Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll

Here’s an interview with Sam Philips, founder of Sun Studio.  Sun Studio recorded “Delta 88”, a song that may have been the first rock and roll single.  Then, he discovered Elvis!


>>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. >> Anne McLean: Good evening. I’m Anne McLean from the Library’s Music Division. This is a great crowd. Thank you for coming. We are really pleased to be able to have such a wonderful group of people here for this talk centering on Peter Guralnick’s book, Sam Phillips, The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll.

And I say centering on because we’re fortunate tonight to be presenting not only one but two astute and perceptive observers of popular music culture. Peter has invited Geoffrey Himes for what should be a deeply informed conversation of very wide musical horizons. We’re really pleased to have Peter here making a stop on a packed nationwide book tour for a book that the New York Times calls beautiful and meticulous.

These include benchmark studies on Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, and the powerful Dream Boogie, The Triumph of Sam Cooke. We’re also pleased to have the chance to welcome Geoffrey Himes, author of a major book on Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA, and a long time feature commentator for the Washington Post.

If you follow magazines like Rolling Stone, Paste, Down Beat and Jazz Times, you’ll know the calliber of his thought and writing. This lecture is part of a huge and diverse 90th anniversary season. I know some of you’ve been to our events. We hope you’ll come back for more evenings like this.

Check out our brochure. I’d like to say that the Library’s Music Division is the home of the world’s largest music collection, 22 million items. But we not only have the artifacts, but we love creating programs like this that introduce not only those artifacts of our magnificent shared musical culture but give us a chance to think about one of the only things that can transcend all cultural boundaries, the love of great music.

So thanks so much. Please welcome Peter Guralnick and Geoffrey Himes. [ Applause ] >> Geoffrey Himes: All right. Hello. All right. Thanks for coming everybody. I’m glad to see so many people coming out. What I want to talk about first is when we talk about popular music history, we usually think of it being made by people who sing and play instruments.

But I think one of the things that’s interesting about Peter’s new book is how he points out the fact that non musicians play an important part in shaping the history of popular music, and I was hoping that we could start off having you talk a bit about why non musicians are an important part of this history.

>> Peter Guralnick: Well I think Sam — Sam actually would have [inaudible] the title producer didn’t exist at the time, but he liked to think of himself more as a practicing psychologist. But his mission in some ways was very different from let’s say the mission of somebody like Rick Hall who also very much influenced recorded music, all kinds of people.

Willie Mitchell created the sound that showcased Al Green, very different from the Albert Greene with an E on the end who had debuted with Back Up Train. Am I feeding back [inaudible]? Speak up a little? All right. I’m going to shout out. Somebody like Rick Hall was looking to create a sound. He had a sound mind.

You could go through any number of takes to create that sound. Sam was looking for the sound that was in you. Sam was looking to bring out of you what you may or may not know was in yourself and to give you confidence and courage to express it. And in many ways, it’s funny, I may have mentioned that in the book, but I was thinking the other day that I could just as easily have called the book I Hear America Sing, The Emergence of Sam Phillips.

I mean, that’s what it is. He heard America singing. He heard America singing [inaudible] birds on the trees or could be the wind out in the country. It could be the silence of the country evening. It was that kind of singing — it was what DeFord Bailey heard that inspired him to play the harmonica.

Listened to the sounds of trains. Living out in the country. DeFord Bailey was the person who was the first African American and for many years the only African American in the Grand Ole Opry, wonderful harmonica player. So in some ways, Sam was the exception, I think, to what Geoffrey is talking about.

Producers like Chips Moman played a very active role in — not in inflicting the will but in looking for something in particular. And that is what Sam was — if you listen to a sampling — I mean I put together a collection with the same title as the book on Yep Roc Records. You can get it on vinyl, three LP’s and two CD’s.

But it — for those vinyl favor — those who favor vinyl. But he had such a range of music. The one thing that ties it together is spontaneity and individuality of performing. That’s what he was looking for most of all and sort of like when you talk about Harmonica Frank, a sort of a medicine show performer who played the harmonica and when he came to sing just moved the harmonica around his mouth.

He didn’t use a bracket or anything like that. And to Sam, Harmonica Frank was a beautiful hobo, and he said, “You’re a hobo. You have to be inspired. You have to be resourceful.” And that’s what he looked for in music. So I don’t know if that’s a direct response to what Geoffrey said, but it’s my response.

>> Geoffrey Himes: But the book, you talk about all these profound records that came out during these 11 years that Sam was actively making records. Whether it’s Howlin’ Wolf or Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis or Charlie Rich or Ike Turner, these are all obviously very talented people, but it seems to be in the book you’re making the argument that the music they made was different because Sam Phillips was a collaborator.

Is that accurate to say? Is that fair to say? >> Peter Guralnick: You sound so much better than I do on the microphone. I don’t know. We’ll see if the fault is in the mic or if it’s in me. I suspect it’s in me. But — okay. See, that’s what I needed. I needed coaching. But it’s — I forget where we were in this.

>> Geoffrey Himes: What difference did it make that Sam was a collaborator? >> Peter Guralnick: I think so much of it. I don’t think Sam knew what was in each of these artists. He saw them as artists. He saw them as people who he sensed — he believed — one of the things Sam believed in most strongly was his ability to read people.

It was also his ears. Those were probably the two things he prided himself most on. But he didn’t know necessarily what each person — in the case of Howlin’ Wolf, he knew what he heard. It’s where the soul of man never dies. In that case, he might as well have been Alan Lomax or field reporter because although what he was trying to do was to bring out the sound of Howlin’ Wolf to the maximum degree that you would be able to appreciate it as he appreciated it on a record as opposed to in person.

There, he was simply trying to record it. But when he met Elvis Presley, he describes him as being the most introspective person whoever came into his studio and one of the most insecure. And all he simply recognized the unique talent. He didn’t know what that talent was. In that case, his genius if you want to call it that, was the patience, and the man not giving to patience as his associate assistant [inaudible] the man not given to patience.

Sam showed the most extraordinary patience, and he was willing to wait until he heard emerge this voice and then he wanted to do everything he could to assist it. But it wasn’t like he had a vision for Elvis Presley. He just simply — or that he had a vision for Little Junior Parker. I mean, he was looking for them to express themselves in a way that he sensed they had — they were able to express themselves.

In the case of somebody like Johnny Cash, I think what Geoffrey says is certainly true in the sense that Johnny Cash came in with [inaudible] blues and recorded it at one of his very first sessions in what amounted to a demo. And he’s got this kind of [inaudible] voice that you would never recognize as Johnny Cash.

He sounds almost like Marty Robbins singing in a higher range than he used to. And Sam just didn’t hear the song at all. Eventually, he came to see the song. Sam came to see the song as a metaphor for the way in which we’re all in prison, which is kind of a funny thing. Sam was not a poetic person necessarily, but that was — and he sold that to Johnny — to John — Johnny Cash as being a way in which the songs communicated to everybody and then he got John to speed up the tempo much against Johnny Cash’s will and as he did with I Walk the Line, and Johnny Cash said, “This will never work.

I’ll do it, but we’ll never use it,” and walked out of the studio convinced they would never use it. When he heard it on the radio, he said, “Dang, that’s good.” >> Geoffrey Himes: Right, but what I’m saying is that just as Elvis and Johnny Cash didn’t have a clear vision of what they were going to do and just as Sam didn’t have a clear vision of what they were going to do, but it was the fact that they were working together that made a difference.

They were like both on an artistic qwest together, and neither of them would have achieved it without the other in a sense. >> Peter Guralnick: Yeah. I guess that’s true. But the thing was is that Sam was looking for spontaneity. I remember. Sam was looking for spontaneity above all. I mean, Jack Kerouac talked about spontaneous [inaudible].

That was Sam. And it was nurturing spontaneity and seizing upon the feeling as opposed to the perfection. I mean, Sam hated the word perfection. He said, “I hate that word. It should be banned from the English language.” I think what he meant was that as you seek — as you correct all your mistakes, as you make everything perfect you achieve nothing more than kind of sterility.

And so, yeah, he was working with artists who in almost every case from Howlin’ Wolf, Mike Turner to Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich apprised that same kind of spontaneity. And that was what he nurtured most of all I think. But it was not so much that he had a template or any kind of specific approach that would — and it just delighted him.

I mean, for instance, Harmonica Frank or you listen — you probably didn’t hear it coming in, but he listened to Joe Hill Louis, and you think, “God, how could anybody ever record it?” I mean, it’s completely out of tune. It’s — Sam loved distortion. You go right to the edge of distortion and over the edge.

And yet there’s something about it that’s absolutely both unique and compelling. And that was what drew Sam to the music to begi with, and I think it’s what he tried to bring out of each of the musicians. He didn’t want them settling down. >> Geoffrey Himes: One of the things you talked about in the book is that Sam had this — did have a vision in the sense that he grew up among poor people in Alabama who were not paid attention to by and large by the cultural establishment of the 40’s.

And he was convinced that these poor southerners both black and white had something to say and needed a catalyst or vehicle to have it come out, to have it emerge into the public marketplace so to speak and that was what he was going to do. You write about this. Even though he didn’t have a specific sonic template for these people, he did have that as a mission.

Is that right? >> Peter Guralnick: Well, he did, yeah. But I mean, the thing is is that Sam and from the age of seven or eight, he said to me — he said, “Listen to me now.” I’m talking about an 8 or 9-year-old kid. Had a sense of racial injustice, was struck by the fact. He was working in the fields on 323 acre farm that his father rented and lost with the depression.

He was working with black and white sharecroppers. And it struck him so forcibly. And I know this from relatives of Sam’s of his generation who it definitely did not strike as forcibly and were not thrilled to hear this little kid starting off his opinions about racial injustice. I mean, Sam would talk about anything.

He was not at risk of being accepted. He wasn’t — to his benefit and to his disbenefit too. But he — and from a very early age if not from 8 or 9, certainly from his teens on he believed that the African American music — he wanted to give voice to the voiceless. This was his mission all the way through as Geoffrey said it.

It became his mission for poor whites as well as blacks, but to begin with, the idea was that his idea was that the African American expression both secular and gospel what he heard coming out of the black church, which was a block and a half from the church he attended and that he would stand outside of every afternoon for as long as he could in the summer.

He said with the windows open wide he could fully partake of the service. When we went back to it in 1999, I’ve never seen anyone more thrilled going into that African American church. But that — sounds he heard in the fields and what he observed on Beale Street when he was 16, his first vision of Beale Street was a vision of freedom and set him in his mind that he was going to move — he was going to live in Memphis some day, not live in Memphis to work in the Hotel Peabody, which his what he did do.

It was to be — to live in Memphis which was exemplified by Beale Street, black America’s mainstream. So he — but he believed that ever fiber of his being from a very early age, let’s say from early teens on, that if a mainstream audience meaning a white audience could ever hear the sounds he had heard the African American sounds that they would be swept away by the power of that music and spirituality of that music.

Not just the music, but the message and that this would break down the walls of segregation, which is more a dream then it is — but that was why he opened his first studio or his only studio. He opened the studio — the Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue January 2, 1950 on the cusp of the second half of the 20th century.

But that’s when he opened it. I mean, he said it contemporaneously was to give some of these great Negro artists in the south the opportunity to record where they don’t have any. And that’s what he did for the first four or five years that the studio was open, and he did it on his belief, not out of his — he did it at great economic peril to himself, at great risk to himself in many ways, but he did it because he believed so strongly that once the world was exposed, once the mainstream audience was exposed that they would seize upon this music and that that would open up doors.

It would break down the walls of segregation in a way that wasn’t going to change every element of society. It was going to change a large element of the way that people thought. >> Geoffrey Himes: What I found striking reading the book, especially about this sense of mission that Sam had was that a lot of the artists that he worked with were striving towards something similar, but it didn’t seem like they could articulate it or be as conscious of it as Sam was.

One of the things that marked Sam was that — as you say, even at 8 or 9 — he could articulate and consciously set these kind of goals, which strikes me and makes — just one of the things that makes him an unusual person. >> Peter Guralnick: I mean, his first ambition was to be a great — was to be a — not great — criminal defense lawyer like Clarence Darrow to right the wrongs of society, which were both social and had to do with both social and racial justice.

That was — and he wasn’t able to do that because he had to drop out of school after his junior year because his father died. But, I mean, an example of the way in which Geoffrey’s talking about is he often spoke about how he didn’t know anyone who was more free of prejudice than Elvis Presley.

He believed there was no question whatsoever that Elvis shared his goal — knew exactly what he was doing. I believe this too. I mean, but I didn’t know Elvis. I wrote him a letter, but that’s as close as I got. But he said that he believed that Elvis just as much as he knew exactly what they were doing, knew that they were sneaking around the race line, knew what he was doing when he embraced not just African American music but African American artists when he had his picture in the paper with BB King, Little Junior Parker, Bobby Blue Bland when he spoke about his admiration of these African American artists in the mainstream press.

And when he was hailed as what was then called a race hero in the African American press at that time. Something which was set aside — I mean, not set aside by him but it was reversed and later [inaudible] within the African American community. But Sam said there was no question that Elvis shared those views, that he knew what they were doing.

He knew that — and that he gloried in the idea that — he says, “You got to admit,” he says, “I just got to say, didn’t we knock the shit out of that race line?” But Elvis was not saying it. Elvis was not going to articulate it and probably none of his artists. I mean, someone like Jerry Lee Lewis — I’m not going to get into — I’m not going to imagine the complexity of Jerry Lee Lewis’ feelings about anything because it could go — sort of like trying to imagine Merle Haggard’s political views.

I mean, these are brilliant musicians, and these are real geniuses. But anyway — but the point is that when Jerry Lee Lewis says if I could play guitar like BB King, I’d be president — to get to Jerry Lee Lewis. BB King was — the fact that Sam had recorded not just Elvis but BB King was a key element in bringing him in the studio.

>> Geoffrey Himes: One of the things that the book points out is that Sam Phillips worked with a lot of different people besides Elvis and the Million Dollar Quartet, but the relationship between Elvis and Sam is very interesting. You’re talking about how they shared these kind of values. At the same time, they were different people.

I was wondering if you could articulate what the differences and how those differences complimented and allowed them to make the records they made. >> Peter Guralnick: Well, to say one thing about Sam. The Sam who recorded these great records from Rocket 88 and Howlin’ Wolf right on through to Charlie Rich’s Who will the Next Fool Be was not — Sam in the studio is not the same who created the public persona that many of you have seen from his later years which was a conscious creation which was very different and which was highly articulate, highly oratorical, high ecclesiastical at times or at least I wrote about meeting him.

He was like an old testament prophet sauntering from the hill top. But that was not the person who did the music. The person who produced the music for want of a better word was someone who nurtured it, who was very soft spoken but who was firm in his beliefs and who was never going to back down about — on anything that he did believe.

As he said, he was not going to get up on any tall stumps to try to convince either preachers or DJ’s or record distributors to play his music because he knew these people. They were friends. And he knew that their views were not necessarily his. But he was certainly going to try to sell what he believed in in the best way that he knew how.

And he had this degree of certainty of self-certainty. I think that’s probably the thing that set him most apart from someone like Elvis who in a certain sense if you were to say what was Elvis’ problem? I mean, it was — aside from what might be called — and again, I’m as reluctant to assign a term to this as I am to describe the — Merle Haggard’s politics.

I mean, you could call what Elvis suffered from the last five years of his life as a kind of clinical depression, which was just never dealt with. But the other thing was, his biggest problem was simply that unlike someone like Sam Cooke who absorbed everything he could from everyone that he met and then moved on, Elvis was someone who wanted to be loved.

And it was — as Sam described him — had the insecurity that prevented him from saying okay, I’ve gotten what I can from you, from Sam, from Colonel Parker, from whoever and moved on to do what he himself wanted to do. And it was sort of an inability to deal with — for want of a better word — adulthood.

And so I think that that’s — that’s where — I mean, Sam was on a mission. He knew what he wanted to do. He set out to do it. He was somebody who suffered from depression all his life. He had — twice he had eight electroshock treatments when he was — 1944 — when he was 21 years old and electroshock was not — it was at the dawn of electric.

What’s it called now? Electroconvulsive — yeah, electroconvulsive therapy, yeah. And this is a very different thing from the kind of shock treatment that he had, and many people never recovered from it. But this is what Sam believed at 21. He’s settled on the idea that this was what he needed to happen.

He did it at this sanitarium in Birmingham. And then right after Rocket 88 — and he would tell — I mean, if you met him on the street, he might tell you this. If Geoffrey were interviewing him, he would — Geoffrey might ask him about Elvis, and he might say, “Let me tell you about the electroshock.

” Because he believed there was no shame in it and that mental illness was no different then physical illness and that one shouldn’t hide anything and that he wasn’t proud of having recovered. It’s like talking about a recovering alcoholic. He saw it as this was his temperament and this was how he dealt with it.

He was fortunate, and he was not going to try to hide it. But the point is went after the second set in ’51 right after Rocket 88 he was told by the doctor who administered the electroshock that he would never be able to lead a normal life or that he would be unlikely to be able to avoid excitement.

And the next thing he did was he recorded Howlin’ Wolf a few weeks later. >> Geoffrey Himes: You’ve mentioned several times that this is your most personal book, and there’s more of you in this book then there are in previous books. For those who don’t know, Peter has written several works of fiction, and his first sort of major trilogy was collected pieces, Lost Highway, Feel like Going Home and Sweet Soul Music and then the sort of second trilogy of biographies which is a two volume Elvis Presley biography and Sam Cooke and now Sam.

Why was this the most personal book? Was it merely just because you knew Sam better than these other subjects or was it something — I mean, I think there’s something in this book where he talked about how Sam articulated — the reason you devoted your life to music. >> Peter Guralnick: Well, yeah.

I think actually Sam’s vision of art in many ways corresponded to my own — his vision — he got a book as a prize, I Dare You, by the founder of Ralston Purina whose name is — his son or grandson was the Senator from Missouri. Danforth, yeah, yeah. And that was the theme of his life was you had to dare.

You had to overcome your inhibitions. You had to overcome your fears. In many respects, the thing that was so inspiring to me about meeting Sam for the first time in ’79 was not so much that he revealed something I never thought of is that he validated everything that I had ever believed. And he validated it within a large philosophical concept and in a sense placed the music that had so influenced me but which was not necessarily related to the ideas, placed the music within this philosophical and almost revolutionary context that he just — I was just thrilled to have this.

And even I was running a boys camp at the time, did for many years, and all the principles that Sam spoke, trying to [inaudible] and articulate in running his recording ventures were the same principles that I was trying to carry out. I’m not saying I achieved them to the same extent, but I think that this thing about being personal is that you’ll find a lot of me in the first three books I wrote in Feel Like Going Home, Lost Highway and Sweet Soul Music.

But I rigorously kept myself out of the Elvis and the Sam Cooke biography. I felt like I didn’t want to — I wanted to tell this in a way that allowed the story itself to come out. I think if you read that — if you saw what I put in, what I left out, you could draw a portrait of me from those books that would be as accurate as from anything else.

I mean, I think there’s no such thing as Sam said he hated perfection. Well, I mean, I don’t — I’ll raise him one. I’ll say there’s no such thing as objectivity. And that this is a kind of myth that people perpetuate in all kinds of ways but everything comes down to the angle of perception.

What you put in, what you leave out. This says an enormous amount about a painter, about a musician, about a writer. And so you could draw a portrait of me from these books in which I — rigorously eliminated myself in a way that I hadn’t from the earlier books. This is the Sam Cooke and the Elvis.

But here, I knew from the beginning that what I wanted to create with the Sam Phillips was a book, like a novel, a nonfiction novel that did justice to the nonlinearity of his life, the explosiveness of his life and to the variousness of human experience. I wanted to right something that was along the lines of what Sam saw so that it could be both epic and intimate.

It could be tragic and comic. It could be discursive and focused. It could be like — I mean, Sam always talked about every session being like — he wanted every session to be like Gone with the Wind and big fun too. Now I’m not going to cite Gone with the Wind, but it’s like the idea of an epic family novel or something.

But the thing was that the only way I could do this, I didn’t — Sam lived to a far riper age than either Sam Cooke who died at — what did he die? 33, I think, and Elvis who died at 42. And the thing about Sam was he left the music business more or less in 1960 when he was 37 years old. He lived to be 80.

And so I didn’t want a book that was a recitation of honors gained or travels made or critiques, praise given. I wanted to do something that did justice to the craziness of Sam’s life, not crazy in the mental health way but just the absolute individuality, as Kerouac might have said, the wowness of Sam’s life.

And I wanted — and the only way I could do that was by introducing myself not as a character so much as a witness because I knew him for 25 years. And that was the way that I had of breaking up the narrative. It was a way I had of making it more anecdotal, being able — veering away from strict chronology and being able to take a story from beginning to end even if the end happened years after what the chronological course of the narrative was.

And in the course of it, I mean, I just — as Sam said to me fairly early on — I mean, I met him in ’79 and got to know him much better when I was working on the Elvis, and we did a whole bunch of interviews and stuff and started going out to dinner. But as Sam said to me, he says, “You know, my son Knox — Knox loved you from the first, but I didn’t.

” So I could say that Sam believed that you keep a distance from people. Otherwise, they’re going to push you off the cliff. And Sam was kind enough to say, “Well, I knew that you,” he says, “I had to keep my distance because I knew you had your doubts about me,” and I’m thinking, “I had my doubts about you? I was sold from the first word.

That’s very nice of you to say that.” So we sort of went from this formal — I mean, when I met him in ’79 he had done, by his account, that was the first interview he ever had done outside of the Memphis newspapers and the trades, Billboard and Cash Box and there were a couple of others.

He forget about a couple. But in essence, that was true. He did not want to do interviews. He didn’t believe — he didn’t want to look back. He saw interviews as looking back. He always wanted to look forward. He was in radio then. But that first interview was like the [inaudible] of Sam. I mean, I didn’t realize what it was at the time.

It was an amazing experience, and I met him in a flood. The radio station had flooded. He had this new radio station he had just built, just built every square inch of it down to the plantings outside, and the sprinkler system let go the night before. I had been trying to get an interview for ten years, and the sprinkler system let go.

And Knox, Sam’s son, Knox, who had been trying to sell Sam on doing the interview, met me in the parking lot and said, “I don’t think we can do the interview. We’re going to have to postpone.” I’m thinking postpone? Postpone? You know, another ten years? And so eventually being the resourceful person that I am and being so creative, I said, “Well, isn’t there anything I can do to help?” A brilliant suggestion.

And so I carried buckets of water. I squeegee’d. I moved tapes and then at the end of this eight or nine hours we did what turned out for me to be the shortest interview Sam ever did. It was only 2.5 hours. And I had no idea really what it represented. It was teachings of Sam and in a sense after knowing him for 25 years, I came to realize how important his sense of mission, his sense of teaching, of conveying these lessons, these life lessons was.

I couldn’t have known that at the time, but it was quite astonishing. So I don’t know what that was. It wasn’t friendship certainly. I was there. I recorded both his thoughts and my reactions and wrote about them in Lost Highway. But then over the years, we became friendlier or friendly and then eventually I would say after many years friends and then one day he said, “You know, I really love you.

” And I said, “Wow, that’s really,” but that was — at that point, he wasn’t feeling well. But it — no, I mean, it’s hard to say. I mean, Geoffrey’s right. It is in many ways the most personal but in another way I was so intensely bound up in the Sam Cooke, and it expresses so many of my views of society, of race, of class, of the community that nurtured Sam Cooke and has been so important in terms of my being afforded access through the writing I’d done, the people I met.

So — but I guess I’d have to say Sam feels this is the most [inaudible] person. Maybe I should be embarrassed about that. >> Geoffrey Himes: Obviously, the Sam Phillips books cover a lot of the same territory as the Elvis piece did. I just wondered if you could talk a bit about why you wanted to return to that territory to — what you thought to be gained by going back with that same territory and also it seems — you may disagree with this, but from my perspective, it seems that both Elvis and Sam had this burst of brilliant triumps in the 50s, early 60s and then had difficulty or were quieter after life, but also seems that they dealt with that challenge in different ways.

I wonder if you could speak to that as well. >> Pete Guralnick: That’s a lot of things. If I were to just disagree wholesale, that would be the easiest way to answer. But no, I don’t disagree. But in terms of second acts, I mean, who except Philip Roth? I mean, there are other people come back and surpass the achievements for which they were hailed in their youth.

I mean, you look at so many people in the arts. After an intense period of early creativity, what would have happened to Sam Cooke had he lived? I mean, I don’t know. I mean, you could postulate that he would have been Mayor of Chicago, but it’s hard to know what — I guess I didn’t see it as revisiting the same territory.

I mean, in some ways, having written to Sam Cooke and thinking about or having written a lot about blues, you’re thinking about writing a biography of Muddy Waters which Robert Gordon did a wonderful biography of Muddy Waters or thinking about doing a biography of Otis Redding. That would have seen to me like a repetition.

In Sam’s case, he was so [inaudible] generous. I just never thought of him. I mean, Elvis was part of the story. But by no means, not even — by no means, the main part of the story. And I guess I saw this as if it was revisiting, it was revisited in a completely different perspective, showing all of these things.

I mean, I’ve written about Howlin’ Wolf before. This was in a completely different perspective. I mean, one of the things, for example, in writing about Howlin’ Wolf in this book was the discovery by — and this is in the Howlin’ Wolf biography by Mark Hoffman and his co-writer was named somebody I’m sure.

Yeah, James Segrest, right. And they found that Howlin’ Wolf had suffered this enormous nervous breakdown in the Army and was actually released in those terms and released with the idea that he would never again be able to lead anything approaching a normal life. And although this was something that neither — Wolf had said to me one time, I never read this, I never heard it — but Wolf had said to me when I asked about the Army thinking about, that this must have been an expansive experience, getting him off the farm, out of Mississippi.

I’m asking him. I thought at that point because he had said it sometimes found [inaudible] which he never did. He got as far as Tacoma or state of Washington anyway. But he — I asked him about it from that point of view. He says, “Oh, man. The Army, they drill you so hard it just about gave me a nervous breakdown.

” Well, it did. It gave him a literal nervous breakdown, and that’s how he mustered out of the Army. And in this book — I mean, I considered it, and I thought, well, geez, Sam — neither Sam nor Wolf knew about the other’s experience and yet there’s no question in my mind that this was one of the ways in which they connected.

They were both extraordinarily bright people, extraordinarily observant people. In Wolf’s case, extraordinarily paranoid person. But just an amazimg person. I mean, Sam said about Wolf about the first time they met, he says, “Well, as much as I was reading the Wolf, he was reading me much more.

” But that was a way — in other words, for me that changed the portrait completely. Seeing Elvis come in, for example, into the studio in the wake of an article about The Prisonaires, the quintet from the Tennessee State Penitentiary that Sam had recorded in the early summer of ’53, and there was a big article in the Commercial — or maybe it was the Press Scimitar that talked about this man, Sam Phillips, who was looking for original talent, was willing to record anybody, and there’s no question in my mind that this is why Elvis came into the studio a few weeks later.

But the point is seeing it within that context, that’s something I wrote about to some extent in the Elvis biography. But it loomed so much larger within this very different context. So I guess from my point of view, that was — and I saw Sam also as a person who even long after he had left the field for which he had gained — in which he so changed the world and as Jerry Wexler said in a decade of recording he created a millennium’s worth of work.

But I saw him as being — continuing to be as interesting a person, as challenging a person, as individual a person, and I wanted to continue in the book to continue to show the intrinsic interest of this character, the adventurousness of this person and the sense, exploratoriness and also the sense of insecurity that continued to fuel him.

So it — I guess from my point of view if you do think of it as revisiting or if I think of it as revisiting, I wouldn’t go back. And there are many places that I never have gone back because I felt there was no way to do it. I do have to say, though, that the one place I would always have revisited and it’s one of the two biggest regrets of my life, and this shows how shallow a person I am.

One, that I no longer play baseball. I played baseball until I was 48, and I just miss that so much. I played — I went back to tennis. That’s okay, but baseball — but the other is that when I sent Solomon Berg whom Geoffrey knew well — when I sent Solomon Berg a copy of the Sam Cooke, the next time I saw him, he says, “You know, it’s great Pete.

It’s really great.” He says, “But when are we going to do the book?” And I tried so many times we talked about it. Solomon — it was the one book that I ever thought that I would do in somebody else’s voice. I mean, and I tried to get Solomon — Solomon was someone like quick silver.

It was hard to get him to commit. And if he said, “Look, why don’t you fly out to L.A., I’ll buy the ticket. I’ll put you up. I’ll find you a Pied-a- terre,” after first turning down the offer of payment because you never knew what that might mean — it’s not even a question of being compromised.

It’s a question of showing up at the airport and having no ticket. In fact, being sued for malfeasance. But the other thing was I knew that if I went out to L.A. I could fly out to L.A. and find out that Solomon was in Japan. So I — but I tried to get him to commit to it, and put down on tape what his experiences were like when he was 8, 9, 10, when he was a wonder boy preacher in his grandmother’s church.

And he says, “Okay, okay. How about when I was 10?” I said, “Okay, when you were 10. Did something happen when you were 10?” This is about the funniest and sad story. So then he said, “That’s when they put me out on the street.” Well, I never heard anything like that.

And so I said, “What do you mean they put you — who put you out on the street?” He said, “That’s what I could never find out.” I said, “Why did they put you out in the street?” He says, “I don’t know.” And he burst into tears, which was the last three times I saw him.

Solomon, the most jolly, just one of the most brilliant people, I mean, just unbelievable but he gave way to emotion each of the last three times. I don’t know what it meant. I don’t know. But that’s the one place I would revisit that a thousand times. I would give anything to have been able to have written that book in Solomon’s voice and as Solomon says, it would have been the greatest book in the world.

>> Geoffrey Himes: Before we throw it open to the audience, I was wanting to ask you one more thing. We were talking at dinner about the challenges and rewards of the kind of life that we do, writing about music. And you were speaking earlier — we were speaking earlier about how Sam affirmed a lot of the — articulated and affirmed a lot of the motivations you had in your work.

We also talked about how non musicians do play a role in shaping music, and I think that we do too to a much smaller extent than Sam Phillips perhaps but a little bit. >> Peter Guralnick: Are you saying we should be in the rock and roll Hall of Fame? >> Geoffrey Himes: No, but — >> Peter Guralnick: No halls of fame.

>> Geoffrey Himes: But I guess what I’m leading up to is can you talk a little bit about how — why you embarked on this work and what’s kept you at it all these years? >> Peter Guralnick: You mean the work in general? Yeah. Right. Well, I always wanted to be a writer. You know I always wanted to be a baseball player.

But I wanted to be — also I always wanted to be a writer from the time I was 6 or 7 years old. My grandfather taught English at [inaudible] School. He was a great inspiration to me, and I was surrounded by books with my parents. And I just — but I mean, it was nobody — as Sam would say, it was nobody’s motivation but my own.

I wanted to be a writer. And I published a collection of short stories when I was 20. I’d written my first novel when I was 19. It was not music at all that — I mean, I loved music. But it was the blues. I fell into the blues when I was about 15 or 16. And that just led me to everything else. But when I was around 20 or 21, all of a sudden these underground weekly sprang up, Crawdaddy started up, and it was this kid named Paul Williams.

He was a few years younger than I was, and I knew him from the school that he attended some years after I did. And anyway, in several instances, people came to me and said, you know, how would you — Paul came and said, “How would you like to write for Crawdaddy?” Or “How would you like to write for [inaudible] something about music?” Because everybody knew how crazy I was about the blues.

And I said, “Great, then I want to write about the blues.” And so there I am in early issues of Crawdaddy writing about Robert P. Williams with Skip James, Buddy Guy in the midst of Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead. I mean — and Psychodelian General. I’m not putting that down.

I’m just saying it’s an odd — I mean, I don’t belong there but there I am. And when this friend of mine named Larry Stark [assumed spelling] became the drama critic, the first drama critic at Boston After Dark, which was essentially started — it was the Boston Phoenix and that started as a way to sell advertising.

I mean, it was just — they needed content to sell the advertising for entertainment because this guy who was in Harvard Business School realized the mainstream papers weren’t selling advertising for concerts and stuff like that. So Larry said, “How would you like to write on music?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.

But I want to write about Muddy Waters, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf.” And that’s what I did. My idea, the only reason I did it, was to tell people about this music that I knew was so great. I mean, in a way it’s parallel — maybe this is why the book is so personal because it’s not the same degree of achievement in any way.

But it’s parallel to what Sam said. The first thing I wrote for Boston After Dark, all the original things I wrote and were talking about payment, which is never worth thinking about. But I don’t get — I didn’t get paid anything for years and years. I mean, I wrote about — the first thing I wrote about was the James Brown Show.

And I wrote about it. This was a time of happenings in theater. I said, “This is the greatest, spontaneous eruption. This is the greatest improvisational theater. This is the greatest happening you’ll ever see,” and described what I had seen from going to James Brown, to the James Brown show over the last few years.

And just was trying to sell people on the idea of going to see James Brown because it would uplift them. It would elevate them. It would give them a vision of Nirvana. And not psychedelic, psychedelia. But so and that was why I wrote them. I wrote about Muddy Waters. It was a thrill to me to put down — set down their names.

I never thought of it as a vocation. I don’t even know if I thought of it was an advocation. It was just — it was a mission to sort of tell people — it was a thrill to put the names down, to write the name Big Joe Turner, to type it out, to see it in print, to write about Johnny Shines, to write about Bo Diddley and to try to present them in terms that did justice to the greatness of their achievement, not to play off of — not to say it was awesome or not to say — but to try to describe what it was that was so elevated about what they did.

And not to do it in — I’m sure to some people it may still seem very pretentious, but it was to do it in terms that were attempted to be equal and treat the music with the dignity that it deserved and also the enthusiasm. So that was my entire motivation. It remains my entire motivation. I mean, I wrote — I considered myself — I never considered myself a critic.

I’ve always thought of myself as an advocate in a sense. I’ve never written about anything that I didn’t love. I’ve never written on assignment. And I’m not saying that boastfully. I mean, it was really hard to do. It caused — as my son, Jake, said when he was about 8 years old and starving from lack of food.

I was never starving from lack of food but I often thought we could have better food on the table. But the thing was it was something I felt absolutely committed to, and that’s really as much as anything the motivation for the Sam Phillips is to tell the world as [inaudible] said, “Tell the world about Sam Phillips.

” Or he said, “Tell the world about what?” It’s whatever the song is. >> Geoffrey Himes: All right. Do we have microphones for people? Anybody have questions? Maybe Ann can help identify people. >> [Inaudible] Q and A and afterwards we’ll explain about the book selling.

We won’t be selling books tonight, but we will be offering ten percent off in our bookshop, and we’ll explain how that goes, but let’s go ahead with Q and A. >> Peter Guralnick: Let me also say that if you do want to have it signed, but if you brought a book, I’m glad to sign that.

This is not a silent auction or anything so if you have something you want to say and get — that’s fine — or ask or something like that. So it’s — I’m sorry to hear about the books, the lack of books. But anyway, any books you brought that you want me to sign, I’m glad to sign. >> Having looked at your website and picture after photograph after photograph and a few minutes ago you made the — said the phrase people I’ve met, and I’m assuming you’ve met a lot of people and interviewed a lot of people.

But does one or two real son of a bitches come to mind? >> Peter Guralnick: No, no. I mean — because the point is what have I done? I’ve gone out looking for people that I’ve admired. I mean, it’s — if you ask me if I admire everything about them? No. I mean, who am I to make the judgment? I’m interested in somebody — like Merle Haggard for example is not — he’s whatever you call it, like a sweet cup of tea on every occasion.

But it’s not — I don’t feel any investment in somebody being one way or another. I admire the hell out of Merle Haggard. I just see him as one of the great creative artists of the 20th century. And that — or maybe any century. And that’s what I’m writing about. What I’m interested in talking to people about is what motivates them, what their ambition is, what their aspirations are, what their aspirations were and describing what the weather was.

I don’t have any particular pride or place in this. I don’t see myself as either being insultable or threatenable in a sense. So no, I would say not. >> Geoffrey Himes: Follow up that question. It seems that one of the challenges for a biographer is how to balance the work with the life and most — a lot of biographies write about the drugs and marriages and so forth, which is not why we’re interested in them in the first place.

And I was wondering how you wrestled with that problem or that challenge? >> Peter Guralnick: I feel like I think we — I’m going to recapitulate some of what we talked about at dinner, but I feel as if I’ve got a number of commitments. The first commitment is to telling the truth. The second commitment to being fair to the person I’m writing about, treating anybody I write about with dignity and respect that I would hope for and that they deserve.

It’s kind of the opposite of some political figures in this particular age. And I guess the third thing is just being true to the reader. So it’s not like I feel like I can leave things out. It’s not that I have a view of them particularly. I mean, if somebody leads — for instance, I’ve been with people when I was doing portraits.

I’ve been with people where I saw things happen that I felt — while I was accidentally witnessed to them, I had no right to expose them whatever the [inaudible] might have been. They informed the way in which I saw the person I was writing about, not necessarily negatively. I mean, I just don’t have a judgment.

I don’t have — I’m not bringing my values to bear on the person I’m writing about. But they certainly could inform but it wasn’t like I was going to break up a marriage or put somebody in jail because I happen to be present at something that I was an accidental observer. But I mean, we talked a little.

I mean, I wrote about Charlie Rich in Feel Like Going Home, the first book I wrote, which actually all of the books were written as books as opposed to — that was something where I went out and wrote the book as individual portraits, but they were all written for the book. Lost Highway was the one exception to that.

But the thing was, I meet Charlie Rich out at the Vapors out by the airport in Memphis. It later became either Big Bad Bob’s Vapors or just Bad Bob’s Vapors. I don’t know if it’s still in operation or not but it was fairly — until fairly recently. And I met him at a tea dance where there — he and Narvel Felts and Ace Cannon alternated sets, and I think there must have been at lease nine sets among them.

It went on for a long time. Meeting Charlie Rich and his wife Margaret Anne, I don’t think I’ve — I don’t think I’ve ever liked anybody better on first meeting. When I came to writing about him, I thought this is terrible. I’m never going to get to see him again, this guy that I like so much, Margaret Anne who I like so much, because the portrait that I drew.

And you’ll laugh if you read the book, if you read Feel Like Going Home because it seems so pale in light of the way in which peole are written about today. But I thought I’m never going to see him again because I was writing about depression, guilt, alcoholism, just a sense of exclusion and insecurity and agoraphobia which was very odd for a performer.

And — but it was what I had to write, and I wrote it from as I feel one is compelled to. You write it from an empathetic point of view. An actor can’t portray a villain and you can’t — and just go [inaudible] every other word just to show his distance or her distance from the character she’s portraying.

But so I wrote this, and I just felt badly, but that was the truth. And I tried to treat it with honesty, with dignity, with respect. But that was the truth. And I’ve never been more relieved or never felt better than when the publisher of Feel Like Going Home, the woman named Margaret Pete called me up and said, “I had to tell you.

I just got a call from Charlie Rich, and he ordered 30 copies of the book to give to all the members of his family.” And when I saw him not longer afterwards, and I was friendly with him until he died for the next 25 years. But when I saw him, he said, “You know, the truth hurts sometimes, but it’s the truth, and you wrote the truth.

” Not everybody takes that view, but that’s what I — and I’ll tell you a round about story, a quick round about story, but a magazine wanted to do an excerpt first serial from [inaudible], a big magazine. It would have been a great thing. But what they wanted me to do was to rewrite — it was the part about Larry Geller who was Elvis’ sort of spiritual advisor.

Adventures in new age religion, and that’s what he was. That was what he was interested in. That’s what Elvis was interested in. It’s not what I’m interested in. I mean, I may be disappointing you here, but this is not my interest. I’m not a [inaudible]. I’m not a follower of Madame Blavatsky or Audiobiography of a Yogi.

But that’s what they were interested in. And so this magazine wanted me to portray Larry Geller as a hippocrite and a charlatan. Now, it’s possible. I’m not saying it’s true, but it’s possible that that might be my personal view. As I say, I’m not saying that it is, but it’s possible.

But I would never portray him. His role in Elvis’ life was a legitimate role. He had a genuine knowledge and interest, knowledge of an interest in those areas. Elvis was passionate about them. He devoted 2.5 years of his life to it. And it ended very unhappily because they dropped the excerpt, and I felt like I poisoned the relationship with somebody who could be very important.

And I’m not saying this to be heroic. I’m just saying I felt an obligation both to the truth and to try to understand what it was with the people I was writing about were not what I thought of them or what it provided judgment of them. >> So today a young Elvis Presley instead of going to a studio would probably record a demo in his home on his own equipment.

And so I wondered what your thoughts might be as to what we might have lost through this process and are there any up sides to it that we don’t have necessarily people like Sam Phillips taking people under their wing? >> Peter Guralnick: I’m not sure how many up sides there are to the internet.

I know it’s a huge convenience. But I think we’re moving the filter and also we’re moving the idea that I told you I don’t believe there’s any such thing as objectivity, but I do believe there’s such a thing as editorial weighing or at least some attempt at the appearance of objectivity.

And I think the collaboration to go back to what Geoffrey said to begin with, the collaboration of two people, the collaboration of Sam Phillips and Howlin’ Wolf or Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley or Chips Moman and Elvis at the American sessions in ’69 can create a — or even the creation of the collaboration of something like Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint on River in Reverse.

Is it called River in Reverse or was that the — that’s the single? What was the album called? That was it? Okay. Anyway, I think this can lead to all kinds of things. I think creating — on the other hand, creating on your own — not everybody needs that collaboration. Not everybody needs leadership.

The problem is we’ve lost any sense of common heritage I guess. I mean, I know from teaching at Vanderbilt there is not a single book that is in a creative writing course — there’s not a single book that everyone in the class has read except To Kill a Mockingbird. And maybe The Great Gatsby.

Other then that, it’s not that people don’t read, but there is — and so the conversation is abbreviated to some extent. I mean, I’m interested, and I try to engage in this conversation by — I try to find out from everyone. I say what are you into? Movies, books, music. But there’s almost no common ground and certainly no shared heritage.

And I think what you lose by that is the ability to build on that. Elvis was totally conscious of being part of a tradition, of being part of this continuum of great music that included Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams, Carusso, included Carusso, included all of this. And today our sense of history might go back five years but not any longer and maybe not even five years at this point.

So I think that is a lot lost in that. At the same time, there are tremendous opportunities, and the creativity. There’s no less creativity today. There are no fewer original voices. There’s no absence of music, art, literature to celebrate. I mean, people talk about the death of the novel. I think there are more great novels being written now then ever before.

It’s harder to find them on common ground. But I don’t think anything will ever discourage Sam Phillips [inaudible]. If you are a creative person, for God’s sake, don’t let anything get in the way of that creativity. I think for the creative person nothing will get in the way of that creativity.

>> Thank you, Peter. Two questions. First of all, the people that you’ve written about are pretty much originals. But as you said, it’s continuum of music. So my first question is are there any artists — you mentioned Elvis Costello as an artist with [inaudible] — that you would like to write about today? That you think either having the same impact and if so, who are they and why? If not, why not? And the other question is music is passed down.

You mentioned your son who criticized the meals on your table for a time. >> Peter Guralnick: No, no, no. He was just — I like the combination of I’m starving for lack of food. I thought that was — >> But I was saying were you able to take this great love that you have for it and influence him at all in terms of his music? That’s something fathers think about.

You pass it down. You either accept it or reject it. So both of those if you would. >> Peter Guralnick: Well, I think as far as passing down, I mean Jake manages groups. My daughter, Nina, has been involved in various ways in the music business and others. Now she’s the head of the Children’s International Film Festival.

But no, I wouldn’t want to pass on my taste particularly. We share common enthusiasms, but I’m as interested in their sharing what they’re into with me as my sharing it with them. I think it’s the idea of pursuing what Sam called individualism in the extreme. That to me was the idea of relying on your resourcefulness as opposed to looking for a path which took you step by step through life or made you fearful of taking gambles.

I mean, in many ways I think I would aspire to — or Jake and Nina represent is what I aspire to be when I grow up. But I don’t — we certainly share a lot in common. I remember taking Nina against her vociferous will to go see I.F. Stone towards the end of his life after he learned Greek and he was talking about — was he talking about the trials of Socrates trial? And Nina’s looking around saying, “KQ is zero.

” KQ being kid quotient. “Why do I have to be here?” And I said, “Because greatness such as this will not pass your way again.” But I didn’t expect to sell her on I.F. Stone, and I didn’t. But I wanted at least to expose her. I took Jake — I took him to see Aretha Franklin when he was 2 or 3, and he met Muddy Waters when he was 7 or 8.

But I don’t see that as significant. It was — what was significant was exposing him to the possibility, the possibilities of art, the possibility of creativity, the breadth, the breadth of choices that are available. And so I think that was it more than anything. >> So I have a — when you were speaking earlier about your sense of yourself as an evangelist for the music that you really enjoy, as you’ve written books and you’ve traveled and spoken about the music that you enjoy, I’m wondering if you had a sense of whether or not that the audience for what you’re saying is different here than it is in Europe.

As a fan of this music, for instance, I’ve noticed that there are ridiculously lavish treatments of for instance the Sun Catalog from Bear Family in Germany. There’s nothing like that in the U.S. I listen to a lot of [inaudible] blues, and there’s document records in England and JSP, and there’s nothing really like that here.

And I’m wondering — >> Peter Guralnick: What about the [inaudible]? >> But [inaudible] — okay — >> Peter Guralnick: [Inaudible] has stopped in that, but for the first 20 or 30 years or so. >> Maybe this is a misperception on my part. But it seems like there’s more in terms of getting the music out there, there seems like there’s more enthusiasm about it there than there is here, and I was just wondering if you perceived anything like that when you’ve talked to people about the music? >> Peter Guralnick: I think that Richard Weize I think recently sold Bear Family but who has owned Bear Family from the beginning.

He is one of a kind. And his dedication essentially to creating a library of American music — not just American, but that’s what I know, and his documentation of Sun and his willingness to just expand the most lavish amounts of time. I don’t know about money, but certainly time and probably money too, is unique.

I don’t think it has to do with him being German. It just has to do — or European, it has to do with just somebody who is so driven to do this. And I wrote in the brief discography at the back of Sam Phillips that really for the first time in all the — writing about the music that I could send people to a single catalog, to the Bear Family catalog.

Not that that not necessarily is going to be everything that they would want, but it’s just an astonishing achievement. A lot of the other stuff — I mean, some of it — we’re a very big country and for something to be hip in England doesn’t necessarily represent a huge amount of people to have the Sweet Soul Music Festival in [inaudible] which I went to for years which is phenomenal.

It doesn’t mean that soul music is prevalent in Italy as opposed to here. It’s probably popular here, but it’s more dispersed. And I think there’s a trendiness to some of it. As Sam said, for God’s sake, that’s the one thing we don’t need. We don’t need another trend.

Whatever the trend is. Even if it’s something you like. But no, I think there’s always been a real appreciation of music. I think the other thing to keep in mind is the copyright laws. And so much of what’s put out in Europe. Our copyright laws are dictated by Disney. I mean, that’s what has extended what was supposed to go to public domain.

But the European copyright laws actually sanctioned theft in many ways. And Bear Family, for example, will put together incredible 12 CD set and then have it bootlegged by three or four English labels for say newly remastered. But it’s all they’ve done is they’ve taken the — and Bear Family tried to mark their masterings so that they would be detectable, but it cost too much money to sue.

So I think there is to some degree what you say, but labels like [inaudible] before that [inaudible] library were amazing collections. What Roots did was essentially to do every single record, and it’s invaluable if you want to have every single record by Tamper Red or by Frankie Half Pint Jackson or something.

But it’s not — I don’t know. I’m not going to knock it, but I would say there has been a great deal of appreciation here as well. It takes different forms in different places. >> Peter, any Prisonaire stories you can share with us? >> Peter Guralnick: I always liked — and the Prisonaires were this group that was brought to Sam by his sometime partner, Jim Bullet, who had had the Bullet label in Nashville which had one of the greatest hits of all time in Francis Craig’s Near You in the 40’s.

Something which I doubt that many of you heard, and I wouldn’t have heard if I weren’t writing the book. But anyway, Jim Bullet brought the Prisonaires who were part of the Frank Clemmons, Governor Frank Clemmons, who was a great — Sam greatly admired as a true Democrat, big D, little D, which Sam always considered himself and a great believer in rehabilitation prisons in prison.

And Prisonaires had been appearing on a number of radio shows in Nashville, had made some [inaudible] and so that’s how Sam heard them. Sam said, “Then the devastation came over me.” That’s the quote I always liked. Sometimes I’ll remember the word devastation. Sometimes I don’t.

Because it was both the music which was very much derived from the Ink Spots which was really — Bill Kenny, an idol of Elvis’ as well as the lead singer for the Prisonaires, but Johnny Brag. But it was also the idea of doing something, of being a kind of Clarence Darrell, doing something that could lead to rehabilitation.

And he went over. He went over to Nashville to meet with Frank Clemmons to try to pursuade him not to allow Sam to record them in prison, which he could have easily done, but to allow them to be transported with guard and trustee to the Sun Studio in Memphis. Memphis Recording Service in Memphis. And he brought with him a gospel singer named Howard Surat [assumed spelling] who Sam often said had the most beautiful voice he ever heard.

Again, Sam had [inaudible] for everyone. That was his [inaudible]. But he is a beautiful singer, and Sam tried very half-heartedly to get him to sing pop. And I think was very relieved when Howard Surat had no interest. Well, he was convinced that if Frank Clemmons who was also an Evangelical — if he heard Howard Surat and listened to Sam’s arguments that he would agree and Howard Surat brought with him a guy whose name was otherwise lost to history as far as I know.

Reverend something like [inaudible] Ray who was an evangelist from maybe Nebraska. I’ve known at some point and who Howard Surat was going around singing for. It was like on the Billy Graham Crusade. So there’s a picture of all of them when Sam made his pitch, and Frank Clemmons was pursuaded and that’s how Sam set out the first Prisonaires session which was then a reporter from either Commercial Appeal, Press Scimatar was present at, wrote the article and that’s what brought Elvis in.

>> Thank you. >> I think we maybe just have time for one question more and then we’ll set up in the hallway there. >> Great hearing you again tonight. Getting back to Solomon Berg, it would be great if you could do that book. I know Solomon performed a couple times, and he’s awesome.

Started listening to him about 40, 50 years ago. But did he not have 12 children? Maybe 20? Which a number of them ended up in his band performing with him for many years? Could not these kids be great sources for information about Solomon Berg for a really terrific definitive book? >> Peter Guralnick: Well, information doesn’t even begin to approach the book that should be written about Solomon Berg.

And I never wanted to do anything but a book in Solomon’s voice. So he did — I can’t remember at this point. How many children did he have? He had 12? How many was it? I thought it was like 21, but as Solomon said, I got lost in the Bible verse that said go forth and multiply. But he — and his last four children by — with his wife Sunday [assumed spelling] Ho, and he said to me, “You know, ho ho noodles.

” As if I would know. Do all of you know about ho ho noodles? To this day, I don’t. Sunday was very charming, very nice person. I never asked her about the noodle company. But his last four children [inaudible] and Queen Elizabeth. I’m trying to remember who else. Candy. I don’t know who she was named for.

They did perform with him as did one of his sons, Junior. JFK Junior. And I think there was one other. And his brother, Ellik [assumed spelling] when I first met Solomon was playing guitar for him. But nobody could tell Solomon’s story but Solomon, like Solomon or but Solomon. The thing about Solomon was that like Sam he was a creative artist of the highest attainment, not just when he was singing in every aspect of his life.

And there was no story he told no matter how fanciful it might seem that didn’t have some basis in reality like the time he played for the Ku Klux Klan by mistake. He says and they’re coming towards me. These lights, these torches. They’re all wearing hoods. Little children wearing little hoods.

But every one of these stories had some basis in reality, and often I confronted that reality but they were so beautifully comically and brilliantly told. The popcorn story or the — no, the only way we lost our opportunity to write the book, Solomon and I when Solomon died. >> Anne McLean: I hate to cut this off because it’s so warm to see how you guys have been entrancing everybody.

Thank you so much. Let’s thank them rather very warmly. >> This has been a presentation of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

Source Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5f0d3BU0Dg