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  • rockandhomeplacecoverBetween Rock And A Home Place
    Author: Chuck Leavell With J. Marshall Craig
    Publisher: Mercer University Press
    Reviewed: January, 2010

    If you love music; if you love the stories behind some of the greatest artists and their recordings; if you love learning about the personal lives of artists, then Chuck Leavell’s Between Rock And A Home Place is a must read for you.

    Leavell, keyboardist for The Rolling Stones for twenty-eight years and counting, has performed and recorded with some of the most iconic names in music – especially rock and roll. From his days with The Allman Brothers (that’s his ivory work on the classic, Jessica) to some of his more current contributions, this piano prodigy has seen and done it all.

    And while all the music history in this tome is fascinating, what I found particularly intriguing is Chuck’s extensive knowledge and work in the area of forestry and conservation. It blew my mind and piqued my interest in the subject. What you’ve got to understand is that I am not what one would commonly think of as one who would normally be interested in those subjects. However, Leavell’s telling of his work to build his family home and business, Charlane Plantation (his wife, Rose Lane, being the third generation to own the property), into a thriving tree farm and retreat is just downright fascinating.

    While many celebrities merely pay lip service to the idea of the environment and the earth’s resources, Chuck Leavell has literally put his money where his mouth is. Not only that, it’s obvious that he puts real world intelligence into his philosophy of conservation. Being the realist that he is, Leavell recognizes the economic reality of responsible harvesting of trees and their replenishment. He knows that mankind relies on products that come from trees as well as the jobs directly to the forest and lumber industries.

    While the book was published in 2004 and lots has happened in all aspects of Chuck Leavell’s life, career and business, Between Rock And A Home Place is still very much of an entertaining and informative read. You’ll definitely want this book in your personal library.

  • Posted April, 2009

    billkeith.2Keith Richards and Bill German - Courtesy of Bill GermanImagine that you’re sixteen years old.  Do you remember which famous person, or persons, that you idolized and fantasized about meeting or hanging out with?  Admit it!  You’ve done it and so have I.  The closest that most of us have ever come to realizing those dreams were paying to see our idols in concert or hanging out at the hotel that where they stayed.  If we were real lucky, we managed to buy excellent seats or catch a glimpse of the objects of our affections before they disappeared into a limo or the hotel.

    For most of us, if we achieved that level of “success”, we’d talk about it for a lifetime, driving everyone within earshot absolutely crazy.  However, there are those who have refused to accept a mere glimpse at the rich and famous.  Some pursue actually knowing them on a personal basis.  Bill German is just such a person.

    As a teenager in the late ‘70’s, Mr. German started a newsletter dedicated to news about the Stones.  It was named after what is arguably the best album ever recorded by the Stones entitled, “Beggar’s Banquet”.  Bill parlayed his labor of love into not only meeting the boys in the band but managed to become personal friends with the band’s legendary guitarist, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. 

    Having been a Stones fan since I was the same age as German and being incredibly envious of his achievements in this area, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he has a book coming out that details his life with the bad boys of rock and roll.  The tome is entitled, “Under Their Thumb”.  It’s a warts and all, open kimono recounting of German’s life and times with Mick and the boys.

    I tracked Bill down in New York City to ask him about his relationship with the Rolling Stones as well as his future plans.  He was kind enough to oblige despite his incredibly busy schedule promoting his book and preliminary ground work on future books.

    German’s story is very similar to Cameron Crowe and “Almost Famous”.  The big difference is that Bill witnessed the inner workings and battles within the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.  While newspapers and magazines all over the world could only speculate and rely on second and third hand information about the perceived demise of the band, German was a first hand observer of what actually took place.  And, often to the chagrin of Sir Mick, reported the events in “Beggar’s Banquet”.

    In summarizing how it all started, German relates that “I was an aspiring journalist (my idol was Tom Snyder) and a rabid Rolling Stones fan.  In 1978, as I was turning 16, I decided to marry the two by launching my "Beggars Banquet" newsletter. I printed the first year of issues in the mimeo room of my high school.  I tried selling copies to my classmates, but found no takers.  Ironically, it was the Stones who took notice and welcomed me into their circle.  (Every time I published a new issue, I'd make sure they received copies, by either leaving it with their doormen, or by presenting it to them in person at New York City's nightclubs.)

    Eventually, the band put German on the Stones payroll but found dealing with their business associates “a frustrating experience, and, in the end, I preferred maintaining my independence.  Eventually, my business relationship with the Stones returned to a ‘I make my own money and pay my own way’ policy.”

    “Under Their Thumb” isn’t the first book Bill German has been involved with the writing of.  In the mid-eighties, he co-wrote, “The Works” with Ronnie Wood.  While German didn’t make much money from his efforts, he undertook the task because he “was the only person who could write it.”

    German’s “Beggar’s Banquet” opened doors to other Stones-related gigs such as an article covering the band’s 1990 tour was published in Rolling Stone Magazine; a print interview with Keith Richards for Spin Magazine as well as for ABC Radio.  He was also asked to do a lot of “Stones reporting” for various other radio stations.

    When I asked Bill to name his best and worst experiences during his “Beggar’s Banquet” years, he good naturedly says, “Hey, Randy, I can write a book about it!  Oh, wait, I have!  In short, I'd say the best part was the mid-'80s, spending quality time with Keith and Ronnie; watching Stones jams at the recording studio or in Ronnie's kitchen and basement.  Feeling like there was no other place on earth I wanted to be.

    The lousy parts were dealing with the Stones' ‘machinery,’ as they became over-corporatized and a little too focused on the bottom line.  It left me pretty disenchanted.”
    Beggar's Banquet ceased publication in 1996.  However, German is offering the archives for sale at his website, BeggarsBanquetonline.com, for diehard fans.  I asked Bill why he stopped his labor of love.

    “There's the Stones-related reason, which I discuss in the previous answer.  The over-corporatization sucked the fun out of it and made it more difficult to find the man-bites-dog stories, which is a journalist's job) - too many people running interference.  But there were also financial, personal, and technological reasons: Making very little money, working 24-7 (feeling like I was always on call), and dealing with snail mail, postage stamps, printers, etc.  If the Web were around, it'd have saved me tons of time and energy.”

    When asked  if he’s still in contact with Keith or Ronnie, he offers, “Not in a while.  I did send Keith & Patti (Keith’s wife of 25 years) an advance copy of the book about a month ago, but wasn't expecting to hear back.”    Why?  “Keith ain't the type to send e-mail or grab the horn and call anybody.”  Continuing on, he adds, “I tried to reach Ronnie a few months back, but he was in rehab.  And now that he's out, he's moved in with his mistress/girlfriend, and I don't have his current contact info.”

    I asked Bill if, with the release of his book, he assumes that any relationship with the Stones is all but over.  He concedes that it’s highly unlikely that he will receive any congratulatory messages from the band’s Prince of Darkness.  One reason is that Bill gives his unvarnished view and interpretation of various events.  Some of those do not portray Jagger in the most flattering of ways.  The most nefarious of stories was recently splashed all over the New York Post.

    German says, “As hard as it may be for Stones fans to understand, I'd already detached myself from the Stones quite a bit in order to write this book (so that I could reflect on my memories.) That's combined with the fact that it's just not as easy as it used to be to hang out with them.  They've got families now, as well as more layers of intermediaries.  (Not to mention ever-changing phone numbers and hotel pseudonyms.) The book -- unintentionally -- comes off as a love letter to Keith and Ronnie, so we'll see what I hear from them.  As for Mick, I'm probably off his Christmas list.”

    I mentioned that I noticed in the Stones’s “Four Flicks” DVD collection, there are scenes that seem to strain at portraying the band as relatively clean family guys.  I asked German if this was an accurate image.  “I can't really comment, since I haven't hung out with them in a while.  Ron's obviously been in and out of rehab lately.  The only time I ever witnessed Mick do drugs was during that one night in Ron's basement (which of course is what the New York Post zoned in on).”

    Speaking of Ron Wood, I asked German to give his prediction as to whether or not Woody would come to his senses and live his grandchild-aged girlfriend and return to his lovely wife, Jo.  “Your guess is as good as mine, but I hope it's the former.  He wouldn't be alive today if it were not for her love, support, and vigilance.”

    After the promotional work for “Thumb” is complete, German has more literary work on his radar.  He says, “I've been approached to ghost-write the memoir of a famous rock photographer, but, whether or not I take on that project, I'd like to continue writing memoirs about other facets of my life.  As big a presence as the Stones had, they represent only a fraction of the unique people I've known in my life.”

    An engrossing page turner for Rolling Stones fans, “Under Their Thumb” is currently available at large bookstores everywhere.

  • everynightscoverEvery Night’s A Saturday Night
    Author: Bobby Keys with Bill Ditenhafer
    Forward by: Keith Richards
    Publisher: Counterpoint Press
    Release Date: February 28, 2012
    Review Date: April 8, 2012

    I’ve got to interview lots of artists. As of this writing, I’ve conducted close to ninety interviews. The most fun are the kinds of interviews are the ones where the person is just rattling off story after story about their life and the people they’ve associated with over their careers. What is even more enjoyable is when those conversations are relaxed and folksy – without pretense or an uppity attitude.

    One such person that I’ve recently interviewed is Bobby Keys, saxophonist for the Rolling Stones. To paraphrase what I wrote in that interview, he’s folksy and as country as cornbread – my kind of people! Bobby’s a great guy to chat with and one of the most fun guys I’ve had the privilege of interviewing.

    You might not be able to interview Bobby Keys yourself but I can offer you the next best thing: His autobiography, Every Night’s A Saturday Night. Easy to read and very natural, you get the feel that you’re sitting in Keys’ family room, sipping on iced tea as he regales you with tales of his life as one of the go-to sax players in rock and roll. Because of who all he’s worked with, I refer to him as the Forest Gump of Rock and Roll. When you read Saturday Night, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    You’ll read about the whole, complete story about his fabled bath in a tub of Dom Perignon. You read some very interesting stories about his friendship with John Lennon and his work with George Harrison and hanging with Harry Nilsson. You’ll read about his tours with Joe Cocker as well as Delaney and Bonnie. He tells of his meetings with Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley.

    Of course, there are lots and lots of stories about some band called the Rolling Stones and some guys by the names of Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Mick Jagger and their keyboardist, Chuck Leavell. No, he really doesn’t dish any dirt on the lads. As he said in my interview with him, that’s all be said and done already. To Keys, it’s all about the music and the friendships and that’s what makes Every Night’s A Saturday Night such a fun and enjoyable read.

    It goes without saying that avid Stones fans will want this book. However, if you love true – and often hilarious – stories about some of the greatest names in rock music (as well as some of the songs and albums associated with them), you’re going to want this book.

  • lifecoverLife
    Author: Keith Richards with James Fox
    Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
    Reviewed: November, 2010

    The long awaited autobiography by legendary Rolling Stone guitarist, Keith Richards, is now in stores and being devoured by fans the world over. Weighing in at 544 very readable, informative, historical pages, I was pleasantly surprised at lucidity with which “Keef” tells his story.

    I know some of you will credit James Fox for making Richards easily comprehendible and that may very well be the case. However, Fox still needed a lot to work with. That said, my bet is that this is Keith “thru and thru” (Stones fans will get the pun.

    The book opens with Richards’ perspective of the famous 1975 bust in Fordyce, Arkansas, cluing the reader in to the negotiations and shenanigans that took place to get him and Ronnie Wood sprung from jail. I was particularly interested in this story since Keith alluded to the event when my daughter and I caught the Stones during their tour stop in Little Rock in 2007.

    The rest of the book is equally as unvarnished in telling known and unknown stories about the Stones. Stories behind the songs? Absolutely. Stories about the women in his life? Yep. How ‘bout Brian Jones’ death. A little bit. What about the legendary drug use? C’mon! We’re talking about Keef! Of course he spills the beaker on it all.

    Also shared in his own way with words are war stories from the road, the studio and a myriad of places from around the world. The gossip-monger that resides in each and every one of us will especially relish the digs and barbs he reserves especially for Mick Jagger. How much of it is for show or for real, I don’t know. But it does make for some very fascinating reading.

    What will be of special interest to musicians – especially guitarists – will be the various secrets to much of Richards’ guitar playing. This, along with the stories behind the songs, is where you see the world in which Keith Richards lives and breathes, deservedly giving him the reputation as being a true rock troubadour.

    The tome closes with a heart touching story of some of the last moments with his mom as she lay dying. To me, the story shows me that Keef isn’t as out of it as he likes to come across. He allows the reader a peek into a very special and personal moment in his life without sharing everything. One is left with the feeling that there other things that took place between a mother and her son before she passed away.

    The book left me with the impression that Keith wanted to tell everything from his perspective while, at the same time, say some things that he felt needed to be said. He clearly is seeing that there’s less of life’s road ahead of him than there is behind him. Perhaps that’s why he’s obviously no longer as concerned about his rock and roll pirate image as he places more importance on family and relationships.

    Such is Life.

  • undertheirthumbcoverUnder Their Thumb: How A Nice Boy From Brooklyn Got Mixed Up With The Rolling Stones (And Lived To Tell About It)

    Author: Bill German

    Publisher: Villard

    Reviewed: August, 2009

    I will start off by saying that “Under Their Thumb” is a must read for two categories of people. The first, obviously, are the vast legions of Rolling Stone fans. The second group is those of us who get inspiration from those who pursue their dreams and accomplish them. 

    As I stated in my interview with Bill German, he has accomplished what few have and in a Cameron Crowe like way.  His book covers everyday scenarios that involve the Stones. They take place in hotels, basements, kitchens, living rooms, offices, backstage, on stage, and night clubs. You name, Bill was there. 

    You sense while reading “Thumb” that German felt, and still feels, tremendous respect and awe for the boys in the band – even when they and their massive machinery apparently treated him the exact opposite. This reflects the kind of stuff people are made of and Bill German is made up of great character and superior upbringing. I seriously doubt most of us would have put up with what he did, for as long as he did, and still treat these people as kindly as Bill does. He closes the book by saying that Keith and Ronnie “feel like long lost uncles to me.”

    Being a behind-the-scenes/how-the-watch-is-made kind of guy, I was intrigued by the details of the Stones machinery. Yet, I was disappointed at how it commoditized human beings. As German says in the book, “They’ve (the Stones) had plenty of people depart on them, and they’ve always just stepped over the bodies. That’s what makes the Stones the Stones.”

    I won’t reveal much about this book because I believe that it’s worth buying and reading so I don’t want to detract in any way from it. I will say, though, that I believe chapter 40 should be required reading by every human being on the planet. It speaks volumes about values, priorities, the preciousness of life, and the things that really matter in life. It’s very sobering and is my favorite part of the whole book.

    I started this review by mentioning that the book will be an inspiration. Bill German’s story is one of passion, tenacity, pureness of heart, and a child-like wonder in his pursuit of a story and of his relationship with the Rolling Stones. As I stated earlier, it is also a lesson in how strong character will help one persevere and, when it’s all said and done, shows those around you what a class act you really are. That is the measure of this book and the measure of the man, Bill German.

    You can buy “Under Their Thumb” at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon, Borders, or Barnes and Noble.