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Stanley Booth - Rythm Oil (1991/2000)

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating

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Stanley Booth's Rythm Oil

Stanley Booth's Rythm Oil

Photo courtesy Da Capo Press

The Bottom Line

Born and raised in sultry Waycross, Georgia and educated in Memphis, Stanley Booth is a true son of the old South. Coming of age during the rock, soul, and blues boom of the 1950s and '60s, Booth accidently became what we today call a "music journalist," a field that he didn't really seek out, but fell into through his love of music. Best-known for his 1984 book Dance With The Devil, a chronicle of his travels with the Rolling Stones, this 1991 collection of essays is his true masterpiece. Rythm Oil covers a wide range of subjects, from blues and soul to early rock 'n' roll with keen insight and a personal touch.

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Pros

  • Great personal stories of artists like Furry Lewis, B.B. King, Otis Redding, and many more

Cons

  • More photos of the musicians being written about would have enhanced the narrative

Description

  • Collection of essays captures the true essence of the South during the 1960s and '70s
  • 272 pages, 7.5" x 9" trade paperback
  • Rare vintage B&W photos visually document the era

Guide Review - Stanley Booth - Rythm Oil (1991/2000)

Writer Stanley Booth is best-known for his 1984 book, Dance With The Devil, a chronicle of his time touring with the Rolling Stones. A frustrated novelist with an eye for detail, a naturally florid use of language, and a classic literary slant to his work, Booth's best work has been in the field of music, especially the incredible essays that he wrote for publications like Esquire, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and the Village Voice, among others during the 1960s and '70s.

Booth's Rythm Oil, subtitled "A journey through the music of the American South," collects twenty of the writer's best music-related pieces, the ambitious scope of the work covering everything from country blues and early rock 'n' roll to Memphis soul and 1970s-era blues-rock. Named for "rythm oil" [sic], an alchemical modern voodoo potion sold in the Beale Street shops of Memphis, the book itself is some sort of magical tome that really does provide a literary journey through the music of the time.

While Booth's "Standing At The Crossroads," an imaginative fictional flight of fancy that recounts Robert Johnson's legendary meeting with the Devil, falls flat in its ambition, it's the only hiccup that the reader will find in Rythm Oil. "Furry's Blues" does a fine job of illustrating the poverty and racism experienced by country blues great Furry Lewis, while "Been Here And Gone," Booth's account of the funeral of Mississippi John Hurt, is poignant in its description of the event. "Blues Boy" offers a look into the life and career of the great B.B. King, while other chapters cover such artists as Al Green, Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons, James Brown, ZZ Top, and Elvis Presley.

Written with an autobiographical bent – Booth is an important participant in these stories – the format allows him to provide personal insight and emotion into the essays. Tying the music pieces together are strong articles that touch upon the city of Memphis, racism, and the South itself. Booth writes beautifully, with a real sympathy for his subjects, and no little knowledge of both the music and the history. If you want an entertaining education on both the South and its music, a snapshot of a certain time and place in pop culture history, Rythm Oil is the book for you. Highly recommended. (Da Capo Press, published October 1, 2000)

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