[Cross-posted from New Books in Pop Music]
Where does rock ‘n’ roll begin?
In The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll (W. W. Norton, 2011), Preston Lauterbach makes a strong case for its beginnings in the backwoods and small-town juke joints, fed by big-city racketeering, of the black American South. It begins, possibly, on Indianapolis’s Indiana Avenue where Denver Fergusun ran numbers, paid-off cops, and operated the Sunset Terrace. It begins, maybe, in Houston where Don Robey was the proprietor of the Bronze Peacock, oversaw a network of bars and taverns throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, and was a founder of the seminal Peacock Records. Maybe it began in Memphis, home of W.C. Handy, Beale Street, and the Mitchell Hotel. Or maybe it was the multitude of juke joints that littered the American South from Texas to Florida, Georgia to Chicago, in the 1930s and 40s that afforded artists such as Walter Barnes, Louis Jordan, Little Richard, and Roy Brown a series of non-stop one-nighters to ply their raunchy jumped-up versions of swing and the blues to an insatiable audience of primarily African American men and women looking for good times. In the book Lauterbach details the Chitlin’ Circuit as it was, a network of promoters, clubs, radio stations, con-men, highways and, most importantly, musicians that supported an underground artistic economy and lifestyle just beneath the surface of the mainstream music industry; a network that gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll.
The Chitlin’ Circuit is Preston’s first book. He is currently working on his second, a hustler’s history of Beale Street.