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Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom Paperback – July 1, 1999

4.9 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

"A definitive chronicle of one of the great creative periods in American pop history," said LJ's reviewer of this 1986 volume, which tracks the rise and fall of a collaboration of white and black musicians, songwriters, and singers from the 1950s to its peak and disintegration a decade later.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Peter Guralnick is the author of numerous seminal works of music and popular culture, including Searching for Roberth Johnson and a two-volume biography of Elvis Presley. He lives in West Newbury, Massachusetts.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 6.1.1999 edition (July 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316332739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316332736
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tyler Smith on April 2, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like Robert Palmer's superb "Deep Blues," Guralnick's extensive look back at the roots of R&B and soul music combines criticism, biographical profiles and social history into one rich, printed tapestry. Meticulously researched, the book shows its author's deep love of the music without sacrificing objectivity.
Guralnick provides plenty of background on the "race music" that spawned R&B and the great soul music of the sixties and early seventies, on which much of the book concentrates. Like most, if not all, of the great blues musicians, the early pioneers of soul came from humble, mostly southern beginnings, and made little or no money from their work, which was liberally sampled by white musicians.
A good portion of the narrative revolves around the fascinating rise and fall of Stax Records, the tiny Memphis-based label that brought together white executive leadership and musicians with raw black talent from the South. Despite initially primitive recording conditions, Stax developed into a powerhouse that was home to some of the greatest musicians in soul music, from Otis Redding to William Bell to Carla Thomas to Sam and Dave to Johnny Taylor. The label became representative of the growing sense of black pride that defined the era, one in which civil rights, of course, moved to the forefront of America's consciousness.
All of these musicians and many more, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and James Brown, to name a few, are given finely drawn profiles by Guralnick, and he treats their contributions to American music with the respect that they deserve. Throughout, he is intent on letting the artists tell their stories in their own words, and remains content to use his own fine writing to direct and bind together the narrative.
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Format: Paperback
'Sweet Soul Music' is a fantastic book, the best book I've read on the subject. Having said that, it isn't by any means a complete history of Soul Music (it completely omits the great music that came from New York, Motown, Chicago and Philly), nor is it a complete history of Southern Soul Music (the book ends with the acrimonious break up of Stax/Volt records, even though great Soul was still being made elsewhere in Memphis). Guralnick's book starts off looking like a history of Soul Music (there are early chapters on Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and an amazing and hilarious chapter on Solomon Burke), but then the book changes emphasis and becomes the story of the involvement of white musicians in Southern R&B.
Guralnick's thesis seems to be that Southern Soul achieved its great creative flowering in the 60s as a result of the partnership between black and white musicians, and even though he interviews a great number of musicians and businessmen - black and white - he can't help himself from empathising with the young white hipsters that made up the house bands at Stax and Muscle Shoals, with the result that the book becomes very much a story told from their point of view (Guralnick calls Dan Penn the "secret hero of this book" - fair enough, but surely James Brown should have been its overt hero). After these white musicians were intimidated out of the business during the racial tension that followed Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, Guralnick concentrates more on the politics and seems to lose interest in the music itself.
Which is a great pity, since Southern Soul in the 70s went on to even greater heights (James Brown's rhythmic revolution, then Al Green's great synthesis of the sexual and the spiritual). Though I learnt a great deal from the book (my CD collection has mushroomed after reading it) it felt to this reader as though the book had ended just before its real climax.
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Format: Paperback
And that's about as good as books on music get. The stories of minor and supporting character's are given air in Mr. Guralnick's books and that is what sets them apart. As a fairly serious follower of American music it is a treat to have a writer who obviously loves his subject (and has similar tastes to me) choose to write at some length about people like Dan Penn, Solomon Burke and James Carr. That he does so in such a poignant yet unforced way is just icing on the cake. This is more than a history of Southern soul music. It's an exciting and surprising story of real people who created some real extraordinary music.
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Format: Paperback
If you want a starting place in your search to find REAL Soul music, look no further than this book. Guralnick points you in the right direction. It is very clear that he loves the subject matter. He investigated the legends, and reports as much truth as will come to light, about performers like Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, James Brown, Sam Cooke, Arthur Alexander, Aretha Franklin, James Carr, O.V. Wright, Al Green, Wilson Pickett, and many others. There is also a history of Stax Records that Rob Bowman used as a reference for his epic history of the label. And there's a comprehensive discography, which has been updated for the CD era. Guralnick let the story take him wherever it led, even if he didn't always like the conclusions. It is an honest book and a good read. I write a lot of reviews on Soul music. Much of what I know about the roots of Soul, I learned from this book!
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