If you don’t know who Robert Gordon is, he’s a fine documentary director (check out The Best of Enemies) and stellar chronicler of southern music: his Muddy Waters biography is currently the definitive one. It’s when he’s writing about his hometown, however, that Gordon is most smashing. I have read his It Came from Memphis at least three times and manically thumbed through it about 15 times more: it convincingly argues for that city as the hub of American cultural change through much more subterranean and esoteric means than just Elvis’ pelvis, and, in terms of spirit and tone, it rocks and rolls. It’s also the only book I know that has threeseparatecompanion CDs, all of them magic.
Gordon’s newest book, available preferably from Burke’s Book Store in Memphis but also from Fat Possum (still trying to do their best by offering a companion LP I’d recommend), gathers numerous fascinating shorter pieces and interviews from Gordon’s exciting career observing Bluff City weirdness. I’m not finished reading it yet, but on the basis of the Jim Dickinson and Tav Falco interviews and the appendix alone, it’s worth your ducats. One of my favorite of Gordon’s discoveries so far is the existence of a “Levitt Shell Archive” YouTube channel. The Levitt Shell (formerly the Overton Park Shell) in Memphis’ Overton Park was the location of Presley’s first paid appearance (opening for Slim Whitman), and has not only survived several attempts to raze or repurpose it but is currently a thriving rock and roll/blues/country venue. At its best, Memphis music always contains a dollop of all three of those flavors!
You can spend hours watching clips from this channel. Here are a few that I listened to and loved today:
The great Memphis blues pianist Mose Vinson:
Calvin Newborn, the guitar-playing member of the famous Newborn family:
Alvin Youngblood Hart covering Neil Young:
Also–and, now, you gotta promise to buy it if you like it!–here’s a handy YouTube playlist of the Memphis Rent Party companion.