Dusty In Memphis by Warren Zanes

By James Calemine

I met Warren Zanes at Stanley Booth’s house in the early 90s. Booth plays a major role in Zanes’ well-written book Dusty In Memphis published in 2003.

Zanes, at the time I met him, was in a good band called the Del Fuegos. I caught a faint Tom Waits vibe from him—maybe it was his shoes—but I liked him instantly. He was visiting Stanley and as he wrote in the book, he traveled in those days with a large bag of high-grade reefer, which he gave away generously. Zanes spent a lot of time—understandably—in Booth’s music room recording obscure albums that day I was there.

This book revolves around the great Dusty Springfield album Dusty In Memphis. In the introduction Zanes revealed the synthesis of this book: “This is not a book about a record. Sorry. I hope no one has been misled. This is something else altogether. As I was writing it, I conceptualized my agenda in an attempt to understand why a particular long-playing phonograph, Dusty In Memphis pulled me into its world and what I did there. Which is to say, this book is about a record. It’s both a chronicle and an analysis of what happened when a particular piece of vinyl at a particular time and an unfolding of that relationship…”

As I mentioned, Booth plays a major role in this book. However, Zanes elucidated on his visit to Booth in Waycross, Georgia, but in reality Booth really lived in Brunswick, Georgia, in those days. But, since I grew up in that area and have known Booth for 25 years—I’m splitting hairs. That stands as the only strand of weak wood in this fine book.

Zanes covers timeless mythology and lore of historic places, people and entities such as Arif Mardin, Muscle Shoals, STAX Records, American Studios, Ardent Studios, Jim Dickinson, Tennessee Williams, Chips Moman, Flannery O’Connor, Jerry Wexler, Aretha Franklin, Faulkner and of course Dusty. Zanes includes quotes from a book published in 1938 called A Southerner Discovers the South, which describes: “We southerners are, of course, a mythological place. Supposed to dwell in moonlight or incandescence, we are in part to blame for our legendary character. Lost by choice in dreaming of high days gone and big house burned, now we cannot even wish to escape. We may not ever be found. Certainly, the land called South is no realm for geographers. I know.”

Zanes traces lineages of American music and a culmination of culture, circumstances and artists that coalesced on the Dusty In Memphis sessions. Zanes inspires the reader to purchase or re-purchase this classic album containing “Son of A Preacher Man”, “Just A little Lovin’” and Eddie Hinton’s classic “Breakfast In Bed”.

As an Afterword, Zanes interviews Stanley Booth—who wrote the liner notes for the original album, and he deserves the last word. When Zanes asked Booth to describe the character of Dusty’s vocals, Booth wisely replied, “Pretty good for a white girl…”

May I suggest reading, Petty, Zanes’ brilliant and best-selling biography on Gainesville, Florida, songwriter Tom Petty.

www.jamescalemine.com

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