Tonawanda News

October 21, 2013

MUSIC NOTES: Rock bios make for an interesting read

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I am sure many of you are in the same category as me when it comes to finding time to sit down and read a book. I had a few rock biographies piling up on my shelf and managed to plow through two of them in two sittings, and so I thought I would offer up my thoughts on both of them.

We will start with a book that has some local ties, “Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades in Rock and Roll” by Lou Gramm and Scott Pitoniak.

A word about one of the authors, Pitoniak: He was a well-respected sports writer for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle for many years, and married to one of my favorite Rochester radio personalities, Beth Adams Pitoniak.

Pitoniak’s other books were written with sports figures like former Buffalo Bills legend Steve Tasker, and Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim. Nevertheless, he was up to the task for this rock-and-roll memoir.

Gramm is an important part of local history, he opened the Canal Concert Series in Lockport in 2008, in what turned out to be a highly successful opening season.

The book is filled with plenty of tales of sex, drugs and rock and roll, but none of them are particularly salacious, and when compared to Sammy Hagar or Steven Tyler’s books, they are pretty tame.

Instead of those tales, we are presented with what turns out to be a fascinating tale of Gramm’s ascent to local rock star, descent to local janitor and then ascent to international superstar. While the book devotes a substantial amount of space to his tenure in Foreigner, it is introspective rather than self-serving, and ultimately leaves one with a better sense of Gramm as a person rather than a larger-than-life rock star. In short, I loved it!

I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy of “Willin’: The Story of Little Feat” by Rolling Stone magazine writer Ben Fong-Torres. The book is available for pre-order but does not come out until next month.

First, let me start by saying I am a huge fan of Little Feat; their live album “Waiting for Columbus” is one of the greatest live albums of all time. I have had the good fortune to see the band many times since they reunited in the 1980s, but never had the honor of seeing them with their founding member, Lowell George.

The book devotes the lion’s share of its pages on George, who is portrayed at times as a hero, funny and creative, and at other times as a reckless, drug-addicted, overweight control freak. In the end, one is left with a confusing image of one of rock music’s most revered artists.

What really makes the story work is the fact that it is about the dynamics of a band, and those stories are often complex. The book follows every era of the band right up to the present, including the abrupt departure of Craig Fuller and the unceremonious termination of vocalist Shaun Murphy.

If you are familiar with the music of Little Feat you will absolutely love the book, as it answers a lot of questions. If not, well it is a great cultural history piece on how the music industry has evolved over the years and one band’s tenacity to overcome all of those changes.

Thom Jennings writes a weekly column on the music scene for Sunday Lifestyle. Email him at thomjennings@rochester.rr.com.