Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock’n’Roll by Preston Lauterbach

This book is dedicated to the history of the "chitlin' circuit" - the (mostly) small-town black music
circuit that catered to the African-American musicians who could not play the white music halls, either due solely to their race or because of the style of music that they played. The circuit's audience were mostly poorer blacks (hence the "chitlin'" portion of the name - the cheap food available at many of these places) and the music reflected their tastes.

There is a fair amount of pre-r’n’r history of the circuit and the reason why it came about, which is very informative and gives you a back story to many small-town/small-city scenes, along with the trend from big-band to smaller, jumpin’ combos to r’n’r groups, before it moves into the r’n’r years. These start with Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” and move to Lowell Fulson, who had Ray Charles leading his band, and who gave B.B.King his first hit, “Three O’Clock in the Morning”. From there we go to Little Richard and Esquerita and Johnny Ace and James Brown – all who managed varying levels of crossover and influenced each other. Of course, there are many more characters involved, from musicians to bookers to DJ's to promoters to music hall owners and many, many more. 

Personally, I would have liked to have heard more stories of the rock'n'rollers who started in this circuit in the 50's and 60's, but there is a lot of info here and it is quite interesting. Desegregation caused the disintegration of many/most cities' "strolls" (the black boulevards that included the halls/bars/businesses that made up the circuit) and hence the dissolving of most of the circuit, whether for good or bad. 

Certainly not a definitive story, but plenty of info that I never knew. A cool story with lots of wild characters.