Monday, May 16, 2011

Rock n' Roots at Sun Studio

Some time ago, the family and I had the opportunity to travel to the wonderful State of Tennessee - especially the Memphis area. Beside visiting Civil War battlefields and sites associated with the Civil Rights movement, we also had the opportunity to explore some very cool sites related to the early days of Rock and Roll, including the Historic Sun Studio on 706 Union Avenue in Memphis. Several of the greats had their beginning in this humble studio, and we shall explore some of their stories here - including "The King."

Sun Studio was established in January 1950 music producer Sam Phillips. In earlier days, Phillips recorded the music of several prominent African American musicians, including Howlin' Wolf. However, there was a relatively small audience of whites for what was then considered solely black music. Though always promoting his musicians, Phillips strove to discover a white singer that could replicate the likes of Howlin' Wolf in order to make the music marketable to the masses. That man stepped through the studio's doors in August 1953 - a young kid from Tupelo, Mississippi named Elvis Presley. The future star didn't meet success until July 5, 1954 when he sang a rendition of "That's All Right." The song became an overnight sensation and the rest is, well . . . history.

Part of the studio is filled with original and reproduction posters and ads promoting Sun's various artists throughout the 1950s.

Jerry Lee Lewis too came to Sun Studios a relatively unknown musician in 1956. He did several songs for the company over the course of several years but is by far best known for "Great Balls of Fire" recorded and played on this piano on October 8, 1957. Some of Lewis' records are on display above the piano on which he crafted his hit songs.

Sun Studio closed in 1968 but reopened nineteen years later as a working studio and museum. Plenty of guitars, pianos, and other instruments were taking a rest the day we visited. Phillips was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 for his achievements attained while running this studio.

Sam Phillips' secretary, Marion Keisker, greeted many artists as they came to audition for songs in this front office looking into the heart of the studio. In some ways, she should be the one given credit for snagging Elvis and launching his career. Following his first audition, she wrote on his file: "Good ballad singer. Hold." Indeed!

Naturally, what is a visit to Sun Studio without posing with the same microphone Elvis and many other greats recorded their first songs with? Luckily for you, there is no audio of me singing.

Perhaps the most historic event in the studio's history was an informal jam session on December 4, 1956 in which (left to right) Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins (who recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" there in 1955), Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. This session was recorded and later released as Million Dollar Quartet. What an evening that must have been!

Of course, I can't show you all these photos and then not play a Sun Record for you. Enjoy!

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