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15 Biographies That Will Make You a Better Guitarist

Keith Richards is one of the driving forces behind the Rolling Stones. He's as famous for his swagger and resilience as he is the songs he's penned, like "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Sympathy for the Devil." But did you know Richards, one of rock's most infamous hellions, was once a choirboy and Boy Scout who was bullied by schoolmates and kept a pet mouse named Gladys?

To many, Keith Richards is a musical hero. We all have them. Sometimes it's these heroes who inspire us to take up the guitar in the first place and help us to stick with it when we hit a rough patch. It can be tempting though to think that the musicians we idolize, these gods among men, were born with some innate ability that we mere mortals simply don't possess. More often than not, that's just not the case. For despite their position in music's constellation, our heroes aren't all that different from us.

To prove this point, you need to read biographies, autobiographies, memoirs and diaries of the musicians you admire. Biographies ground us and help us to see the reality of trying to earn a living as a musician, which is often very different to what record companies and magazines would have us believe. These books give you invaluable insight into what things were like for your heroes before they made it big. You'll learn about the sacrifices and risks they were willing to make, the many failures they suffered, and how they overcame adversity to ultimately turn lemons into lyrics. In the process, you'll discover how you can develop work habits to maximize your own unique abilities, tendencies, and traits.

Books on musicians aren't the only ones you should read. Branch out and read on any and all artists that interest you: photographers, actors, painters, writers, athletes. Though the outlet of expression may be different, the creative spark is universal.

The following are 15 biographies, autobiographies, memoirs and a journal of notable talents and the dramas that drove them to fulfill their potential:

Just Kids by Patti Smith. Smith's memoir won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2010. Just Kids traces Patti's early career and her friendship with the late iconic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It features stories of Smith's encounters with pop culture giants like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and William Burroughs.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein. Before Carrie Brownstein co-developed and starred in the wildly popular TV comedy Portlandia, she was already an icon to young women for her role as a musician in the feminist punk band Sleater-Kinney. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is the deeply personal and revealing narrative of Brownstein's life in music, from ardent fan to pioneering female guitarist to comedic performer and luminary in the independent rock world.

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller. Carly Simon, Carole King and Joni Mitchell remain among the most enduring and important women in popular music. They collectively represent, in their lives and their songs, every girl who came of age in the late 1960s. Girls Like Us is an epic treatment of these three exceptional women who dared to break tradition and become what few had been before them.

John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman. This comprehensive book follows John Lennon from his birth in 1940 to his untimely death in 1980. Formidable Beatles' biographer Philip Norman revives the creative genius that was Lennon, so that by the time you get to that well-known scene outside the Dakota that December night, it's almost as if you are there, suffering the loss fresh.

Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young. From his youth in Canada to his crazy journey out to California, through Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash, to his massively successful solo career and his re-emergence as the patron saint of grunge on to his role today as one of the last uncompromising survivors of rock 'n' roll, this is Neil's story told in his own words. Waging Heavy Peace is the reflective, insightful and disarmingly honest read you would expect from this two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters by Robert Gordon. Muddy Waters was the greatest blues musician ever, and the most influential. He invented electric blues, inspired the Rolling Stones and created the template for the rock 'n' roll band and its wild lifestyle. Robert Gordon's definitive biography vividly chronicles the extraordinary life and personality of the musical legend who changed the course of modern popular music.

Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan. Chronicles, Volume One is the first part of Bob Dylan's planned 3-volume memoir. Published in October 2004, Volume One explores critical junctures in Dylan's life and career. Through his eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village circa 1961 when Dylan first arrives in Manhattan. He takes us back to his early days on the New York folk scene, before he became the face of rebellion in music. This inaugural volume of his autobiography is revealing, poetic, passionate and witty, and opens a mesmerizing window on Bob Dylan's thoughts and influences right up to the moment of his first real celebrity.

Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton. More than a rock star, Eric Clapton is an icon, a living embodiment of the history of rock music. In his compelling autobiography, Clapton chronicles his remarkable personal and professional journeys—from his illegitimacy to his cult hero status in the clubs of Britain to the formation of Cream and his stints in Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and Derek and the Dominos. The books also addresses his love triangle with Patti Boyd, wife of close friend and Beatle George Harrison, Clapton's self-imposed seclusion and drug addiction, as well as the unspeakable tragedy of the loss of his young son. Clapton is a compelling story of a survivor, a man who has achieved the pinnacle of success despite extraordinary demons.

Cash by Johnny Cash. In his 1997 autobiography country music legend Johnny Cash reveals the truth about the highs and lows of his life, the trips to hell and back, the struggles and hard-won triumphs, and the people who shaped him. In his own words, Cash sets the record straight (and dispels a few myths) as he looks unsparingly at his remarkable life. From the joys of his boyhood in Kingsland, Arkansas, to superstardom in Nashville, Tennessee, the road of Cash's life has been anything but smooth.

Life by Keith Richards. Life is a memoir by the Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards in which he chronicles his love of music, charting influences from his mother and maternal grandfather, through his discovery of blues music, the founding of the Rolling Stones, his often turbulent relationship with Mick Jagger, his involvement with drugs, and his relationships with women. Keith Richards is rock 'n' roll, and whether you're a fan of the Stones or not, Life proves that Richards has lived an extraordinary one.

Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie. One of Guthrie's first published writings, Bound for Glory, is an important artifact of musical and political history. First published in 1943, this autobiography is also a superb portrait of America's Depression years by the folk singer, activist, and man who saw it all.

Slash by Slash. For the first time ever, Slash tells the tale that has yet to be told from the inside: how the legendary band Guns N' Roses came together, how they wrote the music that defined an era, how they survived insane, never-ending tours, how they survived themselves, and, ultimately, how it all fell apart. Slash is a window into the world of the notoriously private guitarist and a front seat on the roller-coaster ride that was one of history's greatest rock 'n' roll machines, always on the edge of self-destruction, even at the pinnacle of its success.

Coal Miner's Daughter by Loretta Lynn. Loretta Lynn's classic memoir tells the story of her early life in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, and her amazing rise to the top of the music industry. Born into deep poverty, married at thirteen, mother of six, and a grandmother by the time she was 29. Loretta Lynn went on to become one of the most prolific and influential songwriters and singers in modern country music. In Coal Miner's Daughter, we see the determination and talent that led to her trailblazing career and made her the first woman to be named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association, and the first woman to receive a gold record in country music.

Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B.B. King by B.B. King. The undisputed king of the blues, B.B. King puts his life into words in a story that spans tragedy, triumph, and everything in between—and he tells it just how he plays it, straight from the heart. A true-to-life tale of overcoming monumental odds to succeed as an artist in an often unfriendly world. Blues All Around Me is also the story of how blues music changed during its migration from the Mississippi Delta to urban areas such as Chicago.

Journals by Kurt Cobain. Kurt Cobain filled dozens of notebooks with lyrics, drawings, and writings about his plans for Nirvana and his thoughts about fame, the state of music, and the people who bought and sold him and his music. His journals reveal an artist who loved music, who knew the history of rock, and who was determined to define his place in that history. Cobain's Journals is a mesmerizing, incomparable portrait of arguably the most influential musician of his time.

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