Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Eric Wolfson's "Elvis Presley's From Elvis In Memphis"

Eric Wolfson worked as an artist and musician in Boston and New York City, before settling in Washington, D.C. He works at the Performing Arts Division of the United States Copyright Office in the Library of Congress. He is the only employee in the agency whose desk has a shrine to Elvis.

Wolfson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Elvis Presley's "From Elvis in Memphis", and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book falls on the seventh page of the seventh chapter, which in turn explores the seventh song on Elvis Presley’s seventh studio album, From Elvis in Memphis (excluding soundtracks, compilations, holiday, and gospel albums): “Power of My Love.” It is a sexy, lurching rocker that finds Elvis opening the second side of the record with an insatiable lust.

But seven pages in, we shift beyond the song itself to its deep roots. Its central use of the word “shaking” ties it back beyond ’50s R&B classics like “Shake a Hand,” “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”—all of which Elvis would cover over the course of his career—to Delta blues musician Charley Patton, whose 1929 recording of “Shake It and Break It” plays like its blueprint.

Much of the page establishes the surprising amount that Elvis and Patton have in common: Both were born into poverty in rural Mississippi and stood at the pioneering forefront of their respective genre; both were also legendary performers who pushed the boundaries of their communities’ acceptance.

The key sentence is this:

“But most of all, both men were masters of the entire realm of American music—hot blues, country tunes, folk songs, slow ballads, and spirituals.”

Patton and Elvis are two true American stylists, whose finest music borrowed from all genres without being confined to any. (Other artists in this category might include Lead Belly, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Aretha Franklin, among many more.)

As a tangent off of a song off an album, page 99 fails to establish the scope of my book about a major performer’s masterpiece album. And yet, it is arguably the page of the book that digs the deepest into the collective past—tying the biggest American rock icon to the most influential country blues icon.

Such connections transcend time, race, and genre to represent American music at its finest—which, on another level, is entirely what my book is all about.
Visit the From Elvis In Memphis website.

--Marshal Zeringue