As a ravenous reader of books, I can never get enough of them, both for myself to read and to give other people. One of the big delights of my life is taking note of books that I think will be perfect gifts for my friends and family. Especially nonfiction books by people they admire. I love surprising my brother-in-law with a new book about a band he loves, or giving my husband the latest rock memoirs by his favorite musicians. And it seems like there are more incredible music memoirs every year! Is there a celebrity left who hasn’t written a memoir?? (Spoiler: Tom Waits. But there’s always next year.)
One of the great things about rock n’ roll memoirs is that they not only discuss the music you love, but they also conjure up memories of the times and places you heard that music. Like a familiar scent, music can transport you back to some very important times in your life. which is what makes it such a wonderful universal experience. And the lives of the people who create those experiences are often so fascinating. Here are 20 fantastic music memoirs and biographies to share with the people you care about—or to buy for yourself.
With Alan Light
Frampton describes his beginnings in Humble Pie; his work with George Harrison, Harry Nilsson, Stevie Wonder, B. B. King, and members of Pearl Jam; his close friendship with David Bowie; his struggles with substance abuse; and Frampton Comes Alive!, one of the most successful live album of all time, with more than 17 million copies sold.
Foreword by Patti Smith
The hard-rocking wild bassist of The Red Hot Chili Peppers spills a lot of secrets and spouts a lot of wisdom! Originally from Australia, Flea came to the United States as a child, where he ran wild as a youngster before becoming a founding member of one of the most famous rock bands in the world.
Guided by Voices has long been an influential indie band, formed in the early 1980s by longtime grade school teacher Pollard. Yet despite their legendary status, GBV's story has remained a bit of a mystery, until Pollard's close friend Cutter wrote this in-depth look.
by Ian Winwood
Ah, the early 1990s, which gave rise to grunge, reality television, and scads of amazing pop punk bands. Fans of the last punk wave of the 20th century, both young and old, will be delighted by Winwood's richly detailed accounts of some of the era's biggest bands, such as Green day and The Offspring, as well as the bands that influenced them.
by Bad Religion
With Jim Ruland
And speaking of the punk explosion, this is a deep dive into Bad Religion, one of music's most resilient American punk bands. Through a series of interviews with the band's four key members, Ruland puts together the hard rocking and hard living done by the band for over four decades.
With Joel Selvin
Foreword by Slash
This is Megadeth frontman Mustaine's personal account of creating and recording Rust in Peace, one of the most successful heavy metal records in history. (Many people still don't know that before he formed Megadeth, Mustaine was a member of Metallica. Imagine being a part of not one but two iconic heavy metal bands!)
With Preston Lauterbach
Foreword by Elijah Wald
To this day, very little is known about guitarist Robert Johnson and his short career, other than the story of how he supposedly sold his soul to the Devil to become the greatest guitar player in the world. Anderson, Johnson's sister, has now shed more light on the famed musician with this intimate look into their life together as children.
by Steven Hyden
Just in time for its 20th anniversary comes an investigation of one of the biggest genre-defying records in rock music: Radiohead's Kid A. Hyden tells the story of the band's fourth album that divided fans and critics, but remains a huge musical influence to this day.
And this is the authorized biography of one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. For over eight decades, Ravi Shankar composed and performed groundbreaking classical Indian music, played the largest festivals in the world, taught George Harrison the sitar, and more.
by Loretta Lynn
Foreword by Dolly Parton
One of my favorite kinds of biographies is celebrities writing about other celebrities. In Me & Patsy, country music icon Loretta Lynn talks about her friendship with Patsy Cline, known for such classics as "Crazy" and "Walking at Midnight," and whose musical destiny was cut short by a fatal plane crash. (It also includes an introduction by another legend: Dolly Parton.)
by Mark Lanegan
This is an example of a beautifully written memoir that should be read by everyone, whether you are familiar with Mark Lanegan's work or not. Lanegan was the singer of one of The Screaming Trees, one of Seattle's biggest grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s, but despite fame, his drug use led him to destitution and crime. Here he discusses his fight for sobriety and his continuing musical work.
by Paul Rees
Arguably the least famous member of The Who after Roger Daltry, Pete Townsend, and Keith Moon, John Entwistle was nonetheless just as talented and influential—and more mysterious—than his bandmates. This authorized biography reveals never-before known stories about one of rock's most talented bassists.
by Philip Clark
This is long-overdue look into one of the most influential and legendary figures in jazz history. Clark wrote this in-depth examination of Dave Brubeck, most famous for "Take Five," after years of research into the man, as well as unparalleled access to his band in the early 2000s.
Foreword by Viggo Mortensen
As the iconic drummer of The Doors, one of history's biggest rock bands, John Densmore had unique access and opportunity to work with some of the world's most famous artists. He discusses his time spent with Ravi Shankar, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Gustavo Dudamel, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis and more.
And this is Grammy and Academy Award-nominated singer-songwriter Moorer's harrowing account of the unthinkable tragedy that struck her family when she was a teenager, and how she overcame her grief and began to heal with the help of her sister and music. It's an inspirational story of love and hope.
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Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, co-host of All the Books, and above all else, a ravenous reader. She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, who hate to read.