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Bangs, Lester  

Jayson Greene

[Conway ]

(b Escondido, CA, Dec 13, 1948; d New York, NY, April 30, 1982). American rock critic. Bangs’s parents were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses; he was raised mostly by his mother after his father died in a house fire in 1955. Bangs began writing freelance reviews for Rolling Stone magazine in 1969, and would go on to write for Creem, The Village Voice, Penthouse, Playboy, New Musical Express, and many others. He wrote a 1980 book on the new-wave act Blondie and co-authored, with Paul Nelson, a biography of Rod Stewart, but the published works for which he is best known remain the two posthumous anthologies of his rock criticism: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung (New York, 1987), edited by Greil Marcus; and Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste (New York, 2003), edited by John Morthland.

Bangs was inspired by the drug-fueled stream- of-consciousness style of Beat poets like William S. Burroughs and the confrontational, subjective New Journalism of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe. Alongside John Mendelssohn, Nick Tosches, and Richard Meltzer, Bangs was grouped into the subset of early rock critics dubbed “the Noise Boys,” whose wild, digressive, slang-filled style contrasted with the more sober, academic approach of Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau. Bangs was an advocate of what would come to be called “punk rock,” celebrating its return to the raw, amateur spirit that defined the earliest rock ’n’ roll. He wrote critical pieces on many of the scene’s seminal acts, including The Ramones, Iggy and the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground. “I finally realized that grossness was the truest criterion for rock ’n’ roll, the cruder the clang and grind the more fun and longer listened-to the album would be,” Bangs wrote, and his prose aspired towards the same energy. Bangs died from respiratory and pulmonary complications related to the ingestion of Darvon....


Christgau, Robert  

Jayson Greene

(b New York, NY, April 18, 1942). American rock critic. Known as “the dean of American rock critics,” Christgau first emerged as one of the trade’s earliest professionals. Beginning in 1967 as the music columnist for Esquire, Christgau worked briefly at the Village Voice and Newsday as a critic before beginning his 37-year tenure as music editor of the Village Voice in 1974. During this time, Christgau mentored dozens of critics and established the Voice as a widely acknowledged home for serious rock criticism. He also inaugurated, in 1971, the annual Pazz & Jop music poll, which compiles the “top ten” lists submitted by music critics nationwide.

Christgau is perhaps best known for his capsule reviews, which have been published since 1969 in his Consumer Guide columns. Dry, witty, terse, and densely packed with allusions and asides, Christgau’s blurbs, accompanied by assigned letter grades, promoted a persuasive style of serious, incisive criticism of rock music; many of his reviews have been reprinted in popular book-length compilations. He was an early supporter of the hip-hop and riot grrrl movements and an avid proponent of African popular music. Few rock critics have established such a national presence and identity. Rock musicians ranging from Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground to Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth have name-checked him in song....


Curet Alonso, Tite  

Marysol Quevedo

[Catalino ]

(b Guayama, PR, Feb 12, 1926; d Baltimore, MD, Aug 5, 2003). Puerto Rican songwriter and journalist. He studied sociology and journalism at the Universidad de Puerto Rico. In 1960 he moved to New York, where he worked as a sports journalist for the newspaper La Prensa. He had an affinity for songwriting from his teens and continued to write songs throughout his career; it had become his main activity by the time the salsa singer Joe Quijano recorded his song “Efectivamente” (Volví a Cataño, Spanoramic, 1965). Curet Alonso developed a style featuring romantic as well as socially conscious lyrics, which at times delivered politically charged messages. He described a series of compositions from the 1970s, which told the stories of everyday people of marginalized neighborhoods, as corte social (“social edge”). He collaborated with many musicians, writing hit songs for influential salsa singers, including Roberto Roena, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, and Cheo Feliciano. Although mostly known for his salsa compositions he also worked in other Latin American genres, notably the Puerto Rican ...


Davis, Francis  

Alex Harris Stein

(John )

(b Philadelphia, PA, Aug 30, 1946). American writer on jazz. He began listening to jazz while attending high school in North Philadelphia and consolidated and expanded his interest while attending Temple University (1964–9). He was jazz editor for Musician (1982–5), a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer (1982–96), a contributor to the Boston Phoenix (1983–6), staff writer for 7 Days (1988–90), and has been a contributing editor for The Atlantic Monthly (from 1984). He was a columnist for the Village Voice (1990–4) and was appointed lead jazz critic there in 2004. Davis was the target of critic Stanley Crouch’s controversial Jazz Times column, “Putting the White Man in Charge,” (April 2003). He has also contributed to Stereo Review, Down Beat, and Jazz Times. Davis has written six books; another, a biography of John Coltrane, is in progress....


DeRogatis, Jim  

Jack Hamilton

(b Jersey City, NJ, Sept 2, 1964). American rock critic. Best known as the longtime popular music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, DeRogatis began writing music criticism as a high school student in Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1982, his senior year, he conducted the last known interview with renowned rock critic Lester Bangs, whose biography DeRogatis would later author. DeRogatis attended New York University and began writing for the Sun-Times in 1992. In 1995 he left the paper for a position at Rolling Stone magazine but was fired within a year after making public a dispute with publisher Jann Wenner over a negative review that the magazine declined to run. DeRogatis returned to the Sun-Times in 1998, where he remained until accepting a position in the English Department at Columbia College (Chicago) in spring of 2010.

An opinionated and high-profile critic, DeRogatis has been at the center of several notable controversies. The most infamous case came in ...


Dietz, Howard  

Gerald Bordman

revised by Jonas Westover

(b New York, NY, Sept 8, 1896; d New York, NY, July 30, 1983). American lyricist and librettist. He studied at Columbia University, where he was a contemporary of Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, and served in the US Navy before becoming director of publicity and advertising in 1919 for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation (from 1924 known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM). He wrote verse in his spare time, and was asked by Jerome Kern to supply the lyrics for Dear Sir (1924). He also worked with Vernon Duke, Jimmy McHugh, and Ralph Rainger. But he is best remembered for the numerous songs he wrote in collaboration with arthur Schwartz , beginning in 1929 with the revue The Little Show (with “I guess I’ll have to change my plan”). Other collaborations with Schwartz include Three’s a Crowd (1930) and The Band Wagon (1931, containing the hit “Dancing in the Dark”). Their professional relationship extended over a period of more than 30 years to the production of the musical ...


Fong-Torres, Ben  

Jayson Greene

(b Alameda, CA, Jan 7, 1945). American rock journalist, author, and broadcaster. His father, born Fong Kwok Seung, changed his surname to Torres and posed as a Filipino in order to immigrate to the United States and sidestep the Chinese Exclusion Act. The family subsequently adopted the surname Fong-Torres. Ben Fong-Torres studied radio, television and film at San Francisco State University (BA 1966). He worked as a writer and senior editor for Rolling Stone, coming on board in 1969, shortly after the magazine’s inception, and staying until 1981. During his tenure, he conducted interviews with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, Marvin Gaye, Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, Paul McCartney, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Martin, and many others. His interview with Ray Charles received the Deems Taylor Award for Magazine Writing in 1974. Fong-Torres was also a DJ for San Francisco rock station KSAN-FM from ...


Frere-Jones, Sasha  

Caroline Polk O’Meara

[Jones, Alexander Roger Wallace ]

(b New York, NY, 1967). American musician and writer. Frere-Jones has performed with his band Ui since the early 1990s, when he also began writing about music for publications including the Village Voice, New York Times, and Spin. Since 2004 he has been the pop music critic at The New Yorker. His columns often cover popular musicians, but he has also been an early champion of many lesser-known groups from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to the Sleigh Bells. His experience as a professional musician shines in his authorial voice; he writes accessibly and in depth about musical content. Frere-Jones’s controversial 2007 New Yorker article, “A Paler Shade of White,” produced a large amount of support and criticism in the press. The wide-ranging article began with him mourning the absence of African American music traditions in indie rock (centering on the group Arcade Fire) before addressing the question of musical miscegenation, which he claims is sadly absent in most current rock music. Frere-Jones’s clever quips are frequently quoted in the work of other writers, making him something of a critic’s critic....


Fricke, David  

Jayson Greene

(b Philadelphia, PA, June 4, 1952). American music writer. Fricke studied English at Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania (BA 1973). He worked as a writer, DJ, and publicist for the legendary local club the Main Point in Philadelphia before moving to New York in 1978. Prior to joining Rolling Stone, he served as an editor at the Long Island weekly Good Times and as a staff writer for the rock magazine Circus. In 1980 he became the American correspondent for the British music weekly Melody Maker, a position he held for nearly two decades.

Fricke’s first Rolling Stone album review was published in 1979; he was hired as a full-time staff member in 1985. In 1992 he was made Music Editor and then assumed his current position as Senior Writer three years later. He maintained a column, known as Fricke’s Picks, for nearly twenty years. In his countless reviews, magazine features, CD and box-set liner notes, Fricke has written about garage and classic rock, American blues, punk, and its various offshoots with boundless enthusiasm, keen-eared discernment, and a colorful, eye-grabbing prose style. He has appeared on numerous episodes of the VH1-aired ...


Frith, Simon  

Daphne G. Carr

(b Sussex, England, June 25, 1946). British popular music scholar and critic. Frith is a foundational figure in intellectual inquiry on popular music since his first book, The Sociology of Rock (1978). His scholarly work has influenced the terrain of cultural studies in the study of popular music, beginning with mass culture, media, criticism, consumption, leisure, and youth; moving to questions of “authenticity,” taste, cultural hierarchy, and legitimacy; record production and producers; questions of copyright and public policy; and historical accounts of local scenes and live music. Frith has written a number of influential general texts on popular music, co-edited numerous foundational anthologies, educated several generations of British pop scholars, and served as a prominent public intellectual on popular music as culture. Frith was a founding member of International Association for the Study of Popular Music and a founding editor of the journal Popular Music (...


Garland, David  

George J. Grella

(b Arlington, MA, Dec 17, 1954). American composer, singer, broadcaster, and journalist. He taught himself to play drums, piano, and guitar as a teenager, after seeing Soft Machine open for Jimi Hendrix when he was 13. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design (BA 1976), where he played jazz piano, sang, composed chamber music, and organized free-jazz ensembles. He moved to New York and worked as a graphic designer and illustrator, producing work for Paul Bley’s label Improvising Artists and for composer La Monte Young, while making music on the side. Garland followed the twin paths of piano improvisation and composition for chamber ensembles in the minimalist style and later joined Nigel Rollings’s band Ad Hoc Rock; with Rollings he sang and played drums, guitar, and keyboards and appeared at The Kitchen, Carnegie Hall, and in the Noise Fest at White Columns (1981). In ...


Gleason, Ralph J(oseph)  

Lars Helgert

(b New York, NY, March 1, 1917; d Berkeley, CA, June 3, 1975). American jazz and rock critic. He studied at Columbia University (1934–8), where he was a jazz writer for the Columbia Spectator, and frequently attended performances at New York jazz clubs. In 1939 he co-founded Jazz Information, one of the earliest jazz magazines, and served as its editor until publication ceased in 1941. From 1942 until 1945 he was employed by the Office of War Information, spending time overseas. Gleason wrote for Down Beat from 1947 to 1961 (he also served as an associate editor) and for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1950 until his death. He founded another jazz periodical, Jazz: a Quarterly of American Music, which was published from 1958 to 1960. In 1967 he was a co-founder of Rolling Stone, to which he contributed for the next eight years. He also wrote for ...


Guralnick, Peter  

David Brackett

(b Boston, MA, Dec 15, 1943). American writer. Guralnick received an MFA in creative writing from Boston University (1971). He is best known for his historical work on popular music, with an emphasis on “roots music”: blues, rhythm-and-blues, country music, and early rock and roll. His first books on music, Feel Like Going Home (1971) and Lost Highway (1979), featured sharply etched portraits of blues, country, and rockabilly musicians, both well-known and obscure, from the 1920s through the 1950s. Sweet Soul Music (1986) focused on African American popular music of the 1960s in the context of the racial politics of the period. He has subsequently produced epic biographies of musicians from the same historical and generic terrain: Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, and Sam Cooke. The two-volume history on Presley (published in 1994 and 1999) is particularly noteworthy, providing a specificity of detail on Presley’s life and music previously unavailable. Guralnick’s approach as a writer often resembles that of academic historians, in that attention remains focused on his subjects even as it celebrates them. He shares with first-generation rock critics a strong interest in the pioneers of early rock and roll and the music of their antecedents. However, he departed from convention with his provocative claim regarding the interrelatedness of pre-1950s country and blues in his early books. This was at the time an innovative assertion that anticipated current scholarly formulations about these musics....


hampton, dream  

Beau Bothwell

(b Detroit, MI, Sept 13, 1970). American writer, filmmaker, and cultural critic. She received undergraduate and graduate degrees in film from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her short film, I Am Ali, won Best Short Film at the Newport International Film Festival in 2002. Her 2010 documentary, Black August: A Hip-Hop Documentary Concert, grew out of her work with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and integrates footage from the Black August Hip Hop Benefit Concert series and interviews with musicians, academics, and activists on political prisoners and the injustices of the prison system.

As a journalist hampton has published on hip hop and popular culture in magazines such as The Village Voice, Harper’s Bazaar, Vibe, and The Source. She was an editor for The Source in the 1990s, and a contributing writer at Vibe. She has profiled or interviewed the most successful figures in hip hop of the 1990s, including Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac, and Biggie Smalls, who after being the subject of a college documentary film assignment later became a friend and the godfather of hampton’s daughter. As familiar as she is with the most commercially successful side of commercial hip hop, hampton has also written critically and personally about the often problematic relationship between young black women and popular hip hop. She cowrote an unreleased autobiography of Sean “Jay-Z” Carter, and later collaborated with him on ...


Hay, George Dewey  

Craig Havigurst

(b Attica, IN, Nov 9, 1895; d Virginia Beach, VA, May 8, 1968). American journalist, radio producer, and founder of the Grand Ole Opry. Trained as a print journalist, Hay was reluctantly drawn into radio during the early 1920s. Hay wrote for the Memphis Commercial Appeal before honing his air persona on the paper’s radio station, WMC. He then took his signature steamboat whistle and nickname “The Solemn Old Judge” to WLS in Chicago, where he helped produce the National Barn Dance and was voted the nation’s most popular radio announcer. Edwin Craig, founder of WSM-AM, invited Hay to his station’s grand opening on 5 Oct 1925 and offered him the post of “radio director” shortly thereafter. Within weeks of starting his new job, Hay invited fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson to perform live on a Saturday night. The slot became a weekly “barn dance,” which Hay would name the ...


Hilburn, [Charles] Robert  

Eric Hung

(b Natchitoches, LA, Sept 25, 1939). American popular music critic. As the stepson of an electronics engineer in the aerospace industry, he moved frequently as a child. From his native Louisiana, he went first to Dallas and then to various locales in southern California. This helped him develop wide-ranging tastes, as he was exposed at an early age to a variety of popular genres, from country to rhythm and blues and from crooners to rock and roll.

By the sixth grade Hilburn had discovered his love of writing, and he became the editor of his high school and college newspapers. Upon graduation from the California State University, Northridge (1961), he worked briefly as a journalist for a San Fernando Valley newspaper, the Valley Times (1961–63) and then in the public relations department of the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 1966 he began freelancing at the ...


Kahn, Gus(tav Gerson)  

Michael J. Budds

revised by Maristella Feustle

(b Koblenz, Germany, Nov 6, 1886; d Los Angeles, CA, Oct 8, 1941). Lyricist of German birth. He immigrated with his family to the United States in 1891 and settled in Chicago, where he showed an early talent for writing and the use of rhyme despite having learned English as a second language. After graduating from high school, he worked various nonmusical jobs from driving a horse-drawn truck to working as a clerk in a mail-order company, all the while writing over 200 songs as a hobby. A chance meeting with a Remick employee (and his future wife) resulted in Kahn’s first hit, “I Wish I Had a Girl” (1909).

Kahn continued to work in Chicago, and began collaborating with Walter Donaldson in 1921 throughout the decade on hits including “Carolina in the Morning” (1932), “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” (1925), and “Makin’ Whoopee” (...


Kelly, R(obert Sylvester)  

Mark Anthony Neal

(b Chicago, IL, Jan 8, 1967). American R&B singer, writer, producer, and arranger. Kelly was born on the South side of Chicago. Raised, with his three siblings, by a single mother, he was encouraged to pursue a musical career by his high school music teacher and mentor, Lena McLin, who was the chair of the music department at the Kenwood Academy and the niece of the legendary gospel music composer Thomas Dorsey. In high school Kelly formed the group MGM (Musically Gifted Men), which won a $100,000 grand prize on the television talent show Big Break, hosted by Natalie Cole. The group eventually signed with Jive Records, though after creative and financial tensions, three of the members were replaced and the group renamed R. Kelly and Public Announcement. After a moderately successful debut that produced the hit singles “She’s Got That Vibe” and “Honey Love,” Kelly left the group in early ...


Kemp, Mark  

Simon Warner

(b Asheboro, NC, April 10, 1960). American Author and journalist. Kemp’s career was founded on his journalistic work and, in more recent years, his publications on popular music topics. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kemp began as a newspaper reporter but then, during the late 1980s, secured work with the alternative music title Option and, by 1991, had risen to editor. He caught the eye of Rolling Stone and became music editor of the magazine during the early 1990s. His tenure coincided with the rise of a number of key acts from the period from Pearl Jam to Beck. Later he became vice president of the music editorial division for the music video network MTV. In 1997 he earned a Grammy nomination for his liner notes to a retrospective of protest singer Phil Ochs, Farewells and Fantasies. Departing MTV in 2000, he concentrated on writing his memoir of Southern life, ...


Kienzle, Rich  

Travis D. Stimeling

[ard ]

(b Greensburg, PA, March 1, 1951). American country music critic and historian. An occasionally controversial journalist and tough critic, Kienzle’s work challenges notions of genre that are often used to separate country, jazz, pop, and rock into discrete categories, instead arguing for a holistic approach that is more representative of the diverse musical interests of recording artists. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh (BA, English, 1973), he sold his first reviews to Country Music Magazine and, over the next 25 years, served as a columnist, critic, and contributing editor for the publication. His contributions to Guitar Player and Vintage Guitar have documented the lives and careers of numerous country and jazz guitarists, while his reviews and articles for No Depression helped to shape the alternative country movement’s view of country music history. To date, he has contributed liner notes for more than 370 CD reissues of country, pop, and jazz records, including several notable releases for Sony Legacy and Bear Family Records. In ...