8 of my favourite rock and roll books

Life

Life, by Keith Richards

Keith Richards’ Life is a book that is just as endlessly quotable as its author is off the page. It’s an amazing read, with the longest and strongest part of the book dealing with Richards’ childhood in war/post-war Britain – marked by poverty and bomb sirens – and the early years with the Rolling Stones. Richards’ stories about touring, drugs, partying, his passion for music and his love of guitars, and his memories of how the Stones started out are rich in detail, hugely entertaining, and full of insight.

The man is also brutally (some might say cruelly) honest when he shares his point of view of the past, people he’s met along the way, and which musicians he respects and does not respect. I definitely gained a new understanding of his on/off relationship with Jagger from this book – there’s a lot more love in that love/hate relationship than I realized. He dishes all the dirt you could wish for, but this book goes way deeper than titillating road-stories – it really gives you a peek inside what makes Richards tick: musically and (to some extent) personally.

There are many moments in this book when Richards himself doesn’t really appear in the best light (they mostly have to do with his parenting skills in the 70s and his drug use), but that is also part of what gives you a feeling for the man behind the words. It’s a mesmerizing read, whether you’re a fan of the Rolling Stones or not.

Get it at Amazon: Life, by Keith Richards.

KickingAndDreaming

Kicking & Dreaming – A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll, by Ann & Nancy Wilson

This book is a real page-turner and an absolute must-read if you’re interested in Heart, rock and roll, and the music scene of the 1970s and 1980s. Ann and Nancy lived through some fantastic times and some hard times and some absolutely crazy-whacko, big-hair times in the music business. Their stories about how Heart was formed and grew and changed over the years, their musical inspiration and background, their trials and tribulations in the music biz, and their run-ins with other musical greats is often hilarious and always keeps your interest. (Their stories about Eddie Van Halen and Freddie Mercury are priceless and touching.)

What surprised me the most was probably how involved they were in the Seattle grunge scene in the 1990s: they knew all the main players and obviously still have great affection for that younger troupe of musicians. Both sisters are great storytellers and have no fear of telling it like it (and was).

Get it at Amazon: Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll, by Ann & Nancy Wilson

Lizzy_Book

Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town, by Harry Doherty and Scott Gorham 

The story of Thin Lizzy is in many ways the story of Phil Lynott, and it’s a story with a lot of glorious highs and a lot of tragic lows. This book by Harry Doherty goes deep inside the life of the band: how it formed, how it struggled through the early lean years, and then hit the big time. It’s a story told with a lot of inside knowledge and a lot of love: Doherty became a friend of Lynott’s, and his love and respect for the band, the band’s music, and for the front-man is obvious and really adds to the reading experience.

Gorham provides some real insight as well, and some heartbreaking and hilarious insider stories: his feelings of trepidation the first time he hit the stage with Thin Lizzy in Ireland is a prime example. Both Gorham and Doherty illustrate vividly in this book how hard it was for Thin Lizzy to find a producer capable of capturing the band’s live energy in the studio. (Just imagine if Thin Lizzy had found their own George Martin!). There are lots of stories here about the many different guitarists that came and went (and came back again) through the years, and some brilliant tales from Gorham about writing songs with Lynott, touring the US, and how that signature guitar sound came about.

Get it at Amazon: Thin Lizzy: The Boys Are Back in Town, by Harry Doherty and Scott Gorham

ItssoEasy

It’s So Easy (and other lies), by Duff McKagan

Duff McKagan’s book delves deep into the origins of Guns N’ Roses with a wealth of insider information and detail about how the band got together, the band members’ various musical origins, and what an absolutely crazy ride the band went on after Appetite For Destruction was released. But it’s also McKagan’s own story of how he started out in the same music scene that would eventually spawn grunge, and how he was almost devoured and destroyed by the excess that followed Guns N’ Roses meteoric rise to fame.

McKagan has a great writing style that really draws you in, and his positive perspective on his past life and his present career gives the book some real depth and spirit.

Get it at Amazon: It’s So Easy: and other lies, by Duff McKagan

WhatYouWant

What You Want Is In The Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born, by Michael Walker

Yeah, the full title pretty much says it all: this is a closeup look at three bands and how their success in the early 1970s were part of a big change in the music business. The way things worked back when The Beatles gained super stardom in the 1960s was the old way. The new way was defined by the success and excess of the bands mentioned in the title, and it was a lot wilder and woolier than anything the Fab Four got up too (really)!

This book contains a wealth of great behind the scenes details from the bands’ various tours – tours that changed each band in question, as well as the business of touring itself. There’s also a lot of insight into the inner workings of each band: both in the studio, on stage, back stage and in private. I learned a whole lot about Alice Cooper’s early career that I didn’t know before. I also had no idea just how crazy the shenanigans got inside The Who! This book gets a bit heavy on the hyperbole at times and sometimes feels a bit gossipy, but it’s a great read and an interesting take on how the music business evolved in the 1970s.

Get it at Amazon: What You Want Is in the Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born, by Michael Walker

AdlerMy Appetite For Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns N’ Roses, by Steven Adler

Like Duff McKagan’s book, Steven Adler’s story gives the reader a lot of insight into the background and creation of Guns N’ Roses. But unlike McKagan, who seems to have defeated his demons by the time he wrote his book, Adler was still not quite out of the woods when My Appetite For Destruction was written, though not for lack of trying. As I read the book, I felt that Adler still didn’t always quite understand just how badly screwed up he was at various points in his life. That lack of insight is both jarring and revealing at the same time.

Not surprisingly, Adler’s story is heavy on partying, drugs, and behind the scenes excess. But when he speaks of how G N’R’s signature sound came about, or almost casually reveals details of just how difficult his childhood and younger years were, it allows you to see another side of the man beyond the drugged up haze.

Get it at Amazon: My Appetite for Destruction: Sex, and Drugs, and Guns N’ Roses, by Steven Adler with Lawrence J. Spagnola

2 other great titles:

ironman

Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath, by Tony Iommi

After reading this book, I was amazed that anyone in Black Sabbath survived the pranks they pulled on each other. It’s an entertaining read with great anecdotes, and the origin of Iommi’s iconic play-style (chopping off his fingers!) is a real defining moment and centerpiece. This short movie lays it all out in agonizing cartoon detail…

Joni_Mitchell_in_Her_Own_

Joni Mitchell, by Joni Mitchell and Malka Marom

This book is made up of several interviews that Malka Marom did with Joni Mitchell through the years, from the early days of Mitchell’s career, all the way up to 2012. The interviews are in-depth, broad in scope and at times very intimate and revealing. If you’re looking for insight into Joni Mitchell’s life and especially her creative process, you will definitely find that here.

Mitchell comes across as funny, opinionated, self-confident and almost arrogant at times – though reading this book you come to realize that she’s needed every shred of that confidence and arrogance to carry through her artistic visions through the decades.

She touches on her relationships with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, she dives deep into the origins of her own musical awakening and creativity, and she is blunt and forthright throughout each one of these interviews. Definitely a great read for anyone with an interest in Joni Mitchell, or the world of music since the 1960s.

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3 comments

  1. There’s a few there still on my list to read. I would say ‘Life’ might just be the best rock n roll autobiography ever, and that’s from someone who’s read ‘Diary of a Rock n Roll Star’ by Ian Hunter. Duff’s was wonderful too. Other faves of mine would be Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn boy by Tony Visconti, and DLR’s Crazy from the Heat.

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