Tuesday, July 23, 2019

It Came From Memphis - Robert Gordon

This is another find that I just happened upon - I believe it was recommended somehow (possibly due to diggin' his Muddy Water biography, I Can't Be Satisfied) and since visiting Memphis a few years back, I have been a bit fascinated with the city and its history. Author/filmmaker Gordon (no relation to the rockabilly-throwback singer) is a Memphis native and in this tale he concentrates on little know heroes - vintage DJ's, wrestlers, small-time recording studios, coffee shops and local musicians like Jim Dickinson and Alex Chilton and those who are even more obscure. His hip-speak writing style is entertaining and fast moving and while he sometimes jumps around suddenly to the point of wondering what derailed his train of thought and what track he's on now, he never fails to keep your attention, even as he talks of characters that you are pretty much guaranteed to have never heard of.

Of course, the (now) famous blues pioneers of the area are covered - Mississippi Fred McDowell, Memphis Minnie, Sleepy John Estes, Furry Lewis, Bukka White and more, all of who were idolized by the hip local white kids. These musicians brought the Northerners to town, scouting out to see who was still alive among the old legends. The New York/Memphis connection continued over the years as the weirdos from each town (Memphis also had a San Francisco connection and got Owlsey acid early on) migrated back'n'forth, influencing each town. Naturally, Alex Chilton is an important character and is introduced as the 16 year old singer of the Box Tops, but he returns throughout the tale as he was a major Memphisian right up to his untimely death. As many pages are given to a crazed biker/bouncer or William Eggleston (the photographer) or Isaac Tigrett (founder of the Hard Rock Cafe franchise as well as the House of Blues) or puppeteers or the obscure blues-rock band Moloch (who's claim to fame is that they were the first to record/co-write the classic "Goin' Down") or even Tav Falco (Gustavus Nelson is his real name and he would do performance art before forming the Panther Burns with Chilton).

Innumerable more characters, clubs, studios, musicians, writers, filmmakers and on'n'on complete the tale. I loved the Memphis that I saw in the short time I was there and this book makes me want to go back and explore that much more. Highly recommended!