Though the title of this chronicle of pursuing the perpetually touring country legend Willie Nelson across North America may seem sinister at first, there’s no need to alert the authorities. All our author wants to do is play his prey a song, but that proves to be a little harder than you might think, even for a respected veteran plugger.
Poe, boss of the publishing house owned by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, sets off on his quest after the former suggests he personally pitch Nelson the duo’s song The Girls I Never Kissed, previously recorded by Frank Sinatra. What follows is an often hilarious tale – told via planes, trains, tour buses and ferryboats – that paints a colourful portrait of life on the showbiz road.
The twin thrust of the book, however, is a lively and enlightening history of song-plugging, from its 19th Century roots, when travelling salesmen had to be able to play piano when hawking sheet music to store owners, to its largely impersonal form today (demo CDs, MP3 downloads). Poe’s determination to get “the Sinatra song” directly into Nelson’s hand recalls a bygone time in the music industry, when chutzpah and human contact were essential tools of the trade.