Monday, June 1, 2015

only in America

-- "The Chitlin' Circuit was never about making big money, it was about making constant money."
Sax Kari

--------------------------- [excerpt, The Chitlin' Circuit, by Preston Lauterbach, 2011, W.W. Norton & Co.] -------------------------

I found that...nonmusical forces molded the chitlin' circuit, from the great migration to urban renewal.  I was most surprised, though, to find how the circuit had musically evolved -- how life and business on the circuit tinged its sounds, and how the sounds struck back and shaped the circuit's business and culture.  There are other eras of chitlin' circuit history -- from 1960s soul

to Bobby Rush and Marvin Sease's circuit today -- that deserve exploration.  The different threads of chitlin' circuit action have their stories too -- the comedy chitlin' circuit that spanned from Butterbeans and Susie to Redd Foxx, Dolemite, and Richard Pryor, and the drama chitlin' circuit that August Wilson championed, where Tyler Perry got his start. 

This book, however, focuses on how the chitlin' circuit for live music developed during the 1930s and nurtured rock 'n' roll from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s.

These are the intertwined stories of booking agents, show promoters, and nightclub owners, the moguls who controlled wealth throughout the black music business.  Until records eclipsed live shows

as the top moneymakers, new sounds grew on the road and in nightclubs, through the dance business

rather than in the recording studio.

Though the moguls' names are not recognized among the important producers of American culture, their numbers rackets, dice parlors, dance halls, and bootleg liquor and prostitution rings financed the artistic development of breakthrough performers -- Jimmie Lunceford, Louis Jordan, Joe Turner, Wynonie Harris, T-Bone Walker, Amos Milburn, Roy Brown, B.B. King,

Ike Turner,

Johnny Ace, Little Richard, and James Brown, among them.  There are quite a few other musicians here who mattered in subtler ways, whose reputations haven't endured so well, such as Walter Barnes, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Sax Kari, Bill Harvey, and Luke Gonder to mention a few.  While more artists could have justifiably appeared, these emerged in my research as representative of and pivotal to their times.  Some were monumental.

Their stories play out across a cityscape that no longer exists.

While the ghetto's contours reverberate through the music in ways that often defy notation,

rock 'n' roll simply couldn't have happened anyplace else. 

The streets of Indianapolis, Memphis, Houston, New Orleans, even Macon, Georgia, are as fundamentally crucial to this story as the people who walked them.  As money and power flowed through the ghetto during the 1930s and '40s, creativity and musical innovation followed.


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