Tag Archives: Troy Bear blog

Wild Horses: The Flying Burrito Brothers

With the release of Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers by John Einarson and Chris Hillman, another door has opened on the history of what I call rhythm & blues-folk-country rock.   This book contains 326 pages of music history and enlightenment.   Hillman is recognized as one of the founders of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers (FBB), Manassas, and The Desert Rose Band.   His contribution to music is legendary.

Einarson has previously written Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of the Byrds’ Gene Clark; Desperadoes: The roots of Country Rock; For What It’s Worth: The Story of Buffalo Springfield;  Neil Young: Don’t Be Denied and several other books on contemporary music.

Hot Burritos is a book that covers not just the FBB’s history but also the wind currents swirling around the band during its creation, life and demise.   This is one of the first books to be critical of the myths and roles assigned to Gram Parsons.   It’s also one of the first that places Roger McGuinn in a positive light.   While much has been made of Parsons, more should be written about the involvement of McGuinn, Hillman, the Dillard Brothers, Young, Stephen Stills, Poco, and Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band.   They all shaped the special style of music that was to come.

This book is a continuation of Einarson’s look at how this hybrid music was forged.   Sadly, too many people believe the era began with The Eagles; a small cog present (as Linda Rondstadt’s back-up musicians) at the creation of the “country rock” era.   As this book delves into the music’s roots, we learn of great country bands and of the music of Bakersfield, California; a worthy rival to Nashville.   All of this music was imprinted on the FBB and their progeny.

It’s sad to look back to see how alcohol and drug abuse negated the creative forces of so many musicians and song writers.   And accidents that claimed the lives of some of the best…   How would the music of Rick Nelson, Clarence White and/or Gene Clark have evolved if not for their untimely deaths?     

It is hoped that Einarson will next explore the roles of Judy Collins, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Linda Rondstadt, Emmy Lou Harris and other women who were also integral creators of this style of music.   And, of course, would any of this have been possible without Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Elias McDaniel or Bob Dylan?   “Hey, mister tambourine man, play a song for me…”. 

Adapted and reprinted from the Troy Bear blog.   This review was written by Ice B. on February 18, 2009.Hot Burritos (lg.)

Also recomended is Are You Ready for the Country: Elvis, Dylan, Parsons & the Roots of Country Music by Peter Doggett.   John Einarson is currently working on a biography of the late Arthur Lee of the Los Angeles based band Love.

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How will your readers find you? The Findability Formula

The Findability Formula: The Easy, Non-Technical Approach to Search Engine Marketing by Heather Lutze is a book that tells business owners how to set up a successful marketing campaign.   And a successful campaign, these days, means having a website that can be found by Google and the other major search engines.

At first blush this would not seem to have much to do with writing books or even reviewing them.   However, one important lesson pointed out by Lutze is that businesses often make the mistake of focusing on the macro rather than the micro.   For example, a seller of TV sets may think it is easier to use internet ads with broad keywords (words that will be found by search engines) such as “TV seller” instead of “large screen plasma TVs.”   But the broader terms often get lost in the back pages of search engine results; and 87% of those using search engines never look past page 3 or 4 of the results!

The lesson here is that instead of thinking macro/large, it is better to think micro/small or unique.   For writers this may mean that the P.R. campaign for your new book should not sell it as THE NEXT BIG THING, or attempt to sell you as the second coming of THE BIG AUTHOR that readers already know quite well.   Besides, those references to already published big books and authors are going to get lost in the back pages of search engine results.   Who’s going to read you – and feed you – when you’re on page 64?

What does this mean for book review bloggers?   Maybe it’s fine to occasionally review a new book by a currently unknown author, one who has published his/her first novel or work of non-fiction.   If you write a review of Susan New or Joe First-Timer, your review will certainly be more easily found than the 700th review of the new book by Mr. BIG AUTHOR, who has already sold 80 million copies.   And one other thing, if you write about a BIG subject, like the biggest books written by the biggest authors, what is it that you’re going to say that is unique and that hasn’t been said by the major media publications?   The answer is, probably, not much.

Contra, if you’re an early adopter and reviewer of a new and rising author, you’re likely to build a lasting and long-term relationship with him/her and his/her publisher.   Further, it is guaranteed that every friend, family member and acquaintance of the new author is going to read your review; something quite unlikely to occur with your review of Mr. BIG AUTHOR.   (What satisfaction is there in writing the least read review of a new book?)

In summary, while The Findability Formula is a book that was intended to guide business owners rather than writers, book reviewers or bloggers, it offers everyone valuable lessons on how to use the right search engine approaches (including keywords and tags) to get people to read what you write.   It’s a guide book that’s worth purchasing unless you elect – in this age of the internet – to write for just yourself, your mother and your faithful dog.

Joseph Arellano

Reprinted and adapted from the Troy Bear blog.   Originally posted on May 21, 2009.Findability Formula (lg.)

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There’s a Wall in China… a Review of the Book Lucky Girl: A Memoir

They’ve got a wall in China/ It’s a thousand miles long/ To keep out the foreigners/ They made it strong/ And I’ve got a wall around me/ That you can’t see…   Paul Simon

I grew up with a cousin who was adopted.   lucky_girl_2He learned this fact in his early teens.   He became quite angry but also quickly managed to accept it.   I know that he completely loved his adopted parents and a huge part of him died when they did.

Growing up I used to wonder how my cousin would have reacted if he had learned who his birth parents – who we knew were not from the U.S. – were, or if they had sought to contact him.   This memoir, Lucky Girl, by Mei-Ling Hopgood provided the answers for me.   In this intriguing true story, Mei-Ling is born to parents in China who quickly give her up for adoption to a family in the state of Michigan, U.S.A.   After graduation from college, and during the first part of her career as a newspaper reporter, she discovers how to contact her birth parents and siblings.   They make clear that they very much wish to see her also, and the first of what would turn out to be multiple reunions is set.   Thus begins the new chapter in Mei-Ling’s life…

Mei-Ling must literally make a journey of thousands of miles to decipher the secrets of her birth family’s past, and to learn about the life she might have led.   Initially there’s much happiness but then the family facades give way to human weaknesses, cruelties and non-explainable behaviors.

Once Mei-Ling takes this trip to a past she never knew she first accepts it and then – somewhat blissfully – lets it go.  

Hopgood is a likeable narrator without an excess of ego; she freely expresses her foibles and failings.   Because we can identify with her, we feel her fears, her nervousness in certain situations, her disappointments in others.   She is, though, far from the most fluid or natural writer, and more than a few mixed tense sentences break the flow of thought.   Yet she manages to tell a very engaging – and very human-scale – story of meeting, accepting and defeating the ghosts of her past.   Because these are the ghosts that haunt every one of us, this is her personal story and our very own story.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of the Troy Bear blog.   This is a “bonus” review.

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These Books Can Help with RSI…

Two Books to Buy If You Suffer From RSI

If you’re like me, you type on your computer at work most of the day, then use your PC at home to cruise the internet and/or blog in your free time; you’re also surfing the internet and blogging using a wireless machine either at the local coffee shop or in the lobby of a business hotel.   Eventually, you may wind up with forearm, wrist, hand, shoulder, or back pains from using your hands and arms in an unnatural state for so long.   You may also suffer neck or jaw pain.  These days, this is almost normal but you still should seek to avoid the type of long-term damage that comes with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).

RSI has been called the “epidemic that began in the ’90s,” and it can damage the muscles, nerves and tendons of the hands, wrists and arms.   Fortunately, there’s both free and low-cost advice available to avoid becoming a diagnosed RSI sufferer.

Three websites offer specific information and helpful recommendations on this condition: healthy computing, RSI-Relief, and rsi help.   RSI help is the website of Deborah Quilter who literally “wrote the book” on the subject, Repetitive Strain Injury:  A Computer User’s Guide, with Dr. Emil Pascarelli.   This is an excellent book that can help you determine whether you are at risk for RSI – and most of us in today’s workplace are at risk – and give you the steps and tips you need to avoid permanent injury.

Once you’ve fully learned and incorporated the lessons of Quilter’s first book, you might want to purchase her second book (pictured), The Repetitive Strain Injury Recovery Book, which provides a type of check-list approach to remind you to continue to use the positive techniques you learned earlier.

A final point on RSI…   Everyone is different and Quilter points out that what works for one person may not work for another.   Experimenting is key.   This is quite true…   A few years back I was suffering an initial bout of RSI-type symptoms and the I.T. guy in the office gave me a roller-ball mouse.   Like Quilter, I found this was not helpful; the roller-ball actually requires more movement and led to severe pain in my right hand.

The same I.T. guy then brought me a thumb-click mouse.   As if by magic, about 80% of my pain and discomfort went away within days!   But this remedy was not meant to be a permanent one, and I likely fell back into some bad habits.   So now I’m re-reading Quilter’s books to see how I can re-learn the lessons that will enable me to keep word processing and blogging!

Joseph Arellano

Note:   These books were purchased by the reviewer.

Reprinted courtesy of the Troy Bear blog; originally posted on March 14, 2009.RSI_8

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Ladies of the Canyon: A Review of the book Girls Like Us

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller

This is, quite simply, a fabulous book about the careers of three key singer-songwriter-musicians of the ’60s and ’70s and beyond; the three just happened to be women.   There was a big surprise for me in the reading, as I had earlier read that author Weller interviewed both Carly Simon and Carole King.   She did not have the opportunity to directly interact with Joni Mitchell.

Based on this, I fully expected this to be a book strong in details about Carly and Carole, and weak on information about Joni.   This was not the case…  As someone else said, Weller spoke to virtually every musician, friend and intimate in Joni’s life and it shows!

The next surprise is that I was sure the tales of Carly and Joni would sizzle like steak fajitas, while Carole’s life story would sit to the side like a bland order of re-fried beans.   Instead, both Joni and Carole come off as fascinating early hippie-earth mothers, who were blessed with both tremendous intelligence and natural musical skills.   (Despite my initial doubts, Weller fully and effectively makes the case for Carole’s stature in modern rock and music history.)

Carly, sadly, comes off as a patrician – daughter of the extremely wealthy founder of Simon and Schuster – who married a fellow patrician.   This, of course, was James Taylor, whose father ran the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.   “James was a…  lifelong-privilege man.”

Here, Carly’s career appears to be a product of social connections, luck (she was often said to be the least talented of the singing Simon Sisters trio) and blatant use of her long-legged sex appeal.   “(There was) a sex-teasing leitmotif in every one of Carly’s early albums.”

Also, a lot of Carly’s story is devoted to James’ drug use and abuse; a topic that simply does not make for interesting reading.   The days of wine and roses, this is not.   Concerning Carly’s patrician status, Jac Holzman, founder and president of Electra Records said that he and the singer “were from similar backgrounds – haute Jewish New York, although she was certainly more Brahmin.”

Further, Weller notes that Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone wrote of Carly with faint-praise-turned-full:  “She has the whitest of white voices and uses it well, singing…  with her faultless enunciation.   Her almost literal note-for-note phrasing of songs is…  ingenuous.”

Weller has to be given props for finding the fascinating details you won’t find in other musician/band bios.   I’ll provide just one example here…   GirlsWeller writes of a young man who cleaned apartments in the Bronx in return for using the occupants’ pianos.   While most immigrant families managed to scrimp and save enough to purchase a piano, this young Italian immigrant’s family was just too poor to do so.   We came to know him as Bobby Darin, and one of the tenement flats he regularly cleaned belonged to the parents of a young woman who came to be called Connie Francis!

Weller may not be quite as talented when it comes to describing the turbulent culture and times of the ’60s and ’70s, but then this is still a rock and folk-music tale after all and not a pure historical overview.   All in all, this is a fabulous read that adds heft to the musical reputations of Joni Mitchell and Carole King, as it somewhat diminishes the career of one Carly Simon.

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer at Orinda Books.

Reprinted courtesy of the Troy Bear blog; originally posted on May 27, 2009.

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The Rain Falls on Bad Moon Rising (a book review…)

Let me provide a warning right up front…   If you’re a huge John C. Fogerty (JCF) fan and wish to remain as such, you may not want to read this book.   If you’re on the fence about Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and not sure whether they were a great band or simply both a lucky and extraordinarily unlucky one, this book may convince you that the latter is more likely the case.   This band biography is simply not a pretty picture which is why Bad Moon Rising is subtitled, “The Unauthorized History of CCR.”

How bad does JCF come off here?   On page 293 of this 316-page treatise, he’s quoted as saying:  “We call these Beatles songs and I guess we call them Monkees songs, and in my case we call them Creedence songs.   But actually, John Fogerty wrote all the songs.   So I think now that I’m out in this limelight, I’m going to try and straighten out that misconception.”

Ouch!   Not only does JFC compare CCR to both Those Guys and The Monkees, but he refers to himself (Himself?) in the third person.   The book does, on the plus side, clear up the misconception that JCF refused to appear at the deathbed of his brother Tom.   But little else here puts either JCF or the two other surviving CCR members – now in Creedence Clearwater Revisited – in a positive light.

Slogging through this book is like revisiting the worst parts of your own family’s history while watching an unpleasant soap opera on the tube.   And remember all those stories about Saul Zaentz, founder and head of Berkeley-based Fantasy Records, as the supposed bad guy (which culminated with JCF’s solo song Zanz Can’t Dance/Vanz Can’t Dance)?   There’s little here dealing with this, which may even be fortunate.

Bottom line, there’s more unsaid than said in this not so definitive book which was advertised as covering “30-odd years of legal wrangling, thwarted ambitions and lost potential.”   Lost potential for the reader, definitely.

For me, it has been more difficult to listen to either JCF or CCR since reading this book.   No more unauthorized band biographies for me, as long as I can see the light.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

Reprinted courtesy of the Troy Bear blog; originally posted on April 27, 2009.

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Once A Runner, Now A Writer… (a book review)

Do you have a runner in your book club?   If so, you might want to consider adding Again to Carthage by John L. Parker, Jr. to your club’s reading list.

Parker is a former attorney who once ran on the University of Florida track team, where he recorded a time of 4:06 in the mile.   In 1978, he self-published 5,000 copies of Once A Runner which Slate magazine called “the best novel ever written about distance running.”   Runner’s World labeled it, “The best novel ever written about running.”   High praise.

The classic Runner is now out of print – fetching between $70 to $350 a copy on sites like Craig’s list and Bookfinder – but will be sold again via running stores and Amazon.com, etc., beginning in April of this year.

But you don’t have to wait until April to read Parker, as Carthage (published in late 2007) is readily available.   This is the sequel to Runner and deals with an attorney who is going through a mid-life and mid-career crisis.   Guess what he turns to in order to attempt to find his old self?   Yes, you’re right, running.

The lead character, Quenton Cassidy, decides to try to become a world-class marathoner, despite his advanced age.   Frankly, I had my problems with the first half of the book (which I purchased in a Fleet Feet store).   The sentences tended to ramble and run on too long.   Also, there was the fear that this was going to be another John Grisham-like quasi-legal novel. 

Perhaps because the author came close to dying halfway through the writing, and went from typing the book on a computer to writing the finish on legal tablets, the second half is quite different.   The language assumes a laser-like focus whether dealing with life and death or running; although to Parker they are mostly one and the same.

You will think you know precisely where this story is going – a major flaw with me with Grisham – but then something surprising intervenes close to the end.   It may be viewed as a miracle, a near miracle, or simply Parker’s acceptance of the spiritual.   Either way, the novel ends brilliantly and you’ll instantly wish you had a copy of Once A Runner in hand.   In April you will.

I read an interview with Parker in which he made clear that for him the true test of commitment in life is how much a runner gives to his/her running.   Parker, like his fictional character Cassidy, is willing to do no less than die while running.   Luckily for us, Parker has survived to give his all to his writing:  “It was like cutting the top off my head and pouring out everything about running that was in there into this (book) and just making sure it wove into the plotline.”

If I haven’t been clear about this, let me say it here:  runners will love this book!

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

Reprinted courtesy of the Troy Bear blog; originally posted on March 2, 2009.Again_2

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