Rock and rolling gearheads show their stuff

  • Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 7:43 p.m.

"Rockin' Garages" by Tom Cotter and Ken Gross. Photography by Michael Alan Ross. Motorbooks. 2012. 192 pp. $35. By Chris Verner SALISBURY - Gearheads who pick up "Rockin' Garages" expecting to find iconic rock stars surrounded by eye-popping automotive treasures will not be disappointed. Here's Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason amid a king's ransom of rare racing machines, including a Ferrari 250 GTO, a "Birdcage" Maserati and a Bugatti Type 35. There's AC/DC's Brian Johnson with a 1970 Lola T-70 Can-Am racer and, a page on, grinning from the wheel of a 1928 Bentley 4.5 Le Mans Vanden Plas as he navigates the streets of Sarasota, Fla. And look, there's "Fabulous Thunderbirds" guitarman Jimmy Vaughn showing off his chopped and blown '61 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and his 1932 Ford five-window coupe with a hopped-up flathead. In terms of sheer visual impact, this book has more arresting images than a Janet Jackson half-time show. Which is to be expected, of course, in a lavishly illustrated, coffee-table tome that promises to take the reader "collecting, racing & riding with rock's great gearheads." What's an unexpected pleasure, however, is that authors Tom Cotter, a Davidson-based automotive writer and enthusiast, and Ken Gross aren't satisfied at simply taking us inside the garages. Accompanied by Michael Alan Ross' exquisite camera work, they take us inside the performers themselves, exploring the connections between musicians and machines, going beyond the glitz of the vehicular eye-candy (alluring as it may be) to find what fuels these automotive passions. In profile after profile - from J Geils to Sammy Hagar to Billy Joel - the portrait that emerges isn't of celebrities acquiring automotive status symbols or collecting piston-firing museum pieces the way others might collect Picassos or Rembrandts. These are hardcore car guys, more prone to having grease under their fingernails than mascara on their stage faces. The back stories typically involve a youthful obsession with cars, a fascination with racing and the eventual melding of musical and automotive interests. For instance, most people know of J. Geils as the impresario of the blues-steeped band that bore his name and created hit albums such as "Love Stinks" and "Freeze Frame." In the collector-car arena, however, he's known as a master wrenchman who for years operated a vintage-car restoration shop in Massachusetts and campaigned a classic Ferrari in sports-car races. For Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford, the car bug bit as a youngster who was fascinated by the dragsters his neighbor fired up in the driveway next door. No surprise that he's smitten with classic America muscle cars, with his current rides including a modified 1967 Chevelle, a pristine 1969 Z28 Camaro and a 2007 Saleen Boss 302 Mustang. Sammy Hagar, the "Red Rocker" who was for a time front man for Van Halen, recalls how as a youngster he could identify practically every car on the road and eagerly awaited each fall's unveiling of new models. He likes the go fast part, as captured in songs like "I Can't Drive 55," "Trans Am" (an ode to the muscle car) and "Big Foot," a song he wrote for his current band Chickenfoot. It's "all about big foot on the gas," he reflects. "There's something about music when you're driving a car. ..." When he wants to drive, he can choose from an Aston Martin Vanquish S, a Ford GT, and various Ferraris. Along with the high-octane stuff, "Rockin' Garages" takes some quieter side trips. A chapter on Arlo Guthrie is a whimsical change of pace. As befits the "Alice's Restaurant" troubador, his automotive tastes are eclectic, to say the least, and rather than enjoying the comforts of a climate-controlled garage, they're sitting around the fields of his Berkshire Mountains homestead. These are the rusty remnants of the five tour buses that conveyed him around the country in his touring heydays. He also has a lovely 1954 Mercedes-Benz 220 cabriolet, which he has owned since 1970. Other segments feature some of the car-buff boys behind the musicians - custom guitar makers Jol Dantzig and Wayne Henderson, and Chris Martin, chairman of the famed Martin Guitars company. They see a creative convergence between these seemingly disparate passions. "It's all a blend of designs," says Danzig, a vintage racing buff and Porsche owner. "Custom cars and custom guitars are a blending of design disciplines." So, too, is this book an artful blending of rhythm and road, the musical and the mechanical. Whether you're into rock history, into cars and motorcycles or simply curious about the oil-smeared side of these celebrity performers, you'll find "Rockin' Garages" a good read and a revelation about what really gets these rockers' motors running.

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