Author Archives: Lloyd Sachs

Back and running

Still a few tweaks to make, and we’re having movers over to haul all of the T Bone Burnett book and tour stuff to its own menu page. But is back. Hope you like it.


Hailed by MOJO as “the first and likely definitive portrait of the enigmatic producer/artist,” Lloyd Sachs’ widely acclaimed critical biography is now available as an audiobook at Hear it from the best possible narrator – the author himself, whose voice is familiar to many people via WXRT’s long-running, much-missed  “Sachs and the Cinema” and frequent guest appearances on other radio programs. You can hear a sample from the audiobook at the site or through


Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett (right) at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, California, 1984. (Photo: Sherry Rayn Barnett)

Some of the most prized albums in my collection have the name T Bone Burnett attached to them. These include the marvelous duo recording Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, the remarkably personal No Better Than This by John Mellencamp, Low Country Blues by the late Gregg Allman and the outstanding soundtrack to the Coen Brothers‘ picture, O Brother, Where Art Thou? So I was keen to learn more about the man and his earthy approach as producer on these great records. Lloyd Sachs’s book called T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit (U of Texas) tells that story and reveals much more about this versatile artist. His short but concise biography, released last year, tells the story of Burnett with a critical eye on his output as a producer, but also focuses on his own life in music. The “pursuit,” as Sachs puts it, is a little vague but no less a driver for how Burnett’s approach to music creation makes him so special. Says Burnett, who’s quoted extensively throughout the book, “All Art comes out of community and when communities can get together and not fight over who gets what piece and instead can say ‘this is ours, let’s make it great’ it just ends up being better . . . so to get to the spirit of a piece of art right, everyone has to be generous.” So it goes for Burnett, who has been a part pf a music community over the past 50 years, since he was kid growing up in Texas.

Burnett was born in St. Louis, MO in 1948. His father worked for the Tandy Corporation and moved to Fort Worth, TX when Joseph Henry Burnett III  was four. According to Sachs, Burnett acquired the nickname “T-Bone” but can’t recall how and removed the hyphen when he became an adult. Sachs explains in his introduction that, after he first met Burnett in 2008 as an editor at No Depression magazine, Burnett wasn’t interested in reflecting on his life in a book because he didn’t want to “look backward.” Burnett trusted Sachs, but felt better about not participating in the telling of his own story, beyond the sharing of some personal photographs contained in the book. Once the University of Texas in its American Composer Series commissioned him, Sachs went ahead with a full-length biography with Burnett’s endorsement.

Sachs reports that the word “career” is the one that most offends his subject. He says that “pursuit” best describes Burnett’s journey through music, quite possibly with no end in sight, a very Zen-like quality that Burnett carries with him on every project. Sacha writes: “[F]or all his successes, for all his clout, he is still finding his way, still stopping and starting over in pursuit of a higher truth in art and life.”Sachs takes a chronological approach to telling Burnett’s story and it works best for his subject, a man who’s constantly on the go, often literally, from city to city and to different recording sessions. His critical point of view stands out as good as Burnett’s musical history. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s extensive knowledge matched by Burnett’s extraordinary knowledge of American music, so as an economical tome Sachs’s biography was a great book to read for its deep research and critical POV. The book was based on an extended essay for No Depression going back to 2008, but at no time did I feel cheated by the brevity of the chapters. Sachs uses language in a good reporter’s fashion: the economy of copy doesn’t have to suffer with a poor vocabulary and blasé descriptions. Sachs name-drops all along the way, having interviewed so many songwriters, musicians and engineers associated with Burnett’s body of work, which goes farther to enriching the text and reinforcing the strength of Burnett’s contribution to American music. His albums are of a kind: often bottom-heavy and swampy but not for their own sake but because of Burnett’s keen sense of music history and his passion for blues, country and mountain music. As Sachs concludes, Burnett isn’t interested in staying in one place, musically speaking. He’s about re-inventing old sounds: “He draws greater personal rewards from elevating gifted young artists and seeding the future with singers and songwriters who will carry our great music tradition forward than he does from massaging his own reputation.”

T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit is recommended reading for anyone interested in learning more about “the man behind the curtain” of so many great records these past 20 years. Burnett’s solo records are given consideration by the author as well. Unfortunately Sachs doesn’t include a complete discography of Burnett’s output, offering up instead a handful of “selections” and a few words about some of the musicians Burnett hires to create his sound. Considering the extensive source material for the book listed in the bibliography, I was disappointed Sachs didn’t go the extra mile and offer readers a detailed list of Burnett’s remarkable body of work in one section. A complete discography would have been a useful addition to this concise biography.

John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, and musician. John is also the author of Frank Zappa FAQ: All That’s Left To Know About The Father of Invention (Backbeat Books).


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Writes Jeff Kaliss in the new issue of the fine British magazine, Lloyd Sachs’ critical bio is “an impressively deep and broad look at Burnett’s career.”

Here’s the full review:

Writerly influences: A blog

I was asked to write a blog for the UK’s Books Combined site about the writers who influenced me, in re: T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit. Here it is:

Capturing notes in words – the books that shaped the music critic

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Being that I’ve spent a good portion of my life writing about music, particularly jazz and rock, you would think I’d be able to cite any number of music books that influenced or inspired me – that convinced me it was not impossible to capture notes in words, a task Thelonious Monk (allegedly) said was about as easy as dancing about architecture.

But while such obvious classics as Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train (which marked its 40th anniversary in 2015!) and Peter Guralnick’s Lost Highway surely left an imprint on my sensibility, opening me up to the deepest meaning in the rawest sounds, I was shaped to a greater degree as a critic by fiction writers who created their own special music on the page. These masters thrived (and in some cases thrive still) on offbeat rhythms, soaring notes, complex tones and bracing themes and variations in much the same way, and with much the same delight, as the musicians I most admired.

The Dick Gibson ShowOne of my great favorites was Stanley Elkin, who may have been a less-vaunted member of the Jewish American Novelists club, but whose originality was unsurpassed by any of his bunkmates. During his lifetime (he died in 1995), he commanded a relatively modest following, largely because he was socked away in St. Louis as the Merle Klinger Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University. But if you haven’t read masterpieces of his such as The Living End, The Dick Gibson Show and The Magic Kingdom, don’t worry. His books are as binge-able, still, as the latest season of Orange is the New Black.

Reviewing Elkin’s 1992 odds-and-ends collection, Pieces of Soap, in the Chicago Sun-Times, I enthused about the way he celebrated language by “rodeo-riding it, spurring it with outlandish opinion.” One of the great wranglers of vernacular, he viewed “the nature of good dialog” as “confrontational, some Friday-night-fight-nite ring to things, or no, better, quotes from the weigh-in, a suggestion of the dangerous.”

Criers and KibitzersSometimes, that suggestion of danger risked offending. This from Elkin’s 1965 story, “A Poetics for Bullies,” included in the collection Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers: “I’m Push the bully, and what I hate are new kids and sissies, dumb kids and smart, rich kids, poor kids, kids who wear glasses, talk funny, show off, patrol boys and wise guys and kids who pass pencils and water the plants – and cripples, especially cripples. I love nobody loved.”

Oh, the outlandish zigs and zags that energized his works. Lit up by his contrary spirit, his stories and novels were lessons in shooting from the hip. They made you question every safe assumption you had about writing, and its reflection of reality, and about your own strengths and weaknesses at the keyboard. I can only wonder where Stanley was when I felt compelled to defend one of my jazz reviews (of Sonny Rollins’ 1987 Dancing in the Dark) a mere week after it appeared. I was thrilled with and enriched by the album’s crossover pop melodies; why did I give a hoot that some critics thought they compromised the tenor giant’s bebop-rooted genius?

All the King's Men.pngAll of my favorite authors boasted unshakable sensibilities: Robert Penn Warren, whose All the King’s Men asserted itself as a great American opera decades before they attempted to turn it into one; Ross Macdonald, whose intrusions of past on present in mysteries such as The Chilladdressed the very meaning of time; Don DeLillo, whose Great Jones Street staked a claim as the Great American Rock Novel; Scott Spencer, whose soaring, suffering Endless Love is Layla in lyrical prose form; Anglo-Irish minor-key master William Trevor, whose stories turn on what isn’t said, and his sad American equivalent Richard Yates, whose characters are haunted by things they wished they had said.

And then, in a category of his own, there was John Leonard, whose literary criticism – and TV criticism and cultural and social commentary – touched me in ways I can’t really describe because his influence had as much to do with his surpassing reach as the words themselves. While there’s no way I could ever come within a mountain range of his erudition – his reviews of such authors as Toni Morrison and Richard Powers had the effect of shaming you for not having read, or at least tried to read, everything the author at hand had ever published – that didn’t stop me from stepping out with what I thought was Leonard-esque brio in my reviews.

Leonard’s book collections, including The Last Innocent White Man in Americaand Lonesome Rangers: Homeless Minds, Promised Lands, Fugitive Cultures are as inviting now, for quick hits or extended stays, as they were when they came out. If many of the topics in them should by all rights be dated, the intellectual energy and sheer sense of joy he poured into them refuse to wear out their welcome.

T Bone Burnett 

A nationally known voice on popular culture, Lloyd Sachs has written about pop music and jazz for many publications, including Rolling Stone, the Washington Post, DownBeat, the Village Voice, USA Today, and JazzTimes. He was a longtime music columnist and award-winning editorial writer at the Chicago Sun-Times and a senior editor at No Depression, the prized “alt-country” magazine. His book T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit was published by the University of Texas Press in 2016

“New biography of T Bone Burnett is fascinating, revealing”

That’s what book columnist Lauren Dailey wrote in the Massachussetts newspaper South Coast Today about Lloyd Sachs’ milestone biography, T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit. Her piece, linked below, also includes a brief Q&A with Sachs.

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“An admirable, comprehensive, relatively quick read through the life and times of a musical force whose journey is far from over” – PopMatters

Writing for PopMatters, Christopher John Stephens adds to the widespread acclaim for Lloyd Sachs’ milestone biography, T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit:


“The best resource on the life and work of Joseph Henry Burnett III”

That’s what Texas Music reviewer Madison Searle declared in a two-page spread in the Spring 2017 issue, calling Lloyd Sachs’ T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit an “informed and generous sampling of T Bone Burnett’s life in music.” Hear, hear!




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Here are (loosely) translated highlights of Jordi Pujol Nadal’s fantastic review, part of a T Bone package in the March issue of Ruta 66:

“A precise and detailed portrait of Burnett’s work that, for those who enjoy thoughtful  studies, works more as a thesis than a biography.”

“The story, rich in details and anecdotes, engages as well as impresses, with previously unpublished information, commentaries from friends and revelations on what happened in the studio.”

“Sachs, a skilled rat of digital libraries, shines in the contextualization – he always has juicy statements that help us to understand this subject or that disc.”

“Read it. You will be amazed at how much you learn. I wish all books on music were like this.

Thank you, Jordi!