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Sun Studio, Memphis, Tennessee: The house Sam Phillips built

 What a thrill it was to visit Sun Studio at 706 Union Ave, Memphis, Tennessee!  To step through the doors of this old building is to walk into Rock 'n Roll history.  It was at Sun Studios that visionary producer, Sam Phillips, discovered and recorded some of the finest Rock n Roll, country, and blues talent ever.  In 1952 Sam released Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88“, thought by many to be the first Rock in Roll record (Ike Turner played backup in that one).  It was at the Sun studios that a teenage Elvis Presley paid $3 to record a gift vinyl for his mother.  Sun secretary, Marion Keisker, recognized his talent as she was recording him and made a duplicate to play to Sam Phillips.  Sam obviously liked what he heard and called Elvis back to burn his first five commercial records (each now a valuable piece of rock ‘n roll memorabilia), and the rest as they say is Rock ‘n Roll history.
As you enter the recording studio think of some of the other great talent that recorded here during its greatest years in the mid-1950s (besides Elvis) including Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Howlin’ Wolf, and B.B. King (to only name a few).  These are some of my favorite artists and some of my favorite songs, all were recorded right here -- it sent chills down my spine.  The studio is little changed from the 1950s, except that there is a small but interesting museum on the second floor outlining some of the history and artists of Sun Records. I held the microphone Elvis used when he recorded at Sun.  The X's on the recording studio floor indicate where Elvis Presley, Bill Black and Scotty Moore stood when they recorded "That's All Right" in July of 1954.  Wow, it was a thrill!
 You can do a one hour tour of the old Sun Studio which includes the second floor museum and, of course, the recording studio.  Be sure to look at the old jukebox in the gift shop which used to be an old diner.  Remarkably it still has an original Elvis Sun label 45 in its stack (though it plays very poorly because of how often it’s been listened to)!  It plays Elvis’ “Mystery Train”.

In 2003, Sun Studio was officially recognized as a National Historic Landmark, but it isn't just a tourist attraction, it's still being used to a limited extent for recording sessions.  Some artists who have recorded there over the last few years include U2, Def Leppard, Ringo Starr, Bonnie Raitt, John Mellencamp, Chris Isaak, Carrie Underwood and Lisa Marie Presley.















Images (28)
  • Sun Studio, 706 Union Ave., Memphis Tennessee (front view)
  • Sun Studio, 706 Union Ave., Memphis Tennessee (side view)
  • Sun Studio Logo
  • Sam Phillips, Elvis Presley, and Marion Keisker
  • Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley
  • Sam Phillips in the recording studio
  • Bill Black, Elvis Presley and Scotty Moore: "That's All Right" was  officially released July 19, 1954
  • Jerry Lee Lewis and Sam Phillips (bottom photo)
  • Autographed "Blue Suede Shoes" Sun 45: Recorded December 19, 1955
  • Sun recording studio (as seen from the Union St. entrance / Marion Keiskers office): The three X's on the floor mark the spots where Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black stood when they recorded "That's All Right" July 5, 1954
  • Sun recording studio (as seen looking from the recording studio towards Union St. entrance / Marion Keiskers office)
  • Museum on the second floor of Sun Studio outlining some of the history and artists of Sun Records
  • Sun Studio museum exhibit: Elvis Presleys guitar, Bill Blacks upright bass, Scotty Moores guitar, and a jacket Elvis wore on the "Dorsey Brothers Stage Show" January 28, 1956
  • Sun Studio museum exhibit: Recording device used by Sam Phillips
  • Sun Studio gift shop Wurlitzer jukebox: Contains an original Elvis Sun label 45 ("Mystery Train") in its stack
  • Sun recording studio, window looking out onto Union Ave. and Marion Keiskers office: Note the photos of some of the famous musicians who have recorded at Sun Studio, such as Roy Orbison, Bono (U2), and Elvis Presley
  • The microphone on the right is the one Elvis used when he recorded at Sun Studio (observe the framed photo on the right side of this picture)
  • The office of Marion Keisker
  • Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins signing autographs
  • Photo of Elvis Presley and B.B. King (which B.B. King autographed)
  • Sun Studio gift shop
  • Sun Studio gift shop
  • Items for sale at the Sun Studio gift shop
  • Sun Studio gift shop
  • Sun Studio gift shop
  • Records for sale at Sun Studio gift shop
  • Johnny Cash "I Walk the Line" Sun 45: Recorded on April 2, 1956 and released May 1, 1956
  • Elvis Presley "Good Rockin' Tonight" Sun 78: Recorded and released September, 1954

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Comments (5)

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One of the great iconic symbols in the history of R&R!  Sam Phillips was an absolute genius.  And sometimes most amazing to me is that all that talent lived in one small city.  I think Memphis has only around 300,000 or so population.


Memphis gave rise to soul, rhythm and blues, and of course rock and roll music.  What a wonderful musical legacy!


Thanks for the stroll down memory lane!  

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

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

Thanks Ottoman for sharing your Sun Studios visit. I was there in 2007 and enjoyed every magic moment of it. My wife had to drag me away after the third day as we had to move on to our next destination (!). Being there was like stepping into the shoes of all the musical greats who had passed through those doors. My music collection has an abundance of Sun recordings and they are still my favorites.

Actually, the importance of Memphis is long-standing and for good reason: it's on a flood-free bluff above the Mississippi. At different times in its history, both French and Spanish armies built forts there to control traffic on the Mississippi, and before the Civil War, it was the terminus of the only east-west railroad to cross the it has always been a big transportation center. The railroad guaranteed its role in shipping cotton, and made it the center of the region.


Population today is about 650,000, with another 650,000 in the surrounding metropolitan area. Cotton-picking isn't as big an industry as it was, but guitar-picking...Rave on!

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Well "I'm all shook up".  "Thank you.  Thank you very much" to all of you who liked and commented on my Sun Studio blog.  I really appreciate your feedback.  I hope you enjoyed this blog as much as I enjoyed putting it together and posting it.  Cheers and happy travels everybody. 

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