The circuit was a vital part of black culture during its heyday, and its disappearance is to be mourned. It brought a lot of joy to people who didn’t have much, and it brought splendid music to all of us. Lauterbach’s tribute to it is welcome and overdue.
The Washington Post
Six years before a white Pennsylvanian named Bill Haley recorded "Rock Around the Clock," Roy Brown, a black singer and song writer from New Orleans, wrote "Good Rockin' Tonight" as a radio jingle for a whorehouse. Haley and Elvis Presley, who recorded Brown's song, are enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while Brown, who died in 1981, remains without the honor. Brown's story is just one stop on music journalist's Lauterbach's rollicking history of forgotten promoters and performers on the loosely organized chain of dance halls, juke joints, and night clubs catering to black audiences—it became known as the chitlin' circuit because chitterlings, the intestines of pigs, were a popular delicacy. Lauterbach's writing is as energetic as a Little Richard song (a performer who started on the chitlin' circuit and crossed over to national fame), although he falls victim to his own enthusiasm and loses momentum in an attempt to recount a litany of figures. Regardless, Lauterbach's first book is a rocking read and a deserving tribute to the people and places who were the foundations of rock and roll. (July)
Lauterbach’s tribute to [the chitlin' circuit] is welcome and overdue. Jonathan Yardley
New Orleans Times-Picayune
“[T]he genius prequel to an oft-told epic.”
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Lauterbach uncovers a story as sensational as any day-glo circuit-show poster...The era's hepcat lingo ("ork" for orchestra, "ofay" for "white") and hard-boiled, noir ambience give Mr. Lauterbach a tune he can carry....the book is at heart a well-researched valentine to a lost world of seedy con men, promoters and club owners, the power brokers and hustlers who made the "circuitry spark." Eddie Dean
Cleveland Plain Dealer
This sprawling, fascinating history drops readers into a chaotic, dangerous, utterly vanished world. It turns out to be more vibrant than the standard rock 'n' roll mythology. The true dawn of rock lit a landscape in which timeless music got made thanks to every vice and virtue imaginable. Now that's America. John Repp
starred review Booklist
“In this terrific popular history, music journalist and first time author Lauterbach uncovers a secret world that involves not only music but also racketeering and bribery, bootlegging, and various scandals. Lauterbach focuses on how the chitlin' circuit developed from the late 1930s to the early 1940s, with a particular emphasis on how it nurtured early rock 'n' roll. A major achievement and an important contribution to American music history.”
Jonathan Yardley - Washington Post
“Lauterbach’s tribute to [the chitlin' circuit] is welcome and overdue.”
“An intensely researched, engaging revelation… This captivating account slips the reader smack into the middle of rock’s own hothouse.”
Eddie Dean - Wall Street Journal
“A well-researched valentine to a lost world of seedy con men, promoters and club owners, the power brokers and hustlers who made the ‘circuitry spark.’”
John Repp - Cleveland Plain Dealer
“This sprawling, fascinating history drops readers into a chaotic, dangerous, utterly vanished world.”
Robert Christgau - Barnes and Noble Review
“Highly recommended....relishes the criminal origins of the mostly southern black club scene from the early '30s to the late '60s....a coherent, musically savvy history of a performance culture that until now was known only piecemeal.”
Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe
“Lauterbach spins the tale with enormous vitality and it’s terribly fun to read. He masterfully explains the complex logistics of the entertainment industry, and studs the book with fascinating, little-known characters. . . . The reader will finish with an overwhelming urge to turn up the volume.”
Stephen M. Deusner - PasteMagazine.com
“...crucial to our understanding of late-20th-century pop music and all the more impressive for its exhaustive research. Preston Lauterbach’s book—spirited, studious, surprising, occasionally hilarious—is absolutely persuasive on its subject.”
...crucial to our understanding of late-20th-century pop music and all the more impressive for its exhaustive research. Preston Lauterbach’s book—spirited, studious, surprising, occasionally hilarious—is absolutely persuasive on its subject. Stephen M. Deusner
“Remarkable… Lauterbach has resurrected the names and careers of men and women—and, yes, some of the toughest of these people were women—who ran bars, booking agencies and clubs, where traveling musicians could come into a black community, play, make money and go to the next town… It’s a complex, multi-layered story… The Chitlin’ Circuit illuminates a period of American musical history that’s long needed it… Go[es] a long way toward illuminating the life black performers lived off-stage and the conditions they endured while they worked.”
Michaelangelo Matos - The A. V. Club
“Opens new doors in pop-music scholarship as well as American (and African-American) cultural history.”
Music journalist Lauterbach has written the definitive history of the musical back roads and back rooms of the southern United States, dubbed the Chitlin' Circuit. From the 1920s through the 1960s, black musicians and their promoters used the clubs of the South to spread their music and eventually to sell records. Artists such as Walter Barnes, Louis Jordan, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Little Richard, and Al Green all worked the circuit in their time, bringing on the dawn of rock 'n' roll, but it is the promoters who take center stage in this tale. Denver Ferguson of Indianapolis built his fortune with a street lottery but came to promote great prerock artists like King Kolax. Professional gambler and club owner Don Robey of Houston eventually came to work with influential acts like Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Johnny Ace. The musical battles of Little Richard and James Brown are chronicled as well. VERDICT A great read, well written and insightful. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the seedy history of American popular music.—Todd Spires, Bradley Univ. Lib., Peoria, IL
The development of the Southern black club scene receives a sometimes cluttered history.
In his debut, music journalist Lauterbach plots the early years of the chitlin' circuit, which takes its name from "chitterlings," or hog intestines, an indigenous Southern cuisine. Born in the late swing era, the circuit owed its existence to canny entrepreneurs like Denver Ferguson, a numbers racketeer and club owner in Indianapolis' "Bronzeville" district, and Walter Barnes, a self-promoting bandleader andChicago Defender columnist who barnstormed black markets in the South. Their efforts opened the way for other regional bookers like Don Robey (Houston), Sunbeam Mitchell (Memphis) and Clint Branley (Macon). The chitlin' circuit gained traction during the 1940s, as the big bands waned and small combos like Louis Jordan's Tympany Five set the stage for popular R&B acts like Roy Brown, Johnny Ace, Little Richard and James Brown. Frequently citing the black press of the day, Lauterbach tells his story with big splashes of color. At times, the narrative slows as the author trots out endless band itineraries. Possibly the biggest problem with the book is Lauterbach's failure to make a completely compelling case for Ferguson's enduring importance. He devotes most of his space to the Indiana promoter's hometown business, and material about Ferguson's later years, in which he grappled with tax troubles and a messy divorce, add little to the main narrative. Furthermore, Lauterbach ends the story with the arrival of the '50s performers who gained fame in the rock 'n' roll era (and a pointless coda about the destruction of Memphis' Beale Street district). While he alludes to the colorful careers of modern chitlin' circuit artists like Bobby Rush and the late Marvin Sease, whose popularity extended into the new millennium, he leaves that vital story untold.
A lack of organizational rigor derails an interesting tale.