Today, my wonderful wife Emily and I celebrate nine years of marriage.
The Dusty Springfield album, Dusty in Memphis, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, has been an integral part of the soundtrack of our love story. When I have the privilege of interviewing Dusty Springfield’s manager Vicki Wickham in 2018, she couldn’t recommend any particular read to enlighten me on the pivotal Dusty in Memphis sessions. After researching online and seeing that there was no definitive book out there, I decided to do my own research and write one myself.
The end result, Dusty in Memphis: Chronicle of a Classic, was released in March just in time for the 50th anniversary of the album’s release. I believe that Dusty in Memphis is worthy of its own writing because it is an album that is pivotal in the history of recorded music. It was probably the first time a white woman from England was sent to the southeastern United States to record an album of rhythm and blues tracks. Legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler, arranger Arif Mardin, and engineer Tom Dowd, more famous for their recordings of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, were the brains behind the project and were eager to test the 30-year-old Springfield’s sultry voice with some genuine soul tunes.
The idea for the project sounded ingenious enough, but trouble started almost before it began. After combing through at least a hundred demos, Springfield and Wexler agreed on exactly none of the choices. Finally, Wexler culled through a dozen of that same hundred, and after hearing them the second time, Springfield went mad for them. Among those selections were the now iconic “Son of a Preacher Man,” a song that originally was offered to Aretha Franklin, who turned it down because she thought the lyrics were too salacious. After she heard Dusty Springfield sing it, she insisted on recording it, but it was too late. Dusty had the hit, which was something that rarely and unjustly happened in her career.
The inspiration for the Dusty in Memphis book really kicked into high gear when I visited the interior of the now-demolished American Studios building where the album was recorded, which is on display at the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville. From that February 2017 visit, the importance of the studio and that record never left my mind. I think it’s important to note that the funky music that made up the Memphis Boys not only supplied the musical backing for Dusty Springfield’s record, but also Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” the Box Tops’ “The Letter” and Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” These were all white Southerners from Tennessee, which proves that even country boys can have soul.
The town of Wytheville has selected the “Summer of Love” as their local tourism theme in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of “Virginia Is for Lovers” being the slogan for our state. During the actual Summer of Love, Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis was an ill-fated record. Despite leading to top 40 hits in a Grammy nomination, the album flopped on the charts. In 1969, people were more interested in the sounds of Woodstock artists like Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin, a group that Dusty had recommended to her Atlantic production team during the Memphis sessions. Based on her recommendation, the group was brought to America with the highest sign-on bonus of any group in recording history at that time.
The afterlife of Dusty in Memphis is another component that makes the album worth noting in history. Despite being a commercial flop at the time, it is listed on Rolling Stones’ “Top 100 Albums of All Time” and experienced a major resurgence when “Son of a Preacher Man” was used on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Dusty in Memphis has since served as a blueprint for every British singer who has experienced success in America since, including such modern performers as Adele, Fergie, and Duffy. The songwriters from the famous Brill Building on Broadway in New York City composed nearly every song on this record. These include such eventual legends as Carole King, Randy Newman, and Burt Bacharach.
The Pulp Fiction soundtrack was, in fact, how I discovered “Son of a Preacher Man.” I knew Dusty Springfield from her successful duet several years prior with the Pet Shop Boys. I received a CD copy of Dusty in Memphis on my 10th Christmas, I fell in love with the album and it has been part of the soundtrack of my life ever since.
When I met my wife nine years ago, she was a fan of Dusty Springfield but was not aware of the Dusty in Memphis album. When I shared it with her, she fell in love with it too. The wonderful thing about Emily is that she can sing Dusty in Memphis. All I can do is talk about it.
Therefore, there is no better way to promote a book than to have someone sing its contents to you with such an angelic voice as Emily has. Thus, Emily and I have come up with a program to promote my new book in which she sings each song from the album as I introduce them by talking about the general recording sessions or the background of how each song came to be. We have already appeared at the Rural Retreat Public Library on April 4 and the Wythe County Public Library on July 2. We look forward to appearing at the wonderful brand new Oracle Books store with our program on Friday, Aug. 2 and hope that you would see fit to join us. If you would like to buy a copy of my book, I will have them there to sign as well. You can also buy it on Amazon at the following link: https://www.amazon.com/Dusty-Memphis-Chronicle-Zach-Cooley/dp/1798757370/ref=sr_1_3?crid=3EBMBY6J33PKW&keywords=dusty+in+memphis+book&qid=1561757766&s=gateway&sprefix=dusty+in+%2Caps%2C145&sr=8-3.