Paul Burch On His Imagined Musical Biography of Jimmie Rodgers, Meridian Rising

My intention was to imagine a musical autobiography scored to the rhythms Rodgers knew in the late '20s and early '30s.

pb Paul Burch. Photo by Melissa Fuller

Several years ago, Peter Guralnick, one of my favorite writers, and his lovely wife came to my house for brunch.  But they didn’t just come for the conversation. It is well known by the ever-shrinking population of vintage Nashville residents that my wife — the former owner of much-missed Red Wagon Café — makes the best biscuits you’ll ever eat. And though she now has a lunch café, the biscuits have stayed home. The only way to try one is by personal invitation. And who doesn’t love belonging to an exclusive food club.

So there we were — eating, talking, and eating more when predictably the conversation turned to Elvis and Sam Phillips. Pete mentioned that Elvis asked Sam to make him a tape of nocturnal sounds to help him sleep, such was Elvis’ deep respect for Sam’s sensitivity to sound (and his familiarity no doubt of their shared disregard for what anyone else would call normal hours). The question came up whether “That’s All Right,” Elvis’ first single for Sun (“That’s a holy song,” said Sam) had slapback, which is a controllable tape echo that Sam occasionally applied to brighten or excite a recording.

Pete contended the original 45 and 78 of “That’s All Right” on Sun did not have slapback, but that RCA added their approximation of tape echo (more like a lathering than a touch as Sam would use) after RCA bought Elvis’ Sun master recordings.  In other words, most of us have never... Sign In to Keep Reading

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