Mary Lucia picks 10 music documentaries to binge-watch during winter storms

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Glen Campbell and Hal Blaine in 'The Wrecking Crew'
Glen Campbell and Hal Blaine in 'The Wrecking Crew,' a Magnolia Pictures release. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Minnesota was dealt another heavy snowfall Wednesday as the first of this week's expected storms moved in, roughing up the morning commute, canceling classes and even closing down the runways at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Looking ahead, two more storms are brewing that could drop fresh coatings of snow on parts of the state Friday and this weekend.

That's why Mary Lucia has pulled together a list of recommended music documentaries you'll want to watch while cooped up indoors.

Muscle Shoals

Get the inside story on the Alabama recording studio that created sounds for Aretha Franklin, The Stones, Lynrd Skynrd, Wilson Pickett, Cher, the Allman Brothers and so many more.

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has said had they recorded Exile on Main Street at Muscle Shoals instead of the mobile unit in France, it might have been an entirely different and (gasp!) better record.

Available on YouTube, Google Play, VuDu, Amazon Prime and iTunes.

The Wrecking Crew

Every song that was a hit during a few decades was recorded by these session players. Did the Beach Boys play on Pet Sounds? The answer is NO. Did the Monkees think they were going to go into the studio and play their instruments? Yes. Did they? NO. Remember these musicians' names.

Available on YouTube, Google Play, VuDu, Amazon Prime, iTunes and Hulu.

Very Extremely Dangerous

Who is Jerry McGill? Singer-songwriter who hung with Elvis … and also racked up a criminal rap sheet: bank robbin' and multiple false identities. Gets out of the hoosegow, looks up his old girlfriend (lucky gal!), attends garage sales, dodges the FBI, waves guns around, self-medicates terminal cancer, cuts vocals from a Lazy Boy recliner, takes cabs from Memphis to Florida. This is harrowing stuff, you won't soon forget it.

Available on VuDu, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime and iTunes.

Danny Says

Danny Fields is a New York City landmark — not quite the Chrysler Building, more like your favorite super cool statue covered in bird sh*t in a place of prominence on the Lower East Side. He signed/managed The Ramones and The Stooges; hung out at Andy Warhol's studio, The Factory; tried to set up Nico with Jim Morrisson; wrote for Tiger Beat magazine. Fields' hilarious, caustic way of describing events is beautiful. Example: he said of attending an early Modern Lovers show that if the audience in attendance had had blow-dart guns, Jonathon Richman and all of the Modern Lovers would be dead.

Available on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play, iTunes and Netflix.

New York Doll

Bassist and dubbed human statue on stage Arthur "Killer" Kane had some hard times after the New York Dolls fell apart. You know, the hearing-voices-and-jumping-out-of-third-floor-windows kind of trouble. Fast-forward to 2004: Arthur is now a devout Mormon living in Utah and working at the library.

Enter Morrissey! Huh? Yes, Moz wants the remaining Dolls to play a reunion show in the U.K. … trouble is, nobody has spoken to one another in forever. Meanwhile, Arthur's bass has held residency in the pawn shop. What results is amazingly touching, sweet and sad.

Available on Amazon Prime.

Living In The Material World

Martin Scorsese makes a documentary about my favorite Beatle! George Harrison is practically a religion for me. His musings, fearlessness, wry humor, and perspective on having been a Beatle and truly enjoying his life not being a Beatle. It's astonishing to think he had a tough time getting one of his songs on any record, then puts out his first solo release, the drop-dead gorgeous All Things Must Pass (which was produced by Phil Spector. Why? George explains, "I dunno, he needed a job"). This doc is so thoughtful, funny and mandatory viewing.

Available on Amazon Prime, iTunes and Netflix.

Note: So far none of these documentaries feature Dave Grohl.

Rockpile Born Fighter

This short BBC 1979 documentary (find it on YouTube) is a fly-on-the-wall look at Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds in the studio, drinking tumblers of liquor, chain smoking, cracking wise and waxing poetic about what it takes to get a song on the radio. Nick Lowe: "It's gotta be loud."

There are crazy blink-and-you-miss-it cameos from Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, Huey Lewis and Graham Parker.

Lowe and Edmunds are great admirers of each other's talents, and it's hilarious to hear Dave Edmunds put lofty Nick Lowe in his place on several occasions. Example: when Nick ponders that he could just as easily be the guy who delivers milk, Edmunds is quick to remind him, "You have nothing in common with the man who delivers milk; you're a pop songwriter who writes amazing tunes and the not-so-amazing ones you give to me."

Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew

Still image from Jimmy Scott - If You Only Knew
Jimmy Scott in Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew; trailer unavailable. (Independent Lens | PBS)

This is a film portrait of the now-famous jazz vocalist who was "rediscovered" decades after he disappeared from the public eye. Born in Cleveland in 1925, Jimmy Scott's early years rough, to say the least. At age 12, he was diagnosed with a hormonal condition that kept his body and voice from developing beyond boyhood. Seven months after the diagnosis, his mother — single parent to Scott and his nine siblings — was killed in a car accident. Her children were separated and sent to live in foster homes.

Scott's mother left him with a love of music, and the uniqueness of Jimmy's voice and phrasing is jaw dropping. His dream was to forge a career in show business so he could get together the scratch to buy a house for himself and his eight siblings.

Encouraged by his friend Redd Foxx (yes, from Sanford & Son), Scott went to New York and got a job as one of the Lionel Hampton Band's featured vocalists. In 1950, the band released a recording of Scott taking lead vocals on "Everybody's Somebody's Fool." The song was an immediate hit, but Scott's name is not on the record. As he recalls, "It was all about Lionel Hampton, and that's the way the package worked." Same thing happened when Scott sang on a Charlie Parker record, again uncredited.

Returning to Cleveland, Scott worked as an elevator operator, nurse's aide and busboy. A funeral (not his) was able to shine the light back on this legend many presumed was dead. A similar documentary, I Go Back Home, was released in 2016, but distribution beyond film festivals has been limited.

Available on DVD at Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.

Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke

This documentary looks heavily at Sam Cooke's remarkable career in music — tragically cut short by a death that remains largely shrouded in mystery.

Cooke was not only an incredibly talented vocalist, he was also a brilliant songwriter and an enterprising businessperson. Beyond music, Cooke stood up against segregation, and he soon found himself friends with like-minded activists Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown.

This doc leaves us with more questions than answers, but it is certainly worth checking out.

Available on Netflix.

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World

This documentary from Independent Lens on PBS spotlights the lives and work of Native American musicians and their influence on the music you love. It covers people like Link Wray, Charley Patton, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jimi Hendrix, Jesse Ed Davis, and a jazz singer named Mildred Bailey who I so want to learn more about.

Available on YouTube, Google Play, VuDu, and Amazon Prime, as well as on the PBS app to those with PBS Passport member benefit (PBS is not affiliated with MPR).

Have some of your own music-doc picks? Suggest 'em in the comments below.


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