Brand New Blues

TRYING TO EXPLAIN WHY the music created at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in the early to mid ’50s became rock ‘n’ roll’s sacred dirt, legendary producer/hillbilly esthete Jim Dickinson once suggested the source was: “A bunch of crazy rednecks playing nigger music.” Bluntly reductive, yeah, but also river deep. By “crazy rednecks,” Dickinson was mimicking the conventional response to those poor, rural, white boys in Memphis who recorded at Sun—they had to be a little touched in the head to transgress the racial tracks, even in the name of a good beat. And by “nigger music,” he was talking the blues, the mojo taboo those white boys identified with and loved and sought to understand. Rock ‘n’ roll as pop phenomenon began with this supposed transgression—whites turning away from the minstrel show’s ritual exorcism and actually acknowledging a twinge of respect for and envy of blacks. Elvis (the

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