Rolling Stones book is latest effort for rocker

Bill Janovitz in his home studio, which he has dubbed “The Bomb Shelter,” in Lexington. Janovitz has a new solo album coming out, his band, Buffalo Tom, plays Boston Common this week, and he has written a book on the Rolling Stones.
Bill Greene/Globe Staff
Bill Janovitz in his home studio, which he has dubbed “The Bomb Shelter,” in Lexington. Janovitz has a new solo album coming out, his band, Buffalo Tom, plays Boston Common this week, and he has written a book on the Rolling Stones.

For a guy who has dubbed himself “Part-Time Man of Rock” Bill Janovitz is awfully busy.

On Thursday he will celebrate the release of his superb new solo album, “Walt Whitman Mall,” with a show at the Lizard Lounge. On Saturday the band he’s fronted for more than 25 years, Buffalo Tom, plays for free on Boston Common as part of the Outside the Box Festival. And on July 23, St. Martin’s Press will release “Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones,” his second book about Mick and Keith and the boys. The following night Janovitz will do a reading at Newtonville Books.

Add to the list his side gig composing music for “This Old House” and his actual “day job” running a real estate business in Lexington, and it sure sounds like a full-time load.


“I have a lot of part-time jobs,” Janovitz says with a laugh when we catch up with him by phone from some rare vacation time with his family on the Cape.

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And Janovitz is committed to all of them, attests in-demand engineer and musician Ed Valauskas of Q Division studios in Somerville.

“He really means it,” says Valauskas, Janovitz’s friend and collaborator of more than a decade on various projects, notably the “Hot Stove Cool Music” series. “He just puts everything he has into everything. Whether that’s writing a book or selling houses or doing Buffalo Tom stuff or his solo stuff, he just cares, and I admire that.”

This isn’t the singer-songwriter’s first crack at the Rolling Stones, having written an entry on “Exile on Main Street” in 2oo5 for the “33 ” book series about famous albums. But this time he had a larger canvas. He relished the opportunity to stretch (and geek out on minutiae in many chapters), to inject some humor, and to conduct interviews with Stones-related figures like producers Andy Johns and Chris Kimsey.

“I wasn’t planning on doing another Stones book,” says Janovitz, who thought he might write something “closer to home,” perhaps about Buffalo Tom or something else semi-autobiographical, as he did with “Walt Whitman Mall,” a crackling, tuneful, roots-rocking affair that looks back at his coming of age on Long Island.


But when agent Kevin Pocklington reached out to him last year with the idea of hanging a book on 50 songs to coincide with the Stones’ 50th anniversary, Janovitz was hooked.

Unlike other rock books, Janovitz didn’t go with a list of his “favorite” 50 or the 50 that were the most popular, meaning he sacrificed a few near and dear to his heart. Instead, he focused on the tunes that he felt, as the title says, best told the story of the band.

“I really challenged myself to try to get the whole career represented because I could easily do 50 songs from ’68 to ’73,” he said, acknowledging that it was a tough row to hoe after 1981’s “Tattoo You.”

But when he started to revisit those later records, to which he had only paid cursory attention at the time of their release, he was surprised at how many gems he found.

“I think what sets my approach to the Stones apart is that I really focus on the music and really try to give them their due as songwriters. Because they’re sort of known as almost cartoonish figures,” he says of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, adding with a laugh, “It’s weird to say that the Stones are underrated songwriters.”


Although he understands that readers might want to skip around to their favorites — “That’s probably the way I’d go about it,” he admits — because of the chronological setup, there is story within the list.

“I think each essay stands on its own, but there really is a linear narrative arc: Here are these guys that start as R&B aficionados in ’62-’63 and then, before you know it, they have to live up to this legend.”

Coincidentally, Janovitz met Richards shortly after he got the deal to write “Rocks Off” at an event at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum last February.

“That was pretty astounding. I really did have this out-of-body experience,” he says of a conversation with his musical hero about Richards’s own musical hero Chuck Berry, who was being honored that day. “I went out of my way not to say that I had written a book or that I am writing another book,” he says with a laugh, adding, “I presume they could not be bothered about another Rolling Stones book.”

So he’s not worried that Jagger will call him up with a bone to pick?

“Are you kidding? I would love to be slapped down by Mick Jagger,” he says, laughing.

Janovitz is not quite ready to write a book about his own band, noting with another laugh that he and drummer Tom Maginnis joke with each other that the book would have to be called “Rashomon” because for “every story we have there are two competing versions of that story.”

More information:


At: Boston Common, July 20, 5 p.m. Free. Presented by Outside the Box Festival


At: Newtonville Books.

July 24, 7 p.m. Free.


Sarah Rodman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.