Book Reviews: David Bowie, Graham Bonnet

Book reviews of "David Bowie - 2018 Rare Records & Tapes Price Guide" and "Graham Bonnet: The Story Behind the Shades."
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Graham Bonnet: The Story Behind the Shades - the Authorised Illustrated Biography

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by Steve Wright

(Easy on the Eye Books)

ISBN 978-0-95614389-7-6

Despite a career that had its first hit in 1968, peaked with Rainbow, included stints with Michael Schenker (briefly) and his own Alcatrazz, and corked up a few more hits in his own right, Graham Bonnet never did quite make it to household name status. But it wasn’t through want of trying, and it certainly wasn’t through lack of talent.

The man once descrbed by Ozzy Osboune as the best rock vocalist he ever witnessed also possesses some of the most distinctive pipes around… plus, he looked the part; cool, sharp, debonair-but-dangerous; like Ian Hunter, he became personified by his omnipresent shades. But unlike certain other folk, he never looked a wally when he wore them. (Check out the cover photo, by the way. It says it all.)

The Story Behind the Shades is Bonnet’s opportunity to tell his own stories, through the eyes of arch-fan Steve Wright… his introduction mentions that this book has been germinating since the early 1990s, and the depth of research and exploration that fill its 176 tightly-packed (and tiny typefaced) pages testifies to a project that goes far beyond the traditional realms of an authorized biography.

Indeed, when the size of the print (it really is minute) starts getting you down, there’s so much illustrative material splashed colorfully across almost every page that the whole thing doubles as a scrapbook. Interviews with friends and associates take the story back as far as you could wish, while Bonnet himself neither pulls punches nor avoids them. If ever the true story of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow is written, Bonnet’s chapters here will be essential reading.

Yet Rainbow is probably the least interesting of Bonnet’s manifold projects, at least from a reader’s point of view. The band, after all, was already established and, while slipping into Ronnie James Dio’s shoes was certainly not an easy task, the dillema cut both ways - “I actually didn’t know who Rainbow was, or even what kind of music they played,” he admits. Overcoming that hurdle, the task pushing the band on to even greater success than it had already experienced was easy.

No, the meat here lies on either side of the Rainbow years - the story of the Marbles, and his early solo years; rocking on Ringo’s Ring O’Records; the early-eighties hit “Night Games,” and the fun’n’games that accompanied his stint with MSG, and on into the modern age without any loss of enthusiasm from either writer or artist.

Too often, authorised biogs fall into the trap of regarding recent years as somewhat crucial than earlier ones, with entire decades being written off in less space than it took to get through a week in the first few chapters. Here, if a story’s worth telling, it gets told, and they’re worth hearing, as well.

A thoroughly enjoyable book, then, and a labor of love from all concerned. You need to read it.

Tamsin Darke

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David Bowie - 2018 Rare Records & Tapes Price Guide

(Lulu Publishing

ISBN 978-1-387-31832-2

The (almost) two years since David Bowie’s death have seen no slow-down in the perceived value of his back catalog, with sellers’ optimism now approaching Beatles levels of “oh, it’s by him. I’d better add a zero to the price.”

Such behavior is, of course, human nature. Digging through the attic one day, they come across… oh, I don’t know, a mildly warped blue vinyl copy of “Blue Jean.” With visions of a car payment dancing in their head, they put it up on e-Bay and maybe, just maybe, someone will click on the link and wonder whether $80 really is the selling price, or if it’s just a typo.

Hope for the latter. The latest edition of Darke’s invaluable guide to Bowie prices values it at $8. Which still seems high, but there’s probably someone out there who wants it.

There are fortunes to be made from the old Bowie collection, of course. His entire sixties output continues to soar - a copy of his very first single, “Liza Jane,” sold for $6,593 earlier this year, and it’s still out-ranked by the prices of a dozen other singles and LPs. Sundry promos, test pressings, the legendary “Time” 45 picture sleeve, they all push the biggest Bowie rarities into a rarified stratosphere, and we mere mortals can but drool at the prospect of owning a copy. Or even seeing one.

The bulk of Bowie’s catalogue, however, remains… if not in pocket money prices (Darke even notes matrix variations valued up to $300+)… at least within the realms of accessibility. And that, for buyers and sellers alike, is the beauty of this slender (128pp) paperback. Calmly and without a hint of hyperbole, the listings range through Bowie’s back pages to offer what really do appear to be realistic values for (deep breath) every American and UK single, 12-inch, LP, picture disc, cassette, cassingle, 8-Track, reel-to-reel, promo LP, mini disc and DCC to appear under his name. Plus selected bootleg singles.

Reissues and repressing are listed by their own year of release, there’s the aforementioned matrix numbers, alternate pressings, and even varieties spawned by different pressing plants. Indeed, there is so much incidental material included that to call this book a mere price guide in many ways does it a disservice - the depth of detail is stunning and possibly even overwhelming. Did you know there were fourteen different versions of Ziggy Stardust released in 1972 alone?

Originally published across two volumes (individually devoted to singles and albums/tapes) during 2016, this new single-volume version updates both the pricing and the listings - it even includes the still awaited replacement disc for the bitched box set version of Heroes. It also, for the first time, adds a checklist featue to allow collectors to keep track of their own collection. Which, as a reminder on the back cover points out, makes it “perfect for record fairs, swamp-meets… crowded record stores” and so forth. The book has also changed shape, from the bigger-than-a-single square, to a more pocket-friendly 6x9 paperback. It’s thin enough that it’ll bend, and even roll-up, to fit said pocket; but, if you insist on carrying it around on your phone, there’s an e-Book version available as well.

Every artist should have a book like this.