Friday, September 10, 2010

Goin' Back to Memphis - A Century of Blues, Rock'n'Roll and Glorious Soul - James Dickerson

This book gives a short (just over 250 pages) history of the music scene in the city of Memphis and I learned just how much I did not know about this town.

Dickerson starts at the beginning of the century (the last one) with W.C. Handy and this discovery and popularization of the blues. This place can truly lay claim to the home of the blues! From here we move on to the other early blues artists, to Lil Hardin, who helped start her husband, Louis Armstrong's career, to Memphis Slim, Memphis Minnie onto Sonny Boy Williamson, BB King and many more.

Of course, Sam Phillips and Sun Studios revolutionized the 50's, from their recordings of blues greats like Howlin' Wolf through the rockabilly revolution of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and others. Of course, Dickerson can't go into great detail here, but he tells some cool stories that at least I had never heard before.

In the 60's, the sounds moves more to soul, with the Stax entourage and the incredible work of people like Booker T & the MGs, Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas and white boys like the Gentrys and the Box Tops. When the 70's rolled around, Al Green and Issac Hayes ruled the roost locally and giants like Albert King recorded some of his most influential music here.

After that, the local scene started a downward spiral from which it never recovered. Of course, bands and solo artists still came to the town to record, but local talent was being ignored (as it was throughout the country) and in-fighting and financial troubles took out most of the industry.

Dickerson intertwines the political and cultural aspects of the times with the music that was happening to give as complete a story as he can in the space allotted. There has been as much sex, drugs, corruption and violence in the city's history as there has been music, making it a wild and woolly town. This is the place to go for an overview of the country's musical heart and soul!