Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley
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Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (Elvis #1)

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  2,707 ratings  ·  194 reviews
From the moment that he first shook up the world in the mid 1950s, Elvis Presley has been one of the most vivid and enduring myths of American culture.

Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley is the first biography to go past that myth and present an Elvis beyond the legend. Based on hundreds of interviews and nearly a decade of research, it traces the evolution no...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published September 1st 1995 by Back Bay Books (first published March 1st 1994)
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Paul
Jan 27, 2009 Paul marked it as to-read-nonfiction
He wasn't my king

For black people, Elvis, more than any other performer, epitomises the theft of their music and dance

Helen Kolawole
Thursday August 15, 2002
The Guardian

As another celebration of a dead white hero winds up, in this hallowed Week of Elvis, shouldn't the entertainment industry hold its own truth and reconciliation commission?
It needn't be a vehicle for retribution, just somewhere where tales of white appropriation of black culture, not to mention outright theft, can finally be l...more
Prateek
One of the most exhilarating stories ever told. Guralnick accomplishes something astonishing -- he rescues Elvis from myth, in the process reaffirms his legend. This volume chronicles Elvis's early life -- his crackling charisma, musical inventiveness and genuine iconoclasm. The backdrop is America in transformation -- postwar restlessness, racial integration and (much needed) rebellion. In the end, we see why America needed Elvis, and why, sadly, his tragic fall was so inevitable. As good a boo...more
Will Lashley
Peter Guralnick's books on American R&B, Soul, Country, Blues and Rock and Roll are all heartfelt, deeply researched, and written nearly entirely in the third person, and that last bit separates him from the self aggrandizing that mars the writing of so many other music writers covering the same ground. If he has a fault it is his reverence for his subjects. Accordingly, this first volume of his two volume biography of Elvis Presley will set you aglow with the excitement, innocence and exube...more
M. D.  Hudson
Another book I picked up after last fall’s trips to visit my friends Heather and Clay in the wonderful city of Memphis. Great book, couldn’t put it down. Reviewers say it’s the best book on Elvis around. Haven’t read much about Elvis, but I can’t imagine it getting much better than this. A very sympathetic account, it keeps an eye on what is important about Elvis – his astonishing talents – and not the sordid stuff (although the sordid stuff is mentioned). To my delight, Elvis’s Army buddy Rex M...more
Sher
My first contact with Elvis was through my older brother who listened to his music religiously. I was just a dumb kid, but I thought that Elvis was handsome. Now that I can look back on Elvis and his impact on the music business, I can easily see why he is the "King" and how he was able to do what he did. Much of it was due to natural talent. He was not only a talented entertainer, but he had a presence about him that can't be taught. You have it or you don't. He obviously had it. He was "attrac...more
Melissa
Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley is beautifully written portrait of Presley's early years -- his impoverished childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi, the move to Memphis in his teenage years, and the amazingly rich and complex soup of musical influences that city offered to a shy, sensitive boy with a huge love of singing and music of all kinds.

The Elvis you meet in this book is not the troubled, larger-than life, jumpsuit-wearing star of the Vegas years that may first spring to mind w...more
Kid
Since this is the first book I've read about Elvis I can't compare it to the rest of the mountains of scholarship. I'm not part of the fawning chorus who think this is a gripping and incredible journey through the early life of one of America's most mythologized and misunderstood pop artists.

While I understand why Guralnick might have toned down his presence in the narrative (an Elvis book is kind of the big leagues) I found his personal relationship to the characters in Sweet Soul Music and Lo...more
Greta
Aug 26, 2007 Greta rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans, music history, fashion
Great award winning biography. You can really get a sense of the humaness and vulnerability of Elvis, Elvis seems like a real person. I found the book quite piognant, as his youth, innocence, creativity, and interest in music is explored.
The most compelling aspect of this book for me was that I really got a sense of Elvis' creativity and musical and fashion artistry as something real, genuine, non-contrived and down to earth. I also enjoyed reading about historical connections to American Sou...more
Dan
Jan 29, 2009 Dan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
the Elvis book left me speechless and amazed. Dreaming about hillbilly forevers. Sentimental on a Sun Recording bender that nearly drove the neighbors to nail my windows shut to save them from the pain of the thousandth play of "Its all Alright Momma" at full volume. Have you ever seen "Jesus Camp?" It was kinda like that but with Elvis instead of Jesus and I only cried when Gladiolus died near the end. To say Elvis is iconic from Tokyo to Mobile and cult like for many that hide in Dixie caves i...more
Serina
It is a great biography which humanizes the legend of Elvis Presley , showing how he rose to fame and trying to explain his choices in life and the dilemma that surrounded him!
Guralnick has a fascinating way of giving a biography the story essence and cut the pieces and reorganize it in a great sense to tell it as a tale with no holes in.
But it has a prolblem you must be aware of: it sinks to the depth of music in somewhat a pro way, which might gets you lost in details , and the abb are sooo ma...more
Sarah
Aug 28, 2008 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sarah by: Todd L.
Long live the King! Before you dismiss this with, "I don't like Elvis...," it doesn't matter. It is a really cool look at 50s culture in the U.S., and the development of the first true music mega-star. This book will also appeal to people interested in Southern culture. Guralnick does a great job with describing the alignment of hemispheres that allowed Elvis to became the huge sensation that he was. I was particularly facinated in the details of Elvis' first long-term relationships; both women...more
Nathan
A sharply-rendered and painstakingly-detailed account of Elvis' early days. Guralnick's narrative prose is simple, even crude, but his material is richly precise: in some places, we get an almost day-by-day account of Elvis' life and career, with sources split neatly between firsthand interviews and the author's own historical knowledge, which is impressive. Guralnick is, it should be noted, a far better historian than he is a writer, and there are whole blocks of prose that ramble indistinctly...more
Peter Landau
The omnipotent sex appeal. The innate talent. The taste. The clothes. The moves. Yes, I noticed it too: reading this biography of Elvis Presley was like a plagiarism of my life. The meteoric rise of the Pelvis is documented with great research and even greater restraint, bringing the larger-to-life Presley into a perspective that creates empathy for the man behind the legend. I'm eager to read the companion piece that follows Elvis' tour of duty in the armed servieces and later years to learn ho...more
Ben
I was three quarters of the way through this book before I realized that it is the first of two gigantic volumes, and I was enjoying it so much that it made me excited because I wanted a lot more. This volume covers Elvis' youth up until his deployment in Germany with the Army.

I have wanted to read this book since visiting Graceland expecting to make fun of everything and winding up feeling sympathetic and melancholy. His gravesite, where he is buried next to his twin brother Jesse who was still...more
Tom Bremer
Explaining Elvis Presley as a cultural phenomenon remains an elusive task. Some twenty years after publication of the first volume of Peter Guralnick’s two-volume study of Elvis Presley, and nearly thirty-seven years after the entertainer’s death, there is little sign that the King’s popularity may be lessening. On the contrary, Elvis appears to be more popular today than he was when he gasped his last breath in 1977 face-down in the shag carpeting of his Graceland bedroom.

Like Elvis himself, Gu

...more
Neyly
Can I rate this book less than one star? With a negative number?

I actually started this book at the end of Dec. 2012. I've read 97 books in the interim. After a certain point, stubbornness alone made me finish. I literally had to force myself to pick it up and read another chapter.

Detailed much? Enough to take the life out of Elvis. Example sentence: "He showed up at the draft board in the M&M Building at 198 South Main at 6:35 the next morning and parked just south of the Malco Theatre."...more
Ervin Heath
How very strange it feels to return to a time when I was a fan of Elvis. Some of the details I actually recalled reading about in the newspaper and in magazines and hearing on television when they happened. I even kept a scrapbook with his pictures and some articles until I left for college and began to grow away from his music in 1964. Much of what is written here confirms many of my early impressions and early idealistic memories of Elvis. I felt like these stories about Elvis are intended to...more
Amber Sexton
It was beautifully written in a style that made you feel you maybe knew Elvis. The density of research of the other artists and song writers making up his milieu and influence was great too.
Donnamhiltz
A surprisingly insightful read about the rise of Elvis, before he became tragic tabloid fodder. Can't wait to get to the second book.
Eric
I love Elvis. To learn about him is to learn about the USA. This book was well-researched and deservedly honest, I think.
Garrett Cash
One of the greatest biographies I have read. A vigorous, exciting, and revealing picture of a true icon. Presley's early years seem somewhat enigmatic and impenetrable to the casual observer (at least to me, I never understood how those records at Sun could have happened), but Guralnick succeeds in immersing the reader in Elvis's life and world with such skill one might forget that they were never there. We finally see the mysterious young man who performed masterpieces which shook the world not...more
Colin
Sep 23, 2008 Colin added it
9/23
In this book the protagonist or the good guy is Elvis Presley, the king of Rock'n'Roll. This book starts out by giving subsequent detail of the life of Elvis. Elvis is the good guy because he lived the American Dream; he evolved from the depths of poverty,to the luxurious lifestyle filled with drugs and girls. The protagonist is sometimes thrown trials and tribulations in his search for good. Elvis was given a hard-core childhood, but he sought to change it by playing the guitar and singing...more
Susan
This enormous biography takes Elvis from his birth in 1935, through his gradual rise to stardom and on to the death of his beloved mother. The author meticulously lists every live concert date, every record and every film made, but that is not all the book is about. As well as explaining how and why Elvis became the huge star he became, it explains who he was. The gentle boy who loved his mother and who never seemed to be anything other than caring (if a little fickle) with his many girlfriends,...more
Nate
Really good biography. Prior to reading this book, my image of Elvis was (sadly) the picture of him standing next to Richard Nixon in some ridiculous outfit, offering his services I believe as an undercover narcotics agent. He has become something of a cartoon character in modern times. This biography - the first volume at least - goes a long way towards reminding us of who Elvis really was, before the pressure of unprecedented fame became truly insane. There is very little about his hit songs -...more
Stephen
The parts of this book I liked I really liked but frequently the story gets bogged down with minutiae about all the business deals Elvis made or the shows he played on such and such date or what he did with all the girls he went out with. But the best parts of this book really humanize a person, the first true rock star possibly, who has long been characatured. I knew next to nothing about Elvis the man and this book provides great insights to that effect. He was in turn humble, polite and shy b...more
Kathleen Hagen
Last Train to Memphis: the Rise of Elvis Presley,by Peter Guralnick,Narrated by Kevin Stillwell, Produced by Hachette Audio, Downloaded from audible.com.

The publisher’s note states in part:
This book is the first biography to go past the myth to present an Elvis beyond the legend. Based on hundreds of interviews and nearly a decade of research, it traces the evolution not just of the man but of the music and of the culture he left utterly transformed,
creating a completely fresh portrait of Elvis...more
Lucynell
This book covers the rise of Elvis Presley up to his deployment in Germany in 1958 and is widely considered as his best biography. Even knowing the status of the book I found it even more exciting than I thought it would be.
The author covers everything and everyone that matters. The Presley family to begin with, their background, and Elvis' formative years. The places and the times are well presented from several angles, for example, regional personalities such as deejays, their effect on the lo...more
Brendan Lyons
I was a Irish kid in Germany in 1958 (my Dad worked in the AFEX system as an accountant) when Elvis came over as an army draftee. A family friend got his autograph for me which I lost soon after (damn & double-damn!)and this is the point where this book - the first of a two-part biography - closes. It takes us from Elvis' birth in Tupelo to his family's move to Memphis, his geeky high school days, the $12 guitar his father bought for him, and his burning desire to cut a record. This brought...more
Brandon O'Neill
This is the 1st of the 2 part supposedly best biography of Elvis Presley. This book covered his early years through the death of his mama and going to Germany in 1958.
I really like the Elvis that the author presents. At this early stage in his life and career, he seemed genuine, open, and really appreciated his fans. I was shocked that whenever he would go back to Memphis and fans lined up at his house, he would come out and sign autographs at least once a day. Even if he wasn't home, his par...more
Judy
Jan 05, 2012 Judy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Elvis fans, rock music afficiados
Shelves: biography

I read this Elvis Presley biography as research on the 1950s for my memoir. When Elvis had his first big hit, "Heartbreak Hotel", in 1956, I was a nine-year-old in 4th grade. Today I know that kids that age are already up on pop music, the hits and the stars, but it was not like that in middle-class Princeton, N J. By the time I got interested in pop music, it was Bob Dylan and then the Beatles. So I never became an Elvis fan.

Subtitled The Rise of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis covers his...more
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Peter Guralnick is an American music critic, writer on music, and historian of US American popular music, who is also active as an author and screenwriter. He has been married for over 45 years to Alexandra. He has a son and daughter, Jacob and Nina.

Guralnick's first two books, Almost Grown (1964) and Mister Downchild (1967), were short story collections published by Larry Stark, whose small press...more
More about Peter Guralnick...
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