Book Review: PETER GURALNICK

Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’N’ Roll (W&N)

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Exhaustive biography of the man who discovered Elvis and Howlin’ Wolf.

The title of Peter Guralnick’s biography of producer and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips may be contentious, but having recorded and shaped Ike Turner and Jackie Brenston’s Rocket 88 (often cited as the first rock’n’roll record) and Elvis Presley’s debut, That’s Alright Mama, Phillips’ credentials are impeccable. He also discovered Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

Phillips saw it as his mission to recognise an “individual’s unique quality then find the key to unlock it” and realised there was more to Presley than the balladeer he saw himself as. But “the greatest talent” he worked with was Howlin’ Wolf and losing him was “the greatest disappointment” in the business. An unashamed fan, Guralnick draws on 25 years of interviews with Phillips to deliver this comprehensive and entertaining account.