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Sun Studio, Memphis: Where Legends Were Made


While preparing for our trip to Arkansas and Tennessee in October of 2020, there were a lot of things I wanted to see and do on our list. One of the main things I wanted to see in Tennessee, besides Graceland, was Sun Studio. As an Elvis fan, it has always been something I have heard about and wanted to see one day. I didn't know much about it, except that it was the studio where Elvis was discovered. I learned a lot more during our tour.

Sun Studio 2Here are some of the things I learned. The studio was opened on January 3, 1950, by rock and roll pioneer Sam Phillips. One of the first thought-provoking facts I learned was the Sun Studio was originally named Memphis Recording Studio and actually shared the building with Sun Records label business. I thought that was very interesting.

Sun Studio 3During our tour, our guide Daniel shared that the studio's first rock and roll single was Jackie Brenton and his Delta Cats' "Rocket 88". It was recorded in 1951 with song composer Ike Turner on keyboards, thus leading to the claim of status as the birthplace of rock and roll.  So fascinating.

Sun Studio 4Here is a list of some of the more famous rock and roll, country music, and rockabilly artists who recorded there throughout the mid-to-late 1950s:  Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Feathers, Ray Harris, Warren Smith, Charlie Rich, and Jerry Lee Lewis. What a line up, lol

Sun Studio 5One fact I learned that was a little surprising was that Sam Phillips didn't really seem to like Elvis in the beginning, or didn't really appreciate his style apparently. It wasn't until a late-night recording session with Winfield Moore and Bill Black that Elvis broke out into "That's All Right". He was jumping around and acting a fool, then Bill and Winfield joined in the craziness. Phillips heard this and is stated to say that this was the sound he was looking for. The rest is history!!!

Sun Studio 6Many years later, in 1969, Sam Phillips sold the label to Shelby Singleton, and there was no recording related or label related activity again in the building until September of 1985.  This was when the Class of '55 recording sessions happened with Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, produced by Chips Moman. Apparently the album was in part a tribute to Elvis Presley, but it was also a commemoration of those young performing hopefuls who all began their careers with Sun Records in the 1950s.

Sun Studio 7We had an incredible time and were very happy to be able to finally take a tour of Sun Studio. However I have to say the best part was actually being in the studio. While we were sitting and standing around Daniel (pictured above with a mask thanks to the stupid Wuhan Virus) told us quite a few stories and played a lot of music and musicians that recorded there. Even some talk between some of the artists. It was amazing. I felt like I was sitting in on some kind of jazz session. I was sad to leave.

Sun Studio 8One of the best parts was being able to able touch and use the actual microphone that Elvis, and many others, used throughout the years. Of course we had to take pictures. If you are in the area, this should definitely be on your to-do list. Here is a link to their website with more information, etc.


Images (8)
  • Sun Studio 1
  • Sun Studio 2
  • Sun Studio 3
  • Sun Studio 4
  • Sun Studio 5
  • Sun Studio 6
  • Sun Studio 7
  • Sun Studio 8

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Thank you for bringing back terrific memories of visiting this famous studio.  My wife and I first visited it in the late 1980s and enjoyed the tour, followed by lunch at the Sun Cafe.  To my great delight, the cafe's Wurlitzer had an original Sun 45 by Elvis in its stack (Sun #223).

I have been collecting records since I was in early teens and have a number of Sun records, including all 5 of Elvis' Sun records in both 78 rpm and 45 rpm formats.  Not sure what they're worth right now, but they're a key part of rock n roll history and I will not part with them.

I think no place on the planet can claim to be the "birthplace" of rock n roll more than this small studio.

I hope you also toured Graceland while in Memphis, and if so, look forward to reading about your impressions of it.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

Great story and photos Samantha.  One of my favorite singers of all time is Roy Orbison who got his recording start with Sam Phillips and Sun Record at Sun Studio.  Roy's spectacular recording successes were offset by the tragedies in his family life.

George G

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