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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Back to main page

Signed, Sealed, and DeliveredSigned, Sealed, and Delivered: the Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder
Mark Ribowsky (John Wiley & Sons)

Endless twists, turns, ups and downs – not to mention truckloads of fantastic music – mean that the Stevie Wonder story has everything that might appeal to a prospective biographer. Despite this, the gifted vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and activist has hitherto been rather underserved in this department – a point acknowledged by Mark Ribowksy in the introduction to his extremely detailed and highly readable account. From the beginning, it is clear that Wonder simply refused to let his blindness and impoverished background stand in the way of realising his musical dreams. The ability to get a tune out of pretty much any instrument you care to mention quickly brought him to the attention of Motown, where he became the label’s resident child prodigy. 1966’s ‘Uptight (Everything Is Alright)’ was his songwriting breakthrough, but a mere taster for the phenomenal run of self-composed and mostly self-played albums spanning 1972’s Music of My Mind and 1976’s Songs In the Key of Life – a period whose heady creative rush and palpable sense of excitement is well-evoked by Ribowsky. Some readers might question the compression of Wonder’s post-‘70s life into only 50 pages, but most are likely to applaud the overdue examination of an extraordinary musical career.
David Davies

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Jah WobbleMemoirs of a Geezer
Jah Wobble
(Serpent’s Tail)

From low frequencies overlord in the first incarnation of PiL to evermore questing sonic adventurer, bassist and producer Jah Wobble’s 30-year career has been consistently eventful and intriguing. If this sounds like the recipe for a first-rate memoir, you are correct; Memoirs of a Geezer doesn’t only provide an eloquent and thoughtful reflection on the music and the circumstances that surrounded its creation, it also looks beyond to the wider economic and political context (he is particularly good on the changing landscape of East London, his home until the late ‘90s). After a fraught departure from PiL and an increasingly chaotic early ‘80s, Wobble’s life underwent a profound shift when he stopped drinking in 1986, and this traumatic transition is conveyed to powerful effect. A brief ensuing period away from music – including a spell working on the London Underground – is similarly resonant, as is Wobble’s subsequent return to performance in a dizzying array of collaborations and configurations. And, above and beyond all that, there are some cracking anecdotes: the account of a run-in with Sean Hughes on an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks is especially priceless. In short, the geezer done good.
David Davies

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 Johnnie WalkerThe Autobiography
Johnnie Walker
(Penguin)

From Radio Caroline pioneer to Radio 2 favourite, Johnnie Walker’s career has paralleled the development of British popular music broadcasting. It’s an arc that is evoked with admirable deftness of touch in a memoir that never stints on the gritty, occasionally embarrassing detail. Beginning life as Peter Waters Dingley – the name change took place on the eve of his radio career – Walker took little interest in school and initially seemed destined to work his way up in reluctant fashion at a relative’s car dealership. A passion for music and an increasing number of local DJ slots prised open another door, however, and it wasn’t long before Walker secured an interview with splendidly-named Radio Luxembourg producer Eggy Lay. “You’ll never be a DJ as long as you live” was Lay’s discouraging conclusion, but Walker persisted and was broadcasting for Radio England within a year. This entire period is recalled with great excitement, but Walker is equally compelling when it comes to the many highs and lows of his subsequent career, not least his ultimately ill-fated excursion to the US and more recent battles with cocaine addiction and cancer. Now happily recovered, Walker has written a skilful memoir of considerable warmth and character.
David Davies

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RonnieRonnie
Ronnie Wood
(Chrome Dreams)

‘I’m damn lucky to still be here and I know it’ would be an apt subtitle for this likeable memoir by the, erm, hard-to-dislike former Faces and long-time Stones guitarist. Since his first serious engagement with the London music scene in the mid ‘60s, through his long (and increasingly problematic) association with Jeff Beck, and on to his two most celebrated roles in the Faces and, latterly, the Stones, Wood has regularly suffered from bad decision-making (both his own and others’) with sometimes devastating financial, family or health implications, only to somehow emerge with his talent and trademark sense of humour intact on every occasion. What’s more, with the exception of a few previous managers, he bears remarkably few grudges. As this might imply, Ronnie is hardly overburdened by genuine revelation – though the depths to which he sank during his late ‘70s freebasing phase are surprising – but the resonant portraits that emerge of, in particular, Rod, Keef and Charlie provide ample compensation. The sense of a ‘trailing off’ that hampers so many rock veterans’ memoirs is also absent since Ronnie’s thriving second career as a portrait artist now rivals his day job in terms of both acclaim and financial reward.
David Davies

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Inside The Music... Inside the Music of Brian Wilson
Philip Lambert (continuum)

Some might argue that the prospect of a genuinely illuminating tome on the former Beach Boys mainman emerging after so many have already hit the shelves is about as likely as Richard Dawkins taking over presenter duties on Songs of Praise. However, Lambert’s deep-mining approach to the Wilson back catalogue – analysing his many and varied influences (Gershwin, the Four Freshman) and tracking the evolution of his songwriting style from straightahead surf-pop to elaborate triumphs like ‘Good Vibrations’ – does succeed in casting new light on the great man’s work. Indeed, at its simplest level, it highlights quite how much work was done, especially in the early ‘60s when Wilson had to balance a desire to develop his craft with numerous extra-curricular projects and constant calls for new BB product (the group made three albums in 1963 alone). It is, however, the section on the writing and recording of Pet Sounds that is most compelling, with Lambert expertly establishing recurring tonal motifs and the manner in which the lyrics of collaborator Tony Asher provided a perfect complement to Wilson’s ambitious music. At this point, the book approaches the level of scholarship that Ian MacDonald brought to the Beatles’ work with Revolution In the Head.
David Davies

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****************************************************************** Tom Waits: Innocent When You Dream
Edited by Mac Montandon
(Orion)

There are very few artists who would benefit from the publication of a collection of their interviews – which in most cases, let’s face it, would simply prove what a generally tedious and repetitious experience the whole process is. Then there’s Tom Waits, a deeply private man who, as a way of deflecting any rooting around in his personal life, approaches the interview as a performance. In short Waits tells lots of porkies, there are small nuggets of truth dotted around, but on the whole a Tom Waits interview offers nothing more revealing than entertaining observations which mirror the left field clatter and thrum of his song-writing. Was he born in back of a car? Possibly. Did his stepfather’s mother date Al Capone? Highly unlikely. Was he the first person to utter the lines ‘I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy? Oddly enough probably yes. And when all’s said and done does it matter? Vivian Stanshall once remarked that the first time he heard Waits was ‘like being handed a saveloy, blindfolded, at a gay party’ which is about as ludicrously concise a summation of Waits appeal as this fine collection is of his career to date.
Ruby Palmer

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