While there have been far bigger record companies, it’s safe to say that no record company in history has ever had as formative an influence on the world of rock and roll than the tiny Sun Records label out of Memphis, Tennessee. With mega superstars like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, Conway Twitty, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and others all having had their real start with Sun, it’s no wonder the label’s star still shines 60 years later!
After World War II, hundreds of small independent record labels began to spring up all over America. For the most part, these labels began turning out their versions of what the big labels were turning out: lots of country and western music, gospel music, some blues, and so on. In that respect, Sun Records wasn’t so different than the rest of them. Sun started out when its owner, Sam Phillips, got tired of scouting artists for the big labels and rented a small building on Union Avenue in Memphis and turned it into the Memphis Recording Service studio. In early 1952, Sun Records was born.
Phillips started out recording blues artists. Of course, Memphis had a thriving blues scene and Phillips wanted to record the music. He had no real experience in the studio and so he made what must have been classified as mistakes in the process. Those mistakes–“excessive” echo, distorted volume levels, and so on–led to the classic Sun sound that rockabilly fans love so much today and modern rockabilly musicians strive to emulate (yet never quite capture!)
Phillips was also open-minded. He willingly worked with the many black blues artists that came through his doors and treated them with respect and dignity not normally shows black men in the 1950s southern United States. He paid a social price from the narrow-minded white community in Memphis, but among musicians he gained the reputation as someone who would shoot straight and treat his artists fairly.
Whether it was this reputation, the fact that he offered to cut a recording for anyone who walked through the door with the money, or plain and simply fate that brought a completely unknown singer who called himself Elvis to the Memphis Recording Service I guess no one really knows for sure. But Elvis did walk in and it didn’t take long for Phillips to prove that his studio and record label had something that few of those other independent labels–and certainly none of the major labels–had: a man with true vision.
In 1954 Elvis came in to record country ballads, but between songs he began goofing around with a crazy, energetic version of an old R&B tune called “That’s All Right.” Phillips was astute enough to know he was hearing something not only different, but big. He encouraged Presley to follow his urge to sing in this style and Elvis went on to record some of the most amazing rockabilly tracks ever recorded.
Once those early recordings rocketed Elvis into superstardom, he became too big for Phillips to hold and went off to record for a major label. By that time, everyone had figured out that this new music would sell and they all jumped on the bandwagon. But losing Elvis didn’t stop Phillips. Over the next few years he discovered and recorded more and more rockabilly and launched the careers of several genuine superstars.
And these are the recordings that live on and have shaped the face of rock and roll for the past 60 years. In just a few short years–a little over half a decade–Sun Records turned out recordings that are honored and emulated by musicians and fans the world over including several million-selling hits. Phillips, who was never in a position to really cash in on all of this superstardom, never got as rich as you might think from his amazing contribution to the music word. He actually made more money from his early investment in a small start-up motel chain known as Holiday Inn! But what he lacked in financial reward from his vision, he made up in the respect, love, and gratitude of fans from all over the world and every decade up to today who acknowledge and value his contribution to the world of music.
And those old Sun recordings will keep the Sun star shining for many, many years to come!
Buster Fayte is an author and rockabilly musician. He Blogs at “Buster Fayte’s Rockabilly Romp” where he writes about the passion he shares with millions of musicians and fans for rockabilly and oldies music. Buster has written several books including the “Complete Home Music Recording Start Kit”. He writes original songs, sings, and plays both guitar and bass.
Article Source: EzineArticles.com