Everyone knows that Delta blues begat rock 'n' roll, but the story of how the music made it from the field shack to the concert stage remains a mystery to most. In The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'n' Roll, Memphis music writer Preston Lauterbach points to the ramshackle road houses, dance halls, and dice rooms on "the colored side" of cities like Indianapolis, Houston, Memphis and New Orleans, along with hundreds of smaller Southern towns and backwaters. These weren't the areas of town where the tourists gathered, so the rest of the world was large unaware of a vibrant new sound evolving in these neighborhood dives. It was a mix of blues and big band jazz of the 1940s, becoming lean and loud, lit up with the "spiritual fire" of gospel and wild back alley mischief. Superstars like B.B. King, Little Richard, Ray Charles and James Brown emerged from the scene, along with dozens more innovative, largely forgotten performers, club owners, promoters, bootleggers and hustlers who affected the music's development and kept the circuit going well into the modern day.
Detractors often dismiss the blues as the music of the hopeless and downtrodden, but The Chitlin' Circuit shows how the blues became a swinging celebration of black culture, full of swagger, soul and sly profanity. It's a tradition that continues today in agri-centers and civic halls up and down the Delta through such stars as Bobby Rush and Denise LaSalle. Music aficionados will find much to admire in Lauterbach's enthusiastic homage to this vital underground music scene, still thriving in our midst some seventy years later.
We're proud to say that Preston Lauterbach will be here at Turnrow on Thursday, July 28, to sign and talk about The Chitlin' Circuit. Come down at 5:30 p.m. or order your signed first edition at our website.