Skip to main content

Harmony Lane: Bookshelves are bursting with bios, resources

On the bookshelf: "The Sophomores, and Me," "Disco-File," "The R&B Indies" and more. In the CD Tray: Little Willie John, The Coasters, Brian Wilson and more. Plus, Todd Baptista's book and CD wish lists for 2009.

Not a month goes by that I don’t receive an e-mail or two inquiring about my first book, “Group Harmony: Behind The Rhythm And The Blues,” which has been out of print for eight years. Sure, I love to write, but I love to read, as well, and I’ve been enjoying the fruits of other’s labors in recent months. Following are some standouts.

Disclosure: In case you were wondering, I neither asked for, nor received any discounted or “promotional” copies of any of the books mentioned in this piece.

On The Bookshelf

“The Sophomores, and Me”

There is one autobiography well worth mentioning: “The Sophomores, and Me,” by Daniel W. Hood. Danny, now 75, was the bass singer for the 1950s R&B group that recorded for Dawn Records (“Cool Cool Baby”, “Every Night About This Time”), Chord, and Epic (“Charades”). This nearly 400-page paperback is a firsthand account of growing up in the inner-city Boston suburb of Roxbury, his days as a touring and recording artist, and, at the heart of his work, an honest, sobering and introspective look at families, relationships and life.

Hood’s relaxed, descriptive style is appealing, engaging, gripping, occasionally heart-wrenching, and often, plain funny. Subtitled “A Love Story,” the book is just that — a loving, candid volume which culminates in a reunion performance by the surviving original members at a concert awards show and, ultimately, closure and resolution in the singer’s private life. Priced at $17.99, it is available from most online retailers, including


The granddaddy of vocal group harmony discographies, “Disco-File,” by Fernando L. Gonzalez originally was published in 1974 with a second edition following in 1977. Now, a third edition, covering more than 10,000 American vocal groups and 80,000 song titles from 1890 to 1999 fills a whopping 2,500 pages. Often extracted from available record-company files and the artists themselves, the data includes catalog and master numbers, session dates and takes, release dates, group members, transcriptions, unissued recording data, and much more.

A good 10 years ago, I helped one ’50s R&B group put out a very limited-edition cassette (less than 50 copies) to sell at their gigs. Imagine my surprise to find it listed, as well! Not only has the second edition of “Disco-File” been out of print for some 30 years, it’s almost impossible to come by one. If you’re a fan, you owe it to yourself to grab the Third Edition now. Divided into five spiral-bound volumes, the price is $175 — which comes out to be less than 7 cents a page! For more information, send a letter to P. O. Box 2941 Huntington Station, NY 11746 or e-mail

“The R&B Indies”

By now, I suspect most hard-core collectors know about Bob McGrath’s incredible “The R&B Indies” series, a four-volume set covering African-American music and independent record labels from 1944 to 1980.

These volumes are arranged alphabetically by record label and include all known releases and a reproduction of the logo. Some, but not all, entries will also give release year information. Hundreds of labels (Raymac, Pek, Do, Onezy, for example) have only one or two releases. Others, like King, Prestige, Capitol and Musicor, run for many pages. Want to know what was released on Brother Thermon Ruth’s Dody label or Teddy Scott’s tiny G-Clef imprint, or how close you are to r