• Last Train to Memphis

  • The Rise of Elvis Presley
  • By: Peter Guralnick
  • Narrated by: Kevin Stillwell
  • Length: 22 hrs and 33 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (626 ratings)

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Last Train to Memphis  By  cover art

Last Train to Memphis

By: Peter Guralnick
Narrated by: Kevin Stillwell
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Publisher's Summary

From the moment that he first shook up the world in the mid 1950s, Elvis Presley has been one of the most vivid and enduring myths of American culture.

Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley is the first biography to go past that myth and present an Elvis beyond the legend. Based on hundreds of interviews and nearly a decade of research, it traces the evolution not just of the man but of the music and of the culture he left utterly transformed, creating a completely fresh portrait of Elvis and his world.

This volume tracks the first 24 years of Elvis' life, covering his childhood, the stunning first recordings at Sun Records ("That's All Right," "Mystery Train"), and the early RCA hits ("Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel"). These were the years of his improbable self-invention and unprecedented triumphs, when it seemed that everything that Elvis tried succeeded wildly. There was scarcely a cloud in sight through this period until, in 1958, he was drafted into the Army and his mother died shortly thereafter. The audiobook closes on that somber and poignant note.

Last Train to Memphis takes us deep inside Elvis' life, exploring his lifelong passion for music of every sort (from blues and gospel to Bing Crosby and Mario Lanza), his compelling affection for his family, and his intimate relationships with girlfriends, mentors, band members, professional associates, and friends. It shows us the loneliness, the trustfulness, the voracious appetite for experience, and above all the unshakable, almost mystical faith that Elvis had in himself and his music. Drawing frequently on Elvis' own words and on the recollections of those closest to him, the audiobook offers an emotional, complex portrait of young Elvis Presley with a depth and dimension that for the first time allow his extraordinary accomplishments to ring true.

Peter Guralnick has given us a previously unseen world, a rich panoply of people and events that illuminate an achievement, a place, and a time as never revealed before. Written with grace, humor, and affection, Last Train to Memphis has been hailed as the definitive biography of Elvis Presley. It is the first to set aside the myths and focus on Elvis' humanity in a way that has yet to be duplicated.

©2012 Peter Guralnick (P)2012 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"The first half of Guralnick's projected two-volume biography is eminently engrossing. Taking pains to keep the story fresh and flowing and refraining from foreshadowing and editorializing, Guralnick lets the facts speak for themselves. If you really want only one Elvis biography, let this sensitive book be it." ( Booklist)
"A serious, musically literate, and historically attuned biography. An American epic that belongs on every bookshelf." ( Kirkus Reviews)

What listeners say about Last Train to Memphis

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Before the Fall from Eden

Peter Guarnick divided his biography of Elvis into two parts, this being the origin story about his rise to glory. It is common knowledge that the singer later succumbed to drugs and made a mess of his life, so the title to the sequel, 'Careless Love, The Unmaking of Elvis', hangs over this first half like a foreboding sign. In 'Last Train to Memphis', Elvis is a picture of innocence and a symbol of promise, a charismatic, well-mannered, God-fearing youngster, who somehow succeeded in translating the electrifying, rebellious sexual energy of African American rock and roll to a white audience. It is interesting to see how the U.S. culture and history of the time was reflected on this icon. He became a sensation after recording his first songs at the legendary Sun Records in Memphis. He would later ride the airwaves into every TV screen in the country and use movies as a vehicle to further deliver his music and personal image, directly injecting himself into the bloodstream of the American public. Ambitious and naive, Elvis fell into the clutches of Thomas Parker (also known as "Colonel Tom"), a shrewd manager who brought him more fame and wealth than he could dream of, but who also played a role in the artist's transformation into a corporate broken toy. It's easy to see why so many people liked Elvis in the early stages of his career, which this audiobook covers. His story is told in so much detail here, that it feels a bit like traveling in time. Kevin Stillwell's narration gets the job done. I plan to listen to the sequel, but haven't had the heart to do so just yet.

9 people found this helpful

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I'm an Elvis fan now

Where does Last Train to Memphis rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I love biographies and, in recent years, have really enjoyed biographies from the music industry. Elvis was a little before my time so his music wasn't "my" music. I appreciated the impact that he had on rock and roll but I didn't really appreciate his music.

Much of what I knew about his was from the later part of his career. I knew nothing about his early years in the business. Mr. Guralnick did a great job of telling that story. The book was interesting from the first word to the last. It also prompted me to YouTube where I was able to see some of his work from his early years.

Now I understand what it was all about and I have a new appreciation for the man and his work.

9 people found this helpful

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True fans will be delighted.

Long as hell which is good. Great value for money. Nice narrator. Intimate details I never knew about and overall fascinating.

7 people found this helpful

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Very Eye Opening

This gave me a real look into Elvis's mind and life, really made me understand why he ended up like he did. Such a wild existence. Thanks to the author!

6 people found this helpful

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Must read

This is the best book I’ve ever read and decided to listen to it after listening to the amazing Sam Phillips book by the same author and reader. I had big expectations and they were exceeded. The best book I’ve read or listened to...ever.

5 people found this helpful

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A WASTE OF TIME

I lived right behind Graceland from 1975 to 1978. I remember being unable to get home on the afternoon of August 16, 1977 due to the tens of thousands of people who filled the streets around Graceland after Elvis Presley was pronounced dead earlier that afternoon from a "heart attack". Two days later, since my husband and I were still not able to get near our complex, so we chose instead to stand in the sweltering Memphis, TN heat with that great mass of people - both rabid fans from around the world and just the merely curious - on what is now Elvis Presley Blvd., as the hearse carrying the body of "The King", followed by a dozen or so white limos with his superstar mourners, made its mournful way to nearby Forest Hill Cemetery.

Many books have been written about Presley since that day, most of which I have read. Each account has a different view of this man's life - some factual, some more fiction than truth, some vindictive, some self-serving. But, combined, one can get a pretty good idea of Presley's life and music. In my opinion, the best of the lot is "Elvis" by Albert Goldman (1981). But I still wanted to know more. So I bought Peter Guralnick's book. I couldn't be more disappointed!

After 22 hours, I still no idea what this book is about. It claims to chronicle the early years of Elvis Presley, yet there is very little about the REAL man in this book. The author writes like an 8 year-old doing a book report on a book he didn't read. The story is all over the place, his thoughts unfocused, no sense of chronology or local flavor. He will start telling us about an event or person but then not finish his point. The story is told in some weird, sometimes first-person manner, but you never know who is talking at the time. The narrator doesn't help, sounding bored, with no change in his voice for each person. He has a non-regional, generic voice, attempting to narrate a book about people from the seriously southern Mississippi and Tennessee!

Save yourself some time and money. Guralnick's effort is lazy, amateurish and superficial. Buy the Goldman biography on Elvis Presley. Some critics called it controversial at the time, but at least it's INTERESTING! At the very least, you will get great insight into the King and his huge "posse" (second only to the Disciples).

5 people found this helpful

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I now have a better understanding of Elvis now!

If you could sum up Last Train to Memphis in three words, what would they be?

Very informative and it held my attention for 22 hours.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Of coarse, Elvis. I was never crazy about him in general growing up, but I now have a new opinion of him as a very geniune person.

What about Kevin Stillwell’s performance did you like?

He made you believe he was actually there with the characters.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

What you never knew about Elvis, the person.

4 people found this helpful

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Wonderfully Thorough

A most satisfying portrait of a young man lost. It has changed my perspective of the human being behind the music, and has inspired a greater appreciation for the singer's less well-known recordings.

3 people found this helpful

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Absolutely outstanding.

What made the experience of listening to Last Train to Memphis the most enjoyable?

This book is heavy on the details - reading the researched minutia might have been a little bit overwhelming. The performance of the reader, combined with an incredible biography, made me listen to this book non-stop. It was incredible.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Last Train to Memphis?

All of it was wonderful, but the reader clearly understood where to put the emphasis and inflection. He was wonderful. I loved hearing him pretend to cheer like a teenage girl! The ending was heartbreaking, and he used the power of his dramatic pause very effectively.

Which character – as performed by Kevin Stillwell – was your favorite?

His portrayal of Elvis was wonderful - capturing the slight drawl and accent without going overboard was wonderful.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

As previously stated, when Elvis' mother passed away. It was heartbreaking. I was weeding in the garden and started to cry. Ha!

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Biography at its Best

I have a lot of biographies but only one is as good as this one. This one rates up there with "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Peter Guralnick brings Elvis Presley to life. Unlike so many biographies, Elvis's early life with his parents, his friends, the places they lived and the milieu that surrounded him are not at all dry.

The family's life in Tupelo, Mississippi and their move to Memphis, Tennessee is expertly described and I got a real sense of time and place and what it was like to grow up there. The writing seems organic, which is hard to describe; it's not just a recitation of facts.

As early as the middle of Part 1, I could feel how everything in Elvis's early life began to shape and move him toward the day when he stepped into the small office of Sam Phillips' recording studio for the first time in August 1953 where he paid $3.95 to record "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartache Begins" as a gift for his mother.

Nothing about the writing of this biography seems forced; it just seems to grow naturally as Elvis grew. I'm enjoying every second of this audiobook, which is also expertly narrated by Kevin Stillwell. It's 22 hours and 37 minutes of excellence. Then I'm moving on to Peter Guralnick's second volume, "Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley".

2 people found this helpful

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  • Brendan
  • 11-08-12

Wow! Never thought it would be this good

I was a Irish kid in Germany in 1958 (my Dad worked in the AFEX system as an accountant) when Elvis came over as an army draftee. A family friend got his autograph for me which I lost soon after (damn & double-damn!)and this is the point where this book - the first of a two-part biography - closes. It takes us from Elvis' birth in Tupelo to his family's move to Memphis, his geeky high school days, the $12 guitar his father bought for him, and his burning desire to cut a record. This brought him to Sam Phillips and Sun Records. This early recording took off thanks to radio play throughout the South and a series of live gigs followed getting ever bigger and bigger. Soon things became so big they nearly got out of control. From some peculiar mixture of gospel, hillbilly, and Negro blues Elvis had hit on a new sound that caught the imagination of teenage America. By the age of 21 (1956) he was pulling in huge audiences and the music moguls were taking an interest. The predatory ex-Carnie barker "Colonel" Tom Parker moved in to guide this boy along and in his manipulatory and conniving ways made Elvis a national phenomenon.



What makes this story so fascinating is the way it is told. The author, an early fan of the music, spent 11 years tracking down all the surviving friends and associates of Elvis and tells the story as if he were looking through a keyhole, recording conversations and first impressions and opinions from such a wide number of people that you begin to feel you are there yourself. The way this book was put together is extremely impressive: by no means is it your "standard" biography. Whether you like the music or not (I did even then, I still do!) you cannot help but get caught up in the story. After such a meteoric rise you just know that a fall is bound to come: hubris, as we know from the wise old Greeks, is followed by nemesis.



A second volume of the biography entitled "Careless Love" follows ....

10 people found this helpful

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  • First time mum
  • 03-08-19

Elvis at the beginning.

The definitive book on Elvis's early career. I love the reader's voice, and it's such a great story with so much detail. A must for any Elvis fan.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Karen
  • 02-16-22

Outstanding

What a superb audiobook, far exceeding expectations. I’m so glad that I have experienced this superb account of Elvis’ early life. What was so impactful was the atmosphere the author created. At times I felt like o was right there, in the scenes, an invisible observer. Just superb.

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  • PK Flanders
  • 02-02-22

Eye opening

A brilliantly researched and wonderful biography of Elvis Presley’s life up to his going to Germany with the army. I am not a huge Elvis fan but found the story of this hugely talented but complex individual riveting. Well narrated too! On to part two ….

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  • Paul Gilzean
  • 04-19-21

Loved it

Well written, brilliantly read, loved it from start to finish...cantvwait wait to read part 2 ....highly recommended

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • polonius
  • 02-24-21

fantastic book

loved the narrator he put depth into his narration some interesting facts I didn't know

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  • Kitty
  • 01-20-18

Excellent book

Bought both this and the next part/audiobook of the life of Elvis Presley. Extremely well read, flows smoothly and definitely worth buying this and the second book.

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  • Mark Vale
  • 09-20-17

Fanyastic

loved every moment of it. Balanced. well researched and written, could not wait to listen each day.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • David
  • 01-12-17

elvis presley

i don't want this on my tablets ok ok ok ok ok ok ok ok ok

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-05-16

In Depth and well researched

I really enjoyed this audio book and literally couldn't stop listening to it. So much information - I think I may re listen and read the book, which I have also, together.

it is the first time I have actually listened to and finished an audio book.

Kevin Sitwells narration was excellent.

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  • F Daw
  • 06-27-20

Good, but not great.

More a history of his social life than his career. However, still good. An interesting perspective.

1 person found this helpful

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  • andrew johnstone
  • 01-21-20

Masterful

Not so much a biography but a carefully drawn picture of the time, place and conditions that foreshadowed the Elvis phenomenon.

We explore Memphis, the South, Hollywood and New York via the people that knew and interacted with Elvis including Sam Phillips. One of the great joys of the internet age is reading about those Sun songs then flicking across to youtube to hear them. Same with those early films.

The book also explains Tom Parker, Sam Phillips, Vernon and Gladys, a host of minor players, Elvis's retinue of minders, the women and of course, the music. Not so much the music Elvis made, rather the music that Elvis listened to. What a terrific read. I could hardly put it down and when I did I anticipated that moment when I would pick it up again.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Redroo
  • 04-20-18

I Dared To Rock

A walk through American history of music. The future of music would never be the same again. Every band, every performer who came after Elvis, whether they know it or not have him to thank for changing the way music would be played and listened to...Music would never be the same again:

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-24-17

Elvis, what can i say. brilliant book

the bool was thorough and details and portayed a very unexpected side of elvis gor my first elvis book. I struggled a bit with the authors portrayal of a young high school elvis and the indecisiveness of whether he was confident with his guitar of terrified. other than that it was an epic story and i cant wait to learn more :)

1 person found this helpful

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  • Ian Lobban
  • 06-13-22

Going straight to Part II

Excellent biography. Going straight on to the second part. Fully fleshed out investigation of the life of Elvis. Looking forward to the movie.