Book Review: Wrestling Book Tells A Historic Story

Front cover photo: New Japan Wrestling. Cover design Tania Craan.

 

I am not going to write a positive book review just because one of the writers of The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame : The Storytellers from the Terrible Turk to Twitter (ECW Press, 2019) is Greg Oliver, along with Steven Johnson. I strive, and take pride in writing honest reviews, where many of the publishers and writers have complimented me on with their books. Since I have written for Oliver’s wrestling site , Slam Sports, in the past, it will not sway my review.

I saw the book online, and the cover immediately turned me off , with the photograph of wrestler Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho from their New Japan match. I still like Jericho as a wrestler, a businessman, and a writer. I have never seen the appeal of Omega, where the internet darlings, who also helped many of the ECW wrestlers in the day think they were better in the ring than they really were, praise him constantly, yet don’t know anything about when wrestling was believable. I personally would not seek out a book with Omega on the cover period. When the book came in the mail from the company, I figured I might as well give it a chance, you know the old saying about a book’s cover.

I had no doubt that something with Oliver’s name on it would be well written, but this book was wonderful in detailing the early days of wrestling, to the territories days, and beyond, when it came to the various aspects of storytelling in the ring (and out of it). The early parts of the book describes the history of promoters taking wrestling from the carnival days, to the days of Ed Lewis and his promoter manager, and making wrestling a global attraction. There are stories about how several promoters in the business , before Vince McMahon Jr. ever did in the late 1980s-1990s, publicly announced the business was not legit, and was more entertainment.

The book tells tales about the early “first blood,” ladder, and blindfolded matches, along with the strange matches involving monkeys, bears , and yes, even fish. The first cage matches, and the first manager heel, Count Rossi, are covered in the easy to read, short chapters. Announcers such as Bill Mercer, Dennis James (who is considered the first national wrestling announcer), and the return of Tony Schiavone, along with the announcers’ roles in keeping story lines going, are also part of the book.

The text covers times in the 1970s and 1980s when wrestlers needed a crazy story to boost business gate receipts, such as throwing the title belts into rivers and lakes (which was done many times before The Rock and Steve Austin did it in WWE), to how important the wrestling magazines were in helping get wrestlers over to the fans.

There are many wonderful stories about classic characters like Jack Pfifer, Jim Barnett, Dr. Sam Sheppard (who was the inspiration for the TV show The Fugitive, and had ties to my hometown, near Youngstown Ohio), to wrestlers who went on to be actors in Hollywood, like Alex Karras (Mongo from Blazing Saddles) and Victor the bear. The writers used many interviews (the credits state over 200) from people like Tom Prichard, Court Bauer, Jim Cornette, Kevin Sullivan, Bobby Fulton, and Eric Bischoff.

Another interesting part of the book (besides the first 200 pages filled with the older history of wrestling) is the section on the importance of the current day writers. I agree that wrestling today is way too scripted when it comes to writing story lines and interviews (they don’t come off as legit and too rehearsed), but the interviews with former WWE and TNA writers taking the reader behind the scenes to what goes on weekly was an informative. Another entertaining part included the wrestling magazines section, where during the pre-internet days, fans had to visit to the local newsstand and buy wrestling magazines (which I have many from the late 1980s-1990s) to keep up with what was going on, because most newspapers did not cover wrestling.

The last 50 pages for me was the weakest of the book. These sections dealt with hardcore wrestling (from ECW to “death matches,” where everything from bats to light bulbs are used) , to how the wrestlers The Hardys’ used the TNA Deletion angle into a mini movie (along with Lucha Underground, which adds a science fiction flavor to the productions in filming), and interviewing Omega on his take on storytelling. Because I was not an ECW fan , or one of Lucha, this did not appeal to me, although the authors covered almost everything on the topic of storytelling to their credit. The Omega interview was laughable to me , because of the way he explains his matches to the writers, which makes it as if he is very serious about his role in wrestling, yet this is the guy that used blow up dolls, dressed up like video game characters, and he (along with another team I can not stand, The Young Bucks), average around 200 super kick moves in each match. His interview section made him look like Randy Savage, who was known at times to have pages of ideas and moves for just one match. I am not saying Omega is not an athlete, but I never understood the appeal of many who state him as one of the top wrestlers in the world, when he does the same move 15 times in a match. I am sure he is a nice person outside of the ring, but I am not a fan of his, and his take on storytelling sounded like he was the Charles Dickens of wrestling, with every little move and segment carefully planned months in advanced. However, if the only problem in the book is my personal dislike for certain type of match or wrestler, the writers did an amazing job with detailing the subject.

The best part of the book is the first 200 pages, with all the classic wrestling tales and history, from the early masked men (and possibly the first person to ever wear a mask that got major attention), to a wrestler in matches against alligators, fans will love the classic stuff. If you are a newer fan, there is about 50-70 pages on the newer style of wrestling, from the decline of WCW, the “Attitude Era” with Shawn Michaels, to the impact of Dave Meltzer’s dirt sheets. The book is sectioned nicely, with subtitles in each major chapter, basically in three parts. The writing is easy to understand ; telling the events with interviews woven in, to where it is entertaining and a history lesson combined, without a ton facts and dates cluttering up the pages. Regardless of the cover photo ( if you’re like me and not a fan of Omega or these newer gimmick matches that is covered in the last 50 pages), don’t judge a book by the cover, and enjoy great wrestling history with the first three fourths of the book.

 

This review copy was sent courtesy of the publisher

 

The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame The Storytellers from the Terrible Turk to Twitter (ECW Press, 2019) ISBN: 9781770415027 (softcover) 9781773054223 (PDF), 9781773054216 (ePub) can be found at http://www.ecwpress.com

 

For information about the authors, go to:             http://www.slam.canoe.com/Slam/Wrestling/home.html

 

 

The Overall:

Pages: 304

Language: Moderate

Geared For: 13 and Up.

For Fans Of: Wrestling History, Professional Wrestling, Sports

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Book Reviews: Double Shot of Wrestling History

Photos from the collection of Larry Matysik 2005

If you have read any of my reviews when it comes to professional wrestling, you would know how I prefer the days of the territories, where many different promoters ran particular areas, and bred their stars, as opposed to today’s product where the wrestlers only have NXT or a few other choices to learn their characters and skills. Places like Florida, Texas, and the Carolinas had their own regional promotions, which some were placed under the National Wrestling Alliance banner (also known as the N.W.A.). One of the most respected, and historic promotions was the St. Louis area, run by Sam Muchnick, which is detailed in the book Wrestling At the Chase by Larry Matysik (ECW Press, 2005).

Matysik was a key member of the St. Louis territory, starting his work as a writer and press person, all the way up to helping Muchnick develop the league as a booker ( a person who sets up the matches and the endings). Stories throughout the book are told about many of the top stars of the day, from Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Bobby Heenan, Dick The Bruiser, and other legendary wrestlers. Each chapter is (almost) based on the author’s experience with the particular wrestler, along with other chapters that detail his friendship with Muchnik and what made that St. Louis area popular with not only the fans , but the wrestlers as well.

What were some of the reasons that wrestlers respected Muchnick? Not only did he give out respectable payouts to the workers (one time even paying them when there was not even a show), but the booking was unique; there were mostly clean finishes in the matches, where other territories were constantly booking controversial finishes every month, which left fans angered and (finally after so many of them) refusing to come back to the matches. The author writes how Muchnick valued the sport aspect of the wrestling that made the fans respect his television and live events. Muchnick also didn’t like “swash” matches, where the star would get all the offense in his television matches against a younger wrestler with little experience. Sam thought that the enhancement wrestler should make the match seem like a legit fight, and have some offense.

The writing relays stories that are entertaining, such as the time a bunch of local guys wanted to fight the wrestlers in a hotel, and 7-foot tall Andre The Giant decided to challenge the men, to how respected Bobby “The Brain” Heenan became , who ended up being the first and only manger in the territory. Stories are told about stars like Jerry “Crusher” Blackwell (who walked out on Vince McMahon Jr. right during his start of the 1980s boom), Joe Garagiaola (who was an announcer for the promotion at one time), and Dick Murdoch.

Another great aspect of the book is the author’s telling of some of the political behind the scene lobbying among the N.W.A. brass in determining the champion at the time (the N.W.A. Champion would travel to each territory to defend the title as an added attraction). One story deals with how then champion Dory Funk Jr. was injured and may not have been able to defend when he was scheduled to be in St. Louis, where the fear and rumors were that he just did not want to drop the title. Muchnick responded by getting Bruno Sammartino from New York’s WWWF to come to St. Louis to show that Muchick could work with the “rivals” of the N.W.A. The political sections of the book also covers when Vince McMahon Jr. started his 1980s run in buying out the territories to create his World Wresting Federation (WWF), after taking over his father’s league, and later, conquering the world.

Matysik covers his friendship with the late Bruiser Brody, a wrestler who became one of the original independent wrestlers. Brody would pick and choose who he worked for, and sometimes refuse to follow the actual finishes of matches. Since Brody was tragically murdered at an event in Puerto Rico, fans of the wrestler would enjoy these stories about the writer’s and one of the original hardcore wrestler’s friendship, which brings a touching aspect to the book. Not only is the friendship with Brody emotional, but also Matysik’s and Muchnick’s evolution over the years is also touching.

Wrestling At the Chase is a wonderful, easy to read book about the bygone era of territory wrestling. This is a collection of great tales involving the classic stars, what made that area different from the others, and several tales of a few long lasting friendships on top. There are some pleasing black and white photographs throughout the book of the great wrestling stars, such as Harley Race, Terry Funk, Andre, and more. The author, sadly, died in 2018, but this book is a testament to his contribution to wrestling history.

 

This book was sent courtesy of the publisher.

 

Wrestling At The Chase by Larry Matysik (ECW Press, 2005) ISBN: 978-1-55022-684-3 can be ordered at http://www.ecwpress.com

 

The Overall

Pages:232

Language: Mild

Geared For: Teens and Up (12 and Up)

For Fans Of: Classic Wrestling, Sports , St. Louis History

 

Cover design: Michael Holmes.

Women’s wrestling has become a major player in the past few years, especially in the WWE with their Women’s Revolution. Although many wrestling critics have scoffed at the sincerity of some of the choices made, it has given women wrestlers more of a spotlight in the mainstream.

The book Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women’s Wrestling by Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy (2017, ECW Press) follows the years of women’s wrestling that have led us to this point. The authors have been followers of wrestling for years, with Laprade writing the great book on Mad Dog Vachon (a review can be found here in the archives), and Murphy was a writer for the wrestling magazine Pro Wrestling Illustrated, which was THE major magazine in the 1980s and 1990s.

The book starts with a forward from WWE Superstar Natalya Neidhart, discussing how her uncle Stu Hart always had wrestlers at his home, which she became acquainted with, along with the two author’s support of the women wrestlers, where many promoters viewed them as a side show.

The history begins covering how women wrestlers dated back to the Amazon warrior days (even questioning if the Amazons even existed) and in the 1800s, where women took part in boxing, wresting, and bar room fighting. Names like Marie Ford, who participated in what could be an early form of MMA, to Josie Wahlford, who may have been the first women’s champion of wrestling are discussed. These early women fought both men and women on carnival shows and the burlesque circuits. The authors take the reader through names like Cora Livingston, who in 1910 became the first to carry an actual belt as champion, and Clara Mortensen, who claimed to be champion and went on to be a Hollywood actor, along with her part in helping the transition from the carnivals into actual sports arenas.

The book covers mini-biographies of many of the wrestlers, separated by eras, such as the 1980s Rock ‘N” Wrestling era, with Wendi Richter, Leilani Kai, Candi Devine, and Sherri Martel. One of the great stories about this section is how Richter was a part of a screw job (long before the Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels event in 1997), with the backstage politics of The Fabulous Moolah, who ran most of the women’s wrestling for decades. Each wrestler gets a several page biography stating some of their wrestling history, along with how they got into the business. I personally enjoyed Candi Devine’s work in the AWA, although the writers seemed to just pass her off as nothing special.

The Attitude Era from the WWE (with stars like Lita, Trish Stratus, and Chyna), TNA’s Knockouts Division (with Gail Kim, Awesome Kong, and Angelina Love), to Japanese and Australian stars are all covered in this writing. The process of going from “women” to “Knockouts” to “Diva’s” are all transitioned here.

The most interesting parts of the book for me was the early history of the women, from names like Cora Combs, Penny Banner (who dated Elvis Presley), and Ethel Johnson (who was one of the early popular African American wrestlers). The detailed story about Mildred Burke and Billy Wolfe’s influence on women and wrestling is a plus, along with the backstage influence of Moolah, which to this day has controversy among those that worked with her. There is also an interesting story from 1951 that details the death of Janet Boyer Wolfe at a card in East Liverpool, Ohio (which is around a 30-minute drive from my hometown of Columbiana, Ohio.

The biographies of the other stars are limited to a few pages at best, depending on how big of stars they were, and several are omitted from here from recent times- the writers mention Stephanie McMahon’s influence on the current product, and there is a chapter on Ronda Rousey, but no Alexa Bliss, covering only NXT wrestlers like Paige, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte Flair. Throughout the book there are comments from Dave Meltzer, who is considered a historian in wrestling by some, and not so by others (Meltzer created dirt sheets newsletters, where he would expose the business by giving so called backstage “news” about contracts, storylines, and the paid arena incomes, although many in the business claim his stories were all made up, some claim he is correct). I personally, would have liked a little less of his opinions, and maybe more of the writer’s view.

It would been nice to have the writers state a little of their personal opinions into the book, such as some of their favorite matches from the stars, but overall the book is a nice reference guide for looking at some of the women and their biographies. Names like The Jumping Bomb Angels, Judy Grable, and Velvet McIntyre may not be well known with today’s fans (but neither are current wrestlers like Tenille Dashwood or Tessa Blanchard) that may only follow the WWE, but they are featured in this time capsule. True fans will enjoy the early history of the pioneers and the Moolah stories. It is interesting to see how far the women’s world has evolved, regardless of opinions of those that see the WWE’s division with skepticism.

This review copy was sent courtesy of the publisher.

Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History And Rise of Women’s Wrestling by Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy (2017, ECW Press) ISBN: 978-1-77041-307-0 (paperback), 978-1-77305-015-7 (PDF) , 978-1-77305-014-0 (Epub) can be found at http://www.ecwpress.com

 

The Overall:

Pages: 415

Language: Mild

Geared For: 12 and Up

For Fans Of: Women’s Wrestling, Pro Wrestling, Wrestling History.

Book Review: Bizarre Self Help Book Wrestling Fans’ Enjoyment

Cover image by Lee South

I was never a fan of ECW Wrestling, nor a fan of wrestler Al Snow. I thought the whole ECW product made a mockery of wrestling. The league prided itself of having cheese graters, weapons in every match, while setting each other of fire. It was what the Internet fans thought wrestling should be while killing the legitimate fight aspect to wrestling. Wrestling should be where two men want to settle their problems in the ring while making the fans believe it was real. The ECW product made wrestling into a joke by showing wrestlers beat each other up with broken tables, while jumping on top of a guy from the balconies in front of the referee who stood there without calling for a DQ.

However, when I read that Al Snow was writing a book, I decided to seek it out, because although I was not a fan of his on screen gimmick, I knew he could put out an entertaining read full of some great stories. In Self Help: Life Lessons From The Bizarre Wrestling Career of Al Snow, with help from Ross Owen Williams ( ECW Press, 2019), Snow achieves this goal of giving great tales, and then some.

At first, I thought this was going to be a how-to-book based on the title, like other wrestlers have started doing recently, but this book is very different. Snow gives advice on each page (the “life lessons), but some are just humorous thoughts, along with some pointers that someone could use in real life, not just being in wrestling (for instance, one states about having only one chance to make a first impression). Snow tells stories about his wrestling career in a biography form with lively stories.

After a forward by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Snow walks the reader through starting out as a wrestling fan at age 14, and having his first match in 1982 (something I did not know, and thought he just started a little before his stint in Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling). Snow details his early matches with Bruiser Brody, Kerry Von Erich, and calling promoters to get booked, including Ole Anderson in Georgia. Snow journeys into the WWE, ECW, and his time in TNA, with an attitude that is different than most wrestling books; instead of always blaming the promoters (like Vince McMahon) for his work not catching on, Snow shows an honesty that his attitude at times hindered his work by not running with the gimmick and trying to make it the best gimmick it could have been at the time (something critics of Terry Taylor have mentioned with his Red Rooster gimmick in the WWF). Snow admits immaturity at times in the locker room, along with the backstage politics that occurred during his run in the wrestling world.

The creation of his gimmick, carrying a mannequin head to the ring (named “The Head”), which gave him his most famous character, is told which involved a mixture of reading a psychology book and a car ride with wrestler Mick Foley. His WWE career teaming with Steve Blackman, his Hardcore title time, and his tales of events in ECW and the independent leagues are wonderfully described. Two humorous stories on the Indy circuit involved a promoter and his son using horses to come to the ring as part of their cowboy gimmick, and another that involves an incident going to an IHOP restaurant with a bunch of “little people.” Two other stories that involves taser guns will have the reader laughing out loud.

Snow also takes the audience through his time behind the scenes at TNA Wrestling, and the problems the league had, along with his time at the WWE developmental league OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling), and some of the wrestlers he worked with at the time before they moved up to the major WWE roster. During the TNA section, Snow tells which wrestlers were difficult to work with (as well as some of the officials), and why the TNA women were easier to work with then the men.

Even if you are like me and was not a fan of ECW or Snow’s work in the ring in the WWE (I just did not get the whole idea of his “head” gimmick), this is one of the better wrestling books I have read in a while. The chapters are short, well written, and will make readers appreciate not only the person inside the ring, but also will have a good time reading these stories. This is not a bash fest against Vince McMahon or Snow’s other bosses, but a tale of a mature wrestler looking back at his work with appreciation of the time that he got to spend in the spotlight, along with meeting some strange, and exotic people along the way. This is a surprising, appealing read of a man that had some fun, while also admitting at times that he wasn’t seeing the bigger picture. From the “Life Lessons” segments throughout the pages, to the exciting, wild ride on the roads, and in the rings, Al Snow’s book will be well worth the time reading.

 

This review copy was sent courtesy of the publisher.

 

Self Help: Life Lessons From The Bizarre Wrestling Career Of Al Snow, by Al Snow and Ross Owen Williams (ECW Press, 2019) ISBN: 978-1-77041-439-6, 978-1-77305-303-5 (pdf), 978-1-77305-302-8 (epub) can be found at http://www.ecwpress.com

 

The Overall:

Pages: 302

Language: Moderate

Geared To: Ages 14 and Up

For Fans Of: Pro Wrestling, Sports, Biographies.

Book Review: Drummer Recalls Time in The Jeff Healey Band

Cover Design: Troy Cunningham. Cover Photograph: Barrie Wentzell

 

The Best Seat In The House: My Life in The Jeff Healey Band by Tom Stephen, with Keith Greenberg (ECW Press, 2018), is an inside look at one of the best guitar players in rock music, told by his drummer and one time manager (If Greenberg’s name looks familiar, it is because he helped write wrestlers Ric Flair, Freddy Blassie, and Superstar Billy Graham’s books).

I first heard of the Jeff Healey Band, like many here in the U.S., when his single “Angel Eyes” hit the Top Ten Singles Chart in 1989. Later, while playing drums in a blues/rock band, we played Healey’s version of “Stuck in The Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel off of the band’s 1995 album “Cover to Cover” (It is still my favorite version of the song).

The book is told by Stephen, who starts off telling about his life, how he went to graduate school, only to end up playing drums and becoming the manager of the band led by the blind guitar player Healey. The book details what seemed to be a chip on the shoulder of Healey from the first day meeting Stephen and throughout their time in the Jeff Healey Band, along with this attitude when Healey would snub famous musicians like Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Healey also takes his frustrations out on Stephen and the record companies throughout the years, which Stephen describes.

There are some great stories in the book, which at times is humorous as well as entertaining, like the time the band hung out with ZZTop when they were touring together, Healey driving various vehicles (like golf carts, tour buses, and cars), and how he fell asleep during a meeting with the legendary Clive Davis of Arista Records. There is also a story about the band’s interaction with wrestler Terry Funk during the shooting of the 1989 Patrick Swayze film “Roadhouse,” which the band was cast in the film. Stephen states that Funk could party harder than all the crew, but would ask Healey to answer to phone when a certain person called for Funk (No Spoilers here). There is another great story during the shooting that shows how Healey ended up getting more lines than originally intended, the first time the band met Swayze on set, and the time they almost quit the film.

There are tales about meeting Alice Cooper, Bill Clinton (as governor and when he became president), Tom Jones, and stories on the road with drugs, girls, and parties with drinking contests.

The Best Seat in The House also has an underlining theme of three men who were not only band members, but stuck up for each other as brothers, even though it cost them big tours and deals that could have made the band even bigger. As the manager at the time, Stephen’s honesty comes through, where he admits mistakes made as manager, and how his attitude caused friction with labels, management, and even the other band members. Stephen even lets others who were around the band at the time state their opinions, including their thoughts on Stephen himself, which makes the book an honest account, without the author and writer editing the fact that many that did not care for him or the way he managed the band.

Most drummers do not get a chance to write their story about the bands they were in, although it seems to be changing in music biographies in the past few years (the Bobby Rock book on Vinnie Vincent-which has been reviewed here in the archives is one example), but the fact that Stephen was also the manager of the band, there is another insight to his story, besides just showing up for the gigs.

The end of the book is touching, where Stephen writes about why the band broke up, Healey’s views towards him, and how Stephen reacted to Healey’s death in 2008. Stephen’s story is not all rainbows being in the spotlight touring around the world, which is one of the enjoyable aspects to the book. The honesty and ending to the band is what makes the book a wonderful read, especially for musicians to learn about the inside workings of the music industry.

Even if you are not too familiar with the Jeff Healey Band, this book is one that music lovers would still enjoy; filled with humorous road stories, management problems, and the admittance of mistakes and problems that ended the band’s run and friendship, all told in a grateful, and honest recollection.

 

This review copy was sent courtesy of ECW Press, via their Shelf Monkey                       Giveaway.

 

The Best Seat In The House: My Life In The Jeff Healey Band by Tom Stephens with Keith Elliot Greenberg (ECW Press, 2018 ISBN: 978-1-77041-8) , along with other ECW Titles, are available at: http://www.ecwpress.com.

 

For information on Keith Elliot Greenberg , go to: http://www.facebook.com/keith.e.greenberg

 

The Overall:

Pages: 240

Language: Moderate

Geared For: 16 and Up

For fans of: Music, Biographies.

Book Review: A Lively Look at the Death of 1980s Wrestling.

Cover design : David A. Gee

 

Tim Hornbaker’s “Death Of The Territories: Expansion, Betrayal, and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever” (ECW Press, 2018) is a historical lesson covering how the end of the wrestling territories came to be and the reasons for the demise.

Before the WWF took over wrestling in the 1980s, there were many different territories where wrestlers could go and , in some cases, get quality television exposure. If a wrestler’s appeal with the audience was wearing thin, they could go to a territory and either revamp their characters, or learn more skills before returning months or years later.

Some of the many states that had their own territories included Memphis, Texas, Florida, the Carolinas, California, and St. Louis, which were all run by different promoters. Many of them bonded together as part of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), until divisions started when Vince McMahon Jr. bought his father’s company and started invading the territories for their stars.

Hornbaker’s book covers many of the different promoters like Bill Watts, Joe Blanchard, Leory McGuirk, Jim Barnett , and Verne Gagne. Other promoters covered in his history include The Poffos, The Sheik (Ed Farhat), Ann Gunkle , Don Owen, and the Fullers.

The book covers how each of the special territories ran their local television productions. Some of the main television programs were WCCW (from Texas) and the AWA (Minnesota) on ESPN, Jim Crockett Promotions and Georgia Championship Wrestling on WTBS, and the WWF’s syndicated programs, which started invading the other television stations with better deals for the advertisers by giving them bigger star names, which became a main reason the other leagues folded.

One of the interesting parts of the book is when the author details how some companies would try and enter the other’s area, and with the help of researched attendance numbers, show that some of the fans in certain areas of the United States did not accept the WWF when they ran shows. Memphis was one state that held better television and attendance numbers for their own stars, like Jerry Lawler, as opposed to lower numbers when the WWF tried to come into the area. There were areas where the WWF ran shows that barely drew at the time, as opposed to the myth that every state wanted the WWF in its town.

The story of Vince McMahon Jr’s rise to the wrestling empire by using business techniques such as banning other photographers from his ringside area, to his use of pay per view to help the product, and grabbing stars from other areas are all covered here, including when he aired WWF programming on WTBS. Georgia Championship Wrestling’s booker Ole Anderson’s counter to this time is also interesting, as well as how the other promoters and bookers handled the WWF invading their areas.

I was also intrigued when Hornbaker writes in 1983, McMahon Jr. took over the Ohio region with his show being on Channel 23 in Akron (one of the channels I watched WWF on when I started fully watching in 1986), and also held shows in East Liverpool and Struthers, Ohio (both not far from where I live). It was nice to see my local area covered in the book (mostly the WWF was big in Warren and Youngstown when I started watching and attending, although an occasional Struthers show would be held).

The book covers the rise of Jim Crockett Jr.’s taking over the Carolinas, which became so popular that most of the fans called his league the NWA, although there were many other members of the NWA, until Ted Turner bought out Crockett and renamed it WCW (World Championship Wrestling) to avoid confusion with the other NWA territories that were still running shows.

The history of the territories would not be complete without covering the AWA, Memphis, and World Class mergers in trying to keep their leagues afloat, with the WCW and WWF being the big two leagues. The AWA at one time was considered one of the big three leagues, but with Verne Gagne losing steam, the idea to try and co-promote was attempted.

Hornbaker’s writing is entertaining without having a bunch of dates confusing and boring the reader, and his research is wonderfully detailed, so those that want to know the historical dates won’t be disappointed either. He covers the events in readable chapters without bogging down the reader that they are reading a textbook. There is so much information on the topic, he could have easily have made it 300 pages long, but Hornbaker keeps it at a pleasant 241 pages of text (not counting the pages of book notes). The author also doesn’t become one of the “I hate the WWF for taking over” people, nor does join the argument that “All things WWF is great” either. He writes a nice non- judgmental book where the numbers and the research makes the readers decide for themselves.

Being a lover of the territory days (I am in the minority apparently who loved the AWA years after 1983 when they lost many stars like Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, and Bobby Heenan- the Bockwinkle/Hennig matches are still some of the most underrated matches ever). This book is a must read for those who want to re-live the days, along with learning information that you may not have known (I for one did not know that Gagne once tried to negotiate a deal to sell out to McMahon Jr, long before he folded the league). “Death of The Territories” is a book that needs to be on every wrestling historian and fans’ book shelf.

 

This review copy was given courtesy of ECW Press.

 

“Death of The Territories” by Tim Hornbaker (ECW Press, 2018) IBSN: 978-1-77041-384-9 (softcover), 978-1-77305-232-8 (ePub) , 978-1-77305-233-5 (PDF) can be found at http://www.ecwpress.com

 

For information on the author, go to twitter@TimHornbaker.

 

Book Review: Creating An Inside Look Into Wrestlemania

Cover Design :Franco Malagisi

Being an honest reviewer, I admit I am skeptical of books released under the WWE brand. The books (at least in the past) have been mostly written with the wrestlers in character throughout, or sometimes, without the wrestlers’ involvement in the telling of their own stories. However, Jon Robinson’s  “Creating The Mania: An Inside Look at How Wrestlemania Comes to Life” (ECW Press/WWE Books, 2018) is an enjoyable book that dispels this notion of past WWE related books.

This book interviews many of the top WWE wrestlers, film producers, and other WWE employees to give an inside look at all the work that goes into the Wrestlemania card, including the events during the week that have grown beyond just having a wrestling show, which made its debut in 1985.

Vince McMahon Jr, who created the Wrestlemania concept, is interviewed early in the book, telling the story how he created the idea of Wrestlemania when he started to turn his then WWF league into a national, and eventually, world-wide extravaganza. Robinson interviews people such as John Saboor, the Executive VP of WWE Special Events, who details how the city of the event gets picked, and how the WWE wants the city’s community to be involved since Wrestlemania is full of events all week, including the Hall of Fame Ceremony, WWE Axxess (that includes fan events and meet and greets with some of the stars), and how the WWE expects to work with the city chosen for years to come, not just a one time deal with the big event. Saboor also states that the WWE plans their major PPV events three years in advance. This part was especially interesting when Saboor states a group of WWE executives meet every three weeks with the city officials, holding meetings that last as long as 8-10 hours a day. Most fans think that the WWE just shows up to the city and puts on the show, which is far from the truth. The planning and execution is extremely detailed and time consuming. The people behind the scenes are just as much champions as the talent seen in front of the cameras.

The book involves many of the WWE stars and their thoughts on Wrestlemania, their favorite Mania matches (as a fan or participant), along with some encounters that they have had, such as wrestlers getting knocked off the card, or matches being switched at the last moment due to injuries or the signings of new stars or celebrities.

The surprising part of this journey is how the writers and wrestlers discuss their involvement with other leagues. In the past the WWE would never mention that a wrestler was a part of another company, but this book mentions Ring of Honor, TNA, and Japanese leagues, which makes it a refreshing read. Another area that is surprising is that the people interviewed for the book talk about how some of the storylines were changed, and bring out subjects that fans may not have known about; such as Braun Strowman being scheduled to win the Andre The Giant Battle Royal before the WWE got football player Rob Gronkowski involved (which switched the ending) and how the creative team did not know if Brock Lesnar was going to beat The Undertaker until McMahon finally made the call during the day of the show. Proposed matches were set like Jason Jordan vs Kurt Angle, Kane vs Finn Balor, and how UFC star Ronda Rousey was going to be used in her first match are covered.

Interviews with Elias, Jeff Jarrett (right before his Hall of Fame Induction), and producer “Road Dogg” Brian James, who informs the reader how The Royal Rumble is planned, are informative, along with the Alexa Bliss/Nia Jax friendship turning into an on screen storyline. There is also a touching story about announcer Corey Graves, and how he had to learn the skills needed to be an announcer after his career ended by injury (His describing all the voices he hears in his headset during a program gives a new respect to the position for those that may not know what goes on during the televised parts of the shows).

“Creating The Mania” has great insights of the wrestlers stating their opinions on future storylines that they’d like to be a part of , or would like to see, including a possible Reigns vs Rock match. This was entertaining, and who knows a possible tease, for fans to converse.

Overall the book has insightful interviews by people in front and behind the screen, with plenty of photographs throughout the book. It takes the reader right before Wrestlemania. The last chapter has a summary of the WrestleMania 2018 results, so the reader can see what happened from the planning stages to the final product. “Mania” also has an interesting section where some of the wrestlers list their all time favorite Wrestlemania match, which is worth the read. The behind the scenes from planning storylines to how the television production is handled is refreshing compared to past WWE sponsored books. “Creating The Mania” is a different approach covering the WWE Universe. Robinson writes well and engages the reader, so much that the reader may go through the whole book in a few days (like I did). The interviews are wonderful, and the reader does not have to be a die hard fan to understand the topics, because it is easy to follow the flow of the stories. Do not let previous stereotypes of past WWE books prevent you from checking this one out. This is worth your time.

 

This review copy was sent courtesy of ECW Press and WWE Books.

 

“Creating The Mania: An Inside Look at How Wrestlemania Comes to Life” by Jon Robinson (ECW/WWE Books, 2018 ISBN: 978-1-77041-450-1 hardcover, 978-1-77305-271-7 ePub, 978-1-77305-272-4 PDF) can be found at http://www.ecwpress.com and is available August 7, 2018.

 

For information about the author, Jon Robinson’s Twitter account is  @JRobAndSteal.

Book Review: Rush Drummer is in Sync with the Road

Cover design: Hugh Syme

 

 

One of the many things that I find interesting about musicians are some of the hobbies they have outside of the music world, or how they spent their time after a tour. Ron Wood and Paul Stanley paint, Rod Stewart collects trains and follows soccer, and William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys, along with Bryan Adams are avid photographers. In his book “Far And Wide: Bring That Horizon To Me,” (ECW Press, 2016) Neil Peart takes his readers through his motorcycle rides throughout North America, while giving his thoughts on the road about what was possibly his last tour being the drummer for the band Rush.

Peart has written several books of this nature, but this was the first one I have read, especially because I wanted to see how his views about no longer touring with the band came about. The early chapters of this book gets into the mind of one of (if not THE greatest Rock drummer of all time) and how he views one final tour with the band. What was interesting is that the previous tour is when Neil wanted to stop playing, but due to guitar player Alex Lifeson, Peart decided on one more tour.

Peart’s sense of humor is shown throughout this travel book, including some humorous text messages between him and Police drummer Stewart Copeland, mishaps while riding on the road, and some heart-filled comments made by Peart’s young daughter when seeing the band for the first time. The book covers also Neil’s suggestions for naming the final tour, along with his health issues before and after the shows. There are stories about Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, and roller skating at the backstage at the arenas.

Although there are plenty of Rush stories, the book is mainly about his traveling throughout the tour on his motorcycle with fellow bike riders and the scenery he encounters along the way, with wonderful colored photos of the roads and monuments they come across. The book is filled with beautiful glossy photos (some black and white for the older Rush photos, but mostly in color). The reader gets into Peart’s mind as he rides and plots out his routes, along with the philosophy and his world views he believes, while riding down the long side roads of the U.S. and Canada, without sounding preachy or having an in your face style of stating his opinions.

Throughout the book I wondered how Peart could handle not only the stress on his body by playing his complex music (being an ex drummer myself), but how he managed to plot the routes needed to be taken , all with a few health issues along the way, while still making it to every show and play as well as he does, then do it over again the following night (especially since Peart is in his 60s).

There was quite a bit of things I learned from this book, from some of Peart’s thoughts on how he approaches the drums and his shows, to his knowledge of historical landmarks, and even his opinions on why he never took selfie photos with fans. There are stories about him taking his American Citizen’s Test, describing “the worst crash ever” he took on his bike, to what cities Rush originally wanted to play for the last show of their final tour. I was also entertained by Peart’s mention of the band Icehouse, drummer Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys, and having “George Harrison eyes”. Peart’s taste in music while traveling in his cars is also an interesting read.

“Far and Wide” is a splendid book filled with rock stories and traveling. The reader does not have to be a Rush fan to enjoy this road trip throughout the U.S. and Canada. The pictures alone in this 282 page glossy book is worth the view alone, along with the suburb writing style that Peart possesses. Readers of motorcycles, cars, music, and travel will all find something to enjoy in this book. Peart may have retired from music touring, but he has proved with this book that he does not have to retire as an author.

 

 

This review copy was sent courtesy of ECW Press.

 

“Far And Wide: Bring That Horizon To Me” by Neil Peart (ECW Press, 2016 ISBN: 978-1-77041-348-1 (hardback) 978-1-77041-366-5 (special edition) 978-177090-894-9 (PDF) 978-1-77090-893-2 (ePub) ) can be ordered at http://www.ecwpress.com.

 

For more info about the author, go to : http://www.neilpeart.net

 

Book Review: Get Hip to the History of Canada’s Underrated Band

Cover design : David A. Glee Cover images: ZUMA Press Inc./Alamy

Michael Barclay’s “The Never Ending Present: The Story of Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip” ( ECW Press, 2018) is a different kind of music biography fitting for a band that had a different appeal in music.

For those who do not know about The Tragically Hip, they were a Canadian band who fans adored and topped the charts in Canada by doing things their way, not taking the normal path bands took. While many Canadian acts like Loverboy, Bryan Adams, Gordon Lightfoot, and rush made their way to the U.S. and had success, The Tragically Hip was always considered among some Canadians as one of the bands that never made it big in the U.S. but was loved in Canada, much like fellow musicians Blue Rodeo.

I first heard of The Hip (the name the fans gave the band) when I was in my first band in 1992. We covered the songs “New Orleans” and “She Didn’t Know” from the 1989 debut album “Up to Here.” Although my guitar player and his girlfriend were big fans of the band, that was the only cassette I got of theirs. I respected them, but was into so many other bands at the time. Last year when I heard about their last tour (which was not called a “Farewell Tour”) after the medical condition of singer Gord Downie, I started listening to more of their music before the final show was aired on Canadian TV. When I saw that Barclay had a book out, I had to get a review copy.

Barclay’s book is not a typical rock biography of the band, the band had no involvement of this book, and never wanted a book out about them; they were always about the next tour or album, not wanting to look back, according to the author. The band did not cater to the media, nor did they care about awards like the Junos (the Canadian version of the Grammys), and did not follow the normal path of marketing to get big in the U.S. like other bands, such as starting out as an opening act and touring with big names, which is mentioned in the book. The band played smaller theaters that they knew they could fill by being the headliners. The band’s management decided that if The Hip would sell out smaller theaters, word of mouth would come around that people couldn’t get tickets to see The Hip, and make them in demand the next time they came to the city.

The book covers the early days of Downie and other members of the band, where Downie played junior hockey and some of his first bands were cover bands playing R&B songs. It details the making of their albums, and some of their tours, including the solo albums Downie recorded through the years. When the band started, they decided that all the songs would be credited to the band equally, instead of listing only the songwriters, which shows the band’s friendship and down to earth feel to them. There are stories about how the band was kind to those acts that opened for them, hanging out with them before and after the shows.

“The Never Ending Present” also takes the reader through stories by some of the road crew and friends of the band, with in depth stories about these people to give a feel of the members the public may not have seen. There is also stories and chapters comparing the band to other acts, such as a chapter comparing The Hip to other Canadian acts by comparing The Hip’s Canadian, U.S. and worldwide music sales. There is a chapter questioning why The Hip never made it big in the U.S. , even though they had big followings in places like Texas.

Barclay even writes a chapter about how some critics and fans (and other musicians) just did not see the appeal of the band, and how other Canadian towns despised the band, and covers the topic of if the band was “too Canadian” for most listeners.

Barclay gives some great comparisons and quotes from members of other Canadian bands, including Blue Rodeo, which is another Canadian band that I enjoy. There are many band and artist references in the book that music fans in America may not know, which some detail in the bands would be nice (saying this person who played in this band, as opposed to just mentioning the person’s name), but the book is published by a Canadian publisher, and with it almost 500 pages long, so one can’t complain too much.

This is a different type of rock biography. The writer covers complaints by critics and other musicians about what was the appeal of the band, which is something that most authors may not cover in a book about the band they are writing about. The chapters comparing The Hip to acts like Shania Twain (and other Canadian acts who made it in the U.S.) gets a bit overwhelming, along with some of the very detailed background information about some of the producers on the albums, managers, and other friends of the band. At times I felt like I wasn’t reading a book about the band and more about a guy who went on tour with Downie, and wanted the writer to get back on track focusing on the band. When discussing Downie’s last tour, the writer has a chapter comparing him to acts like Glen Campbell, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Lemmy from Motorhead, and Sharon Jones (all acts that were sick and died when most of the public did not know about their illnesses). With that said , though, Barclay shows great research and fans wanting to know everything about the band will enjoy this, more so than a casual U.S. fan like myself.

“The Never Ending Present” will appeal to fans of The Hip, especially since there are not many books written about the band, and at almost 500 pages, it will not disappoint the readers in dealing with the history of the band. However this is not a basic biography of the band, with comparisons and criticisms of the band added in that may throw some readers off. But one can not question the research and detail the author puts into this book. Non -Canadian fans may have to do extra research in some of the names that are dropped and interviewed in the book, but the fans of the band up north will enjoy this nonetheless, and even those that want a book of the band here in the States.

 

Thanks to ECW Press for the Advanced Reading Copy of this book.

 

“The Never Ending Present: The Story of Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip”     by Michael Barclay (2018 ISBN: 9781770414365) is available at ECW Press.

 

For information on ECW Press, go to http://www.ecwpress.com.

 

For information about the author, go to his blog page at :                        http://radiofreecanuckistan.blogspot.com/

 

Book Review: A Dog’s Tale: “Mad Dog” Looks at a Legend’s Life

Book cover design by Tania Craan and cover image by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

Fans of classic professional wrestling will enjoy “Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story (ECW Press, 2017) by Bertrand Hebert, Pat Laprade, and translated by George Tombs. The book journeys through the life of one of the toughest, yet unmentioned wrestlers from Canada.

The book was originally released in 2015 in French, but is now translated and available in English. Vachon was an interesting character, which this book covers. Vachon started wrestling at the local YMCA, and made it to the Olympics in 1948 before starting a career in professional wrestling. Vachon started out as a babyface (good guy), but got his big break when he became a heel (bad guy) years later.

The book follows Vachon’s territory days of wrestling, working for several different promoters for little pay, until moving on to other territories in Canada and the United States. His career later took him to Japan as well, making stops in the NWA, AWA, WWWF and the WWF territories throughout the book. He stopped along the way in Oregon, Calgary, and Quebec.

The book takes the reader through some great events in Vachon’s life, from teaming with his brother, Paul, to being in tag teams with Verne Gagne, Hulk Hogan, Baron Von Raschke , and his solo career, where he won the AWA World and Tag Team Titles.

Even though Vachon was called “The Mad Dog” in the ring, the book describes how Vachon was willing to help out many of the wrestlers get a break in the business (such as a young Roddy Piper), along with helping other wrestlers create gimmicks to help the wrestlers get over to the public. While many wrestling fans recall the viciousness in the ring that the “Mad Dog” portrayed in front of the crowds, the book shows a man that helped many along with way, along with guiding many more people.

The book covers his famous years in the AWA in the 1960s and 1970s, along with his stays in the WWF in the 1980s. There is the story about the famous incident on a plane that AWA owner Verne Gagne would take several wrestlers to events. Vachon , while the plane was in the air, decided to open the side door of the plane, which became one of the most told stories about wrestling on the road in history.

There are some fans that remember Vachon from his time in Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (WWF) during the early days of the Rock and Wrestling Connection, or his time in the AWA, but the book informs the readers about when Vachon was featured on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” getting mainstream press before Hulk Hogan or Andre The Giant received that kind of attention in the 1980s.

The book also shows the heart-filled downsides that Vachon suffered during his lifetime, from failed marriages to several car accidents, including the shocking story of when he was injured by a car while walking near his home, which resulted in having his leg being amputated. This ordeal is covered with detail, including the aftermath that included lawsuits being brought out.

There are great quotes in the book by wrestlers like Roddy Piper, Rick Martel, Nick Bockwinkel, and family members. The book not only is a biography of a wrestler and wrestling stories, but a behind the scenes glimpse of the man not seen by the general public when the camera was off.

ECW Press is known for putting out some great wrestling books, and “Mad Dog” is one of the enjoyable ones. This book is a biography of a wrestler, yet is also filled with some great history of Canadian professional wrestling as well. The authors have not only shown great research in the book, but present it in a way that flows nicely throughout the book without bogging down the reader with a bunch of dates. The 272 page text has the right amount of information without having slow parts in the reading.

Fans of the classic eras of wrestling (1960s-1980s) will enjoy this work, along with those that want to study more about Canadian Wrestling. The book was entertaining, knowledgeable, and heart-filled all combined in one setting. ECW has another winnner on its hands with “Mad Dog.”

 

“Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story” by Bertrand Hebert, Pat Laprade, and translated by George Tombs (2017 ISBN: 9781770413320) can be ordered at http://www.ecwpress.com along with their other titles.

 

A special thanks to ECW Press for the review copy of the book.