Memphis, History & Politics

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Late Night with Sam and Dave

That 1986 David Letterman interview with Sam Phillips is the starting off point for this week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review of Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll,’ by Peter Guralnick. Because presumably, that interview is the only direct knowledge the public has of Sam Phillips, the man. If you have never seen the interview, stop right now and watch this little over 6 minutes that will leave you saying “what just happened?”  Funny you should ask, because Robert Gordon, who writes quite a lot about Memphis music and writes it well, wrote an article about this interview in 1997 that has since stuck in my head.  It was as good as it was odd as a concept: in a breakdown of the interview, word for word and gesture for gesture, Phillips won the contest in a shutout. He uses the interview to show that if you knew Phillips and what he has accomplished, you would understand that he was neither drunk or high or crazy, but Sam just being the same Sam he had always been: the one that found and nurtured Rock ‘n’ Roll.  I started googling the article to figure out where I had read it and see if I could post a link online.  It was in the 1997 Music Issue of the Oxford American.  It is not online because they still want you to buy the back issue. Google let me know a hard copy of the magazine was on a shelf less than 2 feet from my computer. So, I’m posting the article even if it may not be within someone’s idea of fair use because let’s be honest, at 763 pages, I’m not likely to read Guralnick’s book to make a recommendation. I will say that you should read Gordon’s 3000 word article because it explains Sam Phillips (and Letterman) fairly well and I’m putting a mobile friendly version here
And if the Oxford American is unhappy with post, then let me add that you should also buy this back issue.  It comes with a cd compilation of Southern music that is so good, I played it until it wore out. Sure did. If you believe that, you’ll believe a sober Sam Phillips got the best of David Letterman.