Posts Tagged With: Rolling Stone

The Wheel rolls on: No. 75 on the all-time hit parade

Congratulations are on order for “Comin’ Right at Ya” star/subject/co-writer Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, who just placed on a mightily impressive list — Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Country Artists of All Time.” The Wheel comes in at a solid No. 75, right behind Lee Ann Womack and just ahead of Marty Stuart. Further up, a number of other people who figure prominently in the “Comin’ Right at Ya Story” are in the top-10, including Waylon, Willie, Dolly and, of course, Merle (at No. 1, no less). Yes, Ray’s on a first-name basis with all of ’em.

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“Madonnaland” — Rolling Stone digs it, too

“Madonnaland: And Other Detours Into Fame and Fandom,” the wonderfully quirky Madonna quasi-biography penned by the great Alina Simone, is shaping up as one of the most acclaimed books we’ve published with the American Music Series. On the heels of year-end honors from National Public Radio, “Madonnaland” has earned a spot in Rolling Stone’s “10 Best Music Books of 2016” list — alongside Bruce Springsteen’s memoir “Born to Run,” Bob Mehr’s Replacements tome “Trouble Boys” and other notable titles. Jason Diamond calls “Madonnaland” a “fuller, weirder and more interesting overview of Madonna than we may have thought possible.” Check the full entry here.

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Merle Haggard’s fightin’ side, in Rolling Stone

In the wake of Merle Haggard’s death yesterday, Rolling Stone has run a brief excerpt from “Comin’ Right at Ya” — one in which Ray Benson recalls witnessing…let’s call it a frank, no-holds-barred and perhaps “colorful” 1986 exchange between The Hag and a hapless record executive foolish enough to cross him. Check that out here.

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Another man done gone: Merle Haggard

HaggardCoverMerle Haggard took his leave of this planet today, his 79th birthday, dying of pneumonia. And as I’ve had to do far too many times already this year in the wake of a famous musician’s death, I put on my obit-writer’s hat and got busy putting some remembrance-type content out there.

It was handy to have “Comin’ Right at Ya” co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson’s number to call, since he was a longtime friend and collaborator of Merle’s, and he was quotable as always — see the bottom of this story. I’d also written a few entries a while back for this “30 Essential Songs” list (on “Hungry Eyes,” “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Ramblin’ Fever”), and that went online today at Rolling Stone.

Really, though, here’s the best Haggard piece you’ll read today. It’s an excerpt from our very fine American Music Series book on Haggard, 2013’s “The Running Kind” by the great David Cantwell, and this introduction masterfully sets the scene and the story. It’s worth your time. And while you’re giving it a read, dig this Whiskeytown cover of one of Merle’s classics.

ADDENDUM (7/24/2017): More from David Cantwell on Merle.

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Pulling for friends along the amazon

October’s an exciting month for me, book-wise, because I have a lot of irons in the fire and books to root for right now. I’ve got my own book out, of course, to go with a pair of just-published titles in the American Music Series I co-edit for University of Texas Press — Chris Morris’ “Los Lobos: Dream in Blue,” and Kristin Hersh’s spectacular “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.59.21 PMThose three books came out via UT Press on Oct. 1. Five days later, my good friend Steve Knopper published his latest book, “MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson” (Scribner). It should come as no surprise tht I’ve been obsessively checking amazon every day to follow the progress of this quartet of books. And while none of them are exactly burning up the charts just yet, they all seem to be off to solid starts. How the sales picture will turn out over the long haul, that’s up to the universe. All we can do is hope for the best.

At the moment, however, the most interesting metric to track is not sales positions but reader reviews, which have become increasingly important for us lowly mid-list types struggling for traction in a crowded marketplace. Get a bunch of reviews, and that might help sales along. Morris’ Los Lobos book is farthest along in that regard, already with eight reviews — all of them with the maximum five-star rating. Nice, very nice.

Vic“Don’t Suck, Don’t Die” has just three reader reviews so far (two of them five-star), but I expect that pace to pick up in a hurry. National Public Radio recently reviewed “Don’t Suck, Don’t Die” and said it is “not only one of the best books of the year, it’s one of the most beautiful rock memoirs ever written.” I thought the same thing when I read the original manuscript, and reviews like that have inspired UT Press to give this one the maximum push — they’re thinking that 50,000 in sales might be possible. Well, on behalf of the entire American Music Series list…I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, Team Benson/Menconi’s “Comin’ Right at Ya” has just a single amazon reader review so far, but at least it’s of the five-star variety. That takes a little of the sting out of the fact that I recently got my first-ever one-star amazon review, for “Losering” — more than three years after its original publication date. A reviewer identified as “Amelia, Austin Texas” called it “A weird book” in a four-sentence dismissal that questioned if I’d ever actually spoken to Ryan Adams (snicker) before concluding, “This book sucks.” A more generous soul would refrain from noting that this particular reviewer has a “helpful” rating of just 38 percent, but I am not that person. So I’ll just say this: Bless her heart.

MJStill, that’s nothing compared to what’s happened on amazon thus far to Steve’s Michael Jackson book, which is being savaged by hyper-protective Jackson partisans who will not tolerate anything less than 100 percent glowing praise of their hero. So even though “MJ” earned a Booklist starred review that called it “very powerful” as well as an excerpt in Rolling Stone (where Steve has been a contributing editor for many years), four of his six amazon reader reviews are one-star takedowns accusing him of slander and bias.

Steve is one of the most all-around fair-minded people, let alone writers, I’ve ever known. But given what a fraught subject Jackson continues to be, I was afraid something like this might happen, after the amazon-reviewer reception given to 2012’s “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson” by Steve’s Rolling Stone colleague Randall Sullivan. “Untouchable” drew so many anonymous one-star slams from Jackson partisans who didn’t appear to have even read the book that the New York Times cited it as a prime example of books victimized by orchestrated campaigns of bad amazon reviews as “attack weapons.”

After the attacks subsided, “Untouchtable” eventually picked up enough decent reviews to bump its overall average (for 389 total reviews) up above three stars, which is at least respectable. I hope a similarly kind long-term fate awaits “MJ” — and also success, whatever that means nowadays, for all four of these books.

ADDENDUM (9/17/2016): Well how about that — another of Steve Knopper’s books comes in at No. 44 on a great list to be on.

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A fan’s plea to Ryan Adams: Come home for supper

So as we’ve covered repeatedly (most recently in Rolling Stone), Ryan Adams don’t come around here no more — “here” being his native state of North Carolina. It’s hard to say why. As I wrote in the “Losering” preface, he is remembered more fondly in his old hometown of Raleigh than he may realize; but I guess that fondness is not two-way, whatever the reason.

In any event, Ryan seems to go to some lengths to avoid playing shows in North Carolina these days, even when he’s in the vicinity. His upcoming late-spring Southeastern tour, for example, will find Ryan playing in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina and later Georgia — surrounding The Old North State without playing there. His tour mate Jenny Lewis is scheduled to peel off from Ryan’s tour for a night and play Saxapahaw’s Haw River Ballroom on May 4, but Ryan is not on the bill.

Still, hope springs eternal. And here we have a grassroots campaign by Raleigh superfan Tony Sicilia to lure Ryan back home via the Tweet below, with a dinner invitation. Come on, Ryan, how can you refuse an offer of home-cooking?

 

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Songs of the South with Ryan Adams, among others

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Between the book and this blog, there’s no doubt that I’ve already spieled a lot more about Ryan Adams than any sane person should — probably more than enough for one lifetime. Nevertheless, when Rolling Stone sent out a list of songs they wanted written about for a “25 Best Songs About The South” feature and it included Ryan’s “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” I just could not resist taking that one. They let me have it, so here it is (and also below). The editors decided on the ranking and put “Sweet Carolina” at No. 16.

Elsewhere on the list, I also got to do blurbs on Drive-By Truckers’ “Three Great Alabama Icons” (No. 21); George Strait’s “All My Exes Live in Texas” (No. 20); Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” (No. 2!) and James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind” (No. 1, whoo hoo!!). Getting to write about two of my favorite North Carolina-themed songs, as well as the entries that the editors wound up putting in the top two spots on the list, was pretty heady stuff for the likes of little old me.

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