Sam Phillips book and compilation get 5 stars

sam-phillips-book

SAM PHILLIPS: THE MAN WHO INVENTED ROCK ‘N’ ROLL

By PETER GURALNICK
Little, Brown (Hardcover)

5 Stars

phillps CD

VARIOUS ARTISTS

SAM PHILLIPS: THE MAN WHO INVENTED ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
Yep Rock Records 
(CD)

5 Stars

By Gillian G. Gaar

After writing acclaimed biographies on Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke, Peter Guralnick turns to the man who helped set rock ‘n’ roll in motion: Sun Records founder Sam Phillips.

The story is aptly summarized in the book’s subheading on the cover: “How one man discovered Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, and how his tiny label, Sun Records of Memphis, revolutionized the world!” How’s that for a resume?

All this work was created in the single most important decade in Sam Philips’ life, and never before has it been chronicled in such detail. But there’s much more to the story, and Guralnick delves deeply into the psyche of a man who sensed the winds of change and was determined to help direct them, from a most unlikely venue; the tiny Memphis Recording Services studio where Sun Records was born.

It’s a marvelously detailed portrait of a most unusual man. For all his outward confidence, Phillips suffered from an underlying anxiety all his life (which he treated with electro-shock therapy, tranquilizers and ultimately anti-depressants). He not only had a wife, but also a long-term mistress, and any number of girlfriends. And despite his remarkable success, after the 1950s he largely stopped producing.

But he was hardly idle, as the book also shows, getting involved with everything from the first all-female staffed radio station (WHER, “1000 Beautiful Watts”) to zinc mines. Guralnick benefitted from his nearly 30-year friendship with Phillips, getting the story from him first hand.

Guralnick also curated the accompanying compilation of the same name, not a “best of” or “greatest hits,” but, he admits, his own favorite tracks Phillips produced, including the expected (Elvis, Jerry Lee, the Wolf) and the lesser known (Howard Seratt, Jimmy and Walter, Dr. Ross).

About Patrick Prince

Patrick Prince is the Editor of Goldmine

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