Prolific author turns to classic rock

By Tom Jozwik - Special to TimeOut

August 17, 2017



Prolific Milwaukee author David Luhrssen is at it again.

Recently, Luhrssen published what he thinks is his 11th book; when you’ve published as many as he has, and you write and edit daily as a journalist, it becomes difficult to keep count. The latest Luhrssen book is “Encyclopedia of Classic Rock”  and was written with Luhrssen’s longtime friend Michael Larson, an attorney and instructor at Waukesha’s Guitar for Life Studio.

“It’s a much-abused term, classic rock,”  Luhrssen said in an interview. The term describes the “period of time where (rock music) reached this high plateau,” he added.

Released by Greenwood Publishing Group Inc., the hardback encyclopedia totals 430 pages and is available as an eBook and via It concentrates on 1965-’75, summing up the careers of many alphabetically indexed individual performers and groups, from the late singer-songwriter David Ackley to the band ZZ Top.

A few of the entries between Ackley and ZZ are Chicago, Uriah Heep, the Mamas and the Papas, and the Turtles. James Taylor is represented also, along with the Beach Boys, the Bee Gees, Judy Collins, Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam), Janis Joplin, the Marshall Tucker Band — even The Left Banke, whether or not the reader has ever heard of that organized-in-New York group or its 1966 hit “Walk Away Renee.”

Some of the entries are terms of the times: British Invasion, Bubblegum, Funk and Psychedelia. A chronology  is included, too, blending the decade’s musical milestones with its political happenings.

Friends David Luhrssen and Michael Larson wrote “Encyclopedia of Rock.”

The longest entry is the one for David Bowie, who passed away last year (“People kept dying as I was writing the book,” Luhrssen said). Bowie “remains so influential in so many different ways,” the author explained. Almost as lengthy, at 4 1/2 pages, as the Bowie essay is the tome’s article on the Beatles, whose mop-haired members merit individual articles as well.  “No band,” the encyclopedia insists, “had a more

fundamental, transformative effect on rock music and world culture” than the Fab Four.

“I think it’s a very user-friendly book,”  the veteran author-editor assessed, one with  “a scholarly aspect to it,” yet “accessible” in its writing. “It’s a fair-minded yet opinionated book,” Luhrssen continued, and  “not just a dry recitation, (since) there’s a kind of analysis.” The aforementioned 4 1/2-page article cites the Beatles’ “contagious wit ... sartorial style  ... boisterous lunacy  ... (and) willingness to say anything” following their inaugural, 1964 get-together with Bob Dylan. It cites as well “the haunting ‘Love Me Do,’”   the “major cultural event” that was the album  “Sgt. Pepper” and the Fab Four’s “mixing Tin Pan Alley with rock and roll and rhythm and blues.”

Buddies for more than 40 years, Luhrssen and Larson, the former recalled,  “spent countless hours in high school talking about” music from the period the encyclopedia covers — even though the pair graduated a few years after said period ended. The fact is, 1965-’75 was  “a unique period in rock music,” in Luhrssen’s words. By the dawn of the period rock music had become “an art form,” a circumstance rockers who were art school alumni, like Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and Peter Townshend of The Who, helped engineer.

Additionally, albums were becoming more prominent than 45s, and albums provided “a whole new canvas” on which rock musicians could figuratively paint. The Beatles, noted Luhrssen, “encouraged album cover design as an art form.” The encyclopedia includes album recommendations at the end of entries.

Decades after the period ended, Luhrssen and Larson met again, and again, and again, to discuss their beloved classic rock (“I remember some of this music so clearly,” Luhrssen mused in the interview). Notes were taken during the friends’ conversations, their content supplemented by information gleaned from Luhrssen’s “fairly large personal library” and online sources. Editing was the final ingredient in producing what Luhrssen labeled a “very consistent tone. ”

“It was definitely a labor of love,” Luhrssen said in summarizing the “Encyclopedia of Classic Rock.” The veteran writer and editor who  discovered classic rock with a vengeance  when he was about 9 years old, aided by the presence of local radio stations WZMF and WQFM, is currently at work on a book to be published by Marquette University Press. He’s editing the book, on rock music in 20th-century Milwaukee, with librarian Bruce Cole and Phil Naylor of the MU History Department. Focusing on Milwaukee groups, this second rock book will embrace the years 1958-’99 and is nearly completed, Luhrssen said.