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Preston Lauterbach reads and signs The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'N' Roll at Octavia Books 

click to enlarge Preston Lauterbach

Want to know how to shoot craps with loaded dice? How to pick a pocket? How to work a short con? Just ask Memphis journalist Preston Lauterbach. Those are some of the skills he's been researching for his next book, a "hustlers' history" of Beale Street, the legendary black entertainment district in Memphis that's now become a tourist attraction. Lauterbach just released The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'N' Roll (Norton), a history of the black underground network of juke joints and informal performance venues that succeeded Vaudeville during the Great Depression and produced ground-breaking stars including Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker and Wynonie Harris. Research for the book prompted his immersion into the history of the numbers racket and the regional operations that supported gambling, bootlegging and prostitution. While Chitlin' Circuit may be more focused on the author's native Memphis, there's plenty of New Orleans material, too. There are chapters devoted to Roy Brown, whose 1948 hit, "Good Rockin' Tonight," stands a good chance of being recognized as the first milestone on the mid-century road to rock 'n' roll, and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, who melded jump blues, Western swing and big-band instrumental chops into his own form of early R&B. The Dew Drop Inn figures large, as do now-forgotten New Orleans institutions like Club Rocket, a second-generation descendant of the Rhythm Club, Shadowland, Rip's Playhouse, Robin Hood (which boasted a Sherwood Forest mezzanine) and the Foster Hotel's Rainbow Room. You can ask the author about those historic places and plenty of other colorful tidbits — like the New Orleans' origins of Louis Jordan's classic jump blues tune "Caldonia" at his book signing at Octavia Books. — Roger Hahn

July 27

Preston Lauterbach reads and signs The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'N' Roll

6 p.m. Wednesday

Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St., 899-7323; www.octaviabooks.com

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