Book Review of Memories: The Autobiography of Ralph Emery

Memories: The Autobiography of Ralph Emery
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Thoroughly engaging and delightfully candid autobiography by a popular southern disk jockey, Grand Old Opry emcee, and host of the cable-TV talk-show Nashville Now. Beginning with his childhood in the dirt South, Emery makes it clear that he is telling about his life rather than serving up a ``famous-entertainers-I-know-intimately'' salute. Raised on his grandparents' 20-acre farm (complete with ``running'' cold water from a pump on the sink) outside of McEwen, Tenn. (pop. 635), Emery--with the very capable assistance of Tom Carter--tells of his childhood entrancement with radio. Ordering picture books of the stars who sang on Grand Old Opry, he sat on the floor studying them as the stars performed over the airwaves. At 19, he landed his first job as a radio announcer, at WTPR, a ``thousand- watt `daytimer' '' in Paris, Tenn. Although he realized he was ``about as important as wall paper,'' Emery enthusiastically played and replayed the station's single 78-rpm copy of 1951's hottest record--``Hey Good Lookin','' by Hank Williams. Emery chooses this juncture to note: ``I wanted to be a broadcaster simply because I wanted to be somebody.'' (His current radio show is aired on 440 stations.) The second half of the book is filled with profiles--done by way of anecdotes and stories--of people Emery has known in the country-music business. He is an insider, and his unvarnished takes on, among others, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Jr., Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Keith Whitley (four months before his fatal overdose at age 33) are fresh and interesting. Emery's chapter on Merle Haggard--``the only singer- songwriter in the history of country music whose skills arguably surpass Hank Williams's''--is worth the price of the book