Assistant Professor Tim Riley won a National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award from the Los Angeles Press Club on Monday for his review of Peter Guralnick’s book Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll, on Truthdig.
The judges wrote, “A detailed and enthusiastic review of the Sam Phillips biography does what it’s supposed to do: makes you want to know more about the origins of modern American music.”
Riley beat out critics from The New York Times, The Daily Beast, and the Asian Journal Press for the honor.
“It’s just really nice to be recognized,” Riley said of the award. “It’s really nice when your peers single you out and say, ‘Nice work.’”
Riley teaches in Emerson’s Journalism Department, is an NPR critic, and has spoken and written extensively on the history of popular music.
He said in writing book reviews, “you want to put the book into context.”
Legendary music producer and founder of Sun Records Sam Phillips is best known for launching Elvis Presley’s career, but Guralnick’s book explains all the ways in which Phillips was important to the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll, Riley said.
“Guralnick emphasizes two important sub-themes throughout Sam’s life:” Riley wrote in his review. “[F]irst, the women who helped shape his vision, from his family and lovers to the all-female cast of WHER, the Memphis station he launched in 1956…Then comes the producer’s (and the music’s) lowly origins.”
Riley said Guralnick, who has written influential biographies of Presley and Sam Cooke, is not only recognized as a master of the genre, but also had “great access” to Phillips’ life through his son, making Riley’s review of the book more about digging into the material and less about criticizing it.
“[The book] is like a great movie, where everything fits so beautifully,” Riley said. “The nitpicking is beside the point. It’d be like nitpicking The Godfather.”
Riley himself has authored a number of books on rock music. His bibliography includes Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary (Knopf/Vintage, 1988); Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary (Knopf/Vintage, 1992); Madonna: Illustrated (Hyperion, 1992); Fever: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Transformed Gender in America (St. Martin’s/Picador, 2003); and Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music (Hyperion, 2011).
What Goes On: The Beatles, Their Music in Their Time, which Riley co-authored with Walter Everett, is due out from Oxford Press in 2017.