Much has been written and debated regarding the origin of rock n’ roll. Ultimately, the embryonic stages derived from the cotton fields amidst the Mississippi Delta. Initially referred to as r&b, blues, or race music, it eventually came to take full form in Memphis.
In 1950, a disc jockey from Florence, Alabama traveled to Memphis where he launched his new found career. Sam Phillips opened the doors to Sun Records (originally named Memphis Recording Studio) in the winter of that same year, and left a forever mark on American music. Recording mostly local black talent as well as others from the region, Phillips attracted a slew of soon to be iconic r&b artist. This list includes such notables as B.B. King, Ike Turner, and Chester Burnett, better known as Howlin’ Wolf. Because a lot of this music was predominately only heard on black radio stations, Phillips was constantly in search of a white singer who could implement the sound and feel of a black man into a phonograph record.
It was in 1954 when Elvis Presley arrived at Sun, and soon moved an enormous mountain. Presley, who was enthralled with black culture and music, spent his teen years hanging around Beale St, a haven for African American artist. During a session, Phillips recorded Elvis doing an old blues number by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, titled “That’s Alright Mama.” It was in that session where the crosspollination of two cultures commenced – the black sound he was heavily influenced by, and the white sound inevitably etched from within. As a result, the radio dial would soon become integrated, as black music was beginning to be perceived as much more permissible.
The success of Elvis would become a springboard for other white musicians who also mimicked this new form of music, later titled, “rock n’ roll.” These artists include Conway Twitty, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich. However, as many of these musicians moved on to larger record labels once attaining more notoriety, Phillips would eventually close up shop, and once again pursue a career in radio.
Since reopening in 1987, these legendary walls have witnessed the recordings of Def Leppard, John Mellencamp, as well as three tracks form U2’s arguably biggest album, “Rattle and Hum.”
The studio is open daily, with tours given at the bottom half of the hour between 10:30-5:30.