Memphis Mayhem: A Story of the Music That Changed the World

David A. Less. ECW, $28 (232p) ISBN 978-1-77041-508-9
Music writer Less presents a fascinating history of the music of his native Memphis. He begins by saying he isn’t attempting to write “the ultimate, comprehensive story of Memphis music,” and rather focuses on “the events, personalities, and circumstances that led to Memphis’s rightful recognition as a key capital on the map of American music.” In doing so, he captures what makes Memphis special: “The great paradox of Memphis music is that it transcends race and genre while simultaneously being defined by both.” Less explains how, from the early days of Beale Street in the 1940s—which offered big-band music in concert halls, country blues in parks and on street corners, and barrelhouse boogie piano in gambling joints—Memphis was a cohesive community that broke racial barriers in music. Less expertly shows how this interracial spirit infused Memphis music: in the early 1950s, the rise of Sam Phillips’s Sun Records and of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley, coincided with that of bluesmen Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas, and Ike Turner. The late 1950s saw the emergence of HI Records, founded by record store owner Joe Cuoghi and singer Ray Harris (and which featured soul singer Al Green as well as the Bill Black Combo). Stax Records—founded in 1957 as Satellite by siblings Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart—would release records by Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Less brings to vivid life the music of Memphis. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 06/18/2020
Release date: 10/06/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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