Podcasts: Only Three Lads & Sketched Sounds on “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey”

Two podcasts

The Only Three Lads podcast and the Sketched Sounds podcast were nice enough to interview me. If you check them both out, you’ll find in-depth conversations about the great guitarist James Calvin Wilsey, the San Francisco punk scene of the late Seventies, the legendary punk band, the Avengers, Jimmy’s days in Silvertone and working with Chris Isaak and much more. And, of course, we talk about my new book, “Wicked Game: The True Story of James Calvin Wilsey,” and how I came to write it and how I got to know Jimmy Wilsey during the ’80s and early ’90s.

You can get my book at the HoZac Books website.

I will be doing a reading/book signing and answering questions about the book at The Beat Museum in San Francisco at 7pm on Saturday, June 18, 2022. More info here.

I will also be doing an online event at Book Passage on Thursday, July 21, 2022. Former Creem managing editor and music critic Robert Duncan will be questioning me about my Jimmy Wilsey book. More info here. My book on Jimmy Wilsey will be available for purchase at Book Passage online and at the Corte Madera store beginning July 4, 2022.

“Wicked Game”: “This is the rock & roll book to read this year.”

In a wonderful review of my new book, “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey,” in the June 2022 “Bentley’s Bandstand” column at his Americana Highways website, Bill Bentley writes: “This is the rock & roll book to read this year. It is a thrilling, heart-breaking, mind-blowing, cautionary and in the end passionate tale of how a guitarist of infinite ability and absolutely addictive tendencies attains the highest success on the rock & roll merry-go-round, only to flame out in a desperate tale of heroin, homelessness and, in the end, suicidal escapades that killed him. Rock & roll can be the scariest game there is if the person isn’t wired for success. Failure is survivable, but for those not ready for it, success is the killer. …”

You can read the rest of the review here.

You can get my book at the HoZac Books website.

The Sketched Sounds podcast just went live (June 6, 2022). Justin Bieggar interviews me about the Wilsey book, the San Francisco punk scene of the late ’70s and much more. Listen to it here at Spotify if you have Spotify, or listen here.

Last week Howie Klein published an essay that I wrote about how Jimmy Wilsey became a punk musician at his excellent “Down With Tyranny” blog. “My new book, “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey” (HoZac Books), tells Jimmy’s story, but it also details the San Francisco punk scene that began in December 1976, three months after 19-year-old Jimmy moved to San Francisco. During the summer of 1977 Jimmy became bass player for one of San Francisco’s greatest punk bands, the Avengers, and quickly became one of the stars of the small SF scene.

“Punk was initially not a particular sound, it was a concept, and the concept was this: anyone who wanted to could be in a band and play rock & roll, you didn’t have to know how to play your instrument, you only had to have something to say, and many times not even that was necessary.

“When the established record companies decided punk wasn’t commercial, punk fans like Howie Klein formed their own record companies. The first singles by The Mutants, The Nuns and The Offs were released as singles by Howie’s 415 label, and in the early ’80s, when Jimmy was in Silvertone, Howie told me, he wanted to release Silvertone’s “Blue Hotel” but that didn’t work out. …”

You can read all of “How The Patti Smith Group Inspired James Calvin Wilsey” here.

I will be doing a reading/book signing and answering questions about the book at The Beat Museum in San Francisco at 7pm on Saturday, June 18, 2022. More info here.

I will also be doing an online event at Book Passage on Thursday, July 21, 2022. Former Creem managing editor and music critic Robert Duncan will be questioning me about my Jimmy Wilsey book. More info here. My book on Jimmy Wilsey will be available for purchase at Book Passage online and at the Corte Madera store beginning July 4, 2022.

Pop Matters Reviews “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey —They Love It!

Above image from the Pop Matters website, May 24, 2022.

Poet Marc Zegans’s beautifully written review of my new book, “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey,” was published today at the cool Pop Matters website/online magazine. Writes Zegans, “Goldberg’s meticulously researched biography delivers a deep-hearted and poignant account of the rare and extraordinary creative talent who—following his legendary entry into the music scene as bass player for San Francisco’s primeval punk band, the Avengers—crafted the incomparable yearning two-note opening to Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game.'”

Later in the review: “Worthy of prominent mention in Goldberg’s portrayal of Wilsey’s elusive life between the notes is the book’s method of exposition. Rather than pursuing a single sustained narrative line, Wicked Game operates as a biography by bricolage. Goldberg, Wilsey’s long-time friend with whom his son took guitar lessons, and photographer of the punk scene in which Wilsey came of age, layers intimate reflection and historical inquiry. Chapter titles are drawn from rock lyrics — ‘He Was a Friend of Mine’ (from Jim Carroll’s song ‘People that Died’), ‘Walk on the Wildside’ (following Lou Reed’s genderqueer classic). Goldberg takes a journalistic perspective and assembles richly quoted voices into a remarkable salade composée of this outsider musician’s life.  The author’s method of massing the voices of Wilsey’s contemporaries.”

Meanwhile, a PlanetLP podcast conversation with me went live this morning and it sounds great. It’s “Episode 50: James Wilsey’s Wicked Game.” Just short of 40 minutes of back and forth about Jimmy Wilsey.

And yesterday the important “Down With Tyranny” blog, where Howie Klein for many years has been making astute political observations and providing the facts about the dire straits this country is in, took a brief detour from politics to run an essay I wrote about why I spent three-plus years writing a book about Jimmy Wilsey. There is a contest and two winners will each get a copy of the book. The winners are the two people who donate the most to one of the political campaigns listed on a page that you can link to from the bottom of my essay.

And finally: I’ll be reading from the book and answering questions at The Beat Museum at 7pm on Saturday, June 18, 2022. Facebook event page here.

Michael Goldberg is the Featured Writer at Rock’s Backpages

tRock's Backpages cover

This week the very cool music journalism website, Rock’s Backpages, has me on the “cover” as the weeks “Featured Writer.” They highlight some of my articles, which are archived there, including an excerpt from my new book, “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey” (HoZac Books), titled: “Watching the Avengers Absolutely Crush the Pistols.” There’s also a profile of Chris Isaak, a feature on the San Francisco music scene circa 1983 and, if you click on my name, dozens of my stories on these artists and others: Bob Dylan, American Music Club, the Bangles, Robbie Robertson, John Fogerty…

Plus I’m interviewed about the book at the podcast “Frets with DJ Fey.” And I’m interviewed on the “ImmaLetYouFinish” podcast.

I’ll be reading from the book and answering questions at The Beat Museum in SF at 7pm on Saturday June 18, 2022.

You can buy “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey” (HoZac Books) here.

Rolling Stone Online Publishes Goldberg Book Excerpt on How Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” Became a Hit

Jimmy Wilsey Rolling Stone

Today, Thursday, May 19, 2022, Rolling Stone Online published an extensive excerpt from my new book, “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey” (HoZac Books). The 4000-word excerpt details how Chris Isaak said he wrote the song, how guitarist Jimmy Wilsey came up with the intro riff and other electric guitar parts and how David Lynch and manager/producer Erik Jacobsen contributed to getting the song into the top 10.

The book is based on over seven hours of interviews with the late guitarist, over ten hours of interviews with Isaak (done from 1985 into 1995) and extensive interviews with over 60 of Wilsey’s friends, family members, and music business acquaintances. It includes over 150 images–photos, flyers and record covers.

It can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher, HoZac Books.

I’m donating 25% of my royalties to Jimmy’s song, Waylon Wilsey.

“Wicked Game” at The Beat Museum: Michael Goldberg on Guitarist Jimmy Wilsey + Cool New Reviews

On Saturday June 18, 2022, starting at 7 pm, I’ll be celebrating the publication of my book on Jimmy Wilsey, “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey,” reading excerpts from the book and answering questions, at The Beat Museum, 540 Broadway at Columbus Avenue in San Francisco. Before the reading, beginning at 6 pm, recordings that Jimmy played on, some quite rare, will be playing. The Beat Museum is across the street and down the block from where the Mabuhay Gardens was located (where Jimmy played many shows in the Avengers, and in Silvertone with Chris Isaak as well.)

“Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey” tells the story of the brilliant but troubled guitarist who was the “heart and soul” of one of America’s greatest punk bands, the Avengers, and who wrote and played the haunting intro and other guitar parts for the Chris Isaak hit “Wicked Game.” As even Isaak has acknowledged, Wilsey was key to that song becoming a top 10 hit that has been streamed over 350 million times.

Jimmy’s story is tragic. At one point he had a movie star girlfriend, was appearing on ‘The Tonight Show,’ and touring the world with “Wicked Game” a hit in 10 countries, but he became a heroin addict and died homeless nearly three and a half years ago.

I’m donating 25 percent of my royalties to Jimmy’s teenage son Waylon. The publisher is also donating a percentage to Waylon.

Marc Zegans, a superb poet with many books of poetry published, writes: “In addition to telling a complex life story [about Jimmy Wilsey], Michael’s book offers a wonderful inside view of early days of the San Francisco Punk scene and of the internal mechanics of the music industry. It’s also a conceptually grounded exploration of the nature, psychology and ravages of addiction.”

At the cool Australian music site i94 Bar, a reviewer who calls himself JD Stayfree wrote “The World Is Only Going To Break Your Heart,” a heartfelt gonzo exploration into how certain recordings, including those made by Jimmy Wilsey and Chris Isaak, have had an impact on his life. “I will be listening to those Chris Issak/James Calvin Wilsey records for the rest of my life, and I know many of my old garage band hombres will always be listening to the Avengers. I am ever so grateful that this sharp writer, Michael Goldberg, put so much passion and dedication into telling Wilsey’s story—about 400 pages of highs and lows and winning and losing and heartbreak and the whole human drama. Only the lonely love Chris Isaak and James Calvin Wilsey like I do. Greatness to behold. Get the book, you’ll be glad you did.” 

“Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey” is based on new and extensive interviews—with over 60 of Jimmy’s friends, family, musicians he played with and other acquaintances—conducted during the past three and a half years. Additionally, Goldberg had four hours of interviews he did with Jimmy himself in 1987 and 1991, access to a three hour interview Jimmy did in 2018, and over ten hours of interviews he did with Chris Isaak from 1982 into 1995. The 414 page book contains over 150 photos and other images—photographers (some of SF’s best rock photographers) include the great avant-garde artist Bruce Conner, Blondie co-founder Chris Stein, Ruby Ray, Chester Simpson, Sue Brisk, Hugh Brown, Marcus Leatherdale, Michael Zagaris, James Stark and others. Flyers are by Avengers singer-songwriter Penelope Houston and Wilsey and others.

Join Michael Goldberg at The Beat Museum for an unforgettable evening.

Check Out the Cover of Michael Goldberg’s Upcoming Book: “Addicted To Noise: The Music Writings of Michael Goldberg”

“Addicted To Noise: The Music Writings of Michael Goldberg” collects the best of my music journalism from the past 45+ years. The book includes interviews with Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Sleater-Kinney, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Flipper, John Fogerty, Neil Young and Rick James, and stories about Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, John Lee Hooker, James Brown, the Clash, Prince, Michael Jackson, the Flamin’ Groovies, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Laurie Anderson, Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, Devo, San Francisco punks Crime, the Sex Pistols, Sly Stone, Chris Isaak and more. Plus short takes on Muddy Waters, Townes Van Zandt, Talking Heads, Captain Beefheart, Professor Longhair and others. And lots more! Foreword by Greil Marcus.

“Throughout these interviews and essays, Goldberg shows us how consequential music can be. His stance is both as passionate fan and learned critic as he grapples with these artists on their own terms, capturing them at crucial moments, challenging their personas and making the case for their work. He has written a captivating, essential, and personal history of the complications and revelations contained in the ideal of rock & roll authenticity.” – Dana Spiotta, author of Eat the Document, Stone Arabia, and Innocents and Others

Simon Warner wrote about how the cover of the book is based on the original 1953 cover of William Burroughs’ “Junkie” at his “Rock and the Beat Generation” Substack blog. Both covers are reproduced there.

The book will be published in November by Backbeat Books. You can pre-order it right now if you’d like. Michael’s latest book, “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey,” can be pre-ordered here.

Pre-Order “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey”

My new book, which is on the great guitarist James Calvin Wilsey, will be published on June 1, 2022, and is now available for pre-order. Jimmy was the “heart and soul” of the amazing San Francisco punk band, the Avengers. He wrote and played the guitar parts for the Chris Isaak hit “Wicked Game” and, as even Isaak has acknowledged, Wilsey was key to that song becoming a top 10 hit in 1991 in 10 countries including the U.S

I’m giving 25% of every $1 I am paid starting with the first sale to Jimmy’s teenage son Waylon. The publisher is also donating a percentage.

That song has been streamed over 300 million times on Spotify. Just in the three years that I spent writing the book, it was streamed about 200 million times – 30 years after it was a hit.

Here’s one of the back cover blurbs:

“A riveting biography of a brilliant but doomed guitarist who helped usher in San Francisco punk, played haunted guitar for Chris Isaak, then remade himself as a Downtown LA loftista musician and IT guy before self destructing as a homeless junky. This reads like a classic noir spiral and is hard to put down. Goldberg describes the twisted path of addiction and life’s dark side but also wild joy, inspired creation and for a time, unlimited possibility in the life of James Wilsey. Filled with local color, music history, and eyewitness interviews.” – Denise Hamilton, author of the Eve Diamond crime novels and editor of the “Los Angeles Noir” collections

More info here:


Coming Soon: “Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey”

Advance praise: “Here’s the story of an unsung genius that, in many ways, is the story of every working musician, a cautionary tale of crappy apartments and cool guitars, of untold temptations, abject surrender and the pawnshop at the beginning and end of the arc. It’s a story of youth, beauty and inspiration on the razor’s edge, of love and compulsion, solidarity and betrayal, of a quiet man who played loud. Of a dark song and darker fate. And of San Francisco in the era of the Mabuhay Gardens, $150 rent and Persian Brown. Michael Goldberg’s book about his friend Jimmy Wilsey will give you chills. Not since Ben Fong-Torres’s biography of Gram Parsons (one of Wilsey’s musical forebearers) has there been a more heartrending portrait of a rock star.” – Robert Duncan, former Creem magazine writer and author “Loudmouth” and “The Noise”

Wicked Game: The True Story of James Calvin Wilsey

Dreaming On Bob Dylan’s Mythic ‘Basement Tapes’

Bob Dylan photographed by Elliott Landy.

Finally, the Holy Grail is here!

By Michael Goldberg

Bob Dylan and The Band
The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Six-CD set)
Columbia Records

Note: Because the Basement Tapes are, for me, about a time long in the past, and a place that no longer exists, and the feeling of wonder I still had as a teenager back in 1970 when I first heard some of the Basement songs, I have taken an unconventional approach to this review, mixing fact and fiction, thoughts about the actual music with seemingly unrelated text about young love.

It was time to split the city. The Summer of Love was a bust. They were selling “Love Burgers” on Haight Street. If you’re too young to know, Haight Street in San Francisco was a kind of ground zero for the ‘60s counterculture in 1966. But it wasn’t 1966 anymore, and things had changed. A creepy-crawly vibe would soon turn all the colors black.


May of 1970, me and my chick in the back of that Ford pickup with all the camping gear. We’re heading for Big Sur. A bunch of us in five vehicles, maybe six. This was a long time ago. I was 16 and so was Sarah. We make a couple of stops along the way; the last one is to get gas and ‘cause some of us need to use the can. It isn’t a town, isn’t a full block same as you find in a town or a city. It’s some beater houses and a motel and the Texaco. What it is, is a no-name, one of those places you drive through to get from here to there.

Only reason I even get out of that pickup is ‘cause of the Coke machine.


The Basement Tapes are a myth. They’re one of those stories that serious music fans, the type of fan that most people would call a collector, and others might call crazy, get lost in. As the myth has been told and retold since the late ‘60s, Bob Dylan, then one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rock stars in the world, had a motorcycle accident.

After recovering from his accident in the seclusion of an 11-room house in upstate New York, Dylan called up his band, a handful of musicians who had been known as The Hawks when they backed Canadian rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, and they joined him, soon renting houses not far from where Dylan was residing, one of which came to be known as Big Pink.

Over the summer, in the basement of Big Pink, they recorded over 100 tracks, including some new Bob Dylan compositions that remain some of his best. When it was all over, Dylan moved on, heading to Nashville to record John Wesley Harding, an album of all new songs, none of which had been recorded in the basement.

As for what eventually became known as the Basement Tapes, acetates were made of 14 songs and sent out to artists with the hopes they’d be covered. The tapes with the rest of the songs were shelved.

Eventually the bootleggers got their hands on those 14 songs, and soon we, the serious, obsessed Dylan fans, heard them too. And as word spread that there were more recordings, many more recordings, we lusted for them the way collectors of ‘78s lust after original pressings of Skip James records, or those of Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas.

And so, for the serious Dylan fan, for us nuts, those tapes became the Holy Grail.


It’s one of those ancient curved-corners all-red Vendo Coke machines. The V-81a. Filled with cool-ass bottles of Coke. Warhol’s “Green Coca-Cola Bottles” kinda cool-ass bottles.

Ever seen that Warhol deal? Homage to Duchamp, Warhol’s bottles. Warhol was heavy into Coke. Said Coke symbolized the egalitarian nature of American consumerism. Said it didn’t matter if you were Liz Taylor or a bum, a Coke was a Coke, and no amount of money could get you a better one than the one the bum on the corner was drinking. ‘Course what Warhol didn’t say was Liz Taylor could afford to get her cavities filled. The bum gonna end up with a mouth full of rotten.

I guess that’s what America’s all about. The phony-ass everyone’s equal trip. Authentic real, there’s a hierarchy. Fortune or fame, enough of either can put you up on your high horse, up on the steeple with all the pretty people. Warhol was wrong, Coke tastes a whole lot different if you’re drinking it out on the veranda of some place in Beverly Hills, than in the fucking gutter.


On July 29, 1966, Bob Dylan, who as a kid idolized James Dean, had an accident while rising a 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle on a road near his manager’s house in West Sugerties, not far from Woodstock, New York. Dylan was on break from a grueling world tour during which fans of his folk music booed his new rock ‘n’ roll sound. One of ‘em called him Judas.

“I was on the road for almost five years,” Dylan told Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner during a 1969 interview, looking back to that fateful day, the day of the motorcycle accident. “It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things. A lot of things just to keep going, you know? And I don’t want to live that way anymore, And uh… I’m just waiting for a better time – you know what I mean?

Wenner asks a follow-up question.

“Well,” Dylan says. “I’d like to slow down the pace a little.”

Dylan did slow the pace. “I thought that I was just gonna get up and go back to doing what I was doing before…,” Dylan told Wenner. “But I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Dylan’s crazy schedule of touring and recording – he cut three of the best rock albums ever made, in 15 months! – was over. Instead he holed up with his family at the Byrdcliffe house, known as Hi Lo Ha, having replaced hectic New York with a pastoral scene. Working with filmmaker Howard Alk, Dylan completed a documentary, “Eat The Document,” using footage D. A. Pennebaker shot of the 1966 tour. The film was commissioned for the ABC television series Stage ’66, but was rejected by ABC and has never been officially released, although a bootleg version circulates, and periodically shows up online.

Still in upstate New York, at some point in early 1967 Dylan and some members of The Hawks began a series of informal music sessions in what was referred to as the “Red Room,” a sitting room at Hi Lo Ha that was no longer painted red, if ever it was. The music they began making was recorded on a reel-to-reel tape recorder – one that took seven inch reels of quarter-inch tape — by Garth Hudson, one of the musicians who was also participating in the sessions along with Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. Later they would be joined by Levon Helm.

The genesis of the sessions may have been pressure Albert Grossman exerted on Dylan to come up with more songs, songs for other artists to cover. Grossman owned half of Dylan’s publishing, so it was in Grossman’s financial interest to get more songs out of Dylan while he was still a big star.

Dylan told Jann Wenner, “No, they weren’t demos for myself, they were demos of the songs. I was being PUSHED again … into coming up with some songs. You know how those things go.”

Still, whatever the outside pressure, what happened when the tape was rolling was enjoyable, both for the musicians and for Dylan.

“The Basement Tapes refers to the basement there at Big Pink, obviously, but it also refers to a process, a homemade process,” Robbie Robertson was quoted as saying in Sid Griffin’s book about the Basement Tapes, “Million Dollar Bash.” That quote also appears in the liner notes Griffin wrote for The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, the 6-CD set which will be released on November 4, 2014.

“So some things we recorded at Bob’s house, some things we recorded at Rick’s house…we were here and there, so what it really means is ‘homemade’ as opposed to a single location in a formal studio.”

Talking about the sessions to Jann Wenner, Dylan said just moments after he talked about being “PUSHED” to demo new songs, “They were just fun to do. That’s all. They were a kick to do. Fact, I’d do it all again. You know, that’s really the way to do a recording—in a peaceful, relaxed setting—in somebody’s basement. With the windows open … and a dog lying on the floor.”

Read the rest of this column at Rhythms magazine.

Photo by Elliott Landy

“900 Miles From My Home”:


“Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread”:

“Ain’t No More Cane (Take 2)”:

“Dress It Up, Better Have It All”:

“Lo and Behold!”:

“Odds & Ends”:

“Don’t Ya Tell Henry”:


And hear more of the Basement songs at NPR.

[I just published my rock ‘n’ roll novel, True Love Scars.” Rolling Stone has a great review of my book in a recent issue. Read it here. There’s info about True Love Scars here.]