Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Long Gone Daddies

LONG GONE DADDIES (John F. Blair, Publisher, 2013) is a book about the road and redemption, trains and beer and long legged women who dance like water and scheme like politicians. It's about all the things that make for a good blues, rock-n-roll or soul song. It's a book about finding that song, and one about the people who search for and find – or don't find – that song.

The first novel by David Wesley Williams is about the men of the Gaunt family, three generations long. You know them – Malcolm, John and Luther – they make up the fault line that runs from Sun Studio to your favorite playlist on iTunes. No matter that they're men of fiction because so are the melody and lyrics. Williams tells the story of Malcolm Gaunt, a man who would be Elvis, destined to record for Sam Phillips until fate intervened that fateful morning. Malcolm's son, John, leaves Scranton, PA, and a good woman, to find his song in Memphis, a city that eventually swallows him whole. Luther takes up with the family guitar, a Cassandra Special Rider, and he and his band, the Long Gone Daddies, make their way through the south to that city on the river.

Along the way, the band meets up with Delia, a woman who would be queen, a woman in search of her own song and her own place nestled on the Billboard charts. She's hitched a ride and is not sure of the language the Daddies speak, exactly who Furry Lewis was or why the fascination with singers who died in small plan crashes. Luther isn't sure why Delia is still there, though he finds out soon enough and the resulting verse threatens to bring the band, and Luther, to its knees.

LONG GONE DADDIES is an anthem to old-style country, blues and rock-n-roll as much as it is an anthem to the muses that made it all so. The muse, in this case, is a lady, and that lady is the city of Memphis. As much as we come to know the Gaunt men and Delia, one of Williams's greatest characters may be the city itself. He writes of her streets and ghosts lovingly, knowledgeably and with a certain amount of awe and respect.

In one chapter late in the book, Luther offers a soliloquy for the city:

" ... I believe in Memphis, the great lost city of sound. I believe it'll come back. I believe there are untold hit songs waiting to be written and sung. I believe the world's leaning toward Memphis, whether it realizes it or not, craning to hear. I believe in the second coming of Otis – maybe he's white this time, and has a fear of flying – and of Elvis – maybe he's black and will refuse to become some ol' carny's movie prop. I believe this city is sad and blue and rather tired at the moment, but there's all manner of crazy shit bubbling under. There always is. The river brings a new supply every day."

It's dramatic and romantic, sure, but songs always are, or should be, and when you read LONG GONE DADDIES, you will hear the music. Williams has a great ear for cadence and his sentences, each a story in its own right, put you in mind of the music and music in  your mind. And he can put you in the Memphis of 1953 just as easily as a Beale Street that's been "... tidied up and tamed, strung up by a short leash and turned into a tourist-beckoning, two block strip of nightclubs: bourbon renewal."

Things happen to Malcolm, John and Luther once they get to Memphis, the city has her way with them, as it has with everyone who came here looking for fame or fortune, or the hook of a song. Lucky for us, she had her way with Williams as well, and its great to finally have his book out here in the airwaves.


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