Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Review: Memphis Wrestling History Presents Memphis 1982 by Mark James - Review by Steve Crawford

----I am a big fan of Mark James and his Memphis history books.  Here is a review of his latest book.

During the summer of 1982, average attendance for Memphis wrestling cards at the Mid-South Coliseum was 8,900 fans per week. Yes, per week. Memphis wrestling historian Mark James has commemorated that year in a wonderful new book that includes every weekly wrestling program, the results of the matches, extensive photos from the era, and, most importantly, extraordinary insights and historical perspectives from many of the participants. Mark interviewed Jerry Jarrett, Jim Ross, Dutch Mantell, Austin Idol, Jimmy Valiant, Steve Keirn, Jim Cornette, and Luke Williams, among others, to get their perspective on the era. 

As Lou Reed might say about the early 1980s, those were different times. And, they certainly were in the world of professional wrestling. Many of the fans thought they were seeing legitimate contests and often had a heavy emotional investment in the outcome. Dutch Mantell described the thrill of performing for such an ardent crowd, "During those entrances and introductions, the feeling was so intense, that if medical science could somehow 'bottle and sell that feeling,' they would earn billions. To say it was 'addictive' doesn't do it justice."

While this volume of over 400 pages is enjoyable throughout, the most interesting aspects to me are the insights of Jerry Jarrett, the owner of the Memphis promotion. Jarrett grew up in the wrestling business (his mother Christine worked for legendary Tennessee promoter Nick Gulas), and Jerry quickly became a booker (someone that decides who is on the cards and the results of matches) and a promoter in the Tennessee territory. Jerry split from Nick in 1977 and built one of the countries most successful promotions (in the halcyon days before cable television).

In the book, Jarrett describes how some of promotion's most famous gimmicks were created (Kimala, the Fabulous Ones), why he hired Jim Cornette as a manager, how the Andy Kaufman feud with Lawler developed, and why he was not concerned about the competition from Angelo Poffo's International Championship Wrestling. 

Jarrett defiinitely had an eye for talent. Many of the wrestlers who performed in Memphis during 1982 later became cornerstones of national promotions. Among them, Robert Gibson/Rick Morton (before they became the Rock and Roll Express), pre-Midnight Express Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton, Terry Taylor, Buddy Landell, Jacque Rougeau, the Iron Sheik, and Crusher Broomfield (i.e., the One Man Gang). Young wrestlers toured the promotion's territory - which covered parts of Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Missouri, and Indiana - while working against established performers. With the work schedule (the promotion ran over 375 shows that year) young talent would learn either learn quickly or find a less grueling vocation.

The campy wrestling programs provide their own style of tongue-in-cheek entertainment. One article notes that the Arena News Report, "Refused a paid endorsement from James J. Dillon with pictures depicting Kimala eating live animals in the jungle." Another program reported that "Superstar" Billy Graham had passed away, a rumor that spread throughout the wrestling community when the former WWWF Champion took a hiatus from the ring wars.

The book includes plenty of additional insights from both the author and the wrestlers. James describes why Tennessee became a hotbed for tag team wrestling, Guy Coffee provides an interesting perspective on how he helped Jerry Jarrett in his role as a member of the Tennessee Athletic Commission, and from a performance standpoint, there is a look at a rare Memphis wrestling studio visit by NWA Champion Ric Flair and a series of matches with AWA Champion Nick Bockwinkel. Oh, and let's not forget the real life fight between Bill Dundee and Randy Savage. Bill came up a bit short on that one.

In summary, buy this excellent book. We want Mark to publish more of these.

----You can order the Mark James book by CLICKING HERE.  Steve Crawford is an author himself and a college friend - he published Shake Some Action: The 318 Greatest Songs Of All Time.  It is a great book for any music fan.  If want a copy of it, do a search!!