On Friday at Bookseller of Laurelwood, author and archivist Ron Hall will sign his latest book, Memphis Rocks: A Concert History: 1955-1985
. Hall is well known in town for his work on archiving garage bands (Playing for a Piece of the Door
and The Memphis Garage Rock Yearbook
) and on Memphis wrestling (Sputnik, Masked Men, & Midgets
). But Hall is uniquely qualified to gather information on concerts from Memphis’ golden years of music. Hall worked in record distribution and tried his hand at promoting shows. But as the number of great bands that would come through Memphis in the 1960s and 1970s shows, that was a different time.
“There used to be business magazines that had all of the concerts nationwide in there, like Amusement Business,” Hall says. “So you knew what the capacity of the halls was and how much money came in. I was studying that stuff and trying to get an idea on what I could do. It would have circus stuff. And in the back it was arcade machines. Anybody that dealt with the actual business of show business, from Broadway to the Fillmore, was in there. There used to be a good news stand where you could get stuff.”
Hall did not find success in the concert promotion world, but he developed a passion for the music that drives his archival work.
“When you see the groups that came down this way, you think we got some great shows,” he says. “People always wanted to come back here. I think with the whole Memphis Sound thing, with Sun and Stax, people felt it was almost like going to a shrine. And this summer, when Roseanne Cash played the Shell she said when you come here, you can just feel the vibe. A lot of other people said that. The first time I saw Springsteen at the Auditorium, it was one of the first things he said. Then later, he brought out Eddie Floyd. Then there are a lot of people we didn't get. I would have like to have seen the Doors. Pink Floyd never played here.”
Not everyone wanted to play here.
“Some of them had this thing about civil rights,” Hall says. “I think they had a bad vibe toward Memphis. But then there are the groups that somehow we got. Like the Sex Pistols. You would have thought, why in the hell would the Sex Pistols play Memphis?”
Even though times have changed and great venues like the Auditorium North Hall have met the wrecking ball, Hall and his friends
“I can't say how many times I was sitting around with old friends talking about pop festivals or concerts here in town and arguing over whether say Curved Air ever played here. B.B. King, Wadsworth Mansion, and Cheech & Chong. The oddest lineup. I think Wadsworth Mansion never showed up, and NRBQ played in their place. That was always a cool thing. You were disappointed that someone you thought you'd see wasn't going to be there. But then you would see someone who years later, like NRBQ, would become a cult legend.”
Hall and his publisher Sherman Willmott of Shangri-La Projects
share a dogged enthusiasm for preserving Memphis’ musical heritage even though they came of age in different eras.
“Sherman's most important thing was that we got the punk thing in there,” Hall says. “I'm sure there were lots of people who played at Pogo's. But these club owners didn't spend a lot on advertising. I found so much stuff going through the old Tiger Rag from Memphis State. You go back to the ’70s, and those things were really good. They would say who was playing in the punk clubs and who was playing at Highland. It was a big help.”
Much of the work going into promoting a concert has been taken online, where there is no real record of what happened.
“Another cool thing from back then was that people spent time making up cool flyers. Now you don't even see concert posters anymore. That's just sad.”