Peter Guralnick: C/D?

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i just finished "last train to memphis" and, well - i agree with all the hype. wonderful book, brilliantly written, moving, funny, you feel like you're practically THERE, all that stuff. it's not quite perfect (it's pretty likely that marion keisker was the only person in sun studio the day an 18-year-old elvis walked in to make his first record, since sam phillips didn't start claiming HE'D been there until keisker had died, if i recall correctly - but guralnick hero-worships SP and doesn't want to contradict him, so he's sort of cagey about it), but close enough. i'm looking forward to reading the sequel, though i have to wonder how guralnick sustains that elegiac tone when he gets to discussing, you know, elvis shooting TV sets and all that.

christgau complained that LTTM doesn't deliver the two things he expects from an elvis book - "ideas and dirt." my feeling is that there's not THAT much dirt you can get out of pre-army elvis (a relative innocent, compared to the likes of jerry lee lewis), and if that's what you want it's not like there aren't a billion other sources for it. and i'm all for ideas, but it's sort of nice to have a relatively objective, non-judgmental account of elvis's life (and it's impressive that guralnick managed to write one, considering the essay he wrote for that rolling stone book back in the '70s in which he said that post-sun elvis's biggest talent had turned out to be for making money), if only as an anecdote to the likes of the albert goldman book (which, hard as it is to believe now, was pretty much the only major elvis bio before LTTM).

J.D. (Justyn Dillingham), Friday, 18 March 2005 11:35 (seventeen years ago) link

i haven't read any of guralnick's other books, but i've been on a blues/soul kick lately, so i suppose it's time to dig into his other stuff.

J.D. (Justyn Dillingham), Friday, 18 March 2005 11:38 (seventeen years ago) link

I have only read Part 2. It has plenty of dirt, albeit in a respectful way. It is quite elegaic and upsetting, but I couldn't really say how or why. There are also some funny bits, like his ideas for a karate film.

PJ Miller (PJ Miller), Friday, 18 March 2005 11:57 (seventeen years ago) link

Guralnick's books of short profiles Sweet Soul Music and Feels Like Going Home are classics too, read them and you'll hear the music -- country soul blues -- with fresh ears and understanding.

For my money, both of Guralnick's Presley bios have ideas and dirt but theory/gossip not his primary focus as it is w/ Greil Marcus (ideas) and Albert Goldman (gossip). This first volume provides a wider context, placing the Elvis experience in Memphis of the mid-50s. The second balances the inevitable decline w/revealing details of what IMO is Elvis' peak musical period 1968-72. And Guralnick doesn't pull punches on the bizarre extremes of Elvis' lifestyle in the 60s. Don't miss the bits on the king's LSD use, his hairdresser-turned-guru, his vision in the desert (Joe Stalin)...CLASSIC.

lovebug starski (lovebug starski), Friday, 18 March 2005 12:16 (seventeen years ago) link

Yeah it's actually quite amazing how he manages to make all the bizarre stuff in Presley's life make him seem like LESS of a caricature and more of a human being than what one usually thinks of him as. I think that the thing about Elvis is his catalogue is so huge and so uneven that you really have to dig through it endlessly to find your own particular set of faves (preferably by buying all three box sets.) The Guralnick bios give you the push to actually want to DO that.

A friend tells me that the Otis Redding refusal of Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman" ("too many words"), refernced by Guralnick in "Sweet Soul Music", is a myth. Anyone know?

Daniel_Rf (Daniel_Rf), Friday, 18 March 2005 12:38 (seventeen years ago) link

with fresh ears and understanding.

i'm honestly not entirely sure about that, but his two essays on charlie rich are incredibly poignant and very well-written. like, beautifully written. and thus very satisfying in themselves, whether or not they provide any insight into charlie's music.

Amateur(ist) (Amateur(ist)), Friday, 18 March 2005 14:00 (seventeen years ago) link

what he does very beautifully and readable: portraits of the context as if this did NOT intersect w.the rest of the world

what he does less of: portraits of the context as it intersects w.the rest of the world — affects it and is affected by it (this is not QUITE so true of the elvis books)

what he lacks: a sense of playful fun

mark s (mark s), Friday, 18 March 2005 14:30 (seventeen years ago) link


"Lost Highway" is pretty great, has some nice profiles of Merle Haggard, Charlie Rich and other lesser-knowns.

As for the Elvis books, the "dirt" is definitely more prevelant in the second volume. I sort of agree with Xgau, they books do sometimes seem like an endless travelogue and are lacking in analysis (or 'ideas'), but I don't think that was PG's point. I think he just wanted to tell the story as clearly as possible and leave out the pop psychology and historical contortions. What is amazing about these books is that it totally transforms your way of thinking about Elvis the icon vs. Elvis the man.

Keith C (kcraw916), Friday, 18 March 2005 14:39 (seventeen years ago) link

We had a little discussion about Guralnick here

Ken L (Ken L), Friday, 18 March 2005 14:47 (seventeen years ago) link

the most affecting moment for me of the second book was the part where you couldn't go two paragraphs, let alone a page, without Elvis buying somebody a car.

miccio (miccio), Friday, 18 March 2005 14:50 (seventeen years ago) link

I liked the stuff about putting the TCB band together for the first Vegas shows- Elvis flirting with the Sweet Inspirations, Jerry Scheff calling his wife down to watch the rehearsals, etc. Also the part about how Cary Grant was really into it.

Ken L (Ken L), Friday, 18 March 2005 14:56 (seventeen years ago) link

Yes, but it's the numb way he describes it all- Elvis buys stranger a car, Colonel renegotiates contract (badly), Elvis buys another stranger a car- which makes it so affecting.

snotty moore, Friday, 18 March 2005 16:32 (seventeen years ago) link

I really enjoyed Sweet Soul Music. I think it was one of the first books about music I read, after having been told I *had to* read Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs. After not caring much for either of those, I found Guralnick very refreshing.

Hurting (Hurting), Friday, 18 March 2005 16:38 (seventeen years ago) link

i read it a while ago, but i also remember a few stories along the lines of "i told elvis i was hard up, so he wrote me a check for $300,000 on the back of a cocktail napkin"

Amateur(ist) (Amateur(ist)), Friday, 18 March 2005 17:19 (seventeen years ago) link

mark s otm. his choices for the inaugural Da Capo Best Music Writing book (2000) were, in the main, remarkably tediously reverent (and boring) (and obvious).

Matos-Webster Dictionary (M Matos), Friday, 18 March 2005 17:50 (seventeen years ago) link

Careless Love is a classic, probably the best rock book I've read. The main thing I took away from it is that it is a miracle Elvis lived as long as he did. His drug intake should have killed him around 1972, when he starts to get really bad. Right around the time they discover his "acupuncture" treatments are really him being shot up full of Demerol.

kornrulez6969 (TCBeing), Friday, 18 March 2005 17:55 (seventeen years ago) link

eight years pass...

another guralnick thread:

peter guralnick - C or D?

curmudgeon, Saturday, 23 March 2013 15:36 (nine years ago) link

Thanks for posting that self-interview. Especially liked the dream sequence.

Johnny Too Borad (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 23 March 2013 16:08 (nine years ago) link

two months pass...

Conan O'Brien interview:

Pete Scholtes, Thursday, 30 May 2013 00:40 (nine years ago) link

Read Careless Love recently, it's marvelous - The lack of Guralnick's presence in the narrative makes it sadder, in a way - he spares his comments to the end of each chapter, but each chapter sees Elvis have a weird manipulative relationship with a group, take a shit tonne of drugs, piss off a friend, stagger through some karate and get some bad reviews (towards the end at least). You get the sense Elvis couldn't break out of his lifestyle.

If he feels like taking on another American musical touchstone, he's the only guy I'd think of who could write the proper MJ bio.

random access maladies (hypehat), Thursday, 30 May 2013 00:47 (nine years ago) link

group = groupie, fucks sake

random access maladies (hypehat), Thursday, 30 May 2013 00:48 (nine years ago) link

man, i would LOVE to read a guralnick bio of MJ. doubt he'd actually do it though.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Thursday, 30 May 2013 05:03 (nine years ago) link

The boy cannot fully understand.

Oulipo Traces (on a Cigarette) (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 30 May 2013 05:21 (nine years ago) link

eight months pass...


Wild Mountain Armagideon Thyme (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 2 February 2014 15:19 (nine years ago) link

Saw a reference to this guest post on the Yahoo southern soul email group that Eli belongs to. I don't know gospel singer Roscoe Robinson but I probably should

curmudgeon, Sunday, 2 February 2014 17:42 (nine years ago) link

one year passes...

It's here

The Cosimo Code of Blueshammer (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 13 November 2015 03:37 (seven years ago) link

To Sam, “Rock and roll was no accident. Absolutely not an accident at all.” “You can say,” he told me, “he had the light coming on, and it spotted the possum. Right there.”

The Cosimo Code of Blueshammer (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 13 November 2015 06:23 (seven years ago) link

Book title designed to garnish discussion.

curmudgeon, Friday, 13 November 2015 13:38 (seven years ago) link

Elijah Wald is already wagging his finger and sharpening his quill.

The Cosimo Code of Blueshammer (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 13 November 2015 14:14 (seven years ago) link

what does 'it's here' refer to?

wizzz! (amateurist), Friday, 13 November 2015 15:26 (seven years ago) link

New Sam Phillips bio, as anticipated a little bit upthread.

The Cosimo Code of Blueshammer (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 13 November 2015 15:27 (seven years ago) link

It was only implicitly referred to.

The Cosimo Code of Blueshammer (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 13 November 2015 15:28 (seven years ago) link

Greg Kot Review: 'Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll' by Peter Guralnick

In his latest book, "Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll," veteran music journalist Peter Guralnick spends a good portion of 600-plus pages backing up the claim made for the Memphis producer in the title. But by the end of this copiously researched biography, a skeptical reader might still not be persuaded that Phillips invented anything — not that he didn't try.

Of all the music historians, Guralnick comes closest to cracking the shell

curmudgeon, Friday, 13 November 2015 15:50 (seven years ago) link

Book tour:

November 11, 7 pm – Brooks Museum with Robert Gordon – Memphis, TN
November 12, 7 pm – Margaret Mitchell House with Hank Klibanoff – Atlanta, GA
November 13, 5 pm – Square Books – Oxford, MS
November 14, 1:30 pm – Country Music Hall of Fame with Michael Gray – Nashville, TN
November 17, 7:30 pm – Powell’s – Portland, OR
November 18, 7 pm – Elliott Bay Bookstore – Seattle, WA
November 19, 7:30pm - GRAMMY Museum with Conan O'Brien - Los Angeles, CA
November 23, 7 pm – Strand Bookstore with Bill Flanagan – New York, NY
December 2, 7 pm – Library of Congress with Geoffrey Himes – Washington, DC
December 3, 7 pm – MIT’s Stata Student Center with PEN New England, in conversation with Tom Perrotta – Cambridge, MA
January 14, 2016 – Florence Public Library – Florence, ALKeep an eye on the events page for updates. - See more at:

curmudgeon, Friday, 13 November 2015 15:53 (seven years ago) link

Guralnick's bios of Elvis are great. Taking a major step down here though in terms of the subject in my opinion.

calstars, Friday, 13 November 2015 16:07 (seven years ago) link

Taking a major step down here though in terms of the subject in my opinion.

A book less about the artists and "inventing rock 'n' roll" and more about the realities of running a small independent record label in the 1950s would be fascinating, I think. Also, detailed analysis (through primary sources - old industry trade mag articles, advertising, etc., etc.) of how the marketing of "rock 'n' roll" versus "rhythm and blues" actually took shape (in other words, how rock 'n' roll was really invented) would be great. I don't think this book is that.

the top man in the language department (誤訳侮辱), Friday, 13 November 2015 16:24 (seven years ago) link

So they gave you an advance copy that you've read already?

The Cosimo Code of Blueshammer (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 13 November 2015 16:32 (seven years ago) link

xp i think guralnick is probably interested in covering all of the stuff you least i'd hope so. the "inventing rock & roll" thing seems like a bait to me. More like "Sam Phillips: The Man Who invented Rock & Roll?"

tylerw, Friday, 13 November 2015 16:33 (seven years ago) link

yeah! and that is actually a pretty good book. i mean, you gotta have a title that grabs attention, right? Guralnick might've wanted to call Sam Phillips and the Rise of American Independent Labels in the 1950s, but it's not very sexy.

tylerw, Friday, 13 November 2015 17:18 (seven years ago) link

Guralnick's bios of Elvis are great. Taking a major step down here though in terms of the subject in my opinion.
So ... should he just stop writing, then?
Sam Phillips was a giant, BTW. It's about time a serious writer tackled him.

Jazzbo, Friday, 13 November 2015 17:48 (seven years ago) link

wald spends like 30 pages of his book basically apologizing for the title

wizzz! (amateurist), Friday, 13 November 2015 18:15 (seven years ago) link

it's a very good book, a little too polemical than i'd prefer, i suppose, but again, you need an "angle"

wizzz! (amateurist), Friday, 13 November 2015 18:16 (seven years ago) link

/Guralnick's bios of Elvis are great. Taking a major step down here though in terms of the subject in my opinion./
So ... should he just stop writing, then?
Sam Phillips was a giant, BTW. It's about time a serious writer tackled him.

Lol, otm. The guy was haunting his dreams, what else could he do but write the book?

The Cosimo Code of Blueshammer (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 13 November 2015 18:28 (seven years ago) link

xp i just finished wald's dylan/seeger/newport book and it was good. think he's a pretty thoughtful writer.

tylerw, Friday, 13 November 2015 18:29 (seven years ago) link

Might have to give him another chance but still can't quite shake the impression that he is a bit of a scold.

The Cosimo Code of Blueshammer (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 13 November 2015 18:32 (seven years ago) link

I've been meaning to read that Wald book for a few years now. His Robert Johnson book, Escaping the Delta, is great, and so is Narcocorrido.

the top man in the language department (誤訳侮辱), Friday, 13 November 2015 18:52 (seven years ago) link

Guralnick's bios of Elvis are great. Taking a major step down here though in terms of the subject in my opinion.

― calstars, Friday, November 13, 2015 4:07 PM (6 hours ago)

really? sam phillips is a major, major guy imo, and there's never been a really in-depth biography of him. i didn't know about this book till just now, but this is awesome news.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Friday, 13 November 2015 22:44 (seven years ago) link

Guralnick was on Fresh Air on NPR yesterday. Link includes the whole audio, plus some transcribed excerpts. Below is one of the themes of the Sam Phillips book

From the very beginning, from before he had opened up his studio in January of 1950, [Phillips] believed that the greatness of his music that so moved him, this African-American music, couldn't help but win over the general public, the mainstream audience. [But] the charts were totally segregated, like every other aspect of American life at that time.

When Sam started Sun Records in 1953, he had one hit after another. They were big hits by R&B standards. One of them was The Prisonaires' "Just Walkin' In The Rain." He had a couple of hits with Little Junior Parker. He had a big hit with Rufus Thomas with Bear Cat. A big hit in R&B meant that it sold 35,000, maybe 50,000. That was the ceiling. Sam Phillips was on the verge of going out of business. When Elvis came into his studio in July of '54 and he made "That's Alright," Sam was on the edge of bankruptcy, but he was determined to present the music in a way that was absolutely true to itself, not to present imitation music, not to present music that tried to ape the sound or the feeling of the great blues singers, the great R&B singers. And in Elvis he found that.

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 24 November 2015 20:36 (seven years ago) link

Charles Hughes offers some criticism here:

Guralnick is so invested in presenting Phillips as a figure of racial change that he occasionally overstates his case. He exoticizes Phillips’s relationship with African Americans, especially his childhood inspiration Silas Payne and early client Howlin’ Wolf, and gives Phillips too much credit for developing supposedly untrained black artists. He overestimates the degree to which Phillips was a pioneer in recording black artists and pursuing musical crossover, both of which were occurring earlier and elsewhere. Most significant, perhaps, he is too quick to dismiss the criticisms of numerous black musicians at Sun who accused Phillips of abandoning black artists in the wake of Presley’s success. Guralnick skillfully engages with racial ambivalence throughout the book, but he is too focused on Phillips’s image of himself as a racially progressive hero to fully explore its implications.

As I read elsewhere, Guralnick does not really give credit here to African-american songwriter/producer Henry Glover who worked with r'n'b and country artists at King Records, prior to Phillips with Sun

curmudgeon, Friday, 27 November 2015 20:42 (seven years ago) link

Missed him on Fresh Air, but gonna go see him tonight

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 2 December 2015 22:40 (seven years ago) link


Thank you very much, you've got a Lucky Wilbury (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 2 December 2015 22:47 (seven years ago) link

Critic Geoffrey Himes interviewed him. Guralnick kept going off topic, but I still found it interesting. Somehow Solomon Burke got mentioned, and Guralnick went off on several tangents re him. He wanted to write a Solomon Burke bio in the voice of Solomon Burke, and they talked about doing a book (after Guralnick sent Sol his Cooke one) but it never happened. He said Solomon had many amazing stories including one about doing a gig where it turned out the audience was KKK members.

Afterwards I asked Guralnick about Henry Glover and King Records (whom are not mentioned in the book). Guralnick acknowledged that they were doing great work with r'b'b and country, that Sam Phillips was of course aware of King Records, but Guralnick didn't think Phillips knew songwriter/producer Glover.

I wanted to ask Guralnick more about Ike Turner's unhappy comments to Phillips, but didn't get a chance.

curmudgeon, Thursday, 3 December 2015 15:17 (seven years ago) link

seven years pass...

Tonight 7 pm eastern time US online from NYC library

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 24 January 2023 21:53 (one week ago) link

I missed all but the last 5 minutes. Oh well.

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 25 January 2023 00:55 (one week ago) link

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