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August Kleinzahler

  • Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll by Peter Guralnick
    Weidenfeld, 784 pp, £16.99, November 2015, ISBN 978 0 297 60949 0

One night in 1939, 16-year-old Sam Phillips jumped into a ‘big old Dodge’ with his older brother and a few friends a little after midnight and set out to drive from Florence, Alabama to Dallas, Texas to hear a celebrated First Baptist pastor deliver a sermon. At four or five a.m. the boys arrived in Memphis, where they found themselves in a black part of town called Beale Street. It was ‘pouring down rain’, Phillips remembered,

but I’m telling you, Broadway never looked that busy. It was like a beehive, a microcosm of humanity – you had a lot of sober people there, you had a lot of people having a good time. You had old black men from the Delta and young cats dressed fit to kill. But the most impressive thing to me about Beale Street was that nobody got in anybody’s way – because every damn one of them wanted to be right there.

That short ride along Beale Street turned out to be the most important experience of Phillips’s young life. Eleven years later he opened the Memphis Recording Service in a small space at 706 Union Avenue, and two years later set up an independent record company there called Sun Records.

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