Memphis Mayhem

By David A. Less

Memphis Mayhem
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Memphis gave birth to music that changed the world — Memphis Mayhem is a fascinating history of how music and culture collided to change the state of music forever

“David Less has captured the essence of the Memphis music experience on these pages in no uncertain terms. ... Read more


Overview

 

Memphis gave birth to music that changed the world — Memphis Mayhem is a fascinating history of how music and culture collided to change the state of music forever

“David Less has captured the essence of the Memphis music experience on these pages in no uncertain terms. There’s truly no place like Memphis and this is the story of why that is. HAVE MERCY!” — Billy F Gibbons, ZZ Top

Foreword by renowned music historian Peter Guralnick

Memphis Mayhem weaves the tale of the racial collision that led to a cultural, sociological, and musical revolution. David Less constructs a fascinating narrative of the city that has produced a startling array of talent, including Elvis Presley, B. B. King, Al Green, Otis Redding, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Justin Timberlake, and so many more.

Beginning with the 1870s yellow fever epidemics that created racial imbalance as wealthy whites fled the city, David Less moves from W. C. Handy’s codification of blues in 1909 to the mid-century advent of interracial musical acts like Booker T. & the M. G.’s, the birth of punk, and finally to the growth of a music tourism industry.

Memphis Mayhem explores the city’s entire musical ecosystem, which includes studios, high school band instructors, clubs, record companies, family bands, pressing plants, instrument factories, and retail record outlets. Lively and comprehensive, this is a provocative story of finding common ground through music and creating a sound that would change the world.

 

David A. Less

David A. Less has studied Memphis music for over 40 years, and has conducted research for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Gibson Guitar Foundation. His work has appeared in Rolling StoneDownBeatBlues Revue magazine and the Bulletin for the Society of American Music. He is a third-generation Memphian who still lives in Memphis, Tennessee.

Excerpt

 

“I love you!” yelled the man in the audience.

The diminutive soul singer with the big voice ignored the outburst. She was accustomed to rowdy admirers. After all, she had played in the clubs in Memphis. And this was the legendary Troubadour, one of the top showcase clubs in Los Angeles. She had dealt with hecklers before. What could go wrong?

“I love you!” shouted the obviously intoxicated man again.

This was Memphian Ann Peebles’s big showcase. The Troubadour was the hot club in town where stars and music aficionados gathered. Where careers could be launched and the elusive “buzz” could begin.

Decades later, she told me in an interview, “I looked out in the audience and somebody just kept screaming my name and screaming, ‘I love you. I love you. ’ And I kept looking and I was saying, ‘Who is this?’ I kept looking out and I saw him, but he had a sanitary napkin taped to his forehead. And he kept screaming and screaming. I said, ‘Who is that?’ And somebody said, ‘That’s John Lennon. ’ So, I just laughed. ”

It was 1974 and Lennon had moved to Los Angeles and begun an eighteen-month period of debauchery. He had gone to the Troubadour with friends to listen to Peebles. Her rendition of “I Can’t Stand the Rain” had been released a year earlier, and Lennon had declared it to be “the best song ever” in Billboard magazine. That evening, he was inebriated and had slipped into the ladies’ room, emerging with a sanitary napkin across his forehead. As the evening wore on, his declarations of admiration for the soul singer from Memphis grew more graphic. After the show, he came backstage and apologized to Peebles.

“He came backstage and we had a long talk. He’s a funny guy. ”

 

Reviews

 

“Music writer Less presents a fascinating history of the music of his native Memphis … Less brings to vivid life the music of Memphis. ” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A lively combination of personal observation, scholarship, and insider knowledge of an important era of American music. ” — Kirkus Reviews

“This quick romp through Memphis music from a racial perspective will complement Robert Gordon’s books, as well as James Dickerson’s Goin’ Back to Memphis. ” — Library Journal

“Wow.  Memphis Mayhem tells the history of the music from my hometown with fun and entertaining stories. David Less’s role as the ‘everyman narrator’ works perfectly because of his long involvement within the Memphis music community. Anyone interested in American music should read this book.  O, my Soul. ” — Jody Stephens, Big Star

“I like the way Memphis Mayhem represented Hi Records, Stax, and all of Memphis music. I totally enjoyed this book. Great job. ” — Ann Peebles, soul singer

 

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