three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-ChitlinCircuitJournalist and editor Preston Lauterbach focuses his first book-length work on the "Chitlin' Circuit," an underground group of segregated night clubs that fostered the sound that would eventually be called "rock 'n' roll."

The Topic: The "Chitlin' Circuit" was a series of loosely organized "coloreds only" nightclubs found throughout the Southern and Eastern United States. During their heyday, the Circuit clubs featured performances from new African American artists on their way to stardom and mainstream acceptance--B. B. King, Ray Charles, and The Four Tops. Lauterbach, however, focuses on the lesser-known African American performers, arguing that it is with them that the real origins of rock 'n' roll truly reside. Lauterbach discusses numerous songs and compositions by artists such as Eubie Williams, Roy Brown, and Roosevelt Williams. Additionally, Lauterbach explores the social and cultural atmosphere surrounding the Chitlin' Circuit--everything from the business structure of the clubs to decoding the slang- and euphemism-filled language of the performers.
Norton. 352 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780393076523

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Lauterbach ... gives neglected performers like Roy Brown and Lucky Millinder their due. He also conjures compelling set pieces to describe music made in the harshest conditions. ... This sprawling, fascinating history drops readers into a chaotic, dangerous, utterly vanished world. It turns out to be more vibrant than the standard rock ‘n' roll mythology." John Repp

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The street-wise tone works because the book is at heart a well-researched valentine to a lost world of seedy con men, promoters and club owners, the power brokers and hustlers who made the ‘circuitry spark.' ... There are fresh insights from Mr. Lauterbach on icons like Richard and James Brown. ... There are also fine sketches of less glamorous but no less seminal figures, such as big-band leader Jimmie Lunceford." Eddie Dean

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Lauterbach makes an important point. ... [The Chitlin' Circuit] brought a lot of joy to people who didn't have much, and it brought splendid music to all of us. Lauterbach's tribute to it is welcome and overdue." Jonathan Yardley

New York Jrnl of Books 3 of 5 Stars
"Page after page, Mr. Lauterbach presents an outrageous cast of rogues and their Byzantine operations. ... This intensively researched, slyly humorous, and appealing book should have been written years ago, as it fills a knowledge gap in American musical history. ... To the book's narrative detriment, the author frequently provides extraneous detail that could easily have been omitted." Michael Cala

Critical Summary

Critics were excited about this book since it addresses a little-known and overlooked facet of American music history. Lauterbach conducted extensive research, which he conveys with style, though occasionally his penchant for detail becomes tedious. Critics were also pleased to see Lauterbach give this musical underground some social and political contexts, deepening the meaning of this little-explored avenue of Americana. We view this book as almost a companion piece to Nicholas Dawidoff's In the Country of Country (1998), which looks at the history of country music in America. Together, they explore the mutually exclusive cultural histories that would come together to form much of today's popular music.