Charles Shaar Murray, author of The Guitar Geek Dossier and Shots From the Hip, has been described as ‘the rock critic’s rock critic’ (Q Magazine) and a ‘front-line cultural warrior’ (Independent on Sunday).
He is the Ralph J Gleason Music Book Award-winning author of Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix And Postwar Pop (Canongate) and Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century (Canongate), later short-listed for the same award. Highlights of the first two decades of his journalism, criticism and vulgar abuse are collected in Shots From the Hip, first published by Penguin in 1991 and now (in a new edition) an Aaaargh! Press e-book.He has been appearing regularly in print for over four decades, and according to Rock’s Back Pages ‘has long been recognised as one of the most admired stylists in British pop-cultural journalism’.
He made his print debut in 1970, participating in the notorious ‘Schoolkids’ Issue of OZ magazine. By 1972, he was a staff writer on NME for most of the 1970s, eventually becoming associate editor. Since the early 1980s, he has been freelance, contributing to a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Independent, the Independent On Sunday, the Observer, the Sunday Times, the Evening Standard, the New Statesman, Literary Review, Prospect, Rolling Stone, Vogue, The Face, Arena, Q, Mojo (as a founding contributor to both of the last two), The Word, the Big Issue, MacUser, Guitarist, Guitar Player, Guitar World, Classic Rock, Classic Rock Presents The Blues … and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Over the years, Murray has interviewed many cultural icons including, among others, Miles Davis, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Bob Marley, Pete Townshend, Joe Strummer (and the rest of The Clash), Johnny Rotten (and the rest of the Pistols), George Harrison, JG Ballard, Alan Moore, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, William Gibson, Patti Smith, Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Michael Moorcock, Elton John, The Ramones, Muddy Waters, BB King, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Bobby Bland, Spike Lee, Stan Lee and Christopher Lee. (He’s still waiting to complete the latter set by interviewing Ang Lee and Stewart Lee, and regrets never having had the opportunity to interview Bruce Lee.)
He has also written and presented BBC radio shows on Lenny Bruce, Frank Zappa, Jaco Pastorius, Moondog and the history of jazz guitar; worked both in front of and behind the camera for the Dancing In The Streets and Seven Ages Of Rock TV series, and supplied quality punditry to innumerable radio and TV shows, including frequent appearances on Channel 4 News, BBC2 Newsnight and BBC World Service radio and TV.
Despite having played guitar and harmonica since his teens, he didn’t get serious about performing until the punk era, headlining the London club circuit and opening shows for (among others) The Clash, The Boomtown Rats, The Damned, Wilko Johnson, Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe’s Rockpile, The Pirates and Joe Jackson as frontman for Blast Furnace & The Heatwaves. He currently sings and plays guitar alongside harmonica maestro Buffalo Bill Smith for London blues band Crosstown Lightnin’.
PRAISE FOR THE HELLHOUND SAMPLE
The story of Robert Johnson stands as one of the founding myths not just of the blues, but of the rock genre it eventually, if carelessly, spawned … Johnson passes the Devil his guitar, the Devil retunes it, and passes it back – proving that the Devil doesn’t just have the best tunes; he has the best tuning. In The Hellhound Sample, that guitar, a battered old Stella, retains its occult power – and its curse – even out of Johnson’s possession. After the guitarist’s death it is bought by 16-year-old James Moon, who will become one of that generation of bluesmen that came after Johnson, joining those such as Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters who inspired the Stones and the Yardbirds, fell out of fashion in the 1970s and, some of them, lived to kick back in the music industry’s end-of-the-century heritage departure lounge… In the studio, leaning into the mic, Blue ‘seemed to be floating the words out on the shallowest of breaths. It was blues singing at its most intimate, when even the singer sounds like he’s not quite sure whether he’s talking to himself or to someone else.’ Fans of the music will enjoy Murray’s spirited homage.
JONATHAN GIBBS, INDEPENDENT
PRAISE FOR BOOGIE MAN
‘A meticulously researched portrait…Hooker comes to life as a petulant, triumphant figure: complex and sometimes just unknowable, but as a genius for whom blues is as vital as a heartbeat.’
‘Surely the most exhaustive biography of any bluesman.’
‘The story of a major American cultural icon – a link to an unimaginably distant past and a completely unique figure in popular music history – brilliantly told.’
ED WARD, MOJO
‘A pure delight … Long conversational exchanges with Hooker and his associates are hilarious, touching and enlightening.’
NEIL MCCORMICK, DAILY TELEGRAPH
PRAISE FOR CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC
‘The artistry of this book matches that of its subject.’
‘We’ve seen several biographies of Jimi Hendrix but Crosstown Traffic’s thrust is considerably more ambitious . . . Murray’s exploration of Hendrix’s role as a black rocker in a practically all-white pop-music elite is as telling an examination of rock and race, and of tensions and prejudices behind the sixties peace-and-brotherhood facade, as popular music writing has seen. Crosstown Traffic is an important book and, in its range and clarity of thought, an exemplary one.’
‘Mouthwatering stuff for any serious Jimi Hendrix fan . . . Murray is certainly the first writer to fully portray the ways in which Hendrix shaped the future in which we now live, from hard rock to funk to jazz. Crosstown Traffic also stands as the best layman’s history ot the electric guitar I’ve ever come across.’
‘Murray goes so far inside the myth that it dissolves. What is left is a man pursuing hiw own destiny, piece by piece, day by day.’
Wilko Johnson presents Charles Shaar Murray with the Record of the Day Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music Journalism
Charles Shaar Murray reads from The Hellhound Sample at the launch