Five decades of writing from one of the foremost chroniclers of the blues and other Southern music.
Memphis-based music journalist Booth (Keith: Standing in the Shadows, 1996, etc.) has been immersed in jazz, blues, rock, and other genres since he was a child. The blues, in particular, reverberate throughout Booth’s writing, underscoring the inseparability of his life and body of work. “I never intended to have anything to do with the blues,” he writes. “They came into my life through my bedroom window when I was a child. It wasn’t a matter of choice. What I learned I paid for in experience at the school where they arrest you first and tell you why later.” In this new anthology, the author offers a slew of highly personal dispatches that reflect much of the best of his writing. Plunging in with a humorous—somewhat salty—indictment of contemporary music journalism, so-called authorities on American musical traditions, and the slick treatment of the blues by modern media, Booth stakes his ground, imparting the value of essence over image in music writing. Including recent essays on Ma Rainey and Blind Willie McTell and winding through reprints of his now-iconic pieces “Furry’s Blues” and “Situation Report: Elvis in Memphis, 1967,” the volume features 29 articles of varying lengths in no stated order, spanning his career. Rather than the customary date and associated publication notes, Booth offers a brief contextual paragraph with personal asides for each piece. For instance, in a screenplay excerpt titled “Mr. Crump Don’t Like It: If Beale Street Could Talk,” he notes that he “stole” the idea for writing a three-arc plot from William S. Burroughs’ The Last Words of Dutch Schultz. Other topics include Graceland, Memphis soul, Mose Allison, and James Brown.
Further entertaining testimony from a music journalist whose writing pulsates with the same blues rhythms as the soil and streets in which they were born.