From Library Journal
Waksman (Harvard Univ.) presents a scholarly treatise on the history and development of the electric guitar and how its use shaped the course of popular music. Beginning with the first electrified instruments of the 1930s, he traces two competing sound ideals: one with a focus on tonal purity (favored by artists such as Les Paul, Chet Atkins, and Wes Montgomery), and the other centering on a more distorted sound (used by Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page) that challenged popular notions of acceptable and unacceptable "noise." In comparing these two divergent ideals, Waksman, editor of the Journal of Popular Music Studies, argues that they also draw on different concepts about the place of the body in musical performance, about the ways in which music articulates racial and gender identities, and about the position of popular music in American social and political life. Well written, and with extensive footnotes, the book's only apparent drawback is that it ends with music produced in the mid-1970s. In that sense, it is less than complete. (Perhaps a second volume will bring the work up-to-date.) Still, this is an excellent analysis of the growth and impact of the electric guitar on popular music and culture; for all libraries.-Eric C. Shoaf, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence
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Waksman's critical look at the electronically enhanced plectral lute and meticulous tracing of its influence is a darn fine book. Its purview includes Hendrix, Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, the ubiquitous Pete Townshend, and Blue Cheer (Blue Cheer?), as well as, of course, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and Chuck Berry. Respect is rightfully paid to Chet Atkins and Les Paul, too. But, although it tells blues and rock musicians' stories, this isn't a book about musicians or, really, music. It is an exploration of the "racialized nature of rock's favorite mode of Phallocentric display . . . the electric guitar." Waksman makes much of the sexuality conveyed by the instrument and keeps the issue of race close to the surface of the discussion. Far more theoretical and involved than most other books about guitars, Waksman's is a delineation of the implications of one of our era's endemic icons, the boy with his guitar. Persuasive, responsible, and wide-ranging, this is the thinking headbanger's guide to the evolution of the mighty axe. Mike Tribby