The Best New Reads for Classic Rock Fans

It must be the holiday season because a bunch of books about vintage rockers just came out

There are several terrific memoirs coming out this fall for the classic rock fan on your Christmas list. Here’s a look at five of them.

Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography
By Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza
October 28
Little, Brown and Company; $30
The intro is humble, grateful, and reflective, but the tales are honest—and pretty juicy. This is the story of Mick Fleetwood not of Fleetwood Mac. How supportive parents allowed him to quit high school and go to London to follow his musical dreams, even buying him a decent set of drums; how the original blues version of Fleetwood Mac rose out of the ‘60s London scene then moved to Los Angeles; how guitarist Lindsey Buckingham insisted that if he was going to join the band they’d also have to include his girlfriend Stevie Nicks. He is tender in his portrayal of his oldest friend, John McVie, and honest about how his affair with Stevie nearly ended his marriage. The stories are lush and poignantly told by a man looking back on a life where his devotion to making music came at a cost for the people he loved.

Led Zeppelin, on Led Zeppelin: Interviews and Encounters
Edited by Hank Bordowitz
November 2014
Chicago Review Press; $28.95
This book will save Led Zeppelin fans loads of time on research. It is an enormous compilation of print, radio, and TV interviews with the band from 1957 to 2012, illustrating each member’s point of view on every chapter of the group’s story. You hear their takes on the band’s meteoric rise, the onstage magic and offstage antics; what they thought of other musicians. The book also follows Page, Plant, and Jones on the varied paths they take after the death of John Bonham. A touching quote from a very young Bonham shows how it all went by too fast: “I could talk about Robert Plant for days because I know him so well. I think we were 16 when we met, which is six years ago. That’s a long time.”

Sound Man
By Glyn Johns
November 13
Blue Rider Press; $27.95
Glyn Johns may not be a household name, but he engineered or produced a multitude of ‘60s and ‘70s classic albums by Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beatles, Eagles, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, The Clash, and too many others to list. Recently, he worked with Ryan Adams and Band of Horses. The man has stories to tell, and with his acerbic British wit he’s decided to do so. Written entirely on his own, this book tells it like it is (or was)—and not just about the artists he worked with but about how he was at the right place at the right time in an era that can never be repeated. Like when his old friend Jimmy Page asked him to record this new band he was putting together that Keith Moon dubbed a Led Zeppelin. Or when he suggested the Beatles perform on the roof of the building that housed the Apple offices. Or how he ran into Bob Dylan in an airport, who asked Johns to approach the Beatles and the Stones about a collaboration with him (Mick and Paul said no way). Johns was there during some of the most iconic moments in rock history, and the details he remembers and the humor with which he recalls them make for a great read.

The Universal Tone – Bringing My Story to Light
By Carlos Santana with Ashley Kahn and Hal Miller
November 4
Little, Brown and Company; $30
In this mammoth memoir, Carlos Santana candidly tells his story from historical, musical, philosophical, and spiritual perspectives. It starts as a tribute to his parents, who were married for over 50 years, and their influence on his music. (His father was a working musician in Mexico and his mother took him to his first blues concert.) Learning the violin at a very early age, Santana got a bored with music as a teenager until he heard the “string benders,” black Americans guitarists playing the blues. A brutally honest account of his childhood is followed by a terrific description of capturing the crowd at Woodstock and launching his career. He reads like a humble, stand-up guy who didn’t love the special attention he got from family or music industry bigwigs. He goes on to tell of melding musical genres, worldwide success, and reaching a new generation of music lovers with the 1999 album Supernatural. The tireless campaigner for peace and joy has an optimistic voice that comes through on every page.

On the Road With Janis Joplin
By John Byrne Cooke
October 28
The Berkeley Publishing Group; $32.95
Janis isn’t around to tell her story, but someone who was right there with her until the end is. John Byrne Cooke was with the team of filmmakers on hand for Janis’s captivating performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, which launched her career. Six months later he became her road manager, a job he had until her untimely death. It starts as an interesting look at the music business and counter-culture of the ‘60s before launching into observations and stories about Janis herself: her frailty, talent, compassion, mood swings, and intellect. Her relationships with men, the gigs she played, conversations in the car, the places they stayed, and even where they stopped to eat are described in detail. Cooke is the one who found her the night she died, and the heart wrenching way in which he describes it and all that followed, including finishing the album she was working on, Pearl, is worth the whole book.