I don’t read as much as I used to. However, I recently made my way through two biographies-one recent, one older-of legendary soul musicians, and am chomping at the bit to check out more books in a similar vein.
The first of the two books was Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar, and the title is pretty much what you get. Best known for the classic “My Guy,” Mary was, indeed, the predecessor to Diana Ross in the Motown Kingdom. She, somewhat misguidedly, left the label soon after her biggest hit, and was relegated to virtual career purgatory immediately after. The book covers the Motown years, the split, and the aftermath of the split. It pays special attention to Wells’ troubles finding a hit (and eventually, finding a label.) It also delves into her personal relationships, including long-term relationships with two of the Womack brothers (who had their own weird relationship history with the family of Sam Cooke.) It’s a helluva interesting read, and you can look at my full review over on our sister site, Popdose.
The other book was Dave Marsh’s For The Record: An Oral History of Sly & The Family Stone. Though fifteen years old, I’d never come across the book before (thanks to Popblerd’s own Doctor Gonzo for the gifting) and was certainly happy for it to come into my possession. It took me less than 24 hours to get through the book, which should speak highly to its quality. Interviewing most of the Family Stone (save for Sly himself) as well as family members, spouses, label folks and sidemen, the story of Sly’s rise to rock/soul superpower in the early Seventies and his subsequent fall is ridiculously intriguing.
While the rise-and-fall story (complete with wild ego-tripping and rampant substance abuse) is damn near cliche in the annals of music biographies, Sly’s is particularly poignant-especially because Sly remains a mightily reclusive figure to this day and either doesn’t or can’t do much speaking in his own favor. Also of interest to me: the various (and conflicting) accounts of how Larry Graham left the Family Stone. All I can say is–read the book. Music wasn’t the only funky shit happening with the Family Stone.
Wells and Sly have both been profiled on the excellent documentary series UnSung, and these books serve as excellent companion pieces (or vice versa.)
What have you been reading lately? Are there other books in this vein that you would recommend? Leave a note for us in the comments section!