|Birth name||Samuel Cornelius Phillips|
|Born||January 5, 1923|
Florence, Alabama, U.S.
|Died||July 30, 2003 80) (aged|
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
|Occupation(s)||Record producer, Businessman|
|Labels||Phillips International, Sun|
Samuel Cornelius Phillips (January 5, 1923 – July 30, 2003) was an American record producer. He was the founder of Sun Records and Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, where he produced recordings by Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Howlin' Wolf. Phillips played a major role in the development of rock and roll during the 1950s, launching the career of Presley. In 1969, he sold Sun to Shelby Singleton.
Phillips was the owner and operator of radio stations in Memphis; Florence, Alabama; and Lake Worth, Florida. He was also an early investor in the Holiday Inn chain of hotels and an advocate for racial equality, helping to break down racial barriers in the music industry.
Phillips was the youngest of eight children, born on a 200-acre farm near Florence, Alabama, to Madge Ella (Lovelace) and Charles Tucker Phillips.Sam's parents owned their farm, though it was mortgaged. As a child, he picked cotton in the fields with his parents alongside black laborers. The experience of hearing black laborers singing in the fields left a big impression on the young Phillips. Traveling through Memphis with his family in 1939 on the way to see a preacher in Dallas, he slipped off to look at Beale Street, at the time the heart of the city's music scene. "I just fell totally in love," he later recalled.
Phillips attended the former Coffee High School in Florence. He conducted the school band and had ambitions to be a criminal defense attorney. However, his father was bankrupted by the Great Depression and died in 1941, forcing Phillips to leave high school to look after his mother and aunt. To support the family he worked in a grocery store and then a funeral parlor. In 1942, Sam, 19, met Rebecca "Becky" Burns, 17, his future wife, while they were both working at WLAY radio station in Sheffield, Alabama. He was an announcer and she was still in high school and had a radio segment with her sister as 'The Kitchen Sisters' where they played music and sang. A January 18, 2013 article in the Alabama Chanin Journal honoring Becky quoted Sam as saying, "I fell in love with Becky's voice even before I met her." Becky described her first encounter with Sam to journalist Peter Guralnick: "He had just come in out of the rain. His hair was windblown and full of raindrops. He wore sandals and a smile unlike any I had ever seen. He sat down on the piano bench and began to talk to me. I told my family that night that I had met the man I wanted to marry." They wed in 1943 and went on to produce two children in a marriage that lasted 60 years until Sam's death in 2003. Becky Phillips died in 2012, aged 87.
In the 1940s, Phillips worked as a DJ and radio engineer for station WLAY (AM), in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. According to Phillips, the station's "open format" (of broadcasting music by white and black musicians alike) would later inspire his work in Memphis. Beginning in 1945, he worked for four years as an announcer and sound engineer for radio station WREC, in Memphis.
On January 3, 1950, Phillips opened the Memphis Recording Service, at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis.He let amateurs record, which drew performers such as B.B. King, Junior Parker, and Howlin' Wolf, who made their first recordings there. Phillips then sold the recordings to larger labels.
Phillips recorded what the music historian Peter Guralnick considered the first rock and roll record: "Rocket 88", by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, a band led by the 19-year-old Ike Turner, who also wrote the song.The recording was released in 1951 by Chess Records in Chicago. From 1950 to 1954 Phillips recorded music by James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon, Little Milton, Bobby Blue Bland, the Prisonaires and others.
The Memphis Recording Service also served as the studio for Phillips's own label, Sun Record Company, which he launched in 1952. Sun Records produced more rock-and-roll records than any other record label of its time during its 16-year run, producing 226 singles.Phillips recorded different styles of music, but he was interested in the blues: "The blues, it got people—black and white—to think about life, how difficult, yet also how good it can be. They would sing about it; they would pray about it; they would preach about it. This is how they relieved the burden of what existed day in and day out."
In addition to musical performances, Phillips recorded events such as weddings and funerals, selling the recordings.
Phillips and Elvis Presley opened a new form of music. Phillips said of Presley: "Elvis cut a ballad, which was just excellent. I could tell you, both Elvis and Roy Orbison could tear a ballad to pieces. But I said to myself, 'You can't do that, Sam.' If I had released a ballad I don't think you would have heard of Elvis Presley."
Phillips stated of his goals, "everyone knew that I was just a struggling cat down here trying to develop new and different artists, and get some freedom in music, and tap some resources and people that weren't being tapped."He didn't care about mistakes; he cared about the feel.
Phillips met Presley through the mediation of his longtime collaborator at the Memphis Recording Service, Marion Keisker, who was already a well-known Memphis radio personality. On 18 July 1953, the eighteen-year-old Presley dropped into the studio to record an acetate for his mother's birthday; Keisker thought she heard some talent in the young truck driver's voice, and so she turned on the tape recorder. Later, she played it for Phillips, who gradually, with Keisker's encouragement, warmed to the idea of recording Elvis.
Presley, who recorded his version of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "That's All Right" at Phillips's studio, became highly successful, first in Memphis, then throughout the southern United States. He auditioned for Phillips in 1954, but it was not until he sang "That's All Right (Mama)" that Phillips was impressed. He brought the song to Dewey Phillips, a disc jockey at WHBQ 560, to play on his Red, Hot & Blue program. For the first six months, the flip side, "Blue Moon of Kentucky", Presley's upbeat version of a Bill Monroe bluegrass song, was slightly more popular than "That's All Right (Mama)." While still not known outside the South, Presley's singles and regional success became a drawing card for Sun Records, as singing hopefuls soon arrived from all over the region. Singers such as Sonny Burgess ("My Bucket's Got a Hole in It"), Charlie Rich, Junior Parker, and Billy Lee Riley recorded for Sun with some success, and others, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins, became stars.
Phillips's pivotal role in the early days of rock and roll was exemplified by a celebrated jam session on December 4, 1956, with what became known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Jerry Lee Lewis was playing piano for a Carl Perkins recording session at Phillips's studio. When Elvis Presley walked in unexpectedly, Johnny Cash was called into the studio by Phillips, leading to an impromptu session featuring the four musicians. Phillips challenged the four to achieve gold record sales, offering a free Cadillac to the first, which Carl Perkins won. The contest is commemorated in a song by the Drive-By Truckers.
By the mid-1960s, Phillips rarely recorded. He built a satellite studio and opened radio stations, but the studio declined, and he sold Sun Records to Shelby Singleton in 1969. In 1977 Sam's sons, Knox and Jerry, were working with John Prine at the Phillips Recording Studio when Sam Phillips joined them to oversee recordings that were eventually included on the album Pink Cadillac .
Phillips launched radio station WHER on October 29, 1955. Each of the young women who auditioned for the station assumed there would only be one female announcer position, as was the case with other stations at that time. Only a few days before the first broadcast did they learn of the all-female format. It was the first all-female radio station in the United States, as almost every position at the station was held by a woman.
Through shrewd investments, Phillips amassed a fortune. He was one of the first investorsin Holiday Inn, a motel chain that was about to expand to a nationwide franchise; he became involved with the chain shortly after selling Elvis Presley's contract to RCA, for $35,000, which he multiplied many times over the years with Holiday Inn. He also created two subsidiary recording labels, Phillips International Records and Holiday Inn Records.
He owned the Sun Studio Café in Memphis. One location was in the Mall of Memphis.
Phillips and his family founded Big River Broadcasting Corporation, which owns and operates several radio stations in the Florence, Alabama, area, including WQLT-FM, WSBM, and WXFL.He also established radio station WLIZ in Lake Worth, Florida, in 1959.
In 1986, Phillips was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was the first non-performer inducted. In 1987, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.He received a Grammy Trustees Award for lifetime achievement in 1991. In 1998, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, in October 2001 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 2012 he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.
Phillips died of respiratory failure at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, on July 30, 2003, only one day before the original Sun Studio was designated a National Historic Landmark, and just over a month before the death of former Sun Records recording star Johnny Cash, on September 12, 2003. He was 80. Phillips is interred in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis.
Elvis Aaron Presley, also known simply as Elvis, was an American singer, musician and actor. He is regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century and is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll". His energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style, combined with a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines during a transformative era in race relations, led him to both great success and initial controversy.
Peter Guralnick is an American music critic, author, and screenwriter. He specializes in the history of early rock and roll and has written on Elvis Presley, Sam Phillips, and Sam Cooke.
"Rocket 88" is a rhythm and blues song that was first recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, in March 1951. The recording was credited to "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats", who were actually Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. The single reached number-one on the Billboard R&B chart.
Carl Lee Perkins was an American singer-songwriter who recorded most notably at the Sun Studio, in Memphis, beginning in 1954. Amongst his best-known songs are "Blue Suede Shoes", "Matchbox" and "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby".
"Heartbreak Hotel" is a song recorded by American singer Elvis Presley. It was released as a single on January 27, 1956, Presley's first on his new record label RCA Victor. It was written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton, with credit being given also to Presley.
Winfield Scott "Scotty" Moore III was an American guitarist and recording engineer who formed The Blue Moon Boys in 1954, Elvis Presley's backing band. He was studio and touring guitarist for Presley between 1954 and 1968.
Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music. It dates back to the early 1950s in the United States, especially the South. As a genre it blends the sound of Western musical styles such as country with that of rhythm and blues, leading to what is considered "classic" rock and roll. Some have also described it as a blend of bluegrass with rock and roll. The term "rockabilly" itself is a portmanteau of "rock" and "hillbilly", the latter a reference to the country music that contributed strongly to the style. Other important influences on rockabilly include western swing, boogie-woogie, jump blues, and electric blues.
William Patton Black Jr. was an American musician and bandleader who is noted as one of the pioneers of rock and roll. He was the bassist in Elvis Presley's early trio. Black later formed Bill Black's Combo.
The Sun Sessions is a compilation album by American singer Elvis Presley, containing songs he recorded at Sun Studios in 1954 and 1955. It was issued by RCA Records in 1976, and had been issued and charted as The Sun Collection in the UK the previous year. It features liner notes by Roy Carr of the New Musical Express. The Sun Sessions features most of the tracks Elvis recorded at Sun studio and were produced by Sam Phillips, the head of Sun Studios. Elvis began his singing career with Sun Records label in Memphis. The album reached number two on the Billboard Country Albums.
Sun Studio is a recording studio opened by rock-and-roll pioneer Sam Phillips at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 3, 1950. It was originally called Memphis Recording Service, sharing the same building with the Sun Records label business. Reputedly the first rock and roll single, Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats' "Rocket 88" was recorded there in 1951 with song composer Ike Turner on keyboards, leading the studio to claim status as the birthplace of rock & roll. Blues and R&B artists like Howlin' Wolf, Junior Parker, Little Milton, B.B. King, James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, and Rosco Gordon recorded there in the early 1950s.
"That's All Right Mama" is a song written and originally performed by blues singer Arthur Crudup and recorded in 1946. It "stands as a convincing front-runner for rock ‘n’ roll’s ground zero", according to one source. It is best known as the debut single recorded and released by Elvis Presley. Presley's version was recorded on July 5, 1954, and released on July 19, 1954 with "Blue Moon of Kentucky" as the B-side. It was ranked number 113 on the 2010 Rolling Stone magazine list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
Floyd Cramer was an American pianist who was inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His signature playing style was a cornerstone of the pop-oriented "Nashville sound" of the 1950s and 1960s. Cramer's "slip-note" or "bent-note" style, in which a passing note slides almost instantly into the chordal note, influenced a generation of pianists. His sound became popular to the degree that he stepped out of his role as a sideman and began touring as a solo act. In 1960, his piano instrumental solo, "Last Date" went to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart and sold over one million copies. Its follow-up, "On the Rebound", topped the UK Singles Chart in 1961. As a studio musician, he became one of a cadre of elite players dubbed the Nashville A-Team and he performed on scores of hit records.
Dewey Phillips was one of rock and roll's pioneering American disc jockeys, along the lines of Cleveland's Alan Freed, before Freed came along.
Elvis Is Back! is the fourth studio album by American rock and roll singer Elvis Presley, released by RCA Victor on April 8, 1960. It was Presley's first album issued in stereophonic sound. Recorded over two sessions in March and April, the album marked Presley's return to recording after his discharge from the U.S. Army. It was Presley's first album of new material since Elvis' Christmas Album was issued in 1957.
Marion Keisker MacInnes, born in Memphis, Tennessee, graduated from Southwestern College with a degree in English and Medieval French. She was married to Angus Randall MacInnes and had a son, Angus David MacInnes, before divorcing. She was a radio show host for WREC, where Sam Phillips worked as an announcer. She became a station manager and later Phillips's assistant at the Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records. She was later a U.S. Air Force officer.
Sunrise is a two-disc compilation of Elvis Presley's studio recordings at Sun Studio from 1953 to 1955, released in 1999, RCA 67675-2. This set features all of the surviving master recordings made by Presley and his accompanists, Scotty Moore and Bill Black, occasionally augmented by other musicians, prior to his arrival on RCA Records in 1956.
Elvis at Sun is a compact disc compilation of Elvis Presley's studio recordings at Sun Studio from 1954 to 1955, released in June 2004, BMG Heritage 61205. This set features master recordings made by Presley and his accompanists, Scotty Moore and Bill Black, occasionally augmented by other musicians, prior to his arrival on RCA Records in early 1956.
The Blue Moon Boys were a band formed by Elvis Presley, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. The group members were introduced by Sun Studio owner Sam Phillips in 1954, except for D.J. Fontana, who joined the group during a Louisiana Hayride tour in 1955. The Blue Moon Boys were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2007.
The Snearly Ranch Boys were a band that formed around 1950 in Memphis, Tennessee. The band was a launching platform for many of the musicians who contributed to the Memphis music scene that revolved around Sam Phillips and Sun Records. Members of the Snearly Ranch Boys included Bill Black, Jim Stewart, Jerry Lee Lewis, Reggie Young, Ace Cannon, Barbara Pittman, and Johnny Benero. A later version of the Ranch Boys centering on steel guitarist, Stan Kesler and drummer, Clyde Leoppard, who became a part of the Sun Studio session band, recording for numerous Sun artists.