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Sam Phillips could well be said to be the man who invented Rock ‘n’ Roll. When he opened his little studio in Memphis in 1950, he recorded mostly obscure black artists – until a shy, insecure kid with sideburns wandered in his studio to make a record “for his mother,” and in hopes that somehow he might attract notice. Elvis Presley, Phillips recalled, was “probably innately the most introverted person that ever came into that studio.” From there Phillips went on to record some of the most prominent performers of the early Rock ‘n’ Roll years, notably including (in addition to Elvis) Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. It was in his studio in December, 1956 that Perkins, Lewis, Cash, and Presley serendipitously met for an informal session that has been recently immortalized in “The Million Dollar Quartet.” The popularity of that musical, as well as the continued prominence of the music of those early artists, attests to the accuracy of Peter Guralnick’s claim that Sam Phillips “was seen, both then and now, as the avatar of the revolution, whose vision gave birth to a moment of freedom and individuation that continues unabated to this day.”
Speaker: Peter Guralnick. Video recording of this topic is not available.
Peter Guralnick has been called "a national resource" by critic Nat Hentoff for work that has argued passionately and persuasively for the vitality of this country's intertwined black and white musical traditions. His books include the prize-winning two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love. Of the first Bob Dylan wrote, “Elvis steps from the pages. You can feel him breathe. This book cancels out all others.” He won a Grammy for his liner notes for Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club and wrote and coproduced the documentary Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as writing the scripts for the Grammy-winning documentary Sam Cooke/Legend and Martin Scorsese’s blues documentary Feel Like Going Home. He taught Creative Writing at Vanderbilt from 2005-2016 and is a recent inductee in the Blues Hall of Fame.
Other books include an acclaimed trilogy on American roots music, Feel Like Going Home, Lost Highway, and Sweet Soul Music; the biographical inquiry Searching for Robert Johnson; and the novel, Nighthawk Blues. His 2005 biography, Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, was hailed as "monumental, panoramic, an epic tale told against a backdrop of brilliant, shimmering music, intense personal melodrama, and vast social changes.” His biography of Sam Phillips, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll, was published in November of 2015 and was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the New York Times and was a finalist for the Plutarch Award for Best Biography of the Year, awarded by the Biographers International Organization.