BOOK REVIEW: “Encyclopedia Of Kiss” by Brett Weiss

Encyclopedia Of Kiss photo KissEncyclo_cover_zpszp3ci03m.jpg Published this past pay, Brett Weiss’ Encyclopedia of KISS: Music, Personnel, Events and Related Subjects (McFarland) is one of the most in-depth and interesting books to cover the world of one of the hottest bands in the land, and of course I speak of Kiss. Like most encyclopedia, it gets into the origins of what helped to form Kiss, where each member came from and pretty much everything that has been part of their path, from the hoopla over the mania that happened in the second half of the 1970’s, the die-down of the hype, the Music From The Elder era and when they decided to remove their make-up in the early 80’s, all of this is mentioned somewhere in the Kiss encyclopedia.

The book is done in alphabetical order by subject and name so if you wish to know a bit more about Paul “Ace” Frehley, you’ll also know about his former wife that he married in 1976 to the daughter they had together. Magazines, tours, endorsements, documentaries, events of interest, they’re pretty much here. Not being a deep Kiss fan as I once was, I couldn’t tell you if this book has anything and everything you could want. You’ll find out about the tour they went on for their Crazy Nights album but you will not see the complete tour itinerary or set-lists to find out if they stayed the same for the entire tour or when there were changes. You are able to find all of that “extra” stuff online and perhaps if you’re a much deeper Kiss fan, you already have links on where to go.

Nonetheless, if you have been looking for everything you could ever want about Paul, Gene, Ace, Peter, Eric, Vinnie, Bruce, and everyone else that has been part of the Kiss empire since the beginning, Encyclopedia Of Kiss is the perfect starting place.

(NOTE: The book now has a new cover in its second edition that was released in August. The new version has a silhouette of Gene Simmons playing bass.)

BOOK REVIEW: “Rap Tees” by DJ Ross One

Rap Tees photo RapTees_cover_zpstydq4wyk.jpg Rap Tees: A Collection of Hip-Hop T-Shirts 1980-1999 (powerHouse Books) is a book by DJ Ross One that honors the first era of hip-hop clothing that fans were able to buy not only as souvenirs but to show support for their favorite artists, just as rock fans have been able to for decades. Why is this significant? Because carrying a souvenir of your favorite music artist brings the fan closer to the artist, or at least sporting their logo on your chest makes it feel like a unique level of support even though that uniqueness is shared by anyone who buys a similar shirt.

DJ Ross One explores the many hip-hop T-shirts that have come over time. When it came to heavy metal T-shirts, its origins were rooted from the surfing and skateboarding communities, showing extra support by displaying their logo or a graphic design in reference to an album or logo. The rock T-shirt became a major part of the costume, especially for headbangers along with their denim fests and specific patches. Some of these traditions would be carried over into hip-hop, specifically when Def Jam became one of the first labels to make shirts for their artists and themselves. It seemed odd at first, for “why would anyone want to wear a T-shirt that said Public Enemy or the Beastie Boys? Why would anyone wear a logo in honor of a record company?” It’s the unusual dedication of “artist and record company pride” and once Def Jam’s clothing became a bit of promotion and hype when worn by other artists (Anthrax’s Scott Ian were Def Jam shirts religiously when he and the band went on tour in 1987 in support fo their Among The Living album), associated artists got involved before it began to open up to anyone in hip-hop willing to share their logo.

De La Soul shirts photo DeLa_shirts_zpssgz44ss9.jpg
DJ Ross One talks about the rise of a hip-hop shirt, whether it’s from through a company catalog or finding an offer in a cassette or 12″ single. Often times, snagging that T-shirt was a one-time thing not because they were thinking of creating limited editions, but because the budget was not big for hip-hop clothing, definitely not for a T-shirt. If you wanted a glow-in-the-dark De La Soul shirt, you had hoped you could get one or lose out. While many artists would have their own line of shirts in the early 90’s, the Wu-Tang Clan changed everything when they made a specfic line of clothing with their logos, originally just the yellow W over a black shirt. You had to hunt down those shirts when they weren’t widely available and once they obtained greater distribution, anyone who wanted to honor the power of the Wu could get one at the local mall. To be able to see T-shirts for everyone from Biggie to 2Pac, Digital Underground to Slick Rick, Queen Latifah to Nicki Minaj is interesting, for it also shows the progress of not only entrepreneurial success but the improvements of the designs themselves.

Rap Tees also touches on some of the bootleg T-shirts that were made not only in the late 80’s/early 90’s but in hip-hop for the last 25 years. If finding The Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy bootleg T-shirts became a trend, you may be able to find a bootleg shirt of your favorite artists at a swap meet, flea market, or corner store, even if the printing on the shirt might disappear after five washes.

Regardless, the hip-hop T-shirt managed to live in, not only for fans to buy but for ways to record labels, management, and the artists themselves to add to their means of promotion. Perhaps that means of promotion may have changed, for better or worse, with the rise of the internet and social media but fortunately if you need to find that specific shirt to sport, you may be able to find it on eBay, Etsy, or any other online merchant. Rap Tees shines the spotlight on believing in the hype from nothing more than a T-shirt and a silkscreen.

(NOTE: I was not able to get a hard copy of the book for review, I only received a digital edition. This review is based on that digital edition. You may order Rap Tees below from Amazon.com.)

BOOK REVIEW: “Born To Drum” by Tony Barrell

Born To Drum photo BornToDrum_cover_zpshxmbviwv.jpg Subtitled The Truth About the World’s Greatest Drummers–from John Bonham and Keith Moon to Sheila E. and Dave Grohl Tony Barrell’s Born To Drum (Dey St.) is a fairly detailed book about the power and strengths, along with the risks and myths, of being a drummer, focusing on popular bands but also within groups that may not be as huge as The Beatles but carry an influence that is strong among the genres they call their own.

As far as the myths, it’s that all drums are wacky, crazy, insane: bring up a word that has to do with the maniacal and next to it is a drummer’s picture and a list of musicians who carry that honor with pride. While drummers can be a bit crazy, most are not anywhere close to being that. In fact, many of them are very intelligent and if you put faith in recent articles, they’ll tell you the drummer is easily one of the most intelligent members of any group, and not just because they have to keep a rhythm or count math equations continuously. Barrell focuses on what makes these people become musicians and why they’re drawn in something that most people consider nothing but noise. It’s the stereotype that drums lack any sense of music when it is very much a part of what music is. He interviews a wide range of drummers from a wide range of music, so you’ll get to read on the inner makings of Phil Collins, Clyde Stubblefield, Mick Fleetwood, Nick Mason, Chad Smith, Clem Burke, Joey Kramer, Karen Carpenter, Mindy Abovitz, Debbie Petersen, Moe Tucker, ?uestlove, Terry Bozzio, Billy Cobham, Nicko McBrain, and the list goes on and on and on. Most of the information comes directly from interviews Barrell did with these drummers, touching on the rise and fall of being the backbone of all bands, but also getting into what some do when they’re not in the studio, on tour, or doing the promotional duties in hyping up what they do to make the money.

The book is not about the exploits of any specific musicians, the swagger of backstage adventures or the after effects of ones death, although occasionally those things are hinted it. It looks at these musicians as humans first, drummers second, so while it is very much a job to all of them, some of them do it because they love it, need it, or just find an attraction to making music or being the cacophony timekeepers on the stage that most people tend to ignore but without them, the rhythms would not be what is needed in all of music.

If you are someone who is a drummer or perhaps listens to music where the emphasis is the drums, you’re really going to love Born To Drum. If there is any one complaint, it’s that Barrell sometimes ends each chapter in almost a sing-songy writing style but in order for everything to tie in together, he has to let the reader know the direction of the book’s path so one can travel from one part of the book to another. It’s more a personal preference of mine than anything and most of you may not even notice it. Nonetheless, just as music is a means of travel, Born To Drum can be another map into where you’ll want to go next, whether it’s finding new music to listen to or redefining your skills as the leader of the traps. There are a lot of other drummers I wish were a part of this book (Brian Chippendale or Eric Akre, anyone?) but it’s a solid read from start to finish.

(The book can be ordered via Amazon.com below as a hardcover, paperback, and for Kindle.)

BOOK REVIEW: “Another Little Piece Of My Heart” by Richard Goldstein

Richard Goldstein photo RichardGoldstein_cover_zpsfc2d3761.jpg Subtitled My Life OF Rock And Revolution In The ’60s, Another Little Piece Of My Heart (Bloomsbury) is not so much Richard Goldstein’s autobiography but a few chapters of the life he has lived five decades ago, when his career started and he started to develop the character in his writer and started to explore the person that is Richard Goldstein.

If you know the name, you’ll know him perhaps for his many years with the Village Voice, which is does get into throughout the book. You’ll know him as a music critic, or as the promo material and the back of the cover states, “the first rock critic”. While the book doesn’t get in-depth about his childhood, what Goldstein does get into in Another Little Piece Of My Heart is the tight link between his love of music, writing, and passion. Throughout the book he gets into the passion for music and writing, why he had the need to write about his favorite bands and albums but he also gets into his passion for passion itself. He gets into his sexuality, finding a deep love for women but also gracing an attraction to men. There were moments throughout this book where I felt he was getting a bit more detailed than I cared to know but again, it’s his life, and thus in order to get to know from a distance what made him become the writer he became, we must know. Thus, the freedom of being a young man in New York City encouraged him to go further.

As the subtitled indicates, the core of this book is about the 1960’s so he touches on The Beatles and how much he loved their music up until Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The book doesn’t get in-depth on anything Beatles-related but he didn’t become a fan of the album until years later, and explains why. He meets up with singers and musicians, but he isn’t a name dropper so don’t expect flashbacks of people you hear on radio everyday. He does talk about Janis Joplin, partly the reason his book is called Another Little Piece Of My Heart but in truth, the passion he has for many things is the pieces of heart he gets to and somehow leave behind, and reading this is a chance to find if he pieces things together or lives life with pieces left behind.

There were moments of this book that I really enjoyed, such as when he touched on some of the semi-secrets of the music industry but this is not that type of book. The hidden treasures are the stories about his life, which includes being involved with the counterculture, discovering LSD and enjoying its trips, and getting involved with local and social politics to where he finds himself having a deep passion for a bit of the ultra violence. The way I’m talking about it here sounds like it’s some kind of fictional story but it’s not. The way Goldstein writes shows how he develops his flashbacks in a way that is meant to build and build until you have to lie in its afterglow. Within those build-ups is someone who isn’t or wasn’t afraid to be who he is/was, or at least to see what happens when he takes himself as far as he can go.

At times, Another Little Piece Of My Heart is less about music and more about… let me put it this way. If there is truth to the phrase “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll”, this book dips into each bag thoroughly, sometimes more than others. He does get out of the 1960’s but the last 45 years are minute compared to the bulk of the book but we learn how much his writing has changed, how writing more than just music and culture lead him to being known as a gay rights activist, and questions if his style of writing will be read during a time when journalism has drastically changed from when he started to see his name in print for the first time 50 years ago. Goldstein proves his heart, or its pieces, has always been where it needed to be, with occasional visits to where it shouldn’t just to see what it was like, and for the most part he has had no regrets.

(Another Little Piece Of My Heart will be released on April 14th.)

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BOOK REVIEW: Herbie Hancock’s “Possibilities” (with Lisa Dickey)

Herbie Hancock photo HancockPBook_cover_zpsdbd6bb7c-1.jpg When I heard Herbie Hancock did an autobiography, I had to read it. I’ve been listening to his music for over 30 years and have enjoyed exploring his catalog, going back and forth and enjoying much of what he has shared with the world, but I always wanted to know more about the man behind the music, and Possibilities (Viking) is an excellent way to read about his story from the man himself.

Written along with Lisa Dickey, Hancock goes throughout his life from his childhood in Chicago, the importance of family and friends, and what lead to him playing piano at the age of 7. His mom wanted to be sure he was classically trained and he was, and in time he would learn and embrace other musical styles too, although how he was introduced to jazz is a unique one for him. Once he fell in love with jazz, he wanted to know how much more he could do, where his talents may lead him, and what the world can offer him, which is part of why this book is named after one of his own albums.

The book explores what lead to him getting involved with Miles Davis to become a part of his “second” cherished quintet and while he played along with other musicians, he would gather information along the way that would help him with some tips that would lead to a very strong career, one that has now lasted 55 years. It’s great to read the stories on how playing behind Davis was an education in itself, but also how it made him stronger as a musician and as a person, which would eventually lead to him moving out of the quintet and into creating his own bands. What I enjoyed was reading his experience through the Mwandishi period which covered three albums on Warner Bros., the struggles and satisfaction of performing that music to crowds, and what lead to what ended up being a satisfactory jump to a new label, Columbia Records. It is his Columbia years that lead to at least two of his greatest celebrations, 1973’s Head Hunters album and 1983’s “Rockit” single.

In between he talks about exploring his limitations with his instrument, only to find himself discovering electronic gadgets and instruments that would take his talents a few steps further, if not higher. His girlfriend, who would become his wife, is very much along with his journey, along with their first child Jessica. With success came more challenges, including soundtrack opportunities, which managed to keep him busy. Hancock also covers being introduced to technology that we now taken for granted these days, including digital recording in 1976, a computer modem and computer chatting in 1979, and a compact disc in 1981, along with being told in the early 80’s that it may be possible for anyone to sell music through computers. For gearheads and tech nerds, he gets into how he and Stevie Wonder would occasionally battle over having the first editions of newly made keyboards and synth but for the most part, the book is not deep into the creations of his compositions and recordings. He touches on all of it throughout but it’s not to where only the diehard music fans will appreciate.

I was aware that he is a Buddhist, which is why I always loved how he once said he is not a musician, but a human first that happens to perform and play music, showing that there is a consciousness first before any sense of talent. What I wasn’t aware of was that he not only had a bit of cocaine throughout his life, but that he also had a bit of a crack problem. I had never looked that deeply into his life so this was new to me and most likely to everyone else, as he states that this dark chapter of his life was something he kept to himself, family, and close friends, only revealing it for the first time in the book. Through strength and determination, he was able to pull himself through.

Despite the ups and downs, Hancock has lead a satisfying life by being able to do the thing he loves along with the people he loves and adores, and explains that no matter what life has thrown him (or whatever he has come across in life), the idea of dealing with possibilities is what keeps him and his mind going. Outside of being a great read for jazz and music fans, Possibilities is very much about a life lived and lessons learned, in the hopes people will go through life while dealing with the differences in our time of existence.

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BOOK REVIEW: Glyn Johns’ “Sound Man”

 photo GlynJohns_cover_zpsdf6c2566.jpg If you have bought any rock albums in the last 50 years, you will have come across Glyn Johns’ name a number of times, as he was responsible for producing and/or engineering some of the music that has become a part of your life. He has been mythologized due to the work he did with The Rolling Stones and The Beatles but Sound Man (Blue Rider Press) tells the stories direct from the man himself, from his childhood tales to joining a choir that would lead him to become not only part of the recording studio, but part of the record industry.

As someone who is known as a producer and engineer, I had wondered (and perhaps hoped) that he would get technical about some of the projects that has made him someone to work with. It doesn’t get too technical or “over the head” at all but instead, he touches on meeting and working with the artists, his interaction with everyone involved and the experiences he may have had during a recording session or live shows. One is able to read about certain equipment from time to time but Sound Man isn’t a gear essay. Instead, Johns speaks from the perspective of someone who was there, yet at times he also writes as he was just a fly on the wall, observing what’s going on while putting together the process of what was and still remains his work.

The bulk of the book focuses on what he did in the 60’s and 70’s, which means extensive work with Led Zeppelin, the Stones, The Beatles, Eric Clapton, and so many others. It’s a chance to find out about the negotiations for artists, doing a lot of traveling from England to Los Angeles or New York and back, and seeing everyone pass him by as if it he was just taking a stroll through a school building and saying hello to old friends. Johns does reveal a few facts that may have been overlooked, such as certain musicians that played in well known songs and why, so if you loved Charlie Watts’ drumming in “It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It)”, you’re actually listening to Kenney Jones behind the kit.

The tales from the Sound Man are that from an employee and a fan, which makes it a pleasant read. By the last third of the book, we get to the 80’s and 90’s and the changes of the music industry as a whole and despite the setbacks, he moves forward and sticks with his job, occasionally having a bit of self-doubt but realizing his ears and expertise still hold a lot of value, as it has since the early 1960’s.

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BOOK REVIEW: “Bowie Treasures” by Mike Evans

 photo Bowie_cover_zps315718af.jpg Even if you’re a diehard fan of Davie Bowie, you’re going to enjoy a new book by Mike Evans called Bowie Treasures (Carlton/Sterling). On the outset, the book is sold in a hardcover slipcase, which looks quite good but then you have the contents. More on this later.

Evans has written an in-depth biography about not only David Bowie the singer, artist, and songwriter, but also goes back to his youth as David Jones, exploring his roots and also examining what lead him to become the person we know as The Thin White Duke, among many nicknames. While there are a number of familiar photos and stories throughout Bowie Treasures, what you’ll want to see are those rarely seen and told, which makes reading this a joy. It’s hard to believe that he has been recording and releasing music for six decades, and the book touches on why he remains relevant. It does touch on parts of his personal life, so if you’re looking for any serious dirt, you’re not going to get it here but it does hint at some of the stories of relationships that have been with him throughout the years.

The treasures in the book are not only the photos and stories, but there are also pockets and small booklets featuring everything from old concert photos, one of his first contracts as an artist, newspaper reviews, and tour booklet replications, which helps to add to the mystique of his music and artistry. Evans has done his share of research and definitely shows he is a huge fan too, which is perfect for any Bowie fan who bow down to the great man.

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BOOK REVIEW: Frank Owen’s “Beastie Boys: Book Deluxe”

 photo BeastieBoysBOOK_cover_zps890f5e3f.jpg With a title like Book Deluxe (Sterling), you definitely would expect for a book about the Beastie Boys to be packed with a lot of information and photographs. Fortunately, Frank Owen does a very good job in a book that has the statement “unofficial and unauthorized” on the back cover, away to say that none of the surviving members of the Beastie Boys had a hand in offering information. What the book does offer is a nice history of how Adam Horovitz, Michael “Clarence” Diamond, and Adam Yauch grew up and eventually met each other. The Beastie Boys were of course not the three members we knew and loved, there was another guitarist and a female drummer. Eventually, Horovitz joined the group and became the boys we knew and loved.

The book is done up like a well written magazine article, in fact at times it feels as portions were either influenced by well written articles or done for an article meant to be in a magazine, but the realization was that “maybe this could be a book”. The book covers tours, performances, TV appearances, and of course the music. What was of interest to me was how Owen covered Paul’s Boutique, and while there were some portions that seemed historically incorrect, it was overshadowed by some of the goings on between Capitol Records and the group. The group had hoped for Capitol to promote the album very well, label said sure. However, when chart statistics and sales were lower than expected (one million shipped, but half were being returned back to the warehouse), a change in promotion lead to the hype department being laid to rest. What Capitol wanted was something equal to Licensed To Ill. While Paul’s Boutique released two singles, none of it was considered “hit” worthy, or at least equal to “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” and “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”, nothing was dorky or stupid enough to compare. MC Hammer was growing in popularity by late 1989. Owen goes on to say that Capitol canceled their promotion for Paul’s Boutique because Donny Osmond’s new album was on its way, and they had to save time and money to blow that up. The group could have thrown in the hat and just gave up but fortunately, they had something to prove, which is what they would do for the remainder of the 1990’s. At the same time, each of the members showed how they were growing up individually and as a group, which only helped to keep them stronger as the Beastie Boys.

The sad thing is while a lot of information is given towards the recording and development of Licensed To Ill, Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, and Ill Communication, the coverage of Hello Nasty and To The Five Boroughs is extremely limited, and barely anything was discussed concerning The Mix-Up and Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2. So if you are looking for something on the level of the 33 1/3 book series, don’t expect that. What you will find is the story of three bad brothers that you wanted to know so well after hearing about them, and then wanting to know more about their histories, if only on the surface. Beastie Boys: Book Deluxe may not be a true deluxe effort, but it does offer a way to let people know why they mattered and why people will still care in the future, all packaged in a nice boxed cover.

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BOOK REVIEW: Scott Ian’s “I’m The Man: The Story Of That Guy From Anthrax”

 photo ScottIan_cover_zps99038eb0.jpg One of my favorite guitarists since high school now has an autobiography to call his own, and if he has been someone who had felt like he could’ve been your buddy at high school (or the cool guy at the record store who would always know not about the cool stuff, but the “next” stuff), you will definitely enjoy reading I’m The Man: The Story Of That Guy From Anthrax (Da Capo). If you became familiar with Ian in the 1980’s through Anthrax or maybe with the Stormtroopers Of Death, you’ll know that Ian is a fan of New York City for life, and he talks about his upbringing in Queens. He talks about his childhood, his relationship with his parents, his interests as a kid and what lead to some of his first musical influences. One thing lead to another and he knew he was hooked, but he didn’t realize how hooked he would become to the point where it would become a major part of his life, even though that’s what he wanted. Making music discoveries came a number of ways, with one of the biggest being that of his Uncle Mitch. If there is a moment where the seeds were planted, Ian describes it as being introduced to Black Sabbath’s first album in his uncle’s collection. On this album that he described as acid rock (a term he had not heard of before), he looked at the cover, heard the music, and knew he had to have more. Along with an uncle who appreciated comic books, that also started his fascination with superheroes, which would develop not only into Ian’s own interests in comic book collecting, but also songwriting.

The book continues about getting involved in sports a bit, dealing with friends at school and also discovering the wonder of girls. He touches on problems his parents had but knowing that his music could allow him to get his mind off of the domestic issues and carry him to a new places. In time he’d have his own guitar, an acoustic one at that, before having his own electric, and it was as if you could visualize the transformation from Scott Rosenfeld, Queens rocking kid to Scott Ian, rock’n’roll guitarist. These things lead to him going to clubs, finding new music and bands at record stores, and getting involved with hardcore and punk rock during a time when headbangers and punks would never mix together, especially in New York. These gatherings would eventually head to him gathering his bands together to form a band and in time would help form Anthrax. Even though we know Anthrax as being one of the sources of thrash and speed metal, Ian talks about it as an eventual development, not just through hard rock, heavy metal, and NWOBHM influences but whatever he had felt like bringing into his playing style. The sound was rough yet abrasive and with a level of confidence that didn’t involve him in saying no to anything or anyone, he went out to get his music throughout the city, not being aware that his music would travel much further.

Interesting moments in this include meeting up with the members of Metallica for the first time, getting to know bassist Cliff Burton and becoming a deep friend with Kirk Hammett; meeting up with Johnny Zazula; flying to Europe for the first time to do shows; and meeting with some of his musical heroes during the 1980’s, which included everyone from Lemmy of Motorhead to the guys in Iron Maiden. Outside of the personal friendships, Ian reveals the inside information about the recording industry, how things began as a band releasing their first record on an independent label to being a group-in-demand by a major label to getting advances that were beyond what they were expecting. The thrill was exciting and when Ian brought in his love of rap music into Anthrax’s world for a few minutes, that only helped open the world for them a bit more.

While the 1980’s were very much a peak for the band, the 1990’s began as a world of fantastic adventures for the group but in time, Ian found that not everything turns to gold and that if one thing can get worse, it might lead to what feels like an endless thing of other bad things to happen. He touches on how Anthrax were signed with the same label as Metallica (Elektra Records) with a new singer, had faith with the label only to realize his decisions were disapproved by the label heads, only to lose faith when the label’s decisions lead to less-than-impressive results in terms of sales. One thing leads to another, and it becomes a blame game, trying to maintain the integrity of yourself and the band while trying to let the label know you are the band worthy of the contract. Then for the label to let you know they’re letting you go. While Ian didn’t come from a wealthy background, he admits he had never been rich when Anthrax were at their highest point but to hear him talk about how he was literally scrounging to make ends meet is devastating, especially when I had assumed they were getting attention and selling fairly well. They were selling decently but to be caught within the period when the almighty grunge and alternative music was the biggest thing around, anything metal-related wasn’t doing good for everyone within the community, unless you were Metallica and Pantera. Dealing with the personalities within Anthrax are brought up a number of times, and as someone who was the face of the band and the main lyricists of most of their songs, he was putting his life on the line every day, only to find things around him were falling apart.

There is very much a positive side to I’m The Man, for despite the downside to being part of a rock band and dealing with the business of the industry, he talks about some of the parties and celebrating he did with different bands, finding sexual lust with ladies while trying to balance it with wive #1 or wive #2, and discovering that doing certain drugs is not good for him. There was a time when Anthrax always came off as a very clean band, not exactly Straight Edge or anything like that but unlike Metallica who were the Alcoholica boys, Anthrax seemed to be like their younger fans: comic book readers, movie buffs and nerds, and headbangers who may have done stupid shit at high school. It seems Ian’s primary vice was drinking beer, and it was never heavy. However, the person that changed him as a drinker was Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell, and that chapter in a book is worth reading from paragraph to paragraph. In time, he met up with the woman who would become the love of his life, which also happened to coincide with Anthrax’s new level of success.

Throughout I’m The Man, Ian talks about changing perspective not only of his music and career, but his own life, changing priorities and understanding that age and maturity can lead to good and better things. His work regimen was always strong, but it’s balancing it with everything else around him is also what keeps him going, even when there were low points along the way. You might read the book thinking it will be nothing but inside stuff about the band and the recording industry, and it does touch on all of this quite well. It also has Ian looking at the world from a personal perspective, to show how he loves his music but is also someone with a mind and a sense of humor. He isn’t afraid to tell everyone he is still a man-in-the-works, someone whom he will continue to work on throughout his life, and now will pass on his experiences in his life to his son.

As the lyric said, “now we’re Anthrax and we take no shit/and we don’t care for writing hits” and in I’m The Man, we learn how Ian didn’t take shit from anyone, be it his life or his career. It’s a wonderful book that has its share of wonderful peaks and depressing valleys, but it does lead to something positive and eventual good morals to the stories shared. To the man who made me want to find NOT shorts and actually lead me to shaving a rectangle in my stomach so I could have a half-assed version of the NOT shaving on his chest, thank you for your music and efforts behind Anthrax and S.O.D., your efforts will always be honored.

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BOOK REVIEW: “Benson: An Auto Biography” by George Benson with Alan Goldsher

 photo GeorgeBenson_book_zps8f211881.jpg George Benson was one of my first introductions to jazz music through my dad, who was a huge fan of his. My dad also loved Wes Montgomery, so enjoying Benson’s music made perfect sense. After singing, performing, recording, and releasing music for 60+ years, Benson has released an autobiography that is the story of his life and career starting as a kid inspired by his environment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Because of how many hits Benson has had in his career, it is possible that you may only know him for what you hear all the time on the radio, be it “Give Me The Night”, “This Masquerade”, “The Greatest Love Of All”, “On Broadway”, or “Breezin'”. These are great songs but they aren’t everything Benson is made of. You may be a jazz fan and know how he recorded albums for the CTI, Verve, and Columbia Records, and did sessions for countless musicians and singers throughout his career. You may dispute yourself over whether he’s a better singer or guitarist, or that he’s better off doing one than the other. The truth is, he’s good at both and even if you’re not a fan of one side of his music, Benson has had many sides of his career and he gets into it throughout this book. We get to know about how he lived on what was essentially an alley way, but how he didn’t make it an issue because growing up, it wasn’t an issue. He speaks of some of the people in his neighborhood, including those who may have given him a bad influence but it seems he didn’t take to it. He touches on how his talents became a factor in getting different jobs and tasks, all of which lead him from one place to another while staying in Pittsburgh. In time, people with New York connections wanted to work with him, which isn’t bad for someone who went into a recording studio for the first time at the age of 10. Not bad for someone who simply used his voice and playing a homemade ‘ukulele.

The book gets into how he started playing blues and jazz clubs, which introduced him to well known jazz musicians in Pittsburgh, which also helped open him to the world that awaited him. The bulk of the book focuses on his youth before he started to work for Prestige, Verve, and CTI Records, so if you ever wanted to know what lead him to reach the level he is now known for, you’ll read it here. The Warner Bros. period of the book is nice too, as you’re wanting to know where his head was at during a period in his life that seemed to help him escalate in status. Fortunately he stays humble throughout, but the information revealed will make you listen to these songs and albums in a different perspective.

One thing the book is not is a tell-all story of fame and fortune. While it does offer a few woes of the music industry, they are mentioned in passing, almost as very brief sidebars. While he is known for being a Jehovah Witness, his religious beliefs are nowhere to be discussed so he has chosen to keep his spirituality out of the public eye, at least in this book. He also doesn’t talk about romantic relationships or being married to the same woman since 1965. In fact, if you’re wanting this book to find out about Benson’s personal life and him getting down to the nitty and the gritty, you will get neither nitty nor gritty. In fact, his tone is quite clean and he keeps himself speaking without vulgarities, which may be one of many reasons why his career has lasted as long as it has.

If there’s one issue with this book, it’s that he seems to refer to himself, by name, almost every five pages. Benson believes in himself and talents, but part of the time it seems he is involved in personal branding. A part of me wanted to say “I know what book I’m reading and who it’s about, I don’t need for George Benson to refer to George Benson so frequently.” I’m not sure if that has to do with how Alan Goldsher co-wrote Benson’s story, there were moments when I felt Goldsher was working more like a publicist and less than the storyteller or historian. Yet a part of me also wondered if I should complain, for Benson’s story could not have been told if they did not collaborate in this project.

Other than that, the book will definitely make you change the way you think about Benson’s music and career, and offers a glimpse into the young kid whose goals only grew as his experiences increased with age and time.

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