Haydn Radford -A freelance writer born in Adelaide, who loves living here. I write about movies, theatre, entertainment, literary and art events. I am happy to promote & review your events. www.weekendnotes.com/profile/121822
The history behind Sun Studio and the impact this small recording studio had on popular music has fascinated me since I first heard the Sun recordings of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. I didn't realise it at first, but I came to appreciate that I was listening to a compilation of raw blues, gospel and country music that was to form the basis of rock and roll.
Sun Studios has been designated as Memphis' 3rd National Historic Landmark and it is the only Recording Studio in the world to achieve this honour. Here is a rare opportunity to appreciate the rich musical heritage of Memphis, and the impact that music recorded at Sun Studios had on music, social attitudes, fashion and opinions in not only America, but also upon the rest of the world.
Visitors can hear outtakes from various recording sessions, handle Elvis' first microphone and pose for photos, see heaps of memorabilia, enjoy a soda and snack at the 1950's style Sun Studio Soda Shop and Record Store and re-live Sun Studios' history, which launched the musical careers of various blues, rockabilly and country artists including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner and many other Sun recording artists.
Sun Studio has a history that makes it quite unique. In 1951, the Sun Records record label earned the title of Birthplace of Rock and Roll with the recording of the first Rock and Roll song, Rocket 88.
In the year 2006, Sun Studios, Memphis, Tennessee, marked the 50th Anniversary of what has become known as the impromptu jam and recording session of the world famous "Million Dollar Quartet" featuring Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
This legendary recording session made news in a Memphis newspaper in December, 1956 reporting, "History is made in Memphis." It all began with Carl Perkins and his band cutting some new records with Jerry Lee Lewis playing piano, and Johnny Cash looking on. The trio had a surprise visit from Elvis, who had called in to see his friend Sam Phillips. It wasn't long before the Million Dollar Quartet was jamming together with the recording machine switched on.
Jerry Lee lewis's Sun Essentials CD - courtesy of Amazon.com.
What survives today from that impromptu recording session is a collection of snippets of songs and dialogue where they share their recording and touring experiences along with several complete songs. Most of the music is country-gospel, which highlights the influence it played on Southern rock and roll. They can be heard having fun doing vocal imitations of other country artists as well as performing popular R&B numbers. The Complete Million Dollar Session was released on a long playing record in the 1980's and is still available on CD today.
"Million Dollar Quartet
Sam Phillips saw the opportunity to invite the local press and was quick to point out, "That it was just something that happened, you know, one of those off-the-wall things that could only occur at Sun Studio. None of these artists yet had a million dollars - they just happen to have a million dollars worth of talent."
Phillips opened "The Memphis Recording Studio," (which later became Sun Studio) in 1950 with the slogan "We record Anything - Anytime." This included everything from weddings, funerals, conferences and religious meetings. He began recording demo sessions of blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf, B.B King, Rufus Thomas and many other significant Black performers who played music that had not been granted the opportunity to reach audiences. Phillips felt that the Blues was genuine and told a true unadulterated story.
Sam Phillips, "The only thing predictable about Elvis is that he's unpredictable."
Sun Recording of various blues and rockabilly artists.
In 1951, Phillips recorded the first rock 'n' roll number, Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner, (of Ike & Tina Turner), which became a number one hit on US charts and the second R&B record of 1951. Phillips made deep inroads into electric blues by Black performers, but felt deep down what was needed was a White singer who could sing Black music that would appeal to white audiences. Blues music by Black artists was only played on Black radio stations, which had a growing following of White teenage audiences in the US.
Enter Elvis Presley, an 18 year old, truck driver who recorded a song at Sun Studio as a present for his Mother. Elvis was asked to return and sing again with musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black. Initially, his singing of ballads was disappointing until Elvis began an uptempo performance of an Arthur Crudup, blues number, That's All Right. The rest is history, as this was the sound Phillips had been looking for and it was only a matter of time before the King of Rock 'n' Roll was to claim his crown.
Other Rock and Roll artists followed on the Sun label; they included prolific songwriter and performer Carl Perkins, with songs like Blue Suede Shoes and Matchbox; Jerry Lee Lewis and his rock classics, Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, and legendary country songwriter and singer, Johnny Cash, with a huge reportoire of songs, including classics like I Walk the Line, Big River and Don't Take Your Guns to Town.
Sun Studio is open to the public 7 days a week from 10.00am - 6.00pm. It is suggested to allow an hour-and-a-half to enjoy the tour and see all the memorabilia in the cafe. Due to the personal nature of the tour performance, children under 5 years are not admitted.
My friend Gary rockin' on with Elvis' first microphone.