Right, lets get one thing straight from the off – I like to rock! I’ve been a big music fan for as long as I can remember, and a large part of my social life revolves around supping pints at some gig venue while guitars are flayed, drums are pounded, and vocal chords are strained to their very limits. And as music informs and enriches my life, so it informs and enriches my novels. On this page you’ll find a selection of the bands that I’ve name checked, what they mean to me, and why they should mean something to you. Many of them will be instantly familiar, a few less so, but whatever your taste there should be something that gets your toes tapping. Sit back, crank up the volume, and enjoy!
I’m not quite sure what happened, but I somehow managed to let AC-DC pass me by until relatively recently, but when I did finally ‘stumble’ across them, I spent the next few weeks collecting up large chunks of their back catalogue at an alarming rate. I prefer the pre Back in Black years to those that followed, both for the bluesier feel to the music and the vocal stylings of the great Bon Scott (DC’s first singer, now deceased – he went with his boots on after a heavy night on the sauce).
AC-DC are mentioned in chapter seven of Justice For All, as Hunter heads out on the lonely black top in his jet black Barracuda with murder on his mind. The CD playing on the stereo is DC’s 1978 live album If You Want Blood You’ve Got It – one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard.
Against Me! are a fantastic punk band hailing from Gainesville, Florida. Their lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, is a powerful spokesperson for transgender issues and over the last few years the band has released a run of albums that’s astonishing in its quality. They can also be relied upon to bring it live – melodic punk rock with impassioned vocals and a powerful message – and they gave me one of the best gigs of my life at London’s Electric Ballroom in 2014. Against Me! are mentioned in chapter twenty-four of The Beholder, when Hunter grabs a few moments rest in his El Paso hotel room before resuming his hunt for a missing girl.
BRMC are hugely gifted musicians that can one moment sound like 60’s era Rolling Stones, and the next switch to a droning guitar attack drenched in feedback that’s more reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Their albums take in driving rock, country, punk, and bluegrass, and this diversity makes them an absolute treat to see live – something I haven’t managed to do in a while that needs to be rectified asap. BRMC are mentioned in chapter three of The Beholder, as Hunter listens to the track ‘Took Out a Loan’, which Hunter acknowledges might soon be necessary given his finances somewhat parlous state.
Grunge legends Dinosaur Jr have been making music since forever – I once heard frontman J Mascis ironically introduce a song live by saying that it had been the NME track of the week…in 1973. Mascis provides the band’s signature drawling vocals and distinct guitar sound that features heavy feedback and distortion. I’ve only ever seen them play once (at the Reading Festival), where their heavy sound coupled with an ear for melody made it obvious as to why they’d stood the test of time so well. Dinosaur Jr’s ‘Freak Scene’ plays during chapter forty-nine of the Beholder as Hunter and Stone wrap things up over a beer, and the track is a nod to the fact that the two men have just dealt with the biggest freak they’ve met to date.
Foo Fighters are one of my all time favourite bands. Fronted by the widely acknowledged ‘nicest man in rock’ Dave Grohl (Nirvana’s former drummer – but I’m guessing you knew that already), they’re the band that I’ve seen live more than any other. The first time was at their now legendary debut appearance at the Reading Rock Festival, when they headlined the second stage back in 1995. Reading’s second stage is basically a giant tent, and it soon became apparent that the number of people who wanted to check out the Foos far exceeded the tent’s capacity. I’d already blagged myself a primo spot as I’d caught the band that were second on the bill (indie pop outfit Echobelly), and having realised that it was getting packed, I’d wisely elected to stay put. By the time the Foos came on, it had gone way past packed to become a full-on crush. The stanchions were lined with people that had climbed up to get out of the seething throng, and it was so hot that condensation fell like rain from the canvas ceiling overhead. I lost count of the number of times the band had to stop playing and appeal for calm, and it was easily the most exciting gig I’ve ever been to.
Foo Fighters are mentioned in chapter thirteen of Blood Law, as Hunter listens to their latest album (Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace) on his Cuda’s stereo while watching the gang boss Lunatic stake out a Tex-Mex restaurant.
Guns ‘n’ Roses were a proper hard rock band, at a time when most US rock bands spent more on hairspray than they did on instruments. I bought their debut album Appetite For Destruction back on cassette tape when it came out in 1987 (jeez, how old does that make me sound?) and first listened to it while at my nan’s for lunch. Fortunately, I played it through my headphones – I’m not sure that the colourful language would have gone down too well with her! The band have spent the last decade or so working on their long awaited next album, Chinese Democracy, which currently has the dubious honour of being one of the most expensive albums never to be released.
Guns ‘n’ Roses are mentioned in chapter forty-six of Justice For All, as Hunter listens to Mr Brownstone on the stereo of a ‘borrowed’ Dodge in Beverly Hills, killing time by the kerbside as he waits for his prey to take the bait.
The Hold Steady were once dubbed the best bar band in the world, but while undeniably great live, that moniker does them a bit of a disservice as it downplays the quality of their music. Their frontman, Craig Finn, is a true one-off – he writes songs that are heavy on the lyrics and big on themes like redemption and religion, and they often feature recurring characters from his hometown of Minneapolis – all delivered in an urgent poetic style. The Hold Steady are mentioned in chapter fifteen of The Beholder, as Hunter admonishes himself to ‘Stay Positive’ as he continues to search for a missing girl.
I’d heard of Husker Du a long time before I actually heard them. Back in the early 1990’s they were cited as a major influence by a lot of my favourite bands of the day (Curve, Catherine Wheel, Nirvana, etc), but it wasn’t until former Husker front man Bob Mould captivated me with his new power pop band Sugar a year later that I got round to checking them out. Husker Du (meaning ‘Do you remember’ in Danish/Norwegian) were an American rock band who formed in 1978 and split in 1987. They never achieved great commercial success, but they influenced pretty much any band that ever heard them. Their music was wall of sound and big on guitar, but they were also capable of haunting ballads.
Husker Du are mentioned in chapter five of Justice For All, as an embittered Zac Hunter comes to a life-changing decision while listening to their 1986 album Candy Apple Grey. As Hunter’s thoughts move from anger to regret to a thirst for revenge, the changing tracks on the CD mirror his mood. This was in no way pre-planned – it wasn’t until I was midway through writing the scene that I realised what was happening. Well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Before I got into Ice-Cube, I got into Ice-T – I guess making the jump from one frozen rapper to another was a natural progression back then. Cube came out of the media shit storm that was NWA and proved more than adequate at upsetting the moral majority all on his own. He also proved himself a talented actor, with an excellent debut performance in Boyz N the Hood alongside Cuba Gooding Jr. and Laurence Fishburne. In my opinin, his best album is The Predator, a dark and angry release that provides a window on the prejudice and social injustice prevalent in modern L.A.
Ice Cube is mentioned in chapter thirty-three of Justice For All. As Hunter closes in on a Humvee full of angry gangbangers, unaware that a sniper has him bang to rights, Cube’s When Will they Shoot blasts from the vehicle’s stereo. For me, this song is a stone cold rap classic – thunderous military base line, venomous lyrics, social commentary – what more could you want?
Led Zeppelin are another all time great rock band that need no introduction from the likes of me. I was lucky enough to catch Robert Plant playing on a small stage at the V Festival in 2005. While his solo stuff was great, the undoubted highlight was when he played a few of the old Led Zep classics. And what a voice! Still powerful enough to strip paint from a wall at forty yards. Now all I need to do is see Jimmy Page play guitar live and I’ll die happy.
Led Zeppelin are mentioned in chapter twenty-one of Justice For All, when Hunter has a meeting with LAPD detective Bud Carson to discuss the case they’re working on. The track that rumbles ominously out of the jukebox is Kashmir.
Nirvana were the spearhead of the grunge revolution and documenters of existential angst for generation X. I was very fortunate to see their last ever UK performance as they closed the Reading Festival back in 1992, and it was a sad day when Kurt Cobain took his own life to deprive the world of his genius. Nirvana are mentioned in chapter thirty-three of The Beholder, in a playful exchange between Hunter and Stone as they drive through Juarez, Mexico, en route to the desert.
For those not in the know (shame on you!) Public Enemy are the world’s greatest rap group. They hail from Long Island, New York, they’ve been an ongoing concern since 1987, and their lyrics are so politically, socially, and culturally charged they’re practically a manifesto. I first saw them headline the Reading Rock Festival in 1992, and to this day it remains one of the greatest live performances I’ve ever seen. For anyone raised on the sparse baselines used by most modern rappers, check out some early PE – their sound is dense and ferocious, more reminiscent of a hard rock band, and the booming stentorian delivery of frontman Chuck D is nothing less than a wake-up call for the masses.
Public Enemy are mentioned in chapter twenty-one of Justice For All, as one of their tracks emanates from a beatbox on an inner city basketball court. The court provides the setting for a meet between two of L.A.’s rival gang leaders, and the title of the song – You’re Gonna Get Yours – is a bleak omen of what’s to come.
P.S. The 1992 Reading Festival was the first one I went to. As well as seeing Public Enemy, I also got to see Nirvana. What a debut!
Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) are a Californian desert rock band that specialise in heavy, repetitive riffs that pummel the listener into submission. I first got into them at the Reading Rock Festival back in 2000, where although they weren’t actually on the bill, their killer track Feel Good Hit of the Summer got heavy rotation on the big screen in between acts. For me, they peaked on their 2002 album Songs for the Deaf, when the addition of Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters on drums added more power to their already muscular sound.
QOTSA are mentioned in chapter fourteen of Justice For All. Their Grammy award nominated track No One Knows is playing on the jukebox of Hunter’s favourite bar, ahead of his meeting with the gruff LAPD detective, Bill Carson. The choice of track reflects Hunter’s confusion at this point, as the events he’s caught up in are getting ever more mysterious.
Rage Against The Machine (RATM) is a hard rock band that successfully merges elements of rap, heavy metal, funk, and revolutionary politics into a thrillingly cohesive whole. Excessively named vocalist Zack de la Rocha spits out bile and vitriol while Tom Morello is one of the most unorthodox guitarists working today. When RATM split in 2000, they were hailed as one of the most popular and influential political bands ever seen, and they subsequently reformed in 2007 to play a series of live dates, although talk of an eagerly awaited new album remains little more than rumour at this point.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see RATM a couple of times, back in 2000 and more recently in 2008, both at the Reading Festival. The second time was especially memorable, as the band came on stage dressed in prison jumpsuits and wearing black sacks over their heads in protest of prisoner treatment at Guantanamo Bay, then they went on to play an incendiary greatest hits set that will live long in the memory.
Rage Against The Machine are mentioned in chapter one of Blood Law, as their seminal album ‘Battle Of Los Angeles’ plays in the background while Hunter reads news headlines about heightened levels of gang violence on his muted TV.
The Reverend Horton Heat are a psychobilly outfit (that’s a maxed out version of rockabilly for the uninitiated) hailing from the Lone Star State of Texas. They were the first band I ever saw that featured a double bass, and that alone makes them worthy of a mention in my work. Hunter puts the Reverend Horton Heat on the jukebox in chapter two of The Beholder, in order to provide a little mood music while he educates a Nazi racist on race relations.
What can I say about the Stones that hasn’t already been said? Hands down, the greatest rhythm and blues/rock ‘n’ roll band the world has ever known. I’ve never managed to see them live though, as to see them at their best I’d have to time travel back to the late 1960’s – for me, it’s the early stuff that’s really special, tracks like Sympathy for the Devil or You Can’t Always Get What you Want. Still, next time they embark on one of their massive money spinning tours, maybe I’ll snag me a ticket…
The Rolling Stones are mentioned in chapter three of Justice For All, playing on the jukebox as Hunter hits the bottle with a vengeance, his mood dark having just witnessed a child killer walk free on a legal technicality. The first track, Paint it Black, reflects his state of mind, while the second, Under My Thumb, gives a gentle clue as to what will unfold.
He might seem somewhat out of place here amongst all these hard rock bands, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Francis Albert Sinatra. I can’t remember when I first started listening to him, but I can remember the first album I bought – The Sinatra Collection on Capital records, a 20-track compilation of some of his early stuff. He’s one of those artists I don’t listen to for a while but always come back to. Having decided that Viktor Danilov, my Russian hitman in Justice For All, was going to be a big Sinatra fan, I had hours of pleasure soaking up that velvet voice and big band sound to get me in the mood!
Sinatra is first mentioned in chapter eleven of Justice For All, when Danilov comes home after a hard night’s killing and puts on the stereo to unwind. His love of Sinatra comes from the fact that he made it the hard way – going from musty dives on the streets of Hoboken to achieve worldwide acclaim.
Swervedriver were a massively underrated English rock band that released four albums throughout the 1990’s to critical if not commercial acclaim. I heard one of their early EP’s, Sandblasted, back in the day, then hungrily sought out everything else they released. I only managed to catch them live once, and I still have fond memories of stumbling out of the mosh pit drenched in sweat and covered in bruises. One of the best descriptions I’ve heard of their sound was sci-fi rock – the multi layered guitars and low key vocals were widescreen in scope. These guys were seriously talented musicians, and songs like Son of Mustang Ford and Last Train to Satansville remain personal favourites to this day.
Swervedriver are mentioned in chapter twelve of Justice For All, as Hunter sits on his deck in the cool night air, sucking on a cold bottle of Asahi as he tries to make sense of a shocking double homicide.