Guralnick, Peter 1943(?)-

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Guralnick, Peter 1943(?)-

PERSONAL: Born c. 1943; son of an oral surgeon; married; wife's name Alexandra; children: Jake, Nina. Education: Attended Columbia University; Boston University, B.A., 1967.

ADDRESSES: Home—Massachusetts. Agent—Richard McDonough, P.O. Box 1950, Boston, MA 02130.

CAREER: Journalist and writer. Boston University, Boston, MA, former instructor in classics.

AWARDS, HONORS: American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1983, for Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians; Grammy Award for best album notes, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1985, for Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963; first place, Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Awards, 1995, for Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, and 1999, for Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley.


Feel like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock 'n Roll, Outerbridge & Dienstfrey (New York, NY), 1971.

Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians, Vintage (New York, NY), 1979.

Nighthawk Blues: A Novel, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 1980.

The Listener's Guide to the Blues, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1982.

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.

Searching for Robert Johnson (originally published in Living Blues magazine), Dutton (New York, NY), 1989.

Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.

Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1999.

(With Ernst Jorgensen) Elvis Day by Day, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1999.

(Editor, with Douglas Wolk) Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000, Da Capo Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

(Editor) Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey, preface by Martin Scorsese, foreword by Alex Gibney, afterword by Chuck D. Amistad (New York, NY), 2003.

Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2005.

Work represented in the anthology New Writing, edited by Faith Sale, 1967; author of introductions to Elvis: In the Twilight of Memory, by June Juanic, Arcade, 1997, and Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay, edited by William McKeen, Norton, 2000; author of foreword to A Life in Music: The Complete Recording Sessions, by Ernst Jorgensen, St. Martin's, 1998; contributor to periodicals, including Rolling Stone. Author of the television script "Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll," A&E Biography, A&E, 2000.

SIDELIGHTS: Peter Guralnick has developed a reputation as one of the foremost experts on the history of American popular music. Though he knew he wanted to write fiction from the age of five, Guralnick has made a name for himself as a nonfiction writer and chronicler of influential figures in the worlds of blues, country, rock, and soul music. He is noted for his extensive reliance on personal interviews and his measured representation of all sides of an issue. Guralnick discussed his journalistic approach with Wendy Smith in Publishers Weekly: "You have to recognize the legitimacy of people's experience, that whatever formulations you have made about a subject and however much the person you're talking to may be contradicting those formulations, they have a very personal, vivid memory that is valid for them. Then the problem is trying to bring all these different versions together."

In 1971 Guralnick issued his first book, Feel like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock 'n Roll. As he would in his later nonfiction works on musical topics, the author focuses both on the broad outlines of a musical period—in this case, the blues as it fed into and became early rock and roll—and on the major figures within the movement. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described Guralnick's history as "rich in insights" and his portraits of individuals as "vividly evocative" of the period itself, dubbing the combination "an appealing panoply in muted tones."

The author's next nonfiction effort, Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians, a 1979 collection of interviews and portraits of musicians on the country, rockabilly, and rhythm and blues scenes. British critic Russell Davies of the Times Literary Supplement, found the book instructive on country music and its connection between its sometimes bathetic lyrics and the lives of country music performers. Esquire contributor Greil Marcus, highlighting the author's "seamless" interweaving of interviews, biography, reporting, and musicology, concluded: "Guralnick has produced more than a tribute to the lost highway that carries the music he loves best: he has come through with a map of it."

The author's first novel, Nighthawk Blues, was published in 1980 and dubbed "a realistic and at times wrenching novel which illuminates the bright and dark sides of seminal blues musicians" by Harry Sumrall in the Washington Post, Nighthawk Blues centers on the rise and fall of Screamin' Nighthawk, a down-and-out blues musician whose career is briefly revived in the late 1960s with the help of a young white jazz historian. Sumrall praised the authenticity that marks Guralnick's depiction of the musician's way of speaking and living.

The publication of Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, Guralnick's 1986 nonfiction work, marked the completion of a trilogy on American music. Again placing material from numerous interviews in a broader historical context, Guralnick focuses on the rise of soul music in the mid-1950s and its fall from the music charts by the early 1970s, tracing the music's themes, aspirations, and ultimate decline to the concurrent civil rights movement. Several critics highlighted Guralnick's revelations regarding the harmonious collaborative efforts of Southern white and black musicians in making the best known of the era's soul music. "Like the best pop music," observed Daniel Brogan in the Chicago Tribune, "Guralnick makes his point without preaching. The message is woven into the stories, and only occasionally overtly surfaces. Thus, Sweet Soul Music is at once a scholarly work and a whole lotta fun." Newsweek contributor Jim Miller called Sweet Soul Music "one of the best books ever written on American popular music."

Guralnick's next musical subject was blues singer/songwriter Robert Johnson, who is often described as "legendary" not merely for his influence on other blues singers but also for his short and mysterious life.

Published in 1989, Searching for Robert Johnson briefly examines the rumors and stories that surround the shy young man who recorded less than thirty songs during his lifetime, yet came to be known as the "king of the Mississippi Delta blues singers." Although faulting Guralnick for frequently referring to Johnson's "shadowy" world, John Litweiler concluded in the Chicago Tribune that Searching for Robert Johnson "is a rewarding appetizer" for the reader waiting for a more definitive biography of the blues musician.

In 1994 Guralnick published Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, the first volume of a two volume biography. In this highly-acclaimed work, Guralnick restricts himself to the early career of the man commonly known as "the king of rock and roll," when Presley's musical roots in Southern gospel and blues music were unadulterated by the influences of pop and Hollywood musicals. The book covers Presley's first twenty-three years, from his birth in Mississippi in 1935, through his adolescence as a shy but energetic mama's boy, to his rapid ascent to stardom after the 1954 release of his first single, "That's All Right Mama," and concluding with Elvis's departure for Germany in 1958 to fulfill his military obligation. Guralnick originally intended to complete the biography in one volume, but his compilation of interviews and notes on the singer's life became so voluminous that he was forced to split the project into two books. The result is that Last Train to Memphis is a detailed, 560—page narrative praised by reviewers for its objective presentation of the American popular culture hero.

Characterizing Guralnick's prose in Last Train to Memphis as "calm and meticulous," Frank Rose of the Los Angeles Times Book Review compared Last Train to Memphis favorably with the numerous other biographies of Presley. "[Guralnick's] Elvis is neither dumb yokel nor rock 'n' roll messiah," Rose commented, "just a pimply, poor white mama's boy from the Mid-South, untutored and inarticulate, whose vague yearning to be a star lands him in worlds he never dreamed of." Although Rose noted that Guralnick sheds little light on Presley's passivity in directing his career or his "mother-fixation," the critic concluded: "The virtue of Guralnick's approach is that it forces us to forget what might have been and see what was. Only then can we trace the intricate contradictions beneath the surface simplicity that turned Elvis into the mirror we still can't put down today." New York Times Book Review contributor Stephen Wright offered similar praise for Last Train to Memphis: "Try to pass twenty-four hours in the United States without hearing Elvis Presley's name or seeing his image. It's virtually impossible. This profound and moving book, a triumph of biographical art, will show you why." In a New York Times piece, Kakutani declared the book "a model of biographical scholarship: erudite and ardent and almost novelistic in its conjuring of Elvis's spectacular rise."

The concluding volume of Guralnick's Presley biography, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, offers the grim account of the musician's creative and personal decline, culminating in a drug-induced death in 1977. In her New York Times review of the work, Kakutani wrote: "By the very nature of its subject matter this volume tells a far more depressing tale than its predecessor, chronicling Elvis's long, slow slide, despite his 1968–69 comeback, into maudlin commercialism and self-loathing." Many salacious Presley biographies have covered the same time period, but Guralnick's book was particularly praised for its reasoned approach and avoidance of sensationalism. As Kakutani put it: "Unlike … earlier Elvis biographers,… Mr. Guralnick manages to recount … events without indulging in the faintest bit of voyeurism."

Careless Love earned reviews similar to its companion volume. Insight on the News correspondent Eric Peters commented: "The new work is meticulously researched and beautifully written, captures the achievement, the wasted potential and pervasive sadness of Elvis' life after his return to Memphis in the spring of 1960." In Maclean's, Nicholas Jennings concluded: "Masterfully and movingly told, Careless Love stands as the definitive chronicle of the King's downfall. Although clearly a fan of Presley's best work and appreciative of his extraordinary talent, Guralnick does not avert his eyes from his subject's failings." Esquire contributor Greil Marcus noted of Guralnick: "In both books, he has realized that remarkable ambition. But what if the air his characters breathe is itself oppressive, their everyday culture itself a form of bondage? That is the air the reader, the characters, must breathe all through Careless Love, so perfectly named for an old folk song about how idly hearts are broken." Marcus continued: "The story has been told before, but never so convincingly or with such an absence of glee or condescension." An Entertainment Weekly reviewer found Careless Love to be "the story of a man who gave up his creative life for the security of wealth and unquestioning friends." The reviewer went on to note: "Where Last Train to Memphis spoke of a miracle—how an impoverished young man became a revolutionary artist and a king of popular culture—Careless Love documents the life of a sheltered boy who turned his miracle into a tragedy as well as a joke. Guralnick tells that joke with eloquent sorrow and muted poignance."

Perhaps no reviewer of Guralnick's work on Presley was more enthusiastic than Gerald Marzorati in the New York Times Book Review. "Peter Guralnick's two-volume life of Elvis Aron Presley … is not simply the finest rock-and-roll biography ever written," Mar-zorati stated. "It must be ranked among the most ambitious and crucial biographical undertakings yet devoted to a major American figure of the second half of the 20th century."

Guralnick teamed up with Ernst Jorgensen to serve as coeditor of Elvis Day by Day, described as "a detailed Presley biochronology" by Benjamin Segedin in Booklist. Segedin went on to note that the book contains everything from high school report cards to contracts and called the book "essential for thoroughgoing Elvis collections." The author also was coeditor with Douglas Wolk of Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000, which was called an "essential compilation for all music lovers" by Library Journal contributor David Szatmary. As editor of Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey, Guralnick presents the printed companion to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television series of seven films. Edward Komara, writing in Notes, commented that "blues fans and collectors will have to have this book as well as the DVDs of the films."

Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke is Guralnick's biography of the 1950s and early 1960s soul singer who died in 1964. "The real significance of this biography is that it documents the Midwestern beginnings of soul music, as well as the story of the first black musician to successfully crossover from gospel to R&B to pop," wrote Orlando Lima in Black Issues Book Review. "In this respect, Dream Boogie as important an historical text as Cooke is a key figure in American music." Library Journal contributor Lloyd Jansen noted that the author provides "vivid portraits of the 1950s gospel music world." Tom Sinclair, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called the biography "meticulously researched."



American Heritage, October, 1994, review of Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, p. 100.

American History, December, 1999, Joe Gustaitis, review of Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, p. 66.

Atlantic, October, 1994, Francis Davis, review of Last Train to Memphis, p. 108.

Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2005, Orlando Lima, review of Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, p. 68.

Booklist, July, 1994, Benjamin Segedin, review of Last Train to Memphis, p. 1890; September 15, 1995, Joseph Rice, review of Last Train to Memphis, p. 184; November 1, 1998, Benjamin Segedin, review of Careless Love, p. 450; August, 1999, Ted Hipple, review of Careless Love, p. 2075; September 1, 1999, Benjamin Segedin, review of Elvis Day by Day, p. 4.

Bookseller, June 17, 2005, review of Dream Boogie, p. 39.

Business Wire, July 19, 1999, "Presley Biography Wins First Place at 10th Annual Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Awards," p. 1650.

Chicago Tribune, August 6, 1986, Daniel Brogan, review of Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom; January 5, 1990, John Litweiler, review of Searching for Robert Johnson.

Economist, November 5, 1994, review of Last Train to Memphis, p. 90.

Entertainment Weekly, September 30, 1994, Ken Tucker, review of Last Train to Memphis, p. 50; September 15, 1995, review of Last Train to Memphis, p. 100; January 8, 1999, "Heartbreak Hotel," p. 60; October 15, 1999, Ken Tucker, review of Elvis Day by Day, p. 74; June 23, 2000, "Between the Lines: The Inside Scoop on the Book World"; October 21, 2005, Tom Sinclair, review of Dream Boogie, p. 79.

Esquire, February, 1999, Greil Marcus, "The Building Has Left Elvis," p. 72.

Europe Intelligence Wire, October 26, 2002, review of Lost Highway.

Hollywood Reporter, January 19, 2000, Michele Greppi, "Rock Pioneer on 'Biography,'" p. 37; December 4, 2003, review of Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues, p. 22.

Insight on the News, March 1, 1999, Eric Peters, "Long Live the King," p. 36.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1979, p. 1239; July 15, 2005, review of Dream Boogie, p. 776.

Library Journal, January, 1999, Carol J. Binkowski, review of Careless Love, p. 100; April 1, 1999, Nancy R. Ives, review of Careless Love, p. 147; September 1, 1999, Michael Rogers, reviews of Feel like Going Home and Lost Highway, p. 238; November 1, 2000, David Szatmary, review of Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000, p. 83; August 1, 2005, Lloyd Jansen, review of Dream Boogie, p. 88.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 2, 1994, Frank Rose, review of Last Train to Memphis, pp. 1, 12-13.

Maclean's, March 1, 1999, Nicholas Jennings, "Sex, Drugs, and the Rock King," p. 59.

Mother Jones, January, 1999, review of Careless Love, p. 73.

Nation, December 5, 1994, Scott Spencer, review of Last Train to Memphis, pp. 695-698.

National Review, February 6, 1995, Terry Teachout, review of Last Train to Memphis, p. 70; March 8, 1999, D. Keith Mano, "A King's Demise," p. 52.

New Statesman & Society, October 21, 1994, Mark Sinker, review of Last Train to Memphis, p. 39.

Newsweek, August 4, 1986, Jim Miller, review of Sweet Soul Music, p. 60.

New York Times, June 7, 1986, Michiko Kakutani, review of Sweet Soul Music, p. 13; October 26, 1994; January 8, 1999, Michiko Kakutani, "The Final Years: When Elvis Left the Building."

New York Times Book Review, October 30, 1994, Stephen Wright, review of Last Train to Memphis, pp. 1, 18-21; January 3, 1999, Gerald Marzorati, "Heartbreak Hotel," p. 4.

Notes, September, 2004, Edward Komara, review of Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues, p. 104.

People, October 18, 1993, p. 23; January 30, 1995, Steve Dougherty, "When the King Was King," interview with author, p. 82.

Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1971, review of Feel like Going Home, p. 47; October 17, 1980, p. 54; August 1, 1994, review of Last Train to Memphis, p. 63; October 3, 1994, Wendy Smith, "Peter Guralnick: 'Let's Get Lost,'" pp. 47-48; July 7, 1997, review of Elvis: In the Twilight of Memory, p. 61; June 22, 1998, review of Elvis Presley, p. 79; November 9, 1998, review of Careless Love, p. 62; September 13, 1999, "Shake, Rattle & Roll," p. 74; November 1, 1999, review of Careless Love, p. 50; October 16, 2000, reviews of Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay, and Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000, p. 62; July 25, 2005, Ron Hogan, "The Foundations of Soul: PW Talks with Peter Guralnick," p. 56.

Time, November 21, 1994, Jay Cocks, review of Last Train to Memphis, p. 123; January 11, 1999, Jay Cocks, "The Fall of the King," p. 100.

Times Literary Supplement, June 6, 1980, Russell Davies, review of Lost Highway, p. 633; July 27, 1990, p. 793.

Washington Post, December 11, 1980, Harry Sumrall, review of Nighthawk Blues, p. C9.

Washington Post Book World, December 5-11, 1999, review of Elvis Day by Day, p. 12.


Brothers Judd, (February 23, 2006), review of Last Train to Memphis.

Spike, (February 23, 2006), Gary Marshall, review of Careless Love.