To this day Memphis, Tennessee bleeds blues music and maintains the attitude of Rock and Roll. This historic southern city withstood the civil rights movement and the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. Though Memphis is no stranger to difficult times, it was also the place where legendary blues musicians B.B.King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Issac Hayes began their professional music careers. This Blues music was infused with the hillbilly boogie of the country and the gospel music of the church to form the genre of Rock and Roll at none-other than the legendary Memphis Recording Service, better known as, Sun Studio.
Sam Philips was born on January 5, 1923. He was the youngest of 8 and grew up on a three-hundred-acre farm in Florence, Alabama. His father, Charles Tucker Philips, taught him determination and drive. He often told Sam to believe in himself and not to give up when times get hard. His father passed away in 1941 and Sam was forced to leave high school and begin working to support his family. He worked at a grocery store and a funeral parlor but always had a love for blues music. It wasn’t until January of 1950 that he was able to follow his dreams and open Memphis Recording Service. He was taking a risk on an area of business that was previously unproven in Memphis.
In the summer of 1953 music as we knew it changed forever. A 18-year-old Elvis Presley walked into Memphis Recording Service to record a personal disc for his mother’s birthday. Gladys Presley’s birthday was in the spring and it was later believed that Elvis made the disc for himself to see how he would sound. He recorded “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartache Begins”. This happened at a time when Sam Philips was desperate to find a new sound. His assistant, Marion Keisker, constantly reminded him of a kid name Elvis Presley. She was so insistent on Elvis that on June 26,1954 Sam invited Elvis to come record. It was clear to Philips that Presley had little to no performing experience but that he was determined. Elvis’ passion for music was shown in his knowledge of blues musicians and artists that had recorded at Sun Studio. Bill Black and Scotty Moore were the musicians hired to play alongside Elvis.
It is said that Presley started crooning to songs like, “Without You”, “Harbor Lights”, and “I Love You Because.” No one was impressed and Sam didn’t record many of these songs. It was clear that this sort of music was not fitting towards Elvis and that he didn’t hold the confidence of a performer while singing these songs. Frustrated, the group decided to take a break outside. It was then that Elvis suddenly started “jumping around, singing, and acting a fool.” Having never heard the song, Bill Black followed suit and picked up his bass and it wasn’t long until Scotty started jamming along too. Sam, who was still inside, came around the corner and asked what they were playing and to do it again. The song they were playing was “That’s Alright Mama,” originally preformed by blues artist Arthur Crudup. It was then that the world changed with the start of Elvis Presley’s career, the fame and notoriety of The Memphis Recording Service, and the true beginning of Rock and Roll music.
Other pioneers of Rock and Roll are Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis who all recorded at Sun Studio soon after Elvis. Each of these artists had a unique sound and had a strong contribution to the Rock and Roll music that was heard on the radio.
The Memphis Recording Service is located on Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee and is a landmark visited by fans from all over the world. Though there are a few different stories on how this tale is told, one fact cannot be shaken. Elvis Presley, Bill Black, Scotty Moore, and Sam Philips were there to witness the birth of Rock and Roll music at Sun Studios in the summer of 1954 and after this date music and the artists that performed it were never the same.