At Sun Records, the record label and recording studio he founded in Memphis in the early 1950s, he discovered Elvis Presley--in addition to launching the careers of countless rock and country music stars including Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, B.B. King and Conway Twitty.
In a statement, Johnny Cash said, "Sam Phillips was a good friend. I'll miss him very much. He didn't just create rock and roll, he helped create me." Sun Studios, which Phillips sold in 1969, was designated as an historical landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior on Thursday (July 31).
Dick Clark said: "Sam was a one of a kind. He discovered so much talent in a short length of time. The big question was, why did he sell his rights in Elvis to RCA for $35,000? I'm sure he must have asked himself that question many times."
Todd Morgan, director of media for Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises said: "One can't help but wonder how different Elvis' life and career would have been, or how the world of music and pop culture would have been different, had Sam not been there, at that moment. Sam was a nurturing presence in the lives of a lot of musicians. He contributed so much to our community, here in Memphis, and to the world."
Howard Kramer, curator of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, said he was impressed by Phillips confidence. "Sam Phillips was the kind of personality that whenever he walked into the room every eye turned," Kramer said. "He just was an amazingly commanding presence; the type of confidence that you don't see anywhere. Literally, his mythic nature was founded in the fact that he really was this otherworldly type of guy." Sam Phillips was inducted into the Hall's first class, in 1986, alongside Sun Records' artists Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis (news).
Anthony DeCurtis, well-known writer for Rolling Stone magazine, music critic, and host of VH1's the A-List With Anthony DeCurtis discussed Phillips role in the history of rock music. "Sam Phillips really was on the ground zero of what became the big bang of rock and roll," DeCurtis said. "He was one of the architects of this sound. And even more than the sound, which was important enough, he was almost a kind of architect of the sensibility, the idea that you could cross racial lines, cross musical lines. You know, he always talked about rock and roll as fun."
Jerry Schilling, a friend of Elvis Presley's since the late '50s and member of the 'Memphis Mafia', said Phillips' impacted more than just rock and roll. "My friend was Elvis Presley and my hero was Sam Phillips," Schilling said. "Sam had the eye and the vision of knowing what American music and black music, blues and R&B was all about it. You know, Sam was the godfather of the whole thing." Schilling was a consultant for the documentary This Is Elvis, and executive producer of the A&E Biography program, Sam Phillips: The Father Of Rock n' Roll.
Memphis TV and radio personality George Klein, a lifelong friend of Elvis Presley's since they were in school together at Homes High, said Phillips paved the way for many rock and rollers. "Cutting to the chase, Sam Phillips was the Godfather of rock and roll. He's the guy that didn't open the door, he kicked it down when it came to music and had those acts walk right on through. The guy did a tremendous thing for the world of music."
Leading Elvis Presley expert Stephen Christopher, who has appeared on radio stations around the world, challenging fans to stump him on Elvis trivia in a show called "Elvis On The Air," said Phillips was also a humanitarian. "He's a super personality," Christopher said. "If you've seen him, you know that and he's going to be sorely missed. Quite active in a lot of charity, helped raise money for a lot of good causes. He was still out there and so alive and vivacious, much younger than his years would indicate, that this was really a sudden, tragic surprise to everyone."
Bill Beeny, owner of the Elvis Is Alive Museum in Wright City, Missouri, said Phillips was an important part of Elvis' career. "I think that Sam Phillips was without question a very vital part of Elvis' career, where otherwise he could've either gone unnoticed and been a star burned-out before its time, or her could've ended up playing in honky-tonks the rest of his life," Beeny said.