Stanley Booth – Red Hot And Blue
Fifty Years of Writing about Music, Memphis, and Motherf**kers
Author Stanley Booth has been writing about music for most of his life. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, and Playboy magazines, plus he has authored several music-related books. His 1984 work, Dance With The Devil: The Rolling Stones And Their Times, covered the band’s 1969 American tour as an insider, including the notorious Altamont festival appearance. (The book was issued in a revised edition in 2000, titled The True Adventure Of The Rolling Stones.) He also published a book on Keith Richards and a collection of essays entitled Rhythm Oil: A Journey Through The Music Of The American South.
For his latest work, Booth centers his focus to the musical mecca of Memphis, where he has lived at various stages in his life. Eight of the chapters are taken from Rhythm Oil, including his award-winning piece “Furry’s Blues”, chronicling Booth’s first encounter with bluesman Furry Lewis. The original piece on the favorite son of Memphis, “Situation Report: Elvis in Memphis, 1967” finds the author doing an end-around past manger Tom Parker by way of noted DJ Dewey Phillips to get close to the singer, writing a marvelous piece on the many facets of Presley’s life up to that point.
A short article finds the author recognizing a kindred spirit in the music of Gram Parsons in “The Gilded Palace Of Sin: The Flying Burrito Brothers”. Booth is at his best in a piece on jazz pianist Phineas Newborn Jr., a tragic figure who never received the acclaim to match his prodigious talent. Booth describes Newborn playing a concert with a number of the top jazz piano players, dazzling the audience with his technique and creativity. The concert was recorded but was never issued as most of the players would not sign release forms, leading Booth to speculate that they did not want listeners to hear their work side by side with Newborn’s impressive efforts.
Not one to pull punches, Booth is a joy to read, issuing insightful perspectives with irreverent humor and a keen eye for detail that most writers miss. In the opening piece, “Blues Dues,” he expresses his disdain for the casual blues fans, referred to as “Blues pukes,” who claim understanding based on limited exposure to the roots of the music. “The King Is Dead! Hang The Doctor!” is another standout chapter, telling the story of Presley’s personal physician, from the perspective of a writer deep in the throes of addiction to pain killers brought on by a broken back, injured in a fall from a Georgia mountain. His pieces on Ma Rainey and Blind Willie McTell encapsulate the reasons why both were so influential in the development of the music.
Later pieces dig into the on-going popularity of singer Bobby Rush and how Marvin Sease maintains a spot in the top rank of the southern soul blues genre. Booth’s examination of Mose Allison at age seventy, who describes the blues as a person’s reaction to, and the motivation generated by, humiliation.”The Godfather’s Blues” puts a new perspective on the legal issues that dogged soul legend James Brown throughout his life. Booth provides a touching tribute to his late wife, Diann Blakely, with “Distant Thoughts,” built around e-mail messages they shared. And in the lead-in to “Why They Call It The Blues,” he reminds readers of a quote from the comedian Flip Wilson, “I like the blues, because when the record wears out, it still sounds the same!” Another piece offers his reflections on the outlaw country music sound while “Dixie Fried” is a short glimpse at James Luther Dickinson’s place on the pantheon of Memphis music legends.
Across twenty-nine sketches, Booth weaves a stirring narrative with music at the center, and the influence of Memphis, summed up in “Where The People Smile,” which the author states is a realistic glimpse at the Memphis no one tells you about. The book takes it’s title from the final piece, named after Dewey Phillips’ famed radio program and the man who created Elvis, along with other musical high points before burning out in a slow fade into the mists of time..Booth makes them all come alive, helps you to feel their joy, and particularly the humiliation that fueled their artistry. A truly remarkable volume that deserves a wide audience of music enthusiasts!