Three New Guitarist Memoirs

I'm a fan of music biographies so I recently took a chance to get caught up on 3 new autobiographies by rock guitarists. Each one offers its own pleasures if you are a fan of that particular guitarist.

Tony Iommi was a founder of Black Sabbath and he is also the only member who has survived through every iteration of the band. Unlike the biography of his more famous bandmate Ozzy Osbourne, whose I Am Ozzy from a year ago wandered off into tales of reality television and rehab, Iommi's biography pretty much sticks to the music. He grew up working class English and was able to develop his unique sound after he lost two fingertips in an industrial accident. Using homemade leather thimbles and loosening the strings of his guitar, he was not only able to thrive as a guitarist but as a side-effect created his own heavy signature.

Much of the book is stories of recording and touring, as well as meeting with various rock and roll idols. Anyone but the most dedicated Black Sabbath fans might find themselves dozing off in later parts of the book, as Iommi continues on with versions of Black Sabbath (later reuniting with Ozzy and the others) but certainly the first half of the book, detailing the original Black Sabbath years are lively. Despite consistently being named as one of the most influential heavy metal guitarists, Iommi comes off as humble and likeable. His recent diagnosis of lymphoma might add another unfortunate chapter.

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Perhaps as equally influential a guitarist is Ace Frehley of KISS, whose No Regrets is a raucous look at a rock star's life in one of the biggest rock bands of all time. Frehley was hired on by KISS (not yet known as KISS at the time) whose professionalism and work ethic was already intact. Gene Simmons seems like the driver of the band and besides Frehley he is the most vivid character in this book. Simmons has always come across as someone for whom selling product was more important than making music, and Frehley does nothing to dispel this idea. But Ace also seems to admire Simmons' professionalism and points out his many insecurities and eccentricities along the way. Peter Criss was probably Frehley's best friend in the band, and we get details of their misadventures, while Paul Stanley remains an enigma.

The first half of the book details Frehley's attempts to deal with sudden massive stardom and the churn of touring while finding his literal "voice" in the band. He was generally acknowledged as having produced the best of the band's 4 solo albums in the 1970s while also displaying a nasty drug and alcohol addiction, so Frehley's decision to leave the band must have surprised no one. The book then covers his attempts to find sobriety while bouncing between a solo career and a reuinted KISS. Along the way we get debauchery, electrocution and a discussion of how "live" KISS Alive! really was. A timeline of car crashes is all that was missing!

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Finally, Nile Rodgers, a co-founder of Chic and later a hit producer for the likes of David Bowie, Madonna and Duran Duran has his say in Le Freak. The book details Rodgers' turbulent childhood, growing up with a junkie mother and stepfather, while seeing his real father succumb to drugs as well. He details a youth hanging out at parties filled with heroin users as well as various attempts to escape this life by moving with his family from New York to Southern California and back. The book is filled with many colorful stories of growing up within beatnik/hippie scenes.

Luckily Rodgers discovered guitar along the way and was able to come up with his unique funky chicken scratch style. He founded Chic with bassist Bernard Edwards, the concept behind the band being their faceless professionalism. They never truly had a "frontman" but instead would bring in a rotating group of singers. Their meteoric rise in the disco scene (and subsequent fall when disco fell out of fashion) paved the way for Rodgers' career as a producer (and a nasty cocaine and alcohol addiction as well). We get some vivid stories of producing David Bowie's Let's Dance, Diana Ross's Diana and Madonna's Like a Virgin. I only wish he had provided more musical anecdotes along the way.

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Here are the aforementioned guitarists in action:

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