Saturday, August 6, 2011

Preston Lauterbach's "The Chitlin’ Circuit"

Music journalist Preston Lauterbach lives with his wife and children in Memphis, Tennessee.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'n' Roll, his first book, and reported the following:
I hope that my book passes the “open to any page” test. Writing history, I try to evoke a lost world, and page 99 happens to be a dandy. Some imagery: “‘…the orchestra is screaming like a bunch of freight trains,,,boy what a time! Lights blue and green flickering on a lake of whiskey, a sea of wine, and an ocean of beer….’”

It’s not my writing, but a piece of especially vivid source material that accomplishes what I’m after, bringing the reader to another place. In this case, a Houston, Texas nightclub called the Harlem Grill, in 1938. My book The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll illuminates the neon signs outside places like the Harlem for one more night.

Places like the Harlem were part of an economically and artistically vibrant black subculture known as the chitlin’ circuit. They were the homebases for old school music business hustlers like Don Robey, who ran the Harlem, and they incubated the sounds of swing, rock ‘n’ roll, and soul. Despite their critical contribution to American culture, virtually all of the chitlin’ circuit clubs of this era are gone without a trace.

Memories of nights at the Harlem still crackle in the minds of the people that partied there, and the energetic black journalism of the day recorded the outsized exploits of the kingpins who ran bootlegging rackets, gambling ventures, and prostitution rings on the circuit while financing upstart entertainers from Jimmie Lunceford to Little Richard and James Brown.

Page 99 of The Chitlin’ Circuit goes behind the scenery at the Harlem and details the fast-paced, inventive scheming that advanced the circuit across America, describing the dance promotion ring that Don Robey used to elevate Louis Jordan, Johnny Ace, and Ike and Tina Turner to stardom.

Though page 99 offers just a taste of vulgar glory, it represents the mystique that lingers around the chitlin’ circuit as well as the visionary planning that made it go.
Learn more about the book and author at Preston Lauterbach's website.

--Marshal Zeringue