Elvis Presley's Sun Recordings : SUN Stiudios, Memphis Tennessee

By: Elvis Australia
Source: www.elvis.com.au
July 21, 2004 - 8:22:00 PM
Elvis Articles


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.

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Elvis Presley, Bill Black, Scotty Moore & Sam Phillip's February 3, 1955.
Elvis Presley, Bill Black, Scotty Moore & Sam Phillip's February 3, 1955.

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.

That's All Right.
That's All Right.
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.

Sam Phillips, Elvis & Marion Keisker.
Sam Phillips, Elvis & Marion Keisker.

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.

Elvis taking a break during a heavy tour schedule : May 1955.
Elvis taking a break during a heavy tour schedule : May 1955.

As his first recordings began to spread, Elvis gained recognition for his unique sound. Follow the early successes of Elvis Presley on the next page.

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:

My Happiness

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.

That's When Your Heartaches Begin

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:

I'll Never Stand In Your Way

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.

It Wouldn't Be The Same Without You

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:

I Love You Because

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.

That's All Right

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's 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's 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.

Harbor Lights

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.

Blue Moon Of Kentucky

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:
Richmond, VA
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's 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

'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's version for Sun was not be released until 1956 when it appeared on his first album for RCA, 'Elvis Presley'.

September 10 - ?, 1954:

Tomorrow Night

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.

Satisfied

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.

I'll Never Let You Go Little Darlin'

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.

I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine

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's second single Good Rockin' Tonight.

Just Because

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.

Good Rockin' Tonight

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's 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.

Milkcow Blues Boogie

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.

Your'e A Heartbreaker

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's 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's 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.

February (5?), 1955:

I Got A Woman

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.

Trying To Get To You

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.

Baby, Lets Play House

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:

I'm Left, Your'e Right, She's Gone

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:

I Forgot To Remember To Forget

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's 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.

Mystery Train

Written and recorded in 1953 by Sun artist Herman 'Little Junior' Parker. Elvis's version was released as the B-side of I Forgot To Remember To Forget. It peaked at #11 on the national Billboard Country Chart.

Trying To Get To You

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.

November, 1955:

When It Rains, It Really Pours

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's 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).

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'.

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.

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Elvis Presley Video Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD

Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.

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.

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.