Two great recent books on music.

For those who like to read about music as well as listen to it, there are two recently published ones I consider essential reading.

- Songs Of America; Patriotism, Protest, And The Music That Made A Nation by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw. Meacham is a well-known and best-selling American historian, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, and University professor. In this book he tells the story of The United States Of America in relation to the songs that document it’s history, from the Founding Fathers through 9/11. Country singer Tim McGraw, a neighbor and friend of Jon’s in Nashville, comments in sidebars on some of the artists and songs Jon cites. This book brings history to life!

- The History Of The Band by Harvey & Kenneth Kubernik. Harvey has been writing about music since the late-60’s, published in Variety, Mojo, Melody Maker, Goldmine, and The L.A. Times. His brother Kenneth was editor of Music Connection, and has written for Mix Magazine, The L.A. Times, and Variety, and served as editorial consultant on the recent film Canyon Of Dreams (see the recent thread about it here on Audiogon).

I am aware of the fact that not everyone holds The Band in as high regard as do I and others like me, such as the Kuberniks and Jazz drummer/band leader Jack DeJohnette (he met The Band when they asked Miles Davis---in whose band Jack was a member---to open for them at The Hollywood Bowl in 1970. Jack: "I knew The Band---Music From Big Pink---and thought they were terrific. We got to jam briefly with The Band----nothing formal, without Miles---and really dug their musicianship.). If you don’t hear it in their recordings, I don’t know that this book will show you the error of your ways ;-) . But there is a lot more to the book than just The Band (and Dylan, of course). For instance:

I’ve always considered the movie Woodstock dreadful, and had no desire to attend the festival itself. Here’s what Jerry Garcia said to Harvey about it:

"Woodstock. The ultimate calamity. It was raining and it got dark and we went on. There was maximum confusion going on about logistics. Really weird.....the stage had sheet metal on it. It’s wet, and I’m getting incredible shocks from my guitar."

"It’s dark, and you don’t see any audience, but four hundred thousand people are out there. Then, somebody says the stage is about to collapse. I’m standing there in the middle of this, trying to play music. Then they turn on the lights, and they’re a mile away. Monster supertroopers (stage lights). Totally blinding, and you can’t see anything at all."

"Here’s this energy and everything is horribly out of tune. ’Cause it’s all wet, damp, and humid. It was humbling. That was a total disaster from our point of view. We played probably the worst set of our career. I’d like that one erased from the books."

Lot’s of fake Blues bands (Ten Years After?!), hokey, corny, unintentionally funny "hippie raps" (I thought so at the time of the festival, let alone the movie’s release). The Band elected to not let their set be included in the movie; good thinking ;-) .

The book is full of incredible pictures, musical history (not just of The Band, but also the Brill Building songwriters, the Band’s influences---Blues, Hillbilly, Rock ’n’ Roll, Rockabilly, R & B, Jazz, and all the rest). There are also lots and lots of quotes from other professional musicians on their view of The Band, and the influence they had on their musical lives. Indispensable!

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Thank You for these suggestions.  Happy Listening!

 Thanks for the heads up.

Oops, the correct title of the second book is The Story Of The Band; From Big Pink To The Last Waltz.

Some other quotes in the book I particularly like:

"In 1970, producer Denny Bruce, arranger/producer Jack Nitzsche (Phil Spector, later pianist on Neil Young’s Harvest album), and noted session guitarist Ry Cooder saw The Band at The Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Bruce told me they were marvelous. On the way home to Hollywood, Cooder had remarked ’I like then because they look and play like men, not boys’."

That’s the thing; after "getting" The Band, everyone else in Rock sounded like boys to me. Not only that, they also inspired myself and all the good musicians I knew (and those I didn’t---Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, and many, many others) to follow their (and Dylan’s) lead and trace the bread crumbs back to the men (and women) who created the music that led to the music of our generation.

John Simon (producer of the first two The Band albums): "Of course I loved the material. The songs drew from so many traditions. The guys had a deep respect, bordering on reverence, for the roots of American music, stretching back from the music of their generation, through Rockabilly and early Rock ’n’ Roll, to the Bluegrass of Appalachia, the Blues of the Mississippi Delta, and even Stephen Foster and Popular music of the nineteenth century. And it seemed to me that they had a sort of unspoken commitment to be as good as they could in order to earn their place as part of that tradition."

Andrew Loog Oldham (Rolling Stones’ producer, of course): "I loved the debut LP and felt they (The Band) were changing the size and depth of the pitch we played on."

Don Was: "Detroit in the summer of 1968. I never heard anything like it (Music From Big Pink) in my life. Even though all the elements were familiar, no one put it together like these guys. They tapped into something. We call it Americana now. Like it evokes something from Stephen Foster. But I always felt The Band tapped into something really primordial. I can’t quite explain it, but that was a thousand years old. The music addresses the DNA. It was speaking to me in a special way."

It still does. I listen to The Band every day, and have done so for many years.

As big a fan as you are of The Band I assume you have read both “This Wheel’s On Fire” by Levon Helm and “Testimony” by Robbie Robertson. If so, how would you compare “The History of the Band” to them?

@valinar, I haven't read "Testimony", but Levon's book (my copy is autographed, as is Ringo's ;-) and the Kubernik's are very different things. Levon's book tells HIS story, which of course includes The Band. The Kubernik's book tells the story of The Band, of course, but also everything related to them (and some that isn't).

The Kubernik brothers interviewed a lot of people to get their take on The Band, the entire Rock 'n' Roll culture they were part of (in part to provide context), Dylan (in whose employ Levon did not particularly care to be. He had been leader of The Hawks---at one point they were named Levon & The Hawks, and it was not a sideman he aspired to be), and many other topics Levon does not consider in his book.

It's a story that includes Levon, but the book has a much wider scope than does Levon's. Lots of fascinating behind-the-scenes music business stuff. The Kuberniks have been in that business for a very long time, and had access to all the people necessary to get the complete story of The Band, including all those closely associated with them, and those artists who were deeply effected by them.

More excerpts from the book:

Jim Keltner: "Carl (Radle, bassist in Derek & The Dominoes, Delaney & Bonnie) knew Levon and all the guys, and he was the one who turned me on to the Music From Big Pink album. That album blew my mind. I listened to it all the time. .....and to hear Levon singing and playing with one of the greatest singing bass players, Rick Danko, who always made me wanna cry. And Richard Manuel was the voice that sounded like it was coming straight from Heaven."

Greil Marcus, author of Mystery Train (if you haven't read it, do so ;-) on The Band's debut show at Winterland: "Richard Manuel's vocal on "Tears Of Rage" was probably the finest singing that has ever been heard at Winterland; so dramatic that one could almost see the song's story taking place on stage. They are an amazing group of musicians."

Producer Elliot Mazer (Neil Young, etc.): "Albert (Grossman, Dylan's manager) was in love with The Band. He thought they were the Holy Grail."

Elvis Costello: "They were more like Jazz musicians, like one of Miles' really great lineups. Five incredible players and three great singers. How many other bands can boast that?"

Jack DeJohnette, again:  "I just keep listening and playing their music, like Jazz standards. You hope each new generation discovers and reinterprets them." 

@valinar, I should have emphasized that Levon’s book is an autobiography---he tells the story from what he calls "the best seat in the house".....the drum throne ;-) .

The Kubernik’s book (once again, the actual title is The Story Of The Band; From Big Pink To The last Waltz.) is told from the "outside", from a reporter’s/historian’s point of view.

Those are two very different things. As the Kubernik book in hardcover is only twenty bucks on Amazon, no reason not to have and read both, as well as the book of photos of The Band by Elliott Landy, entitled The Band Photographs: 1968-1969. 12 x 12 hardcover format, forty bucks on Amazon. The pics---most B & W---are spectacular!