July 23rd, 2003 The Sun Records studio in Memphis was designated a national historic landmark.
Sam Phillips, born Jan. 5th, 1923, started the iconic company
Oct. 1949 signed lease for storefront property at Union & Marshall Avenues. 706 Union Ave. was the actual address
January 3rd, 1950 opened the doors for Memphis Recording Service.
Here’s the building as it looked in the mid 1950’s
The building as it looks currently
There was no real “Sun Record Company” until 1953. Up to that point Sam would record African-American artists who’s music spoke to him artistically.
Joe Hill Louis was one of the first. Sam printed about 300 copies and used his own name as the recod “Label”. It was released Aug. 30th, 1950. Sam soon found out that his experience as the head of a record label was lacking and resumed his services to record only.
Sam started recording artists like B.B. King and felt that the recordings were good enough to be released.So instead of putting them out himself, he leased the master recordings to present day R & B labels like R.P.M. / Modern & Chess records.
B.B. King’s first recording at the “Memphis Recording Service”
Here’s a look at both sides of the 78 R.P.M. (Revolutions Per Minute) record.
Many experts refer to “Rocket 88”, recorded at the Memphis Recording Service and leased out to Chess Records, is the first “Rock n’ Roll” record ever! It was released on the Chess label Mar. 5th, 1951.
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats was the act billed on the record.
Jackie however, was the singer in the band and cousin to the real band leader, Ike Turner. Jackie’s name was used because HE was the singer on the disc.
Next to appear on Sam’s screen is Chester Burnett, a.k.a Howlin Wolf
Wolf’s music was leased out as well, to the Chess brothers in Chicago.
Walter Horton or “Little” Walter then came on the scene to record for Sam.
Finally, Sun Records is born in 1953 making their first official releases.
Rufus Thomas, who later found fame at Stax Records in the 1960’s (also out of Memphis), had Sun’s first national charted hit single!
The song was “Bear Cat” an “answer song” written by Sam Phillips, to “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thorton. Sam was later sued by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller the writter’s of Big Mama’s song.
“Little” Junior Parker and his Blue Flames were next.
Then, in a search for a “White” artist who could sing with an authentic “Black” feel, not just covering such songs, Elvis Presley comes along.
Carl Perkins who wrote and sang the original No. 1 version of “Blue Suede Shoes”.
Next was Roy Orbison
Rock n’ Roll’s original “Wild Child”, Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis.
In December of 1956 after Presley’s contract was sold to R.C.A. Victor, the Million Dollar Quartet Sessions happened.
Harold Jenkins a.k.a Conway Twitty recorded for Sam but no records were ever released until the 1980’s
Another piano player recorded for Sam. His name is Charlie Rich.
In 2000, I played at the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame in Jackson, TN. My show got reviewed on the front page of the local paper which, after meeting Sam, I gladly gave him a copy though he said he’d already seen it.
In 1969, Mercury Records label producer Shelby Singleton purchased the Sun label from Phillips. Both are pictured here.
Through Mr. Singleton’s efforts Sun is still an independently owned label.
In the end, all anyone can say is “Thank You Mr. Sam Phillips”!