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The Elvis Story

June 2024
1min read

Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley

by Peter Guralnick (Little, Brown)

Here is the biography this almost mythical figure has waited for. In June 1954 Elvis Presley was a shy, unprepossessing nineteen-year-old who liked to hang around the little Sun recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee. By October 1954 he had a hit record out so big he was appearing at the high shrine of country music, the Grand Ole Opry. By May 1955 he was being thronged by genuinely dangerous mobs of teen-age girls. December 1955: top RCA recording star. August 1956: television and Hollywood star. March 1957: the new owner of a grand Memphis mansion called Graceland, and the shadow of the long twilight of a god already begins to descend. What was his secret? He explained a lot of it when he told a newspaper interviewer in 1956: “The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin’ now, man, for more years than I know. They played it like that in the shanties and in their juke joints, and nobody paid it no mind ’til I goosed it up. I got it from them.” A friend put his finger on something when he called Elvis “an innocent. He didn’t know about the tricks, the ‘worldly ways’; he operated on sheer instinct. Never was there any arrogance.”

Peter Guralnick, a superb writer whose previous books include Searching for Robert Johnson and the novel Nighthawk Blues , takes the story through Presley’s Army induction in September 1958; a second volume will eventually follow. The book is thoroughly absorbing and sure to be definitive.

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