Category Archives: Book Review

Chuck Blore: Okay, Okay, I Wrote the Book

chuckblore_okayokayiwrotethebookThe birth of major-market Top 40 radio

Chuck Blore is the program director who brought Top 40 rock ‘n’ roll to the major market masses. His rise to fame began as a DJ on Tucson’s KTKT and San Antonio’s KTSA, and as program director for Gordon McLendon’s KELP in El Paso. It was at KELP that Blore developed the fast-paced, jingle-filled, personality driven Top 40 rock ‘n’ roll format that was dubbed “Color Radio.” In 1958 he moved to Los Angeles, where he put KFWB on the map and became the first to establish Top 40 rock ‘n’ roll in a major market.

Blore chronicles his years at KFWB (and sister station KEWB in the San Francisco Bay Area) in a breezy collection of anecdotes, rather than a detailed history, but readers will gain valuable insight into the endless details involved in creating and maintaining a complex and unique radio format. KFWB’s influence and reach were unparalleled in the Los Angeles market, and the impact of Blore’s innovations (along with the DJs, business team and operating staff he trained) reverberated throughout the industry for decades.

After leaving the programming side of radio, Blore founded a pioneering advertising firm, and produced many memorable ads. Most notable was the “remarkable mouth” ad originally produced for KIIS, and reproduced for stations throughout the country [1 2 3 4 etc.]. Along with Ron Jacobs’ KHJ-Inside Boss Radio, this is one of only a few insider documents on the workings of classic Top 40 radio. It’s an essential read for anyone who enjoyed (or is retrospectively interested in) rock and pop radio of the 50s-70s, as well as anyone curious about the art of radio advertising. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Color Radio HIstory
KFWB Surveys

Ron Jacobs: KHJ – Inside Boss Radio

RonJacobs_InsideBossRadioThe invention of Boss Radio

Originally published in 2002, and republished as an e-book in 2010, Ron Jacobs Inside Boss Radio is the story of Top 40 radio’s highest peak. From 1965 through 1969, Jacobs served as program director for KHJ-AM, and together with the legendary radio consultant Bill Drake, created the Boss Radio format that conquered Los Angeles and was duplicated successfully in markets around the country. Jacobs covers the format’s origin, the boss jocks who brought it to life, the promotions that furthered KHJ’s reach, and the day-to-day workings involved in seeding and growing a format into a competition stomping dynamo.

The story begins in Fresno, where, as program director for KMAK, Jacobs battled head-to-head with Bill Drake, who was consulting for station owner Gene Chenault at KYNO. Rock ‘n’ roll had reached the major markets through Chuck Blore’s “Color Radio” Top 40 format at KFWB (a time documented in Blore’s Okay, Okay I Wrote the Book), but by the mid-60s, Blore had left KFWB, and KRLA, with Dave Hull, Bob Eubanks and Casey Casem was getting hot. Drake had decamped from Fresno to work at KGB in San Diego, and upon moving to KHJ he brought in Jacobs as program director. The station switched formats in May 1965, rechristening Los Angeles as “Boss Angeles,” and rewriting the mechanics, content and focus of Top 40 radio.

Jacobs’ book is in two parts. The first half of the book is a multi-person verbal history that threads together stories and anecdotes from many of the original characters. The second half, and really the meat, is the blizzard of memos that Jacobs rained upon his DJ staff, announcing changes to the hourly clock, pushing upcoming promotions, nitpicking the details of their on-air work, highlighting records, discussing ratings and always reminding them to program their music (particularly the “goldens”) with thought and flair. The verbal history is difficult to follow the first time through, as the characters aren’t drawn with enough detail to become sticky in the reader’s head. But after plowing through the memos, you’ll want to circle back to the book’s first half for a second read.

KHJ’s innovations and methods were many, including 20/20 newscasts, fresh and numerous promotions (including The Big Kahuna, Mr. Whisper and Location X), a KHJ-branded television program, premieres, exclusives, musical specials (such as 1969’s 48-hour The History of Rock ‘n ‘Roll), and teen-targeted day-parting. Jacobs was relentless in driving towards a “standard of attempted perfection,” and his drive was rewarded by towering ratings. The format was technical, complex, intricate and always under revision. Jacobs’ biggest headache seems to have been the fight against complacency as the station quickly rose to #1 and crushed its competition. By early 1968, KFWB switched from music to news and KRLA was cutting shifts and eventually turned to automation.

What’s missing is an explanation of the philosophy or stimulus that led to many of the changes outlined in the memos. The reader is often left to guess what Jacobs was responding to, or exactly what he was trying to accomplish, but even for Jacobs, annotating the memos nearly fifty years after the fact may just not have been possible. Still, it would be fascinating to have him break down a few of the format tweaks, to give lay people some deeper insight into the day-to-day mind of a program director. Also missing from the memos is Bill Drake’s voice, and so the daily dynamic between consultant and program director is not seen.

By 1968, you can feel KHJ losing its dominance as the golden age of teen power began to wane. KHJ aimed itself at “mass appeal” musically, ignoring the youngest teeny-boppers and the oldest stoners, and shifted to fewer and bigger contests. Jacobs resigned four years after he arrived, departing in May of 1969 at the ripe old age of 31. Two of Boss Radio’s key jocks, Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele, were leaving at the same time, and though KHJ carried on, it never again flew as high. Jacobs’ book is enhanced with reproductions of Boss 30 flyers and trade advertisements, showing how the station positioned itself with both listeners and advertisers. What’s missing most is the sound of KHJ, which you can find in airchecks on You Tube and Reel Radio. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Ron Jacobs’ Obituary
Ron Jacobs’ Blog

Adam Nayman: It Doesn’t Suck – Showgirls

AdamNayman_ShowgirlsItDoesntSuchThoroughly entertaining defense of the indefensible

Readers might be inclined to think this book is a put-on, but Adam Nayman’s apparent sincerity, obvious writing talent and impressive analytical dexterity is convincing. Convincing that he means it, if not necessarily right. Nayman is a 20-something film critic, and his well-researched treatise on Paul Verhoeven’s legendary 1995 box office bomb is a thoroughly entertaining read, if not necessarily a completely convincing defense. Nayman is among a group of critics that have turned the table on the film’s initial reception, suggesting that Showgirls isn’t just not bad, it’s a modern classic that was sorely misunderstood by both reviewers and viewers.

The key to appreciating Showgirls is, paraphrasing author Anne Rice, to interrogate the text from the right perspective. Nayman’s approach isn’t tongue-in-cheek irony, simple-minded contrarianism, or the mental slight of hand of Jason Hartley’s Advanced Genius Theory; his appreciation is unabashed fandom.  Nayman argues that the careers of director Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas anticipate their work in Showgirls, and that analysis of the film itself reveals that the filmmakers knew exactly what they were doing. Verhoeven is posed as a satirist and provocateur, the film’s lack of subtlety as an artistic choice, and the laughter it generates for over-serious scenes as an opportunity rather than an accident.

If one accepts the film’s most ridiculous moments as intentional, rather than unconscious mistakes, a number of critical analyses begin to flow. First and foremost for Nayman are the film’s mirror-like, self-reflexive qualities. Starting with the film’s star, Elizabeth Berkley, Nayman suggests that Showgirls provided an opportunity for her reinvention as a grown-up actress that parallels the film’s main character, Nomi Malone. But as Nayman continues to ascribe intention to what might easily be a lack of care or perspective, one starts to wonder if Occam’s razor is a more straightforward explanation of the parallels. Berkley and Malone both aimed for grown-up, but ended up in entertainment that was merely adult.

It’s possible that Nayman is seeing depth where there are really only artistic shallows, and he’s seeing causation where there is really only coincidence. Nomi’s relationship with her roommate might be subtle and complex, but it might simply be poorly thought out and rendered. The homophones for Nomi – “Know Me?” and “No Me” – could be clever entendre, or they could be nothing more than on-the-nose, inch-deep word-play. He argues that the film is too self-conscious to be camp, but it’s difficult to overcome the feeling that no matter how many of the film’s worst moments you explain away, the film still manages to be worse.

Nayman brings welcome context for casual viewers, including the existence of the little-known companion book Showgirls: Portrait of a Film and Rena Riffel’s low-budget spoof sequel, Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven. Though he occasionally employs the sort of hyperbole for which the film was originally ridiculed, the bulk of his analysis is well-reasoned, deftly written and hugely entertaining. Nayman may be an analytical genius, or simply a talented writer tackling a lost cause; but either way, his book is a fun and surprisingly thought-provoking read. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

James Moore: Your Band is a Virus

JamesMoore_YourBandIsAVirusA wealth of ideas for self-promotion on the Internet

The rise of digital-age DIY music-making has seen a parallel rise in self-marketing. E-mail, web sites, blogs, streaming audio and video, social networks, mobile apps and other internet-based channels have provided independent musicians direct access to millions of ears and eyes. But the lower barriers to entry have also overwhelmed listeners in a flood of music and promotion. Record labels that once served as gatekeepers of publicity and distribution are now distinguished more by size and budget than actual guardianship of access.

Inexpensive digital audio recording has made every musician a studio head, and YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp and Sonicbids has turned them into publicists. Being good at making music is admirable, but getting it heard requires a level of savvy few musicians come by naturally and a level of self-promotion even fewer musicians are willing to undertake. Today’s opportunities for connecting with fans dwarf those of yesterday’s envelope-licking home-brew fan club. Mastering the current crop of techniques and in-spots, and keeping current (MySpace, anyone?), is essential to expanding your footprint and growing your career.

Unfortunately, while the opportunity is large, so is the complexity. Riding to the rescue is an ecosystem of advisors that can help you hone your independent promotion. A number of books, including Jay Frank’s Hack Your Hit, Ariell Hyatt’s Music Success in Nine Weeks and David Nevue’s How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet provide techniques for harnessing the power of the Internet to make connections with listeners.

James Moore’s entry in this genre is a plainspoken guide to the rich promotional channels of the Internet. He spends a little time outlining Band 101 basics (recording, biography, photos, press releases, etc.), but the heart of his book is about building your presence on the web and using a variety of viral techniques to expand your fan base. On the plus side, Moore’s done a lot of research and provides a lot of detail; on the negative side, it may prove overwhelming to the average musician. Frank’s and Hyatt’s approaches were lighter on detail, but broken into bite-sized tasks that are more easily digested.

Moore provides advice on building websites (including some rudimentary help with search engine optimization), optimizing your use of Facebook, Twitter and other social sites, digital distribution, blogging (and leveraging blog aggregators like Hype Machine), managing mailing lists, podcasting, crowd funding and more. He offers Internet-age spins on classic marketing techniques, helps you weigh various sales models (including the value of free), and ventures off the Internet to briefly mention film and TV placement and royalties.

The last third of the book is a collection of guest-authored articles, resource listings and interviews with industry players. There’s a lot of valuable information here, but even more so than with the earlier parts of the book, you’ll have to spend some time breaking down the advice and mapping it to your own career. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for musicians who want to spend their time making music rather than marketing their wares, the lack of spoon-feeding may inhibit developing any real marketing inertia.

Both approaches – bite-sized tasks and deeper detail – are useful in teaching musicians marketing. The latter, in this case Moore’s approach, is more likely to have an impact as background reading to the task-oriented books of Frank and Hyatt. Moore’s book should make great tour-van reading, providing food for thought and ideas for discussion, rather than highly-structured, actionable items you can tick off a list in short order. You’ll need the latter to get you started, but you’ll want the depth of Moore’s suggestions to keep you going. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Jay Frank: Hack Your Hit

Modern music marketing begs ethical questions

In his revelatory first book, Futurehit.DNA, music industry insider Jay Frank explored the impact that modern recording and digital distribution technology are having on popular music. Rather than guiding readers to creating more artistic music, he took on the mercenary’s role of advisor-to-the-would-be-popular. He explored the ways in which modern listeners discover and consume music, and his insights as the former head of Yahoo! music yielded useful ideas for garnering listeners and the public recognition (e.g., chart action and sales) that goes along with all those ears.

In this follow up, Frank ups the promotional ante and lowers the moral barriers. This collection of ideas is even more mercenary in nature, and though it will help you maneuver around a lack of a label, industry experience or contacts, it does so in part by teaching you to use, and in several instances, game, Internet-based promotional channels. Frank builds upon the premise that the average music listener is not a fanatic, and that their music discovery is viral- and marketing-induced. As in his debut, he provides interesting analysis of how the music discovery curve has changed, and how artists who want to be discovered need to adapt.

Growing an audience with mechanisms other than music and live performance is a task many musicians are loathe to undertake, and the book’s focus on non-musical mechanics is sure to alienate a few. But the ease with which all musicians can distribute their music on the internet has made it more difficult for any one musician to be heard, and working out-of-band is a basic necessity to a modern music career. Many of Frank’s ideas – networking with fans and artists to grow your fan base, giving away music to expand your business, treating your most ardent fans as your most passionate customers, using contests to build a mailing list, optimizing your website for search results – are standard marketing fare.

Where he gets clever, and some would say less ethical, is in recommendations for juicing your YouTube placement by watching your own videos, pumping up your sales figures (and thus your chart placement) by buying your own songs at digital retail, and even buying Facebook fans (the latter of which he disclaims “I’m not for that, but it is a consideration”). One could see these as digital versions of practices common to the pre-Internet record industry, but their availability to all doesn’t make them any more savory. Still, Frank may be right that this is what it takes to succeed in today’s mainstream.

Hack Your Hit isn’t as uniquely informative as was Futurehit.DNA; other titles, including Ariel Hyatt’s Music Success in Nine Weeks and David Nevue’s How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet, cover similar ground. What distinguishes Hack Your Hit, for better or worse, is Frank’s knowledgeable perspective as a music industry gatekeeper and his willingness to let readers draw their own ethical line. With forty tips, many very simple and quick to implement, musicians are bound to find a few ideas that will help them along the road to a larger audience. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Jay Frank’s Home Page

Suzy Bogguss: American Folk Songbook

The simple pleasure of classic folk music

If you grew amidst the 1960s folk revival, you may well remember a favorite Pete Seeger, Burl Ives or Johnny Cash record of great American folk songs. You might have been schooled by the Dillards (in the guise of the Darling Family) on The Andy Griffith Show, had parents who sang these songs as you drifted off to sleep, sang folk songs at camp or had a progressive grade school teacher who introduced these songs at music time. But it’s probably been a few decades since folk songs were central to your life. Of course, you’ll still hear many of these titles on Prairie Home Companion and at bluegrass festivals, but their mainstream circulation has dwindled, pushing their legacies to the fringe. And that’s a shame, because these are great songs, rife with historical significance (both in their creation and in the stories they tell) and deep musical pleasures.

Suzy Bogguss has collected seventeen titles, mostly well-known, and assembled them into a songbook of both musical and intellectual depth. In addition to her lovely acoustic renderings, assisted by a terrific band of musicians and backing vocalists, she’s written a companion book that provides history and sheet music. The song backgrounds essay the unsettled origins of many songs (is “Red River Valley” a reference to a tributary of the Mississippi, a spur of the Hudson, or the valley drained by the Red River of the North?), the variations of their lyrics, and their paths to prominence. The sheet music is perfect for accompanying your home sing-along on piano or guitar, and the CD is sure to be a favorite for both parents and kids, not to mention a nutritious respite from calorie-free children’s records. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Suzy Bogguss’ Home Page

Jeff R. Lonto: Chronicles from the Analog Age

Intriguing grab bag of pop culture ephemera

Jeff R. Lonto is a pop-culture historian whose books on radio and breweriana [1 2 3] led to the formation of his own Studio Z-7 imprint. Lonto has an eye for obscure topics – such as the history of regional big-box retailing – that reveal interesting lessons in cultural history. He has a flair for story telling and a good sense of irony – not least of which is publishing a large format book of short articles in the age of the blog. But given the era about which he writes – the 1920s through the 1970s – a paper edition is fitting to the material. The twenty pieces have no pattern or story arc, but instead form a grab bag of pop culture ephemera that can be picked up and set down without losing your place. Highlights include articles on 1950s civil defense (including a description of emergency radio’s evolution from CONELRAD to EBS to the current EAS), the infamous one-episode Turn On television program, 50 songs that were banned or changed for radio play, and a look at the origins of French’s mustard and its forgotten advertising mascot, Hot Dan the Mustard Man. The book features a selection of ironic period advertisements and is capped with an all-too-believable essay about a fictional lard-based dessert shake. Lonto is adept at rekindling the excitement that greeted cultural innovations – such as the building and expansion of a local movie theater – that are now taken nearly for granted. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Jason Hartley: The Advanced Genius Theory

Intriguing and infuriating theory of unappreciated artistic value

Jason Hartley’s debut book is interesting and infuriating, ridiculous and thought provoking, challenging and dismissible. “The Advanced Genius Theory” began life as an on-going conversation between Hartley and the theory’s co-inventor, Britt Bergman, initiated in a college hangout and developed in the hallways of Spin magazine and on Hartley’s Advanced Theory Blog. The theory’s basic tenant is that genius doesn’t decay; it only advances its manifestations beyond that which the rest of us can understand. In Hartley’s topsy-turvy world, Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music isn’t an incomprehensible attempt to fulfill a contract, it’s a record so advanced that the typical Velvet Underground fan can’t recognize its brilliant anticipation of industrial music. Bob Dylan’s mid-period albums, not to mention difficult-to-comprehend commercial endorsements, aren’t signs of a creative doldrums; they’re the products of a genius at work.

What immediately comes to mind is that, despite their declarations to the contrary, the proponents of the theory are little more than contrarians. The contortions to which the author resorts stand in contrast to the more generally accepted interpretation: inspiration is fleeting, genius decays, and many artists’ later works pale in comparison to their peak moments. The writing teeters frustratingly between humor and argumentation, invoking false analogies, hasty generalizations, straw men, affirmed consequents, and other logical fallacies. The book is filled with unsupported hypotheses, which can be either funny or irritating, depending on your particular opinion. The book works best when the author’s tongue is planted more firmly in cheek, such as for his descriptions of Miles Davis’ film and ad work, and his wrestling match with Sting’s post-Police catalog. The more ridiculous the assertions, the funnier the book gets.

Perhaps the most fun you can have with the theory is applying it self-referentially to the book itself. Hartley, for example, criticizes some writing at VH1’s Best Week Ever blog and dismisses artists like the Replacements, the Clash and Eric Clapton by virtue of his personal taste; one is quickly led to wonder whether these are simply too advanced for the writer to appreciate. In that self reflection the theory reveals its value as a conversational instigator, providing a framework for advancing subjective opinions towards supposedly objective evaluations. ‘You don’t understand because you’re not advanced’ is a funny retort, but not exactly a compelling argument. The qualifications of advancement seem arbitrary, and Hartley’s positions often seem calculated to stir up controversy. Then again, perhaps the entire Theory of Advancement is itself too advanced to be understood from only a single reading of this book.

That said, Hartley does offer up some compelling analysis. He recognizes that the way in which you relate to an artist’s output depends on the age at which you find an artist and the point you enter their creative stream. Those who latch on early, particularly before fame has been bestowed, relate to the artist differently than those whose relationship is the by-product of such fame. Those who discover an artist in their own young years may find their later disaffection a by-product of changing life circumstances rather than a decline in the quality of artistic output. This isn’t in itself surprising, but the different stages of affection and alienation through which Hartley suggests one can travel is an interesting proposition. Hartley also identifies interesting characteristics common to many mature artists, and though much of the book reads as a contrarian’s apologia, the threads of insight will keep the reader continually off balance. Are they serious? Are they joking? The answer seems to be yes, in both cases.

Though Hartley’s nailed down the theory for contemporary pop music, the general form remains as elusive as Einstein’s sought-after unified field theory. Advancement, in its current form, generally excludes musicians born before the 1940s, and its application to non-musicians is an afterthought. The theory’s extrapolation beyond the original pillars (Lou Reed, Sting, Bob Dylan, etc.) is riddled with inconsistency and episodes of theory yielding to fact. Hartley’s Andy Kaufman-esque commitment to character is inscrutable, intriguing and irritating. Readers will find themselves progressing through stages of denial, anger, bargaining and perhaps even acceptance, nagged all the way by kernels of truth that are simmered a bit too lightly in absurdity. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com] 

Ariel Hyatt: Music Success in Nine Weeks

Slim but useful workbook for developing a musician’s on-line profile

Ariel Hyatt is a music publicist who’s reinvented her practice to utilize social media and other on-line channels. Her book provides nine weekly lesson plans for developing your own on-line profile, including suggestions for optimizing your website, blogging, building a mailing list, creating a newsletter, involving your fans with surveys, and building a “continuum program” that incentivizes on-going purchases. The book is task-driven rather than theoretical, with the first written exercise happening only four pages into chapter one. This necessarily leaves out some detail that might be helpful; for example, the suggestion of offering a free MP3 doesn’t indicate you must clear all the rights (including a mechanical license for cover songs), and the section on optimizing your website doesn’t mention SEO. One could argue these topics are outside the book’s scope, but a pointer to follow-up resources would be helpful.

Hyatt stresses the point that many musicians are reluctant to market themselves, and she wisely reframes the musician’s career as a business. She points out that a musician who thinks their only job is to make good music is an idealist who’s not really interested in having anyone hear their work. The steps she outlines will be difficult for some artists to carry out, but taken one at a time, and broken down into smaller tasks, they become part of your larger job as an artist. Her experience as a publicist, and particularly her understanding of what will get people’s attention, is the key to her pitch. She provides compelling advice on how to connect with those who can help advance your career, garnering you more fans, gigs, rehearsal space, private shows, interns, and, eventually, money. She provides valuable guidance on how to make your press kit work on a web site, noting who will be visiting your website and for what purpose.

The downside to this book its brevity. The 184 page count includes 25 pages of fill-in-the-blanks worksheets (which can more cheaply be completed in the blank notebook Hyatt advises you to get), 11 lined end-chapter notes pages, and 43 “bonus” pages on traditional PR. The bonus sections are helpful, but don’t speak to the book’s stated on-line theme. Finally, though one might expect a publicist to publicize herself, the promotion of Hyatt’s PR services on page 82 and the four pages of her company’s offerings (including the ethically ambiguous at the back of the book seem opportunistic, especially given the book’s high list price. Hyatt knows her stuff, and these exercises will methodically help you develop your business as a musician; just don’t be disappointed by the page count. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Ariel Hyatt’s Home Page

Tommy James: Me, the Mob, and the Music

The education and seduction of a rock ‘n’ roll hit maker

Tommy James came of age just as pop was giving way to rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis Presley’s performance on Ed Sullivan provided the initial epiphany, and five-days-a-week of American Bandstand, a job in a record store, junior high school talent shows and a prototypical garage band steeped him in both music and the music business. The early pages of this autobiography provide a great sense of what it was like to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band in the summer of 1963, from the joy of making music to the grind of trying to make a living. But once “Hanky Panky” caught fire in 1966, James was introduced to most of his fans as a fully-formed star; here you get to read about the dues he paid.

James’ rise to fame has been told before, but the details of his first single’s belated success – its initial failure, fluke resurrection in Pittsburgh, and canny national reissue on Roulette – is a great story. It’s also the lead-in to the book’s main thread: the difficult, father-son-like relationship between James and Roulette founder Morris Levy. In contrast to his co-dependency with Levy, his relationships with wives, children and band members weren’t nearly so sticky. James’ first wife and their son are ghosts in the narrative, nearly abandoned in his move to New York and divorced as he takes up with the Roulette Record secretary who eventually became his second wife. His second wife eventually meets a similar fate as he cheats on her and eventually moves on.

He forms and dispatches several iterations of the Shondells, with little expressed emotion. He fires half the band after they fight for monies owed in the wake of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and is complicit in helping Levy cheat songwriters Ritchie Cordell and Bo Gentry by demanding songs they were pitching to artists whose labels would actually pay royalties. As with the affairs presaging his divorces, these episodes seem to be evidence of a self-centeredness learned from Levy rather than explicitly cruel behavior. But there’s surprisingly little remorse offered here, and what there is – five sentences when his first wife reappears for a divorce – doesn’t measure up to the affronts. Perhaps James wasn’t ready to share his innermost thoughts and personal feelings in an autobiography.

His telling of stories from the music side of his life is a great deal more compelling. Threaded throughout – and really, most successful musicians’ careers – is a surprising amount of luck; for James this includes the revival of “Hanky Panky” in Pittsburgh, the discovery of songs for two follow-up singles, a chance meeting with songwriter Ritchie Cordell, the creation of “Mirage,” and the incidental knowledge of arranger Jimmy Wisner. What you realize is that James put in the work from a very young age, studied and rehearsed, and put himself in a position to make these opportunities pay off. The crossing of paths may have been serendipitous, but the knowledge and ability to execute was hard-earned. The writing is more anecdotal than nuts and bolts accountings of music making, but you get a good feel for how James navigated changes in the industry to maintain a hit-making career across two decades.

As one might expect from a book entitled “Me, the Mob and the Music,” James spends a great deal of time writing about his relationship with Levy and his underworld associates. It’s not clear if he fully understands why his relationship with the godfather of the music industry became the center of his adult life, but it’s evident how it tainted his relationships with friends, wives, family and associates. Now twenty-four years sober and drug free, James seems at peace with who he was (characterizing his second divorce with “she was a good person, I was a flaming asshole”), and he’s still exciting fans with regular gigs. This isn’t the most personally revealing rock ‘n’ roll biography, but it adds some welcome detail to the career of Tommy James. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Tommy James’ Home Page