Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll

| 12/11/2015 2:40:00 PM

Cultural historian Peter Guralnick’s latest music biography, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll (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!) has a cumbersome and author-admitted hyperbolic title, but it tells a riveting story. Phillips is remembered today as the man who launched the legendary Sun Records and careers of the aforementioned artists and many others not named in the title. But Guralnick has gone beyond simply recounting names and hits to tell the life story of the musical icon.

Born in Florence, Alabama, Phillips saw firsthand the racial injustices of the Depression-era South. The black kids he played with and worked with in the fields were not afforded the same opportunities he and his white friends and family were. Yet from a very young age, Phillips recognized the power, the true majesty of the songs his community mates sang in the fields and in their churches.

Guralnick tells the full story of Phillips’ childhood, including his numerous health problems, dedication to his deaf and mute aunt, and early jobs including working at a funeral home, blessed with the gift of convincing grieving family members to trust him with the care of their recently deceased loved ones.

But it is when Phillips moved to his adopted hometown of Memphis that the story picks up steam for those craving details on the formative years of rock and roll and rhythm and blues. As a young man he began a career in radio and married his sweetheart Becky, also an up-and-comer in the radio business. Guralnick shares stories of Phillips’ struggles financially and with mental health before he decided to take a risk and open the famed Memphis Recording Service.

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