Call Sam - Peter Guralnick



Call Sam - Peter Guralnick

Postby bailbath » Thu Jul 30, 2015 4:07 pm

http://www.peterguralnick.com/post/56869958338/call-sam

It’s hard to believe Sam died ten years ago.

For me it’s even harder. Because I speak to him every day.

Well, not literally – not exactly. But I am so caught up in his story, in his voice, in his words that it is (they are) literally inescapable. Sometimes he praises me. More often he belittles me (“If you can’t figure this out on your own, then you are one sorry-ass motherfucker”). But mostly he just exhorts me to get on with the job.

I have been working on my biography for six or seven years now – but, really, I’ve got to say, I think I’ve been building up to it all my life. I first met Sam almost thirty-five years ago. He was fifty-six, and I thought that was really old. (Just to keep everything straight, I was thirty-five.) It was probably the most inspiring meeting of my life. Not only to meet the man behind so much of the music that had shaped my life (blues and rock ‘n’ roll – and, now I’ve got to admit, country, too). But to find him voicing opinions that were – well, inspiring, in the larger sense of the word. His invocations of individualism and democracy and freedom reached out to territory far beyond the bounds of commercial music. (Well, so did his music.) As he said, and as my book, Lost Highway, concludes: “I think that music is a part of a very spiritual aspect of people. I don’t say that there’s a thing wrong with [today’s music], but when you drive so much of the same thing and people get into too much of a pattern – listen, they’re talking about that you’ve got to have, well, what is the trend now? Well, Jesus God, now if there’s anything that we don’t need, it’s a trend.

“One of these days, though, I may not live to see it, maybe you all will, but one of these days that freedom is going to come back. Because, look, the expression of the people is almost, it’s so powerful, it’s almost like a hydrogen bomb. It’s going to get out. I’m not just saying go back to the fifties and this sort of thing. But if it could be worked – and it will be worked – to where just a few like Elvis could break out again, then I would preach, I would become an evangelist if I were alive, saying, ‘For God’s sake, don’t let’s become conformists – please. Just do your thing in your own way. Don’t ever let fame and fortune or recognition or anything interfere with what you feel is here – if you feel you are a creative individual. Then don’t let the companies get this going real good and buy up all the rights of the individual some way or the other. That’s not right. We’ll go back in another circle. Till it gets so damn boring your head is swimming. And I’ll tell you, I hope it’s not too long coming, because of the fact as we go longer and longer into the lack of individual expression, as we go along, if we get too far we’re going to get away from some of the real basic things. All of us damn cats that appreciate not the fifties necessarily but that freedom are gonna forget about the feel. We gonna be in jail, and not even know it.”

Well, all right. I’m still inspired. (And that’s just the condensed version.)

But I’ve got to tell you, after working on the book all this time, I’m no less convinced. Sam, as anyone who ever met him (or listened to him on stage, screen, or radio broadcast) knows, could be a little discursive. But he always had a point; in fact, it would be fairer to say, he always had a larger point. I spoke to him off and on for nearly 25 years, during the last fifteen of which he talked often about his book – well, for the last few years it was going to be our book, which I agreed to gladly – as soon as I was done with my Sam Cooke biography. (“When the hell are you going to finish that damn book?” Sam kept asking. I tried to enhance his appreciation of the other Sam by sending him a tape – mostly of gospel sides – but he was not to be bought off.)

Now to tell you the truth I didn’t think Sam was ever going to get around to his book – our book. Not because he didn’t want to – part of him certainly did, and a bigger part of him thought he did – but mainly because Sam, even in his late seventies, remained a forward-thinking, not a backward-looking) man. What I didn’t realize for the longest time, though, was that, whether by intent or not, Sam was actually writing it.

I’ve got hundreds (and hundreds) of pages of interview transcripts. The ostensible subject of most of the early interviews was Elvis Presley (this was when I was working on Last Train to Memphis primarily) – but Sam was never one to confine himself strictly to the subject at hand, and he introduced elements of his schooling, his upbringing, his perception of race as a child, the role that growing up on a farm at the Bend of the River outside of Florence, Alabama, just before the Great Depression hit, played on his life. But these were sandwiched in between his very sober (I’m talking her about mood) reflections upon the more familiar past, from Charlie Rich and Howlin’ Wolf to the course of Elvis’ early musical development and career.

It wasn’t until we did the documentary, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll, in 1999, though, that I realized what was really going on. My friend Morgan Neville, the director and co-producer of the show, knowing Sam’s penchant for prolixity (but not knowing Sam) devised a strategy that he thought might help cut down some on the cost of actual filming. What we could do, he suggested, was interview Sam in a series of pre-production meetings, on audiotape – that way Sam could get it all out of his system before we ever switched over to the far more costly videotape and film.

Well, we did interview Sam, on more than a dozen 90-minute audio tapes, and I watched the beginnings of despair (well, not despair exactly – but I think you get the picture) begin to dawn on Morgan’s face, as Sam talked, it seemed, about just about everything under the sun except those things which would necessarily be the principal subject of the documentary. He talked at length about Silas Payne, the black, blind ex-sharecropper who had exerted such an influence on his life. Also his deaf-mute Aunt Emma, who was the smartest person in the family, maybe in North Florence, and how, like Silas Payne, she had provided him with the truest of role models. He talked about his eighth (maybe ninth) grade teacher, Mrs. Mary Alice Lanier, who spanked the hell out of his hand with a ruler. He was a “mean little bastard” until then, he said (“I was just very, very convinced of things”), but that finally set him off on the right path. He talked (a lot) about going to the superintendent of schools, Mr. Powell, to get Sousaphones for the Coffee High School marching band (Sam was its first captain, as a high school Sophomore) and working with the dapper new band director, twenty-six-year-old Floyd McClure, who wore spats and a Homburg, drove a black 1937 Ford, had played tuba with the Tidy Hill Dance Band in Chicago, and had just as passionate a commitment to the band as Sam did.

It was fascinating. Even if all the while Morgan was tearing his hair out. And needless to say, Sam kept talking about all these things (and much, much more) once the cameras started rolling. He would get really caught up in trying to describe his interaction with Wolf, Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Little Junior Parker – but he would get just as caught up in teaching us the Lesson of the Telephone that went off during a Jimmy DeBerry session – and the fact that you can still hear that telephone on the recording, because, Sam said, “You think I was going to take that telephone ring off the record? It was R-E-A-L, do you get me? Real.”

I miss Sam every day. Occasionally I dream about him. But, you know, I can visit with him any time I like. Which is most of the time. And if I run out of steam occasionally and don’t feel like visiting any more, for all of Sam’s vehement protests, I can always shut off the tape recorder, the computer – the whole process – if only for a little while, until I go back to work the next day.

I wrote this at the request of my friend Trevor Cajiao, and it first appeared in his magazine, Now Dig This, which bills itself without exaggeration as"100% Rock ‘N’ Roll.“ To find out more, check out www.nowdigthis.co.uk

- See more at: http://www.peterguralnick.com/post/5686 ... A7uDq.dpuf
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Re: Call Sam - Peter Guralnick

Postby rockin532000 » Fri Mar 10, 2017 10:56 pm

I am sure some of you have already bought and read it but for those who haven't, I can highly recommend Peter Guralnick biography about Sam Phillips ("the man who invented rock'n'roll")
It is really a master peace!
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Re: Call Sam - Peter Guralnick

Postby chris morris » Sat Mar 11, 2017 9:08 am

I really enjoyed Peter Guralnick's biography of Sam Phillips. I've also enjoyed most of his other books...for me, he's one of the great writers on rock'n'roll. I do, however, have a couple of reservations about his Sam Phillips book. I feel it's just possible he was too close to his subject. For example, towards the end of his life, Phillips started to claim he was the person who was in the Sun studios when Elvis Presley walked in in July 1953 to make a private recording and recognising his talent, taped a segment for future reference. Now, all the evidence points to Marion Keisker, Sam's assistant, being the person who was there alone in the studio and "discovered" Elvis. For decades, Sam Philips never challenged this story but towards the end of his life with Marion dead, he started to claim credit. Guralnick seems to go easy on Sam over this and accept his later version. The other issue he doesn't confront is related to Sam's much publicised love of black musicians. This is one reason often cited for him setting up Sun in the first place to record these blues and r'n'b artists who couldn't get a deal elsewhere. What Guralnick doesn't query is why once Elvis and other white rockabilly singers started selling, Sam never again bothered to record black musicians.

None of the above is a criticism of Peter Guralnick (or, for that matter, the genuinely wonderful Sam Phillips). It is just a note of caution about the book which, as I've said, I greatly enjoyed.

Chris
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Re: Call Sam - Peter Guralnick

Postby Rocky » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:36 pm

I agree with Chris on both items. It was definitely Marion Keisker (and not Sam) in the studio when Elvis made that first record. It was only years after Marion died that Sam (a BS'er) began taking the credit for it.
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Re: Call Sam - Peter Guralnick

Postby rockin532000 » Sun Jul 02, 2017 6:40 pm

For whatever reason it took me a while to read the whole book which is, by no means, a criticism about the book (more about me...) but Peter Guralnick is one of the premier biography writer there is (at least for me).

To the posts above actually Peter delivers an explanation why he goes for Sam's side of the story. You might have a different view but at least he provides an explanation.

I also learned something new in the book which might not be important in the big scheme of things but I found it quite amazing. On page 625 (!) Peter describes an evening in early March of 2002 when Jerry went to Sam and Sally at 10.30pm. It actually was the evening when he was supposed to be in Ferriday at the grand opening of the Delta Music Museum. And yes he did not like the plane of the governor...but it seems he had different thing on his mind anyway that evening.

Absolutely believable Sally describes that the only thing Jerry had on his mind that evening was to apologize for what he has done in the past. Among other things taking Myra to London and a lot of others. This was quite astonishing to me because officially he always told not to regret anything he has done in the past.

Another thing Jerry said (not that evening): "I always wished that my mind was as swift as my piano playing. There is no telling how things might have turned out...."

Again, I find this quite revealing.

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Re: Call Sam - Peter Guralnick

Postby wolfgangguhl » Sun Jul 02, 2017 7:10 pm

It could just as well be a story made up by Sam. In my opinion he was a bullshiter.
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Re: Call Sam - Peter Guralnick

Postby rockin532000 » Sun Jul 02, 2017 7:17 pm

Well actually when you read the book it was Sally who told this story when Sam was already dead....
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Re: Call Sam - Peter Guralnick

Postby wolfgangguhl » Sun Jul 02, 2017 9:35 pm

Why would/should Jerry apologize for bringing Myra over? It would be very untypical for him. He didn't do anything wrong by bringing her over. It is the press that should be ashamed for starting a witch hunt after him.
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