Books About Music

| Filed under: Books, Music | Photo by Frank Stefanko

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.

Mount Rushmore

These are my desert island books on proud display. The best of the best.

  • Born to Run

    Bruce Springsteen

    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.

    Amazon Link

  • Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley

    Peter Guralnick

    I read these books to coincide with my first trip to Graceland. They're a fascinating look into the rise and fall of rock and roll's most influential artist. This is a 2-volume set.

    Volume 1 Amazon Link, Volume 2 Amazon Link

  • Cash: The Autobiography

    Johnny Cash

    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.

    Amazon Link

  • It’s a Long Story: My Life

    Willie Nelson

    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.

    Amazon Link

Crazy Sh*t

I feel like a majority of music books are just who did the most sex, drugs and rock n' roll.

Others that fit: Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper, The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band

  • I Lived to Tell It All

    George Jones

    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.

    Amazon Link

  • Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga

    Stephen Davis

    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.

    Amazon Link

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

  • 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.

    Amazon Link


In his book High Fidelity, Nick Hornby wrote "Which came first, the music or the misery?"

Others that fit: The Rose That Grew From Concrete, Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

  • Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams 

    Paul Hemphill

    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.

    Amazon Link

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

  • Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana

    Michael Azerrad

    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.

    Amazon Link

Funny and Lighthearted

Take a break from all the depressing stuff.

Others that fit: Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting, Not Dead Yet: The Memoir

  • Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life

    Steven Hyden

    This is a total hipster book, but it had me laughing out loud. I especially loved the chapter on Jack White and Dan Auerbach.

    Amazon Link

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

  • The Facts of Life: and Other Dirty Jokes

    Willie Nelson

    I've got a bunch of Willie's books, and they're mostly just short collections of his outlandish stories from the road. Also check out Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die and The Tao of Willie.

    Amazon Link

  • High Fidelity 

    Nick Hornby

    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.

    Amazon Link

Time Capsule

These books can also fit into the crazy sh*t or heartbreak genres, but they're best at giving you an insiders perspective.

Others that fit: The Beatles Anthology, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

  • Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story 

    Dave Marsh

    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.

    Amazon Link

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

Reference Shelf

I've found that books are also really great for learning new things.

Others that fit: Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion, Chronicles: Volume One

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

  • The History of Jazz

    Ted Gioia

    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.

    Amazon Link

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

Texas Country

The rest of my shelf is mostly filled with stories from my favorite musical genre, Texas Country.

Others that fit: A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt, The Broken Spoke: Austin's Legendary Honky-Tonk

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

  • 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.

    Amazon Link

  • Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark 

    Tamara Saviano

    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.

    Amazon Link

  • San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills 

    Charles Townsend

    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.

    Amazon Link