Sun Records recordings on CDs re-released by Bear Family
Sun Records editions by Bear Family Records
Sam Phillips sensed that Memphis was a special place and he knew about the spiritual power of music. He rented an old building on Union Avenue that he turned into; "The Memphis Recording Service - We record anything – anywhere – anytime." His continuing experience as a producer combined with his instincts and vision. Ultimately created a legendary output and label: he literally changed the world! Bear Family offers many CDs by legendary Sun performers from Sonny Burgess to Bill Yates!
Sam Phillips once told the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art that, in his view: "To write or sing songs and make music is probably our greatest amancipator of the spirit. Memphis was made up of a great cross section of black and white rural people from the likes of the Delta and hills and woods and farms of Alabama and Tennessee.
Memphis is a special place, the repository of many proud, humble, friendly determined people. After the Depression and the Mississippi floods of 1927, there were meagre earnings for both black people and poor white. Out of adversity came people with their songs and a chance to catch their elusive dreams. I recognized all this – and I 'dared to begin'. Where it would take us, I didn't know."
The Memphis Recording Service
Where it took Phillips was to an old building at 706 Union Avenue that in 1950 he turned into Memphis' first recording business – 'The Memphis Recording Service: We record anything – anywhere – anytime' – and soon to the top of the R&B charts with his 1951 recording of Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston with Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm.
Phillips gave up his day job recording big band radio broadcasts and instead he recorded B. B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Junior Parker, Bobby Bland, Rosco Gordon, Rufus Thomas, and the Prisonaires vocal group. He recorded country singers Harmonica Frank, Slim Rhodes and Charlie Feathers. Then he recorded Elvis Presley, and the rest really, truly, was history.
But this was just the start. He discovered or recorded Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich - and many others then unknown but in whom Phillips heard that penchant and yearning to play, and to play a music that was 'different'. "Can you hear Johnny Cash with a steel guitar?" Phillips challenged, his withering look demanding a "no" in response.
if you're not doing something different, you're not doing anything
Sam Phillips liked to say to his artists, "if you're not doing something different, you're not doing anything." Phillips encouraged music that was individualistic but he also developed his own studio sound and style within which he framed their efforts.
He later explained: "Everything I recorded had to have a basic gut feeling to it, whether blues, gospel, country, rockabilly. I tried to help the artists where I could with a song structure or a lyric, but basically I tried to get them to record what they had, and to bring out of them what they were."
Sam Phillips' approach would have resonated with Mark Twain who unintentionally summarised Phillips' gift as a producer of records when he wrote – "all of us contain Music and Truth, but most of us can't get it out." Sam Phillips got it out. And he put it onto little yellow Sun records for the world to hear. By Martin Hawkins
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