Memphis-based writer Ron Hall talks about the local Rock n' Roll scene, Elvis, Sun Studio, and his memorabilia

"My hopes for the future that Memphis club owners would have more respect for the entertainers in town and double the fee they pay their talent. I also wish that the music would start earlier."

Ron Hall: Let The Memphis Rocks Roll 

Ron Hall's newest Memphis history book production is a history of Memphis concerts including incredible live photos from 1955-1985. The resulting book, “Memphis Rocks: A Concert History 1955-1985,” published by Shangri-La Projects, was a tedious, intense and laborious effort by Hall, whose previous three books with Shangri-La have chronicled the garage band era and professional wrestling in Memphis. Hall’s 4th book project is an almost exhaustive history of any advertised live rock ‘n roll concerts in Memphis--the cradle of rock ‘n roll--from 1955-1985. You will witness the evolution of the concert industry from rock ‘n roll’s inception in the ‘50s with small club dates by rhythm & blues stars like B.B. King, Bo Diddley, & Fats Domino followed by the onslaught of the rockabillys and rockers like Charlie Feathers, Eddie Bond, Carl Perkins, the Man in Black Johnny Cash, &, of course, the King of Rock ‘n Roll Elvis Presley all the way to the arena and stadium rock of the '70s & '80s. Garage & r&b shows of the ‘60s evolve into blues & rock festivals in the ‘70s, followed by the emergence of  new wave & punk acts in the late ‘70s & early ‘80s. The book features cool tickets, unique advertisements, & exclusive, never-before published photos from many of these concerts.

While Ron Hall has done years of research on the subject and already has hundreds of fantastic never before or seldom seen photos, he is still interested in any photos that you may have taken from concerts you attended that he has not yet discovered for the book. He is looking for photos from any of the Memphis Country Blues Festivals; any unpublished live Elvis photos --such as in the early '50s playing on the back of a flatbed truck at a grand opening store gig at Lamar & Airways; any Howlin' Wolf live shots; any Jimi Hendrix photos at either of his Memphis shows; any early Antenna Club new wave or punk band photos such as R.E.M., the Replacements, Husker Du, etc. or any other amazing shots you took that you think have to be in this essential history book. The previous book “Playing for a Piece of the Door: A History of Garage and Frat Bands in Memphis 1960-75” is a candid history and discography of over one hundred bands who recorded at least one record in Memphis from 1960-75. From nationally charting groups like the Box Tops, Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, the Gentrys and the Hombres to long-forgotten high school rockers who cut a record, had their fifteen minutes of fame, and then faded away, every Memphis garage band is included. Includes many unpublished photos as well as a complete listing of all band members and discographies of each band. Though countless books have been written about Memphis Music--including Elvis, Stax, and the blues, this genre of Memphis music has never been exhaustively touched upon until now.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n' Roll people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

I liked music from a very early age, but mostly they were just songs I heard and liked until I heard the Beatles. I saw the effect there stage presence and songs had on kids my age and I was drawn strongly to the British Invasion. I had heard blues tunes here and there. Living in the South I heard what my parents played on the radio. They had very few records. When I heard the Animals I was blown away by Eric Burdon. I read the teen mags and loved Hit Parader. Their articles told of their love of the blues and the original artists that influenced them. As far as what the blues meant to me was perseverance. Both my parents grew up poor in Arkansas living on a farm in the 20's and 30's. The songs of the blues men reminded me of stories of my family. not having much but striving to make the best of hard times.

How does music affect your mood and inspiration? How do you describe your books philosophy?

Music has affected my moods. For some reason in my lowest points I always listened to the most desperate songs! It was as if the was a message there telling me I could make it through the brighter days. When my wife and I have friends over and I start playing dj, I keep it as upbeat as possible. I've seen too many parties end with a down mood tune, country or blues. The philosophy of my books have always been upbeat. All have been about past events, bands, concerts, etc. Reminding us all of the bands that played a school dance, a concert you took your first girlfriend to, or days when you heard a friend first record on the radio. I have gotten much feedback over the years from readers telling me I succeeded at that.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Well, I hung out with many bands when I was younger. I thought being a musician was the coolest thing you could be. I tried doing small dances at 19, then went up a notch in the 70's booking Mitch Ryder, Brownsville Station, Steve Miller Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band into Memphis for shows. I met many musicians that came back as sources for information when I started writing my books. The best advice was "have no fear", and I haven't. I didn't write my first book until I was fifty. My first editor keep my first draft for a year before telling me I should pare in down for a large article in a local weekly music newspaper. Luckily, he also suggested another local guy, Sherman Willmott to take over the editing. Sherman agreed to not only edit it, but publish it! I'm now four books, two cds and a documentary in that partnership.

"Rock n' Roll is part of every trip my wife have ever taken in 35 years on marriage and even before that with me. In 1969 at nineteen years old I went to the Atlanta Pop Fest., The New Orleans Pop Fest and the West Palm Beach Pop Fest."

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss locally the great venues Memphis used to have and the promoters that booked the best into this town up until the late 90's. There are very few places for young groups to play anymore. In the 60's and 70's a band could cut a record, get airplay for 2-3 radio stations here, appear on George Klein" "Talent Party" television show and then you could see them at any number of places in town. The teen clubs in the 60's paid more than the bars pay their band s today. That's sad. My hopes for the future that Memphis club owners would have more respect for the entertainers in town and double the fee they pay their talent. I also wish that the music would start earlier. Many clubs don't allow the bands to start until 10-11 pm. They want to crowd to drink 4-5 drinks before the music starts and stay until closing.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That there would be a rebirth of Rock n' Roll and the Blues. You can't hear any of this unless it's an oldies station, or volunteer radio. I do a one hour radio show on WYPL FM 89.3 on Monday nights here. I play mostly garage rock from Memphis bands of the 60's. From Travis Wammack to Sam The Sham. All the station plays are Memphis artists. I realize Pop, Hip Hop and today's Country will thrive as long as we have "The Voice" and shows like it.

What touched (emotionally) you from the local (Memphis) scene? What characterize the sound of Memphis?

Well, when you grow up in a town that had Sun AND Stax there was a lot of stirring emotions. Elvis played outdoor shows at many venues in Memphis in the 50's. The Blues festivals in the 60's at The Overton Park Shell was like going to a museum, seeing and hearing the great delta bluesmen, WDIA was the one black station in the city and had the legendary Star-Lite Revues yearly, where every top black act wanted to be on that bill. The death of Martin Luther King in Memphis 1968 and the death of Elvis Presley were very emotional times. What was the character of Memphis music has been defined many times over the years by far greater minds than mine, as a melting pot. I place where the hill-billies and the black field hands came with there songs and dreams of a better life by maybe having that unique sound to make it big. Many did.

"The philosophy of my books have always been upbeat. All have been about past events, bands, concerts, etc. Reminding us all of the bands that played a school dance, a concert you took your first girlfriend to, or days when you heard a friend first record on the radio. I have gotten much feedback over the years from readers telling me I succeeded at that."

How has the Rock n' Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Rock n' Roll is part of every trip my wife have ever taken in 35 years on marriage and even before that with me. In 1969 at nineteen years old I went to the Atlanta Pop Fest., The New Orleans Pop Fest and the West Palm Beach Pop Fest. I saw Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, The Butterfield Blues Band, Johnny Winter, Booker T. & The MG's, Janis Joplin, Tyrannosaurs Rex and many more. Many road trips were taken to see Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, Dave Edmunds, and others in the 70's and 80's. While I was working for a record distributor in the 70's I was asked by a rednecked promo man if I would take the company station wagon and drive the New York Dolls around for a few days because he thought they were gay. I became a record dealer in 1981 and every trip I've taken since has meant stopping at every thrift store, record shop, or antique mall along the way.

What is the Impact of Rock n' Roll music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

Though over the years the roll of Rock n' Roll has lessened. Huge festivals and stadium shows have died down to an extent, but when you go to outdoor shows in Memphis and I'm sure across the country, you see all cultures engaged in the music, dancing, singing with the music and a general happiness that for a few hours we are all the same people. People that enjoy the vibe and interaction with others despite what race you are. It might change in traffic on the way home, but it's still there for those few hours.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I'd like to go back and be sitting in the corner at Sun Studio for the first real session Presley did. I'd like to feel what Sam Philips felt. I'd like to experience those chills. I'd like to see that raw kid before he was made the King Of Rock n' Roll.

What from your memorabilia and books, records, photos etc. would you put in a "time capsule"?

I have a room full of every kind of music, sports, movies item you could imagine. I have an autographed New York Dolls lp, a set of Beatles rings from the 60's, tons of photographs from shows in Memphis. Maybe a 20" x 30" poster of B.B. King and Bobby "Blue Bland" at Club Paradise here in 1983. That's pretty cool.

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