Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Stevie Nicks: Visions Dreams & Rumours

April 4th, 2017
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Like most guys my age, I had a crush on Stevie Nicks back in the 70’s and early bit of the 80’s. Besides being gorgeous, there’s a real sexiness to her, the long flowing dresses being far more intriguing than the more usual attempts to stimulate through under-dressing.

Reading Zoë Howe’s Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumors, it’s clear I was not alone. As Nicks’ friend Sara Recor comments, “Jim (Recor, Sara’s then husband) had a crush on her (Stevie), but who wouldn’t?”

The thing that comes across in Visions Dreams & Rumours is outside of the rock star adoration young adolescents like I gave Nicks, she was worthy of those attentions and crushes. She was, is, what she seems to be, an entirely likeable, classy, and classic, lady.

Howe balances the writing of a biography very well between not hiding the foibles of the subject, and presenting her as a likeable human. Nicks comes across as very much a real person, not some caricature or over the top personality. In fact, what becomes clear is that what you see with Nicks, is pretty much the real thing. Her onstage persona is not a character so much as an exaggeration of her true self. Nicks really does dress like that. Nicks really does talk like a dreamy hippy. She carries around notebooks of poetry and will stop what she’s doing to write down a line she heard or thought of.

On top of presenting a likeable Nicks, reading Visions Dreams & Rumours has made me go back and re-examine Nicks’ catalogue. I had forgotten how good a singer she is, and the great songs she writes. Her first solo effort, Bella Donna, is a revelation, although there was a time when I gave it a lot of airplay. It is better than I remembered.

It’s nice when you read a biography and come away liking the subject more than when you went in, and get a chance to rediscover a forgotten artist. Visions Dreams & Rumours did exactly that. It is a well written enjoyable read, which makes Stevie Nicks seem a vivid and real person. It presents her life in the context of her work, without belabouring the salacious details inevitable in a 70’s rock star biography. And it reintroduced me to some great music.



For certified professional guitar repair in Cambridge Ontario: Brian Gardiner Guitar Repair

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Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal: Greg Renoff

September 30th, 2015
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June 1978. At my high school there’s a guy, that guy, with a van that has a bar and a bed in it. We’re hanging out by the smoking area, playing frisbee, drinking beer with fake “Poopsi” labels on them and he’s got the stereo cranked. “What, who, is this?” I ask.

van_halen_rising_3601“A new band called Van Halen,” he tells me.

As song rolls into song, including a wild version of The Kinks You Really Got Me, it’s obvious this is some band. How did these guys come up with this? Where did they even come from? I wondered. It was obvious to us, even as it wasn’t to the people who ran the music industry, this was paradigm shifting (although, being stoned high school kids, we would have phrased it not as “paradigm shifting,” but as “cool, man.”).

Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal by Greg Renoff answers the question “how did these guys come up with this?” or perhaps more to the point, “where did they come from?” The answer is, as the book title suggests, Southern California’s backyard party scene.

Walking the reader through the cultural and musical history of the Van Halen brothers and David Lee Roth, the book charts their concerts and performances going back to the original high school band. It charts Roth’s attempts to get into the Van Halen brothers band (Eddie was the original singer) and how Roth’s background at a predominantly black high school influenced him to have a completely different take on rock/pop music.

You learn about the hundreds, thousands of shows the band did. How they rehearsed for hours 6-days a week and Eddie would practice far more than that. And you learn even at that how hard it was for them to get a record contract. You learn about their sudden ascension to the top of the rock ladder as their debut album sells a million copies in it’s first year.

Van Halen Rising is exactly what it promises, the story of an up and coming rock band. It takes you through the teenage rock scene in the LA suburbs of the 1970’s, and up to Van Halen’s first album, first tours, and then it is done, leaving the rest of the story for others to pick up. And it doesn’t disappoint in the process.

For certified professional guitar repair in Cambridge Ontario: Brian Gardiner Guitar Repair

Book Review

Ringo: With a Little Help: Michael Seth Starr

September 25th, 2015
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We all have our favourite Beatle. Personally, I’m a George guy, being a guitar player and as I love his playing and songwriting. But Ringo Starr comes in a close second. His good natured humour and tendency towards simple pop in his songs has it’s appeal.

513tnkxuonl_sy344_bo1204203200_Ringo: With a Little Help by Michael Seth Starr is a fairly comprehensive look at the worlds most famous drummer. Covering his early years, his time before the Beatles with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the Beatle years and beyond, With a Little Help covers all the points of Ringo’s career.

It is also, to a degree, a defense of Ringo Starr the drummer. Often maligned (“He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles,” John Lennon once said of Starr), With a Little Help is definitive on the point, Ringo Starr was the best drummer in Liverpool in 1962 when he joined The Beatles, and his drumming, while sometimes in-elegant, was crucial to their sound. He has a unique style due to being a left handed drummer using his set right handed, he is clumsy on fills (for much the same reason), but he is a solid to very good drummer.

With A Little Help is not all a defense of Starr, however. His very limited vocal range is an important part of the narrative and Ringo has success as a singer when he has material within his “six-note range.” As well, Ringo’s alcohol problems are well documented, as his much of his negative behaviour during his long bout of alcohol abuse. His later career work ethic is questioned and the breakdown of his first marriage to Maureen is well documented, including his affairs during the legendary “LA lost weekend” period of the early 70’s.

On the bizarre side, the author cites diary entries of teenage Ringo fanatic Marilyn Crescenzo some seventeen times, following her feelings over events in The Beatles lives in 1964-65 time frame:

This morning ten o’clock, I heard a report from the Beatles hotel and Ringo and George were talking—I said to my mother “why didn’t you let me go down there—Everybody is there.” I then walked into the bathroom and couldn’t hold back -I just cryed! [sic] I couldn’t help it!

Intended to provide color I gather, these diary entries really just fill some page space.

Ringo: With a Little Help is a good read, and an interesting look at one of our times more interesting, if reasonably unimportant, people.

For certified professional guitar repair in Cambridge Ontario: Brian Gardiner Guitar Repair

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Strange Way to Live – Carl Dixon

February 11th, 2015

Former Coney Hatch guitarist/singer/songwriter Carl Dixon says of his autobiography, Strange Way to Live: A Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll Resurrection, in the Authors Note:

If you find it’s not up to your standards, I strongly urge you to just put it aside. Don’t waste time or thought or energy in condemning the writer. He has told his story as well as he could.

That’s alright, I suppose, but one wonders what’s the point of being a critic if not to9781459728530condemn the writers?

Fortunately, I quite enjoyed Strange Way to Live. It was fun reading a rock’n’roll-ography and I personally knew many of the small towns the performer trod as an up and comer. Dixon traipsed North Bay to Barry to Orangeville, all places within my realm: no Epson Downs or M1 to Newcastle here.

Dixon’s story is one of devotion to his craft, high success and struggling to keep his career going. After Coney Hatch he worked as a professional songwriter, did a stint in the past their prime Guess Who and another with April Wine. He tells his story with some humbleness and a sense of self-examination, without downplaying his accomplishments with over-modesty.

Strange Way to Live: A Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll Resurrection is a good, quick read, enjoyable even if you’re not specifically a Coney Hatch fan.

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Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page

November 14th, 2014
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I came home from New York with my Jimmy Page pictorial autobiography,Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page, and my wife picked it up. It’s a big book, and heavy, but beautifully laid out with high quality paper and exquisite pictures throughout. She started nosing through the book, and next thing she is asking questions about Page, looking him up in Wikipedia to see his marital history and does he have kids. You need to understand, she usually rolls her eyes at my Led Zeppelin habit, and has never shown any interest in anything Led Zeppelin related. But here she was keeping me from my Jimmy Page book.

It’s not a cheap book, retailing for $70+ up here in Canada, I bought it for $50 at Jimmy Page’s Q&A in New York last week. But it’s not a book you’ll ever look at and think, “why did spend so much on this?” It’s a beautiful book, it really is. It weighs about as much as a Datsun, the lettering on the cover is gold inlay and the paper photographic quality. It may be a bit steep for a book, but it’s good value for the money.

But the real magic happens when you open it up. Page one, 10 or 12-year old Jimmy Page as a choir boy, and the caption “it might get loud.” It did. The last page is a now famous shot of Page by his friend Ross Halfin, grey haired and holding his guitar in front of him. “It might get louder.”

In between choir boy and mature gentleman, between loud and louder, is more than 500 pages of pictures, telling the story of the musical life of Jimmy Page. Playing his guitar outside his school, his earliest bands, his session days. And look at the pose on his schoolboy picture, or on his knees playing for Neil Christian and the Crusaders. He had those Jimmy Page moves long before anyone called him “Jimmy F-in Page.” Onward to the Yardbirds, then Led Zeppelin. Onstage, backstage, leaping through the air and tuning his guitars behind and amp, massive crowd in the background. All minimally captioned, walking you through the story, but letting the pictures do the yeoman’s work, the captioned merely filling in the details.

Open Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page to any page, and you’ll find a picture to enjoy. And if you don’t happen to like any of the pictures on that page, try the next one, it’s sure to have something. So many of the pictures are excellent, so many interesting. There’s very few you won’t study a bit, absorb the story it tells. Page reportedly spent a lot of time tracking down pictures and it shows. If you’re a Led Zeppelin fan, you’ll have seen many of them, but never in this detail, not in this quality. And there are plenty others that you’ve never seen, won’t see outside of this book.

If there’s one thing missing, considering he does refer to it as an autobiography, it’s any pictures of Page when he’s not, in one way or another, at work. There’s no pictures of any of his children (or his granddaughter for that matter) and only one of any of his wives, a fairly well known shot of he and Charlotte Martin exiting a helicopter backstage at Knebworth in 1979. This book is strictly about Jimmy Page, musician.

Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page, the pictorial autobiography of the Led Zeppelin guitarist is, simply put, an excellent book.


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Book Review: The Neon Lawyer

November 11th, 2014

Brigham Theodore is a newly minted lawyer, looking for a job the day after passing the bar. He finds one, run by a Russian mobster, and almost immediately finds himself trying a capital murder case. Drama ensues as a sympathetic defendant gets her hotshot young lawyer up against the ambitious district attorney and a system aligned against them.

I love a good legal thriller, and Victor Methos The Neon Lawyer is a good one. All the right elements are there, the little guy lawyer, young and southern, up against the best. The evidence is against him, but the emotional weight of the case is on his side. Fighting the ambition of his opponent, the small time lawyer with his team consisting of one young woman has to convince the jury to ignore the legalities and do the right thing.

If The Neon Lawyer was a John Grisham book, it would have been much longer. Jury selection would take 60 pages, the trial another 150. But Methos keeps things tight, not bogging it down in legal details. This makes for a quick easy read, and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that.

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Album Review: Rated X

November 10th, 2014
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“Oh God, another supergroup.” I thought as I downloaded Rated X’s self titled debut album. While Rated X are designed as a vehicle for singer Joe Lynn Turner, it was the rhythm section that jumped out at me: drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tony Franklin. Appice has been around forever, showing Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham the ropes to being a professional touring drummer back in ’69 when Zeppelin opened for Appice’s band, Vanilla Fudge. Appice has since drummed for Rod Stewart and Ozzy Osbourne. Franklin, meanwhile, has his own Zeppelin connection, having played bass in Jimmy Page’s post-Zeppelin band The Firm. He has also slapped da fretless bass in Whitesnake and with Appice in his pre-Firm band, Blue Murder. Filled out by Ace Frehley guitarist Karl Cochran, Rated X is a band with a hard rock pedigree.


They are guilty of sounding too 80’s at a time when the older sounds fresher, too much Whitesnake in the sound. Songs like Fire and Ice, and Get Back My Crown cut a little close to the 80’s bone for taste. However, you soon realize that the songwriting is better than most 80’s bands and Turner, who has sung with Rainbow, Deep Purple and Yngwie Malmsteen, has a more soulful voice than anybody who ever sang for Whitesnake. If You Are the Music or Maybe Tonight were 80’s songs, they would be among the best. Our Love Is Not Over is excellent and the Kashmiresque Lhasa could only be pulled off by a band with a rhythm section this good.

Despite my misgivings, Rated X turned out to be an excellent album. A must have for any hard rock fan.

Track listing

  1. Get Back My Crown
  2. This Is Who I Am
  3. Fire And Ice
  4. I Don’t Cry No More
  5. Lhasa
  6. Devil In Disguise
  7. You Are The Music
  8. Peace Of Mind
  9. Maybe Tonight
  10. On The Way To Paradise
  11. Our Love Is Not Over
  12. Stranger In Us All.

Book Review

Review: Robert Plant The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin by Dave Thompson

November 9th, 2014

It came up last Christmas, one of my guests asked the question that comes up too often: “What the hell is wrong with Robert Plant? Why won’t he do a Led Zeppelin reunion?” It seems so easy, just sing the old songs, make a big pile of money and everybody gets to go away happy. So why won’t he do it? It doesn’t help that Plant tends to answer the question with a series of non-sequiturs: I don’t want to be singing cabaret; I want to move forward with new material – even as he spreads the old liberally through his set lists &tc.

In his new book, Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelinby Dave Thompson looks at Plant and examines the man through the lens of his history, and the effect it has on Plant today. There are two major events in the Plant narrative, the death of his son Karac in 1977 and the death of his best friend from youth, whom he brought into Led Zeppelin, John Bonham.

On Karac Thompson writes:

His (Plant’s) lifestyle, he knew, had already placed his marriage under incredible strain—the months he spent away touring, leaving Maureen to raise two children on her own. Now there was just one, and Plant could not help but wonder whether things might have been different if he had been at home.

and on John Bonham:

It was John Bonham who sat next to him on the hastily arranged flight back to London, and then for the drive up to the farm. There the boy was buried, at a funeral where Bonham was the only one of the singer’s bandmates or management to even bother attending… Now, the very person who had stood alongside him throughout that terrible night, providing much of the glue with which he repaired his shattered psyche, had himself been taken away.

Those two quotes represent, as much as anything does, the thesis of The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin. Those two events, presented as they are above, explain so much about Plant’s decisions, including the one not to re-unite Led Zeppelin in any long-term way. Thompson delves into what makes Plant tick far more deeply than into what Plant does or says, using the former to explain the latter. It’s a good thing that he does such a good job of examining Plant the person, because he gets far too many of his facts wrong.

Details like what year Page and Plant played Glastonbury, what they played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction or the heretofore unheard claim that Yardbirds bassist Chris Dreja actually rehearsed with Plant, Page and John Bonham before turning down the job of bassist in Led Zeppelin and John Paul Jones was brought on board. Furthermore some of his opinion statements, such as the tone of Zeppelin’s songs come from Plant’s lyrics or that the last five albums in Plant’s career – Dreamland to lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar – are the best set of five he has done, including say Led Zeppelin II through Physical Graffiti, are laughable.

But Thompson isn’t after the facts of the case, so much as explaining Plant through the lens of those facts. The fact he got a date wrong here, a song wrong there doesn’t do unrepairable damage to the book. Neither does the obvious fact that Thompson’s trying, for reasons unknown, to tear down the mythology of Led Zeppelin and raise the myth of Robert Plant in it’s place.

In fact, Thompson’s conversational writing style, of which I have been a fan for a long time, makes The Voice that Sailed the Zeppelin a thoroughly enjoyable read. I did not always agree with Thompson, and he gets some of the basics wrong, but Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin by Dave Thompson is one of my favourite of the Led Zeppelin books out there. It’s well worth the read.

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The [Un]documented Mark Steyn

October 22nd, 2014

There’s a bad novel out there somewhere that starts thus:

Like Houdini, I escaped again. I’m less optimistic than I used to be, and if my prediction of total civilizational collapse doesn’t come to pass, I’d be very happy to be proved wrong.

Mark Steyn, on the other hand, ends his new collection of his writing, The [Un]documented Mark Steyn, with more or less the above. It is much a more effective ending, and a strange book indeed that can be summed up by wishing that predictions of civilizational collapse is wrong.

More relevant perhaps, is this, from his 2008 column, The Limits:

I made the mistake of going to Europe to visit the famous banlieues of Paris and other Continental Muslim neighborhoods. And at that point… I began to see that it’s not really about angry young men in caves in the Hindu Kush; it’s not even about angry young men in the fast growing Muslim populations of the west – although that’s certainly part of the seven-eighths of the iceberg bobbing just below the surface of 9/11. But the bulk of that iceberg is the profound and perhaps fatal weakness of the civilization that built the modern world.

That’s a nice summation of Steyn’s writing since, and of The [Un]documented Mark Steyn.

The [Un]documented Mark Steyn is a comprehensive collection of Steyn articles spanning the last 20 or so years. From 9/11 to Japanese demography; Burkas to Viagra; James Bond to Doris Day, Steyn writes about it all with an eye on the big picture and humour. Total civilizational collapse has never been so much fun.

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Billy Joel by Fred Schruers

September 29th, 2014
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Many biography’s die in the early chapters. Struggling to bring life to somebody who would become something, but was really still just some schlub, has defeated many biographers. Fred Schruers’ Billy Joel seems to suffer from this in reverse. The first chapter is a must read, and one of the most compelling chapters of any biography I’ve ever read. The last third to quarter of the book however, dwells endlessly on Joel’s career and life since he recorded his last album, 1993’s River of Dreams, over 20-years ago.41q5ygb06l

Opening with Joel’s family history, his Jewish industrialist grandparents leaving Nazi Germany by stealth, and arriving in Long Island via Switzerland and Cuba, the first chapter of Billy Joel is an excellent and fascinating piece of history. Billy’s early years is covered quickly enough and interestingly enough, something that’s not always true, or even often true, in a biography. The minutiae of childhood has bogged down many a biography, that’s simply not a problem here.

Joel’s career years cover the majority of the book, from his early band to River of Dreams, and all the important details seem to be accurate and intact: his first, disastrous album, his move to LA, Piano Man, his rise to prominence and most productive commercial years, his divorce from his first wife (and manager) Elizabeth and discovering his next manager, her brother, had ripped him off leaving him virtually broke.

It’s the later, post River of Dreams years that Billy Joel bogs down. A story that moved along fairly nicely suddenly overwhelms with details. Thus we get far more than we need about his courtship of Christie Brinkley (and not enough on their split), as well as his romance with third wife Katie Lee, minute details of a concert here, a concert there, and far too much from Joel’s day to day activities, that felt at times like bad name dropping (biking with Bruce Springsteen as one example).

Fred Schruers Billy Joel is a good, easy read, and enjoyable look at one of those rather ordinary people who made the absolute most of what they had, often at the expense of his personal life. And edit and a trim of the last quarter of the book and it could be an excellent one.

Billy Joel is available Oct. 28 at all your usual book buying outlets.

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Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry by Gareth Murphy

September 1st, 2014
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Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry is a well researched trundle through the record industry from it’s inception with the first voice recording in Paris in 1860 to the modern era. Author Gareth Murphy runs through the history of recorded music, noting similarities to todays problems from the past, with a working thesis that the modern record industry isn’t in as bad shape as it currently seems, and certainly not when looked at against the historical record.

Beginning in the late 19th century, Murphy chronicles the rise and fall of such notables as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as lesser knowns like Eldridge Reeves Johnson and Frank Seaman, the latter of whom in 1900, in a move that will resonate with modern buyers, threatened prosecution against customers who bought Gramophones.

“The record business of the twenties and thirties experienced a crash even more devastating than the recent one,” Murphy notes in the books introduction. A crash that saw the record industries “biggest boom in record sales, in and around 1921, was immediately followed by the biggest slump in the industry’s thirty-year history.” A slump caused, it should be noted, by the introduction of a new technology that made “talking machines” seem obsolete.

Cowboys and Indies is, in fact, a good romp through the ups and down, the people and the musicians throughout the history of the record industry.


Except in the 1970’s the narrative changes, and Cowboys and Indies suddenly becomes a story about the underground club scene in New York and an Independent (read: small) record store in London. The rock era is virtually dismissed for disco, punk, electronic music and eventually, hip-hop and dance music. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd are minimized and Ian Drury becomes a major player. It’s a strange turn, and I found myself wondering more than once, what happened to the book I was reading?

Despite this, Cowboys and Indies is a good read and is recommended for those who like the inner workings of the music industry.

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