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Book Review

The author with famous New Orleans R&B record producers Harold Battiste, left, and Wardell Quezergue, right, in 2010. Photo from John Broven

By Rita Egan

For those who meet John Broven, if they ask the proofreader at the Times Beacon Record Newspapers questions about his past, the mild-mannered Englishman may treat them to stories about the old-time record industry. For those who don’t have the opportunity to meet the music historian, there are his three books: “Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans,” “South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous” and “Record Makers and Breakers.”

Recently Broven had the opportunity to greatly revise and republish his first book “Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans,” which was originally published in the United States in 1978 and under the title “Walking to New Orleans: The Story of R&B New Orleans” in Great Britain in 1974. 

Selling more than 20,000 copies initially and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the book is a comprehensive history of the local rhythm and blues industry filled with information about the careers of icons such as Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John and many more. A great deal of the material is derived from interviews that the author conducted himself.

Broven said it was about three years ago when the publisher, Pelican Books, approached him about updating the book. While he kept the paperback to the basic rhythm and blues period of the 1940s to the 1960s, it gave him a chance to update the basic information as well as incorporate several post-1974 interviews. This edition is significantly different from the original publication.

“The book is still very well respected, and I’m very pleased it’s given me the chance to say: Well, this is as up to date and as good as I can get it,” he said.

The cover of Broven’s book. Photo from John Broven
The cover of Broven’s book. Photo from John Broven

Rhythm and blues has filled the author’s life since his early years growing up in England. Broven said he started collecting records as a teenager and was fortunate to go to school with Mike Leadbitter, who launched the publication Blues Unlimited in 1963 along with another schoolmate Simon Napier.

He described Leadbitter as a great visionary, and when he and Napier formed the magazine, he asked Broven if he would like to write for them. The writer said he had no experience at the time and Leadbitter said to him: “You have all these records, write about them.”

It was the first international blues magazine, and Broven said he was in the right place at the right time. When the writer traveled to the United States with Leadbitter in 1970, they discovered numerous American artists who they felt were being forgotten.

Leadbitter said to him: “Why don’t you write a book?” The author said the original edition centered more around Fats Domino, who Broven described as “a great American success story.”

Broven said he is happy he had the opportunity to write about the genre. “In general I find that Americans just don’t realize what an impact their music has had overseas and internationally. Rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues spread from here [to] literally all over the world,” the author said.

The writer explained that, “When I wrote the book in the early 1970s, New Orleans rhythm and blues was considered to be part of popular rock ’n’ roll and very few people saw the link between its jazz heritage, and people saw them as almost two distinct forms. I think one of the things was to show that there was a natural progression from the jazz era into rhythm and blues and soul music. In other words, rhythm and blues is as much a part of the New Orleans heritage as jazz is,” he said.

The author said he was working in banking when he wrote the original edition of the book, and after 31 years in the banking industry, he became a consultant with Ace Records of London, England.

With the record label, he traveled to locations such as New Orleans, Nashville and Los Angeles. It was during this time that he gained a deeper knowledge of the music business and met and interviewed more renowned recording artists, including B.B. King, together with many pioneering record men and women for the critically acclaimed “Record Makers and Breakers” (2009).

For the New Orleans book, Broven said he feels the interviews have stood the test of time, and the subjects, the majority born and raised in the city, are marvelous storytellers. “I couldn’t have done it without all those great personalities and their stories,” he said. Many are no longer alive, which makes the interviews even more precious, he added.

Broven has many favorite interviewees including Cosimo Matassa, the owner of three recording studios during his lifetime. Broven credits Matassa for giving New Orleans rhythm and blues its sound, particularly the “street” drum sound.

The author said Matassa’s studios provided a relaxed atmosphere for artists, and, in the 1940s and 1950s, “there was not the overdubbing and multitrack recording that you’ve got now. It was almost a live performance. If someone hit a wrong note, that was the end of that take and you had to do it all over again,” he said.

Broven’s musical journey eventually brought him to the United States permanently. While working with Ace Records he met his late wife, Shelley, who he said was very supportive of his record research work. She had inherited the independent label Golden Crest Records, of Huntington Station, from her father, Clark Galehouse.

’In general I find that Americans just don’t realize what an impact their music has had overseas and internationally.’ — John Broven

Broven said he arranged a meeting with Shelley in 1993 to discuss a licensing deal for the Wailers’ “Tall Cool One,” a Top 40 instrumental hit on her father’s label for Ace’s best-selling series, “The Golden Age of American Rock ’n’ Roll.” They were both single and soon began dating. He joked, “I always say we signed two contracts. One was for the record and the other one was for marriage.”

When he married Shelley in 1995, he moved to the United States. The couple originally lived in Cold Spring Harbor but moved to East Setauket after two years.

For the new edition of his book, Broven will be traveling from Long Island to New Orleans for signings and book talks. He hopes that readers, especially the younger generation, will take an interest and learn about this era of American music. He believes the music is just as good today and said, “That’s the definition of classical music.”

“As I said in the book, in the introduction, my one wish is to make people aware not only of this great music, but also to make them rush to their record collections to play all those records — and if they haven’t got the records, to try and seek them out,” Broven said.

For more information about the author, visit www.johnbroven.com or to purchase his books, go to www.amazon.com.

Children's book review: "Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure" by Sheree Jeanes

Image of the cover of ’Simon and Sedef’ from author Sheree Jeanes

By Melissa Arnold

Sheree Jeanes has always loved animals, and last fall she channeled that passion into a captivating new children’s book. Jeanes, who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Huntington, published “Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” in November. A portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Jeanes about her book and what’s in store for the future.

Tell me a little bit about your background.
I’ve worked in marketing for close to 20 years now. I’ve also done grant writing, and I have my own copywriting business called Redwing Copywriting.

Have you always been interested in writing?
I always wanted to write children’s books. I have a collection of children’s books at home that inspire me, and I finally found the courage to do it.

Huntington author Sheree Jeanes/photo by Pat Dillon
Huntington author Sheree Jeanes/photo by Pat Dillon

Briefly summarize the plot for us.
“Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” is about a young seal who gets swept up in a sudden storm and is separated from his mother, Sedef. He needs to tap into his own resiliency, to see what he’s capable of, and learn to lean on others with trust.

What inspired you to write “Simon and Sedef”?
My mother-in-law lives in Rockaway Beach, which is a part of the story. Several years ago there was a story in her local paper, The Wave, about a little seal that got washed up on the beach, and it sparked my imagination. Simon’s story grew around him. When I got the idea for this book, I could see where it was going. I knew how it would end and that there could be sequels. I was able to enlist a friend who very generously edited and story boarded the book for me, and we went from there.

There are so many ways to write about marine life conservation efforts. Why did you choose to write a children’s book?
Honestly, I love to learn through stories. Historical novels are a great way to learn about different periods in history, for example. I did a lot of scientific research for the book, and when I do readings, I always bring someone from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. They always have an incredible wealth of knowledge to share and are able to answer additional questions about marine life while sharing how important it really is to all of us.

Who is your favorite character in the book?
My favorite character is Rita, a little girl that Simon meets on the beach. She’s actually named after my mother-in-law. Part of the book is about connection and being sensitive and kind to animals. She embodies what kids are able to do (if they encounter an animal), to engage them with respect on (the animal’s) own terms. She reflects the connection that humans and animals share and the animal part that exists in all of us. It’s a really beautiful part of the story, and she’s a lot of fun.

“Simon and Sedef” is full of vibrant, lifelike illustrations. Were you involved in the art development?
I’m not an illustrator, but I was a part of the process. I went onto (arts and crafts sale website) Etsy and put out a job request. I got a bunch of responses and spent a lot of time looking through portfolios. The artist I chose worked with these brilliant watercolors, and she was able to paint animals with so much expression and sensitivity. I ended up choosing her to do the illustrations — her name is Luminita Cosarenu and she’s from Romania. She was just lovely to work with. I told her what I had in mind and we went back and forth for a while until it was just right. She started with pencil drawings and finished with watercolor. They are just magnificent.

The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation plays a big part in your story. Can you tell me a bit about what they do and your decision to work with them?
The foundation would have rescued Simon in the real world and they do such incredible work — it only seemed fair to include them in this way. We’ve been working together from the early stages of the publication process to figure out how to best promote the book and all of the great things they do. They do a lot of animal rescue, particularly of seals and sea turtles. They’re also affiliated with the Long Island Aquarium, where some of the rescued animals will remain for a while or even their lifetime if they can’t be released.

Is there a recommended audience for “Simon and Sedef”?
I think the littlest of kids should probably have the book read to them, but there’s nothing inappropriate for them in there. I did make it a little scary, but even younger children really tend to enjoy that.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Every human character in the book is kind and also respectful to animals. That’s really the central message of the book — living and treating others with compassion.

What are some things we can do right now to help preserve marine life?
We can pick up after ourselves! So much garbage ends up going out to sea, where animals end up being choked or swallowing things that can impair their digestion or kill them. As for the bigger picture, go and experience the wildlife that’s all around us. Bring your kids. Lastly, really support the people who are out there doing the work of preserving marine life, whether that’s the foundation or another organization you care about.

What’s next for you?
I’m really enjoying the adventure of self-publishing and self-promotion right now. There is a sequel for Simon in the works right now that will be coming out soon — as you might expect, he has plenty more adventures to go on!

Where can people learn more about you or purchase the book?
My website is www.shereejeanes.com. I also have a Facebook page and an Instagram account to keep people up-to-date about the latest developments in my writing.

In celebration of World Oceans Day, Sheree Jeanes will hold a book launch on Wednesday, June 8, at the Long Island Aquarium, 431 E. Main St., Riverhead from 3 to 5 p.m. “Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” may be purchased online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as at Book Revue in Huntington.