Indulge Your Senses: Scaling Intimacy in a Digital World – Michael Dorf with Paul Keegan

Michael Dorf, founder of the iconic Knitting Factory music venue in New York, became one of the earliest pioneers of innovative live music in the 1990s.

He later launched a wine-making facility in Manhattan for patrons who could also have dinner in a cozy three-hundred-seat venue. They could watch concerts by artists such as Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, and Esperanza Spalding.

Michael Dorf discovered that his City Winery concept worked beautifully so he expanded it into a national network of clubs. His venues are sold out nearly every night, from Boston to Nashville. Patrons are eager for the visceral and sensory experiences he offers them.

Indulge Your Senses: Scaling Intimacy in a Digital World shares tales of three decades of entrepreneurial business experience. Give it a read.

The Hot Rats Book: A Fifty-Year Retrospective of Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats

A movie for your ears – Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats album was released 50 years ago today, October 10, 1969. A magnificent recording that compels us to listen to it over and over again.

December 15th, The Hot Rats Book by Bill Gubbins and Ahmet Zappa launches via Backbeat Books celebrating the 50th anniversary of Zappa’s Hot Rats album.

The commemorative book will feature previously unpublished photographs by Gubbins. He was the only photographer permitted to document the record’s studio sessions.

The book also includes an interview between Ahmet and Gubbins about the album. It also covers the last Mothers Of Invention US show. That event took place on August 10, 1969, at Cleveland’s Musicarnival.

Ahmet says: “These books provide another way for fans to connect with Frank Zappa. They give a fascinating window into Frank’s mind and the ideas he came up with throughout his career.”

Year of the Monkey – Patti Smith

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith
Penguin Random House

From the National Book Award-winning author of Just Kids and M Train, a profound, beautifully realized memoir in which dreams and reality are vividly woven into a tapestry of one trans-formative year. This book is due to be released on September 24th, 2019.

Following a run of New Year’s concerts at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore, Patti Smith finds herself tramping the coast of Santa Cruz, about to embark on a year of solitary wandering. Unfettered by logic or time, she draws us into her private wonderland with no design, yet heeding signs–including a talking sign that looms above her, prodding and sparring like the Cheshire Cat. In February, a surreal lunar year begins, bringing with it unexpected turns, heightened mischief, and inescapable sorrow. In a stranger’s words, “Anything is possible: after all, it’s the Year of the Monkey.” For Smith–inveterately curious, always exploring, tracking thoughts, writing–the year evolves as one of reckoning with the changes in life’s gyre: with loss, aging, and a dramatic shift in the political landscape of America. 

Smith melds the western landscape with her own dreamscape. Taking us from California to the Arizona desert; to a Kentucky farm as the amanuensis of a friend in crisis; to the hospital room of a valued mentor; and by turns to remembered and imagined places, this haunting memoir blends fact and fiction with poetic mastery. The unexpected happens; grief and disillusionment set in. But as Smith heads toward a new decade in her own life, she offers this balm to the reader: her wisdom, wit, gimlet eye, and above all, a rugged hope for a better world. 

Riveting, elegant, often humorous, illustrated by Smith’s signature Polaroids, Year of the Monkey is a moving and original work, a touchstone for our turbulent times.

Rock Critic Law: 101 Unbreakable Rules for Writing Badly About Music By Michael Azerrad

This is when best of music book lists appear to help readers with holiday gift suggestions.

I read these best music book lists to see if my purchases appear on critics radar screens. These lists point out valuable music books I have missed and wish to add to my music library.

I have read several best of 2018 music book lists in the past two weeks. I keep returning to  The 2018 Music Book Gift Guide from Paste Magazine Top 10 list.

The first music book on Paste’s list is, “Rock Critic Law: 101 Unbreakable Rules for Writing Badly About Music” written by rock journalist, Michael Azerrad

Michael Azerrad uses Twitter to cultivate his readership, https://twitter.com/RockCriticLaw I follow him primarily to improve my music writing skills.  His book helps recognize and avoid music writer tropes which impact effective communication.

If you are a music journalist you will appreciate this book’s tongue in cheek approach. (I’m sorry was that a cliche’?)  The use of illustration and narration create a novel method of writer reinforcement.

Bitten By The Blues

Bitten By The Blues: The Alligator Records Story – Bruce Iglauer & Patrick A. Roberts

University of Chicago Press

bruce iglauer book image

Alligator Records may well be the premier blues record label on the planet. A quick review of the label’s releases over the past forty-seven plus years turns up one legendary artist after another, and some of the leading lights of the current blues scene. At the center of the label stands Bruce Iglauer, founder and owner, who now gives blues fans a deep, compelling look into how he built the label from a very humble start.

In the book’s forward, Iglauer is clear about his motivation for the Alligator label. “Most of Alligator’s records move your feet or your body, but we also try to make records that move that other part: your soul. It’s music that can cleanse your inner pain by pulling that pain right out of you….the mission of Alligator, was to carry Chicago’s South and West Side blues to a worldwide audience of young adults like me. Now it has become a mission to find and record musicians who will bring the essence of blues – its catharsis, its sense of tradition, its raw emotional power, and its healing feeling – to a new audience”.

As a college study in Wisconsin, Iglauer visited Chicago, primarily to visit the Jazz Record Mart and to find a blues band to book for his school’s homecoming dance. Once there, he fell under the spell of Bob Koester, legendary owner of the store and the Delmark Record label. Koester assigned one of his employees to take Iglauer around to some of the clubs on the south and west sides of Chicago. At a small joint owned by the late Eddie Shaw, Iglauer saw guitarists Otis Rush, Jimmy Dawkins, and Hound Dog Taylor, who made an indelible impression.

Finishing school, Iglauer made a permanent move to Chicago, where he started working full-time hours as the Delmark shipping clerk for part-time pay. He spent his nights in the blues clubs throughout the city. Iglauer would frequently catch Taylor and his band, watching them fill the dance floor night after night. It was a raw sound form a self-taught musician, as the author notes,”He couldn’t read music and probably could not have told you the name of the notes the strings of his guitar were tuned to, and, as he tuned by ear, they might be different on different nights”. Once he established that Koester had no interest in recording Taylor, Iglauer put his plan together to record the band with Brewer Phillips on guitar and Ted Harvey on drums. Those sessions became Hound Dog Taylor And The House Rockers, the 1971 release that announced the start of a new blues record label.

Along with co-author Patrick A. Roberts, Iglauer weaves a fascinating narrative that delves into three separate aspects of the Alligator story. An obvious focus is the owner’s recollections of all of the artists that found a home on the label, many becoming close personal friends. From legends like Albert Collins, Koko Taylor, James Cotton, Luther Allison, and William Clarke, to guitar heroes like Johnny Winter, Roy Buchanan, and Lonnie Mack, as well as bringing Louisiana artists like Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Katie Webster, and zydeco king Clifton Chenier to a wider audience, Iglauer’s stories provide meaningful depth to our understanding and appreciation for these artists. There are also moments of sadness, with the passing of friends or tragic accidents, like the 1978 train derailment in Norway that nearly killed Iglauer and the entire Son Seals Band, in the mist of a European tour.

A second aspect of the book chronicles Iglauer’s growth as a human being, and as a label owner. He offers fair assessments of his shortcomings as well as some of his best ideas. The label hit the jackpot with the double disc Twentieth Anniversary Collection, which sold ten times the number of a regular solo artist release, and the Grammy winning Showdown, which combined the talents of Collins, Robert Cray, and Johnny Copeland. Early on, he learns several valuable lessons regarding the role of producer on recording projects, including the need to say no when required. At one point, Iglauer became a reggae fan, and released a number of fine recordings in that genre that failed to connect in the marketplace. Realizing his dream to work with another legend, Johnny Otis, Iglauer quickly learns what happens when you craft an album with too much blues for the R&B crowd, and not enough blues for that audience. He even readily admits to turning down a one-shot offer to record Stevie Ray Vaughan early in his career.

Perhaps a crucial part of the narrative concerns the description of the actual business of running a label. Over time, Alligator grew to be more than just a record company, offering artist management, bookkeeping, and tour booking services for the musicians on the label. Iglauer sheds a light on some areas of the business that the average fan may not understand. He enlightens readers on the practice of licensing recordings from other labels for release in a new market. His explanation of the record distribution system is telling, both in the way it progressed from the owner delivering boxes of albums from the trunk of his car, to major distribution companies that allow music to reach a wider market, but can be disastrous for a label like Alligator if the distributor fails, leaving tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices. There is also reflections on the challenges of selling albums versus compact discs, and the on-going struggle to figure out on to make money for the artists and the label as streaming services continue to have a severe negative impact on music sales.

It is a story well-told, one that will resonate with every blues fan. In fact, anyone who loves American roots music should pour through this book. Readers will undoubtedly gain new insights into some of their favorite musicians and classic recordings, in addition to getting a firm grasp on the magnitude of achievements that Iglauer has accomplished through the Alligator label. This one is most highly recommended!

Reviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife 😉

This review is courtesy of Blues Blast Magazine and is featured in the November 2018 issue.

Into The Light – The Music Photography of Jerome Brunet

I have a fantastic music photographer to share, Jerome Brunet.

He has a new coffee table book available now,  Into the Light – The Music Photography of Jerome Brunet 

The book is a twenty year portfolio that captures live performances of prominent musicians. His lens offers a unique view of the artist from the vantage point of the stage and orchestra pit.

This publication is a welcome addition to any music photography collection.

A portion of the proceeds will go to the Pinetop Perkins Foundation.

I can’t wait to get my signed copy in two to three weeks.