New Books

Title:  The Cool Gent: The Nine Lives of Radio Legend Herb Kent

Author:  Herb Kent and David Smallwood

Publisher: Lawrence Hill Books

ISBN: 978-1-55652-774-6

Date:  February 2009

We’re happy to promote this new autobiography by pioneering radio deejay Herb Kent “the Cool Gent,” a.k.a. the Black Dick Clark. Beginning his career in 1944 at the age of sixteen, Kent was a fixture on Chicago radio for several decades, most notably on WVON-AM, the most powerful black station in the country.  Though perhaps better known for spinning older R&B records on his “dusty” shows, he is also legendary for creating the first “Punk Out” show on black radio in the early ‘80s.   As Kent tells it,

“I remember being at a club , and they were playing “Whip It” by Devo. The black teens there were just jumping up and down and going nuts over it. I said, “Hmmm, let me play that on the show.” I did, and it turned out to be one of my hottest shows. So I started playing a lot of white New Wave and rock artists- Pat Benatar, the B-52’s, Depeche Mode, the Vapors, the Tubes – and there was the black group, the BusBoys.” On the air I called this Punk Out music, and, man, it was as hot as any show I’ve ever had anywhere.”

Regrettably, the Punk Out show is only mentioned in passing, but no doubt it was extremely influential in terms of exposing Kent’s African American audience to the punk rock scene, and may have even inspired some young musicians to play rock.

Overall, the book presents a fine overview of Kent’s  career as well as the history of black radio and the music industry, told in a manner one would expect from the Cool Gent.  There is even a forward from Da Mayor himself, Richard M. Daley, citing Kents many accolades, from the “Mayor of Bronzeville” to his induction into the Radio Hall of Fame (the first African American deejay to receive this honor).  Kent’s story makes for a good read and, since its one of the few books chronicling black radio, should certainly be considered by both university and public libraries.

Title: I Want to Take You Higher: The Life and Times of Sly & the Family Stone

Author: Jeff Kaliss

Publisher:  Backbeat

ISBN: 0879309849

Date:  Revised edition; October 2009

Sly & the Family Stone was one of the first fully integrated funk/rock/R&B groups—with black, white, male and female band members playing an equal role.  Kaliss’ book makes for enjoyable reading and highlights a number of areas of Sly’s career that I was not previously aware of, such as his time spent hosting a radio show (if anyone has airchecks, please drop me a line!).  Originally published last year, there is already a revised second edition of I Want to Take You Higher. According to the author, the new edition updates the story in “A Year in the Life” format, following Sly and various band members, among others, from the time of the last interview for the first edition (February 2008) up to the most recent interview with Sly this past February.  In addition, several mistakes in the main part of the text have been corrected.  If you haven’t already picked up a copy of the original, I highly recommend adding this new paperback edition to your book list.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss