Over the years I’ve enjoyed playing guitar in quite a few bands — jazz, rock, big band, blues and folk.
Although the styles of music and instrumental configurations were quite varied, each one shared an essential element. None of us was popular. We didn’t hit the big time with “one-hit wonders” that catapulted us into stardom while cheering crowds waved lit Bic lighters in admiration of our genius. And yes, fans used to hold up cigarette lighters, not smartphones.
Even though people never demanded T-shirts with my band logo, I had a great time playing music.
What about those who did reach fame? Our new music biographies allow a glimpse into a performer’s life of exuberant creativity or perhaps inebriated debauchery, depending on which book you pick up. Check one out today and ride along as the band hits the road.
Rebellious, distorted, heavy, emotion-driven, sound-altering: Welcome to the electric guitar. It changed the sound of music and music was never the same. “Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar” by Brad Tolinski is a wonderful book exploring the history and culture of the electric guitar.
Tolinski introduces the early innovators and designers, like George Beauchamp and his “frying pan” guitar which did indeed look like a frying pan, Leo Fender with his iconic Stratocaster and the classic Gibson Les Paul. In all, 12 types of guitars are examined.
Tolinski also bring to life the engaging stories of the players who take these extraordinary instruments and give them their own distinct voices. Eddie Van Halen created a guitar dubbed the “Frankenstrat” by combining parts from a Fender and Gibson.
Jimi Hendrix played his screaming version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on his Fender Strat at Woodstock in 1968. Jack White preferred to use a low-end 1964 Montgomery Ward “Res-O-Glass” Airline guitar while playing with his band The White Stripes.
This is an entertaining and informative book that will be enjoyed not only by guitarists, but anyone with an interest in music history.
The name Augustus Owsley Stanley III may not come up in daily conversation, but Stanley played an enormous role during the unorthodox 1960s and was involved with some of the most prominent bands of that time.
“Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley III” by Robert Greenfield takes a look at the man known as Bear, who was sound engineer for the Grateful Dead and chemist to the counterculture society, one of the first to produce high-quality LSD in mass quantities.
Stanley became the main supplier to author Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, a group of enthusiasts who got together to throw “Acid Tests,” parties advocating the use of the drug. It was at one of the parties that Bear met the band the Grateful Dead, whom he believed were destined for greatness. He became their sound engineer, developing the “Wall of Sound,” one of the largest and most powerfully accurate PA systems of the time.
Through Bear’s dealings and work as a soundman, he came into contact with many well-known musicians, John Lennon among them. If you watch the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour movie, you can certainly see how it might have been fueled by some of Bear’s pharmaceuticals. Greenfield’s new book provides an insightful look into the psychedelic movement.
My third selection features the guitar player and cofounder of the band The Smiths. “Set the Boy Free: The Autobiography” by Johnny Marr tells the story of Marr’s upbringing, formation of The Smiths and musical career after departing the band.
Born in Manchester in 1963, Marr was always surrounded by and fascinated by music. He gained experience playing guitar in several small bands before meeting lyricist Steven Patrick Morrisey, who would become frontman for The Smiths.
Follow their journey and rise to prominence from their inception in 1982 until their breakup in 1987. Marr shares many colorful stories that bring to light his life and the band, their songwriting process and song choices. He also covers his time after The Smiths and the many talented bands and musicians he’s played with. This is an interesting story of an exemplary guitar player and the alternative music of the ’80s.
Of course, we have many additional memoirs featuring the greats Queen, Bowie, Hendrix, Prince, the Doors — too many names to mention here. When you come into the library to choose your favorite book, also check out the display case by the circulation desk, highlighting the classic rockers and their autobiographies available for check out.
Jill Martinson is a library specialist at the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands.