THE BOOK ON ELVIS
“THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT was Elvis’s first one in 1956,” says writer Peter Guralnick, 49, whose Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley—the first half of his two-volume biography—is due next fall. “Then when I started getting into the blues in the late ’50s, I bought the two albums that came out when Elvis was in the Army [For LP Fans Only and A Dale with Elvis]—the ones with all his old Sun recordings. That’s when I recognized that he was a blues singer—and that got me listening to his music with fresh ears.”
Listening with fresh ears, and translating what he hears into insightful writing about the relationship between music and culture, have certified Guralnick, whose previous books include Feel Like Going Home (’71), Lost Highway (’79) and Sweet Soul Music (’86), as one of the nation’s most respected authorities on popular music. “In telling the story of Elvis’s life, I’d like to convey the cultural context of the time—the world that Elvis came out of and the way in which he affected that world,” says Guralnick.
“Elvis and the people around him—the larger-than-life characters like [Sun Records owner] Sam Phillips and [Elvis’s manager] Col. Tom Parker—had to make their way in a whole new frontier, a place with very few rules,” he continues. “There wasn’t any known path that rock and roll, or the people who created it, were supposed to take. So, I’m trying to relocate that frontier, and see how, and why, it turned out the way it did.”