100 books like Last Train to Memphis

By Peter Guralnick,

Here are 100 books that Last Train to Memphis fans have personally recommended if you like Last Train to Memphis. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music

Joel Selvin Author Of Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues

From my list on music books that should be made into movies.

Why am I passionate about this?

As pop music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly forty years and author of more than twenty books on pop music, books on these subjects have always held a special fascination for me. To me, musicians are heroes like athletes or warriors and their paths make for extraordinary drama—usually set to some fabulous soundtrack. There is a big, wonderful world beyond Ray and Bohemian Rhapsody and I can’t wait to see what Hollywood comes up with. 

Joel's book list on music books that should be made into movies

Joel Selvin Why did Joel love this book?

Who knew the story of the first popular country music group would be wrapped around a heart-breaking romance? The poor, backwoods musicians from southern Virginia had sold more than a million records at the height of the Depression, but things were not well with the group. Sara Carter, the wife of stern, difficult A.P. Carter, leader of the group, had fallen in love with his young cousin. He was sent away to live in California and never mentioned again until one night many years later, when Sara dedicated a song to him on one of their late-night Mexican radio broadcasts. He heard it all the way out in California and contacted her. She completed her duties with the group and joined her love out west, where they spent the rest of their lives together, leaving her cousin Maybelle to carry on the family tradition with her daughters June, Helen, and…

By Mark Zwonitzer, Charles Hirshberg,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first major biography of the Carter Family, the musical pioneers who almost single-handedly created the sounds and traditions that grew into modern folk, country, and bluegrass music.

Meticulously researched and lovingly written, it is a look at a world and a culture that, rather than passing, has continued to exist in the music that is the legacy of the Carters—songs that have shaped and influenced generations of artists who have followed them.

Brilliant in insight and execution, Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? is also an in-depth study of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter, and their bittersweet story…


Book cover of Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock 'n' Roll

Ronald Kidd Author Of Lord of the Mountain

From my list on American roots music.

Why am I passionate about this?

From my earliest days I was surrounded by music, from Friday night family band to our musical Christmas card on a bright red record to trumpet trios played with my dad and brother. I went to the University of Southern California on a trumpet scholarship, then took a detour from music and tried writing. I liked it. To this day, one of my favorite things is combining these two interests to create novels, stories, and plays about music. Since moving to Nashville, I’ve immersed myself in American popular music and have loved returning to my roots. 

Ronald's book list on American roots music

Ronald Kidd Why did Ronald love this book?

You can’t tell the story of rock ’n’ roll without diving into the life of the crazed, flamboyant musical entrepreneur Sam Phillips and his Memphis recording studio, Sun Records. There he discovered rock ’n’ roll pioneers Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison, and recorded blues artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, and Rosco Gordon. 

When you finish the book, though, I think you’ll agree that his greatest creation was Sam Phillips. 

By Colin Escott, Martin Hawkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Good Rockin' Tonight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Memphis, Tennessee. The early 1950s. The Mississippi rolls by, and there's a train in the night. Down on Beale Street there's hard-edged blues, on the outskirts of town they're pickin' hillbilly boogie.

At Sam Phillips' Sun Records studio on Union Avenue, there's something different going on. "Shake it, baby, shake it!" "Go, cat, go!" "We're gonna rock..."

This is where rock 'n' roll was born-the record company that launched Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins. The label that brought the world, "Blue Suede Shoes," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Breathless," "I Walk the Line,"…


Book cover of It Came from Memphis

Ronald Kidd Author Of Lord of the Mountain

From my list on American roots music.

Why am I passionate about this?

From my earliest days I was surrounded by music, from Friday night family band to our musical Christmas card on a bright red record to trumpet trios played with my dad and brother. I went to the University of Southern California on a trumpet scholarship, then took a detour from music and tried writing. I liked it. To this day, one of my favorite things is combining these two interests to create novels, stories, and plays about music. Since moving to Nashville, I’ve immersed myself in American popular music and have loved returning to my roots. 

Ronald's book list on American roots music

Ronald Kidd Why did Ronald love this book?

In Memphis during the 1950s, there was Black and there was White, but the two rarely met. One of the few places where they did was in clubs and recording studios, and the sparks they struck started a fire that came to be called rock ’n’ roll. 

In this wonderfully rich stew of a book, author and filmmaker Robert Gordon walks the streets of Memphis, exploring the sights and sounds and smells of a unique, endlessly fascinating world. 

As Gordon’s publisher says, “This is a book about the weirdos, winos, and midget wrestlers who forged the rock ’n’ roll spirit.” As Rolling Stone says, “If you haven’t read this book, do it now.”

By Robert Gordon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked It Came from Memphis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Vienna in the 1880s. Paris in the 1920s. Memphis in the 1950s. These are the paradigm shifts of modern culture. Memphis then was like Seattle with grunge or Brooklyn with hip-hop―except the change was more than musical: Underground Memphis embraced African American culture when dominant society abhorred it. The effect rocked the world. We’re all familiar with the stars’ stories, but It Came From Memphis runs with the the kids in that first rock and roll audience, where they befriended the older blues artists, the travails of blazing a rock and roll career path where one had not existed (nor…


Book cover of This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band

Margot Leitman Author Of Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You'll Ever Need

From my list on the stories behind the music.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was a kid, my biggest escape was my father’s record collection. Growing up in 1990s NJ, music was a huge part of my experience. Springsteen was from a few miles south, Bon Jovi was from the town next to mine, and Whitney Houston was from the same state but a different county. Music told stories. Inspired my the music of my youth, I now make my living as a storyteller— I tell stories onstage, write books about storytelling and teach others how to tell stories effectively. I have no musical gifts except for the mass consumption of any book with juicy tales about the world of music. Here are a few of my favorites.

Margot's book list on the stories behind the music

Margot Leitman Why did Margot love this book?

Levon Helm’s unflappable integrity makes him such a likable protagonist you’ll root for him as he rises up from small-town Arkansas boy to A list musician. You’ll see the salt  of the Earth underdog that he was as he recounts what happened behind the scenes at  “The Last Waltz.” This Wheel’s on Fire reads like a director’s cut commentary you can’t believe you’re privy to hearing.  

By Levon Helm, Stephen Davis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Wheel's on Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The singer and drummer of the Band details, in this book, the history of one of the most influential groups of the 1960s. While their music evoked a Southern mythology with their beautifully crafted, image-rich songs, only their Arkansan drummer, Levon Helm, was the genuine article. This updated edition of his life story includes a new epilogue that covers the last dozen years of his life. From the cotton fields to Woodstock and from seeing Sonny Boy Williamson and Elvis Presley to playing for President Clinton, This Wheel's on Fire replays the tumultuous life of Levon Helm in his own…


Book cover of Disgraceland: Musicians Getting Away with Murder and Behaving Very Badly

Lisa Black Author Of Red Flags

From my list on crime for music lovers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up watching every cop show on the air with my father. I always wanted to be a detective, but one that didn’t have to do a lot of chasing, like Starsky and Hutch, or get beat up a lot, like Mannix—one who could take a laid-back approach and work his own hours, like Ellery Queen. I wound up becoming a forensic specialist who also writes thrillers. The protagonists have my same job, only with smarter criminals and better-looking colleagues. I also grew up playing the clarinet—not, I admit, particularly well—in a band and/or orchestra from the fourth grade until well after I married. 

Lisa's book list on crime for music lovers

Lisa Black Why did Lisa love this book?

A greatly entertaining book about the myriad scandals of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, crimes and murder among Norway’s black metal bands, how Sam Cooke wound up shot to death in a low-budget motel, and Gram Parsons’ death at 26, among others, written by the guy with a podcast of the same name. I’ve played and listened to music my entire life but have never really studied the topic or its practitioners, so much of this came as a fascinating surprise. Brennan does veer into fiction—at one point he relates a conversation between two dead people after they’re dead—but still a very interesting compilation. 

By Jake Brennan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Disgraceland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the creator of the popular rock 'n' roll true crime podcast, Disgraceland comes an off-kilter, hysterical, at times macabre book inspired by true stories from the highly entertaining underbelly of music history.
You may know Jerry Lee Lewis married his thirteen-year-old cousin but did you know he shot his bass player in the chest with a shotgun or that a couple of his wives died under extremely mysterious circumstances? Or that Sam Cooke was shot dead in a seedy motel after barging into the manager's office naked to attack her? Maybe not. Would it change your view of him…


Book cover of Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947-1977

Bob Beatty Author Of Play All Night! Duane Allman and the Journey to Fillmore East

From my list on the crossroads of music, culture, history, and place.

Why am I passionate about this?

An academically trained historian, I'm a Music Obsessive/History Geek/Southerner/Guitarist/Public Historian/Teacher/Interpreter/Writer/Fan who studies the intersection of music, culture, history, and place. I grew up devouring Mom’s Beatles and Dad’s country records. My life changed in 6th grade when I got my first guitar and discovered the blues. In 7th grade I wrote a research paper on the hippies. That’s when I fell in love with the counterculture. Throughout my life I’ve interwoven my love of the blues, punk rock, the Allman Brothers Band, and the Jam Depression collective as a historian, fan, and musician. My enduring passion culminated in a Ph.D. and the publication of Play All Night! Duane Allman and the Journey to Fillmore East. 

Bob's book list on the crossroads of music, culture, history, and place

Bob Beatty Why did Bob love this book?

Flowers in the Dustbin uses an approach I dearly love: the vignette. Miller deftly selects stories that tie together a larger narrative of “where rock & roll came from—and what it came to do.” 

The book begins with the birth of rhythm & blues through one of its earliest stars, Wynonie Harris. Subsequent stories in chapter one weave together the impacts of technology, the Great Migration, racial dynamics, a booming economy, and an emerging youth culture. It culminates in Elvis’s earliest recordings, the so-called birth of rock & roll. All in the first chapter!

In the story that follows, Miller demonstrates why rock & roll emerged and how it reflected and shaped the social, cultural, and political landscape.

Crossroads: Race, Postwar America, Youth culture

By James Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flowers in the Dustbin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A prizewinning historian and journalist who has covered the pop music scene for more than three decades, James Miller brings a powerful and challenging intellectual perspective to his recounting of some key turning points in the history of rock. Arguing that the music underwent its full creative evolution in little more than twenty-five years, he traces its roots from the jump blues of the forties to the disc jockeys who broadcast the music in the early fifties. He shows how impresarios such as Alan Freed and movie directors such as Richard Brooks (of Blackboard Jungle) joined black music to white…


Book cover of Careless Love

Maureen Callahan Author Of American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century

From my list on American pop culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

Maureen Callahan is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning investigative journalist, columnist, and commentator. She has covered everything from pop culture to politics. Her writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, New York, Spin, and the New York Post, where she is Critic-at-Large. She lives in New York. For Shepherd, Callahan has selected her favorite books about American pop culture, which is currently dominated by her favorite subgenre, true crime.

Maureen's book list on American pop culture

Maureen Callahan Why did Maureen love this book?

Speaking of Elvis, this biography, the second of two parts, is among the greatest of the late 20th century. We begin with Elvis entering the U.S. Army in 1958 and follow this increasingly lost soul through the years, his fame metastasizing into something unrivaled, incredible, enviable and wholly malignant. Guralnick captures the singular loneliness Elvis came to suffer, the slow suicide that was his Las Vegas residency, the exploitations of his manager, Col. Tom Parker, and a death so humiliating it finally made Elvis what he had longed to be for decades: Profoundly, squalidly human. None other than Bob Dylan called this Presley biography the one that “cancels out all others.”

By Peter Guralnick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Careless Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Last Train to Memphis, the first part of Guralnick's two-volume life of Elvis Presley, received unprecedented accolades. This concluding volume recounts the second half of Elvis's life in rich and previously unimagined detail, and confirms Guralnick's status as one of the great biographers of our time. Beginning with Presley's army service in Germany in 1958 and ending with his death in Memphis in 1977, Careless Love chronicles the unraveling of the dream that once shone so brightly, homing in on the complex playing-out of Elvis's relationship with his Machiavellian manager, Colonel Tom Parker. It's a breathtaking drama that places the…


Book cover of Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music

David Starkey Author Of Poor Ghost

From my list on books about Rock and Roll that really rock.

Why am I passionate about this?

I started singing and playing guitar in garage bands in high school, about the same time that I began thinking of myself as a serious writer, so for me the two endeavors have always gone hand in hand. Over the decades, I’ve continued to write creatively—while teaching thousands of students along the way—and also to play in a number of bands that have specialized in everything from country-folk to raucous punk. Like many writer-musicians, I love reading good stories about the challenges and joys of people joining together, and falling apart, as they attempt to transcend ordinary life through the power of music.

David's book list on books about Rock and Roll that really rock

David Starkey Why did David love this book?

The book begins with short chapters on a couple of blues players—Harmonica Frank and the mysterious Robert Johnson, who allegedly sold his soul to the devil so he could play guitar—before moving to extended chapters on Elvis, and others.

Marcus’s project is to cross-reference American history with American music and to try and make sense of them both. It sounds like something an academic would get up to, and plenty of research went into the making of Mystery Train (at 224 pages, the Notes and Discographies section of the 2015 edition is considerably longer than the original book).

However, Marcus is one of the great rock writers, and he’s as keen on crafting unforgettable sentences as he is in explaining the meaning of rock and roll.

By Greil Marcus,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mystery Train as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The perfect gift for music fans and anyone who loves artists like Elvis Presley, Randy Newman, Sly Stone, Robert Johnson, and Harmonica Frank.

In 1975, Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train changed the way readers thought about rock ’n’ roll and continues to be sought out today by music fans and anyone interested in pop culture. Looking at recordings by six key artists—Robert Johnson, Harmonica Frank, Randy Newman, the Band, Sly Stone, and Elvis Presley—Marcus offers a complex and unprecedented analysis of the relationship between rock ‘n’ roll and American culture. In this latest edition, Marcus provides an extensively updated and rewritten…


Book cover of Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page

Nathan Hesselink Author Of Finding the Beat: Entrainment, Rhythmic Play, and Social Meaning in Rock Music

From my list on biographies to get you inside of a musician’s head.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been playing and singing music since I was six, and my childhood dream was to become an orchestral cello player. Over the years, I learned a number of other instruments and studied music around the globe, yet I was always intrigued, even intimidated, by those who were able to compose. This list of books helps readers like me really get inside the heads of some of the greatest composers (and performers) of popular music in the 20th and 21st centuries. While many of my questions were answered, there remains a sense of mystery and wonder that even the artists themselves can’t always explain.

Nathan's book list on biographies to get you inside of a musician’s head

Nathan Hesselink Why did Nathan love this book?

I always knew there was something special, even mystical, about Led Zeppelin’s lead guitarist Jimmy Page. As a high school student, there was something about the band that drew me in, as if I didn’t have a choice.

I now know that I love their music, and Page’s playing in particular, because of the vision Page had for the band’s music, lyrics, and iconography on their album covers and artwork. Light and shade, light and heavy, clear and murky, simple and epic—how better to sum up Led Zeppelin?

By Brad Tolinski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Light & Shade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This “oral autobiography” of Jimmy Page, the intensely private mastermind behind Led Zeppelin—one of the most enduring bands in rock history—is the most complete and revelatory portrait of the legendary guitarist ever published.

   More than 30 years after disbanding in 1980, Led Zeppelin continues to be celebrated for its artistic achievements, broad musical influence, and commercial success. The band's notorious exploits have been chronicled in bestselling books; yet none of the individual members of the band has penned a memoir nor cooperated to any degree with the press or a biographer.  In Light & Shade, Jimmy Page, the band’s most…


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