Acoustic Stories Reviews

Eric Bibb

After reading two stories, "Paris Remembers" and "Jazzbeaux Got There," I just had to give you a shout. Reading them was like hearing two great songs that I have to play for friends. I found them simply beautiful. Can't wait to read more.

With loads of stuff left to do on my "DO" list before taking off to Paris in the morning mostly what I have done today is continue reading Acoustic Stories! Just can't put it down. Your deep love of music and the way you celebrate the truth that everyone has a story makes an irresistible read - truly inspiring.

Joe Falletta in Bluegrass Now

Acoustic Stories is a wonderful, enchanting read. Bassist Bill Amatneek has a very engaging way with a story, grabbing the reader's attention right away in a nicely understated, yet very captivating style that keeps you wanting more.

Beginning to end, Bill's tales of backing Bill Monroe, Peter Rowan, David Grisman, Tony Rice, Jerry Garcia, and many others bring tears to the eyes one moment as he collaborates with Kate Wolf. "Yes, Kate, both as a lyricist and as a human being, was always about love," he writes.

In another poignant scene, we follow along as he walks the streets of Paris with Tony Rice and Bill Keith, the three looking for a source of tortoiseshell flatpicks while reminiscing about the Allies' liberation of France from the Nazis.

Tears give way to chuckles as Bill describes David Grisman trying to introduce Jerry Garcia and Stephane Grapelli, and once again as Bill Monroe shows up, to everyone's surprise, joining the Peter Rowan Band onstage at the 1995 Wintergrass Festival. The two engage in a playful shoving match until Big Mon gives Peter a shot that sends him flying.

Bill opens and closes this collection reminiscing of his work with Peter, Paul and Mary, about feeling the terror at his first take of "Leavin' On A Jet Plane" (the song opens with a bass solo), and writing very openly and honestly about his crush on Mary Travers, "blond, blue-eyed, with a radiating smile and a chorus of curves. To my eyes, she was beautiful."

Big Mon to Bob Dylan to Frank Wakefield, Tony Rice and Bill Keith to Dionne Warwick to the New Riders of The Purple Sage (Bill's first "genuine rock tour"), Bill's career and experiences are very colorful, offering quite the vicarious musical thrill ride for the reader. If you've ever wanted that something more you just couldn't put your hands on about the artists, a closer look at a musician's life, and more, this book is a must have, an entertaining read and, with plenty of excellent photos throughout, a fine addition to the music collection of any acoustic music fan.

Robert Rodriguez in Storyline, Summer 2005

The twenty-one extraordinary narratives in this memorable collection are at one and the same time funny, generous, humble, sweet and thoughtful.

Those are not my words, but I could certainly wish that they had been. These words are the cogent observation of nationally acclaimed storyteller Milbre Birch, when in describing these stories, she states that the current folkmusic world has indeed found its Homer.

Bill Amatneek's entire life has been an ongoing love affair with the world of music, and as a professional bassist and a banjo player, he has traveled the highways and byways of the music world, meeting and interacting with some of the finest musicians in today's music scene: from folk to country and bluegrass, and from blues to rock and roll and big-band jazz to boot.

Amatneek is a first-rate storyteller and his tales often prove that it is almost impossible to know where music ends and the tales begin or visa versa. Just a partial list of the musicians with whom Amatneek has lovingly interacted, both on and off the stage, is a veritable Who's Who of the world of modern music. Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Bill Monroe, Frank Wakefield, Dionne Warwick, Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins, David Grisman, and the list just goes on and on.

Amatneek is a true wordsmith in every sense of the term, and his tales may just be the stuff of musical legend. Whether it was helping Bob Dylan find the stage at a 1963 Philadelphia concert, performing with Peter, Paul and Mary at the 1979 Bread and Roses festival, or two poignant tales in which Amatneek helped celebrate two anniversaries of the Allied landings in Normandy in 1944 with veterans of theses titanic events, these tales come from the heart and the soul. They sing to the eternal spirit that makes music the special art form it is and has been since time immemorial.

It is perhaps the highest testament to Amatneek's excellence as a raconteur that praise for his efforts have come from both storytellers and fellow musicians alike. This only goes to show that Bill Amatneek has had a major impact upon the world of acoustic and unamplified music, and in turn it has had an impact upon his development as a major talent within the storytelling community, and to put it simply, the word of music and story is so much the richer for it when all is said and done.

Michael Parrish in Dirty Linen, August/September 2004

Acoustic bass players, particularly in bluegrass bands, have long been stereotyped as tall people of few words. Bill Amatneek may be tall, but his first book, Acoustic Stories, shows that he is both loquacious and eloquent in his speech. Several years ago, Amatneek crossed from the acoustic music world into the parallel community of storytellers, and the book contains 21 of his performance story pieces drawn from his eclectic experiences in the worlds of bluegrass, folk, and jazz. What makes Amatneek's book special is his funny, vivid, and always affectionate portrayals of a pantheon of many of the world's best musicians. For example, "Paris Remembers" vividly recounts an encounter Amatneek and his American bandmates had with a Parisian store owner with a stock of fabulously rare tortoise-shell picks. "Jesus Loves His Mandolin Player" is Amatneek's portrait of legendary mandolinist Frank Wakefield, who remains convinced to this day that Amatneek joined his band as bassist to escape the draft.

Amatneek is not afraid to laugh at himself, as he reveals his crush on Mary Travers in "MARY ... Peter and Paul" and discusses his introduction to country-rock groupies in "New Rider on the Purple Sage." The book also includes fond farewells to several departed musicians whose lives intersected with Amatneek's, including Mimi Fariña, Kate Wolf, and Jerry Garcia.

Acoustic Stories, beautifully illustrated with photos by some of the best musical photojournalists, would be a worthwhile read for almost anyone, but those familiar with the California acoustic music scene really owe it to themselves to seek it out.

Bob Cooperman in Hard Roe to Hoe, October, 2003

Bay Area upright acoustic bass player, Bill Amatneek, has graced us with a collection of reflections and anecdotes of some of the musicians and music business personalities he has played with, studied under, listened to, and admired. The list is prodigious and prestigious, from Mary Travers, to Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Garcia, and Bill Monroe, and beyond. Amatneek has played Bluegrass, rock, big band, and gone on a quest to find the vanishing Holy Grail of tortoiseshell picks with guitar wizard Tony Rice in Paris. And now he's gathered his stories into this attractive volume of reminiscences. Amatneek is also a professional storyteller, so many of these anecdotes and vignettes have an oral, colloquial feel about them.

Being a deadhead from way back, I was immediately drawn to the chapter about Jerry Garcia, especially the concluding of three anecdotes, in which the late guitarist is introduced to jazz violin giant Stephane Grapelli, who is sitting and chatting with Isaac Stem, no less. This is among the more charming episodes that Amatneek goes into; I won't spoil the punch line, but suffice to say it plays upon the name of the band and Grapelli's understandable (given his age) utter ignorance about who or what the Grateful Dead was.

As can be seen from the chapter on Garcia, part of Amatneek's charm and strategy is to tell a story concluding with a clever and witty punch line. This is no more effectively presented than in the anecdote in which Bill Monroe, never one to suffer fools at all, gets his own parting shot at a panel of musicologist experts and Freudian and Jungian psychologists, all of whom are dissecting Monroe's classical Bluegrass song, "The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake," at a university sponsored conference on Monroe and Bluegrass music. Monroe derisively snorts at the panel, which has been discussing the "deeper" implications of a song about a little girl who is bitten by a snake and dies. Again, the punch line is priceless, and I won't spoil your fun by divulging it.

But I think my favorite story is contained in the chapter, "Paris Remembers," especially in light of the idiotic flack the French have been taking of late from us, their alleged American cousins and friends. In this vignette, Amatneek shows he can go beyond sly good ol' boy wit and humor and tell a story that brought a lump to my throat, and will to yours too. The tale involves memories of the liberation of Paris during World War II and the proprietor of a music store in an out-of-the-way section of the City of Light, who possesses a legendary and secret stash of tortoiseshell picks, the alchemist's gold for acoustic guitarists and mandolin players, which Tony Rice is trying to hunt down while he and Amatneek are touring Paris with Bill Keith's Bicentennial Bluegrass Band.

[. . . This is] a charming, funny, and even poignant collection of recollections and reminiscences on some of the musicians and personalities with whom Amatneek has crossed paths and who touched his life and now ours, with their musical excellence and their nobility of character. I should mention that the collection begins and ends with a pair of anecdotes about Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. This framing device works wonderfully: the two stories are hilarious, and even touching, and let us know that Amatneek isn't afraid to turn himself into the butt of the joke. He's someone we would all be glad to spend more time with, maybe on a cross-country car trip with the stereo playing in the background, some good folk music, or Bluegrass, or a great jam by the Grateful Dead. And above the music Amatneek would be regaling us with stories about each artist and song.

Jack Rabid in Big Takeover Magazine, Spring 2004

Bassist Bill Amatneek might not be a name you recognize, but if you've listened to the music of Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, or Peter Paul and Mary to any extent, you've heard his playing. From his start in the folk scene of the '60s to the world of bluegrass with Bill Monroe and Tony Rice, Amatneek has performed with some of the more legendary names in music history, but even if he had not, you'd still read his work. Because as good as his bass playing can be, he's just as talented a storyteller. In fact, he performs his work at storytelling festivals these days. His tales are both funny and moving, and this book collects the best of both. 

Joe Ross, North West Bluegrass Review, Feb. 23, 2004

One of the first photos in "Acoustic Stories" shows author Bill Amatneek playing upright bass with Peter, Paul and Mary in 1979. At the end of the book, a photo shows the author with the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band in 2003. Between these pictures are over 20 stories and 33 other photos that provide extraordinary recollections from this musician's years of professional experience. Amatneek refers to these stories as unamplified tales, largely because of his love of acoustic music. Moreover, he certainly needs no additional reinforcement, expansion or exaggeration of them to make his charming points. In fact, each story reads quickly, and they come across more as entertaining anecdotes that are both interesting and humorous. For the most part, they are based on real occurrences although the author's preface indicates that some are "told from their facts but to their hearts." Like picturesque mountain scenery, each story is suitable for framing. The author writes with a vivid freshness and vigor that capture his unique experiences.

Amatneek grew up in New York's Greenwich Village in the 1940s, and his connections eventually led to him becoming a "string-bass poppin', banjo-pickin' Philadelphia folkie." His short vignettes from the 1960s through the 1990s include tales about meeting Bob Dylan, being "used" as a prop by Mary Travers, interviewing Aretha Franklin, having Dionne Warwick sing "Happy Birthday" to him on his 21st birthday, and being inspired by Mimi Farina to make the world a better place. Throughout the book, the author intersperses a few song lyrics amidst the narrative.

Acoustic musicians, especially in the folk genre, typically include stories into their presentation. Most are based on personal experience and relate thoughtful and honest portrayals of life on the road and the people they meet along the way. Many of Amatneek's yarns revolve around well-known music personalities. In one situation, he might be auditioning tortoiseshell picks with Tony Rice in Paris. In another, he and the Rowan Brothers might be picking with Bill Monroe at the Wintergrass Festival in Tacoma, Wa. A couple of my favorites are about a panel discussion of the meaning of Monroe's song lyrics in "Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake." Other favorites are his description of the 3-ring circus of Beach Blanket Babylon, and the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 in Ranville, France.

The emotional impacts of death creep into the stories. The author becomes introspective when talking about the passing of Mimi Farina, Kate Wolf, Jerry Garcia, Steve Gorn's father, Steve Silver, Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins, and the New Orleans horn player Buddy Bolden. Amatneek claims to be "basically shy," but this book shows, in writing, his more social and extrovert side. His "Acoustic Stories' are affectionately told, and anyone who can appreciate a few slices of music-related folklore will enjoy this book. Not only will you get to know the reserved bassist, author and storyteller better, but you'll get a taste of what it's been like for Bill Amatneek to cross paths and play with many luminaries in the music business.

Tracy Farnsworth in Roundtable Reviews, Jan. 28, 2004

ACOUSTIC STORIES is Bill Amatneek's collection of stories from his life and friendships as a string bass player. Whether accompanying Peter, Paul and Mary or showing Bob Dylan to the stage, readers of all ages will find some treasure within these pages.

I have to say some of the musicians were beyond me - musically I'm a child of the 80's. However, I did grow up on Peter, Paul and Mary music, thanks to my mom. Bob Dylan's lyrics impressed me, but his singing never did. And suffice it to say, I have never been a fan of The Grateful Dead. But that's okay!

There were so many neat stories included. I loved learning a bit more about the life of a musician, learning more about some of the unfamiliar artists, and the pictures included are fun to look at!

Regardless of your musical tastes, I think that ACOUSTIC STORIES is a must read for any music fan. Without being able to look at the music of the past, music of the future wouldn't exist.

Jim Cox, Midwest Book Review, April 2004

Acoustic Stories is a unique and impressive anthology of true personal stories about musical legends such as Jerry Garcia, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and many more as witnessed, experienced, and regaled by string bassist Bill Amatneek. An engaging recollection of personal memories, of tunes that transcend time, and offering contemporary readers with a tiny peek behind the surface of great entertainers, Acoustic Stories is most especially recommended for those legions of fans whose musical icons made and played decades of popular and unamplified music.

Michael Bremer, UnTechnical Press, 12/22/03

Reading your book was entertaining, enlightening and enjoyable. But there were moments when, for a lack of a better word, it sang. At those times, I found that I wasn't aware of reading, but was there, in that story, experiencing it, with a smile on my face or lump in my throat. I don't remember which stories, or why. Maybe there is no why. But it tells me that I definitely want to read your next book.

Ed Ward in Inkwell: October 18, 2003

I'm going on record as having been totally unsurprised at the writing skill Bill showed in this book. I was his editor at Rolling Stone in 1970, and it's extremely rare to find someone, whether a musician or not, who knows his way around music and a typewriter. (Well, we used typewriters back then. Y'all can ask your granddad what it was).

Most artists, of whatever sort, tend to be awful writers, particularly on the field in which they operate. I think photographers are the worst I've yet encountered, but musicians come pretty close. And most writers never bother to find out much about music, even if they write about it, from the inside.

Now, I play a couple of instruments badly enough that I think there are laws in most states against my playing in public, but at least I know what the mechanical things I can't do are. Bill, to an editor at a music magazine, was a dream come true. Too bad he felt he had to follow a career as a bassist!

Or, well, so I thought til that first Grisman album came in the mail.

David Gans in Inkwell: October 18, 2003

I loved the PP&M story. And I loved the story about the rehearsal band. I loved 'em all, for that matter. It's great to see good writing from a musician's perspective. It's not that easy to find.