Peter Guralnick is a music writer of the highest order who splits his time living between Tennessee and Massachusetts. Over the past 40 years, he has written definitive books about American music, including Dream Boogie, a biography of Sam Cooke, and Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, his monumental twin biographies about the rise and unmaking of Elvis Presley. His latest book is a riveting and exhaustively researched portrait of the founder of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee—the man who discovered Presley and other icons like Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis among many others. The book is called Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll, it’s out now via Little, Brown and Company, and here, Peter and I discuss me geeking out in a major way, his time spent in Boston, Nashville, and Memphis, writing what he wants, Sam Phillips’ influence and independent spirit, finding Elvis, the R-E-A-L and our individuality, a man on an extraordinary mission, “Tell the damn truth,” the myth of objectivity, fact checking and getting to the core of someone you might not know, becoming friends with Sam Phillips, treating subjects with dignity, Charlie Rich, the truth is the truth, getting lost in spontaneity, personal observation, narrative slapback, Sam’s love for radio, that time Phillips called up Fidel Castro and became friends with Hank Williams’ widow, Audrey, Sam’s heroic last days, the astonishing breadth of his knowledge and dedication to research in any field, Phillips’ desire to foster racial equality and give impoverished artists of any background a chance to express themselves, standing up for the downtrodden, the new Yep Roc Sun Records compilation and a mouse in my house, Phillips’ guiding role for independent American record labels, distributors, and artists, his business acumen, the financial pain of having a hit single, looking for someone exactly like Elvis, why Sam had to sell the Elvis Presley contract to RCA for $35,000, working with Sam on his life story and winning his trust, how Sam didn’t really want to write a memoir, an interesting e-book version of this story, going back to working on a collection of short stories, Alice Munro, Dawn Powell, Fanny and Alexander, the song “Mr. Highway Man” by Howlin’ Wolf and the Wolf’s sway over Sam Phillips, and then we gotta let you go.
Related links: peterguralnick.com sunrecords.com vishkhanna.com