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Book Review: Way Down: Playing Bass with Elvis, Dylan, the Doors, and More by Jerry Scheff

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Jerry Scheff has been a sought-after bass player for over 45 years, playing on albums and touring with many of the greats, including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, John Denver and Elvis Costello. Way Down: Playing Bass with Elvis, Dylan, the Doors, and More is the story of his life in music, beginning as a teenage white boy playing black clubs in California in the ’50s, through his career as a musician in the Navy, then making a name for himself in the clubs and ending up with Elvis in Las Vegas.

There are many interesting stories here about playing pranks on each other during Elvis’ Vegas shows and what it was like to travel on Elvis’ private jet, about being on tour with Dylan, and behind-the-scenes tales from many events where Jerry played with the greats.

But if you are looking for “dirt” or deep insights into the famous musicians he hung around with, you won’t find much here. This book is all about the music and what it was like to be a studio musician and band member just on the edge of the spotlight. Even through all the years of traveling with Elvis, Scheff says that he knew and admired him, but did not consider him a friend. It was the same with Dylan, John Denver, and the rest. Scheff got close, but not too close.

Indeed, although Scheff played with Elvis from 1969 until his death, there is almost no mention of Elvis’ drug use or weight gain or anything at all about his private life. There’s even less here about The Doors, since Scheff only played with them for six weeks during the L.A. Woman sessions.

With each musician, stories about them center on the music, and only that part of the musician’s personality or problems that effect the music are worth mentioning to Scheff. For this reason, you hear about sneaking out to go to a club with Dylan, or the lavish hotel rooms and backstage food on a John Denver tour. But even though Scheff — like nearly every other creative person in the ’60s and ’70s — did his share of drugs, there is very little debauchery and no accounts of trashing of hotel rooms, etc., in Way Down.

So,no, this is not a “tell-all” or gossip book. There are plenty of those out there anyway. This is a book about Jerry Scheff, and about life as a working musician in the studio and on the road. As such, it is an entertaining, honest, and informative book. I enjoyed

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.