BB King

Book Review #2

Two more books from the library! I have some rilly cool things to share: The BB King Treasures and Stochelo Rosenberg (part 1). Both of these coffee-table-esque printed productions are very stylin’ and function as the kind of material I lay out when important and sophisticated people visit. It’s my way of saying, “Hey, I’m New York SASSY and I moved on from Hammer of the Gods a long time ago. But aside from that, both these books are complete and total eye-candy and serve as scrapbooks that detail the lives of two very accomplished musicians. Reading over them puts one smack in the middle of music history and culture and contained within are all kinds of special features that add to the experience. Both were obviously put together with a WHOLE LOTTA LOVE and it shows.

BB King

Riley B. King is a musical institution and The USA is lucky to have him. Over a career spanning 60+ years BB has become a world ambassador and “global musician” of the guitar, influencing some pretty high-powered people along the way and entertaining literally millions of people. The BB King Treasures, which was released to coincide with his 80th birthday, traces his story from very humble beginnings in a Mississippi sharecroppers cabin, through his early love of music and apprenticeship with cousin Bukka White, to his early successes in Memphis radio. It then moves on to the many years of relentless touring and recording. While James Brown might’ve called himself the hardest working man in showbiz, BB just went out and did it, year after year. By the 1960s when British guitar heroes like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page brought the blues back to the United States, BB saw his popularity skyrocket because he WAS the blues and could kill them at The Fillmore playing to a bunch of hippies who were there to see Cream or The Jimi Hendrix Experience. BB and Albert King (no relation but another very influential player) were both revered by white audiences and players alike and enjoyed tremendous success during the late 60s and early 70s.

Year after year BB kept taking his message of music to the people and eventually became a full-blow icon — I mean he’s had an audience with the Pope fer crying out loud. (Supposedly John Paul II played a little guitar himself and wanted BB to show him how to play The Thrill is Gone — but that might’ve been just a rumor). Aside from great writing, this book contains so many cool reproductions of mementos that trace BB’s career — posters, business cards, booking schedules, stickers…neato! There is also a CD that has BB talking about a whole lot of guitar stuff. He relates how he admired Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and other players that he heard when he was growing up and how he tried to mimic the guitar bends, slides and chord patterns. He also recalls sitting next to cousin Bukka as he did his thing, but ultimately BB could never reproduce any of it like he heard it. (He illustrates what he’s talking about by singing and picking an acoustic guitar) Listening to the CD it’s obvious ALL of that blues is in BB, but he went and did his own thing with it, took it somewhere else. His vibrato is legendary and his great FEEL gives all of his guitar playing a very human voice — a powerful enough influence that Duane Allman learned all of BB’s licks note for note and John Lennon once said, “I wish I could play guitar like BB King”. John even name-drops BB King in his Dig It jam that showed up on Let It Be. Even after all of the success and world-wide acclaim BB is very humble and cognizant of how he is a part of this long thread of guitar and music and this book serves as a real celebration of all he has accomplished. The combination of the writing, BB’s input, the relaxed feel of the audio interviews and all of the cool little add-ons, give this package a very personal feel and because there is so much here, you can revisit repeatedly without exhausting your interest level.

Stochelo Rosenberg

While Stochelo doesn’t have BB King’s 60 years of history or name recognition, he has established himself as the premier emissary of gypsy jazz throughout the world. Coming from a Manouche gypsy background he is steeped in traditions that date back literally hundreds, if not thousands of years. Stochelo’s book is a great family album, put together with help from Harry Klunder and guitar maker extraordinaire Leo Eimers.

Of course the shadow and presence of the awesome Django Reinhardt is always with Stochelo and all of those who play gypsy jazz. Django was the first world-wide hero of the Manouche community and founded a school and style of music that enjoys great popularity today. The success of Stochelo, his incredible guitar abilities and the wonderful music he and the trio have created has been a very important part of WHY there are so many people listening to and playing the music today. But they always acknowledge and give homage to the master and there is a section in the book devoted to Django. In addition to being a great musician, Django dabbled in painting and favored the female form as subject matter. (Who can blame him!) There are some samples in the book and this is the first time I’ve seen nice reproductions of his work. For over 20 years The Rosenberg Trio has been releasing beautiful discs and completely flooring everyone with their live performances. In addition to Stochelo, the trio features Nou’she, his cousin, one of THE preeminent gypsy rhythm guitarists in the world today and his other cousin, Nonnie an awesome bass player. Because they are all related and have been playing together for so long, TIGHT doesn’t even begin to describe how well they work together. Metal shredders, tube screamers, fingerpickers and technique geeks take notice. The Rosenberg Trio are amazing!

This book is hard to find and maybe impossible to buy now…I don’t know. There were a limited number of copies made. I have # 57. [edit message from co-author Harry Klunder: Hello, for Your information, the book is still on stock, however not so many. Let me know if you are interested, there are about 750 ex. left and they will be presented on the market again next year.Harry Klunder] It comes with one of Stochelo’s guitar picks embedded in the inside front cover, tabs of original music he wrote just for the book, a really insightful interview on his playing technique and equipment preferences and HISTORY. It’s a great presentation of Stochelo’s family and Manouche culture. The Rosenberg Trio was shaped and is sustained by their roots and there are lots of great stories and fantastic pics of family, friends and associates. While Django looms large as Stochelo’s main influence, there were others, much closer to home like his legendary uncle Wasso Grunholz and the well-known and terrifically awesome Fapy Lafertin. There is also a section on Leo Eimers, the guy who makes some of the best Selmer style guitars in the world. It’s obvious Stochelo had a lot to do with the creation of this book because all of the highlights of his life — playing with Stephane Grappelli, success with the Rosenberg Trio and carrying on the proud tradition of Django Reinhardt are contained within. He is also a devoted father and husband and, like BB, just comes across as a real humble, down-to-earth guy, GUITAR GOD, though he may be.

What’s really great about all four of the books I’ve profiled so far is that authors and producers really did a swell job. There isn’t any expense spared to get the story right and make even the tiniest details available to the audience (which I gotta figure includes many guitar players). Anyone in the publishing world will tell you that CONTENT IS KING and what makes these books enjoyable is that at the most basic level, they are great stories told by great communicators about great communicators. All of the extras serve to augment what is already an enjoyable experience for the reader. While I am a great fan and daily participant in the digital publishing landscape, there is always room for printed material, especially 5-star efforts that create an experience that is unique and informative. Both of these books certainly do that and a whole lot more!

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Book Review #1

For Post #50 I’m going to do something I haven’t done before — review a couple of really cool books. Yea, I know, “books, wow how 20th century!”. But some people still like to read words on paper and some of these people are guitar players or people interested in guitar players, therefore I will show two of the many I have. The first book is Skydog — The Duane Allman Story, written by Randy Poe and the second is Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire by Joe Nick Patoski. The first thing you will notice if you go check these two books out on Amazon is that they have almost perfect 5 star ratings. Yes! They are that good, no fooling. Because, let’s face it, there are plenty of books on musicians that just suck. Authors either make stuff up, cobble together previously released material, get a whole lot of important factual info wrong, or spend the whole book dwelling on non-musical issues (drugs, gossip, sex). But the two books here on Duane and Stevie are awesome in that there is all kinds of little-known info on their lives, but also a TON of stuff that guitar players will find REALLY INTERESTING. Both authors deserve immense credit and recognition for getting these books together and obviously have a sincere personal interest in the subject matter.

There are other common threads throughout Skydog and Caught in the Crossfire: Both Duane and Stevie were pretty CRAZY southern dudes who channeled unbelievable energy and focus into the guitar and blues-based music from a very early age. The fact that they both died tragically only increased the aura that surrounds them many years later. They both had close relationships with Eric Clapton who has said on different occasions how he had to stop what he was doing the first time he heard each guitar player. Of course Eric and Duane ended up recording a milestone album, Layla, together, and he and Stevie became very good friends, shared many a stage together and was instrumental in Stevie’s recovery following his 1986 collapse from 20 years of bodily abuse. Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie’s brother once said that Stevie always played like he was “bustin’ outta jail” but I think both Duane and Stevie always played like they were being chased by demons or maybe knew the clock was ticking and tried to get as much guitar out there as they could before time was up. This is pretty obvious in the following clip (a book review with film! How cool and novel is that?)

I knew quite a bit about Stevie before I read Caught in the Crossfire, but Duane Allman has always been a bit of mystery. He died when I was still a wee youngin’ and there weren’t a whole lot of guitar magazine interviews or books written about him, even though it was accepted that he was a legend. Neither the Allmans or SRV ever cultivated attention from, or were accepted by the media because they lacked the glamor appeal and hype that sells so much music. Duane was notoriously hell-bent from an early age. He acquired his first motorcycle around the same time he began playing guitar and his riding habits convinced at least one of his classmates at the time that “Duane was one of those people you meet in your life that you know is not going to make it to 30…He was as self-destructive as anyone I ever knew…You do things when you’re a kid that you’d never do when you were older — but he took it way past that.” However, Duane was also an extremely disciplined learner when it came to his approach to guitar. As I described in an earlier post, one of his classmates related how he would play along to his awesome record collection learning licks one by one, stopping the record with his big toe, letting it go to move on to the next lick when he had the first one down. He’d play the whole record that way, flip it over, and then do it again. Author Randy Poe alternates between his personal research and interviews from people who knew Duane well and this makes the story move and sheds some light on Duane’s personal troubles and motivations. By the end I KNEW Duane and all of the people in his life who had any interaction with him. The chapters on the milestone recording of Hey Jude with Wilson Pickett, the formation and road/recording days of the Allmans and the recording of Layla with Derek and the Dominos are all brilliant — it’s almost like being there. The glorious and painful saga of the Allman Brothers post Duane’s (and Berry Oakley’s) passing is covered and the book has an intro from the one and only Reverend Billy Gibbons. Fans of the band and guitar geeks will not be disappointed. I promise!

Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire is also a great read because it was obviously well-researched and, like Skydog, written by someone who has an appreciation for what Stevie accomplished. From a very early age SRV was a guitar force in Texas and he went on to break through to mass appeal and resurrect the whole genre of blues music.  Like Duane he was completely driven to make it, to the point where he super-glued a ripped callous back on his finger to finish a set. He gave the impression that he lived to play guitar and play the blues and his entrance to the big time — by way of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and the first SRV and Double Trouble release, Texas Flood, was so overwhelming that the blues suddenly didn’t seen so out of touch with the 1980s. Stevie could adapt his blues to anything and make it sound current and relevant. Like Duane, Stevie lived at a Mach 5 speed and fueled by ever-increasing amounts of substances, ran himself nearly to death playing more gigs every year and sleeping only when he fell down. It would take a near-death experience to get him back and once again his determination allowed for him to clean up and resume what really mattered…making music. Joe Nick Patoski has input from a whole ton of people on this book and Stevie Ray emerges as a complete person with all of the good and bad that came with that. There are glorious highs and bar-soaked, creaky piano lows to this story but it is a very human portrait and Stevie, like any great literary hero, succeeds in the end. The late-80s SRV was clear-eyed and stingin! and when Stevie played like he does in the following clip, he had no competition.

There’s a lot music, a lot of music business and quite a few great stories in both of these books. I learned more than I expected and have a better picture of not only Duane and Stevie, but others who were important to the stories of these men: Greg Allman, Berry Oakley, Dickie Betts, Jimmie Vaughan, Tommy Shannon, Chris Layton and many others I’d like to list but that would take forever. Of course a feeling of tragedy permeates both books, but that is true of a lot of rock and roll tales. Because Duane and Stevie were both ALL about the music at the expense of everything else, physical health and well-being included, it is perhaps almost expected that their destinies would include an early death. The world was made richer by the music they created and you will be made richer if you check out either or both of these books. There is a distinctly American vibe to both stories and in a way, they are the stories of us all.