The Sun Studio - Memphis, TN
Home to legendary performers such as Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, Sun Records was launched in February 1952 by owner Sam Phillips. From January 1950 to February 1952, it was first called the "Memphis Recording Service." During this period of time, Phillips focused on Rhythm and Blues; as a result, he attracted performers such as Junior Walker, B.B. King and Howlin Wolf. Once a performance was recorded and if it looked promising, he would sell it to larger record companies. In addition, during this time Phillips recorded weddings and funerals, anything legal to help pay the bills. As time went on, many of the blues singers that Phillips helped moved to Chicago and recorded directly with Chess Records; as a result of this migration, the Chess brothers no longer needed the masters created by the Memphis Recording Service. Because Phillips wasn't able to distribute his masters to other record companies,it forced him to start his own label; Sun Records was born. When it was started, Phillips brother helped by handling promotion related matters; Judd had a background in the promotion of country music, so he was in the right place at the right time during this transition from Rhythm and Blues to a Rhythm and Blues/ Rockabilly format.
Although there were other songs, the first big hit on the Sun label was from a local DJ named Rufus Thomas; the name of the song was "Bear Cat" this was a response to Big Mama Thorton's song "Hound Dog". Because of the success of "Bear cat" and the follow up song "Tiger Man", this gave Phillips the leverage to get National distribution deals. Later, Phillips had additional successes with Junior Parker and Little Milton. In addition, one of his most successful groups was a group of inmates in the Nashville Penitentiary who called themselves the "Prisonaires"; their hit song "Just Walking" was an hit in 1956.
One function of the Sun Records was to allow the average person to walk in and make a record for a fee of four dollars; for this fee, they got two songs on a disk. A young truck driver named Elvis Presley stopped by on his lunch break to record a couple of songs for his mother's birthday. As he made his recording, the office manager decided to make a copy for office records. Almost eight months later in 1954, when he needed a singer for a song called "Without You", Phillips listened to the demo Presley recorded months earlier. Phillips called Elvis back to the studio. Elvis wasn't able to sing the song like Phillips wanted, so Phillips asked him to sing all the songs he could think of. Elvis sang gospel, western and even Dean Martin hits. Feeling that this young man was about to make a breakthrough, Phillips called in Scotty Moore and Bill Black. They played for hours and nothing was happening; when they were about to give up and go home, Elvis begun singing "That's All Right Mama". When Sam Phillips heard this, he asked Elvis to play it again so he could record it. Sam Phillips had found the sound he wanted a white singer who had the African-American sounded and feel; he successfully merged country music with rhythm and blues to create the sound he wanted.
With the success of Elvis Presley, other young singers wanted to record at the Sun Studio. These included Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Charlie Rich. Not long after the success of Elvis Presley, Phillips discontinued work with the Blues and concentrated on the new music genre Rockabilly and the rest is history.
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