“If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars!” (Sam Phillips -Owner of Sun Record Studios)
Another important Mississippi River stopover for Ruth and me on our Colorado road trip took place in Memphis, Tennessee this week. With however only a few hours to spare, we would concentrate our attention at legendary Sun Record Studio nearby the famed Beale Street music corridor of downtown Memphis. For we desired greatly to feel the musical vibe where the historic roots of American rock n’ roll music began there in the early 1950s. So upon waiting patiently in a sizable queue at the front of the building facing Union Avenue, we joined our twenty five person tour promptly at 10:00 am.
For the next forty five minutes, our tour guide narrated a fascinating story about such country musicians as Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins as well as rhythm and blues artists like BB. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner who chose to record their songs at Sun Studios during its heyday time. But legendary owner, Sam Phillips, according to our host in this period went on to inspire a new cultural revolution by looking for new artists who would produce a new Rock n’ Roll sound for radio distribution that he thought to be a blend of the best Negro and White recorded music at the time.
So what about the Elvis connection at Sun Studios we soon wondered? For as his story continued, we learned that Elvis first came into the studio in the summer of 1953 and paid $4.00 to record an original song for his mother called “My Happiness.” He was 18 years old; a good-looking yet shy boy with acne on his neck, long sideburns, and long, greasy hair combed in a ducktail that he had to keep patting down. It seemed on first impression that Elvis most likely desired that his promo would enable him to show off to Phillips his preferred repertoire of slow country ballads and gospel religious tunes then. But Phillips, who was not in the building that day seemed to take little musical interest in the young man at that time.
Yet Phillips’ assistant, Marion Keisker, who had assisted Elvis in “cutting” his demo that day would later bring up his name to Phillips on multiple occasions.This led to a more formal audition at the studio with a session band in July of 1954. So during this new recording occasion, Presley’s fortunes suddenly changed when he broke into an “up-tempo” blues song called “That’s All Right.” Phillips now saw something worthwhile in Elvis’ loose and free style of singing accompanied by his uninhibited show of self confidence.That astounding performance would mark the beginning of a string of iconic Rock n’ Roll hits recorded by Elvis at Sun Studio in future years.
In addition to hearing this interesting account of the Elvis’ Rock n’ Roll evolution at Sun Record Studios as described above, the authentic 1950s look of this recording studio where Elvis played captivated my attention as well on this tour. Thus I particularly pondered about the odd contrast of listening to several tracks of old Elvis songs then resonating from acoustically modern sound tools in the room yet wondered what an actual recording session in the 1950s might have been like? How difficult that task must have been back then, given those showcased exhibits of limited recording and playback technology I observed that day during my walk around.
Our tour of Sun Studios perhaps would end too soon. But I continued to feel the charismatic musical presence of Elvis as we passed by iconic music clubs, souvenir window shops, and eye catching mural walls during an early afternoon walk later on along Beale Street. So I am pleased to present to you the following photo set as I attempt to recapture an iconic era when a young Elvis Presley rendered hope to inspire a Rock n’ Roll music revolution that continues on to this day.