PDF Peter Guralnick ï Sweet Soul Music Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream ï

A gripping narrative that captures the tumult and liberating energy of a nation in transition Sweet Soul Music is an intimate portrait of the legendary performers Sam Cooke Ray Charles James Brown Solomon Burke Aretha Franklin Otis Redding and Al Green among them who merged gospel and rhythm and blues to create Southern soul music Through rare interviews and with uniue insight Peter Guralnick tells the definitive story of the songs that inspired a generation and forever changed the sound of American music

10 thoughts on “Sweet Soul Music Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom

  1. says:

    This is still the definitive account of southern soul over thirty years since it was published Many of the key players were still around and happy to be interviewed when Peter Guralnick researched the book As one who has read his also definitive Elvis biographies Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love might expect he does a fantastic job piecing together all of their anecdotes to tell a coherent entertaining story about amazing music being createdWhere the Elvis project had its atmospheric novelistic Prologue which jumped forward to to the meeting of Sam Phillips and Dewey Phillips in the Peabody Drugstore here the intro is a uite dry Guralnick explains at length how he defines soul how he first heard and understood it how it aligned with the Civil Rights Movement why and how he came to write the book Interesting enough but when he does get going Guralnick eschews hindsight and plays to what I consider to be his strength; truly brilliant detail that mostly lets the cultural history speak for itself So as he uickly sums up the foundations of RB the rise of Atlantic Records the crossover successes of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke the unrivalled insights and incredible anecdotes come thick and fast In particular the brief biography of Solomon Burke sometime mortician pharmacist preacher fast food caterer and King of Rock 'n' Soul has a good laugh on every pageAfter that the heart of the book is in the stories of the plucky individual scenes that nurtured such incredible music Stax Muscle Shoals James Brown an enigmatic scene unto himself Within those stories Guralnick profiles all the soul superstars the great also rans the talented musicians the visionary producers the witty songwriters and the canny businessmen behind the sound One from the latter category and a source for many of the book's stories is Jerry Wexler the AR genius at Atlantic who gave Stax Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin a platform He comes in for plenty of criticism throughout but in the course of the book it becomes self evident how little of 60s soul would have happened were it not for his ears and his business nousAnother kind of hero and another main source emerges in Dan Penn When he arrived in Muscle Shoals from Vernon his hip demeanour deep knowledge of RB and not least his amazingly versatile and soulful voice were all highly improbable for a white teenager hailing from small town Alabama He went on to co write some of the standards of southern soul many of them with Chips Moman or Spooner Oldham 'The Dark End Of The Street' 'You Left The Water Running' 'Do Right Woman'the list goes on His only explanation is that this all began with him 'sniffing gasoline'This book was full of fresh revelations and has only deepened my understanding and appreciation of the music which is exactly what I'd hoped to get out of it Perhaps the main aspect that's dated since its publication is the discography in the back in that many of the recommended compilations have been superseded by newer reissues Even so it does a fine job of pointing one in the general direction of the essential works and we're lucky to live in a time when some of this music is no longer prohibitively scarce and expensive only to be heard by collectors and insiders For instance Penn's once mythic demo recordings are now readily available from the marvellous UK reissue label Ace Records

  2. says:

    I really enjoyed this book uality history interviews plus interesting anecdotes and commentary on a uniuely American music form without alot of star eyed fanzine hagiographic drivel if a writer gets a little carried away and waxes a bit overwrought in describing the talents of an artist like say Aretha Frankin it seems to me unduly harsh to criticize As for the author's choice to focus on Southern Soul the artists studios and labels that produced their work in Southern places like Memphis TN and Muscle Shoals AL as opposed to say Atlantic Records in NY and especially Motown Records in Detroit where crossover received intense focus he explains that the decision was both a necessary narrowing a vast field of study and also an expression of a lifelong preference and fascination with what he considers the authentic branch of the genre There is also admirable emphasis on not only the fantastic singers that this genre introduced to the nation Soloman Burke James Brown Percy SledgeSam and DaveOtis Redding Aretha Franlin and Carla Thomas among many others and evetually to the world but also to the back up bands almost all racially mixed like Booker T an the MG's at Stax Records that were largely responsible for a studio's uniue sound and often pitched inor were entirely responsiblefor writing some of the the most dynamic authentic and expressive music we are ever likely to hearFinally Guralnick provides hugely interesting to this readervaluable and pretty comprehensive information about how the popular music business worked in those formative years However if you are looking for a polemic against the exploitation of black artists many of whom were unsophisticatred country folksand slick white sharp operators this is not the book for you This is not to say that the author ignores the elephant in the room but rather that he he lays it out without undue emphasis as just another part of a much larger and complex narrative

  3. says:

    Reading this book twenty five years after its publication was probably a better experience than reading it in 1986 because of the advent of YouTube What a wonderful experience to read the backstories about the creation of brilliant music as I listened to the old recordings Guralnick wrote about sometimes accompanied by old footage of the singers and sometimes accompanied by a video of the original 45 spinning on the turntable Just a delight

  4. says:

    I thought this book was very readable even though it felt sometimes like an avalanche of details about artists recording sessions tours labels musicians I appreciated his assessment of various artists' impact and importance and I was especially interested in his characterization of Aretha Franklin's career It's also fortunate that he researched and wrote this in the 1980s when many of the principals were still alive to talk to him However his take on the soul music business while it feels minutely detailed seems to lead him only part way to understanding Not that I have any special insight but I feel like his interviews and research suggest the racial ineualities at the heart of the way the music was made who was in charge and who benefited most financially but he doesn't really go there Even though he documents some explicit racially charged violence that took place at an industry conference in the late 1960s it is written off as the work of outside agitators I mean white men who were producers musicians and advocates of soul music and worked closely for years with black producers musicians and songwriters use the n word in their interviews with him He focuses a lot of attention on the Stax label in Memphis which was a pioneer in soul music and unusual for being an integrated space But the way the principals talk about their experience there it sometimes feels that while white and black people worked together at Stax it may not have engendered close relationships Some people express admiration for other's talent or skill but there's scant evidence that they had insight into each other beyond that That wouldn't be surprising since the people involved all grew up in the segregated South but I wish he'd been explicit about it I think the author was allowing integrated to stand in for some stronger sense of solidarity and it definitely did not I'm not sure how and the Southern Dream of Freedom ended up in the book's subtitle because we get precious little of it I guess I wish this book could have been written 30 years later or by a black author Soul music is so intimately tied to the Civil Rights movement and black experience I appreciate the thoroughness of his research but I'd like to hear the story from someone with insight

  5. says:

    Well written with few cliches but written in 1986 it definitely feels dated Also this is first and foremost a book about the soul industry the business of soul music in the late 50s and 60s Not about the music itself If you want interesting tidbits about Al Bell or Steve Cropper this is your book but if you want detail and insightful analysis or breakdown of the songs themselves how they're written structured arranged etc this is not your book Very little attention is payed to the music as such Finally Guralnick is guilty of what a lot of writers do when writing about blues making a distinction between authentic blues and everything else which usually means non rural urban singers like the female blues singers of the 20s and blues style big bands of the 30s and 40s like Joe Turner and Count Basie Similarly Guralnick spends too much time making the distinction between real southern soul and Motown; which he implies was made only to sell to white teenagers Finally there was little if any attention payed to soul's children like funk and disco Still overall an interesting history Because it was written when it was Guralnick was able to interview directly many of the figures in the book and even if we can believe him develop a friendship with a few of them

  6. says:

    Labor Of Love

  7. says:

    Sweet Soul MusicThis is an earnest and engrossing account of the rise of southern soul music tracing the major figures that evolved it from RB and gospel beginning on the upstart labels and leading to their deals with Atlantic Records If you’re not up for reading the whole thing the 20 page introduction alone is a super overview of the major themesGuralnick intersperses deep research and contemporary interviews with the major soul artists with his own recollections of seeing them perform as a young fan From his many sources he presents a complicated history filled with conflicting memories evaluations and even definitions of soul music itself I like Guralnick’s own attempts at definition in the book’s opening pages”What soul music offers rather is something akin to the ‘knowledgeable apprehension’ in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous definition of suspense that precedes the actual climax that everyone knows is coming—it’s just nobody is uite sure when Soul music is a music that keeps hinting at a conclusion keeps straining at the boundaries—of melody and convention—that it has imposed upon itself That is where it is to be differentiated from the let it all hang out rock ‘n’ roll of a cheerful charismatic like Little Richard who for all the brilliance of his singing and the subtleties of which he is capable basically hits the ground running and accelerates from there It is to be differentiated too from the cultural refinements of Motown which with eual claim to inspiration from the church rarely uncorks a full blooded scream generally establishes the tension without ever really letting go and only occasionally will reveal a flash of raw emotion” 7The early soul hits coming out of Stax and Fame were the product of in studio jam sessions group song writing and producer led arranging More than session musicians filling in it was like a house band Booker T and the MG’s the Mar keys So many songs were made in a matter of minutes with someone showing up with a groove and everyone filling in Or big name singers showing up and the band coming up with something for them While there was this sort of natural free flowing songwriting at the same time the goal was definitely commercial While the genre began on independents it was in reality competing with rock ‘n’ roll and country music and “Let’s make a hit” is the most common thing we hear the soul players and producers in this book say It’s funny that major hits were sometimes thrown together in a matter of minutes It really was a special and pretty sweet moment in which this could happen Inevitably Stax got too big for itself which stoked political infighting prompting unstrategic business deals and ultimately tragically its implosion Guralnick does than present a record label history Most chapters delve into a major soul figure I particularly enjoyed the insights in the James Brown chapter“James Brown gloried in his very commonness ‘He made the ugly man somebody’ childhood friend Leon Austin told reporter Gerri Hirshey speaking specifically of the racial implications of this ‘darker person’s’ success and his chief title ‘the Hardest Working Man in Show Business’ was based on a uality accessible even to the humblest member of his audience For the crowds that snaked around the block waiting to purchase tickets to his show at the Apollo he might send out cups of soup and coffee because he recognized that for his audience as well as for himself James Brown’s success was a matter of faith and commitment; ‘it meant a lot to me that people were prepared to wait for hours to see my show’” 234 I love this dynamic between Brown and his audience Apparently Brown’s “Live at the Apollo” record received so many reuests on black radio stations that some of them would just play the entire LP on the air at certain scheduled times each week something that must have surely been unheard of Guralnick is also insightful when describing the music itself Here’s him explaining the revolutionary character of Brown’s work“With ‘Out of Sight’ all this changed All the grunts groans screams clicks and screeches that had been lurking in the background the daringly modal approach to melody soon there would be virtually no chord changes in a James Brown song with forward motion dependent entirely on rhythm were—without anyone’s fully realizing it in 1965—intimations of African roots declarations of black pride that would very soon earn James Brown plaudits from cultural nationalists and the musical avant garde alike” 240And here’s Guralnick uoting musicologist Robert Palmer “‘The rhythmic elements became the song There were few chord changes or none at all but there were plenty of trick rhythmic interludes and suspensionsBrown and his musicians began to treat every instrument and voice in the group as if it were a drum The horns played single note bursts that were often sprung against the downbeats The bass lines were broken into choppy two or three note patterns a procedure common in Latin music since the Forties but unusual in rb Brown’s rhythm guitarist choked his guitar strings against the instrument’s neck so hard that his playing began to sound like a jagged tin can being scraped with a pocket knife Only occasionally were the horns organ or backing vocalists allowed to provide a harmonic continuum by holding a chord’” 240

  8. says:

    The story of southern soul covering Stax Muscle Shoals and Georgia

  9. says:

    Starting with a brief overview of Sam Cooke’s career and ending with the assassination of Martin Luther King Sweet Soul Music is much of a chronicle than its predecessors Feel Like Going Home and Lost Highway Guralnick’s “Blues” and “Americana” collections respectively This is the story of soul’s ascendancy during the mid to late sixties as it crossed over to the pop charts and was both made and enjoyed by an increasingly unsegregated population Specifically this is the story of Southern soul music as opposed to Motown which is pretty much synonymous with Stax Records Though there are diversions including an indispensable chapter devoted to James Brown Guralnick essentially uses the story of the rise and fall of Stax and its relationship with Atlantic Records to describe the arc of Southern soul itselfI was glad to finally get all of this history straight to understand that Stax was a Memphis studio primarily that they did put out their own records but made most of their money by recording Atlantic artists Also that Muscle Shoals is an area of Alabama with a studio called Fame where Stax and Atlantic itself once it got wind of it would farm out jobs to A shifting cast of musicians including Steve Cropper Al Jackson Booker T and others worked in both studios and many others besides backing everyone from Wilson Pickett to Aretha Franklin to Otis ReddingThis is a fascinating book and the final pages describing the events that led to Stax’s downfall are heartbreaking Guralnick clearly loves soul music and believes it had far potential than it ever reached — not just as a pop culture movement but as a unifying democratizing force He honors that passion and potential mightily in this fine fine volume Should be reuired reading for any musician

  10. says:

    'Rick contacted me about the session but he didn't know who in hell was coming in I said Who you got? He said Aretha Franklin I said Boy you better get your damn shoes on You getting someone who can sing Even the Memphis guys didn't really know who in the hell she was I said Man this woman gonna knock you out They're all going Big deal When she come in there and sit down at the piano and hit that first chord everybody was just like little bees just buzzing around the ueen You could tell by the way she hit the piano the gig was up It was Let's get down to serious business That first chord she hit was nothing we'd been demoing and nothing none of them cats in Memphis had been either We'd just been dumb dumb playing but this was the real thing That's the prettiest session picture I can ever remember If I'd had a camera I'd have a great film of that session because I can still see it in my mind's eye just how it was Spooner on the organ Moman playing guitar Aretha at the piano it was beautiful better than any session I've ever seen and I seen a bunch of 'em' Spooner Oldham the weedy keyboard player who is most known for never playing the same licks twice and who is ordinarily the most reticent of men speaks in similar superlatives 'I was hired to play keyboards She was gonna stand up in front of the microphone and sing She was showing us this song she had brought down there with her she hit that magic chord when Wexler was going up the little steps to the control room and I just stopped I said Now look I'm not trying to cop out or nothing I know I was hired to play piano but I wish you'd let her play that thing and I could get on organ and electric And that's the way it was It was a good honest move and one of the best things I ever done and I didn't do nothing'