-->
Music

Various Artists: Sam Phillips, The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll

Not a greatest hits collection, nor organized chronologically or thematically, these are idiosyncratic favorites.


Various Artists

Sam Phillips, The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2015-10-30
Amazon
iTunes

Most people recognize the name Sam Phillips as the moniker of the man who discovered Elvis Presley. And if they have seen the recent musical Million Dollar Quartet, they also know Phillips first recorded other legends such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins at Phillips’s Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee. However impressive these feats may be in the annals of rock and roll, Phillips did even more than that. For just over a decade, from 1950-1961, he captured some of the greatest American music ever created and brought it to the public.

Phillips didn’t discriminate between what one today would call rock, country, blues, rockabilly, and gospel. He just taped what he found special and worked with various artists to get the sound on disc. As Bob Dylan once wrote, “Sam Phillips himself created the most crucial, uplifting and powerful records ever made.” Dylan means more than just the wonderful stuff of Presley and company. Phillips made what was arguably the first rock and roll record, Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88” back in 1951. It sold over 100,000 copies (on the Chess label) during its first year of release.

And there’s the weepy Sleepy John Este, the roaring Howlin’ Wolf, the impassioned Roy Orbison, the velvet-voiced Junior Parker, the silver-tongued Charlie Rich, the bluesy B.B. King, and more obscure but no less talented folk such as the rhythmic Roscoe Gordon, the wild man Warren Smith, the sweet harmonies of the Prisonaires, among many others. What they all have in common is “perfect imperfection,” according to rock historian Peter Guralnick.

Guralnick may be best-known for his two-volume, 1,300 page biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis (1994) followed by Careless Love (1999). He’s know turned his attention to Phillips. His latest book, the more than 760 page, 2.3 pound Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll was just released in November, and Guralnick has also co-curated a new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, “Flying Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips".

Even better for those of us unable to handle a 700-plus page tome or get to Music City anytime soon, Guralnick has put together a two CD/ three LP set of some of Phillips best and strangest material. Guralnick makes it clear in the liner notes that the anthology Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll is not a greatest hits collection. Nor is it organized chronologically or thematically. They are Guralnick’s “idiosyncratic favorites” and follow in no particular order. The effect resembles that of Phillips himself who would go after what pleased and fascinated him more than chasing hits.

The collection includes some of the more famous tunes, like Presley’s “Mystery Train”, Cash’s “Big River", Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes", and Lewis’ “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” as well as the more unknown tunes by famous artists such as Presley’s “Tryin’ to Get to You", Perkins’s “Turn Around”, and Lewis’s “End of the Road". In addition, Guralnick also includes many brilliant lesser knowns such as James Cotton’s blistering “Cotton Crop Blues”, the jazz based rockabilly of Sonny Burgess’s “Red Headed Woman”, and Rufus Thomas’s antic “Tiger Man". In addition, Guralnick selects some of the novelty records such as Billy Riley’s “Flying Saucers Rock and Roll” and Doctor Ross’s “The Boogie Disease".

Guralnick also includes brief notes on each of the selections in his 45 page accompanying booklet. He notes that Phillips “saw Charlie Rich alone as existing on the same emotional profundity as Howlin’ Wolf,” “Jerry Lee Lewis may have been the most talented of the bunch,” and that “’Blue Suede Shoes’ sounded to Phillips like the Hallelujah Chorus in a black church.” The liner notes are more fun than informative even as they contain kernels of wisdom.

Because Guralnick is not out to make a particular point, besides the fact that Phillips was a great record producer with an ear for talent, the anthology never gets dull or didactic. He does sneak in one song that doesn’t fit the time period covered. Apparently, Phillip’s kids were in the studio back in 1979 producing a gravelly-voiced artist named John Prine. Phillips was drawn to Prine’s talent, and took a shot at producing several cuts that showed up on Prine’s Pink Cadillac album. One of the songs became Phillips’ theme as he grew older, and according to Guralnick, Phillips would sing the chorus “on the most unlikely of occasions.” The tune, “How Lucky Can One Man Get", features bright harmonica playing and bouncing percussion in contrast with Prine’s simply-stated vocals. He sounds fortunate indeed. No wonder Phillips took this as his own refrain, and the rest of us should thank our providential starts that it was Phillips who discovered so many important and talented musicians and recorded their talents for the rest of us.

8
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image