Moore:Music ®

Witch Cross • BC Sweet • Gonads • Christie

Here comes the Sun

For Miki and I, Sunday was just exactly that – SUN day. The day we would make our way to that unassuming building on Union Avenue, where Sam Phillips distilled what the world came to know as Rock’n’Roll.  For all the history, I wasn’t sure how this would work as a ‘tour’.  Studios from the 40’s and 50’s by their very nature were simple affairs,  so I didn’t think I’d be walking away with any more than a “bin there, done that”. How wrong I was.

From the moment we walked into the reception, which was a memorabilia-ridden 50’s style coffee shop, with an impressive 50’s style record shop in the back, we knew this tour was a good idea. The vibe in the place was just right, and we paid our money and waited our turn.

We were led up a narrow staircase into a room lined with glass display cases, containing amazing ancient recording devices, including an RCA lathe with a shiny uncut piece of vinyl on it. We saw Sam Phillips’ tape machine on which he recorded anyone and everyone.  Our guide for the tour was Cody, and I have to say right here, he was a star. He sounded genuinely enthusiastic, he was clear, concise, funny, and most importantly, brought the story of Sun Studios to life. Without him, it would have been the poorer.

I was incredibly moved by the tale of The Prisoners, who were actually prisoners, brought under armed guard and chained together around a single microphone to record “Just walking in the Rain”.   As the track played, haunting and beautiful, I could picture the scene.

We heard how Ike Turner’s band struggled up to Memphis, six in a car, with all their gear on top, and how the guitar amp fell off!  The speaker had two big holes in it, and when they arrived, they stuffed some newspaper in it, and used it for the session. The distorted sound it gave made “Rocket 88” the first genuine rock record with fuzz guitar. the track pumped out around us as I stared through the glass at the actual amp with the newspaper still stuffed into the speaker cone. History in my face.

Of course, inevitably, we came to the story of Elvis. What I learned was that perhaps the most influential person in the history of Rock was Marion Keisker,  Sam Phillips’ secretary. It was she that was on the front desk when a shy 18 year old Elvis walked in, pretending he wanted to record a song for his mum.  In those days, tape was expensive, so people who wanted to make a record for themselves paid their couple of dollars and had to record it in one take, directly onto the disc. Any mistakes were recorded for all time. If you didn’t like it, you poaid for another go!  And then, there it was, crystal clear, the young Elvis, singing “My Happiness” – his very first recording. Sam Phillips wasn’t in that day, nor was he impressed when Marion kept pressing him to take another look at this shy kid.  He hated the kind of ballady pop that My Happiness represented. A year would go by before events would conspire to bring Scotty Moore and Bill Black, guitarist and baassist respectively, into Sun to have a go at recording something. They didn’t have a singer on hand, and once again it was Marion who pushed Sam to get Elvis in.  Would you believe it, when Scotty and Bill asked this kid what songs he knew he suggested My Happiness once again! After a long day, Sam poked his head around the door and told them to call it quits. Elvis, panicking tried to play every style he knew – remember, he was influenced by country, blues, everything that was happening on the Memphis scene, and gyrating wildly, he launched into an Arthur Crudup blues song, “That’s alright Mama”. Scotty and Bill joined in, fooling around, playing wildly. Sam was stopped in his tracks. He asked them to get organized around the mikes so he could record it properly. This moment, this exact moment, was the birth of rock’n’roll, the creation of an entirely new genre, the  perfect amalgam of disparate styles. It is perhaps the single most important event in recording history. It cannot be overstated.

Me with Elvis's microphone

As we walked through Marion’s office, and into the studio, we were played a recording of the very first time this song was played on the air. The DJ played it 19 times , one after the other, and the world would never be the same again.  As I stood in this completely authentic, unchanged studio, with this song playing around me, shivers coursed up and down my spine. I touched the microphone Elvis used here, I heard about the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ – when Sam Phillips had the tape running for an hour and a half as Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johhny Cash and Elvis recorded together.  It wasn’t until after Elvis’s death that Phillips revealed its existence, as Elvis was contracted to RCA when he ‘accidentally’ recorded him!

This studio launched the careers of all of these people not to mention a guy called Roy Orbison. It is truly the birthplace of rock’n’roll.  It had lain unused, abandoned for 25 years, and was lucky to have survived being demolished and turned into a McDonalds – but it  wasn’t – and I’m lovin’ it!

Kev Moore

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January 26, 2010 - Posted by | Music, Recording, Rock, Writing | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hey Kev!

    You & Miki might be just two of millions of awe-struck music lovers that visit Sun Studios, KBT Radio Show & Robert Johnson’s legendary resting place(s), but you are living one of my dreams and have conveyed your experience brilliantly in words & pics.

    Just to hold that mic, hear the music and stories from where it all originated and then feel the spirit of the blues in Clarksdale are once in a lifetime experiences – thanks for sharing it all with us.

    Comment by David Mortimer | February 4, 2010


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