Book 'Em

Taking a look at some of the best music literature from the past few months

On to other brothers: The Nevilles, the Mount Rushmore of New Orleans music, collaborated with David Ritz on The Brothers (Little, Brown). Art, Aaron, Charles and Cyril Neville all offer a string of reminiscences regarding women, drugs, clashes with the law (more than you'd imagine), and enough encounters with legendary musicians to merit a trading-card series. While the writing approach makes the reading a bit choppy -- each paragraph is a different brother's take on the band's and the family's history -- the multiple angles avoid all the boring detail that a straightahead, more in-depth bio would necessitate. There are lots of stories relating to the brothers' early band, the Meters, as well.

Could be that Andrew Loog Oldham was driven into his phenomenal success as the Rolling Stones' manager to compensate for his mother giving him "Loog" as a middle name. Nothing in his autobiography, Stoned: A Memoir of London in the 1960s (St. Martin's Press), to substantiate this, but something freaky motivated this power-hungry Svengali to establish himself as a figure of note long before Bill Graham, Malcolm McLaren and others managed to do so. The book unearths a version of the Stones so far back in their history we've forgotten that at one point they were actually innocents. Oldham, still living with his mother while first managing the Stones, recalls Mick Jagger seeking advice regarding girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton whacking him during their brawls, a cocky Keith Richards still itching for street fights, and Oldham locking Jagger and Richards in his flat forcing them (successfully) to learn how to write songs. Less than half of the book is written by Oldham himself. Mixed with his own input are the recollections of more than 70 others who fraternized with the Stones during the era, the most familiar names being Gene Pitney, David Bowie, Pete Townshend and Marianne Faithfull. Stoned frustratingly ends in 1964, with Oldham producing the band's first album. However, fans can breathe easy as this is just the first installment of a planned trilogy.

Jazz writers are a wordy bunch, which has resulted in no shortage of Bible-length volumes on the history of bebop's 25-year reign beginning in the mid-'40s. But one of the most revered bop overviews is Ira Gitler's The Masters of Bebop: A Listener's Guide (Da Capo Press), which weighs in at a mere 300 pages. The book, in its second revised version since its original 1966 publishing, presents a unique approach: Rather than a chronological history of the music, Gitler attacks bop through chapters on how each instrument adapted during the shift from the swing style to bebop's more frantic sound. Highly colorful bios preface the chapters: Dizzy Gillespie's story leads into an overview of bop trumpeters, Tadd Dameron's life is revisited prior to detailing the work of other bebop arrangers, and a fascinating bio of Bud Powell begins the chapter on bop piano.

Taking a similar angle, in Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco (A Cappella), Alan Jones and Jussi Kantonen have written a history that, rather than relate the era's happenings chronologically, recalls the scene by its lurid specifics. There are chapters on gay disco, jazz disco, orchestral disco and non-disco artists who slobbered after career revival by regurgitating old hits to a disco beat. The authors also review disco movies, Italy's and Britain's re-creation of the disco explosion, how drab wardrobes were electrified in preparation for the weekend, the fall of Studio 54, the Saturday Night Fever craze, which drugs were favorites of all those platform-shoed dance-floor freaks, and a step-by-step (literally) overview of the dance moves. Acknowledging that the era was intentionally all flash and no substance, the authors strip their writing down to all the lurid and goofy details to help draw readers in. Replications of the era's bare-bootied album-cover artwork makes up for discovering that country's George Jones and "Moon River" crooner Andy Williams attempted to boogie-oogie-oogie at low points in their respective careers.

Race With the Devil: Gene Vincent's Life in the Fast Lane (St. Martin's Press) is the first bio of the rock 'n' roll patriarch, a late-'50s guitar-slinging delinquent set up to fail by an industry bent on making him the next Elvis. Susan Vanhecke's very personable approach delves into a truckload of traumas that laid the groundwork for a badass/tragic rocker persona far more lasting than anything Presale contributed to the archetype. From Vincent's gimp leg (the result of a motorcycle accident) to the loss of soul brother/fellow rockabilly monster Eddie Cochran in a car crash, endless fights with family and band members, and finally his death from chronic alcoholism, Vanhecke hands over the quintessential portrayal of social loser as rock icon.

Since 1957, Whitney Balliett has been to the New Yorker's jazz pages what Pauline Kael was as the mag's resident film goddess. Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz 1954-2000 (St. Martin's Press) gathers nearly 50 years of artist portraits, along with book, album and concert reviews that show as much appreciation for the style of Cecil Taylor as Bix Beiderbecke. Balliett's a great storyteller, mixing his generally positive criticism with intriguing backstage tales and historical curiosities. Oddly, there's no table of contents to leaf through apart from the book being divided into five decades. Betcha, though, that the 300 or so entries include almost anyone the reader might want to search out.

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