The Music Guy

by John James

The Music Guy  John James can be reached via cyberspace at

Whole lotta Led Zeppelin for Christmas holidays

Santa and your friendly local postal carrier might be wishing that everyone gave digital gifts this year, as gift cards and iTunes credits surely lighten the load of their sacks. I’m sorry, St. Nick, but the perfect gift to thrill the music fan might be one of four new glossy, coffee-table books — sure to dazzle the eye with a lot more than the tiny screen of an iPod or a Kindle. It’s pure sensory overload in Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin: The Illustrated History of the Heaviest Band of All Time from Jon Bream and the Voyageur Press. At almost 300 pages, the colorful scrapbook of visual ephemera tracks the band’s genesis in 1968 through 1980 and beyond, with original tour posters, press kits, T-shirts, bootleg albums, patches, ticket stubs and all sorts of visceral delight. Think you’ve seen it all? Rest up chump, there’s more eye candy here to keep a fan drooling in their headphones for a month. A graphic artist and photographer’s dream with their good looks and majestic, slightly sinister imagery, their run of album covers with designers Hipgnosis are worthy of entry to the Album Cover Hall of Fame, from the naked children of Houses of the Holy to the eerie black statuette of Presence. Do you remember the brown-paper bagged LPs of 1979’s In Through the Out Door? With the possibility of six different jackets within, each held another secret — hidden dyes printed with the ink that revealed colors when the jacket got damp. Dude! Trippy stuff indeed, if a beer got spilled. As a band, you know you’ve made an impact, when, as in my generation, the drawing of the cloaked man on the cliff with the lantern from the inner gatefold of IV was painstakingly transferred to backs of many an Army field jacket in ball-point pen, like honored homemade tattoos in prison clique. Top rock journalists add commentary, alongside interviews with recording engineers and anecdotes from Ace Frehley, Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, Steve Earle, Jon Bon Jovi and Ray Davies. One inclusion is a long lost gem — William S. Burroughs’ “Uranium Willie and the Heavy Metal Kid: A Near Forgotten Talk with Jimmy Page,” originally published in the June 1975 issue of Crawdaddy. Year by year, complete tour dates are also included, helping me finally pinpoint that spring in ’77 and all the memories that went with it… More Hipgnosis bliss is in the newly expanded, fourth edition of Mind Over Matter: The Images of Pink Floyd by Storm Thorgerson and Peter Curzon. The Omnibus Press adds 30 more pages to this edition, revealing more about the making of 14 original album covers, as well as box sets, posters, re-issues, DVD menus and eventually a massive airship. At nearly the size of an LP record, the beautiful and witty photography that dominates the Hipgnosis look explodes in the mind, begging that every other page be torn from its spine and framed immediately. Highlights include concept sketches, the twin eyeballs of Pulse, a stained-glass creation of Dark Side of the Moon, the giant chair from 1997’s 30 th anniversary celebration and early infrared experiments. Also brought up to date are later collaborations on solo albums and tours, including Roger Waters’ 2006 tour performing Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. Using Monet as a jumping off point, the iconic album cover was recreated as if by Jackson Pollack, Roy Lichenstein, George Seurat and Andy Warhol, with many examples collected here. Does Robert Pollard ever sleep? An ‘ber-prolific songwriter who flicks out melodies like a Vegas blackjack dealer, the Guided By Voices’ helmsman is a busy visual provocateur as well, as deadly with a glue-stick as he is with a recording studio. One of the things that make the plethora of releases from his many aliases so special and intimate is the running thread of cover art by Pollard himself, a former elementary school teacher and silent, thought-provoking master of collage. Over 180 of his favorites have been hand-selected by the artist, including a dozen new works, in Town of Mirrors: The Reassembled Imagery of Robert Pollard from Fantagraphics Books. As lo-fi as it gets with just scissors and paste, the wonderment is in the perfect moments of juxtaposition that collide into little stories and little secrets. The world of country music lost a dear friend earlier this year when Leon Kagarise died, a fan whose interest in the emerging hi-fi sound of the 1960s captured the budding community of hillbilly music like no other. Traveling the East Coast with a bulky reel-to-reel tape recorder in a suitcase, he followed the Country Radio star circuit, commonly playing in outdoor parks or on backwoods stages. For an entrance fee of a dollar a carload — and don’t forget the picnic basket — rural families mingled in and around the performers like a radiant medieval fair. Leaving behind over 4,000 hours of live performances and lost radio shows, Kagarise left another legacy: over 700 color slides he snapped over the years with his $20 dollar Zeiss Ikon camera. These photos are presented in the stunning Pure Country: The Leon Kagarise Archives, 1961-1971 from the Process/ Daniel 13 Books imprint. Like walking in the land of giants, all the greats are here — Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, Grandpa Jones, Pee Wee King, Jim Reeves, Bill Monroe, Porter Wagoner and a young George Jones, sporting a tight crew cut and a bad-ass black suit. Never to miss a gorgeous country gal under the trees, these candid shots document the sharp fashion sense of the time from the workingman to the shiny star. Also included is the story of Kagarise’s eventual collection of 250,000 records and examples of the original poster art advertising Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn and others at West Grove, Penn.’s Sunset Park.