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The Late Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R and B to Rock 'n' Roll.

James M. Salem. The Late Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R&B to Rock 'n' Roll. Urbana: U of Illinois P.1999. 304 pp.$29.95.

At a time when popular music books are inundated with tales of false innovators of Rock 'n' Roll, James M. Salem illuminates the unsung musical innovations and transitional role of John Marshall Alexander, Jr., known to many as Johnny Ace. The Late Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R&B to Rock 'n' Roll, reveals the true story of a Rhythm 'n' Blues legend and his role in the transition from Rhythm 'n' Blues to Rock 'n' Roll. Through vivid prose and a wealth of informed research, Salem chronicles the life and adventures of Johnny Ace. From the south Memphis neighborhood of his childhood to his search for fame and fortune on Beale Street to his adventures in Houston's fourth ward, Johnny Ace's story is told with great sensitivity and admiration. Salem's manuscript, which reads like fiction, is captivating as it reveals the relationship of Johnny Ace to other well-known figures of the period such as B. B. King, Robert Calvin (Bobby Blue) Bland, and Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. Throughout the book, Sale m subtly credits Johnny Ace with a style of musicianship and performance that catered to and enticed both whites and blacks. This ability, Salem claims, is what made Johnny Ace one of the most important transitional figures in the move from Rhythm 'n' Blues to Rock 'n' Roll.

The Late Great Johnny Ace not only serves to relate the importance of Johnny Ace to American popular music but also provides substantial information on tangential subjects such as the rise of independent record labels, the history and importance of disk jockeys and radio stations, and Memphis from the Civil War to World War II. Salem's conscious attempt to supplement the story-line with tangential segues is of further interest as he provides descriptive detail about the origin of six-shooters, the history of Russian roulette, and the history behind both ASCAP and BMI. Although they briefly depart from the main subject, these segues do not diminish the fluidity of the writing and in fact exhibit Salem's personal insight and superb research.

Further to Salem's credit is the use of many personal interviews of family, friends, and former band members in addition to the thematic incorporation of photographs and pictorial replicas of records and advertising bills. These valuable sources assist in captivating the reader and bringing the subject matter to life. Salem's annotated discography is of interest as he locates all of Johnny Ace's known recordings, comments on the accompanying personnel, records labels, and includes brief musical analyses. Of even greater interest is the list of artists who have covered Johnny Ace's material, including vocalists Aretha Franklin and Dinah Washington, both of whom recorded Johnny Ace's "My Song."

Salem introduces the book by drawing a convincing parallel between Johnny Ace and Elvis Presley, a parallel worth considering. This parallel resonates throughout the book as Johnny Ace is presented as the forgotten star who is juxtaposed to the "American King," Elvis Presley. The Late Great Johnny Ace is mandatory reading for any fan or scholar of Rhythm 'n' Blues, Rock 'n' Roll, or American Popular Culture. Written for both the serious scholar and the general layperson, this book's worth far exceeds the suggested retail price.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Price III, Emmett G.
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2001
Previous Article:Contemporary Literature in the African Diaspora.
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