Designer of iconic Sun Records logo dies in Memphis at 87

By: Elvis Australia
Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal
August 5, 2012

John G. Parker, the designer of the iconic Sun Records logo has died in memphis at age 87. His commercial work included designing notable packages for Alka-Seltzer and Super Bubble gum, as well and creating the tiger stripe helmet for the Cincinnati Bengals football team. Parker also taught graphic design courses at Memphis State University and was a well-respected watercolor artist. But his lasting contribution to the cultures of rock and roll and design came in 1952, when Parker crossed paths with his old friend Sam Phillips at a Krystal restaurant Downtown. Phillips, an erstwhile radio deejay, had opened his Memphis Recording Service studio a couple years earlier, and was about to launch a blues and R&B label called Sun Records.

SUN Logo
SUN Logo
'Sam was getting started in the record business, and he wanted to know what I did now', recalled Parker in a 2004 interview with the Commercial Appeal. 'When I told him, he wanted to know if we could do record labels. I had never done a record label, but I said, 'Sure'.

Phillips had drawn up a few rough ideas of his own and wanted a logo to convey his optimistic outlook. As he told rock historians Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins in the late-'80s, 'the sun to me - even as a kid back on the farm - was a universal kind of thing. A new day, a new opportunity'.

'I did several sketches for Sam, and he picked one with a rooster on it', recalled Parker, whose design featuring a crowing cock, the rays of a rising sun, and circling stanzas of music. In effort to keep Phillips' costs low, he worked in one color, a rusty brown, and set it against a bright yellow backdrop for contrast. He charged Phillips $50 for the job. The first official release bearing the Sun logo was on a Johnny London record, which appeared in stores in March of 1952. The label would become legend a few years later as Sun shifted its focus to the burgeoning rockabilly and rock and roll markets - ironic, since Parker himself wasn't a big fan of the music.

John G. Parker - SUN logo designer - standing by a van outside Sun Records.
John G. Parker standing by a van outside Sun Records.

'Well, Dad was more interested in church and family and work than rock and roll', said Jud Parker.

The success of Sun artists Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins would make Parker's design familiar the world over - though the rooster would eventually be dropped from the logo with the shift from 78s to 45s, which required a bigger hole in the middle of the record.

The logo would remain an indelible image even as Sun ceased operation in the 1960s. Over the last few decades Sun has become arguably the most reissued label in history and Parker's design can still be seen on T-shirts, mugs, and other merchandise. 'The funny thing was he was so humble about it', said Jud Parker. 'He did not gain recognition until very late in life, it was rarely brought up ... but he was very proud of his work'.

Parker, who was laid to rest on Thursday, is survived by his wife of 64 years, Jean Arnett Parker; his daughter, Jan Clark of Marion, Arkansas, son Jud of Oakland, Tennessee, his brother, Floyd 'Rusty' Parker of Florence and four grandchildren.Back in early 1952, Jay Parker was working as the art director at the Memphis Engraving Company when he received a visit from an old high school classmate with request to design a logo for his fledgling record label. The old school chum was Sam Phillips and the label was Sun Records. Parker, who would create the now iconic Sun logo, died on Monday at age 87, at his home in Memphis. Born John G. Parker in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on February 1, 1925, he grew up in Florence, and graduated from Coffee High School where he and Phillips both played sousaphone in the band. After studying at the Harris Advertising Art School in Nashville, Parker arrived in the Bluff City in 1946. He would serve as art director at both the Memphis Engraving Company and Eastex Packaging during a distinguished and award winning 40 plus year career.

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