Ben Fong-Torres’ beginnings, as depicted in The Rice Room: Growing Up Chinese American from Number Two Son to Rock ’n’ Roll, had to do with his family’s struggles to survive. As number two son he had to do something special in order to succeed, and, luckily, he was graduated in 1966 from San Francisco State University, where he had studied radio, television, and journalism, and was living by Golden Gate Park when rock and roll music made its historic flowering. He covered the concerts of the Grateful Dead at a time when many concerts were held in Golden Gate Park.
After working at KFOG radio station as an announcer and at Pacific Telephone’s employee magazine as an editor, he joined the staff of Rolling Stone magazine in 1969. Somebody handed him two issues of The New Yorker magazine and said: “Here, make your articles upbeat like these.” In his profiles, Fong-Torres employed the kind of detail and reporting for which The New Yorker was famous. Much as F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the Jazz Age, Fong-Torres captured the rock-and-roll essence of the 1960’s.
He freelanced for many top-circulation magazines and a wide range of other national publications. His writings covered the entertainment industry, including profiles of Ray Charles, Sean Connery, and Robin Williams. Much of Fong-Torres’ writing helped to create the American image of rock and roll.
He joined the San Francisco Chronicle in 1983 as a feature writer, but left the paper in order to write his books. In 1990, he wrote the main text for The Motown Album: The Sound of Young America. He next wrote a biography, Hickory Wind: The Life and Times of Gram Parsons. After completing his memoir The Rice Room in 1993, Fong-Torres joined Gavin, a San Francisco-based trade magazine covering the radio and music industries. While serving as managing editor of this weekly magazine, he also resumed broadcasting, hosting Fog City Radio, a weekly live arts program.