Friday, January 3, 2020

Sun Records opened: January 3, 1950

First posted 1/3/2012; last updated 12/29/2019.

Sam Phillips opened the Memphis Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 3, 1950. The building served as the headquarters for the failed Phillips Records and his later Sun Records label. He used the studio to record amateurs such as B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Junior Parker and then sold their performances to larger record labels. During its 16-year run, Sun produced 226 singles and more rock and roll records than any of its contemporary record labels. WK One of the most significant songs to come out of Sun was “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats. The song was released by Chess in 1951 and has been called the first rock and roll record by some historians.

Phillips was interested primarily in the blues, an art form which he thought both white and black people understood. As he said, it was how people “relieved the burden of what existed day in and day out.” WK In addition to the blues artists mentioned above, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Little Milton, and Rufus Thomas recorded there.

Part of the company’s appeal, however, was its broad range of genres. Sun has become most associated with launching the careers of more rockabilly-oriented artists like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison. Of course, the label benefited most from its discovery of Elvis Presley. When Sun was experiencing financial trouble in 1955, Phillips famously sold Elvis’ contract to RCA Records. The sale helped boost some of the other artists, most notably the distribution for Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”, the first national hit for Sun Records.

In 1959, Phillips Recording opened to replace the old facility. Phillips sold the label in 1969. Gary Hardy reopened the original building in 1987 as Sun Studio and attracted artists such as U2, Def Leppard, Ringo Starr, and Bonnie Raitt. In 2003, the building was recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

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