Irwin Stambler, 92; wrote rock music encyclopedia
NEW YORK — Irwin Stambler, who was trained as an aeronautics engineer but whose deep love for music inspired him to write “The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul” — a major feat of research before the Internet made it easier to find out more about Bo Diddley or the Beach Boys — died Feb. 10 in Los Angeles. He was 92.
His son Lyndon that said the cause was complications of sepsis.
Mr. Stambler’s encyclopedia, published by St. Martin’s Press in 1974, covered a wide swath of music history, from acid rock to the Zombies, in an easy-to-read style. His entry about singer Marianne Faithfull, for example, called her the “daughter of a baroness and blessed with the face of an angel (some observers said a fallen angel).” He added that she was “well educated in convent schools, but the sheltered atmosphere of those years probably contributed to her desire to kick over the traces.”
Mr. Stambler’s book was not the first of its kind. It was preceded by “Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia,” published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1969. But it was published nearly a decade before one from a more traditional authority on rock: Rolling Stone magazine.
Holly George-Warren, who edited the second and third editions of “The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll,” said, “I remember the Stambler book as being a valuable resource and a tool for fact-checking the entries in our own book.”
Mr. Stambler toggled regularly between science and music throughout his career. He worked as an engineer into the 1950s — designing aircraft parts, among other assignments — but then shifted full time into writing about aerospace and technology, as well as music and sports.
He wrote for magazines like Space Aeronautics. He wrote newsletters. And he wrote dozens of books on subjects as diverse as the space program, drag racing, minibikes, the fastest humans, the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft, pitcher Catfish Hunter, and basketball star Bill Walton.
By 1969, he had already written two music encyclopedias: one on popular music and a second on country, with Grelun Landon, a music industry executive.
In an unpublished memoir, Mr. Stambler said he had wanted to write the rock encyclopedia in the 1960s but his publisher resisted in favor of a somewhat tamer subject.
So he wrote “Encyclopedia of Popular Music” (1965) instead, insisting, however, that he be able to sprinkle in some biographical entries on rock pioneers like Elvis Presley and Bill Haley. Haley actually did not end up in the book, but Presley did, as did rock ’n’ rollers like Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers.
Andy Leach, the senior director of library and archives at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, said Mr. Stambler’s popular music encyclopedia was groundbreaking “because popular music wasn’t being taken seriously by most scholars or serious writers at the time.” The subsequent rock encyclopedia, he added, has become a “standard reference.”
Irwin Stambler was born in Brooklyn. His father, Sidney, owned a jewelry and silver fabrication company, and his mother, the former Bessie Levine, taught piano. He attended New York University, his time there broken up by two years of Army service during World War II. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering.
Music was always a passion. He preferred not to play classical piano, as his mother did, but he wrote pop songs with a partner, Morton Weinberg, with titles like “Strawberry Sky,” “Fade Out,” and “Indigo Blue.” He built up a collection of close to 8,000 records and CDs.
“Music was always on at home,” Lyndon Stambler said. “Dad played guitar, and I made a harp in high school. He loved all music.
“Before my sister-in-law married my brother, one of the first images she saw of my dad was of him lying on his bed, wearing headphones and listening to Led Zeppelin. When she saw that, she knew everything was going to be OK.”
In addition to Lyndon, Mr. Stambler leaves his wife, the former Constance Lebowitz; another son, Barrett; two daughters, Amy Sprague Champeau and Alice Seidman; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
While Mr. Stambler was researching his pop music encyclopedia, he scheduled an interview with songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen in Palm Springs, Calif., during time off from an aerospace meeting nearby.
Van Heusen, who wrote the music for “Call Me Irresponsible” and other standards, kept filling Mr. Stambler’s glass with expensive whiskey while they talked.
“To this day, I can’t recall how I got back to my car,” Mr. Stambler wrote in his memoir. “All I know is that I woke up the next morning in bed with a miserable hangover but with a notebook filled with more than enough for a good encyclopedia entry.”