Saturday, November 22, 2014

Book Review of "Glenn Hughes: The Autobiography"

Gregg Akkerman's Review of Glenn Hughes: The Autobiography: From Deep Purple to Black Country Communion by Glenn Hughes with Joel Mclver

I only came to be a Glenn Hughes fan in the last couple years. Somehow I totally missed him during the years covered in this excellent autobiography. I am still unsettled by his frank descriptions of drug addiction and how it crushed so many of his relationships. Unlike other self-penned bios that read like high school essays (Tony Iommi) or "My life is awesome and nothing bad ever happened" (Tony Bennett), Hughes, with co-author Joel Mclver, invites us into the heart of the matter, and sometimes it's a damn scary place.

Given that Hughes is still touring, recording, and apparently having a great time on social media with his new trio called California Breed, it all seems to have worked out for him. And we who love anthemic, power-rock singing are better for it.

Akkerman rates it 4.5 rock-stars out of 5!

Request a copy from you local library or purchase one through this link:

Book Review of "My Appetite for Destruction" by Steven Adler (Guns 'N' Roses)

Gregg Akkerman's Review of My Appetite for Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns 'n Roses by Steven Adler with Lawrence J. Spagnola (It! Books, 2010)

With competent Lawrence Spagnola operating as co-writer, Steven Adler, the original drummer for Guns 'N Roses, delivers the kind of rocker-autobiography we have come to expect from publisher It Books--and that's a good thing. Adler makes it obvious he has read other similar memoirs and is willing to mimic the better ones while only occasionally taking a misstep.

His is a tale that reads like the script to the now cliché format of a VH1 special that plays out as 1) Stary-eyed young rockers come together to fight the odds; 2) They achieve great success and taste the fruits both sweet and forbidden; 3) Turmoil sets in as drugs and poor money management move to the forefront; 4) Complete destruction of whatever empire was built; 5) Wiser and older comrades regain their original mojo and keep playing "for the fans."

The only part of Adler's story that we don't know for sure is whether there is any kind of happy ending. This is a book without a closing chapter. He reveals so many vivid accounts of life-draining, all-consuming, crack pipe addiction that it is hard to believe any sober redemption will ever be his. We feel only a little sad for the lead character as Adler consistently proves he's often nothing more than a spoiled asshole with no respect for himself, family, friends, or the trail of women sucked into his selfish wake. I want desperately to like the guy but he doesn't give a lot of reasons other than pity.

And that willingness for Adler to come off as a supremely damaged individual is the actual strength of the book. It reads as absolutely honest--no one would admit to that much self-indictment if it weren't true. The only times the tone becomes laughably unbelievable is when Adler attempts seriousness for topics that far exceed his immediate life such as world conflict or religious atrocities. On one page Adler gives us a play-by-play of shooting drugs into his arm while on the next he shares his thoughts about visiting Germany: "I shudder to think about all those innocent people packed into trains and shipped off to gas chambers." He then jarringly returns to his rock-star life on the road playing packed nightclubs. Sorry Adler, but this smacks of painful insincerity and your wingman Spagnola did no favors by fitting it into the narrative. Stick to your stories of Steven Tyler directing porn stars into group sex--at least they ring true to the man you were at the time.

Considering the copious revelations, one area oddly underplayed is exactly how or why Adler was removed from the band. If we take Adler at his word, he was no more unreliable than any of the other junkies in the band and was unfairly singled out, despite his willingness to give Axel Rose an extra 5% royalty. It may indeed be accurate that he was a victim of drug-fueled egomaniacs, but perhaps more detail will be gleaned in versions of the story as told by other band members.

Akkerman gives it 4 Rock-Stars out of 5!

Check it out from your local library or purchase a copy through the link below.

Book Review of "Hot Wired Guitar: The Life of Jeff Beck" by Martin Powers

Gregg Akkerman's Review of Hot Wired Guitar: The Life of Jeff Beck by Martin Power (Omnibus Press, 2012)

A brilliant moment in mock-rock history is when Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel describes for an interviewer how the volume knob on his amplifier is customized to go all the way to 11 for those times 10 just isn't enough. When the Spinal Tap film debuted in 1984, guitarists the world over saw the immediate homage to Jeff Beck. Even Beck himself picked up on the Beck-ish references to ego-driven guitarists with their dismissive humor and hot-rod past-times. When making the movie, actor/writer Christopher Guest had any number of archetype guitarists to imitate but he knew that to really do it in a way that guitarists would "get," only the droll personality and long-but-not-too-long straight hair of Beck would suffice. He doesn't have the household cache of his contemporaries Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, but guitarists all know the truth--and have for decades--Beck is the man!

While other guitarists of the era aligned themselves with various bands or singers to stake their claim on pop history, Beck soldiered through the 1970s making primarily instrumental albums that were assigned the dreaded label of "fusion." Others perhaps became better rock stars, but Beck simply became a better guitarist and outgrew the competition. But his no-vocalist approach kept him off the top of the charts which contibuted to the fact that there have been very few book-length attempts to tell Beck's story.

Correcting this grievous omission is author Martin Powers who has delivered previous rock-related books on Queen and Metallica. So let me get right to the problem with Power's effort: he is seemingly the owner of the largest collection of Beck quotes, magazine articles, CDs, 45s, LPs, EPs, DVDs, bootlegs, and Youtube links on the planet, and he was absolutely committed to referring to each and every one of them in this 487-page tome. It's both exhaustive and exhausting.

Powers does not write badly. All the sentences make sense and the paragraphs flow into the next. But he seems more comfortable being a play-by-play delivery boy rather than a craftsman of context and subtlety. Each chapter is essentially a narrative of every appearance and session Beck made during the time in question--with several descriptions of which guitars were played through what amplifiers. I'm sure somebody out there prefers this kind of writing over all others--I am not that person. I would prefer my author to inject some artful expertise into the life details of a man who surely must be a more interesting figure than is revealed here. Powers eventually proved he is capable of this task, but he waited 485 pages before taking his shot and by then I just didn't give a damn.

Now Powers may think, "I'm simply delivering the details and it's up to the reader to assign their own feelings without my manipulation," but I'm not going to excuse him for offering up nearly 500 pages of data-driven bullet points. Creating the kind of biography I'm expecting for my favorite guitarist of all time is hard--damn hard--and Powers came up short by writing a book far too long. Sometimes 11 is just too much.

Akkerman gives it 3 Rock-Stars out of 5!

Check it out from your local library or purchase a copy through the link below.

Compilation of Book Reviews for "The Last Balladeer: The Johnny Hartman Story"

Reviews of The Last Balladeer: The Johnny Hartman Story (Scarecrow Press, 2012) by Gregg Akkerman

Nominated as "Jazz Book of the Year" in 2013 by the Jazz Journalists Association. Here is a compilation of various reviews for my biography of vocalist Johnny Hartman:

In pop-music parlance, a ballad is a moderate- to slow-tempo number about love. The bass-baritone Johnny Hartman (1923–83) may be the all-time best ballad singer. During his life, he was nowhere near as renowned as Billy Eckstine, whose range he shared, or Frank Sinatra, whose intimacy and clarity of diction he equaled. Probably, as other musicians told Akkerman, he was constitutionally too shy, gentle, and quiet for stardom. But with saxophonist John Coltrane’s quintet, at its acme in 1963, he made one of the few universally appealing jazz albums. It made him an auditorium-packing headliner in Japan and, with a boost from Clint Eastwood via the Bridges of Madison County soundtrack, put him in the American jazz-singing pantheon. Although “Lush Life” was one of his signature pieces, Hartman lived neither lushly nor fast, so that Akkerman’s first-ever biography has no scandals, crimes, or even misdemeanors to report. Instead, it’s about the days and the achievements of a working musician and, despite some odd word choices, should thoroughly engross lovers of the Great American Songbook.~Booklist

Gregg Akkerman, director of jazz studies at University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, has made a crucial contribution to keeping Hartman’s memory alive with this biography. Akkerman draws on extensive interviews, archives and his own sharp musical analysis to trace Hartman’s Chicago origins, his time serving in both Earl Hines’ and Dizzy Gillespie’s big bands and the creation of the classic 1963 album John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman. The author also looks at the longstanding comparisons between Hartman and Billy Eckstine and shows why their supposed rivalry was a canard. ...Now students and fans of jazz vocals can hope that this book will lead to a proper reissue of Hartman’s triumphant 1980 Bee Hive album, Once In Every Life, which contained all four of the Hartman songs that were included on the 1995 CD soundtrack to Madison County.~Downbeat Magazine

Akkerman is a professional musician and educator, and his book offers superb verbal descriptions of Hartman’s recordings and concert performances. These word-paintings are a valuable part of any musical biography, for they encourage the reader to explore the music.~Jazz History Online

The Last Balladeer not only reveals the gentle nature of the man, we learn of his steadfast devotion to his music and fierce determination to maintain his integrity in spite of misguided record producers and errors in judgment along the way. Johnny enjoyed moderate recognition in America, but his most loyal fans dwelt in the shadow of Mount Fuji. When we toured Japan together in 1977, he was greeted by crowds who displayed obvious devotion to his style of singing, and all concerts were at or near SRO in each city we visited. I think you will find Professor Akkerman's book entertaining and most enlightening.~Jazz vocalist Carol Sloan

I've read The Last Balladeer and can verify that anyone who loves the singer's work will consider this a "must-have."~The San Diego Reader

While Akkerman makes no effort to plumb the singer’s psychological depths (or to provide Balliettian descriptions of his vocal magic), with this lucid and meticulously researched new book Hartman - whose life and career were models of self-effacing professionalism – finally has the biography he deserves.~Jazz Journalist Association News

In The Last Balladeer the author displays great empathy and affection for his subject, and if Johnny Hartman is in some way an underappreciated artist, Mr. Akkerman has done his part to set things right with a moving.~Jersey Jazz

A 2012 Holiday Gift Guide Choice!
This book illuminates the life and career of the singer best known for his 1960 album with John Coltrane and the presence of his recordings in the Clint Eastwood 1995 movie Bridges of Madison County. Not surprisingly, Hartman's life encompassed a lot more, artistically, than those highlights.~Jazz Hot House

Johnny Hartman is perhaps the most undeservedly neglected vocalist in the history of twentieth-century popular music. With this meticulously researched and beautifully written volume, Gregg Akkerman has corrected that omission once and for all. Rich in biographical detail about Hartman's life and four-decade career and complemented by the most comprehensive discography ever published, The Last Balladeer is a must-have for anyone interested in American popular music.~Leonard Mustazza, author of Ol' Blues Eyes: A Frank Sinatra Encyclopedia

How can the most serene and pitch-perfect African-American baritone have had such an enigmatic career? In this eloquent, insightful account of Johnny Hartman’s life and music, Gregg Akkerman situates the definitive ballad singer within the context of conflicting demands and longstanding tensions between jazz and popular music.~Barry Kernfeld, editor of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

Akkerman expertly captures the life and music of this vital, memorable jazz singer.~Tad Hersorn, author of Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice

Hundreds of thousands of people have enjoyed Johnny Hartman's voice over the years. Whether through his epic collaboration with John Coltrane or his music being featured in major Hollywood films, his incredible voice is one of the most identifiable, gorgeous sounds of the previous century. But how many people know about the man behind the music? Gregg Akkerman has filled a huge hole in jazz and popular music literature with 'The Last Balladeer,' a truly definitive work. Akkerman's tremendous research makes Hartman the singer— and more importantly, Hartman the man— come alive like never before.~Ricky Riccardi, author of What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years

Through excellent research into Johnny Hartman's life and career, Akkerman's The Last Balladeer accomplishes that rare feat in biography of conveying to the reader the day-to-day rhythm of his subject's life.~Jeffrey S. McMillan, author of Delightfulee: The Life and Music of Lee Morgan

***
 Pick up a copy at your local library or purchase one at the link below:

Book Review of "Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock" by Sammy Hagar

Gregg Akkerman's Review of Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock (It Books, 2012) by Sammy Hagar with Joel Selvin.
 
Although I was a moderate fan of Sammy Hagar over the years, reading his autobiography transformed me into a full-fledged red head. I write this while drinking his latest brand of rum and humming along to his excellent Chickenfoot recordings. I have drunk the red Kool-Aid folks, and it is sweet.
 
This is the rocker autobiography to set the bar for all the others being rushed to print these days, many by Hagar's publisher, It Books. He was smart enough to know that as good a singer and songwriter as he is, an outside writer was required to keep things organized and readable (a tip it seems Tony Iommi could have taken) and the quality work of Joel Selvin shines over Hagar's words. Hagar speaks to the reader in the personal way that almost feels as if we are tolerated voyers and we feel privileged, if not awkward, by the often embarrassing truth of his life. Visits from aliens, visions from the great unknown in red, sex-tents under the Van Halen stage--if it happened, he talks about it.
 
Van Halen fans are well served by the quantity of behind-the-scenes accounts Hagar offers regarding the difficult times making the music and navigating around the emotional and drunken tantrums of the "brothers Van Halen." Hagar's admission that all the tracks to their live album were re-recorded after the fact is a harsh reminder that even a classic "rock" band is not above using technology to make a pretty lady out of what was a sassy street walker. This is just one of the dozens of music industry tales Hagar shares, but they usually come from a place of wise acceptance rather than bitterness. This is a man who has rocked his way through Montrose, solo-album monster hits, world-conquering years with Van Halen, super-group exploits in Chickenfoot, and multi-million dollar deals in businesses involving booze, clothes, mountain bikes, restaurants, and the travel industry--and his book does it all justice. Get it. Read it. Drink the (red) rum!
 
Akkerman gives it 5 Rock-Stars out of 5!

Check it out from your local library or purchase a copy through the link below.

Book Review of "Kicking and Dreaming" by the Wilson Sisters of Heart

Gregg Akkerman's Review of Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll (It Books, 2012) by Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson, and Charles R. Cross.

I will admit up front that I did not read the hard copy or the e-book, but rather listened to the audio book and was thoroughly surprised to hear the narrators were none other than the sisters-Wilson. Rather than hire voice actors, Ann and Nancy recite their own story (as crafted and cross checked by Charles R. Cross) and do a very respectable job of delivering the content with news-anchor objectivism while still allowing the occasional hyperbole that only someone who was actually IN the story could get away with. I can only hope that the text version conveys the same sincerity and open-hearted (last one, I promise) exposure as is heard in their spoken voices.

If you want to know about their amazing childhood as daughters of a WWII Marine, or their earliest ventures as singers enchanted by the Beatles, or first forays in love and sex, or the baby steps of Heart before the giant steps of HEART, or broken marriages, or raising children on the road, and growing older and wiser, then this is a book that delivers. It's all here, and it will win you over just as surely as the riff to Barracuda makes you kick up the volume in any car you are in.

Akkerman rates it 4 Rock-Stars out of 5.

Pick up a copy from the local library or purchase your own though this link:

Book Review of "Iron Man" by Tony Iommi

Gregg Akkerman's Review of Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath (Da Capo Press, 2012) by Tony Iommi

Having previously read and reviewed Ozzy Osbourne's autobiography, I was considerably intrigued to see what the driving force behind all incarnations of Black Sabbath would have to say about many of the same events. Frankly, I was impressed at how often the two band members were in near agreement on the various scenarios of cocaine-laced pranks they played upon their long-suffering drummer, Bill Ward. No wonder it is often Ward who is the last one willing to sign on for the intermittent Sabbath reunions. The poor guy doesn't want to be set on fire any more.

And that pretty much sums up what seems to be the most impressionable memories of one of rocks greatest riff-master guitarists: how many practical jokes were played on others and how severe was the retribution. True revelations of his guitar technique, soul-searching inspiration, heart-breaking marriages, and children growing up without a father are seldom offered. A hint is dropped now and again, but Iommi is mostly limiting himself to tales that would amuse the idolizing male rockers that have always admired him from the audience. He does not challenge readers over the age of 15, and even sadder, he does not challenge himself.

For me, the writing in this book equates to Sabbath during the Tony Martin years--serviceable, but a pale imitation of the glory days with Ozzy or even the solid efforts of Ronnie James Dio.

Akkerman rates it 2.5 Rock-Stars out of 5.

Pick up a copy from the local library or purchase your own though this link: