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Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom
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Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,941 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
A gripping narrative that captures the tumult and liberating energy of a nation in transition, Sweet Soul Music is an intimate portrait of the legendary performers--Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, James Brown, Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Al Green among them--who merged gospel and rhythm and blues to create Southern soul music. Through rare interviews and with ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published July 1st 1999 by Back Bay Books (first published 1986)
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Simon Reid
Jan 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is still the definitive account of southern soul, over thirty years since it was published. Many of the key players were still around and happy to be interviewed when Peter Guralnick researched the book. As one who has read his also-definitive Elvis biographies Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love might expect, he does a fantastic job piecing together all of their anecdotes to tell a coherent, entertaining story about amazing music being created.

Where the Elvis project had its atmospheri
Marc  A.
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. Quality history, interviews, plus interesting anecdotes and commentary on a uniquely American music form, without alot of star-eyed, fanzine, hagiographic drivel (if a writer gets a little carried away and waxes a bit overwrought in describing the talents of an artist like, say, Aretha Frankin, it seems to me unduly harsh to criticize). As for the author's choice to focus on "Southern Soul", the artists, studios, and labels that produced their work in Southern places ...more
May 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, library
Reading this book twenty-five years after its publication was probably a better experience than reading it in 1986 because of the advent of YouTube. What a wonderful experience to read the backstories about the creation of brilliant music as I listened to the old recordings Guralnick wrote about - sometimes accompanied by old footage of the singers and sometimes accompanied by a video of the original 45 spinning on the turntable! Just a delight.
Curt Bozif
Jul 22, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
Well written with few cliches but, written in 1986, it definitely feels dated. Also, this is first and foremost a book about the soul industry, the business of soul music in the late 50s and 60s. Not about the music itself. If you want interesting tidbits about Al Bell or Steve Cropper this is your book, but if you want detail and insightful analysis or breakdown of the songs themselves, how they're written, structured, arranged, etc. this is not your book. Very little attention is payed to the ...more
Winter Sophia Rose
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Labor Of Love!
Oct 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art-and-music
Sweet Soul Music

This is an earnest and engrossing account of the rise of southern soul music, tracing the major figures that evolved it from R&B and gospel, beginning on the upstart labels, and leading to their deals with Atlantic Records. If you’re not up for reading the whole thing, the 20-page introduction alone is a super overview of the major themes.

Guralnick intersperses deep research and contemporary interviews with the major soul artists with his own recollections of seeing them perf
Joe Schilp
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The story of southern soul covering Stax, Muscle Shoals and Georgia.
Jean-denis Crouhy
La référence absolue sur la Soul et du rythm 'n' Blues du sud des États-Unis !

L'auteur a interviewé tous les acteurs vivant de cette période (le livre est de 1985) et il raconte l'histoire des labels du sud :Stax, Fame, Hi Records...(avec aussi un apparté sur Atlantic qui distribua ces labels et eu plusieurs partenariats avec eux) ainsi que la vie de ses plus grands chanteurs : Otis Redding, James Brown, Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Wilson Picket, Percy Sledge, Rufus Thomas, Aretha Franklin...

Ce livr
Dan Phillips
Jan 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
Starting with a brief overview of Sam Cooke’s career, and ending with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Sweet Soul Music is much more of a chronicle than its predecessors (Feel Like Going Home and Lost Highway, Guralnick’s “Blues” and “Americana” collections, respectively.) This is the story of soul’s ascendancy during the mid- to late-sixties, as it crossed over to the pop charts and was both made and enjoyed by an increasingly unsegregated population. Specifically, this is the story of ...more
Dec 30, 2012 rated it liked it
" 'Rick contacted me about the session, but he didn't know who in hell was coming in. I said, "Who you got?" He said, "Aretha Franklin." I said, "Boy, you better get your damn shoes on. You getting someone who can sing." Even the Memphis guys didn't really know who in the hell she was. I said, "Man, this woman gonna knock you out." They're all going, "Big deal!" When she come in there and sit down at the piano and hit that first chord, everybody was just like little bees just buzzing around the ...more
Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
He's not as pretentious as Greil Marcus or as energetic as Lester Bangs, but Peter Guralnick sure can write books. I've had this one on the shelf for seven years, and I'm surprised it took me this long to get around to reading it. It's a little different for a Guralnick book, in that it's not a biography or a gathering of shorter profiles, although that element is present in the Solomon Burke, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin chapters. Mostly it's a back-and-forth history with a huge, fascinatin ...more
Don Hackett
Aug 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"Do you like soul music? Yea yea!" This well-written, throughly-researched book tells the history of soul music, detailing the gospel singing precursors such as Sam Cooke, the small record companies in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee that recorded the music and distributed it, and the people who made the music, culminating in Otis Redding (in my opinion and the author's the best soul artist.) The owners of the record labels were white, the singers black, and the musicians mixed; the author looks ...more
Nov 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent, highly readable history focusing on Memphis (home of Stax Records) and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, along with the executives, artists, writers and studio musicians who made the local labels and studios the creative forces they were.

I had read Guralnick's biographies of Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke. While both are excellent, the suffer from an excess reliance on pure chronology. At times, each of these biographies become day-to-day chronicles of their subjects. This book, because
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Before there was James Brown, before Otis Reading, before Sam Cooke and Wilson Picket, Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas and Aretha, The Queen of Soul, there was Solomon Burke, The King of Soul. This in-depth chronicle of the times also offers sketches of the people, like Solomon Burke, whose amazing life defined both the sweet and the soul in the music. Do yourself a favor and listen to Cry To Me. This book is a tome and I had to skim some of it. The most riveting parts were the biographical sketches ...more
May 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
I love soul and this is perhaps the best book about it, according to reviews. (And that seems believable--it was a good book.)

First issue with the book: the author denigrates Motown repeatedly. This is a Southern soul book, but, still, Motown needs respect.

Second, the beginning of the book felt pretty slow, but it sped up as it went along. It may have been that I stopped worrying as much about the details and just read. (The author introduces hundreds of names during the book but only a few doz
Scott Smith
May 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Picked this up used at Laurie's Planet of Sound. Surprised it took me this long to get to it.

UPDATED: Loved this book. Felt like a diary of someone's road trip crossed with sitting at the end of a bar while old cusses tried to one up each other with stories. Really impressed that Guralnick wove himself into the story w/o making it seem too "look at me!" which is what usually happens with books that include memoirish elements. I think it worked because soul music is about personal emotional react
David Ward
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom by Peter Guralnick (Harper & Row 1986) (784.530975) brings a lot of the down and dirty flavor of Stax Records, Macon Georgia, and the "Chitlin' Circuit" of the Deep South at the time that Soul Music went mainstream. James Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Little Richard Penniman led the way; much of the South was dragged along kicking and screaming. This book is a tasty little read. My rating: 7/10, finished 3/19/201 ...more
Nov 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really liked the biographies of popular singers like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and James Brown, for their level of details and accounts of the hard work these acts put in to be successful. I got bogged down with some of the 'inside baseball' of the studios organizations and the business side of the music. Overall a very enjoyable, stimulating book that makes me want expand my knowledge of soul music.
Jun 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: musica
la storia del soul, da san cooke che lascia la musica sacra per quella profana al crollo della stax records per eccesso di ambizioni e cattiva gestione: sembra materiale da film, e se si è appassionati si rischia di impazzire ad annotarsi tutti i nomi e le etichette che saltano fuori e che vien voglia di ascoltarsi. se si è appassionati di musica è un libro da leggere assolutamente. punto.
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
an enjoyable history of the rise and fall of stax records and the music scene around memphis in the '60s, with meanders around the lives of sam cooke, solomon burke, james brown and arthea franklin. i thought more could have been made of the political backdrop to the glorious dream of black and white integration through 'soul music'. sadly no mention of new orleans and (my favorites) the meters.
Mar 21, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: graemes
A schoolfriend of mine, whose father worked for the local paper, gave this to me on the condition that I write a review. A collection of vignettes relating to a number of classic soul performers, Guralnick's book dismisses the entire Motown canon as unworthy of inclusion in the soul genre. Controversial...
Jul 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
wow!! i was burnt on music books and didn't really want to read this, but i was trapped in a van 8 hours a day and it was the only book lying around. lucky for me!! wow what a great inspiring book!! i could not put it down. i had no idea solomon burke was so hilarious. i loved reading about the muscle shoals guys, james brown, and the stax chapter made me cry.
Jan 21, 2016 added it
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Traces roots of soul music from Sam Cooke & Ray Charles, through to Solomon Burke, O.V Wright, James Brown, James Carr, etc. And the companies such as Stax, Goldwax, Hi etc. It (soul) had a relatively short life, but it was powerful stuff and its history is fascinating - well worth searching out and reading.
Dec 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned so much from this book! The story of Stax and its artists isn't as well known as that of Motown, but it's no less important to the subject of American musical history. Guralnick is an excellent biographer and researcher and it shows. If you're interested in this topic, do read this book and learn, learn, learn!
Candelaria Silva
I enjoyed learning about the founding of Stax Records and Muscle Shoals, etc. and about the artists who recorded at the samll studios in the South including Otis Redding, Wilson PIckett, Joe Tex, Aretha Franklin and James Brown. I didn't like some of the suposition and analysis the author brought to the book and his unfortunate comparison i(twice) of the mastery of Black musicians to Al Jolson!
Jul 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
A great musical and cultural history of southern soul music (aka Stax, Muscle Shoals, Macon and not Motown) that was a ton of fun to read. As you might expect, reading this makes you want to listen and there's an extensive discography in the back of the book.
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stellar history of southern soul music against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and on up through the mid eighties. Someone else will have to do the history of Motown, Philly Soul and the rest of it north of the Mason Dixon line, but this was great.
May 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
A complex story of the birth of soul music in the Southern culture. All of the major studios are included. Those who are familiar with only the major soul musicians will meet some more obscure, but influential figures. Not dry or overly academic - an enjoyable read for music lovers.
Nov 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Bible of sorts. Indispensable reading for music fans. Guralnick's prose style is engrossing, and he very capably connects the evolution of 1960's soul music with the emerging Civil Rights and Black Power movements. In a word, awesome.
Aug 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is kind of my guide to the music I started loving in the 1950's listening to records with my older brother. It traces different studios, songwriters-key players that kept popping up in the music I kept returning to.
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Love of music? 1 14 May 12, 2009 08:23AM  
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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