The Sun Studio - Memphis, TN

Early Years

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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Comments 20 comments

Ghost Whisper 77 profile image

Ghost Whisper 77 6 years ago from The U.S. Government protects Nazi War Criminals

Excellent hub! I love the Blues!!! My favorite!!!

Mystique1957 profile image

Mystique1957 6 years ago from Caracas-Venezuela

Great hub, dear! I was wondering when would be your next...And here you are! I am crazy about Blues too! How about making a hub on Blues stars? B.B.King, Albert King, Eric Clapton, Roy Buchanan, Johnny Winters, John Mayall...

I`d be looking forward to that hub...

Thumbs up!

warm regards and blessings,


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Ghost Whisper 77 - Thank you for your feedback and thanks for stopping by

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Mystique1957 - Glad you enjoyed reading this article. I will have to think about how to approach a dedicated blues hub; Thanks for your feedback.

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

BLUES, oh BLUES just gotta love them, i came from TN when I first arrived here cool, thank you for this one, Maita

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@prettydarkhorse - Thank you for your feedback

Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Thank you for remembering Sun racords and Sam Philips. He was a pioneer. Thank you.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Micky Dee - Once again thanks for stopping by

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi, yeah I remember the name Sun Studio's as my husband was a great fan of Elvis! Pictures everywhere, drove me mad! but he had all the Sun original labels. I started to listen to Elvis, and by the end really loved his music. cheers nell

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Nell Rose - Thanks for your feedback

Truth From Truth profile image

Truth From Truth 6 years ago from Michigan

Great hub, you have excellent taste in your music interest.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Truth From Truth - Thank you for your kind words, and it is nice to hear from you again

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I had thought of writing about Sun records but I see you already did it. I was somewhat taken by how a small recording company essentially revolutionized popular music with Presley, cash, Lewis etc.I still have a few LP records with the Sun label.

Good hub.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@dahoglund - I agree, it is amazing how this small company influenced the music world. That is so cool, you still have those records. I bet they are collectors items now.

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Coolmon - Sun Records did so much for music and gave us so many greats! Thanks for this wonderful hub - you really have your ear on excellent music!

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Dolores Monet - You are right; It is amazing what Sun and Chess Records did to change the music world. It is nice to hear form you again :)

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Great Hub, Coolmon! Thanks for the info. Bookmarked!

Love and peace


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@tonymac04 - Nice to hear from you again :)

katiem2 profile image

katiem2 5 years ago from I'm outta here

What a nice look at Sun records and Sam Philips, nice tribute to two vital bricks in the foundation of great music.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 5 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@katiem2 - Yes they are important parts of music history. Thanks for your comments and its nice to hear from you again :)

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