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

4.27 of 5 stars 4.27  ·  rating details  ·  3,477 ratings  ·  221 reviews
'Last Train to Memphis' is arguably the first serious biography that refuses to dwell on the myth of Elvis. Aiming instead to portray in vivid, dramatic terms the life and career of this outstanding artistic and cultural phenomenon, it draws together a plethora of documentary and interview material to create a superbly coherent and plausible narrative. The first of two vol ...more
Paperback, 578 pages
Published November 2nd 1995 by Little Brown and Company (first published March 1st 1994)
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Paul Bryant
Jan 27, 2009 Paul Bryant marked it as to-read-nonfiction  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
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
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
Brendan Lyons
I was an 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
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sarah
Aug 28, 2008 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Wendy Kendall
I’m All Shook Up after reading this comprehensive biography about the rise of a young Elvis Presley. The writing is so vivid and the details so compelling, the character of Elvis and those around him really come to life. As I was reading, I felt like I was in that time and place. The young Elvis is an awkward and innocent young man from an impoverished childhood, who loves music. He holds an unwavering inner conviction that he is meant for something special in life.

Elvis was not an overnight suc
...more
Bill O'driscoll
Guralnick's fine bio covers through Presley's early days in the army. Elvis emerges as a somewhat surprising character for even someone who knew there was something beyond the thumbnail histories and decades of caricature. As a kid, he was a shy mama's boy who was simply entranced by music, and driven to sing. His rise was meteoric -- he was truly a star whose fame began in the recording studio (not through even whatever technical gimmickry was available starting in 1954, but a combination of ta ...more
Neil Kernohan
Elvis Presley's musical career pre-dates me by one generation though I've always been aware of his legend and legacy and, of course, his early rock'n'roll hits are central to the development of youth culture and popular music in the mid 20th century. The man will still be an icon a hundred years from now.

This first instalment of Guralnick's biography covers every aspect of Elvis's childhood, adolescence and subsequent meteoric rise to fame and fortune by the time he reached his early 20s. The bo
...more
Nada
This book was no use for me. Too dull & too detailed.
When I first picked this book I had very high expectations because the cover is beautiful, great reviews and I saw a potential but it did not meet my expectations at all. I was let down. I miserably tried to finish it hoping maybe it would get better somehow but nope! It's either Elvis's early life was too boring or the writer's writing was just not worthy... I'm not sure though which of the two is the correct answer.
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
Marcus
Fascinating read for one who was never an Elvis fan. I now have a greater appreciation for Elvis and the time period of his meteoric rise in the music industry. Peter Guralnick is a scholarly writer who makes the people of this era multidimensional. Having lived this same time frame, I now better understand my own life.
Don Gorman
If you want to know everything, and I mean everything, about the start of Elvis Presley's career, this is the book for you. If you are looking for a fairly neat picture of how you could make big money in the entertainment business in the mid to late 1950's this book is also for you. if you are not primarily interested in those two things, this 488 page book is one long haul of minutiae. A month by month history of Elvis from when he is 18 until he is 23. I guess there is a whole other book by th ...more
Dana
This was so good. Exciting, moving & so full of detail I felt like I could really see the events being described: a painfully shy Elvis transforming into a ball of energy on stage, coming out as if he had been "shot out of a cannon." Wonderful.
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.
Andrewh
This is the first half of Guralnick's mammoth bio of Elvis and takes up to his drafting into the Army and departure for Germany. As with many biographies, the early part of The King's life are actually quite mundane and boring and the author dwells on tedious details, such as exactly what Elvis and his then sweetheart did on their date that night, what Elvis wore, and so on and so on. Even after Elvis's 'discovery' by Sam Philips at Sun Records (in fact, Elvis made self-financed two demos before ...more
Adam
Great book. Before I read it, Elvis in my mind wasn’t much more than a caricature. A couple things really surprised me about the person who emerged from Guralnick’s study.

Elvis rose from total obscurity with only the vaguest sense of what he hoped to accomplish through music. It seems he relied almost totally on instinct, and the magic that he conjured in the Sun Records studio with Sam Phillips seems to have happened as much by luck as anything.

It's astonishing how little of an artistic vision
...more
Nicole
Everything you wanted to know about Elvis' rise to fame and more, this is an exhaustive biography of Presley that begins with the marriage of his parents and ends with his deployment to Germany as part of his draft to the Army in his early twenties. Along the way, readers are privy to his awkward childhood and adolescence when his prediliction to music was clear from an early age, as was his devotion to the Church, gospel, and the spirituals of the Memphis black community. Guralnick depicts Elvi ...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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