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History

Where Rock & Roll was born! Home of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Sam Phillips and more!

History

The Sun Sound began when Sam Phillips launched his record company in February of 1952. He named it Sun Records as a sign of his perpetual optimism: a new day and a new beginning. Sam rented a small space at 706 Union Avenue for his own all-purpose studio. The label was launched amid a growing number of independent labels. In a short while Sun gained the reputation throughout Memphis as a label that treated local artists with respect and honesty. Sam provided a non-critical, spontaneous environment that invited creativity and vision.

As a businessman, Phillips was patient and willing to listen to almost anyone who came in off the street to record. Memphis was a happy home to a diverse musical scene: gospel, blues, hillbilly, country, boogie, and western swing. Taking advantage of this range of talent, there were no style limitations at the label. In one form or another Sun recorded them all.

Discovering the king

Then in 1954 Sam found Elvis Presley, an artist who could perform with the excitement, unpredictability and energy of a blues artist but could reach across regional, musical and racial barriers.

He helped form the beginnings of the Sun Sound by infusing Country music with R&B. Elvis’s bright star attracted even more ground-breaking talent to the Sun galaxy. Listed among his contemporaries and lab mates were Johnny Cash, the inimitable Jerry Lee Lewis, and the “Rockin’ Guitar Man”, Carl Perkins. These four soon became known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Right behind them came Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Bill Justis, Harold Jenkins (a.k.a. Conway Twitty) and other equally memorable musical talents. All eventually sold on Pop, R&B and Country charts and grew to international fame.

The Legacy

Rockabilly became the major evolution in the Sun Sound. Lyrically it was bold; musically it was sparse; but it moved. In the 1950’s Country music rarely used drums that were so vital to jazz, blues, and jump bands. In fact, drums were prohibited on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. However, Rockabilly drums played an essential role in driving teens across the nation to become enamored with the Rockabilly movement and the revolutionary Sun Sound. Once again, Sun was able to break new ground recording music of unparalleled diversity in an incubator of creativity.

Inherent in the music of Sun is a vibrancy that survives to this day. Sincere, passionate music. Music that has stood the test of time. It is music that has reached across race, age and gender boundaries. It reflects the diversity and vision of the talent that recorded on the Sun label, and indeed, American popular culture itself.

Timeline

Elvis Presley

08/24/1905

Elvis Presley

Born on this day, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup blues artist. Wrote Elvis’ hit ‘That’s All Right (Mama). He died of a stroke on 28th March 1974, aged 69.

Elvis Presley

07/05/1920

Elvis Presley

Born on this day, Smiley Lewis, R&B singer. Wrote ‘One Night’ covered by Elvis Presley and ‘I Hear You Knocking’ 1955 US No.2 for Gale Storm & UK No.1 & US No.2 for Dave Edmunds’. Lewis died on 20th October, 1966.

Sam Phillips

01/05/1923

Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, was born on this day in Florence, Alabama.

Johnny Cash

02/26/1932

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash, The Man in Black, was born on this day in Kingsland, Arkansas.

Carl Perkins

04/09/1932

Carl Perkins

Carl Perkins, The King of Rockabilly, was born on this day in Tiptonville, Tennessee.

Elvis Presley

01/08/1935

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘N Roll, was born this day in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Jerry Lee Lewis

09/29/1935

Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis, The Killer, was born this day in Ferriday, Louisiana.

Sam Phillips

01/01/1942

Sam Phillips

Sam worked as a disc jockey at WLAY in Muscle Shoals, Alabama before moving to Memphis.

Sam Phillips

06/01/1945

Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips moves to Memphis, taking a job as an announcer and maintenance and broadcast engineer at WREC.

Elvis Presley

10/03/1945

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley made his first ever-public appearance in a talent contest at the Mississippi Alabama Dairy Show singing ‘Old Shep’, Elvis was 10 years old at the time and came in second place.

Sam Phillips

10/01/1949

Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips signs a lease on a storefront at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis. It will open as Memphis Recording Service on January 3, 1950.

Sam Phillips

01/03/1950

Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips opens Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue. He begins recording several local blues artists, including B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and James Cotton.

Sam Phillips

04/01/1951

Sam Phillips

Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats record was released under, Chicago based, Chess Records. “Rocket 88” is considered the first ever Rock ‘N Roll record and was recorded by Sam Phillips.

Sam Phillips

06/09/1951

Sam Phillips

Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats album reached the top of the R&B charts.

Sam Phillips

02/01/1952

Sam Phillips

Launch of Sun Record Company

Elvis Presley

06/14/1953

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley graduated from IC Hulmes High School in Memphis; his graduation photo shows him to have a split curl in the middle of his forehead, later to become his trademark.

Elvis Presley

07/18/1953

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley made his first ever recording when he paid $4 at the Memphis Recording Service singing two songs, ‘My Happiness’ and ‘That’s When Your Heartaches Begin’.

Elvis Presley

01/04/1954

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley made his second visit to the Memphis recording service and cut two songs onto a 10 acetate, ‘Casual Love Affair ‘and ‘I’ll Never Stand In Your Way’. Studio boss Sam Phillips asked Presley to leave his phone number.

Elvis Presley

07/05/1954

Elvis Presley

Working together for the first time in a recording studio with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, Elvis Presley fools around during a break with an up-tempo version of ‘That’s All Right.’ Producer Sam Phillips has them repeat the jam and records it. It became Presley’s first release on Sun Records.

Elvis Presley

07/10/1954

Elvis Presley

Producer Sam Phillips took an acetate recording of Elvis Presley singing ‘That’s All Right’ to Memphis radio station WHBQ DJ Dewey Phillips. He played the song just after 9:30 that evening, the phone lines lit up asking the DJ to play the song again.

Elvis Presley

07/12/1954

Elvis Presley

19 year old Elvis Presley signed a recording contract with Sun Records. He also gave in his notice at his day job at The Crown Electric Company. Sam Phillips from Sun Records originally wanted to use the 19 year old to make demos of songs meant for other artists, but soon realized that here was the man who could bridge the gap between white and black performances.

Elvis Presley

07/19/1954

Elvis Presley

Sun Records released the first Elvis Presley single ‘That’s All Right / Blue Moon Of Kentucky’ which made the local Memphis chart.

Elvis Presley

07/20/1954

Elvis Presley

The Blue Moon Boys made their live debut appearing of a flatbed truck outside a new drug store in Memphis. The band line up was Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black. The name was taken from a song they had recorded just 2 weeks previously, ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky.’

Elvis Presley

07/28/1954

Elvis Presley

The first press interview with 19-year-old Elvis Presley was published in the ‘Memphis Press- Scimitar’.

Johnny Cash

08/07/1954

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash married Vivian Liberto at St Ann’s Catholic Church in Memphis. Cash had plans of becoming a Memphis appliance salesman, he instead formed a band with Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant, and was signed to Sun Records a year later.

Elvis Presley

03/05/1955

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley made his TV debut when he appeared on the weekend show ‘Louisiana Hayride’ on KWKH TV.

Elvis Presley

03/15/1955

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley signed a management contract with Colonel Tom Parker. Parker had previously managed the ‘Great Parker Pony Circus’ with one of the acts being a troupe of dancing chickens.

Carl Perkins

03/19/1955

Carl Perkins

Movie Magg’ and ‘Turn Around’ were released on Flip Records, a subsidiary of Sun Records. They were recorded at Sun Studios but Sam Phillips did not want to release it on Sun Records because he did not want two Sun artists targeting the same audience (Perkins and Presley). Perkins wrote ‘Movie Magg’ at the age of thirteen and was inspired from going to the movies on the weekends with his girlfriend, Maggie. Perkins didn’t have a car to drive so they rode on the back of his mule named, Becky.

Elvis Presley

05/01/1955

Elvis Presley

On tour with Hank Snow’s All Star Jamboree, Elvis Presley played three shows at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans, Louisiana. Sun Records had just released Elvis’ fourth single, ‘Baby, Let’s Play House.’

Billy The Kid Emerson

05/31/1955

Billy The Kid Emerson

“Red Hot”, written and recorded by Billy “The Kid” Emerson, was recorded at Sun Records on this day. It was later covered by Billy Lee Riley in January 1957 and released in September 1957 and landed at #277 on the charts.

Johnny Cash

06/01/1955

Johnny Cash

Sun Records releases Johnny Cash’s first single “Cry! Cry! Cry!” Which becomes a top 15 Country hit.

Elvis Presley

08/17/1955

Elvis Presley

Sun Records released ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’ by Elvis Presley which failed to make the pop chart but became a US country No.1.

Carl Perkins

10/22/1955

Carl Perkins

Sun Records released ‘Let The Jukebox Keep On Playing’ by Carl Perkins.

Sam Phillips

10/29/1955

Sam Phillips

Sam launched the radio station WHER radio station which would be the first all female radio station in the United States.

Elvis Presley

11/11/1955

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley was voted the most promising new country & western artist by Billboard magazine.

Elvis Presley

11/21/1955

Elvis Presley

RCA Records purchased Elvis Presley’s recording contract from Sam Phillips at Sun Records for an unprecedented sum of $35,000.

Carl Perkins

12/04/1955

Carl Perkins

During a gig, Perkins noticed a couple dancing near his stage and between songs heard a man’s stern voice go, “uh-uh, don’t step on my suedes!” Perkins noticed that the man was wearing blue suede shoes with a scuff mark on one. Perkins thought to himself, “Good gracious, a pretty little thing like that and all he can think about is his blue suede shoes.” Prior to this night, Johnny Cash introduced the idea of a “blue suede shoe” song to Perkins and his response to Cash was, “I don’t know anything about shoes. How can I write a song about shoes?” However, this incident sparked Perkins to get work on this song. He began writing it out as a nursey rhyme but settling on boogie rhythm. The lyrics, “Well, it’s one for the money… Two for the show… Three to get ready… Now go, man, go!” were sung and Perkins wrote the rest of the song on a brown paper potato sack titling is as “Blue Swade.” Perkins completed the song on December 17, 1955 and recorded it on December 19, 1955 for Sun Records.

Johnny Cash

12/15/1955

Johnny Cash

“Folsom Prison Blues” was released and climbed to No.4 on the Country charts.

Carl Perkins

12/19/1955

Carl Perkins

Phillips, who had begun recording Perkins in late 1954, told Perkins, “Carl Perkins, you’re my rockabilly cat now.”

Carl Perkins

12/19/1955

Carl Perkins

Perkins recorded the song, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ for Sun Records. Sam Phillips convinced Perkins to change the lyrics from “go, boy, go” to “go, cat, go” during the second take of the song. The rock ‘n’ roll classic became a US No.2 & UK No.10 hit for Perkins in 1956, and has been covered by many acts including Elvis Presley and John Lennon.

Elvis Presley

01/10/1956

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley made his first recordings for RCA Records at The Methodist television, radio & TV Studios in Nashville. ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ was one of the songs recorded during this session.

Elvis Presley

01/30/1956

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley started recording what would be his first album at RCA’s New York Studios. Songs recorded included his version the Carl Perkins song ‘Blue Suede Shoes’.

Elvis Presley

02/11/1956

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley appeared on American TV’s ‘Stage Show’ and performed ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes.’

Elvis Presley

02/25/1956

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley had his first national hit when ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’ went to No.1 on the Billboard Country & Western chart. The song was recorded by Sam Phillips and originally released on Sun Records.

Elvis Presley

03/10/1956

Elvis Presley

RCA Records placed a half page ad in Billboard Magazine claiming that Elvis Presley was ‘the new singing rage.’

Elvis Presley

03/13/1956

Elvis Presley

RCA Records issued the first album and extended play releases by Elvis Presley.

Carl Perkins

03/17/1956

Carl Perkins

With Sun Record’s first smash hit, “Blue Suede Shoes,” Perkins is the first artist to top all three Billboard charts: Rhythm & Blues, Country, and Pop.

Roy Orbison

03/26/1956

Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings arrived in Memphis to record for Sun Records.

Roy Orbison

03/27/1956

Roy Orbison

Go Go Go’, the B side to “Ooby Dooby’ was recorded. This was the first song written by Roy Orbison. Due to financial troubles and a lack of royalties, Sam Phillips eventually bought out all Roy’s songs on Sun Records and placed his name under songwriter, although Roy was the actual songwriter. This was later released by Jerry Lee Lewis and Ricky Nelson under the title, ‘Down The Line’.

Johnny Cash

05/01/1956

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” was released. The song topped the US Billboard Country chart and hit No.17 on the Pop charts.

Elvis Presley

05/05/1956

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley scored his first US No.1 single and album when ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ went to the top of the charts. His debut album also went to No.1.

09/01/1956

Sun Records

19 year old Jerry Lee Lewis arrived at Sun Records hoping for an audition, only to find that owner Sam Phillips was on vacation in Florida. Jerry Lee recorded some demos that Phillips would hear when he returned.

Billy Lee Riley

09/01/1956

Billy Lee Riley

Billy Lee Riley recorded “Trouble Bound” for Jack Clement and Slim Wallace. Sam Phillips obtained the rights and he released “Trouble Bound” b/w “Rock With Me Baby” on Sun Records.

12/04/1956

Sun Records

The so-called ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ impromptu jam session took place at Sun Studios in Memphis with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins.

Billy Lee Riley

02/23/1957

Billy Lee Riley

Billy Lee Riley’s first hit, “Flyin’ Saucers Rock and Roll” b/w “I Want You Baby” was released.

Johnny Cash

03/07/1957

Johnny Cash

“There You Go” hits no. 1

Elvis Presley

03/19/1957

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley purchased the stately mansion “Graceland” in Whitehaven, Memphis. He paid $102,500 (£60,295) for the property, which had previously been used by the Graceland Christian Church.

Jerry Lee Lewis

04/01/1957

Jerry Lee Lewis

“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” was released, hitting No. 3 in the US and No. 8 in the UK charts.

Billy Lee Riley

09/30/1957

Billy Lee Riley

“Red Hot” b/w “Pearly Lee” was released.

Jerry Lee Lewis

11/03/1957

Jerry Lee Lewis

Sun Records released ‘Great Balls Of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. The single went on to sell over five million copies worldwide, a No.1 in the UK & No.2 in the US.

Elvis Presley

12/19/1957

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley had his draft notice served on him for the US Army. He went on to join the 32nd Tank Battalion third Armor Corps based in Germany.

Johnny Cash

01/01/1960

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash played a free concert for the inmates of San Quentin Prison, California.

The Dixie Cups

06/06/1964

The Dixie Cups

Chapel of Love charted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 knocking The Beatles out of the number one spot and remained at the top for three weeks.

The Dixie Cups

03/01/1965

The Dixie Cups

Iko Iko is released as a single by the Dixies and charts to #20

Elvis Presley

08/27/1965

Elvis Presley

The Beatles met Elvis Presley for the first and only time when they went to his rented house in Bel Air California. They played together into the early hours jamming along to records.

Elvis Presley

07/04/1968

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley donated a Rolls Royce to a Hollywood women’s charity, which raised $35,000.

Jeannie C. Riley

08/01/1968

Jeannie C. Riley

Harper Valley PTA, written by Tom T. Hall is released and immediately goes to top both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Country Song charts, marking Riley’s success as an overnight sensation
1968 Jeannie C. Riley Riley is nominated for 2 Grammys, Record of the Year, Best New Artist, and wins Best Female Country Vocal performance for Harper Valley PTA.” She was also is nominated for two CMA Awards, Album of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year, and wins Single of the Year also for “Harper Valley PTA.”

07/01/1969

Sun Records

Shelby Singleton acquired the Sun Records catalog from Sam Phillips. He then moved the label to Nashville, TN where it has been operating since alongside sister labels SSS International, Plantation, Red Bird, Blue Cat, Silver Fox, and more.

Jeannie C. Riley

07/12/1969

Jeannie C. Riley

Jeannie C. Riley special guests on “The Johnny Cash Show” where she sings “There Was A Time” and performs a duet with Cash for “Bad News Travels”

Jeannie C. Riley

08/11/1969

Jeannie C. Riley

Riley becomes first female vocalist to have her own major network variety special, Harper Valley U.S.A.

The Ad Libs

10/01/1969

The Dixie Cups, Ad Libs, etc

Shelby Singleton acquired the Red Bird and Blue Cat labels in October of 1969. Red Bird Records is home of smash hits such as The Dixie Cups “Chapel of Love” and The Ad Libs “Boy from New York City”.

Jeannie C. Riley

12/01/1969

Jeannie C. Riley

Jeannie C. Riley is nominated for Grammy Award, Best Female Country Vocal Performane for “The Back Side of Dallas.” Is also nominated for a CMA Award, Female Vocalist of the Year

Carl Perkins

02/16/1974

Carl Perkins

One of Perkins’ TV appearances with Cash was on the popular country series Hee Haw.

Jeannie C. Riley

05/23/1978

Jeannie C. Riley

Based off of Jeannie C. Riley’s most iconic song, the film Harper Valley PTA is released, later turns into a televison series.

Sam Phillips

01/01/1986

Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was also the first non-performer inducted.

Carl Perkins

01/01/1986

Carl Perkins

George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Dave Edmunds, Lee Rocker, Rosanne Cash and Ringo Starr appeared with him on stage for a television special, Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session, which was taped live at the Limehouse Studios in London. The show aired this day. Perkins performed 16 songs, with two encores, in an extraordinary performance.

Roy Orbison

12/06/1988

Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison died of a heart attack at the age of 52. He had an impressively busy schedule at this time, but fortunately spent his last day flying model airplanes with his sons and ate dinner at his mother’s home.

Sam Phillips

01/01/1991

Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips received a Grammy Trustees Award for lifetime achievement.

The Dixie Cups

12/20/1991

The Dixie Cups

The hit song, “Chapel of Love” airs in the movie Father of the Bride.

10/08/1992

Elvis Presley

The US Postal Service issued a set of commemorative stamps to celebrate pop music legends. The stamps included Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Ritchie Valens, Clyde McPhatter and Dinah Washington.

Sam Phillips

01/01/1998

Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Carl Perkins

01/19/1998

Carl Perkins

Carl Perkins’ battle with throat cancer comes to an end as he dies at the age of 65. Paul McCartney once said “If there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no Beatles.”

Johnny Cash

04/06/1999

Johnny Cash

An all star tribute to singer/songwriter Johnny Cash took place in New York City with Sheryl Crow, Chris Isaak and U2 all performing for the TV special.

Sam Phillips

10/01/2001

Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

07/30/2003

Sun Records

Sam Phillips the founder of Sun Records and studio died of respiratory failure at the age of 80. Phillips changed the face of American music recording Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Ike Turner, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many more legends.

Johnny Cash

09/12/2003

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash, US singer songwriter died of respiratory failure aged 71. Had the 1969 US No.2 & UK No.4 single ‘A Boy Named Sue’, plus 11 other US Top 40 singles. Cash also had his own US TV show in late 60’s early 70’s.

Carl Perkins

03/05/2007

Carl Perkins

Carl Perkins’ song “Blue Suede Shoes” was chosen for preservation by the US Library of Congress.

The Dixie Cups

04/01/2007

The Dixie Cups

The Dixie Cups are induced into the the Lousiana Music Hall of Fame.

Johnny Cash

10/28/2007

Johnny Cash

Walk the Line, the film about the life of singer Johnny Cash, was voted the greatest music biopic in a poll. The film starred Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Cash and his wife June Carter as the country stars and won the actress an Oscar in 2006. It was followed by rapper Eminem’s 8 Mile, with Mozart’s’ life story Amadeus next and Ray, starring Jamie Foxx as musician Ray Charles, at number four. The most recent film in the top 10 was Joy Division biopic Control.

Johnny Cash

06/05/2013

Johnny Cash

The US Postal Service honors music visionary Johnny Cash by using his photograph on a limited edition stamp.

01/01/2021

Sun Records

Sun Records is acquired by music industry powerhouse, Primary Wave. A new era of honoring the Sun legacy begins.