Book Review: Nothin’ But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the ’80s Hard Rock Explosion By Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock (St. Martins Press)

By: Jesse Striewski

With renewed interest in the decade of decadence continually growing each year, there’s no shortage of various media information on ’80s hard rock (a.k.a. ‘hair’ or ‘glam’ rock) and heavy metal out there these days. But this new book by rock journalists Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock (with a brief forward by Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor) is truly the new bible on ’80s hard rock and heavy metal.

Largely tracing it’s roots back to the influence Van Halen had on the movement in the mid to late ’70s, here the two authors put together a collection of interviews that includes numerous musicians, producers, promoters, magazine editors, and the like, to help tell the tale of arguably one of rock’s greatest eras. Various key members of such staple acts as Motley Crue, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Quiet Riot, Dokken, L.A. Guns, W.A.S.P., Poison, Cinderella, and Warrant, – as well as numerous Rewind It Magazine interviewees from over the years – including Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister, Jack Russell of Great White, Brian Forsthye of Kix, and Rachel Bolan of Skid Row (among many others), are just some who help recall the foundation of the genre that changed it all in great detail.

The perspective is unique and fresh, despite some of the stories already found in other published works (many of those involved have previously published their own individual biographies). There’s even a brief but brilliant collection of many never-before-seen photos included as well. In short, Nothin’ But a Good Time is a rollercoaster ride of literature from start to finish, and one of the best of it’s kind currently available on the subject. It simply ‘don’t get better than this.’

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Book Review: Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion By Bad Religion with Jim Ruland (Hachette Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

Alright, so I might be a little late reviewing this one (about half a year, give or take). But to be fair, book reviews take way more time than say, an album or concert review does. But I digress, this still semi-new biography on legendary punks Bad Religion is worth every page turn.

I was initially weary as far as what to anticipate here to be honest, half expecting this to be just another excuse for someone’s ‘timely’ political agenda to get across (which eventually does become the case about three quarters of the way in, unfortunately). But once I dove in, more than anything I realized this was a well-thought out, meticulous history lesson on the band that completely changed the punk landscape in California back in the early ’80s.

Along with the help of current and former members, author Ruland digs deep into every detail about the band starting from their humble beginnings, all the way up until now. Even more forgotten (and dare I say, mysterious) eras in the band’s timeline, such as the fallout that came after the 1983 Into the Unknown album, and how the band eventually put themselves back together, are finally given the light of the day.

Chances are if you were a suburban misfit during the ’90s like myself, punk music such as Bad Religion’s played a decent role in your growth. And if you’re lucky enough to have retained some brain cells, too, you can hopefully appreciate learning a thing or two about a band like Bad Religion’s backstory.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Review: Confess: The Autobiography By Rob Halford with Ian Gittins (Hachette Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

The metal god himself, Rob Halford, leaves no stone unturned in this tell-all memoir, detailing his life as frontman for one of the biggest heavy metal bands on the planet, Judas Priest. And with Christmas just around the corner, it’s the perfect stocking-stuffer for your favorite headbanger.

From his bleak upbringing in post-war England, struggling with his own sexualty, to joining Priest in the early ’70s (and everything in between), Halford bares it all from start to finish (it’s not called Confess for nothing!). Fans should no doubt delight in many a story here (the early Priest stories are by far the most captivating).

When I saw Priest on the same bill as a re-united Black Sabbath back in 2004, I knew I was witnessing something truly special. These are the guys who laid the groundwork for heavy metal (still the best music genre ever created, for my money), and their tales deserve to be heard. Do yourself a favor, and take the trip down memory lane with Halford.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Book Review: So Much For the 30 Year Plan: Therapy? The Authorized Biography By Simon Young (Jawbone Press)

By: Jesse Striewski

Believe it or not, when asked who my personal favorite band is (as if it’s even that simple to narrow it down to just one in the first place), my mind usually wanders to little-known (in the States, anyway) Irish rockers Therapy?. Ever since the day a middle school friend/bandmate of mine slid me a copy of the band’s then-new album at the time, Infernal Love, I’ve been hooked. There’s just something so engrossing about them that I found so much more relatable than any other band before or since, and still do to this day.

So when I heard there was a biography dropping about them, of course I had to get my hands on it right away. And while as a writer myself, I’m envious of Simon Young for beareing the task, it makes perfect sense for someone with as much firsthand knowledge and experience as him to pen their story. Young does a a fine job meticulously detailing the band’s entire career, beginning with their early, humble D.I.Y. foundations, all the way up until present day.

However being on the more obscure side, I could see how someone not familiar with the band might get lost in the plethora of information here. While I might personally find stories like how the group landed their first record deal fascinating, I can understand why a newcomer might be somewhat turned off. But even if you are completely new to Therapy?, you might be able to still enjoy the read if you go in with an open mind.

It might sound somewhat strange, but reading So Much For the 30 Year Plan gave me an odd feeling of familiarity that brought me back to my own days of covering such songs as theirs as “Screamager” and “Die Laughing” in my very first garage band so long ago. The fact that a band oversees, whom I’ve never even seen live (though I did once write a letter addressed to the band which frontman Andy Cairns promptly replied to, which I still have framed to this day) can have such a profound impact on my own life, has got to say something about them. Even if this article is your first introduction to Therapy?, do yourself a favor, and look them up a.s.a.p., you might just be glad you did.

Come to think of it, I don’t believe I ever did thank Andy for taking the time to write me back all those years ago. Thanks man, you have no idea how much that meant to me.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Book Review: A Shot of Poison By Christopher Long (CG Publishing)

By: Jesse Striewski

This newly-released, slightly updated version of Christopher Long’s 2010 book chronicling his time spent as a working crew member for one of the most pivotal hard rock/glam bands to emerge from the ’80s Sunset Strip, Poison, is everything it’s title is cracked up to be.

Part memoir, part biography, Long explains in great detail how he originally landed his coveted position within the band’s ranks after years of friendship with bassist Bobby Dall, before becoming his “go-to” guy on tour. Long eventually lives out the ultimate music journalists’ dream a la Almost Famous, and it’s impossible not to relate many of the stories to my very own experiences over the years. Each new revealing tale leaves you yearning to get to the next page as quickly as possible.

I must admit, I didn’t catch the original edition of this book the first time around, but I’m definitely glad I was finally able to catch up on it. In a recent conversation, Long clarified the differences between the two editions to me; “The stories are generally the same, however the overall writing has been polished from top to bottom, and the entire 25-page closing chapter is all-new content.”

So whether or not you’re even a fan of the band Poison themselves per se, there should be something for everyone here who’s even had a remote interest in rock music. So put down the worries of every day life, and pick up A Shot of Poison for “Nothin’ but a Good Time!”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Review: Rockin’ Recipes For Autism Vol. 1 By Kenny Wilkerson (Story Farm)

Rockin Recipes - Edited

By: Jesse Striewski

This collection of culinary specialties from some of hard rock’s heaviest hitters is cleverly put together by Nova Rex bassist Kenny Wilkerson. I was initially reminded of the more metal-based 2010 cookbook Mosh Potatoes by Steve Seabury; but unlike that said edition, Rockin’ Recipes For Autism is more carefully put together, with impressive, (mostly) full-page glossy photos to go along with most of the musicians found within.

I won’t give away too many of the actual recipes themselves, but some of the rockers involved include Poison’s Rikki Rokket, Dokken’s Don Dokken, and previous Rewind It Magazine interviewees Phil Soussan (of Last in Line and formerly Ozzy Osbourne’s band) and Phil Varone (ex-Skid Row, Saigon Kick). But one of my personal favorites hands down goes to Toto’s Steve Lukather, whose Snickers bar recipe is no doubt something that’s near and dear to my own heart!

Perhaps the only complaint I’d have would be the diversity in recipes (it could have used more dessert/breakfast items s well). But other than that, there’s really not much to complain about here; this book literally delivers everything its title promises, and its net proceeds even go to benefit the foundation We Rock For Autism. As a lover of rock music for the majority of my life, and the uncle to an autistic nephew for eighteen years, there’s really very few cons I can find here. Regardless if ’80s rock is at the top of the food chain for you or not, there’s still surely something for everyone to enjoy on the menu that’s offered up here.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

 

Book Review: I Am C-3PO – The Inside Story By Anthony Daniels (DK)

C3PO - Edited (1)

By: Jesse Striewski

There’s no denying Anthony Daniels will always be best remembered for portraying the golden droid/servant C-3PO in each of the Star Wars films, going as far back as the original in 1977. And if you’re skeptical as to how this could possibly be an entertaining read because Daniels isn’t your typical big name Hollywood movie star, toss out your doubts and just dive in, because it is completely worth the ride.

Daniels doesn’t even waste much time digging into his own personal background much, or try to preach some political agenda to his readers here. Instead, he simply offers an honest, heartfelt summary of his journey as C-3PO, starting with his first meeting with George Lucas back in the mid-70s, and leading up to his last round as everyone’s favorite humanoid protocol droid in last year’s The Rise of Skywalker. Every detail he can possibly seem to think of (including the passing of his beloved co-star Carrie Fisher) is included in this well thought-out account. And with a forward by current Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, fan boys (present company included) should eat this up. Go in this with an open mind, and you won’t be disappointed here.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 

Book Review: Take It Off: KISS Truly Unmasked By Greg Prato (Jawbone Press)

Kiss Book Cover - Edited

By: Jesse Striewski

One of the most intriguing eras in the nearly five-decade history of KISS for many has always been that moment in time the band went without their trademark makeup from 1983 to 1996. Though a slightly awkward, yet indeed underrated period for the band, it’s finally brought back to the forefront thanks to the meticulous detail author Greg Prato has put into researching said time frame.

Starting things off with a forward by Fozzy front man Chris Jerhico, Prato covers everything from the early stages of the band’s non-makeup period with guitarist Vinnie Vincent, to the band’s eventual reunion of the original lineup in the mid-’90s. Various musicians, songwriters, producers, and others close to the band during this era, help tell the tale of one of the most storied periods of the band’s career. Even Mark St. John’s (extremely) brief stint with the band in 1984, is covered here like never before, and Prato also enlists the help of such KISS alumni as former guitarist Bruce Kulick (who replaced St. John) to help complete the story.

As an avid KISS fan, this one’s a no brain-er; most die hard fans of the band should find it easy enough to agree, while newcomers should find it enlightening.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 

Book Review: Playing Back the 80s – A Decade of Unstoppable Hits By Jim Beviglia (Rowan & Littlefield)

80s Book

By Jesse Striewski

If ever there was an appropriate book for Rewind It Magazine, Jim Beviglia’s Playing Back the 80s has got to be it. Throughout the book, Beviglia chronicles his personal favorite songs of the decade, giving intriguing, often new insight on many classic songs.

Along the way, Beviglia interviews the numerous artists, songwriters, or producers who were behind the making of the music itself, and all lend their versions of just how the songs actually came together. There’s plenty of never-before-heard stories that any fan of 1980’s culture should find a decent amount of interest in.

Iconic numbers you would expect such as Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” are all analyzed appropriately. But there’s even several profiled tracks that aren’t necessarily your average go-to’s, such as “She’s a Beauty” by The Tubes, “Talking in Your Sleep” by The Romantics, and even Jan Hammer’s “Original Miami Vice Theme” (just to name a few), all of which contain their own unique stories.

Sure, there are some questionable choices as well; Glen Frey’s “You Belong to the City” would have likely made a far more interesting song to cover than “Smuggler’s Blues.” And several notable artists from the decade are omitted completely, including Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, Tears for Fears, and even Oingo Boingo. Still, there’s no doubt Beviglia’s effort here is a labor of love, and worth the trip down memory lane for just about anyone with an appreciation for ’80s music.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Book Review: The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, & My Life of Impossibilities By Wayne Kramer (Da Capo Press)

wayne kramer 2

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s easy to assume that a book with a title like The Hard Stuff will be just another run-of-the-mill, mindless trip down memory lane by some reckless rock star. But surprisingly, MC5 guitarist/leader Wayne Kramer actually tells his tales of hardships – and accomplishments – through a refreshingly enlightened perspective, rather than simply bragging about rock n’ roll decadence.

Granted, there is plenty of it (decadence); from starting the MC5 in Detroit in the mid-60’s, to heavy drug use/dealing that eventually led him to serving time in prison, Kramer’s trip through rock stardom was unquestionably no walk in the park. But the fact he was able to come through it all not defeated and/or jaded and actually help set up a prison outreach program such as Jail Guitar Doors (along with his wife Margaret Kramer, and English folk hero Billy Bragg), speaks volumes.

I’ve never claimed to be the biggest MC5 fan in the world, but I’ve always held a certain level of respect for them; now after reading Kramer’s book, I have even more for not only the band, but Kramer himself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars