I was looking at the music books in my office the other day and noticed that I've started to loosely categorize them. But not into traditional categories. They were grouped into categories like "musicians that did a bunch of drugs" or "musicians that became hermits." I thought it would be fun to see if I could apply this made-up categorization method to most of my collection.
These are my desert island books on proud display. The best of the best.
Born to Run
Maybe one of the most anticipated music books in recent memory. Even with all the hype, I was not disappointed. I'm just sorry I wasn't able to score tickets to the book signing here in Austin.
Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley
I read these books to coincide with my first trip to Graceland. They're a fascinating look into the early style and influences of rock and roll's most influential artist.
Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley
I think Graceland should be on every music lovers bucket list and this book is the perfect way to prepare. This is the second book in the 2-volume set.
Cash: The Autobiography
You don't have to be a fan of Johnny Cash or country music to enjoy this book. It reads like a fireside chat with one of music's greatest storytellers.
It’s a Long Story: My Life
The Bible of Willie. He starts at the very beginning in Abbott and takes you through his long and colorful journey. He goes into a lot of detail, so you really need to be a fan to enjoy the book.
I feel like a majority of music books are just who did the most sex, drugs and rock n' roll.
I Lived to Tell It All
George Jones used to be called "No Show Jones" because he'd routinely miss shows due to his drug and alcohol addictions. When his wife Tammy Wynette took his keys away, he'd drive his lawnmower to the liquor store.
Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga
Led Zeppelin was the gold standard for crazy shit. Although the band claims that a lot of the stories never happened, it's all in here. The mud shark story, drugs, satanism, the death of John Bonham, etc.
Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith
Aerosmith & Stephen Davis
Sometimes you get halfway into a book and realize that you don't really like the band enough to be reading a book about them. Aerosmith is fine, but I'd probably be just as satisfied reading their wikipedia entry.
Diary of a Madman: The Geto Boys, Life, Death, and the Roots of Southern Rap
Brad “Scarface” Jordan & Benjamin Meadows Ingram
Scarface dropped out of school in 9th grade to start selling crack. Then there's his buddy Bushwick Bill, who survived getting shot in the eye by his girlfriend while high on PCP.
In his book High Fidelity, Nick Hornby wrote "Which came first, the music or the misery?"
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire
Joe Nick Patoski & Bill Crawford
Most of the time with these kind of biographies, they're heartbreaking because you know how they end. Stevie Ray Vaughan had overcome many inner demons before his untimely death in 1990.
Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams
I feel like Hank Williams is beginning to drift into folk legend territory, much like Robert Johnson, due to his tremendous influence and somewhat mysterious death at the age of 27. This is a nice, short read.
Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson
Peter Ames Carlin
This book was the basis of the movie Love & Mercy. Brian Wilson is a musical genius, and his story is one of the most complicated and tragic in rock history.
Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana
As a teenager in the 90s, I was hit especially hard by the death of Kurt Cobain. This is a fascinating look into the meteoric rise of Nirvana and what Cobain went through growing up in small town.
Funny and Lighthearted
Take a break from all the depressing stuff.
Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life
This is a total hipster book, but it had me laughing out loud. I especially loved the chapter on Jack White and Dan Auerbach.
Weird Al: The Book
Nathan Rabin & Al Yankovic
Al Yankovic is one of the most likable celebrities around. He plays the accordion, is a vegan, an award-winning children's book author, was the valedictorian of his high school class, and an all-around nice guy.
Everybody's probably read High Fidelity at some point in their life. The book has started to become somewhat of an annoyance to me, just because I think people take it a little too seriously. But it's still a classic.
Others that fit: Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting, Not Dead Yet: The Memoir
These books can also fit into the crazy sh*t or heartbreak genres, but they're best at giving you an insiders perspective.
On The Road With The Ramones
Monte Melnick & Frank Meyer
Written by Monte Melnick, the Ramones manager for over 20 years, it's a fun look back at the colorful yet conflicting personalities that came together to create one of music's greatest bands.
Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story
Dave Marsh is the probably the biggest Bruce Springsteen fanboy around, and I'm OK with that. Written in 1979, it transports you back to the dark alleys of the New Jersey music scene.
This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band
Levon Helm & Stephen Davis
Levon Helm wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: he did not care for Robbie Robertson. While it's an interesting look back at Levon's experiences, I'm interested to hear Robertson's side of the story.
Lady Sings the Blues
Billie Holiday and William Dufty
A true time capsule. These are Billie Holiday's memoirs, written in 1956. While it definitely falls under the heartbreak genre due to her addictions and early death, it's a fascinating look back at the Jazz world in it's heyday.
I've found that books are also really great for learning new things.
The Rolling Stone Interviews
Jann S. Wenner & Joe Levy
There are all kinds of great Rolling Stones compilations out there: The Encyclopedia of Rock, The Jazz Record Guide, 1000 Covers, etc. This one goes well beyond music, featuring interviews with the likes of the Dalai Lama and Francis Ford Coppola.
The History of Jazz
Although it feels like something you'd read for a college course, it's a great introduction to Jazz music. It starts at the beginning with Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong and takes you all the way to the present day.
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
A firsthand account of the early punk scene in New York written by Legs McNeil, who was one of the founders of Punk magazine. The book is written as a series of interviews with everyone from Lou Reed to Iggy Pop.
The Austin Chronicle Music Anthology
Austin Powell & Doug Freeman
This book is a time capsule as much as a reference book as most of Austin's legendary clubs such as Liberty Lunch, Emo's, and the Armadillo World Headquarters are long gone.
The rest of my shelf is mostly filled with stories from my favorite musical genre, Texas Country.
Waylon: An Autobiography
Waylon Jennings & Lenny Kaye
It's not as well known as Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson's books, but Waylon has a lot of interesting stories to tell. From his friendships with Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly to his founding of the Outlaw movement, Waylon never took crap from anyone.
Honky Tonk Hero
Billy Joe Shaver
There'd probably be no Waylon Jennings without Billy Joe Shaver. Shaver wrote Honky Tonk Heroes and is one tough SOB. He's missing a couple of fingers from a sawmill accident, and he once shot a guy and wrote a song about it.
Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark
Saviano spent the last few years with Guy Clark before he died and wrote this book about him. Guy Clark is one of the giants of Texas songwriting along with his friend Townes Van Zandt.
San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills
This book is as entertaining as Bob Wills storied career, with over 200 interviews from those closest to Wills. Wills put a new spin on the big band music of the 30s to create a sound unique to Texas called Western Swing.