.

"Frank & Co" - Co de Kloet - Jaw Bone

Frank & Co

Here's a really interesting story about how a young man from the Netherlands became a friend and confidante of Frank Zappa. As a youth Co was gifted by his father with a handful of Zappa albums and as his fondness for the music increased de Kloet sought to meet the musician and get an interview. That came to fruition sort of on a lark at a hotel in Amsterdam. Frank took a liking to Co and granted him interview time for more than 15-years (1977-93), ultimately hiring de Kloet and taking him into his small inner circle. There are amusing moments in the book where, while conversing casually in Zappa's kitchen, Zappa shushes de Kloet when a subject is broached that Frank doesn't want his wife, also in the kitchen, to know about. The interviews are informative and filled with Zappa's well-known wit and intelligent commentary. Fans will learn a lot about Frank and his reasoning here that they previously didn't know. There's also a very enlightening interview with one-time Zappa cohorts Howard Kaylan and Mark Volmsn, aka Flo & Eddie, that fans will find quite entertaining. There's lots to take away from this book about Frank Zappa but not to be lost is the Cinderella story of how de Kloet surpassed his wildest dreams, and the inspiration that story offers for young people with big aspirations.

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