Preston Lauterbach: Making the Circuit

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For the past three months, Preston Lauterbach, author of The Chitlin' Circuit: And the Road to Rock 'n' Roll (W.W. Norton), has been making the circuit himself at booksignings, author appearances, and book festivals. He's traveled to St. Louis, New Orleans, Jackson, Mississippi, and Nashville. Last weekend, he was in Dallas and Austin. This week, though, he's back in Memphis, which is not only his home base but also the scene of several events designed around his book, beginning with a lecture by Lauterbach at the University of Memphis on Thursday, October 27th (reception at 6 p.m.; lecture at 6:30 p.m.), inside the U of M's University Center Theater.

On Friday the 28th, Lauterbach will head a panel discussion (featuring blues artist Bobby Rush, music educator Emerson Able, and music promoter Julius Lewis) inside the McCallum Ballroom of the Bryan Campus Life Center at Rhodes College. The discussion begins at 3 p.m., and it's followed that evening by a concert by Rush (along with the Bo-Keys) at 8 p.m. at the Warehouse (36 East G.E. Patterson).

And on Wednesday, November 2nd, at noon, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens (4339 Park) will host Lauterbach as part of the gallery's "Munch and Learn" lecture series.

Where does all this activity leave Lauterbach, who's already at work on a followup to The Chitlin' Circuit: a history of Memphis' Beale Street?

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It leaves him not exactly speechless. In fact, as he said recently by phone from Austin, "I've gotten to where I don't have to use notes when I'm in front of an audience. I lay out the basics — the stories, the artists, the kingpins. I enjoy talking about the book. It's been fun to revisit it, to get a bird's-eye view of what went into it."

What's come out of it are some favorable reviews from the pages of The Wall Street Journal, Salon, and The Washington Post, even though it's been Lauterbach's "policy from the beginning" not to read those reviews.

Better for him to make contact with his readers, he said — readers who tell him that a history of the chitlin' circuit has been overdue. "The topic," he said, "does have a resonance, a mystique to it, a certain magnetic power."

Don't doubt it. And to prove it, Lauterbach recalled the radio spot he did in St. Louis to promote his booksigning that evening. To get his listeners' attention, he told of the dancer described in The Chitlin' Circuit who turned a lightbulb on inside ... let's say inside where you'd least expect a lightbulb to be — on or off.

"Lo and behold," Lauterbach said, "the bookstore was full that night."

What's next? After Lauterbach's tour for The Chitlin' Circuit? After Lauterbach writes his book on Beale? Another book, he said, on black radio in the 1970s, which will mean another circuit: Chicago and New Orleans, for sure, and doubly sure: Memphis.

"You know, without Memphis, none of this stuff happens," Lauterbach said. "Memphis is gonna be at the heart of it."

For more on this week's Chitlin' Circuit events, go here. But for some background on the chitlin' circuit, go to Lauterbach's own article at memphismagazine.com. And there's more at prestonlauterbach.com.

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