Seven-Inch Vinyl: A Rock and Roll Novel
By Donald Riggio,
Outskirts Press, Inc., 362 pages, softcover
By Todd Baptista
As an author, historian, and music bibliophile, I must confess that I’m rarely drawn to works of fiction. I honestly didn’t know
what to expect when I opened this tome, set squarely in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The author, a native of the Throggs Neck corner of the Bronx, undoubtedly relied on many experiences of his own upbringing to create the vivid characters that come to life within its pages.
This engaging, realistic account of the music business during rock’n’roll’s first generation takes readers on a journey from rural north-central Kentucky to New York City, introducing the ill-fated Elvis-Buddy Holly-inspired Teddy Boyette and his cigar-chomping “Colonel Parker” stereotypical manager, Cap Stewart, the Bronx street corners singers Johnny Seracino and Bobby Vitale who rose to international fame as members of the Du-Kanes, and wiseguys Richie Conforti and Phil Gambetta who graduate from small-time street hustlers to rulers of Alexis Records (thoughts of Morris Levy’s Roulette empire should immediately come to mind).
The central focus of the novel however, is Joseph Rabinowitz, the son of a classical pianist who we first meet in 1953 as an 18-year old stationed at Fort Knox. Riggio’s well-thought out tale introduces the principal characters in individual chapters building up to the formation of Chanticleer Records, which grows from a basement studio-retail shop to a Brill Building powerhouse.
Along the way, we are introduced to Leo Klein, who gives Joe his first job and eventually becomes his partner in the business, the female gospel-R&B trio, the Pixies with vixen lead singer Evie Rhodes, Chanty, the kind black guitarist-service station owner who inspires the main character, and Janet Cavelli, who becomes Joe’s confidant, lyricist, and wife, sharing his dreams, triumphs, and tragedies. Eventually, “Mr. Rabin’s” success and the pressures of the business compromise his priorities and principles, driving a wedge between the pair. We also experience the effects that the British Invasion had on the American music scene of the mid-1960s in detail. A few minor grammatical or spelling errors (Polyphone Records, Capital Records) are the only missteps in this, the author’s initial effort.
Yes, there’s sex, booze, and drugs in Seven-Inch Vinyl. As I said, it’s an authentic look at the business and the time, but rock’n’roll remains the focal point throughout. Historical facts and noteworthy events from the music scene and the world in general are woven into the fabric of the work, allowing readers to absorb the story in proper perspective. Overall, Seven-Inch Vinyl is a well-crafted and appealing read from start to finish, worthy of four stars.