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RYTHM OIL by Stanley Booth

RYTHM OIL

A Journey Through the Music of the American South

By Stanley Booth

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-40944-0
Publisher: Pantheon

 Top-flight memoir/article collection on Memphis, blues musicians, and rock 'n' roll, by the author of 1984's Dance with the Devil: The Rolling Stones, who has abandoned the gonzo style of that work for a much more intimate and moving tie with the reader. Most of these pieces first appeared in Playboy, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Smart, etc. Here, however, Booth dresses them up with tasty slabs of soul-memory about how each came to be--so the collection hangs together with unusual strength, emerging from the weathers and currents of Memphis and the blues at the birth of rock 'n' roll. Perhaps the most brilliantly inventive piece is the first, ``Standing at the Crossroads,'' a two-character, one-act play about haunted bluesman Robert Johnson literally (he thinks) selling his soul to the devil at midnight on a deserted crossroads in the Mississippi Delta. Several sections commemorate the fading energies of Beale Street and its music halls, and the deaths and funerals of many bluesmen and rockers Booth knew personally, including Mississippi John Hurt, Charlie Freeman, and Otis Redding. Booth interviewed Redding a week before the singer died. Outstanding is ``Furry's Blues,'' the true story of a one-legged blues singer/guitarist who spent 40 years as a Memphis street- sweeper while playing occasional weekends in clubs. Booth relives the first glories of Sun Records in his hometown and the rise of Elvis, then does a stinging piece on Elvis in 1967, when he was supersaturated with success. Janis Joplin's failure before a half- black audience, because her pickup band wasn't blues trained, is a highlight, as are pieces on Keith Richards, Al Green, and Phineas Newborn. Feelingful all the way, and a tribute to the blues.