Harrison, Bill. Making the Low Notes: A Life in Music. Open Books, 2023.
Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing’s Early Review Program, I sometimes review interesting books. This is one of those books.
Bill Harrison always wanted to be a musical Clark Kent…but with an accordion? Nope. A double bass. Something more sexy than the accordion…but not by much. Harrison knows how to laugh at himself and make his readers feel like they are in on the joke. His conversational tone makes his memoir more of a chat over a beer in a quiet bar. You lean closer to hear the confessions of his youth; the early days trying to make his way as a professional musician. Word to the wise. Don’t fall in love with Bill Harrison. He is not here to tell you much about his personal life. A monumental life event like meeting his forever partner and getting married will make barely a footnote. His emergency hospital stay gets more page time than any other momentous occasion. He is all about the music. He admits as much from the very beginning. The most meaningful chapter in the whole book (for me) was the last chapter when Harrison drew comparisons between music and therapy.
As an aside, I always love it when a book makes me connect to my own personal life in some way. When Harrison mentioned a 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 I had to laugh. A friend of mine removed the seats from same said vehicle and used them as couches in his garage. I have a picture of this friend, well into his teens, laughing with his brother on his new “couch.” Fond memories.
And you know I had to draw a connection to Natalie Merchant. Harrison mentions a version of “But Not For Me” but I’m sure Natalie did it better.
Book trivia: the inclusion of photographs was a nice surprise for an early review.
Like any decent, self-respecting book about music, there should be a lot of name-dropping of famous musicians as well as well-known songs. Here is the playlist. First, the people:
Al Hirt, Albert Ayler, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Artie Shaw, Bach, Beatles, Beethovem, Benny Golson, Benny Goodman, Bill Evans, Black Sabbath, Blind Faith, Bobby Hutchinson, Buddy Rich, Bunky Green, Cab Calloway, Carol Kaye, Carpenters, Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus, Charlie Haden, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Chick Corea, Chick Webb, Chopin, Christian McBride, Clark Terry, Cole Hawkins, Cole Porter, Count Basie, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dave Brubeck, Dave Holland, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Dvorak, Earl Hines, Ed Blackwell, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Eric Dolphy, Fletcher Henderson, Frank Zappa, Freddie Hubbard, Gary Karr, Handel, Graham Nash, Greg Osby, Glenn Miller, Henry Eccles, Herbie Hancock, Herbie Nichols, Ing Rid, Jaco Pastorius, Jack DeJohnette, James Jameson, James Moody, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, Jim Hall, Jimmy Lunceford, Joe Henderson, John Abercrombe, John Coltrane, John Lennon, Karl Berger, Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Leland Sklar, Leonard Bernstein, Lester Young, Liberace, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Max roach, McCoy Tyner, Melissa Manchester, Miles Davis, Milford Graves, Mountain, Mozart, Ornette Coleman, Patsy Cline, Paul Chambers, Paul McCartney, Pharrell Williams, Phil Wilson, Police, Ray Brown, Ray Charles, Ringo, Rob Amster, Rolling Stones, Ron Carter, Ron Kubelik, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Sam Rivers, Santana, Sonny Rollins, Stanley Clarke, Steppenwolf, Steve Coleman, Stevie Wonder, Stewart Copeland, Swan, Talking Heads, Tchaikovsky, Thelonious Monk, Tom Fowler, Tommy Dorsey, Tony Williams, Three Dog Night, Traffic, Vince Guaraldi, Wayne Shorter, Willie Pickens, Woody Guthrie, Woody Herman Band, and I am sure I missed some people.
Now the song list: “Achey Breaky Heart”, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”, “Beer Barrel Polka”, “Billy Boy”, “Billie’s Bounce”, “Billie Jean”, “Blue Danube Waltz”, “Brick House”, “Brown Eyed Girl”, “But Not For Me”, “Celebration”, “Chicken Dance”, “Christmas Song”, “Close to You”, “Dayenu”, “Day Tripper”, “Dick and Jane” “Do-Re-Me”, “Do What You Like”, Edelweiss, “Donna Lee”, “Ein Heldenben”, Ein Kleine Nachmusik, “Electric Slide”, “Faith of Our Fathers”, “Feelin’ Alright”, “For All We Know”, “Freebird”, “Giant Steps”, “Gimme Some Lovin'”, “Girl From Ipanema”, “Gloria’s Step”, “Good-night Ladies”, “Hang On Sloopy”, “Happy”, “Hava Nagila”, “Hello Dolly”, “Hokey Pokey”, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, “I Will Survive”, “In the Summertime”, “Jingle Bells”, “Joy to the World”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Just the Two of Us”, “Just the Way You Are”, “Kind of Blue”, “La Bamba”, “Lady of Spain”, “London Bridge”, “Louie Louie”, “Manteca”, “Margaritaville”, “Marines Hymn”, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”, “Night in Tunisia”, “O Christmas Tree”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Old MacDonald”, “Old time Rock and Roll”, “Politician”, “Popular”, “Proud Mary”, “Satin Doll”, “Saving All My Love for You”, “So What”, “Some Other Time”, “Sonata in G Minor”, “Song for the Newborn”, “Stablemates”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “String of Pearls”, “Stripper”, “Sweet Caroline”, “That’s What Friends are For”, “There Is No Greater Love”, “Time After Time”, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “Twist and Shout”, “Two-Part Inventions”, “Walkin’ After Midnight”, “Wind Beneath My Wings”, “Yankee Doodle”, “You are the Sunshine of My Life”, and I am sure I missed some songs.