At least every third book I read is a music biography. In fact, I have to stop myself from reading them exclusively. I think I’ve mentioned before that Peter Guralnick is – for my money – the best music writer of his generation. I met him at a book signing a few years ago for his tome on Sam Phillips and reviewed his Sweet Soul Music just last year.
His latest publication – Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music & Writing is a collection of bios, some old, some new. He even talks about his own adventures as to how he fell in love with country blues when he was 15 and never looked back. He became THE writer when he released his two Elvis books back in the mid-90s. (Highly recommended.)
Let me give you some idea of what’s contained in this book and a taste of some of the music. (Interestingly, he also has tributes to two writers I never heard of, Lee Smith and Henry Green.)
Guralnick knows (or knew) a fair number of the people in this book and became friends with some of them and their families. He covers (partial list):
- Robert Johnson
- Ray Charles
- Bill Monroe
- Johnny Cash
- Songwriter Doc Pomus
- Songwriters Leiber and Stoller
- Willie Dixon
- Chuck Berry
- Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint
- Howlin’ Wolf
- Jerry Lee Lewis
- Eric Clapton
Let’s give a listen to some of that funky stuff. One of the guys he covers is Lonnie Mack, a guitarist who was a personal hero to Stevie Ray Vaughan (and not surprisingly, Jeff Beck.) Lonnie came out of the unlikely (for blues) state of Indiana. He is not a household name but the guitarists know and love him.
I quoted SRV in my series on him: “SRV: “The first record I ever bought was Lonnie Mack’s Wham! I played it over and over and over and over and over so many times, my dad got mad and broke it! Every time he broke it, I just went and got another one.”
Here are SRV and Lonnie doing “Wham!”
Gurlanick does a long piece on a guy I never heard of, a country singer named Dick Curless* from Maine (of all places). Way up in Maine, in fact, close to Canada. He grew up with music in the house, always a good thing in my book. “Whether at home or across the border,” Curless relates, “the fiddles would come out, and the guitars and harmonicas and the spoons, and they’d roll back the rug, and everybody would dance on the floor, my grandfather, everybody.”
Curless had a big hit in 1965 with a song called “A Tombstone Every Mile.” But I confess I dig his version of “Six Days on the Road.”
Well it seems like a month since I kissed my baby goodbye
I could have a lot of women but I’m not alike some other guys
I could find one to hold me tight
But I could never make believe it’s all right
Six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight
I’ve mentioned Delbert McClinton on these pages before. Wikipedia: “McClinton was born in Lubbock, Texas, and relocated with his family to Fort Worth when he was 11 years old. He worked in a bar band, the Straitjackets, who played backing Sonny Boy Williamson II, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Jimmy Reed.
McClinton recorded several regional singles before hitting the national chart in 1962, playing harmonica on Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby.” On a tour with Channel in the United Kingdom, McClinton instructed John Lennon on the finer points of blues harmonica playing.”
Delbert got the blues fever early too. “I heard Big Joe Turner’s “Honey, Hush. There were no words for – like, what is that? I was tingling all over. Goddamn. Because it was definitely not Patti Page.”
Here’s Delbert and a crackerjack band on the Greatest Music Show of All Time, Austin City Limits. The tune is “Shakey Ground” probably the funkiest tune the Temptations ever did. I thought Delaney and Bonnie had covered it but it was Phoebe Snow. You can hear the Tempts version here if you’re so inclined.
Surely Solomon Burke needs no introduction. (He does need an introduction and don’t call me Shirley). Solomon was a singer, a preacher, a ladies’ man – he was larger than life. And large. Keith Richards said he weighed about 500 pounds. Guralnick: “He was without question the greatest singer of any kind that I’ve ever seen, one of the most inventive showmen, also one of the most brilliant, profound, and certainly the funniest person I’ve ever met.”
Does “Everybody Need Somebody To Love?” Yes, indeed. If I recall correctly the Blues Brothers covered this. But this is the real deal:
*Curless’ son-in-law was a guy from New Jersey named Bill Chinnock. Chinnock was “a prominent member of the Jersey Shore music scene during the late 1960s, leading bands that included future members of the E Street Band. In fact, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent, and Vini Lopez were part of some version of Chinnock’s band and all eventually rolled into Bruce Springsteen’s Steel Mill. That band used to play a Chinnock song called “Crown Liquor.”