When it came to trust, rock stars from Eric Clapton to John Lennon gave it in full to Ray Coleman, the British writer who died of cancer ten years ago, September 10, 1996, at his home in Middlesex, a county near London. Coleman, who was 59, wrote authorized biographies of both Clapton and Lennon, as well as an authorized book with the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman and, lastly, McCartney: Yesterday and Today, with Paul McCartney.
Considering how many rock writers would surrender their favorite air guitars in a heartbeat to get an hour with such rock royalty — let alone a book — it is a distinguished list indeed. But what is even more distinguishing is how Ray Coleman went about his work. For while he would bend an ear to the legendary subjects of his books, he never bent a knee to them. That was one of the main reasons they worked with him and respected him. He did not fawn, grovel or otherwise kiss up to gain that much-sought-after access.
Rather, he listened. He observed. He researched. He noted. Then he wrote. Ernest Hemingway once said that the hardest thing about writing was to tell a story truly, and that was the edge on which Coleman cut his crystalline prose. Since he was a man of both compassion and honesty, he wrote carefully, yet candidly.
His subjects never saw a glimmering halo in his portraits. Yet they never accused him of inaccuracy or misrepresentation, either. He researched thoroughly, interviewed thoughtfully, and wrote tightly, so what they saw was a courageous attempt to get at the truth. In turn, readers in many countries came to know that the Ray Coleman byline on a rock-star bio meant that you weren't getting pandering adoration or, conversely, hatchet-job sensationalism.
The readers sensed what the subjects knew: the man was a pro. He didn't kneel and he didn't hit. Coleman did the hard thing: he strove to write truly. He did it in his nine books; he did it as editor-in-chief of Britain's Melody Maker; and he did it as a contributor to publications ranging from Billboardto England's Daily Express.
Born on June 15, 1937, in Leicester in northern England, Ray worked at the Leicester Daily Mail when he was 15. He went on to report general news, crime and industrial affairs as a staffer with the Manchester Evening News and Brighton Evening Argus.
When he joined Britain’s weekly music paper Melody Maker in 1960, he maintained his detail-oriented, hard-news approach to reporting. In 1962 he became the first music journalist that Brian Epstein introduced to the Beatles. Over the years, he traveled the world with them, becoming a respected friend of the band.