Stacy's Book Reviews
Authors: Don't See Your Book Reviewed Below? Send Me a Copy!(Email Me To Obtain My Mailing Address)
Despite the a book sprinkled with such names as Sonny James, Gene Autry, Doc & Merle Watson, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Paycheck, Juice Newton, Lyle Lovett and Chris Hillman, Off My Rocker: One Man's Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music is not a country-music book.
Rather, Kenny Weissberg has produced a coming-of-age music memoir that opens with the then-University of Wisconsin sophomore at the front of the line on December 10, 1967 to buy a $3 ticket for an Otis Redding concert. Redding, of course, never made the 6:30 p.m. concert, perishing when his private plane plunged into a lake three miles from the Madison airport.
Weissberg, a (mostly) nice Jewish Jersey boy, who spent much of the Summer of 1967 as a hospital orderly at Newark's Beth Israel Hospital, would not let his summer job deter the "quasi vegetarian" from journeying to Woodstock where, during the Summer of Love, Kenny was among those who bought a ticket before the music fest was turned into a free-for-all.
long-hair's introduction to promiscuous sex, illegal drugs (Weissberg
got high on mescaline, his drug of choice) and the new cultural norm of
rock 'n' roll colored Kenny's politics. The sociology major, who
was enjoying his student deferment in 1970, was just short of
graduating college in the Vietnam era when he learned there was no
deferring his mandatory physical.
couldn't delay the indignity but he knew how to fail the physical,
rewarded with the 4-F status he coveted.
The California dreamin' South Orange native was then off to Santa Barbara, with a girlfriend along for the ride. The move was off to a rocky start when, following a traffic stop, Kenny was arrested for predictable reasons and jailed. Subsequently, after he reluctantly plea-bargained, Weissberg was convicted of public intoxication, receiving a suspended sentence and a $250 fine.
Santa Barbara for greener pastures that briefly brought him to Orange,
Boulder, Colorado and Madison, Wisconsin before Kenny returned back
after, KRNW-FM’s owner, left in the lurch,
offered 23-year-old Kenny an air shift, affording Weissberg the
play Kenny’s favorites (ranging from Otis Redding to Kristofferson),
equally eclectic, underground radio station collection. Two
weeks later, when Weissberg ’s friend and
colleague, Jason Sherman, told Kenny he was leaving KRNW for a better
opportunity at a
Six years later, though still in the “pre-AIDS era of the early 1970s," after adventures including indulgencing in sexual trysts and drugs while on-air and “juggling” his “expansive harem” while in “perpetual coital motion,” Kenny met Helen.
Helen’s adulterous relationship with Weissberg was the impetus for Kenny’s settling down with her.
Professionally, Weissberg's radio career expanded. He was still spinning records, but now, this master of networking was also interviewing artists (including Jim Croce and a drunken, Gram Parsons- accompanied by Emmylou Harris) on his show and even writing record and concert reviews for Denver’s underground newspaper when he wasn’t writing magazine articles, including an assignment from Rolling Stone, notable because it was “bumped.” (Weissberg subsequently achieved greater success as a music critic, writing for a thousand magazine and newspaper reviews for CREEM and 16 other publications) .
By 1973, Tom Waits was another of the budding print
journalist’s interview subjects and four years later, when KNRW
KBCO-FM, Kenny hosted
a six-hour Sunday evening music/talk show while
continuing his print journalism career as a weekly music columnist for
By 1978, Weissberg was fronting Kenny and the Kritixs (a gig that lasted three and a half years). As the group's popularity peaked, the experience overlapped a less euphoric period in Kenny's life; Weissberg having “quit or got fired from four part-time jobs in 1980.”
Kenny had spent time in
October, 1986 Kenny decided to break with an
unscrupulous “boss,” ending not only his “cocaine binges” but 19 years
of illicit drug
use. In 1993, Weissberg returned to radio,
this time as the host of Music Without Borders, on
years later, KiFM was sold and Kenny landed at
KUPR Radio in
century concert promotion career
punctuated by his short radio stints, Kenny began the first years of
the 21st century absent a
radio job until
Without Borders… aired on five different
In 2006, having produced, promoted and purchased talent for shows featuring such headliners as Whitney Houston, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, James Brown and Aretha Franklin, Weissberg ended yet another phase of his multifaceted career (the concert promotion and production portion marred by some admitted “box office chicanery”) with the satisfied realization that his 23-year “career as a concert producer was bookended by Miles Davis and Joan Baez.”
Realizing that “The party is over,” Kenny, “down to a single key to my house and a smart key to my Lexus,” spent the much of 2007 “disoriented.”
Eventually, Kenny resurfaced erratically; first as a music business consultant, then turning down job offers and, as his own boss, when he would so chose, becoming professionally “invisible.”
Having lived to tell the tale, Kenny proceeded to do so and Off My Rocker is the gripping, celebrity-anecdotal result.
Buck ‘Em is being publicized and, in some sectors, reviewed as though it were indeed just that, but the reality is not quite that simple.
Buck wanted to tell his own story in his own words and deliberately set about preparing to write his autobiography over a period of several years by making audio tapes of his memories as they occurred to him. There was also never any doubt that he would work with a collaborator and, over the years, several writers expressed interest in his life story.
Kathryn Burke’s paperback titled The Dust Bowl, The Bakersfield Sound and Buck, touted as authorized biography, was published in 2008, Eileen Sisk notably had Owens’ confidence to a point, but that working relationship disintegrated to the point where Eileen’s massive research revealed such a gap between the facts and Owens’ narrative that, fearing retaliation, Sisk did not feel she could safely publish what became her warts-and-all title Buck Owens: The Biography until Buck’s passing.
got the green light from Owens’surviving family members because he was
ultimately agreeable to a task more akin to that of a stenographer,
the watchful eye of the Buck Owens Private Foundation, Inc., which
the Buck ‘Em copyright with Poe.
Randy admits to making grammatical changes to his transcriptions of the tapes, as well as a bit of profanity editing. Save for those stylistic quibbles, and a misspelling of Charley Pride’s name, Poe does a great job of organizing Buck Owens’ reminiscences, enlisting additional reflections from Owens’ devotees Brad Paisley (who wrote the foreword) and Dwight Yoakam (who contributed the preface).
Buck ‘Em’s whopping 135 chapters suggest a book much longer than this one’s 333 pages (including a much-appreciated index), but these numerically “titled” excerpts run only a few pages at most in what is largely an episodic presentation punctuated by rare photos, mostly from Buck's and his family’s private collection.
Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr. was a Texas-born sharecropper’s son, fascinated to learn that his mother was older than his father. Buck, who explains the unremarkable derivation of his nickname, came to a darker family-related realization as, one by one, Owens' family members succumbed to various forms of the dreaded disease from which Buck himself was not able to escape: cancer. (Though Owens underwent cancer surgery, Buck's actual cause of death was a heart attack.)
Owens' tapes reflect his feelings about his many professional accomplishments of which his decades’-long recording career (that launched a television career, beginning with local TV appearances leading to a Buck’s hosting the syndicated Buck Owens Ranch show and making appearances on network series that came to the attention of Hee Haw’s producers, who tapped Buck as a natural choice to team with Roy Clark, later joining Clark as a Country Music Hall of Fame inductee) was but one.
Without the benefit of much formal education, Owens took pride in his street smarts and ability to amass a multimillion-dollar fortune as a result of his entrepreneurial skills.
Buck found weaknesses in his recording and TV contracts that he was successfully (an in a few instances unwittingly) able to variously exploit or otherwise negotiate to his benefit.
as a hit songwriter, entertainer, and philanthropist, Buck was also a
publisher, owner of radio and TV stations, the owner of
For monogamy, as Buck tells us in his own words, was not his strong suit: “I can safely say that at least ninety percent of the troubles I’ve had in my lifetime had to do with… trying to have too many women at the same time.” It was easier for Owens to demonstrate loyalty toward business associates like his longtime booking agent and manager, Jack McFadden whom Buck championed after Jack, having made big promises, closed the sale, not only by keeping his commitments but also by doing so in a manner exceeding Owens’ expectations.
other interesting relationships were with Merle Haggard and Roy Clark. Owens
contends that there were of issues of greater
consequence in his relationship with the Hag than Merle’s marrying
ex-wife, Bonnie Owens. Similarly,
claims his relationship with
Owens’ strongest personal relationships were reserved for his family of origin, his bandleader and lead guitarist Don Rich (lesser-known as a fiddler, Rich was the only one of Buck’s Buckaroos whom Buck regarded as a blood brother) and, to a lesser extent, Owens’ sons, Mike and Buddy.
After Rich’s death, Buck fell into a depression. Owens’ infidelities and attempts at reconciliation proved to be too much for at least one of his wives; after Phyllis’ release from an involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward, where she landed after a Valium overdose, she wanted out of the marriage.
These lesser-known bits of tabloid fodder preceded a well-publicized year in Buck Owens’ life during which Buck moved in with Jennifer Joyce Smith (whom readers are told was the love of Owens’ life), a few months before marrying Jana Jae, the mother of two.
Then, as always, Buck knew how to extricate himself from the mess he created, though not before his indecisive actions of filing for an annulment from Jana Jae, trying to retract the annulment and then appealing (publicly) for Jana Jae to return to him.
As it happened, Buck won back both Jana Jae and Jennifer Joyce. Two years later Buck married Jennifer and still later they renewed their vows.
Owens’s attempts to settle down seemed to succeed only after he quit recording, touring and writing songs. But an improbable relationship with Dwight Yoakam resurrected Buck's career which he was once again able to enjoy, having reduced the pace, on his own terms.
In many respects, Buck Owens had a hard life. But his talent for excusing himself when the going got rough served him well in the end. He died just as we might all wish to: in his sleep.
For instance, who knew that Rickie Lee Skaggs is the name on the birth certificate of the boy whose misspelled first name was inspired by his mother, Dorothy’s love of the I Love Lucy TV series- and of Dorothy Skaggs’ love of Desi Arnaz’ character, Ricky Ricardo?
A child prodigy, Ricky Skaggs came from a musical family who recognized and encouraged their son’s talent early on. Christianity was also woven into the Skaggs’ family fabric and Ricky became born again at age 13.
Skaggs’ teenage years were highlighted by his meeting Keith Whitley. The boys were close in age and their common interest in, and ability to play and sing, bluegrass became an early lifelong bond for the young collaborators who became friendly rivals.
Ricky reveals that his adolescence was marked by his failure to graduate from high school- Skaggs left school, one credit short of a diploma, to pursue his musical career. During the years that followed, Ricky partook of road life, memorably taking his first drink as a member of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys band.
The period was also eventful as it marked Ricky’s introduction to The Whites. Though it would be several year before Ricky married into the White family, personally and professionally, Ricky reveals that his future wife, Sharon White’s sister, Cheryl dated Keith Whitley during that time.
At the same time that Ricky was
romancing Ralph Stanley’s daughter, Brenda (whom Skaggs met while
a campaign rally when Ralph was running for
At that point, Ricky wanted to earn more
money and to move to
and Brenda married, Brenda
continued to work in
Ricky quickly returned to music. He worked as a fiddler with The Country Gentlemen, sat in with The Seldom Scene and did session work before meeting Emmylou Harris (and passing on an offer to play fiddle in Harris' band).
Finally, in 1974, a job offer from J.D. Crowe enabled Ricky to embrace music as an economically-justifiable career when Skaggs became a featured member of Crowe’s band, The New South, singing harmony and playing mandolin for $500/week.
After leaving Crowe’s band, Ricky worked with Boone Creek, leaving Boone Creek when the opportunity arose to replace Rodney Crowell, who was leaving Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band. (Skaggs refused Harris’ first offer because it was for a musician, not a musician and vocalist.)
It was Emmylou Harris who coined the phrase “Picky Ricky” in order to describe what from then on became an oft-quoted, concise summary of Skaggs’ meticulous approach to music.
As Ricky and Brenda became parents, the births of Mandy and Andrew put further strain on family life that was already punctuated by Ricky’s constantly being on the road.
Marital problems could not be contained
even as Ricky’s professional career was taking off, allowing him to
the small, Sugar
Hill record label to Epic Records, a major label on
No sooner had Ricky changed labels than Emmylou Harris told her Hot Band they were on their own (as she was electing to prolong her conventional maternity leave to spend more time with her growing family) and Brenda served Ricky with divorce papers..
The product of a family that did not believe in divorce, Ricky Skaggs tried to rationalize that shared value with his reality. His sorrow led him to rekindle his friendship with Sharon White. Sharon, also a Christian who had married and divorced since she and Ricky first got to know each other, began to see Skaggs as more than a friend and, amid the couple’s awareness of its shared background and values, romance was on Ricky’s mind as well.
Ricky and Sharon married and produced a daughter (Molly) and son (Luke) of their own.
As newlyweds, Sharon and Ricky’s new-found happiness was challenged by the news that seven-year-old Andrew Skaggs, a passenger in his mother’s car, had been shot by a trucker in a substance-induced act of road rage.
Ricky Skaggs gives an honest and detailed account of that period in his life, devoting equal attention to the circumstances, and effect, of Keith Whitley’s sudden death.
Along the way, Ricky also formed his own band, Kentucky Thunder.
Readers will be interested in Skaggs’ discussions of his moves between bluegrass and country music and the reaction from his fans as well as the feedback from those Ricky admires. Skaggs is similarly candid about his evangelizing from the stage, the ruckus it that has created, and as a result, Ricky’s attempt to find a balance between what he believes to be his mission and how to best fulfill it.
Eddie Dean’s success in capturing Ricky’s distinct voice wavers a bit in these pages, at times reading like Ricky, at other times reading like Eddie.
Dean also might have also noted- and stylistically remedied- the contradiction in the words Ricky uses to express his love of his mother’s lard-laden fried chicken: “Oh, my Lord, Mama’s fried chicken could bring peace to the Middle East.”
Maybe so, Eddie should have parenthetically noted, but only in the highly unlikely event Israelis abandon the dietary laws.
Further, while Ricky’s narrative about his mostly-successful attempts to avoid temptation while on the road sounds sincere, this book makes no mention of- let alone any effort to perhaps set the record straight about- at least one suggestion to the contrary: a photo (in Phil Kaufman’s 1993 book, Road Mangler Deluxe) of Ricky ogling a nude woman.
There is also Dean’s identification of Oakley Stanley as “Ralph’s first or second cousin.” The precise relationship of Oakley Stanley and Ralph Stanley, if in doubt, could have been easily researched.
But my chief beef with this book is that it has no index.
Hopefully, the paperback version will remedy that.
The World Almanac® and Book of Facts: 2013 is the latest annual edition of "
Since 1868, this ready reference has chronicled history, geography, economics, science, education, entertainment, sports and other, sometimes highly statistical, areas of interest to the delight of those ranging from researchers to trivia fans.
In the Internet age, when anyone can post any "information," sourced or not, with a frightening, sometime real, expectation that it will go viral and thus achieve authenticity, it is reassuring to know that, be it in the hardback, paperback or the Kindle edition, The World Almanac® and Book of Facts: 2013 has survived even the demise of bookstores that stocked previous editions.
A section titled Country
Music Artists of the Past and Present will be of special interest to
country-music fans who will be interested to know if their favorite(s)
senior Sarah Janssen's uncharacteristically subject list that ranges
from A (as
in Roy Acuff) to Z (as in Zac
Brown Band). The Acuff entry includes the dates of
Another section devoted to televised awards shows by no means lists them all. In fact, of all the exclusively country music awards shows, the only televised production that made the cut was the 2012 Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM).for 2012
There's also the perennial issue of what is left out. The Farewell section (which acknowledges Kitty Wells' passing) includes the mention and photos of only 23 other celebrities who died in 2012. If there had not been such a rush to make the December 4, 2012 publication perhaps the Christmas Eve deaths of Jack Klugman and Charles Durning, as well as other celebrities who died in December, 2012, would also have been noted in this evidently exclusive list.)
(Can you spell space limitations? After all, the paperback edition runs 1,008 pages!
For a project that, by definition, will never be all things to all people, year in and year out, The World Almanac® and Book of Facts... does an impressive job. Any area of interest I do not readily find by simply flipping through the pages, if it is included, will be easily found by utilizing this reference's impressive index. (Compiling a readily searchable index, especially for a project of this size, is a monumental task; one reason, to the consternation of book readers and especially book reviewers, many publishers abandon these often expensive- if compiled correctly- assists altogether.)
As I get older, the The World Almanac® and Book of Facts...' print seems to get smaller. But if Baby Boomers don't mind springing for a magnifying glass, reading glasses or the like, they won't find a resource with which to entertain themselves and/or to impress their family and friends.
Luck or Something Like It: A Memoir is the autobiography (rather than a memoir) Kenny
Rogers says that, in the
committing himself to his previously-published books, Kenny resisted
to write for years.
Unfortunately, the book suffers from that assembly line approach.
When the book’s first ghostwriter, Patsi Bale Cox died, literary agent Mel Berger, working with Kenny’s friend, writer Kelly Junkermann (co-author of Kenny’s book, The Toy Shoppe) and editor Lisa Sharkey, “found a guy named Allen Rucker” to complete the book. Reviews of Cox’s previous books noted that she was error-prone (Tanya Tucker’s autobiography was a prime example) and given to falling short of a ghostwriter’s biggest challenge: to write in the “voice” of her/his subject (Loretta Lynn’s “voice” is uniquely the singer’s own). Rucker’s previous work (most demonstrably portions of Gretchen Wilson’s autobiography) is notable for Allen’s lack of curiosity and/or inability to ask the natural follow-up question.
The limitations of both ghostwriters’ work are evident in Kenny Rogers’ latest book (Check out the butchered spelling of veteran record label promotions director and sales executive Frank Leffel’s surname), though it should be equally emphasized that the two have done an impressive job of including so much material about their subject in a mere 294 pages; and that doesn’t even include the accompanying eight pages of photos (some of which are from Junkermann’s, Rogers’ and his sister’s personal collections.)
For his part, Kenny is effusive in his praise of both Patsi and Allen and the transition from one ghost to the other is seamless. However, the first clue that this book is not what it should be comes with a glance at the cover art and dedication (more about those in due course).
In the hands of an author such as myself, (i.e., one who also reviews books and who has been published by HarperCollins’ Collins Books imprint), the contract would have mandated that this HarperCollins’ William Morrow imprint include an index.
An index is imperative when keeping track of Kenny Rogers’ various recordings, family members, famous friends, escape from imminent bankruptcy, travels and busy career as an actor, singer, songwriter, sports enthusiast, raconteur, restaurateur and philanthropist.
In spite of
learn that Kenneth, as
Kenny’s candor in sharing details of his hardscrabble childhood, adolescence (which included an arrest for joyriding) and strained relationship with his alcoholic father (whose personality, his son emphasizes, was anything but one-dimensional) make for an interesting read as does Rogers' early professional work as a rock, jazz and folk singer and musician.
instance, Kenny’s earliest rock group,
The Scholars’ experiences playing clubs included a pre-Kennedy
at one of the
multi-matrimonial adventures began
with a brief, shotgun marriage to Janice Wray, the mother of
This book's dedication, which includes the names of Kenny's other children, omits that of his only daughter. While there is no direct explanation for the omission, readers are informed that, following Kenny’s divorce from Janice and Wray’s remarriage, Rogers reluctantly agreed to allow Janice’s new husband to adopt Carole. While Kenny says he allowed himself to be convinced that the adoption and, going forward, his absence from his daughter’s life, were in Carole’s best interest, any connecting of the dots rings hollow.
If, despite Rogers’ paying $80/week in child support payments, Kenny’s visitation with Carole was limited to only a couple of hours per week, as People magazine indicated in an article published in 1980 (in which it was also stated that, after visiting the-then 22-year-old Carole only once in 15 years, Kenny attempted a 1979 reconciliation by flying “Carole and her mother in for a visit and a Hawaiian vacation,”) then the failure to mention Carole (with whom, to his day, Kenny says he has “never bonded”), when given such a great opportunity over three decades later to extend yet another olive branch, speaks volumes.
In the hands of a more inquisitive ghost, there would have been followup questions, providing (greater) context, to such statements in the book as Kenny's indicating that he dated Anita Bryant and that, later in life, he was a pallbearer at Vincente Minnelli’s funeral.
writer would also have corrected
is hardest on his third wife,
As Kenny’s first three marriages are chronicled, so are his professional accomplishments to that point. Briefly a college student, who was more interested in playing jazz with the Bobby Doyle Three, Rogers went on to be mentored by the leader of the Kirby Stone Four before finding folk fame with the New Christy Minstrels.
Most impressively, Kenny explains his next musical transformation, that of an aging rocker who found unlikely acceptance as the lead singer of the First Edition. Sporting rose-tinted glasses, a gold earring and long hair, Kenny details his First Edition years in greater detail than he volunteers the less pleasant aspects of his life.
learn that the group’s early signature song, Mickey Newbury’s
psychedelic Just Dropped In was first “promised” to
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Kenny does not mention, let alone explain the reason for, The First
subsequently known and billed as Kenny Rogers & The First Edition (perhaps modestly assuming it is obvious),
Readers learn that when Thelma left the group, Karen Carpenter was among the singers who auditioned to replace Comacho. While First Edition fans may know that Thelma’s replacement was Mary Arnold, they may not have known until now that Kenny introduced Mary to her future husband, Roger Miller.
Kenny explains in some
detail that he also separately
introduced The First Edition to both a rather rude Tom Jones and
“Ringo Starr’s finger.” And, readers
learn, the element of “luck” referenced in the title certainly applies
bit of trivia: Johnny Cash’s recorded Don Schlitz’ The
Gambler before Kenny did and, as
of a decade since its formation, with only a few changes in personnel
between, Kenny Rogers & the First Edition disbanded.
At that point, Kenny’s road from jazz to folk
to rock took him
But, as he
admittedly jumped aboard the country-music bandwagon, Kenny continued
by Ken Kragen, though only after a deal that
Shug did help Kenny find
backup musicians, but
tried to musically reinvent himself, he had a stroke of luck when Ken
booked him on Hee-Haw. On
the set of the TV series,
Predictably, Marianne became Kenny’s fourth wife and the mother of their son, Christopher.
of attention to detail is evidenced in a Jerry Seinfeld anecdote. After telling the tale Kenny indicates that
“Someday I would honestly love to hear his side of the story.” Of course, unless
Likewise, if Kenny Rogers Roasters was more than a footnote in the expansion of Rogers’ business interests, as would seem to be the case given the pulling out all of the stops level of promotion the restaurant chain received from Kenny at the time of its launch, the period of Rogers’ involvement with the business deserves more then the passing mention it gets here.
duet partnerships with Kim Carnes, Dolly Parton, Sheena Easton and even
Bogguss are detailed here. as is Kenny’s
career. The latter,
Luck struck again when, after The Commodores passed on the unfinished version of Lionel Richie’s Lady, Rogers encouragement led to Richie’s not only completing the song, but in Lady becoming yet another #1 hit for Kenny.
There are great stories here about those who have underestimated Rogers, including an otherwise unnamed RCA Records head honcho (presumably Bob Fead), as well as an amusing story about Kenny's level of success convincing him that he needed an entourage.
This, of course, is not Kenny Rogers' first book. One of several others, Making It With Music, which contained elements of autobiography, was the book Rogers once said would suffice as his life story. But it's not that book, nor Kenny's cookbook, but rather his photography books, notably, Your Friends and Mine, Rogers’ coffee table book of celebrity photos, about which Kenny is seemingly the most proud. For the singer's photography books are another lucky byproduct of Kenny’s passion for photography.
Additionally, while airbrushed celebrity photos are so common they are seldom any longer noted, in light of the disastrous results of Kenny’s surgery, it seems ironic that not only is Kelly Junkermann’s cover photo of Rogers airbrushed- the apparently decades-old photo isn’t even “pre-plastic surgery” recent!
Kenny gives no insight into the
reasons for his divorce from fourth wife, Marianne other than an
obvious trigger in the form of the phone sex
scandal that precipitated it.