Friday, September 25, 2009

some good things have happened in memphis


Sun Records, here in downtown Memphis, a mile away from my hotel.
And it is responsible for the music that we have today. This is where 18 year old Elvis Presley walked in off the street and spent four dollars to make a record for his mother's birthday.

Or so he said.

Turns out it was springtime and Mrs. Presley's birthday wasn't till fall, but that is what the young charmer told the secretary in order to get in her good graces and gee, did it work. It worked so well in fact, that she laid that little country song aside for Sam Phillips, the owner, to listen to, hoping to give the young man a break. A young man who would spend his hard earned money on recording a song for his momma's birthday.


And here's the kicker: I listened to that song today. The first recording Elvis ever made. And boy did he have some warbly vibrato and no it didn't impress Sam Phillips one bit, much to the chagrin of his secretary. It was country in a time when the blues were hot.

But still, I heard it.

And don't you worry about young Elvis. He did just fine. Because a year later he went back into that recording studio, sang song after song at Mr. Phillips' insistence, but nothing was working. It wasn't until Sam Phillips told Elvis, the bassist, and guitarist to take a break at midnight, leaving them to their own devices that some magic finally appeared. Elvis started singing a song he had heard, That's All Right, just joking around really, and the musicians started playing along. Sam Phillips heard it in the booth and knew they'd found what they were looking for.

The hottest radio station in Memphis, Red, Hot, and Blue, played it soon after and something intractable started. 49 people called in requesting that song by the unknown Elvis, and the DJ played it fourteen times in just three hours.

So yeah, like I said, Elvis did just fine.

And remember that scene from the Johnny Cash movie, Walk the Line? He's doing his salesman thing when he happens to spot a recording studio, and walks in just like that?
Yep, here it is.
I was so excited. Such history. Such dreams realized.

And then there were so many more. B. B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins, to name a few.

And how about those Irish boys who can't stop making beautiful albums?
They came here to record three songs for Rattle and Hum. And on that wall is the 12 track they used.
They knew that whatever happened within these walls was something they wanted to be a part of.

Smart guys.
And Sun Studio remains the only recording studio that is a national monument in the country. It gives tours through the day, but is still a working studio at night. The most recent artist to record here was John Mellencamp. And this place still has the same white tiles that soundproofed the room back when Elvis Presley stopped in for a visit, after being signed with RCA Records. Sam Phillips called in Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins too. And what do they do?

An impromptu jam session, of course.

And what does the always-thinking Sam Phillips do?

Press record, of course.

You can buy it, too, aptly called the Million Dollar Quartet.

And here I am, standing on the X that Elvis stood, grabbing that same mic that he grabbed.
Just, wow.


The DJF said...

I loved checking out Sun Studios. So much history. Memphis is one of my favorite cities that I've visited on tour, hands down.

Mom said...


You know Dad knew Elvis, was good friends with Colonel Parker, Elvis' manager and so I grew up thinking Elvis was just a regular guy, a friend of the family's. It wasn't until I grew up that I realized that not everyone talked about Elvis like he was a friend.

James Ricardo The Actor said...

Memphis has so much musical history, and it is great to be able to soak it all up!

Jessica Latshaw said...

Donnell--and Sun Studios was one of my favorite places I've visited on the tour, hands down:)

Mom--You know, I didn't realize that. How amazing! Was it because Elvis was signed with RCA and Grandpa worked for RCA?

JR--I know--and believe, me I am trying to soak it up as much as possible!

Pop said...

You look delightedly ecstatic behind that Elvis mic. Very cute. I love historic places. Sometimes there's am imagining of psst events when I visit them that comes over me. It's enjoyable. I think I'd love being a Civil War re-enactor or a living history character.

Jess, Grandaddy knew Elvis too!

Just kidding. He hated Elvis...

kathiek said...

Jess, that is so cool that you were able to visit Sun Records! It would really be cool if they let YOU have a little impromptu jam session, too...

Jess said...

Pop--you would gave loved this place! And we should at the very least go and watch a civil war re-enactment!

Kathie--or wouldn't it be amazing if I could just go and spend $4 and cut a record there?!?

jason said...

You know as I was reading this I kept thinking of things to add in a comment, like, "Oh you know U2 recorded songs there for ...." and then you'd mention it. And then, oh! did you know that Johnny Cash and Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis... oh you know about the Million Dollar Quartet too?

I have nothing to add. :-(

Except that I love that mom's dad knew elvis and pop's dad hated him.

Jessica Latshaw said...

I think what you added was just fine...and our respective grandfathers' diametrically opposing reactions to Elvis is pretty funny.

brianna said...

so awesome.