New York Times BestsellerOne of The Washington Post's Notable Nonfiction Books of 2015
"Mr. Guralnick is a sensitive biographer who has landed upon a perfect topic in Phillips, the brilliant Memphis producer who, in the 1950s, recorded the earliest work of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Howlin' Wolf. This is vital American history, smartly and warmly told."—Dwight Garner, New York Times, Top Books of 2015
"Definitive...With Presley's story at its core, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll
is in some ways the third volume [to] Guralnick's double-volume Elvis bio. What makes it more illuminating and arguably truer is seeing Elvis in the broader context of Phillips' career, [which was] in many ways a mission to transform [t]his nation's history of bigotry....You may come away born again."—Rolling Stone
"A book so thoroughly steeped in its subject that it is almost an autobiography in the third person.... 'This is a book written out of admiration and love,' Guralnick states frankly in an author's note. As such, it honors Sam Phillips elegantly, by devoting itself to the one subject Phillips seemed to admire and love as much as he did music: Sam Phillips himself."
—David Hajdu, New York Times Book Review
"Lovingly crafted.... With crisp prose and meticulous detail, Guralnick gives Phillips the same epic treatment he previously employed in acclaimed biographies of Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley.... An astonishing feat.... It is difficult to imagine a more complete or poetic account of his life than this remarkable volume.... 'I didn't set out to revolutionize the world,' Phillips once told Guralnick in a moment of humility, but in this book [the author] convincingly argues that Phillips did just that."
—Charles Hughes, The Washington Post
"Peter Guralnick isn't just a music writer or a biographer--he's one of the essential chroniclers of American popular culture, and his work illuminates some of the crucial components of our national identity: race, religion, fame, and the big business of having fun, among others. In this epic biography of Sam Phillips, Guralnick bears witness to the birth of rock and roll and the cultural revolution it inspired. It's not only an unforgettable portrait of an eccentric visionary, it's a testament to the power of ordinary people to change the world with nothing more than a beautiful idea and a handful of songs."
—Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers
"When Elvis Presley stepped into a Memphis recording studio with producer Sam Phillips in 1954, they defined rock 'n' roll as we know it. Peter Guralnick already gave us Elvis's story in two landmark books. He now returns with a brilliant, intensely human look at Phillips, the endlessly fascinating figure who also recorded Johnny Cash, B.B King, Howlin' Wolf, and Jerry Lee Lewis. It's a bold, insightful work that tells us in novelistic detail about the obsessions and struggles of the man who presided over the uneasy birth of rock 'n' roll."
—Robert Hilburn, author of Johnny Cash
is an epic biography, at once sweeping and personal, in which the gifted writer Peter Guralnick captures the voice and life of a transformational figure in American music."—Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins
"A monumental biography of the larger-than-life loner who fought for the acceptance of black music and discovered an extraordinary group of poor, country-boy singers whose records would transform American popular culture.... A wonderful story that brings us deep into that moment when America made race music its own and gave rise to the rock sound now heard around the world."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Guralnick wrote definitive biographies of Elvis and now does the same for Phillips, a visionary who gave voice to a rich and diverse culture long marginalized.... Essential reading for music fans."
—Ben Segedin, Booklist (starred review)
"Epic, elegant and crisply told."
—Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., BookPage
"Acclaimed music historian Guralnick has written landmark accounts of Elvis and the history of American roots music, and he now turns his considerable skills to the life of Sun Records producer Sam Phillips in this delightful and comprehensive volume. Guralnick energetically tells the must-read tale of a Southern boy intent on enacting his vision of freedom and justice through music."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"The book is a labor of love. Guralnick is passionate about the music, but he doesn't let his passion overinflate his prose, and he seems to know everything about everyone who was part of the Southern music world... It's natural for us to take events that were to a significant extent the product of guesswork, accident, short-term opportunism and good luck...and shape them into a heroic narrative....But a legend is just one of the forms that history takes -- which is why it's good to have Guralnick's book."
—Louis Menand, The New Yorker
"With his latest book, Guralnick has penned his most intimate work yet. Over the course of 700-plus pages, Guralnick documents Phillips as both a musical visionary and a champion of a kind of humanist democracy--someone who sought to document the expressions of the poor and disenfranchised, those consigned to the narrow margins of society. In trying to understand Phillips' work, legacy and philosophies, Guralnick doesn't shy away from the more difficult aspects of his life. By doing so, Guralnick creates a complex, compelling and unflinching portrait."
—Bob Mehr, Memphis Commercial Appeal
"Peter Guralnick tells it like it was. If you want to dig into the truth and read about what really went down in Memphis in the '50s, this is the definitive book."
"Mr. Guralnick has conjured the magic of Elvis in the Sun studio as Presley's biographer, but his knowing Sam Phillips makes this the superior version... Mr. Guralnick takes you right to the room, and rather than gliding past a scene that has been written about many times, he immerses himself comfortably in it and revives its original intensity....[He] has produced the gold-standard Presley bio and now a complete portrait of his inspiration. Mr. Guralnick, the historian, writer and fan, has captured what was different, real and raw about a great artist."
—Preston Lauterbach, Wall Street Journal
" With this book, Peter Guralnick brings popular music and the man who gave us so much of it, Sam Phillips, to the very centre of American social history. And he does it quite brilliantly."
—Roddy Doyle, author of The Commitments
"Superb.... No one could tell Sam's story -- a complex mixture of music business reportage and personal narrative -- with the level of detail and affection that Guralnick brings to these 700-plus pages. Sam Phillips
may well be the capstone to Guralnick's career.... This book gives Phillips and his judgments their due. Bridging American music's racial divide and transforming its pop, he was as much an original as the artists he nurtured."—Matt Damsker, USA Today
"Guralnick's book is comprehensive, warm, thorough, captivating, and compulsively readable....It may just be the best music book of 2015."
—Henry Carrigan, No Depression
"A rollicking good time. Sometimes reading can rattle the cage and stomp the floor, and no one rattled the cages more than Sam Phillips."
"A cornerstone addition to Guralnick's unmatched backlist of music history and biography."
" A deeply intimate portrait that never veers into hagiography....For Guralnick and for the reader, the book becomes the quintessential Phillips production: an altogether profound and revelatory experience."
—Memphis Commercial Appeal
"A sprawling, engaging biography stuffed with stories and tidbits."
"Much-anticipated and long-awaited, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll
, is as much a labor of love for Peter Guralnick as Sun Records was to Sam Phillips. And that's saying something."—Trevor Cajiao, Now Dig This
"Thoroughgoing and thoroughly satisfying.... Guralnick has injected enough helium and momentum into the material to get it airborne and moving stately forward."
—Peter Lewis, Christian Science Monitor
"If his two-volume life of Elvis Presley, biography of Sam Cooke, Dream Boogie
, and trilogy on southern roots music haven't convinced you that Peter Guralnick is our finest chronicler of American music, [this] should do the trick....Magisterial yet lively....it's a book that places Guralnick in some pretty heady company. Arguably, he is to music what Robert Caro is to politics: a dogged researcher and graceful writer who has a genuine feel for his subjects and the knowledge to place them in a larger context.... A wonderfully nuanced and shaded portrait."—Best Classic Bands
"What shines through this sympathetic but warts-and-all bio is that for Phillips it wasn't about the money or even just about the music. It was about music's ability to bridge the considerable racial divide that existed at the time....Compelling and even revelatory to those who thought they knew it all."
—Curt Schleier, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Phillips's stories and philosophies light up these pages....By the book's end, the weight of Guralnick's mission comes into full view. Phillips had advised him early on, "It ain't for you to put me in a good light. Just put me in the focus I'm supposed to be in." And that's exactly what Guralnick has done. His subject would no doubt be proud that he got it right."
—James Reed, Boston Globe
"Guralnick's biography of Sam Phillips is a key work of Americana."
"An accumulation of minute and fascinating details about apprenticeship, the glory, and the very assembly of a man who conjured spells out of valves, wrestled with small-time double-dealers, caught lightning, and swam against the tide to introduce the world to Howlin' Wolf, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash, to name but three. An exceptional portrait of a singular force."
"The story of Sam Phillips is not just a musical journey; it's a portrait of a polymath, an incredibly driven Southern eccentric....Guralnick clearly delights in telling Phillips's tale. He is known for being an excellent and empathetic biographer: straightforward, never florid. ...Forty pages before the end of this tome, the author comes uncharacteristically clean. "Hell, why not just come out and say it? I loved Sam." By that point, so do we."
—Michael Barclay, MacLean's
"Guralnick paints a detailed and sympathetic picture of Phillips as a relentless visionary,a talker, a loving but imperfect family man and a perfectionist who relished imperfections that could make recordings special."
—Michael Hill, Associated Press
"Just as the two magisterial volumes of Guralnick's Presley bio paint a much more nuanced picture of Presley, The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll
captures the complexity of the colorful Phillips....The author loves his subject and loves writing about him.... A book that can stand with his best, and that is [both] entertaining and lively....For that rock-and-roll fans should be eternally grateful."—Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
—Isabella Biedenharn, Entertainment Weekly
"Phillips' rich and oracular storytelling permeates this book....He was huckster, trickster, dreamer and architect compressed in one roiling, flamboyant package. If he hadn't existed, it would have been necessary for Mark Twain to invent him."
—Gene Seymour, Newsday
"Few biographies have anything like this degree of insight, rigor, or command of detail; crucially, it also drives you back to the music. Written with sensitivity and love, it captures more than any other book this writer can remember the Fifties' limitless possibilities, and is a gripping depiction of an empire in its pomp--not only Sun Records, but also America."
—Paul Trynka, Mojo
"A large part of the book's appeal consists in Guralnick's easy, conversational style. With its frequent use of anecdote and reliance on reported conversation, Sam Phillips
could have been sprawling and uneven. In the hands of a storyteller as deft as Peter Guralnick, however, it effortlessly engages the reader throughout."—Lou Glandfield, Times Literary Supplement
"One of the most profound biographies of recent years....Sam Phillips
has many of the characteristics of a Sun recording session: epic but as intimate as sex...[and] delivering a figure so quintessentially American he might almost be a character in Mark Twain or Melville."—Brian Morton, Glasgow Herald"Sam Phillips
is Guralnick's most personal book....The author injects himself into the book more than ever before--not only because he's part of the story in the later years but also because Phillips' credo of breaking down of class and race barriers through the 'extreme individualism' is so essential to Guralnick's life work--and his conception of American music. You can hear Phillips' evangelical fervor resonating in Guralnick's prose much as you could once hear it reverberating in Presley's vocals."—Geoffrey Himes, Paste