Built for Speed Reading

Ridin' writin' for rolling rockers and travelin' fans

Walker has endured the grueling challenge of writing for New Times during the past eight years, at the chain's flagship paper in Phoenix. In the summer of 1990 the honchos there sent Walker to Miami New Times to, um, help out. For the August 15 edition he filed a feature titled, "Dave's Truly Cool Tour of Miami," some of which can be found in his new book. "It basically started with that article," he explains. "But it didn't look like a book to me until about a year later. I was just burnt on my job. After seven years here, it was either take some time off or climb a tower with a carbine. So they gave me a leave of absence, or sabbatical, but I still needed an excuse. I put together a proposal and sold it with help [from a young editor friend who became his advocate at Thunder's Mouth]. I had sent it to five or six houses and gotten good responses from two or three. Thunder's Mouth was immediately interested, and within a few weeks I had a deal."

Nolan and Walker both commit the mortal sin of journalism, indulging heartily in actual research, and they document their subject with the enthusiasm and care of a doctor who really believes he can save people. "I went to the Phoenix library," Walker explains, "and read the bios, went page by page through the music reference books, and tried to come up with a representative amount of history. Then it was a matter of narrowing down what to put in and what to leave out. What to call a landmark. I consciously decided to try mid-Fifties through mid-Eighties, guitar-bass-drums rock bands. And important roots stuff, although there's not as much in there as I'd have liked. I decided to go for the big mass of rock and roll and rock and soul, metal, a little rap. In ten years there'll be a good book like this in just rap."

In the Florida section alone, Walker hits on blue-collar rock (Dub's, the defunct Gainesville topless joint where Tom Petty's band once backed strippers), Southern rock (Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, alma mater of Lynyrd Skynyrd members), reggae (the aforementioned Marley entry), soul (The King of Hearts Club in the Liberty City area, where Sam and Dave met, and which is now a parking lot), disco (how the Bee Gees' career was salvaged by a bumpy SoFlo byway), R&B (The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, attended long ago by Ray Charles), and of course, rap (the old Skyywalker studio where As Nasty as They Wanna Be was recorded).

My favorite Miami entry is the classic tale of the Beatles' visit to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 16, 1964. "According to a review of the broadcast in the next morning's Miami Herald," Walker writes, "Mitzi Gaynor stole the show." Walker goes on to note that the Fab Four took in a Don Rickles live show, saw their first drive-in movie (Fun in Acapulco), ate roast beef at Miami Beach Police Sgt. Buddy Dressner's house....

While Walker selects most of his landmarks on the strength of their stories -- the readability, irony and humor, occasional pathos -- Nolan chooses comprehensiveness and pragmatism. Walker's is more fun to peruse from your easy chair, Nolan's will actually get you to more places. In Miami she, like Walker, notes Criteria Studios, the Dinner Key Auditorium where Jim Morrison did something or other, the Deauville/Ed Sullivan/Beatles anecdote, the Sam and Dave hookup. But she adds unlikely "landmark" candidates such as Churchill's, Southwest High School (a focal point of alum Jeff Lemlich's book Savage Lost and your humble narrator's own alma mater, although, for some reason, the latter isn't metioned in her book), Open Books and Records....

My favorite Miami entry in Nolan's chronicle is about Thee Image, where the Collier brothers booked acts such as the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, and the Mothers of Invention, while also staging local bands like 7 Of Us (now known as NRBQ) and Blues Image, which, she relates, was signed to a deal after Jimmy Page caught one of their sets at the club and dubbed theirs "the most dynamic sound in the country."

Walker says he considers his "more of a travel book, and so does the publisher," adding that retailers are currently stocking the volume under both the music and travel genres. "I pretty much just lay it out," Walker says. "There's not much aesthetic discussion. As much as I'd loved to have done that, I don't know that much about music." He wrote some music journalism for his college paper at Arizona State University, claiming he "was never good at it." (Walker is also the drummer in a rock band called the Zonies -- a derogatory term for people from Arizona -- that plays covers and "a few humorous originals," he says. "We haven't practiced since the Bay of Pigs. We don't play that much, but when we do, we play loud.")

"I think it was to my benefit," the author goes on, "to not be a music critic. I wanted to do a book that fans would enjoy. It's not for cultists, because cultists already know where these places are. I had to be subjective in some ways -- there are no sites related to Styx. Maybe I used too many Springsteen sites, but he's a personal favorite. On the other hand, maybe there aren't enough Journey sites." (Actually the book cites no Journey sites, which is plenty.)

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