Staff Picks: Songwriter Stories

Posted by Aaron on

In the past few years, a number of memoirs by rock and folk musicians have hit the best seller charts. I find that even better than reading them is listening to the performers tell their own stories in CD book format. Here are a few favorites:

Graham Nash  Wild Tales  Wild TAles

The tales start with his childhood adventures in Northern England, skipping school, hanging out in the rain with a friend to see the Everly Brothers, whose harmonizing was an important influence on Nash’s vocal style. His youthful interest in photography developed into a lifelong passion.  The Hollies were formed, found fame and then Graham decided to leave and come to America, specifically Laurel Canyon. On his first night there he met Stephen Stills and David Crosby. There was an instantaneous, natural harmony of voices if not personalities. Life with Joni Mitchell was immortalized in the song, “Our House.”  Many of the wilder tales (some truly amazing)  involve David Crosby and the super group’s own complex  internal relationships and their on-again, off-again partnership with Neil Young. Graham also shares his evolving involvement with the anti-war, anti-nuclear movements and other social issues.

Judy Collins Sweet Judy Blue Eyes

Her father was blind, a charismatic ladies’ man. He hosted a popular radio show in her childhood Colorado town where celebrities  were frequent dinner guests. She was trained in classical piano by the brilliant and demanding female conductor, Antonia Brico, about whom Judy later produced the acclaimed documentary “Antonia: a Portrait of the Woman.” She rebelled against her classical training and went on to perform folk and popular music with high school friends.  Her early blissful marriage later ended in divorce, but her husband was supportive of her fledgling musical career as she learned the ropes of touring and performing. The sad loneliness of the road led to many nights of drinking and a long-term battle with alcohol which eventually threatened her vocal cords. Her relationship and life-long friendship with Stephen Stills inspired his classic “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” – listen to how it came to be heard by her for the very first time.  Her complicated personal life included New York apartment living with the actor Stacy Keach, and the tragic death of her adult son. Bonus tracks include song fragments throughout the narrative and four extra songs beautifully sung by Judy at the end.

Keith Richards Life

Narrated by Johnny Depp (ok, it’s not Keith narrating but still…)

If the Stones are your cup of tea, here’s 19 hours of listening to Keith’s helpful life lessons. Hear about Mick aka “Brenda,” Brian, Anita, Patti, Rastafarian drummers, the X-Pensive Winos and possibly more than your ears or mind can absorb.

Carole King A Natural Woman: a MemoirCarole King

Musically precocious, Carole went to a special high school for talented kids that included Neil Sedaka, who wrote “Oh! Carol” about  her.  Carole’s own first hit song came when she was only 17. Her then husband, Gerry Goffin wrote the lyrics to “Will you love me tomorrow?” and she wrote the music. Her hits co-written with Gerry cover the early years and the first part of this memoir which is now featured  on Broadway as Beautiful: the Carole King Musical.  Eventually, she moved to the West Coast (Laurel Canyon) and met her 2nd and 3rd husbands. But Carole didn’t much care for the West Coast drug scene and found land in Idaho (!) where she homechooled her children, lived for a time without running water or electricity  and became involved with environmental causes and her 4th husband.  Oh yes, and then there’s Tapestry, and touring with James Taylor, who helped her to overcome stage fright and perform center stage. While Carole’s singing voice is not quite what it used to be, there are plenty of musical interludes throughout this audio memoir.

Johnny Cash

The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend

Introduction by Kris Kristofferson.  Bonus Track: Big River. A special mention goes to this authorized biography, written by Steve Turner after Cash’s death.

The larger than life legend of Johnny Cash continues to fascinate. Beginning near the end of Johnny’s life, with the death of his beloved wife, June Carter Cash, this bio benefited from access to Johnny’s private thoughts and opinions not previously published  in his own memoirs, and insights and interviews of close family and friends.

Looking for more book lists and staff suggestions? Stop by the reference desk at your local library. For online book lists published prior to January 2015, visit Book Notes, our blog all about books.

Fran, Technical Services, Warrenton central library 

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