We recently asked Bruce Duff, musician, producer, manager, rock journalist, indie label executive AND the author of The Smell of Death, if he had any favorite music biographies, memoirs, or music books, or if he had read anything recently that he’d like to recommend. Here’s what Bruce had to say.
by Jann S. Wenner
I bought this brand new, age 15, and paid the full price of $1.25. A huge Lennon fan, and still am, my naïve, suburban mentality was not prepared for the unleashing of resentment, negativity, profanity and outrageousness that erupts from Lennon throughout this quick read. It begins with Lennon proclaiming if he could be a fisherman, he would, but he can’t because he’s an artist (and that’s no fun, it’s torture), and puts himself in league with Van Gogh and Beethoven. Why not? In December, 1970, Lennon was still fresh from primal scream therapy and he was letting it all hang out; this is nothing if not an eye-opening and exhilarating read. Side-note, if you can find it: Within months of this coming out back in the day, National Lampoon spearheaded the LP Radio Dinner, which includes the track “Magical Misery Tour,” in which quotes from the book are straight-up lifted or paraphrased into a Lennon-esque piano-rock song that could have come straight off his then-recent Plastic Ono Band album. Lennon was reliably imitated by Tony Hendra, who a decade later wielded a mighty cricket bat as the manager of Spinal Tap. The track was arranged by Tap guitarist Nigel, eh, Christopher Guest.
by Allan MacDonell
This is a vivid memoir of MacDonell’s days living at the renowned Canterbury apartments in Hollywood in maximum drug-crazed punk rock squalor. He by no means makes himself out to be any kind of hero, anti or otherwise, and his frankness is at times hard to take. Many names from the L.A. punk scene of the late ‘70s pop up, some, such as Don Bolles, are still with us causing varying degrees of mayhem. The adventures with Black Randy (of Black Randy and the Metro Squad, lost to the ages but on Spotify nonetheless) are a highlight. That MacDonell came out of all of this alive and well but thankfully no less cynical is a miracle in itself. He is also a writer’s writer; this is very enjoyable, tight, and edgy without coming off even slightly forced.
On the Road with the Ramones
by Monte A. Melnick and Frank Meyer
Monte Melnick was the Ramones tour manager. From their debut at CBGBs to their final concert in Los Angeles, he was along for the entire ride, right beside Joey and Johnny, the only band members to go the whole distance. Frank Meyer is not only a pro-writer but a genuine punk rock rabble rousing musician himself, and Meyer’s professionalism gives Melnick’s voice a readability and a pace that is just right. The band’s story and the stories within the story are often difficult to believe, and there’s a lot of heartbreak along the way. Nonetheless, the brotherhood that is the Ramones comes through, and jubilation of their numerous triumphs is all here too. And of course, being on tour is hard work, that’s not left out either. No matter how much you know about the Ramones, you will learn more with this book and enjoy the road trip.
by Rick Brown and Mike Stax
I’m old enough, just, to remember a time when all rock was played on AM radio, and those local top-40 stations would play a locally made single if it was thought to be good enough. In Riverside, California, where I did time thru my early twenties, the stations blasting from neighboring San Bernardino rocketed “Who Killed the Ice Cream Man” by Rialto-based quintet the Bush to the top of the charts in 1966. As the British Invasion was still a major influence, KMEN in San Berdoo had the very English jock John Ravencroft on early evening. His real name was John Peel — yeah, that guy — arguably the most famous radio DJ of the rock era. Before realizing the BBC might be a better fit that Southern Cali, Peel advised Bush contemporaries and the-local-band-to-beat the Misunderstood to get out of Riverside and go to England where they wouldn’t be so, eh, misunderstood, presumably. He could even provide a place to stay, with his mom! As the band boards an ocean liner (!) with all their gear headed towards England, the story begins in earnest. Rick Brown was the singer extraordinaire of the Misunderstood. Mike Stax is editor/publisher of the vital Ugly Things magazine, which is the bible of ‘60s beat boom/British Invasion/garage rock, and as such Stax is a dauntless researcher as well as an ace writer. Together, they weave the story of the Misunderstood, and it’s a doozy. Whereas the average band has to go head-to-head with the inherent evils of the record business, these strangers in a strange land were much more ravaged by an often-forgotten foe: the U.S. draft and the Vietnam War. Brown does indeed get drafted as other members had already been, but Brown goes AWOL, and that is a major part of the journey here. I don’t want to give away the punch line, which is beyond belief, but suffice to say along the way he went to India and became a Hindu monk. That’s just one unlikely chapter in this unbelievable but 100 percent true story. As a side note, the band’s lead guitarist, Glenn Ross Campbell (who played a steel guitar through fuzz pedals and loud amps — incredible) remained in England and went on to form the heavy blues band Juicy Lucy. Never heard of them? At the dawn of the ‘70s, the New Musical Express voted them The Band Most Likely to Succeed. The runner-ups were Led Zeppelin, Yes and David Bowie. Like, Misunderstood is one rock ‘n’ roll saga you will not soon forget.
Lost in the Grooves
Edited by Kim Cooper and David Smay
Full disclosure: I am one of approximately 75 contributors to this collection. The contributors are an impressive collection of music scribes, biz insiders, musicians and ultimate record nerds who each contribute a few 300 word essays about records that for whatever reason were somewhat overlooked by the music-buying public at large. Much love, respect and more than a little humor is poured in here, as contributors explain what makes these individual slabs so great while grappling with why they failed to resonate as they should have. Familiar names from Megadeth to Yoko Ono mix with artists less known such as Sagittarius, the Nourallah Brothers and Hackamore Brick. You can open the book anywhere and dive in for a few pages. It’s an energetic read and a record nerd’s delight. Admit it, you’re one too.
The Real Frank Zappa Book
By Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso
There have been numerous books and documentaries covering the entire or partial career of Frank Zappa, and a lot of them are pretty great, but this is the one you need. As you might expect, Zappa avoids retelling his long and extremely unique story in a manner typical of a memoir.It is by and large chronological, but past that, Zappa takes you sideways through his mind and is beyond generous with his opinions. As a composer who was nearly as influenced by his early work as a graphic artist as by his musical experiences, Zappa unleashes a book that utilizes any/all typographical nuance to help intensify his points. Sub-chapter headers, ALL CAPS, bold, italics, centered lines, Q & A, sections written in script form, it’s nearly as intricate as some of his scores. Zappa was able to compose music in any genre that interested him and make it complex and challenging but never boring or elitist. Famously, while doing this, he also included heaping doses of his singular sense of humor, which could skate from sardonic to satirical to scatological, often within a couple of verses. Similarly, this book will make you laugh as well as scratch your head (as Frank does) at some of the many things that defy logic and common sense in the world we live in. The saga caps in 1988, with Frank discussing some of the advantages of the digital music on the horizon as compared to the cumbersome and often unreliable vinyl record manufacturing procedure. Funny how time rolls on. At any rate, much to dig into here, from early days with the original Mothers, battling censors in England while bringing 200 Motels to the stage, being attacked on stage and recovering and recording in a wheel chair, his battles with the Washington Wives, and much, much more. Even if you’re not his biggest fan this book is a non-stop blast.
By Paul Drummond
This is my favorite of the seven.The story is so unprecedented and the participants so unwavering in their resolve that, well, I promise you’ve never read anything quite like this. The term ‘psychedelic’ gets tossed around a lot these days, and if you have a phase shifter and delay device at play in your computer, you’re probably psychedelic too. As with anything, someone had to be first. Meet the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Ahead of the curve in 1965--and in Austin, Texas, a place where marijuana received zero acceptance, much less LSD — the band rose to prominence and influenced bands from the West Coast to England. Tommy Hall didn’t so much form the band as instigate it. A local LSD shaman of sorts with zero musical experience, Tommy played a jug with a pick-up inserted. Basically mouthing fast, arpeggio-like figures and rhythms into the thing, it gave the Elevators a percolating rhythm similar to Arp-style synth music a decade later. Hall pulled two of the best local hotshots into the band: surf-inspired guitarist Stacy Sutherland and teen belter Roky Erickson, the latter having already had a minor local hit with the Spades, the Roky-penned “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” which would go on to be the Elevators’ most famous song. As the book relates, getting a record deal, having hits, and going on tour, while fine for most bands, wasn’t really the big picture for these Texans. They seriously wanted to create a spiritual awakening spurred on by LSD, which the entire band of course took before performances. The story has many twists and turns; this is not a quick, easy read. Drummond spent 11 years researching, compiling interviews, digging deeper, and it shows. Drug addictions, mental hospitals, shock treatment, overdoses, murder, cults, leader Hall living in a cave… this is not your typical rock ‘n’ roll story. Get familiar with the music then get this book.
#bruceduff #johnlennon #jannwenner #theramones #themisunderstood #scram #frankzappa #rockerickson #thirteenthfloorelevators