Hitting the shelves this fall are several new biographies and autobiographies of rock, country and jazz stars that reveal never-before-heard refrains of personal anguish, as well as triumph.
In 1969, Crosby, Stills & Nash emerged as a supergroup, showcasing sweet harmonies and tight arrangements. One year later, Neil Young joined the band, and the quartet rocketed to superstardom on the strength of Graham Nash’s song “Teach Your Children.” Behind the scenes, though, life wasn’t so harmonious. In his honest and well-crafted memoir, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, Nash reveals the fierce struggles between Stills’ and Young’s titanic egos that eventually destroyed the group (although they have never officially broken up). With the lyrical flights of his best songs (“Carrie Anne,” “Our House,” “Chicago”), Nash carries readers on a journey from his often difficult childhood in the industrial north of England and the formation with Allan Clarke of the band that eventually became the Hollies, to his encounters with Mama Cass Elliot (who introduced him to David Crosby), Joni Mitchell, the Everly Brothers and Bob Dylan. While Nash holds back little, unveiling his disappointments with his own work and that of others, his love of songwriting and harmony remains: “I am a complete slave to the muse of music.”
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
While Nash tells his own story in his own words, Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant told journalist Paul Rees that he had no intention of writing a memoir because it was “too early in his career to do so.” Instead, Plant allowed Rees to have unparalleled access to his closest friends and associates to tell the story in Robert Plant: A Life. Rees chronicles Plant’s childhood as the son of an engineer in England’s industrial Midlands, where he would often hide behind the sofa and pretend to be Elvis. Deeply influenced by the blues (in particular the music of Robert Johnson), Plant began singing with local bands around Birmingham and left home at 17 to pursue a music career. But it was not until he teamed with Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page in 1968 that his ascension to rock-god status truly began. A few months later, after the band’s name was changed to Led Zeppelin, their rapid rise to fame exceeded even Plant’s wildest expectations. Rees traces the successes and excesses of Led Zeppelin, from limos, groupies and sudden wealth to plagiarism charges and “poisonous” reviews. He also explores Plant’s recent work, including his acclaimed collaboration with bluegrass fiddler Alison Krauss. Plant comes across as a confident but agreeable superstar, a “preening peacock” whose long locks and powerful voice secured his place in the rock pantheon.
HELLO, I’M JOHNNY CASH
Although Johnny Cash told his own story on at least two occasions—in Man in Black (1975) and, with Patrick Carr, Cash: The Autobiography (1997)—he nevertheless remains an enigmatic figure whose life story is surrounded by as much legend as truth. Until now. Drawing on previously unpublished interviews with Cash as well as previously unseen materials from the singer’s inner circle, former L.A. Times music critic Robert Hilburn gives us the definitive biography of the Man in Black in Johnny Cash: The Life. In intimate detail, Hilburn—the only music journalist at Cash’s legendary Folsom Prison concert in 1968—elegantly traces the contours of Cash’s life and career. After a hardscrabble childhood in Dyess, Arkansas, Cash built on his early love of music and made insistent attempts to get Sam Phillips’ attention at Sun Records. Hilburn chronicles Cash’s early hits such as “Folsom Prison Blues,” his foray into television in the late 1960s with “The Johnny Cash Show,” his failed first marriage and his deep love for June Carter, as well as his drug addictions. Most importantly, Hilburn compiles an exhaustive record of Cash’s enduring contributions as a songwriter and singer to both rock and country music.
TAKE THE “A” TRAIN
In the almost 40 years since his death, Duke Ellington has remained an enigmatic figure, even as his reputation as one our greatest and most culturally prominent orchestra leaders and jazz composers continues to grow. Following his acclaimed biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops, culture critic Terry Teachout draws on candid unpublished interviews with Ellington, oral histories of the orchestra leader and his times, and other little-known primary sources to tell a mesmerizing story in Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. Teachout follows Ellington from his childhood in Washington—where he gained his name “Duke” because of his stylish dress—and the first band he formed at 20, to his move to Harlem at the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance and his emotional distance from family and friends for the sake of composing his music. Teachout traces Ellington’s deep influence on various cultural movements, from the Harlem Renaissance to the Duke’s own renaissance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. Teachout brings Ellington to life in this richly detailed and engrossing biography.
We often remember our favorite album covers and photos of our favorite musicians as much as their music. For more than four decades, Columbia Records staff photographer Don Hunstein snapped memorable shots of figures as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone, Miles Davis, Leonard Bernstein, Mitch Miller, Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan, catching rare private moments of public lives. A collection of gorgeous, never-before-seen photos from the Columbia Records archive, Keeping Time: The Photographs of Don Hunstein illustrates Hunstein’s ability to capture artists relaxing and being themselves. Photos of Johnny Cash on his family’s farm in 1959, a weary Duke Ellington talking to Langston Hughes at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, and Cassius Clay and Sam Cooke teaming up in the recording studio in 1964 are just a few of the gems included here. In the words of New York Times music writer Jon Pareles, who contributes the book’s brief text, Keeping Time is “a quietly revealing close-up of artists who graced and transfigured the twentieth century.”