DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid

In December 1972 I found myself in the US reporting for Melody Maker on a Deep Purple tour from Des Moines and Indianapolis, and in those days I was quite friendly with their guitarist Ritchie Blackmore who was fun to interview because he could be very indiscrete. Among the things he told me – and one that I didn’t report in MM – was that apart from the odd word about the night’s set in the dressing room immediately before a show he hadn’t once spoken to singer Ian Gillan on the entire tour thus far, and the group was four weeks into a six-week trip. He didn’t explain why but I gathered from hearsay that Gillan’s girlfriend, whom he had unwisely brought along for the ride, was reporting back to the WAGS at home on the after-hours behaviour of the other boys in the band. When I learned this I was surprised anyone talked to him at all.
         Coincidentally, the support act on this tour was Fleetwood Mac, at this time comprising Mick Fleetwood, John & Christine McVie, Bob Welch, Bob Weston and Dave Walker. They were going through a transitional period and it later transpired that the McVie’s marriage was in trouble through John’s drinking and that Weston was having an affair with Mick’s wife, Jenny Boyd, which very soon led to his dismissal. Three years later, of course, Fleetwood Mac would be joined by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham who opened up a whole new canvas for them.
         I was reminded of all this – the Blackmore/Gillan feud, John M’s boozing, Jenny and Bob’s fling – as I read Daisy Jones & The Six, an oral history-styled rock-band roman à clef novel in which the protagonists talk, in great detail and with disarming frankness, about their backgrounds, the formation of their group, its rise to fame and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that led to its dramatic dissolution.
         Set for the most part in 1970s California and loosely inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours and the romantic entanglements that beset the group while it was being recorded, it is chock full of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, and also a right old page turner; very realistic, albeit a bit OTT here and there, but that didn’t stop me finishing it in one six-hour sitting, which means it kept me interested and wanting desperately to know how it would all end.
         Daisy Jones is a spoilt brat from a rich Los Angeles family who don’t seem to care when their beautiful daughter becomes a Sunset Strip groupie. Having moved out at 15 and shacked up elsewhere, she returns home one morning to collect some clothes. When her father asks her if it was she who broke the coffee maker she replies, “Dad, I don’t even live here,” which neatly sums up her dysfunctional upbringing. Free-spirited, reckless, promiscuous and far too fond of drugs and drink, she discovers a latent talent for singing and songwriting, links up with The Six, makes powerful music and causes havoc.
         The Six, relocated from Pittsburgh to LA, are fronted by brothers Billy, married with kids, on vocals, and Graham, single, on guitar. An earlier guitarist was drafted and killed in Vietnam (a storyline nicked from Bruce Springsteen’s Castiles days*) and his place is taken by his moody brother Eddie who doesn’t like being told what to play by Graham or, especially, Billy. On keyboards is Karen, also beautiful, and much admired by Graham. On bass is Pete, silent and anonymous, and on drums is Warren who has a touch of the Keith Moon about him, in it for the birds and the booze but, like Karen and Pete, very good at his job.
         Daisy and The Six both record for the same record label and become managed by the same (gay) manager so it is only a matter of time before it is proposed that they join forces, a situation that doesn’t sit well with everyone in the camp but leads to enormous, stadium-filling, multi-platinum, success. So far so good but the presence of two beautiful girls in a group with five men, at least two of whom are hungry for love, leads to inevitable complications.
         I don’t want to give too much away but I found the story incredibly engaging, and the characters enormously attractive. Taylor Jenkins Reid has done her homework and somehow managed to accurately convey the tensions at work within bands, be they artistic, romantic or driven by envy, and the scenes in recording studios, on the road, at rehearsals and, especially, during writing sessions between Daisy and Billy, as the group’s composers, all ring true. She paces her story well, the oral structure of the book giving rise to judicious hindsight and occasionally poignant recollections. I felt that the success achieved immediately after Daisy joins the band was a bit too sudden – F Mac released nine albums before mega success beckoned, while Daisy releases one, The Six two and they put out one, the big one, together – but a slow build would have slackened the pace in a book wherein the author’s style is to keep her foot flat down on the accelerator throughout.
         The conceit, explained in a brief note at the beginning, is that the author is interviewing the members of the band, one of their wives, some of their entourage, a few friends and onlookers – including, amusingly, the concierge at the Continental Hyatt House – about 30 years after the group imploded. As a result there are opposing points of view and different people remember the same incident or situation contrarily, sometimes amusingly. Everyone is very candid, perhaps overly so when it comes to the sex and drugs, but just about everyone I encountered on the road back in the 1970s was at it one way or another, even if I didn’t report on that aspect of the rock world for MM.
         So I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in that world when it really was a bit of a free for all. Finally, I see from the internet that Daisy Jones & The Six is soon to become a 13-episode miniseries to be aired by Amazon video, backed by Reese Witherspoon amongst others. That comes as no surprise as the book does read a bit like a film script – and there’s a neat twist at the end that I won’t reveal here.


* I also detected a whiff of Bruce’s Born To Run autobiography here and there, and also perhaps Trampled Underfoot, Barney Hoskyns’ oral history of Led Zeppelin. 

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