Memphis Rent Party: The Blues, Rock & Soul in Music’s Hometown

Robert Gordon. Bloomsbury, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-6328-6773-5
In this excellent collection of essays, Gordon (It Came from Memphis), a veteran music journalist on the Memphis scene, masterfully writes about the outlaws, rebels, and tragic figures who provided the spark for the city’s entertainment industry. Many of the essays have been previously published, but each includes a new introduction that places the musicians covered (and the pieces themselves) into a greater context. Gordon compares Memphis’s early music scene to a raucous rent party—in which tenants throw an event, hire musicians, and take up donations to pay the rent. Each profile is rich in detail and insight. Gordon captures the elusive character of Sun Records boss Sam Phillips (“The devil is in the details, and Sam welcomed the demons”) and highlights influential performers such as boogie woogie piano player Mose Vinson and James Carr, “the World’s Greatest Soul Singer.” He discusses the Jim Crow chitlin circuit with crooner Bobby Blue Bland, who notes that, even in an all-black circuit, “racism was out there”; Gordon also recalls a great interview with an unguarded Jerry Lee Lewis, in which “the access I was getting was full of more truth than any interview would be.” Gordon’s book is a grand, funky musical tour of Memphis. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 11/13/2017
Release date: 03/06/2018
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