Memphis Mayhem by David A. Less, ECW Press

Memphis Mayhem: A Story of the Music That Shook Up the World

Less, David A.

  • Memphis gave birth to music that changed the world — Memphis Mayhem is a fascinating history of how music and culture collided to change the state of music forever

    “David Less has captured the essence of the Memphis music experience on these pages in no uncertain terms. There’s truly no place like Memphis and this is the story of why that is. HAVE MERCY!” — Billy F Gibbons, ZZ Top

    Foreword by renowned music historian Peter Guralnick

    Memphis Mayhem weaves the tale of the racial collision that led to a cultural, sociological, and musical revolution. David Less constructs a fascinating narrative of the city that has produced a startling array of talent, including Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Al Green, Otis Redding, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Justin Timberlake, and so many more.

    Beginning with the 1870s yellow fever epidemics that created racial imbalance as wealthy whites fled the city, David Less moves from W.C. Handy’s codification of blues in 1909 to the mid-century advent of interracial musical acts like Booker T. & the M.G.’s, the birth of punk, and finally to the growth of a music tourism industry.

    Memphis Mayhem explores the city’s entire musical ecosystem, which includes studios, high school band instructors, clubs, record companies, family bands, pressing plants, instrument factories, and retail record outlets. Lively and comprehensive, this is a provocative story of finding common ground through music and creating a sound that would change the world.


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  • David A. Less has studied Memphis music for over 40 years, and has conducted research for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Gibson Guitar Foundation. His work has appeared in Rolling StoneDownBeatBlues Revue magazine and the Bulletin for the Society of American Music. He is a third-generation Memphian who still lives in Memphis, Tennessee.

  • Published: October 2020

    ISBN: 9781770415089

    Dimensions: 6 x 9 in.

    Pages: 232

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“Music writer Less presents a fascinating history of the music of his native Memphis … Less brings to vivid life the music of Memphis.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“This quick romp through Memphis music from a racial perspective will complement Robert Gordon’s books, as well as James Dickerson’s Goin’ Back to Memphis.” — Library Journal

“I like the way Memphis Mayhem represented Hi Records, Stax, and all of Memphis music. I totally enjoyed this book. Great job.” — Ann Peebles, soul singer

“The chief pleasure of Memphis Mayhem lies in the serious care Less takes in telling this story of a city that set the world on its ear, time and time again, with blues, gospel, R&B, rockabilly, rock, soul, pop, and even jazz.” —

“Less weaves a delightful narrative made all the more interesting by its winding ways, unconstrained by chronology. Though Memphis Mayhem is remarkably well researched, it is clear that, for all his professional bona fides, Less is as much an avid fan of Memphis music as any tourist.” — Memphis Magazine

“A lively combination of personal observation, scholarship, and insider knowledge of an important era of American music.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Wow. Memphis Mayhem tells the history of the music from my hometown with fun and entertaining stories. David Less’s role as the ‘everyman narrator’ works perfectly because of his long involvement within the Memphis music community. Anyone interested in American music should read this book. O, my Soul.” — Jody Stephens, Big Star

“David Less takes us down memory lane talking about the music and players that made Memphis music happen. Very interesting. A must read!!!” — James Alexander, the Bar-Kays

“With it’s short, snippet-like presentation, Less is up front when he says that this book is neither a comprehensive or definitive chronicling of Memphis music history. That’s more of the bag of writers like Robert Gordeon, Stanley Booth, and Peter Guralnick (the last a collaborator/friend of Less who pens the intro). Think of them as hip college professors and lecturers — while Less is a friendly and garrulous tour guide with a story for every occasion.” — Houston Press

“If the title Memphis Mayhem sounds like it could be describing either a crime wave or a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude or an era of public turbulence, the new book by Memphis music historian David Less concerns all of those things, but mainly it is a history and memoir of the various strains of music that have percolated out of Memphis and defined the river city in its seminal relationship with the outer world.” — Memphis Flyer