stevenhager420

counterculture history, conspiracy theory & reviews

Posts Tagged ‘Hip Hop

In Praise of Grandmaster Caz

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1625731_10152220376783343_1986234147_nI was the first reporter to arrive on the scene of hip hop. The culture had already been fully created by middle school kids entering high school in the late 1970s. Hip hop peaked in the South Bronx before any realization reached the media in Manhattan.

There’s a lot of key figures that haven’t got their due, like Grandmaster Caz. I wrote the story of how he got ripped off by his former manager Hank back when I published the first history of hip hop in 1984, a book called Hip Hop, at a time that phrase wasn’t even in wide usage yet. I also had a movie deal with Orion that year, as I sold a script based on my three years of research, a script I titled “Looking for the Perfect Beat” in homage to Bambaataa, but it later became known as Beat Street. There’s actually another Beat Street tribute taking place downtown tonight, free to attend. Who knows, I might even make an appearance, although I prefer to remain more of a ghost on the scene.

Today Caz announced a law suit to finally get credit for much of the lyrics in “Rapper’s Delight.” When the song came out, half the Bronx assumed it was Caz rappin’, after all, the song used a lot of his signature raps and included his name at one point. Hank had done the usual sketchy move and pushed the real creative talent out of the way, playing like the material was really his? At the time Caz was really the poly-talent who could do it all: deejay, rap, b-boy, draw. But mostly, he invented the craziest and funniest rap lyrics you ever heard. And he had that golden voice of authority. He can easily stand up in a rap battle against anyone to this day.

I hope these real pioneers get their due some day, people like Caz, Phase 2, Coke La Rock, Sa-sa, and most especially Afrika Bambaataa, who really had the vision to unite all the elements as a cultural movement.

And here’s hoping Caz wins his lawsuit…..or at least gets the respect from the Rock’n’roll Hall of Fame he deserves….

Written by Steven Hager

January 27, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Everything you were told about religion is wrong

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Did religion evolve spontaneously through divine intervention or was it a mind control op from day one? In the mid-1960s, a huge spiritual wave crashed ashore and it primarily involved a heightened sensitivity to telepathic vibrations. Brian Wilson sensed it when he wrote Good Vibrations, his greatest masterpiece in 1966. Brian was a daily stoner at the time, deep into improvisational ritual theater as a way to manifest spirituality. But spirituality and religion are two different things.

220px-Serapis_Louvre_Ma_1830Consider the history of this dude, Serapis. You don’t hear much about him these days. He was created by Ptolemy I of Egypt, who built many temples in his honor, the largest in Alexandria. Look familiar?

Serapis was created as the God of resurrection and everlasting life, and made Greek in appearance, but wore Egyptian clothes, and displayed a variety of cultural sigils. In other words, Serapis was a hybrid created to appeal to Greeks and Romans to bring them into an Egyptian sphere of influence.

In order to cement this new God into the Greek psyche, Ptolemy invoked the spirit of the recently departed Alexander the Great, who had also sought to unite the spiritual realms of East and West in one temple under one God, and had chosen Amun of Thebes as potentially the most promising. But after being poisoned and on his death bed, suddenly a new statue appears beside Alexander, supposedly the first ever made of Serapis, and Alexander signifies his allegiance to this new God before expiring. The statue quickly finds it way to Ptolemy, who starts building a cult to Serapis in Alexander’s honor?

I’m far from an expert in these matters, but from my uneducated perspective, it appears that Isis (the Egyptian Goddess of magic) and Serapis were involved in fomenting a religious culture that believed everlasting life could be achieved through divine intervention, and these two icons had become dominant spiritual forces of their time, much beloved by common folk throughout the Mediterranean. But then Constantine created modern Christianity through his councils, the first in Nicea, and suddenly all traces of Serapis and Isis are disappeared? Perhaps this was done to shake off the Egyptian influence and replace it with a Judaic one? The Vatican was built on Isis’ temple, and they kept many of her sacred objects, especially the pine cone statue representing the pineal gland. One thing you need to know about Isis: she likely burned cannabis incense in her temples, something the Catholics banned instantly.

Now how does this all figure into Brian Wilson writing Good Vibrations?

Before I explain that, did you know a society of pot-smoking musicians appeared in the Middle Ages in Italy and France and wrote songs exclusively about smoking hash? And these were the first published secular manuscripts, and the Vatican was super pissed off with this society because they wanted to maintain a monopoly on written music? Try searching “Society of Smokers,” although the only thing that likely pops up concerns a composer named Solage who satirized them, and zero on the real society, who were quickly disappeared off the face of the earth, although a handful of uncelebrated manuscripts do remain. I bet the Vatican has more in a vault somewhere, but they will likely never be re-released.

Back to Brian: In the early 1960s, a group of teens began hanging out on the beach in Southern California and learning to surf while reading Jack Kerouac. In winter, they’d safari down to Mexico, where marijuana was cheap and plentiful. Some became obsessed with spiritual issues, while most of them began coalescing around Newport Beach because that town had a huge dance hall where bands could play and hundreds of teens could congregate in one giant room. Yes, it was their temple. These teens were the first hippies because smoking that pot and riding those waves and listening to that rock had clued them into some intense vibrations. Brian was hanging out in this scene practically from the moment it began, which is why he was smoking pot and writing songs about surfing in the first place. Strangely enough, their temple was ruled by a guitarist named Dick Dale, who wrote spiritually-charged power anthems with a middle-eastern tinge (but never smoked pot). Dick didn’t sing, however, which may be why he never became the national figure he should have been.

But suddenly, as this new scene is manifesting incredible energy, a massive wave of LSD is dumped all across America and things start going haywire really fast, including Brian’s psyche. Before long, the temple in Newport is no more and hippies are on the run and hated across the land, a sentiment that continues through to this day.

It sort of reminds me of the birth of hip hop in the Bronx. A lot of potheads were involved in that one too, including Coke La Rock, Busy Bee and Grandmaster Caz to name but a few. But right after that explosion of culture appeared, the Bronx was suddenly flooded with angel dust and crack cocaine, which helped lead an initially non-violent culture straight into gangsta rap.

Of course, maybe none of these dots add up, but it seems you can pretty much derail any spiritual movement based around cannabis by flooding the temples with stronger substances.

Religions are created by and for rich people, doesn’t matter who the original prophet may have been, eventually they exist primarily to serve the status quo and are easily exploited by those in power. However, just because people attend a church doesn’t mean they are under anyone’s mind control. Each congregation creates its own telepathic energy and when people harmonize and share love and empathy in traditional ceremonies to show respect to their ancestors, I believe that’s a honorable act that should be treated with great respect, no matter what the culture.

Beatles or Stones?

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Haven’t seen Not Fade Away yet, but I’m super interested in this just-released attempt at capturing the garage band movement of the 1960s, although the initial reviews are not great, so I guess it won’t be creating a new franchise for Sopranos creator David Chase.

Immediately after Beat Street, I tried to launch my own garage band movie, and even had a great script titled The Runaways. I have a habit of walking away from energy centers at peek levels, and could have had a successful career as a professional hip hop journalist, but, instead, right after Beat Street and my book Hip Hop came out, and inspired by my new South Bronx friends, I decided to return to the music of my roots. In both cases (garage, hip hop), huge creative vibes were unleashed initially by kids age 14-16, with no one else involved, except our inspirations, which, in my case, initially emanated from England mostly (although Amsterdam had a scene just as good as Liverpool’s or London’s). Yes, it was the Beatles who made me want to pick up a guitar, but when I finally got that guitar, it was Rolling Stones songs I actually performed on stage with the Knight Riders. I was still in junior high when I saw their first performance at a sock hop at the end of the school year. I had no idea a bunch of kids my age could engineer such a mind-blowing rock sound. They only played one or maybe two songs, but I was changed forever. I didn’t recognize the song at the time, but later discovered it was Get Off My Cloud, although it could just as easily have been Gloria, the chords are similar and that now famous garage rock anthem from Them and Van Morrison was actually picked up by a local band in my town before the Shadows of Knight covered it. Within a year I was playing bass in the Knight Riders.

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So when I talk about the 1960s garage band movement, I lived it, not as a star, but as a teenager struggling to take on a new cultural identity against intense resistance, mostly from my own father. They call it a “generation gap” today, but it was really a generation war.

Although I’d later learn to embrace non-violence, that wasn’t the way it started, and if you read my first short story (East Village), which is free on smashwords (and now illustrated with my art from the period), you can get inside my 16-year-old mind, and it was certainly chock full of violence, the love of which may have been initially planted by the mainstream media. Many teens of the era, me included, had to run away in order to become ourselves. And those adventures often led to big cities, like New York, where some freaky movies and weird shit always went down. After some of those adventures, we became jaded, cynical, old souls pretty quick.

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My next short story, also on smashwords, and also recently updated with photos and illos from the period, covers my climactic battle with my parents, which occurred in 1967. The cover photo (left), taken by Bugsy, reveals my regular uniform at the time: black double-breasted leather jacket, jeans and long-sleeve white shirt. I think every black kid in my high school coveted that jacket, and some even warned me never to leave it in my locker unguarded. The fact it was double-breasted is what made it so distinctive. If you want to experience the raw emotions unleashed during the era, you will find them here, although it will cost 99 cents, as I need to get something back from all this art I’ve created. The next one, however, is free.

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My final short story in this trilogy from the 1960s, is a dispatch I wrote while hiding out from the Vietnam War in Stockholm, Sweden, where I had a wonderful apartment and gorgeous girlfriend (left), and a brief gig as an extra in a film (Joe Hill), but still felt strangely empty upon being separated from my beloved homeland for such a long stretch. This was near the zenith of my nihilistic tendencies, and the story lapses back into the black humor of East Village, a much needed relief from the trauma of The Steam Tunnels.

Hopefully I’ll soon post my original garage band script that bounced around Hollywood for over a decade. I almost got a low-budget version done through High Times, and even had a cast assembled and a $100,000 budget drawn up, but then the funding fell through. The main thing about this post though is if there are any people out there interested in 1966-9, you might want to check out these three eBooks because they were written during the period. In other words, it’s the real deal. Us hippies were a lot tougher than you think.

What Really Happened to Beat Street?

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Review by: Sifu TORO on Feb. 03, 2012 : star star star star star
I’m sitting here after reading the script thinkin’, WHY!? Why did they re-write it into a story so far from the original script, and so far from the reality of where Hip Hop came from? Steven Hager wrote a script that really takes you into the reality of early 1980s everyday life in the South Bronx, with respect to the pioneers of Hip Hop. I would really like to see this script on the big screen some day. The script is a piece of Hip Hop history. Pay the $2.99! It’s really worth it!!

Others, like Alisha, who had brought my original script to Harry Belafonte’s attention must have also wondered what in the world had happened. What happened to the slice-of-life drama I created?

What happened is Andrew Davis was chosen by Orion Pictures to direct the movie and I had a private meeting with Andy at my apartment right after he was hired. I played a bunch of classic hip hop records for him, telling him it was essential to get songs like “Apache” and “Just Begun” into the soundtrack for the climactic break-dance battles. (But none of these songs would ever make it into the film.) I also told him that Harry wanted to make all these crazy changes to the script and I didn’t agree with them. “I’m not worried about Harry,” replied Andy. “I know how to handle Harry.” On paper Andy and I should have gotten along: we both were graduates of the journalism department at the University of Illinois. But I could tell I was already being jettisoned from my own project. Andy was taking over and becoming the new script writer, and my script was getting tossed out the window. In fact, I never spoke to Andy again after that day. He was not interested in my input. In all fairness, Andy became a very accomplished director of action films within a few years. I particularly liked his “The Package” starring Gene Hackman, filmed mostly in Chicago. But Andy never became a great writer. And Harry ended up clashing with Andy and firing him off Beat Street. A TV director was quickly brought in to finish the film, but by then, the project was in a shambles, and the story had lost all cohesion.

Read the original script and wonder what might have been. Click the link at the top-right that says “Get Beat Street script.,” or just “click here for free eBooks” if you want to read my free hip hop journalism from the era.

Written by Steven Hager

February 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm

The Pied Piper of Hip Hop

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I was a reporter for the New York Daily News and a contributing writer to Horizon magazine, when I attended Diego Cortez’s New York/New Wave at P.S. 1 in Long Island City. Many in the press detested that ultra-hip show, but I was blown away. It celebrated the CBGB punk scene, East Village art, the re-emergence of image, and the recent flowering of graffiti that was taking place in New York. There were several huge rooms covered floor-to-ceiling with art and photography. It was the cutting edge of the underground, and the first time Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibited. Basquiat was the sensation of the moment, his paintings already sold to the de Menil collection. But one room was devoted to photos of spray-painted subway trains, and one of those photos absolutely floored me. I’d only been in New York for a few years, and when I arrived, I assumed the city paid artists to paint those murals on trains because so many of them looked like they were part of a set out of Disneyland. One train in the exhibit especially stopped me in my tracks: it was called “Break” by Futura 2000.

Kurtis Blow had just achieved the first certified-gold rap record with a song called “The Breaks.” At first, I thought Futura’s train was an homage to Kurtis Blow. But then it occured to me there were subcultural undercurrents running through both rap music and graffiti, and that this probably represented an authentic cultural movement that had not been acknowledged in the mass media. (At this time, I knew nothing about break dancing, but that element would surface within days.)

I bought “Break” from Futura and he signed and autographed it to me (it still hangs prominently in my bedroom). Futura introduced me to Fab Five Freddy, who gave me Afrika Bambaataa’s number after I told him I wanted to research where this culture had actually started.

Over the next few weeks, I interviewed Bambaataa several times. He was extremely helpful, and even opened up his archives for me to peruse. Bam had written a book-length report on the history of the Black Spades while in high school, and he let me make a copy. Most important, Bam gave me the telephone number of Kool Herc, and indicated it all started with him. Back in the ’80s, every minor hip hopper in New York was spinning tales about “how it all began” and 90% of these stories were complete fabrications. But Bam only spoke the truth and he never exaggerated about anything. In fact, Bam seemed to be operating on a higher plane of existence, and was obviously a spiritually-charged being. Even better, he became famous and successful beyond imagination while I was working on the story, releasing a monster hit called “Planet Rock,” which created the electro-boogie sound and transformed hip hop and dance music in general.

I got fired by the Daily News, but that was okay, because now I was onto the biggest story of my life, and I knew it. I spent several weeks researching the story, which I eventually submitted to the Village Voice, and titled: “The Pied Piper of Hip Hop.” Keep in mind, at this point in time, the words “hip hop” had never appeared in print anywhere and were not even well-known to most people inside the culture. The story was mostly about Bambaataa, but it covered many of the major developments in the history of the hip hop, including who did what first.

The Village Voice sat on the manuscript for weeks, and I kept calling Robert Christgau, the music editor, leaving messages every other day. I just wanted him to accept it or reject it, so I could submit it to Rolling Stone, and I couldn’t get an answer. I was terrified another writer was going to break the story of hip hop before I did. Finally, Tulani Davis called and said she wanted to publish the article and would edit it.

I went out on a limb in the article and said hip hop was going to become the most significant cultural movement of the decade, and I can’t tell you how many people found that comment ridiculous in 1981. Even in the East Village, there was intense resistance to recognizing the value of rap music in some quarters. Rap was viewed as a ghetto fad that had no significance for the rest of the world.

Amazingly, that original article still holds up today; it’s an exciting adventure told mostly through Bambaataa’s point-of-view and I just posted it on my smashwords site. You can get there by clicking the link that says “click here for free eBooks” in the column at the top-right of this page.

Afrika Bambaataa (holding stick) at the Bronx River Projects: photo by Sylvia Plachy

16 Hip Hop reviews

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“…extremely well-written…”

Rock&Roll Confidential, #16/September 1984: HOME XEROXING PROSPECTS…Hip Hop by Steven Hager is an intelligent, vividly illustrated and extremely well-written account of the rise of hiphop culture. It begins at the beginning, that is to say, with James Brown and details the destructive policies of New York planner Robert Moses that created the South Bronx in the first place. By the end of the book you’ll feel close enough to many of the graffiti writers, breakers, djs and rappers that they’ll seem like old friends. —Dave Marsh

“…sets the record straight…sorted out fact from fiction…”

Paper Magazine: Steven Hager’s Hip Hop attempts to set the record straight on the endlessly argued questions of who did what first where. On the case for years, interviewing anyone and everyone, Hager (who also came up with the idea of Beat Street) has sorted out fact from fiction and written as “true” a story as we’re likely to get. — David Hershkovits

“…the best and most reliable history…”

Penthouse October 1984: Within a few months time the Hollywood films Breakin’ and Beat Street were huge summer hits. A half-dozen books on break dancing are on the market, not to mention more movies and instructional aids. In Hip Hop,  the best and most reliable history of the break-rap-graffiti subculture, author Steven Hager reveals that break dancing actually started around 1973 amid the urban devastation of New York’s South Bronx and had all but disappeared by 1978, supplanted by newer dances like the “freak” (ritualized dry-humping) and robotic “electric boogie,” What saved breaking from disappearing into the limbo of great lost dances? Mostly the growing popularity of disk jockeys like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash, who encouraged competitive dancers at club and community-center functions.—Robert Palmer

“…thrilling intricate story…”

Artforum: Did Keith Haring’s use of found frames make his work something other than graffiti, which defines its own field? Did the Funky Four + 1s “That’s the joint” and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” speak separate languages? Such questions don’t come up in this fine book; Hager is stronger on sociology than art, more acute on the secret history of the scene than on its spectacular emergence. The prehistory was really secret: budding graffiti writers seeking the new Bronx Kilroys, would-be DJs looking for the right party to crash, cops chasing guerrilla artists, turntable wizards stripping the labels from their records to out-fox the competition. Hager makes it all a thrilling, intricate story, all set against the heroic opposition between master-builder Robert Moses, destroyer of the Bronx, and Afrika Bambaataa, tribune of a new culture built on the ruins of the old. But Hager loses his tale once it becomes public, as perhaps it has lost itself. His claim that hip hop “has the potential to infiltrate and subvert the mass media, energizing them with a fresh supply of symbols, myths, and values” doesn’t define hip hop: it defines America’s ability to recuperate the idea of subversion itself. Still, Hager talked to the right people—better yet, they talked to him.—Greil Marcus

“…thorough job of research…”

Pulse: New York City always seems to be at the cutting edge of trends in pop culture. Recently, breakdancing, hip-hop and rap records, and, to a lesser degree graffiti art have broken out of their Gotham origins, gotten picked up by the media and—as a result—have become important movements in ’80s pop culture. Steven Hager’s Hip Hop is a fast reading history of how these movements started—and developed —that focuses on the many personalities that made it happen. Hugo Martinez and Keith Haring, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash—from street-gang origins to recognition by serious art and music critics—they all come alive here in Hip Hop. This is a quick read—you can knock it off in an evening—but don’t get the idea that Hip Hop is one of those quickie exploitation jobs cranked out to cash in on current fads. Hager—whose original newspaper article inspired the film Beat Street—has done a thorough job of research, tracked down many obscure artists, breakers, and DJs for some cool interviews, and tied everything together in beautiful style.

“…Hager is an ace reporter…”

Village Voice  January 14, 1986: Hager offers a good helping of relevant data, bringing us through the two phases of graffiti’s art world acceptance, pinpointing crucial journalistic moments (though not his own Voice profile of Afrika Bambaataa, which is where Beat Street began), and devoting an epilogue to the fallout from the biggest of all hip hop’s breakthroughs—the crassly out-of-context  appearance of the Rock Steady breakers in the crassly pop-populist Flashdance. But Hager is an ace reporter, not a critic or social historian. —Robert Christgau

“…for those who wonder how it all started…”

The Palm Beach Post October 26, 1984: Most of us have probably seen enough break dancing to last us several lifetimes. For those who still wonder how it all started, a new book has come out called Hip Hop by Steven Hager, who tells us, among other things, that the graffiti sprouted on subways and walls were started by a young Greek named Taki, who put his first tag on an ice-cream truck in 1970.

“…formidable job of reporting…”

Knight-Ridder News Service March 30, 1985: Hip Hop takes its title from the street term for the entire urban subculture of rap music, break dancing, and graffiti art. The book comes packaged as if it were a bit of fluff intended to capitalize on the break dancing craze. The text, however, is a formidable job of reporting. Hager, a former reporter for the New York Daily News, tracked down many of rap’s most elusive figures, like the South Bronx disk jockeys who played the first rap records on turntables set up on street corners, and the earliest rappers, whose performances were given a parties and on inner-city playgrounds. The result is a description of a vibrant subculture.—Ken Tucker

“…fine investigative report…”

Voice of Youth Advocates: New York journalist Hager, who followed the hip hop scene for years before mass appeal set in, does a fine investigative report here. His sources: the horse’s mouth. The book is full of quotes of original New York hip hoppers he has interviewed: graffiti artists such as Futura 2000 who began “writing” on subway trains and now commands thousands of dollars in commissions, deejays such as Grandmixer DST who reveals here the secrets of his “scratchin'” technique, rappers who record their staccato rhymes now but whose tradition extends back to prisoners composing rhyming fables called toasts, and break dancers in hit films who began as street gang warriors. Their voices give Hager’s account authenticity.—Cathi Edgerton

“…explains how hip hop happened…”

The Boston Herald December 9, 1984: Hip Hop was written by Steven Hager, a longtime reporter on the musical and artistic subculture that’s rocked the world after busting out of New York’s slums. This serious but not heavy-handed guide explains how hip hop happened and what it’s all about.

“…it’s impressive…”

New York Daily News: Steven Hager’s Hip Hop isn’t a definitive study but, considering how hard it is to get information on the street culture of the South Bronx (few written sources, many reluctant or self-serving informants), it’s impressive.—David Hinckley

“…hits home with little-known facts…”

Billboard Sept. 15, 1984: Hager hits home with some little-known facts: that blacks were performing a form of break dancing in the mid-70s and at some point abandoned it, to be revived by Latin males, that graffiti artists often collect in “gangs” to study each other’s technique and avoid police while utilizing their favorite canvasses, New York City subway cars, and that a Bronx DJ named Kool Herc played a crucial role in the development of hip-hop music. —Nelson George

“…excellent book…”

KLIAT January 1985: This fascinating book is not a how-to manual, but a discussion of the evolution of Hip Hop, that subculture of dance, art and music that started in the South Bronx. He doesn’t romanticize Hip Hop, but he doesn’t treat it condescendingly either. An excellent book Hip Hop is worth owning. —F.L.

“…the best read on the subject…”

East Village Eye: Steven Hager’s new book Hip Hop is certainly the best read to be found on the subject. Hager was the first major writer to pick up on the movement, and he remains the best. His book encompasses the entire spectrum. —James Marshall

“…messy, ego-obsessed scrawls…”

New Musical Express September 22, 1984: There seems to be an inability to ridicule the more ridiculous aspects (like the graffiti artist who arrived at a rival’s house with a shooter threatening to use it unless he changed his pen-name). He also shares the age-old white critic’s fallibility of reading more importance than is necessary into black man’s art—most of the illustrations herein show street graffiti to be messy ego-obsessed scrawls. —Gavin Martin

“…obsolete as last month’s Magic Marker….”

Heavy Metal Feb/March, 1985: The walk from the South Bronx to the Lower East Side is long, and Hip Hop is like the view from a Greyhound bus. Encompassing break dancing, rapping, scratching, and street fashion, spanning from the present day New York back into the beyond, Hip Hop is a lot to digest. Even worse, the bleached-out black-and-white pages lack the visual beauty of their subject. Writer Steven Hager has renovated his Soho News and Village Voice articles to dissertation length, and even tacked on a glossary and bibliography that will, if we know Hip Hop, be obsolete as last month’s Magic Marker. —SM

“…formidable job of reporting…”

To purchase a copy of Hip Hop click the link at the top-right of this page.

Hip Hop on smashwords

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I  recently re-published my first ebook on smashwords.com, which is a little like bandcamp.com in that it makes the process of selling a book so simple anyone with no technical expertise can suddenly create their own fully-loaded commercial website. I highly recommend other authors check out this site. It has loads of free books available and many of the books sell for 99 cents (which is the lowest price they allow). Since the hardback copy of Hip Hop sells for upwards of $500 (when you can find it) being able to download this ebook version (in virtually any format for any viewing device) for $4.99 is a boon to anyone interested in researching the origins of the dominant cultural movement of our time. The book was recently updated with never-before-seen exclusive photos and images, so if you downloaded an earlier version (at a cheaper price), be sure and load this new one for free. That’s the real beauty of ebooks. They keep getting better and the updated version are always free.

Please visit my smashwords site, most of my ebooks are free to read. Click on the link at the top of the column on the right.

Written by Steven Hager

January 26, 2012 at 7:58 am

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