BY FRED MILLS
He’s done a pair of books documenting, in exacting and exhaustive detail, the ‘60s/’70s garage scene of Memphis (Playing For A Piece of the Door: A History of Garage & Frat Bands in Memphis plus The Memphis Garage Rock Yearbook — the former is considered one of the best-ever volumes for fans and collectors of the genre). And he’s also done the colorfully/brilliantly titled Sputnik, Masked Men, & Midgets, about the professional wrestling circuit that Memphis hosted back when rockin’ and rasslin’ went hand in hand with smoke-filled auditoriums and personalities with monikers like “Tiny,” “Chief,” “Bubba” and, for the ladies, “Miss Kitty.” (I’m making those names up but you get the point.) “He” would be astute archivist Ron Hall, and he has demonstrated his ability to, er, kick out the jams. But don’t let the literary legacy fool ya, punters: the dude’s an old softie, as evidenced by his new offering, a sentimental journey for geeks of all stripes, whether ye be an Elvis acolyte, James Brown funk soul brutha, a KISS Army crazy, or even an anarchy-minded Panther Burns punk.
Hall reports that his first concert was Donovan in ’68 at downtown Memphis venue Ellis Auditorium; soon he would not only get to see Hendrix but would also begin booking local combos he admired or was friends with into area clubs before the ‘70s dawned. Since then he’s been hoarding ticket stubs, concert posters/handbills and gig flyers, newspaper advertisements and photos taken both by himself and by associates. Memphis Rocks is the fruit of those labors, focusing on the three decades he was most active on the scene, and the dedication shows.
For example, on one set of pages we see choice shots from 1968 of Booker T & the MGs (at Memphis’ storied Overton Park Shell) and the Buffalo Springfield (Mid-South Coliseum, perennial host to the, ahem, big acts that came through that end of Tennessee). Flip forward a few pages and there’s a photo essay of the Allman Brothers circa ’71 at Memphis shows, including pics of long-haired concertgoers climbing up on fences and trees to get a better look at the southern-rock icons. Not long after that is a photo of the New York Dolls’ David Johansen along with a gig flyer and backstage pass plus the author’s own remembrance of the 9/21/73 show at Ellis Auditorium.
“Iggy Pop opened and got the crowd pumped up,” writes Hall. “Security and the police were not prepared for this onslaught of punk rock… a guy jumped onstage from the crowd. He ran and kissed Johansen and all hell broke loose! The plug was pulled, and Johansen was cuffed and hauled off to jail for disorderly conduct…”
These live and oftentimes candid backstage photos of the artists were taken by Hall, blues expert/publicist/BLURT buddy Mark Pucci, Alan Copeland, Joe Spake, Timothy Jones and others (for some reason my absolute fave is Ruby Starr, of southern-fried glam-rockers Grey Ghost, captured in full loon at the Roxy in 1977 by Jerry Swift, maybe because I saw Starr in all her lascivious, tongue-teasing glory around the same time). Hall’s book is also crammed with the aforementioned reproductions of the actual ads that appeared in the Memphis newspapers. I mean, c’mon—tickets for Springsteen on the Born To Run tour in ’76 cost a princely $5 and $6, only to break the ceiling a few years later for the Boss’ River trek in ’81 with a $9.50 to $11.50 range! I ask you (to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson): What’s in your wallet?, at least, what’s in it after you paid off your credit card from this year’s Springsteen tour of arenas, eh? (Below: the author.)
There’s plenty more here, including a gallery of envy-inducing backstage passes (some signed by the artists themselves), more personal remembrances, and—throughout the book—a day-by-day listing of all significant known gigs that went down in Memphis over the course of the book’s 30-year purview. All that, and an autographed color photo of none other than Meat Loaf?
As the book itself tells us, Memphis rocks, dude. And so do you, Mr. Hall.