Given the curiosity and the will to make a little effort beyond the usual chain stores, a wealth of information about rock unknowns reveals itself.  A listing of some of the best general reference books with valuable coverage of little-known pioneers follow.  More are sure to be written in the next few years; if there's a market for a 400-page autobiography by a member of the Monks, anything's possible.


Pete Frame,  The Complete Rock Family Trees Vol. 1 & 2.  Omnibus Press, New York, 1980/1983.  Microscopic-sized print, but vastly entertaining family trees of just about every notable British and American group of the 1960s and 1970s, with plenty of juicy little-seen quotes and anecdotes to enhance the branch graphics.  A lot of this focuses on star groups, but since so many star groups emerged from barely-heard littler ones, you'll find a lot of detail on the likes of the Creation, Fotheringay, and (as you hoped) Frumious Bandersnatch. Frame keeps at it several decades after he first started the rock family tree concept, and in the late 1990s he came out with More Rock Family Trees -- essentially Rock Family Trees Vol. 3 in all but name -- and The Beatles and Some Other Guys: Rock Family Trees of the Early Sixties, which focuses on British Invasion bands, particularly but not wholly the ones from Liverpool. His family tree on Them, for instance, does a great deal to clarify the murky history of the great Van Morrison-led group.

Bob Brunning, Blues: The British Connection.   Blanford Press, Dorset, Poole, UK, 1986.  Fine collection of profiles of British blues-rockers of the '60s by the original bassist of Fleetwood Mac, ranging from biggies like, well, Fleetwood Mac to foot soldiers like Graham Bond and the Groundhogs.

Irwin Chusid, Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. A Cappella Books, Chicago, 2000. For those who thought Unknown Legends was too commercial, Irwin gets into about twenty even more on-the-edge, less accessible, and usually less conventionally musically talented artists, including the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Tiny Tim, and Lucia Pamela.

Julian Cope, Krautrocksampler. Head Heritage, Great Britain, 1996. A cult artist (albeit a rather popular one) himself, Cope documents one of the most obtuse offshoots of psychedelia and prog-rock in this handy book-cum-guide. Chapters on Faust, Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Can, Amon Duul (I and II), and detailed reviews of his favorite 50 Krautrock albums, getting into some danged obscure cats like Walter Wegmuller and Guru Guru. Entertainingly written, if sometimes overenthusiastic.

John Dix,  Stranded in Paradise: New Zealand Rock'n'Roll 1955-1988.  Paradise Publications, Wellington, New Zealand, 1988.  The bible of New Zealand rock, with 350 pages of Kiwi rock history from its earliest days to the late 1980s, with glossy photos worthy of art books.  A lot of this just covers mainstream pop, but there's plenty of attention paid to New Zealand '60s garage, '80s indie rock, and the legendary Flying Nun label.

Clinton Heylin. From the Velvets to the Voidoids: A Pre-Punk History for a Post-Punk World.  Penguin, New York, 1993.  A history of the roots and early years of U.S. punk, with lots of reminisces from heavyweights like the Velvet Underground and Patti Smith, all the way down to fascinating footnotes from Cleveland like Rocket From the Tombs, the Electric Eels, and Mirrors.

Clinton Heylin, Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry. St. Martin's Press, 1995. True, much of the music covered in this rather thrilling tome on the history of rock bootlegs is by big stars. But not many people in the mainstream ever heard those bootlegs, even the ones by the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and Heylin also devotes space to more arcane boots by the likes of the Yardbirds, Velvet Underground, and even Baker Gurvitz (who?). And simply as a history of the bootleg industry itself, this is a fascinating look at music that never made its way into most of the public eye.

Nicholas Jennings, Before the Gold Rush, Penguin, Toronto, 1997. A thorough, well-done history of Canadian rock in the 1960s. Besides a lot of material on the little-covered early days of folk-rock giants like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Ian & Sylvia, Leonard Cohen, etc., there's quite a bit on groups that were big or at least significant above the border, but not so in the lower 48, like the Paupers. Would you believe, for instance, that a pre-Blood, Sweat & Tears David Clayton-Thomas sang lead on a storming folk-rock-garage number called "Brainwashed" for the Shays? Believe it.

Andrea Juno,  Angry Women in Rock, Vol. 1. Juno Books, New York, 1996.  Mammoth interviews with assertive female rockers of the late twentieth century.  Some of these are superstars (Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett), but most are candidates for inclusion in studies of cult rockers of the 1990s, like Jarboe, Lois, and Kendra Smith; there's also a talk with June Millington of Fanny, one of the first all-women rock bands.

Timothy W. Ryback, Rock Around the Bloc.  Oxford Press, New York, 1990.  Thoroughly researched history of rock behind the Iron Curtain, from the mid-'50s to the late '80s.  Somewhat dry, but this is just about the only book to offer deep research and analysis of rock that has rarely been heard in the West, from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, East Germany, and the former Soviet Union.

Jon Savage, England's Dreaming.  Faber & Faber, London, 1991.  The best history of British punk.  Lots of coverage of the Sex Pistols, of course, but once that story gets started, there are plenty of side digressions to the likes of X-Ray Spex, the Adverts, Eater, and the like.

Gene Sculatti & Davin Seay, San Francisco Nights: The Psychedelic Music Trip 1965-1968.  St. Martin's Press, New York, 1985.  The birth and peak of San Francisco psychedelic rock.  Stories about well-known bands like the Jefferson Airplane dominate, but there's also a fair amount of ink devoted to some of the best bands that didn't get a national audience, like the Charlatans, Mystery Trend, and Great Society.  You can also find some of that same territory covered in Joel Selvin's Summer of Love (Dutton, 1994).

V. Vale & Andrea Juno, eds.  Incredibly Strange Music Vols. 1 & 2. RE/SEARCH, San Francisco, 1993 & 1994.  This doesn't just cover rock music -- it covers every kind of strange recordings imaginable -- but many intriguing rock oddities whose following is too small to even be called a cult are discussed in these hard-to-put-down volumes.  They consist mostly of fanatic vinyl collectors (including Jello Biafra and the Cramps) talking about the most amazing rarities in their collections, as well as a few interviews with performers, although those musicians don't tend to be from the rock world.


The artists in Unknown Legends of Rock'n'Roll represent a mere tiny fraction of the stories -- often fascinating -- of the thousands of acts that didn't "make it."  The following magazines are the ones in the trenches doing most of the crucial detective work, month after month, year after year.  They're doing more than anyone else to physically locate the mysterious men and women who have been mere faces and names on record sleeves; getting them to tell their stories; and documenting their lives and recordings in a coherent fashion, before all traces vanish.  Also keep in mind that many of the best articles on cult rockers appear in fanzines that publish irregularly, often available only by mail or at specialty record shops.  Reviews and addresses of many of the 'zines are often listed in the magazines below.  These magazines also carry advertisements for the best specialty mail-order houses that carry reissues of records by the artists in this book, as well as many more.

Ugly Things(3707 Fifth Avenue #145, San Diego, CA 92103,  Appearing on a roughly annual basis for the last 15 years, this is packed with Torah-length interviews with obscure '60s British Invasion groups, '60s garage bands, and '60s Eurobeat artists, with a level of detail that is truly spectacular.  If your interest is piqued by the previous chapters on the Outsiders, the Monks, the Music Machine, or the Creation, make this your next stop, as editor Mike Stax has published huge question-and-answer sessions with key figures from all of those bands.  Many back issues still available.

Ptolemaic Terrascope (37 Sandridge Road, Melksham, Wiltshire SN12 7BQ, UK,  You might be able to tell by the title that this British publication is psychedelically-inclined, although they do cover a good deal of modern-day variations on acid rock, as well as just plain ol' alternative rock.  The real highlights, though, are the long interviews with cult enigmas of the psychedelic era.  It's one of the only places where you can find mini-books on the likes of the Blossom Toes, the Hampton Grease Band, H.P. Lovecraft, the Nazz, and Pearls Before Swine, all exhumed with a passionate intelligence.

Record Collector(43/45 St. Mary's Road, Ealing, London W5 5RQ, UK,  Superb British monthly, averaging over 200 pages of reissue reviews, articles, and interviews with acts encompassing both superstars and unknown bands from the past who make the ones in this book seem like media sensations in comparison.  Much stronger on British artists than American ones, but all kinds of rock from all eras are covered well.

MOJO (Mappin House, 4 Winsley Street, London W1N 7AR, UK, Many of you who've gotten this far on this website probably know all about MOJO already. It's the most prominent wide-circulation music magazine that devotes much of its space to rock history. Virtually every issue contains one or more profiles of musicians that emerged at some point during 1950-1990, balanced between the biggest of the biggest stars and some bona fide cult rockers. Each issue is also bound to have numerous reissue reviews.

Goldmine (700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990,  The premier rock collector periodical in the U.S. isn't as sharp or wittily written as Record Collector; there's also a considerably higher ratio of ads to content.  But the scope of coverage is still impressive; for every Kiss article, or millionth Rolling Stones retrospective, they'll throw in an immense piece on somebody like Merrell Fankhauser.


All Music GuideThe world's largest on-line database of record reviews and artist biographies, including many bios and reviews by this author. Many of them are also in the 1200-page book, the All Music Guide to Rock(Miller Freeman Books).

Perfect Sound ForeverThere are plugs for PSF throughout my site, so I'll just note again that this has dozens of well-done, in-depth interviews and features with cult musicians of all styles and eras, presented with more intelligence than anywhere else on the Internet.

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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