lunes, 28 de marzo de 2011





This Day in Music Spotlight: Sun Also Rises

March 27, 1952

Michael Wright
Special thanks to
If there was ever a place that could lay claim to the title of Rock and Roll's Delivery Room it was the building at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. This was the home of the Memphis Recording Service, which went on to house Sun Records – rock and roll's original label. The roster of artists who would get their start at Sun was staggering – Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and others – but the success of the company could all be traced back to one man who wasn't a performer at all, Sam Phillips.

The son of a Florence, Alabama, farmer, Sam Phillips grew up with a love of traditionally black music. Born on January 5, 1923, Phillips befriended some of the black sharecroppers in the area as a child and learned to love the rhythmic blues music they taught him. This love of blues and country-based music eventually steered his career designs. With no money to go to law school, as he had aspired to do, Phillips instead studied audio engineering at the Alabama Polytechnical Instititute. He took his degree and settled into a DJ position at WLAY radio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. After a subsequent stop in Nashville, Phillips finally made his way to the musical Mecca where he would find his fame, Memphis.
From the first time he visited Memphis in 1939, Phillips fell in love the sounds emanating from the clubs and the street corner buskers on Beale Street. He was electrified by a town that seemed to run on music – good music. And so, in 1945 he moved his wife Becky, pregnant at that time with their eldest son Knox, to Memphis, where he was both an on-air personality and an engineer at WREC. On his nationally syndicated Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance show, Phillips mixed in some of his beloved rhythm and blues with the jazz and pop offerings of the day. Ultimately, though, Phillips yearned to do more than play music; he had to make it.
In January 1950, Phillips leased an old auto upholstery shop on Union Avenue and set to work creating the Memphis Recording Service. He continued to pull double duty at the studio and the station for a while, but ultimately he decided to go all-in with his passion. Carrying a business card that read, "We Record Anything Anywhere Anytime," he took his recording equipment to weddings, parties and other events for bill-paying gigs. But even as he did this somewhat soulless busywork, his eye was firmly set on capturing the amazing sounds of the Memphis music scene.
And so, Phillips happily accepted anyone who wanted to audition and ended up recording a long line of local artists, including a young B.B. King, Junior Parker and Howlin' Wolf (in fact, later in life Phillips said "The Wolf" was the discovery he was most proud of in his career… yes, even over you-know-who). Phillips would record the predominantly blues artists and then sell the recordings to labels (for instance, the Howlin' Wolf tracks were sold to Chess Records).
But Phillips wanted something more. He knew he had a good ear for great music and felt confident that, with his radio connections, he could successfully release it on his own. More than that, he wanted to record the music that was in his head – the music that he had loved since his childhood, that mad mixture of country and blues, but with a kick in it. He wanted to record the kind of music that Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm band had recorded at the Memphis Recording Service in March 1951 as Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats – a track called "Rocket 88." It was the music that people everywhere would soon start calling "rock and roll."
And with many of those artists, who had made the Memphis Recording Service a success, moving to Chicago to seek their fortune, the timing was perfect for Phillips to follow his muse. And so, in early 1952, Phillips began to make plans for his own label, Sun Records. A high school friend designed the now-familiar "rooster" logo. Phillips' own brother, Judd, came aboard to handle promotion. With Phillips' ears and know-how on hand for the creative end, Sun was set to rise – which it did on this date in 1952, when operations officially began.
Sun's first single, "Blues in My Condition" by Jackie Boy and Little Walter, hardly hinted at the success that was to come. The track garnered negative opinion from the radio stations to which it was circulated and was not issued commercially. But success did follow shortly thereafter with a re-write of Big Mama Thorton's "Hound Dog." Though it brought legal action against Sun, "Bear Cat" (performed by Rufus Thomas) got the label on the charts. And from there, things only got better. In a year, a young truck driver named Elvis would walk through the door and would go on to change the course of music history – due in no small part to the farm boy from Alabama.


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