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Peter Guralnick
Born (1943-12-15) December 15, 1943 (age 79)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Alma materBoston University College of Arts and Sciences

Peter Guralnick (born December 15, 1943, in Boston, Massachusetts) is an American music critic, author, and screenwriter. He specializes in the history of early rock and roll and has written on Elvis Presley, Sam Phillips, and Sam Cooke.


Guralnick graduated from Boston University in 1971 with a master's degree in creative writing. [1] He then began writing books about the history of rock'n'roll, blues, country music, and soul music. Music critic Nat Hentoff called Guralnick a “…national treasure;” Bob Dylan said Guralnick's book, Last Train to Memphis “…cancels out all others.” [2]

Guralnick's first two books, Almost Grown (1964) and Mister Downchild (1967), were collections of short stories published by the Larry Stark Press, a small press in Cambridge, Massachusetts, devoted to stories and poems. Mona Dickson, writing in MIT's The Tech (May 13, 1964) gave Almost Grown a favorable review. [3]

His two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley in 1994, followed by Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley in 1999, placed the story of Presley's career into a rise and fall arc. Encompassing more than 1,300 pages (including 1,150 pages of text), the work was an in-depth, scholarly examination of Presley's life and music. Guralnick previously wrote about Presley in the 1976 first edition of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll; his article has been reprinted in each subsequent edition. He also contributed the complete text for the 240-page hardcover book accompanying the 2010 30-disc CD boxed set, The Complete Elvis Presley Masters.

In contrast to contemporaries such as Lester Bangs, Ian Penman and Nick Tosches, whose music writings are marked by idiosyncratic, self-referential and highly personal styles, Guralnick's writing is characterized by a colloquial approach that is clean and understated by comparison. [4] [5] He has been called "the dean of rock 'n' roll storytellers". [6]

Guralnick wrote the 727-page biography of influential record producer Sam Phillips entitled Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll. He also penned the script for A&E's documentary of the same name, narrated by Billy Bob Thornton. On October 21, 2016, it was announced that Leonardo DiCaprio will portray Sam Phillips in the forthcoming film based on Guralnick's book. [7] Guralnick scripted the Grammy Award-winning Sam Cooke – Legend, [8] narrated by Jeffrey Wright.

He has written liner notes for albums including Charlie Rich's last album Pictures and Paintings and the last three Jerry Lee Lewis albums Last Man Standing, Mean Old Man and Rock and Roll Time.

He began teaching at Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 2005 in the Masters in Fine Arts program, ranked by Poets & Writers Magazine as one of the top 15 such programs in the US. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010; his works – Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues, Country and Rock 'n' Roll, Lost Highways: Journeys & Arrivals of American Musicians, Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm & Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom were designated as blues literature classics. [9]

He won a Grammy for his liner notes for Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club in 1994, one of his six nominations for the award. He wrote and co-produced a documentary film: Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll. He also wrote the script for the blues documentary, Feel like Going Home, directed by Martin Scorsese. [10]

In 2020, he released Looking to Get Lost, a “book about creativity,” featuring subjects like songwriters Doc Pomus and Leiber & Stoller, musicians Johnny Cash, Solomon Burke and Tammy Wynette, among others, and of writers Lee Smith and Henry Green, as well as Elvis Presley's infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker. [11]

The Peter Guralnick Collection is located in the Southern Folklife Collection of the Wilson Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. [12]

Personal life

Peter Guralnick's parents were oral surgeon Walter Guralnick, DMD, who helped to establish dental insurance in Massachusetts through Delta Dental, and Betty Marson Guralnick. Peter also has a sister, Susan and brother, Thomas. [13] In 1971, he succeeded his grandfather as director of an athletic camp for boys, Camp Alton on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. The camp closed in 1992. [14] He has been married for over 45 years to Alexandra. They have a son and daughter, Jacob and Nina. [15]


  • Peter Guralnick (1964). Almost Grown. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Larry Stark Press.
  • —— (1967). Mister Downchild. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Larry Stark Press.
  • —— (1971). Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues, Country, and Rock 'n' Roll. ISBN  0-87690-046-5. Reprinted 1999. ISBN  0-316-33272-0
  • —— (1979). Lost Highway: Journeys & Arrivals of American Musicians. ISBN  0-316-33274-7.
  • —— (1982). The Listener's Guide to The Blues. New York: Facts on File.
  • —— (1986). Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom. ISBN  0-316-33273-9.
  • —— (1988). Nighthawk Blues: A Novel. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN  0-938410-64-4.
  • —— (1989). Searching for Robert Johnson. ISBN  0-452-27949-6.
  • —— (1994). Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley. ISBN  0-316-33225-9.
  • —— (1999). Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. ISBN  0-316-33297-6.
  • ——; Ernst Jorgensen (1999). Elvis Day by Day: The Definitive Record of His Life and Music. ISBN  0-345-42089-6.
  • —— (2005). Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. Little, Brown. ISBN  0-316-37794-5.
  • —— (2015). Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock'n'Roll. Little, Brown.
  • —— (2020). Looking to Get Lost. Little, Brown.


  • "An Interview with Peter Guralnick" by Griffin Ondaatje and Craig Proctor, Brick: A Literary Journal, Issue 62, Spring 1999.
  • "Caught in a Trap" at the Wayback Machine (archived May 28, 2001). Peter S. Sholtes interviews Peter Guralnick. City Pages Media, January 13, 1999. Archived from the original, 2001-05-26.
  • Music Historian Peter Guralnick — Serious Jibber Jabber with Conan O'Brien (May'13?) discuss PG's 1994 book Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley [2]

Grammy Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result
1984 Best Album Notes Big Maybelle: The Okeh Sessions Nominated
1986 Best Album Notes Sam Cooke: Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 Won
1988 Best Album Notes Elvis Presley: The Complete Sun Sessions Nominated
1993 Best Album Notes Elvis: The King of Rock 'N' Roll - The Complete 50's Masters Nominated
1994 Best Album Notes Elvis: From Nashville to Memphis, The Essential 60's Masters I Nominated
1995 Best Album Notes Sam Cooke's SAR Records Story Nominated


  1. ^ CNP (7 March 2016). "Acclaimed rock music author to speak at U of O April 7". Clarksville AR: University of the Ozarks.
  2. ^ Miller, Katherine (15 December 2016). "A conversation with Peter Guralnick". Nashville Review. Nashville TN: Vanderbilt University.
  3. ^ "Stark second edition out" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-12-08.
  4. ^ Komara, Edward M., ed. (2006). "Guralnick, Peter". Encyclopedia of the blues. New York: Routledge. p.  393. ISBN  9780415926997. OCLC  60590117.
  5. ^ Halberstadt, Alex (16 June 2000). "The blues according to Peter Guralnick". Salon. Retrieved 3 Feb 2018.
  6. ^ Greenblatt, Mike (January 27, 2016). "Rant'n'Roll: One Great Read". The Aquarian Weekly. Arts Weekly Inc. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  7. ^ "Leonardo DiCaprio To Play Music Pioneer Sam Phillips; Launched Elvis, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Cash & Jerry Lee Lewis". DEADLINE. 21 October 2016.
  8. ^ [1] Archived February 24, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Patterson, Jim (19 June 2014). "Biography of Sam Cooke is Guralnick's fourth Blues Hall of Fame book". ResearchNews@Vanderbilt. Nashville TN: Vanderbilt University.
  10. ^ Eubanks, Michelle. "Peter Guralnick - December 2017 Commencement Speaker". Florence Alabama: University of North Alabama.
  11. ^ Lauterbach, Preston (16 October 2020). "'Looking to Get Lost' Review: The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll". Wall Street Journal. New York NY: Dow Jones and Co.
  12. ^ "Peter Guralnick Collection, 1948-2010, 2013". Retrieved 2017-11-06.
  13. ^ Marquard, Bryan (7 September 2017). "Dr. Walter Guralnick, 100; helped launch dental insurance in Mass". Boston Globe. Boston MA: Boston Globe Media Partners.
  14. ^ Guralnick, Peter. "Letter Announcing Closing Camp Alton" (PDF). Camp Alton. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  15. ^ "Guralnick, Peter". Farmington Hills MI: Gale Research.

External links