The Chitlin' Circuit: And the Road to Rock 'n' Rollby Preston Lauterbach
A definitive account of the birth of rock 'n' roll in black America, this book establishes the Chitlin' Circuit as a major force in American musical history. Combining terrific firsthand reporting with deep historical research, Preston Lauterbach uncovers characters like Chicago Defender columnist Walter Barnes, who pioneered the circuit in the 1930s, and/b>
A definitive account of the birth of rock 'n' roll in black America, this book establishes the Chitlin' Circuit as a major force in American musical history. Combining terrific firsthand reporting with deep historical research, Preston Lauterbach uncovers characters like Chicago Defender columnist Walter Barnes, who pioneered the circuit in the 1930s, and larger-than-life promoters such as Denver Ferguson, the Indianapolis gambling chieftain who consolidated it in the 1940s. Charging from Memphis to Houston and now-obscure points in between, The Chitlin' Circuit brings us into the sweaty back rooms where such stars as James Brown, B. B. King, and Little Richard got their start. With his unforgettable portraits of unsung heroes including King Kolax, Sax Kari, and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Lauterbach writes of a world of clubs and con men that has managed to avoid much examination despite its wealth of brash characters, intriguing plotlines, and vulgar glory, and gives us an excavation of an underground musical America.
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.
The Washington Post
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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- 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)
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Meet the Author
Music journalist Preston Lauterbach lives with his wife and children in Memphis, Tennessee. The Chitlin' Circuit is his first book.
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Well researched and written.
An excellent, gripping history of a crucial and untold part of American music history-- a crossroads of underworld, music, and star power. Parts are hilarious!