Sun Records

July 23rd, 2003 The Sun Records studio in Memphis was designated a national historic landmark.

sunrecords02Sam Phillips, born Jan. 5th, 1923, started the iconic company

MemphisRecordingCo1Oct. 1949 signed lease for storefront property at Union & Marshall Avenues. 706 Union Ave. was the actual address

MemphisRecordingCo2January 3rd, 1950 opened the doors for Memphis Recording Service.

SunStudio1950'sHere’s the building as it looked in the mid 1950’s

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe building as it looks currently

JoeHillLouisThere 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.

sunrecords03Sam 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.

maxresdefaultB.B. King’s first recording at the “Memphis Recording Service”

maxresdefault-1Here’s a look at both sides of the 78 R.P.M. (Revolutions Per Minute) record.

Rocket 88 labelMany 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.

JackieBrenstonJackie Brenston and his Delta Cats was the act billed on the record.

sunrecords05Jackie 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.

sunrecords07Next 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.

sunrecords04Walter Horton or “Little” Walter then came on the scene to record for Sam.

sunrecords01Finally, Sun Records is born in 1953 making their first official releases.

sunrecords06Rufus Thomas, who later found fame at Stax Records in the 1960’s (also out of Memphis), had Sun’s first national charted hit single!

BearCatThe 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.

sunrecords08“Little” Junior Parker and his Blue Flames were next.


“Little” Milton

RoscoGordonRoscoe Gordon


sunrecords10Then, in a search for a “White” artist who could sing with an authentic “Black” feel, not just covering such songs, Elvis Presley comes along.

sunrecords11Carl Perkins who wrote and sang the original No. 1 version of “Blue Suede Shoes”.

sunrecords12Johnny Cash

sunrecords13Next was Roy Orbison

sunrecords14Rock n’ Roll’s original “Wild Child”, Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis.

sunrecords15In December of 1956 after Presley’s contract was sold to R.C.A. Victor, the Million Dollar Quartet Sessions happened.

sunrecords16Harold Jenkins a.k.a Conway Twitty recorded for Sam but no records were ever released until the 1980’s

sunrecords17Another piano player recorded for Sam. His name is Charlie Rich.

RHOF21In 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.

RHOF37In 1969, Mercury Records label producer Shelby Singleton purchased the Sun label from Phillips. Both are pictured here.

RHOF38    Through Mr. Singleton’s efforts Sun is still an independently owned label.

SamPhillips1In the end, all anyone can say is “Thank You Mr. Sam Phillips”!