Elvis Presley: How Sun Records boss Sam Phillips discovered a star in 1954
Sam Phillips had been thinking more and more that the key lay in the connection between the races, in what they had in common far more than what kept them apart. There were always going to be 'some bastard white people', he knew, but far more to the point was the spiritual connection that he had always known to exist between black and white, the cultural heritage that they all shared. 'Not to copy each other but to just - hey, this is all we've got and we're going to give it to you. This is our Broadway play. This is our Tin Pan Alley. This is what it is. We hope you likeit'.
To Marion Keisker, his assistant, he had begun to talk increasingly about finding someone - and it had to be a white man, because the wall that he had run into with his recordings practically proved that in the present racial climate it couldn't be someone black - who might be able to bridge the gap. 'Over and over I heard Sam say, 'If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars!' And he would always laugh, Marion said, as if to underscore that money was never the point - it was the vision.
One song continued to haunt Sam, a plaintive ballad called 'Without You' that the song publisher Red Wortham had given him. There was something about it - for all of its sentimentality, there was a quality of vulnerability about it, and he thought that he'd like to have someone come in and give it a try. The only one who came to mind was a kid who had stopped by the previous summer and for $4 cut a 'personal' record for his mother.
The boy had come in to cut another 'personal' in January or February - Sam couldn't imagine that he was more than a year or so out of high school - and evidently he stopped by from time to time to talk with Marion. Sam was well aware of that fact because Marion was going on about him. He didn't really know, but when Marion brought up his name for what seemed like the thousandth time, he thought, Why not? The boy had the same yearning quality in his voice, attached to the kind of purity and fervor that you might be more inclined to assign to religious music. Sam had no idea of his full potential, but there was no question, he was certainly different. So he had Marion call him.
Elvis Presley came into the studio on Saturday, 26 June 1954. He was 19 years old; a good-looking boy with acne on his neck, long sideburns, and long, greasy hair combed in a ducktail that he had to keep patting down. But what struck Sam most was his quality of genuine humility - humility mixed with intense determination. He was, innately, Sam thought, one of the most introverted people who had ever come into the studio, but for that reason one of the bravest, too. He reminded Sam of many of the great early blues singers who had come into his studio, 'his insecurity was so markedly like that of a black person'.
Elvis Presley, Bill Black, Scotty Moore and Sam Phillips at Sun Records, February 3, 1955.
They worked on the number all afternoon, with Elvis accompanying himself inexpertly on his own beat-up little guitar. When it became obvious that for whatever reason the boy was not going to get it right - maybe 'Without You' wasn't the right song for him, maybe he was just intimidated by the damn studio - Sam had him run down just about every song he knew. He didn't need much of an invitation, and he didn't finish every song, but what Sam sensed was a breadth of knowledge, a passion for the music that didn't come along every day.
'I guess I must have sat there at least three hours', Elvis told Memphis Press- Scimitar reporter Bob Johnson in 1956. 'I sang everything I knew - pop stuff, spirituals, just a few words of [anything] I remembered'. Sam watched intently through the glass of the control room window - he was no longer taping, and in almost every respect this session had to be accounted a dismal failure, but still there was something ...
Every so often the boy looked up at him, as if for approval: was he doing all right? Sam just nodded and spoke in that smooth, reassuring voice. 'You're doing just fine. Now just relax. Let me hear something that really means something to you now'. Soothing, crooning, his gaze locked into the boy's through the plate-glass window he had built so that his eyes would be level with the performer's when he was sitting at the control room console. He didn't really know if they were getting anywhere or not, it was just so damned hard to tell, especially when you were dealing with someone who was obviously unaccustomed to performing in public.
Then again, it was only from just such a person - pure, unspoiled, as raw, as untutored as anyone who had ever set foot in this studio - that he felt he could get the results he was looking for. He knew this boy, he knew where he came from, he could intuit all the things they had in common in background and sensibility . What you could never tell was whether it would ever add up to anything. He sent the boy on his way, exhausted.
Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley.
There was something about him - Marion kept after him all week about how the session had gone. One day they were sitting with [guitarist] Scotty Moore, and Marion brought up the boy again. 'This particular day', Scotty said, 'it was about five in the afternoon. Marion was having coffee with us, and Sam said, 'Get his name and phone number out of the file'. Then he turned to me and said, 'Why don't you give him a call and get him to come over to your house and see what you think of him?' [Bass player] Bill Black lived just three doors down from me. Sam said, 'You and Bill can just give him a listen, kind of feel him out'.
Scotty called Sam at home the following evening. They had had their audition and it had gone much like the one Sam had conducted. Bill had been none too impressed, and Scotty's wife had just about bolted out the back door when the kid arrived wearing a black shirt, pink pants with a black stripe, white shoes, and that long greasy ducktail. They ran through the same assortment of songs - hillbilly, pop, Billy Eckstine's 'I Apologise'; the Ink Spots' 'If I Didn't Care'; Hank Snow and Eddy Arnold's latest hits - and a Dean Martin-styled version of 'You Belong to Me'.
They were all ballads, all sung in a yearning quavery tenor that didn't seem ready to settle anywhere anytime soon and accompanied by the most rudimentary strummed guitar. Well, Sam, said, what did he think?
It was in a sense Scotty's decision - this might be the vocalist he had been looking for to sing with his band. 'Well, you know, he didn't really knock me out', said Scotty, never less than completely honest. 'But the boy's got a good voice'. 'You know, I think I'll just call him', Sam said, 'get him to come down to the studio tomorrow - we'll set up an audition and see what he sounds like coming back off of tape'. Should he bring the whole band? Scotty asked - The Starlite Wranglers? No, Sam said. 'Just you and Bill, just something for a little rhythm. No use making a big deal about it'.
The three of them showed up the next night around seven. There was some desultory small talk, Bill and Scotty joked nervously between themselves, and Sam tried to make the boy feel at ease, carefully observing the way in which he continued to both withhold himself and thrust himself into the conversation at the same time. At last, after a few minutes of aimless conversation and letting them all get a little bit used to being in the studio, Sam turned to the boy and said, 'Well, what do you want to sing?'
This occasioned even more self-conscious confusion as the three musicians all tried to come up with something they knew and could play - all the way through - but after a number of false starts they finally settled on 'Harbor Lights', which had been a big hit for Bing Crosby in 1950, and worked it through to the end. Then they tried Leon Payne's 'I Love You Because', a beautiful country ballad that had been a number one country hit for its author in 1949, and a number two hit for Ernest Tubb, also on the hillbilly charts, the same year.
They tried each song again and again - each take was slightly different, but each time the boy flung himself into the performance, clearly trying to make it new. Sometimes he simply blurted out the words, sometimes his singing voice shifted to a thin, pinched, almost nasal tone before returning to the high, keening tenor in which he sang the rest of the song. It was as if, Sam thought, he wanted to put everything he had ever known or heard into one song.
Scotty's guitar part was almost invariably too damn complicated, he was trying too hard to sound like Chet Atkins - but then there was that strange sense of inconsolable desire in the voice, there was the unmistakable thrill of hearing free, unfettered emotion being conveyed without disguise or restraint.
Sam Phillips, Elvis, Marion Keisker - Sunday, September 23, 1956, Memphis, TN.
Sam sat in the control room, trying to look fully engaged but unconcerned at the same time. Every so often he would come out and change a mike placement slightly, talk with the boy a little, not just to bullshit with him but to try to make him feel more at home. He was happy enough with the interaction between the musicians.
There was a reason he had chosen them to accompany the boy. Scotty was the best-natured person in the world - he never made any demands and he didn't take himself too damn seriously. Bill on the other hand was a cut-up. He was a natural mixer who could get a laugh out of a perfect stranger. And while he was no more a virtuoso on his instrument than Scotty, he could slap that bass to create the kind of driving, propulsive effect that Sam felt this little trio was going to need if it was ever going to be able to get across.
But still, they hadn't got anything usable and he wasn't sure exactly what to do. You never wanted to quit a session like this too early - you might just kill any chance of confidence developing over time. But it was a real question as to how long you wanted to keep things going, too. Staying with it too long could create a kind of mind-numbing quality of its own, it could smooth over all the rough edges you were trying to bring out and banish the very element of spontaneity you were trying to achieve.
Finally they decided to take a break. It was late, the boy was clearly discouraged, and everybody had to work the next day. Maybe, Sam thought, they ought to just give it up for the night, come back on Tuesday and try again. Scotty and Bill were sipping Cokes, not saying much of anything. Sam was doing something in the control room and, as Elvis explained it afterwards, 'this song popped into my mind that I had heard years ago, and I started kidding around with [it]'.
It was an up-tempo song called 'That's All Right, Mama', an old blues number by Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup. 'All of a sudden', said Scotty, 'Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them.
'Sam, I think had the door to the control booth open. I don't know, he was either editing tape or doing something. And he stuck his head out and said, 'What are you doing?' And we said, 'We don't know'. 'Well, back up', he said, 'try to find a place to start, and do it again'.
The rest of the session went as if suddenly they had all been caught up in the same fever dream. They worked on the song. They worked hard on it, but without any of the laboriousness that had gone into the session up to this point. Sam worked to get them to see the song in more of a flow. He got Scotty to cut out the conventional turnaround and cut down on all the stylistic flourishes that were mucking it up. 'Simplify, simplify!' was the watchword.
Bill's bass became more of an unadulterated rhythm instrument - it provided both a slap beat and a tonal beat at the same time - all the more important in the absence of drums. They continued to work on it, refining the song but the centre never changed. It always opened with the ringing sound of Elvis' rhythm guitar, up till this moment almost a handicap to be gotten over. Then there was Elvis' vocal: loose and free and full of confidence, 'sounding so fresh', Sam said, 'because it was fresh to him'. With Scotty and Bill finally falling in with an easy swinging gait that was the very essence of everything Sam had dreamt of but had never been able to fully imagine. There were no studio tricks employed. He didn't even use his new discovery of slapback, which he had applied primarily to the guitar on the two other completed selections. There was just the purity of the music.
And the boy? By the end of the evening there was a different singer in the studio than the one who started out the night. For Elvis, clearly, everything had changed. Sam sat in the studio after the session was over and everyone had gone home. He was bone-weary, but he just wanted to savour the moment.
When he got home, he woke up Becky, and, as she would always remember it, 'he was excited, he was happy, and he announced that he had just cut a record [that was] going to change our lives. I didn't understand at the time what he meant, but it did. He felt that nothing would ever be quite the same again'.
Buy Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll Book
Hardcover: 784 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
© Peter Guralnick, 2015. Extracted from 'SAM PHILLIPS: The Man Who Invented Rock'n'Roll' by Peter Guralnick.
Peter Guralnick Interviewed by Conan O'Brien
Elvis Presley's Sun Recordings : SUN Studios, Memphis Tennessee
Sun Records was a record label based in Memphis, Tennessee starting operations on March 27, 1952. Founded by Sam Phillips, Sun Records was known for giving notable musicians such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash their first recording contracts and helping to launch their careers.
Even though nothing came of his first session at the Memphis Recording Service, Elvis was determined to give it another shot. He returned to the recording service in January 1954 to record two more songs on acetate. He sang 'Casual Love Affair' and a country tune called 'I'll Never Stand in Your Way'.
This time Phillips worked the controls. Though he offered the young singer little in the way of encouragement, he did take down Elvis' phone number and address.
Phillips didn't call Elvis until Peer Music of Nashville sent Sun Records a demo recording of a ballad called 'Without You'. Phillips decided to allow Elvis to record the new ballad. Unfortunately, Elvis could not seem to master the song, so Phillips asked him to sing anything else he knew. Delighted with the opportunity, Elvis eagerly ran through his extensive repertoire of country songs and R&B tunes. Phillips was impressed enough to suggest that the hopeful singer get together with Scotty Moore, a young guitarist who played with a local country-western combo, the Starlight Wranglers.
Elvis dropped by to see Moore almost immediately. Moore recalls, 'He had on a pink shirt, pink pants with white stripes down the legs, and white shoes, and I thought my wife was going to go out the back door -- people just weren't wearing that kind of flashy clothes at the time'. (Ed. note: In fact, in the 1950s, pink was the hot fashion color for everything from men's clothing to cars.) Moore introduced Elvis to bass player Bill Black, and the three musicians spent the long, hot Memphis summer trying to find a sound that clicked.
The trio worked in the recording studio at Sun Records instead of performing in front of a live audience. Recently developed magnetic recording tape made it possible for them to do one take of a song, listen to it, then make adjustments for the next take. Presley, Moore, and Black finally hit upon their sound while they were fooling around during a break one night.
Elvis started singing Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup's blues song, 'That's All Right', with a fast rhythm and in a more casual style than most blues songs, and Moore and Black jumped in. Phillips' voice boomed out from the control booth, 'What are you doing?' None of them really knew. How could they? How could they know that they had stumbled onto a new sound for a new generation?
Phillips was excited about the trio's sound and recognized its potential. He asked them to refine their unique interpretation of 'That's All Right', and then he recorded it. The flip side of their first record was their rendition of the bluegrass standard 'Blue Moon of Kentucky', made famous by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. Elvis' first record seemed to symbolize the roots of his musical sound; a blues song occupied one side while a country song made up the flip side.
Elvis' treatment of both songs didn't sound much like the recordings by the original artists. His approach was far more easygoing, which gave his renditions an air of spontaneity. Instead of the hard vocal delivery and tense rhythm of Crudup's version of 'That's All Right', Elvis used a more-relaxed vocal style and rhythm. For 'Blue Moon of Kentucky', the tempo was speeded up, and two elements were added that would make Elvis' sound famous.
He syncopated certain lyrics, using a sort of hiccuping sound, while Sam Phillips added a reverberation, resulting in the famous echo effect. Elvis' style became the basis of 'rockabilly', the fusion of country music (commonly called hillbilly music) with a rhythm-and-blues sound that has been relaxed and speeded up, or 'rocked'. The term rockabilly was not widely known until after Elvis became a household name.
At the time he cut his first record for Sun, there was no word that could adequately describe his style of music. When the press attempted to explain his sound, they usually made a mess of it, often confusing their readers with inappropriate or comical comparisons to other types of music. Elvis was referred to at various times as a 'hillbilly singer', 'a young rural rhythm talent', a 'white man...singing Negro rhythms with a rural flavor', and 'a young man [with a] boppish approach to hillbilly music'.
Not long after Elvis' success, other rockabilly and country-western singers showed up on the doorstep of Sun Studio, hoping that Phillips could work the same magic with them as he had with Elvis. Phillips eventually recorded Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Feathers, Billy Lee Riley, Dickie Lee, and other artists.
With their flashy clothes, raw sound, and fervent delivery, these singers forged a new sound and style that was intensely Southern, or 'Dixie-fried'. As Bill Williams, Sun Records publicist, recalled, 'I think every one of them must have come in on the midnight train from nowhere. I mean, they came from outer space'. Yet, the influence of Sam Phillips and Sun's recording artists on the development of rock 'n' roll can never be overestimated.
As his first recordings began to spread, Elvis gained recognition for his unique sound.
Elvis Presley's Sun Recordings
In the summer of 1953, most likely inspired by a July article in the local paper on the Memphis Recording Service and Sam Phillips's recording of the Prisonaires, a group of prisoners from the state penitentiary, Elvis ventured into 706 Union Avenue and asked to record his voice for the very first time. There he made a two-sided acetate at his own expense and accompanying himself on guitar. The songs he recorded were:
This song was written in 1933 by Betty Peterson and Borney Bergantine. It was recorded in 1948 by John and Sandra Steele, whose release went to #3 on the Billboard Singles Chart. Others to record it in 1948 were The Pied Pipers with Paul Weston Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald, The Song Spinners, and The Marlin Sisters. In 1953 the Mulcays, a harmonica group, released it as an instrumental. In 1959 a version by Connie Francis hit #2 on the Hot 100 Chart.
This song was written in 1940 by William J. Raskin, Billy Hill and Fred Fisher. The Ink Spots recorded it in 1950. In 1951, a recording by Bob Lamb was released. In 1952 Billy Bunn and His Buddies released a version of it. Elvis re-recorded it for RCA on January 13, 1957 at Radio Recorders. This version was the B side to the single 'All Shook Up' and it peaked at #58 on the Hot 100 Chart.
Elvis stopped in at the Memphis Recording Service from time to time. On January 4, 1954, just four days before his nineteenth birthday, he again paid to record two songs. There were:
This song was written by Fred Rose and Walter (Hy) Heath in 1953. It was released in November 1954 by Joni James and then just a few days later a version by Ernie Lee was also released. Others who have recorded it also are Ray Charles, Jimmy Dean, Don Gibson and Dottie West.
This one was written by Jimmy Wakely and Fred Rose and recorded by Jimmy Wakely. Willie Nelson and Chris Isaak also have released versions.
Six months later in June 1954, Sam Phillips sent for Elvis to come and audition for a recording session. This time he had Scotty Moore and Bill Black of the Starlite Wranglers to back him up Their first attempts to find a sound were on July 5-6, 1954 and the songs they finally got on tape then were:
This song was written and recorded by Leon Payne in 1949. Payne's version reached #4 on Country Chart. In 1950, Ernest Tubb also reached #4 with his version. Jan Garber, Gene Autry and Eddie Fisher also released versions. Other releases were Patti Page in 1951, Johnny Cash in 1960 and Carl Smith in 1969. It was Al Martino's 1963 version that reach #3 on Hot 100 Chart and #1 on the Easy Listening Chart.
This song was written and recorded by blues singer Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup. Mr. Crudup also wrote two other songs that Elvis would record, My Baby Left Me and So Glad You're Mine. Elvis said in a 1956 interview for the 'Charlotte Observer' newspaper in North Carolina, '...I used to hear Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now and I said that if I ever got to the place where I could feel all old Arthur felt, I'd be a music man like nobody ever saw'. Elvis' first single release was in July 1954 - That's All Right with Blue Moon of Kentucky as the flip side. RCA re-released it on their label in December 1955 after they bought Elvis' Sun Records contract. Some of the others who have recorded it are Roy 'Smiley' Maxedon, Marty Robbins, Billy Swan, Bob Dylan, Ann Wilson, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Albert King, Rod Stewart, Waylon Jennings, Sunny Burgess, Jimmie Rogers and Paul McCartney.
This song was written in 1937 by Jimmy Kennedy and Hugh Williams. That same year there were releases by Frances Langford and by Claude Thornhill and His Orchestra with Jimmy Farrell on vocal. In 1950 Sammy Kaye had a #1 hit with his version. Also trying their hand at it that year were Guy Lombardo, Bing Crosby, Ray Anthony, Ralph Flanagan and Ken Griffin. It set a record for the most performed song on television's 'Your Hit Parade' and sold over 1,000,000 copies of the sheet music. The Platters' 1960 version reached #8 on the Hot 100 Chart. Over the years, many others have recorded it, including Billy Ward and The Dominos.
This bluegrass song was written and recorded by Bill Monroe in 1947. Among the others to have recorded it over the years are Patsy Cline, Charlie Feathers, George Jones, Sonny James, Benny Martin, Rick Nelson, Carl Perkins, Jerry Reed, Jeannie C. Riley and Ricky Skaggs.
Elvis' That's All Right / Blue Moon of Kentucky single was released on July 19, 1954. In the August 7, 1954 issue of 'The Billboard' Magazine Elvis was reviewed in the column 'Review Spotlight on.....TALENT' where it was written: 'Presley is a potent new chanter who can sock over a tune for either the country or the r. & b. markets. On this new disk he comes thru with a solid performance on an r. & b.-type tune and then on the flip side does another fine job with a country ditty. A strong new talent'.
The following is this single's chart history for Billboard's Country and Western Territorial Best Seller Chart:
For the week ending August 18, 1954:
Memphis - Blue Moon of Kentucky - #3
For the week ending August 25, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky - #3 in Memphis
That's All Right - #4 in Memphis
For the week ending September 1, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky - #1 in Memphis
That's All Right - #7 in Memphis
For the week ending September 8, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky - #4 in Memphis
That's All Right - #6 in Memphis
For the week ending September 15, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky - #1 in Memphis
That's All Right - #4 in Memphis, #7 in Nashville
For the week ending September 22, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky - #4 in Memphis
That's All Right, E. Presley - #5 in Memphis
For the week ending September 29, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky - #6 in Memphis
That's All Right - #7 in Memphis
For the week ending October 6, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky - #6 in Memphis
For the week ending October 13, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky -
#2 in Memphis, #6 in Nashville, #3 in New Orleans
For the week ending October 27, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky - #6 in Memphis
In the November 13, 1954 issue 'The Billboard', Elvis was voted #8 on the disk jockeys' 'Most Promising' list.
For the week ending November 24, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky
#6 in Memphis, #4 in Richmond, VA.
For the week ending December 1, 1954:
Blue Moon of Kentucky - #7 in Richmond, VA.
That's All Right - #8 in Houston, TX
For the week ending December 8, 1954:
That's All Right - #9 in Houston, TX.
Elvis' world was changing rapidly. His first single 'That's All Right'/'Blue Moon Of Kentucky' was beginning to take off and by the middle of August 1954, both sides would be on the Billboard Chart for the Memphis area. He returned to Sun Studio on August 19, 1954 wanting to record again.
August 19, 1954:
'Blue Moon' was the song Elvis chose to lay down that night. The song was written in 1933 by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. It was originally written under a different title for a project with actress Jean Harlow. Mr. Hart later changed the lyrics and changed the title to 'The Bad In Every Man' for the 1934 Clark Gable film 'Manhattan Melodrama'. The lyrics and title changed again to 'Blue Moon'. It was recorded by Frankie Trumbauer & Band in 1934 and Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Band in 1935. The Benny Goodman Orchestra with Helen Ward also released it that year. Many other artists over the years have recorded this song, Elvis' version for Sun was not be released until 1956 when it appeared on his first album for RCA, 'Elvis Presley'.
September 10 - ?, 1954:
This song was written in 1939 by Sam Caslow and Will Grosz, and recorded that same year by Horace Heidt and his orchestra The Heidt-Lights. It was released again in 1948 by Lonnie Johnson and in late 1954 by LaVern Baker. In 1965 RCA recorded new backing tracks and overdubbed Elvis' original vocal track to release it on the album 'Elvis For Everyone'. An edited version was released on 'The Complete Sun Sessions' and this original version was released in 1992 on The King of Rock 'n' Roll.
This song was written and recorded by Martha Carson in 1952. In 1953 Johnnie Ray recorded it and it has since been released by a number of artists including Barbara Mandrell and Bill Gaither and The Gaither Vocal Band. Records indicate that Elvis definitely recorded one take of this song but the tape has yet to surface.
Cowboy crooner Jimmy Wakely wrote and recorded this song in 1943. Other versions were released by Jimmy Liggins and Hank Snow. Elvis' version was released by RCA on his first album Elvis Presley in 1956.
This song was written by Mack David in 1949 for the Disney film 'Cinderella', but it was not used. In 1950 Patti Page released a version, as did LeRoy Homes and Dean Martin, who was one of Elvis' favorite singers. Martin's version was used in the Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movie 'Scared Stiff'. The story goes that Marion Keisker, who worked for producer Sam Phillips and had brought Elvis to his attention, actually helped write additional lyrics for the song for Elvis, but signed away any rights at the insistence of the song's publisher. It was released as the B side of Elvis' second single Good Rockin' Tonight.
Bob and Joe Shelton along with Sid Robin are credited with the writing and recording of this song in 1937 - a hit for them. There is some controversy that it comes from a much earlier song by a group called Nelstone's Hawaiians. Others who have recorded it include Brenda Lee, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Bobby Vinton, Lawrence Welk, Rosemary Clooney, Duane Eddy, Rick Nelson and Paul McCartney. Frankie Yankovic's 1948 polka version was very popular.
This song, written and recorded in 1947 by Roy Brown, reached the top 20 on the R&B Chart. It was recorded by Wynonie Harris in 1948 and it reached #1 on the R&B chart. It was Elvis' second single. Later, in 1959, Pat Boone's version peaked on the Hot 100 Chart at #49. In 1956 Jean Chapel recorded an 'answer song' called I Won't Be Rockin' Tonight.
November - December 1954:
The exact date and the details surrounding this session are not known at this time. RCA never received master tapes of this session.
Written and recorded by James 'Kokomo' Arnold in 1935, this song was recorded in 1938 by Bob Crosby and in 1941 by Johnny Lee Wills. Moon Mullican recorded it in 1946 under the title New MilkCow Blues. Also in 1946, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys recorded it under the title Brain Cloudy Blues. In 1961 Ricky Nelson's version hit #79 on the Hot 100 Chart. Elvis' version was released in January 1955 as a single with You're A Heartbreaker as the other side.
This song was written in 1953 by Charles 'Jack' Sallee, who was a friend of Sam Phillips. Jimmy Heap recorded it in 1953 as did the Ray Anthony Orchestra with Jo Ann Greer. In January 1955, this song, along with Milkcow Blues Boogie as the other side, became Elvis' third single released on the Sun label in January 1955. In the January 29, 1955 issue of 'The Billboard' magazine, this single was reviewed:
'Presley continues to impress with each release as one of the slickest talents to come up in the country field in a long, long time. Item here is based on some of the best folk blues. The guy sells all the way'.
By February 1955, Elvis' regional popularity was growing by leaps and bounds. He had released three singles for Sun Records, he was a regular on the 'Louisiana Hayride', and he was performing on whirlwind tours through Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Sometime in the first week of February he squeezed in another recording session at Sun.
Elvis taking a break during a heavy tour schedule : May 1955.
February (5?), 1955:
Written and recorded by Ray Charles in 1954, the song was derived from the tune of a gospel song by Alex Brown called I've Got A Savior (Across Town). Mr. Charles's version was a hit and reached #2 on the R&B Chart. Elvis' version for Sun was lost, however, he can be heard to singing it live in concert recordings from those early days. He would record it again at his first session for RCA in 1956 and it would be a staple of his concerts throughout his life. Others who have recorded this song include Ricky Nelson.
Written by Rose Marie McCoy and Charles Singleton in 1954, this song was a hit for the Washington, D.C. group The Eagles that same year. Elvis tried one take of this song in February 1955 and created the final master on July 11, 1955. This particular track was lost.
This song was written and recorded by Arthur Gunter in 1954. It would become Elvis' fourth single along with I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone. In an interview, Elvis' mother Gladys said this song was one of her favorites he'd recorded thus far. It peaked at #5 on the national Billboard Country Chart.
March (5?), 1955:
Producer Sam Phillips was looking to have Elvis record another song that could back the Baby, Let's Play House single. Another Sun hopeful, steel guitarist Stan Kesler, along with Bill Taylor, had written this song. The session didn't go well at first. Elvis and the band tried the song at a slow beat. Sam then brought in a young drummer, Jimmie Lott, who was the first percussionist to work an Elvis Presley recording session. The song was then reworked and recorded again.
July 11, 1955:
This song was written by Sun artists Stan Kesler and Charlie Feathers. This time Johnny Bernero was on drums. Elvis wasn't really interested in the song, but it was Mr. Bernero's drumming that helped him warm up to it. Released along with Mystery Train as Elvis' last Sun single, this song would become Elvis' first number one hit on a national chart. It spent a total of 39 weeks on the Billboard Country Chart, with five of the those weeks at the #1 spot.
Written and recorded in 1953 by Sun artist Herman 'Little Junior' Parker. Elvis' version was released as the B-side of I Forgot To Remember To Forget. It peaked at #11 on the national Billboard Country Chart.
On this date Elvis tried again and finally got a successful take of this song. It would be released on his first album for RCA Elvis Presley in 1956.
This song, written by Sun artist, William 'Billy the Kid' Emerson, was the last one Elvis recorded for Sun Records. The session was never completed. Negotiations had begun on the sale of Elvis' contract to RCA. This song would eventually be released in 1983 on the album 'Elvis: A Legendary Performer, Volume 4'.
By the week ending June 29, 1955, Elvis' Sun singles were on Billboard's Territorial Country Charts in Memphis (I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone - #5), New Orleans (Baby, Let's Play House - #7), Richmond, VA (Baby Let's Play House - #6), and St. Louis (Baby Let's Play House - #8).
The 'Million Dollar Quartet'. Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley. December 4, 1956.
In the review section of the August 20, 1955 issue of Billboard magazine, I Forgot To Remember To Forget was spotlighted: 'This sound is certain to get strong initial exposure. Presley is currently on the best selling charts with Baby, Let's Play House and the wide acceptance of this side should ease the way for the new disk. Flip Mystery Train is a splendid coupling, with the guitar outstanding'.
The 'Million Dollar Quartet'. Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, (With Elvis' date, Marilyn Evans). December 4, 1956.
Above photo; Often mistaken as one and the same image (with the photo above), here we have the 4 in a slightly different pose. And of course Elvis' ladyfriend (Marilyn Evans) is now also in the frame.
By September 3, 1955 Elvis had also hit the Territorial Charts in Charlotte, NC and Dallas/Ft. Worth for the first time with Baby Let's Play House. By the end of the year, Elvis had his first national #1 hit (country chart) with I Forgot To Remember To Forget and RCA finalized the purchase of his Sun recording contract. The sound of Elvis Presley's recorded voice first captured at that tiny studio on Union Avenue in Memphis would soon be heard throughout the world. It still is today, 50 years after his career began.
On July 5, 2004 things came full circle with an event billed as 'A Global Moment in Time'. Scotty Moore, the only surviving member of the original group, pushed a button at Sun Studio and played the original recording of That's All Right for a global satellite feed to radio stations in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Elvis' first single and the start of his career.
Interview with Larry Muhoberac
Interview with John Wilkinson
Interview with Michael Jarrett, songwriter, I'm Leavin'
Interview with James Burton
Interview with James Burton Sydney Australia 2006
James Burton : First Call For The Royalty Of Rockabilly
Interview with Ronnie Tutt
Interview with Ronnie Tutt #2
Interview with Jerry Scheff
Interview with Glen D. Hardin
Interview with Terry Blackwood & Jim Murray
Interview with Tony Brown
Interview with Charlie Hodge
Interview with Ernst Jorgensen
Elvis Presley & the TCB Band
No part of any article on this site may be re-printed for public display without permission.
Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.