Fans of the Grateful Dead, natural foods, and rock ’n’ roll have music and books to dig into this month.
Drop the Bone by David Gans (Perfectible Recordings, DGans.com)
Best known for his Grateful Dead-related work, longtime Oaklander David Gans identifies more as a singer-songwriter and touring musician these days. He’s been making his own albums for more than 20 years, and the superbly produced Drop the Bone captures his eclectic range and deep Bay Area relationships. Gans doesn’t shed his Dead affinity: The album opens with an 11½-minute track titled “Life Is a Jam,” includes a cover of the Hunter-Lesh classic “Box of Rain,” and features enough Garcia-spirited licks, and Deadworld associates to tantalize the acolytes. But the openhearted, good-time feel bends through several genres in the original songs, instrumentals, and renditions of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” and George Harrison’s “Here Come the Sun,” with stellar contributions by Thompsonia, Terry Haggerty, Lorin and Chris Rowan, and many others. —Derk Richardson
Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by Jonathan Kauffman (William Morrow, January, $16.99, 344 pp.)
The well-praised first book by San Francisco food journalist Jonathan Kauffman was just released as a trade paperback, providing greater access to his exploration of how onetime curious foodstuffs — lentils, granola, sprouts, tofu, yogurt, brown rice, and whole-grain bread — crossed over from counterculture hippiedom oddity into mainstream Americana mealtimes. Kauffman crisscrosses the United States, researching how such wholefoods ingredients have become today’s preferred staples. Kauffman, who describes himself as the son of ultraliberal Mennonites, grew up eating stir-fried broccoli and tofu and lentil stew. He likens the spread of natural foods as an amorphous, leaderless grassroots movement with important “chains of influence” that he zeroes in on. His is a narrative-driven, well-researched, and well-told history of the natural-foods shift, driven by his quest to understand why so many embraced it. —Judith M. Gallman
The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock ‘N’ Roll by Ian S. Port (Scribner, January, $28, 340 pp.)
Fans of rock ’n’ roll music — even non-guitar playing ones — will be hooked from Ian Port’s opening line to find out the real story of the bitter rivalry between unassuming Leo Fender and flashy Les Paul, the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of their times for electric guitars. Without their constant one-upmanship and vastly different approaches to the electric guitars, rock ’n’ roll arguably wouldn’t be what it is today. The Fender vs. Gibson guitar superiority question, as Port — a former SF Weekly music editor who lives in New York City and has written for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, and Believer — see it is a showdown “between bright and dark, thin and thick, light and heavy, West and East, new and old” that continues today. —JMG