Peter Guralnick’s most recent book is Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing, which was published in October. His previous book was Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll, which was short-listed for the Plutarch Award for Best Biography of the Year in 2015.
An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue
I first met Skip James at Dick Waterman’s apartment in Cambridge in the summer of 1965. I sought him out because, quite simply, his music had overwhelmed me: the blues that he had recorded for Paramount Records in 1931 on piano and guitar, four of whose sides had been reissued on collectors’ labels in the early ’60s, had struck me as unfathomably strange, beautiful, and profound.
Marketing strategies (which, after all, is all that categories are) may rise and fall, but to the democratic listener they are beside the point. The music calls attention to itself, and then takes you somewhere else. It isn’t really any different than going to Memphis was for me in the first place. One thing inevitably leads to another, and before you know it, you are caught up in the ecstatic dance, the ecstatic trance of the music.
Blues really was the transformation of my life. When I was fifteen or sixteen, a friend and I just kind of stumbled onto the music. It was the beginning of the folk revival—1959 or 1960—and somehow in the midst of all that wholesomeness, we fell into the blues.
Roland Janes, 1933-2013
If you ever visited the Sam C. Phillips Recording Studio at 639 Madison Avenue in Memphis, you would know Roland Janes. He was there managing the studio, engineering sessions, greeting the world, every day more or less for the last thirty years, working with everyone from Charlie Rich to Memphis rappers Three 6 Mafia and Al Kapone to Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, and anyone who might wander in off the street looking to cut a “personal” record.