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Book Review: Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone?–Volume 2 by Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March

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While the newest collection of interviews by Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March is titled Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone?–Volume 2, it’s more accurate to think of it as their third such effort. Both Volumes 1 and 2 of the Where Have All the Pop Stars gone series follow exactly the same format they established in their 1999 Echoes of the Sixties. In that book, they offered 12 chapters that began with an overview of a particular band or solo artist, followed by a very short discography of their hits, and then the “Epilogues.” The “Epilogues” are the heart of each volume as Childs and March interview band members and occasionally family members who discuss their memories of stardom and then provide updates on their individual careers after their fame waned.

For example, Echoes of the Sixties brought readers up to date with the lives of Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues, and members of The Fireballs, the Tokens, the Angels, Peter and Gordon, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Country Joe and the Fish, and Iron Butterfly. Volume 1 included solo artists Bobby Vee and Chris Montez along with veterans of The Association, The Zombies, Herman’s Hermits, The Kingston Trio, and The Spiral Starecase.

Now, Volume 2 spotlights singers Bobby Goldsboro, Donnie Brooks, Ray Stevens, and members of The Buckinghams, The Grassroots, and Sam and Dave. They also expand on their Moody Blues interviews by adding Ray Thomas to their previous conversation with Mike Pinder.

Naturally, any reader’s interest in these discussions is going to first depend on their interest in the performers in question. Donnie Brooks? I never heard of him. Reading about his hit “Mission Bell” was a reminder there are more corners and crevices in rockabilly history than I had kept track of. I certainly knew about the hits of Ray Stevens, but had no idea one of his first novelty songs was “Jeremiah Peabody’s Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills,” a poke at television commercials.

I have to admit, the biggest surprises for me were the history and aftermath for the members of The Grassroots. The story of a band essentially cobbled together by Lou Adler expressly to sing the songs of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, who decided to breakaway and try their own creative directions, was a bit reminiscent of The Monkees. The biographies of Rob Grill, Creed Bratton, and Warren Entner alone demonstrate that the rock mythos has many, many tales well worth knowing about but have gotten lost in the mist of time—or were never told before to begin with.

In their introduction, the authors suggest some of these stories can be inspirational, but I think this is a bit of hyperbole. For the most part, many of the former pop stars had short lives in the spotlight before going into all manner of career paths, most far removed from the music business. This isn’t to say there aren’t poignant moments. Reading that Rob Grill, former lead singer for the Grassroots, listened to “Live for Today” just before he died, is more than memorable. But you really got to care about these folks to want to know about their marriages, children, and grandchildren’s lives and interests.

Perhaps the most revealing insights are when the various performers reflect on the meaning of fleeting stardom in their lives and how they look back on their glory days. For us, their audience, the songs they performed made important impressions on our youth. Collectively, the Childs/March books are both time capsules and a chance for all those musicians to tell their stories the way they want us to hear them. That’s a major plus for all these “conversations”—March’s preferred term for the interviews—first-hand information. If you want accurate, credible behind-the-hits anecdotes and memories, March and Childs have the right formula. No doubt, we should expect volumes 3, 4…

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