Sun Records

Last updated
Sun Records
Parent company Primary Wave
FoundedFebruary 1952;69 years ago (February 1952)
Founder Sam Phillips
Genre Rock and roll, country, blues, rockabilly
Country of originUS
Location Memphis, Tennessee
Official website

Sun Records is an American independent record label founded by producer Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee in February 1952. [1] Sun was the first label to record Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Prior to that, Sun had concentrated mainly on African-American musicians because Phillips loved rhythm and blues and wanted to bring it to a white audience.


On January 28, 2021, Sun Records was acquired by Primary Wave for $30 million. [2]


Sam Phillips opened his Memphis Recording Service studio on February 3, 1950 at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis. [3] It was founded with the financial aid of Jim Bulliet, one of many record executives for whom Phillips had scouted artists before 1952. [4]

In March 1951, Phillips produced "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who were actually Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. Because of Turner's Delta blues connections, he was contracted by Phillips as a talent scout and he was effectively an in-house producer. [5] [6] Turner brought fellow musicians Howlin' Wolf, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Little Milton, Billy "The Kid" Emerson and Roscoe Gordon to record for Phillips. [7] [8]

The success of "Rocket 88" helped fund the creation of Sun Records which Phillips founded in February 1952. [1] [9] Before creating Sun, Phillips licensed recording to Chess Records for release. But by 1952, his relationship with the Chess brothers was strained and he had disputes with the Bihari brothers at Modern Records. Initially, Phillips didn't want to create a record label. He said, "I was forced into it by those labels either coming to Memphis to record or taking my artists elsewhere." [10]

The original Sun Records logo was designed by John Gale Parker Jr., a resident of Memphis and high school classmate of Phillips. Sun Records shared the same building as Sun Studio (formerly Memphis Recording Service). There, Phillips discovered and first recorded such influential musicians such as Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. Presley's recording contract was eventually sold to RCA Victor Records for $35,000 in 1955 to relieve Sun's financial difficulties. Sun record producer and engineer Jack Clement discovered and recorded Jerry Lee Lewis while Phillips was away on a trip to Florida in 1956.

Some of the other artists who recorded for Sun were Rufus Thomas (who recorded solo and with his daughter Carla Thomas), Tex Weiss, Charlie Rich, Bill Justis, and Conway Twitty (who at that time recorded under his real name, Harold Jenkins). In the Lovin' Spoonful song "Nashville Cats", John Sebastian used poetic license when he referred to Sun as the "Yellow Sun Records from Nashville".

"Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" by Jerry Lee Lewis SunRecord45.jpg
"Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" by Jerry Lee Lewis

There were also sixteen female recording artists whose records were released on the Sun and Phillips international label. These include Barbara Pittman and the Miller Sisters. [11]

In 1969, Mercury Records label producer Shelby Singleton purchased the Sun label from Phillips. Singleton merged his operations into Sun International Corporation, which re-released and re-packaged compilations of Sun's early artists in the early 1970s. It later introduced rockabilly tribute singer Jimmy "Orion" Ellis in 1979, with Orion taking on the persona of Elvis Presley.

The company remains in business as Sun Entertainment Corporation, and currently licenses its brand and classic hit recordings (many of which have appeared in CD boxed sets and other compilations) to independent reissue labels. Sun Entertainment also includes SSS International Records, Plantation Records, Amazon Records, Red Bird Records, Blue Cat Records among other labels the company acquired over the years. [12] Its website sells collectible items and compact discs bearing the original 1950s Sun logo.

Sun Records is located in Nashville, Tennessee. It has been mainly a reissue label since the 1970s but signed country musician Julie Roberts to a recording contract in 2013. [13]

The music of many Sun Records musicians helped lay part of the foundation of late 20th-century rock and roll and influenced many younger musicians, including the Beatles. In 2001, Paul McCartney appeared on a tribute compilation album titled Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records. The 2008 tribute Million Dollar Quartet is based on the famous photograph of Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis grouped round Elvis Presley at the piano, the night when the four joined in an impromptu jam at Sun Records' one-room sound studio, the "Million Dollar Quartet" of 4 December 1956.

A TV series about the label ran for eight episodes on CMT from February to April, 2017.

See also

Related Research Articles

Sam Phillips American businessman

Samuel Cornelius Phillips 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.

Jerry Lee Lewis American singer and pianist

Jerry Lee Lewis is an American singer and pianist, often known by his nickname, The Killer. He has been described as "rock n' roll's first great wild man and one of the most influential pianists of the twentieth century."

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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.

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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.

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Jack Clement

Jack Henderson Clement was an American singer, songwriter, and record and film producer.

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"Million Dollar Quartet" is a recording of an impromptu jam session involving Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash made on December 4, 1956, at the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. An article about the session was published in the Memphis Press-Scimitar under the title "Million Dollar Quartet". The recording was first released in Europe in 1981 as The Million Dollar Quartet with 17 tracks. A few years later more tracks were discovered and released as The Complete Million Dollar Session. In 1990, the recordings were released in the United States as Elvis Presley - The Million Dollar Quartet. This session is considered a seminal moment in rock and roll.

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<i>Million Dollar Quartet</i> (musical)

Million Dollar Quartet is a jukebox musical with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux. It dramatizes the Million Dollar Quartet recording session of December 4, 1956, among early rock and roll/country stars who recorded at Sun studio in Memphis, which are Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, and newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis. The musical opened on Broadway in 2010, after several tryouts and regional productions, and spawned a 2011 West End production.

"That's When Your Heartaches Begin" is a 1937 song by Fred Fisher, William Raskin and Billy Hill. It was recorded and released the same year by Shep Fields Rippling Rhythm. The song first became popular following a 1941 recording by The Ink Spots. The song was recorded by Elvis Presley on at least three occasions during the 1950s, and was one of two songs he recorded in July 1953, prior to the beginning of his professional career, for a demo acetate purportedly given to his mother as a birthday present, which is strange because her birthday was in April.

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Roy Orbison's Sun Recordings were made by Roy Orbison at Sun Studio with producer Sam Phillips. Sun Records was established in 1952 in Memphis, Tennessee, and during an eight-year period Sun Records signed such artists as Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner, Rufus Thomas, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Harold Jenkins, and Charlie Rich. The musicians signed at Sun Records made music that laid the foundation of rock and roll in the 20th century.

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Beyond the Sun is the eleventh studio album by Chris Isaak, released through Vanguard Records on October 18, 2011. It is a collection of songs recorded by Sun Records artists Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Some of the songs were originally released on Sun Records. The record itself was recorded at Sun Studio, Memphis, Tennessee and the cover photograph was taken by Sheryl Louis outside the studio in Union Avenue.

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.

Birth of Rock and Roll

"Birth of Rock and Roll" is a 1986 song written by Carl Perkins and Greg Perkins. The song was featured on the Class of '55 album which included performances with Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis. "Birth of Rock and Roll" was released as a 7" single with a picture sleeve, 885 760-7, on the Smash/America label copyrighted by PolyGram Records produced by Chips Moman. The single reached No. 31 on the Billboard country chart and No. 44 on the Canadian country chart in 1986. The B side was "Rock and Roll (Fais-Do-Do)" which featured Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison. The theme of the song “Birth of Rock and Roll" is about how "Memphis gave birth to rock and roll" in the 1950s at Sun Records. A video of the song was also made featuring Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones as they drove to the historic Sun studios in Memphis, Tennessee in a white Cadillac convertible.

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The Sun Sessions is a collection of early recordings that musician Ike Turner and his band the Kings of Rhythm recorded from 1951–1958 for Sun Records. Many of the recordings were previously unissued until Charly Records released the album Sun: The Roots Of Rock: Volume 3: Delta Rhythm Kings in 1976. The tracks on The Sun Sessions were digitally remastered and released by Varèse Sarabande in 2001.


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  12. "Sun Records Licensing | Sun Record Company". 1956-12-04. Retrieved 2013-07-13.
  13. "Julie Roberts First Artist To Sign With Sun Records in 40 years | New Country Music, Listen to Songs & Video". 2013-06-19. Archived from the original on 2014-04-29. Retrieved 2013-07-13.