- THIS PAGE CONTAINS -
Sam Cornelius Phillips
Marion Keisker MacInnes
The True Memphis Memories Of Barbara Barnes
Jack Henderson Clement
John William ''Jud'' Phillips
Dewey Mills Phillips
From Rockabilly To Rap
SAMUEL CORNELIUS PHILLIPS
- Record producer born in Florence, Alabama, on January 5,
1923, the youngest of eight children. He was raised on a three-hundred-acre tenant farm
on the Tennessee River, just outside Florence, Alabama.
At first, Sam Phillips grew up in
comparative comfort. Then came the Crash of 1929.
"One day my father had money. The
next thing he knew, it was gone. A few hundred dollars left maybe. All gone. That kind of
thing could break you, but my father had courage and determination and refused to give
In 1941 Sam Phillips was forced to leave high school to help make ends meet at home.
His father had died just after Pearl Harbor, and Phillips had to help support his mother and
deaf-mute aunt. He worked at a grocery store and later a funeral parlour.
With the proximity
of bereavement, Sam Phillips learned interpersonal skills that would become more useful
than he could ever have imagined. "I was very sensitive to the things I heard, saw and felt
around me. You see, back then most people died at home in the country areas and often
without a lot of warning. Those times working with the country mortician made me very
aware of how to handle people and their problems later on".
Sam Phillips' first goal had been to study law, but grim economic reality forced him to
forsake it in favour of radio. He either attended or took correspondence courses from the
Alabama Polytechnical Institute in Auburn, specializing in engineering, including audio
engineering for radio. He had first broken into radio in 1940 when he conducted and emceed
the band for a college concert. Impressed with his performance, Jim Connally, station
manager at WLAY in Muscle Shoals, hired him. "Once I got into radio", Phillips recalls, "my
interest in music resurfaced. I was not interested in becoming a musician, but back in the
1930s all the music of the country people - black blues, hillbilly, and spirituals - all
influenced me, and in radio I saw artistic person emotionally. I played music from the sixth
to the eleventh grade in school, but I never was a very good musician. I was a good
conductor. I could always see the people that did have talent and get it out of them. And
they would know that I was getting it out of them. After I got into radio, I worked hard at
becoming an announcer - there were no disc jockey's as such then - but I really wasn't a
talented announcer in the strictest terms, although I had to be good just to hold my job in
those days. I looked on it as a serious job through the later part of the 1940s, because I had
to make enough money to live and raise a family".
Formal music aside, Sam Phillips also learned to love the music of hardship. "There were two
types of downtrodden people back then. There were the black field hands and the white
sharecroppers. It was impossible in those days not to hear and grow to love all the music of
oppression and the music that uplifted people - blues, country, gospel, all of it - either in the
fields, or the black women doing their chores, or on weekends. One man in particular, Uncle
Silas Payne, an old black man, taught music to me. Not musical notes or reading, you
understand, but real intuitive music".
Sam Phillips married Rebecca (or Becky) Irene Burns from Sheffield in 1942. They lived in
Memphis at 233 North Waldran. (Later the family moved to 1028 McEvers Road, in what was
a quiet neighbourhood. Jerry and Knox Phillips remembers that Elvis Presley stopped by the
house at this address to visit the Phillips family. After Sun Records became a success, Sam
Phillips bought the house at 79 South Mendenhall Road where he still lives today. His home is
unmistakable, surrounded by a stone-and-wrought-iron fence decorated with music notes).
Sam Phillips worked for the following radio stations: 1942-WLAY, Muscle Shoals, Alabama;
1943-WHSL radio, Decatur, Alabama, for three years; 1945-WLAC radio, Nashville,
Tennessee, for a few months; 1946-49-WREC radio, Memphis, Tennessee. Phillips' entrée to
WREC radio was probably his brother Jud, who had been established at the station for some
time as a member of the Jollyboys Quartet, singing on the air every morning.
From Skyway Ballroom at the Peabody Hotel, WREC radio, Sam Phillips hosted the "Songs Of
The West" show under the pseudonym of Pardner at 4:00 p.m. daily. He also honed his
engineering skills in support of the transcription manager, Milton Brame. The days before
tape, many programs were prerecorded, or transcribed, onto sixteen-inch acetate discs,
which were often duplicated and circulated to other stations. This meant that local radio
engineers were also recording engineers, and Sam Phillips was able to develop his recording
skills in a way that is uncommon today. He also looked after the station's sound effects and
ventured out in search of records for the station's library. "One of my jobs", he recalls. "was
to go to the Home Of The Blues record store and buy up any records that WREC radio weren't
getting shipped to them. This went on through the mid to late 1940s. I would listen to a lot
of what was current, and I would also go play a lot of the older records they had
Sam Phillips used his knowledge to host a show on WREC radio called the "Saturday
Afternoon Tea Dance". Local Memphis journalist Edwin Howard recalls that "Phillips played
what he liked on that show and talked about the records very knowledgeably. He played
jazz, blues, and pop, and that was where many people in Memphis first heard his name".
In 1949 Sam Phillips decided to apply his engineering expertise and his catholic taste in
music to the operation of a recording studio, which he would run in addition to his other
jobs. As well an providing extra income, the studio would give him an outlet for his
creativity that was unavailable at WREC radio station. Unable to sing or play, Sam Phillips
would now be able to "create" music, the art form that become paramount in his life.
In 1950 Phillips became a record producer when he cut two songs for his newly founded
record label, Phillips Records ("The Hottest Thing In The Country"), with Joe Hill Louis
singing "Gotta Let You Go"/"Boogie In The Park" (The Phillips 9001/90020), but the record
only sold 350 copies. Later that year Phillips founded the Memphis Recording Service.
Phillips began recording rhythm and blues demo records, which he sold to other
independent record companies, such as Chess and Modern Records. Among the artists he
recorded were Jackie Brenston, Rosco Gordon, B.B. King, and Ike Turner. Phillips' most
successful record was Brenston's "Rocket 88" (Chess 1438) (It was the debut of Ike Turner
and his band on record. Phillips calls it the first rock and roll record), which oddly enough
was recorded with a broken amplifier, giving it a fuzz sound. In February 1952 Phillips
started Sun Records so that he could record both rhythm and blues singers and country and
western artists (then known as hillbilly music).
It was located in the same building, 706 Union Avenue, that housed the Memphis Recording
Service. Phillips' first release was on March 1, 1952, with "Blues In My Condition"/"Sellin' My
Whisky" by Jackie Boy and Little Walter (SUN 174). Phillips is listed as the composer of Rufus
(Hound Dog) Thomas' "Bear Cat" (SUN 181) and the co-writer of the song "Mystery Train" (SUN
192). Among the Sun artists Phillips recorded were Rufus Thomas, the Prisonaires, Junior
Parker, Little Milton, Doug Poindexter, and the Johnny Burnette Trio, before recording Elvis
Presley's first record, "That's All Right" (SUN 209) in 1954. Secretary Marion Keisker always
remembered Phillips telling her, "If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and
the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars". (In a Goldmine interview, Phillips said that
although Jerry Hopkins has quoted him as saying it in his book, he never uttered those now
famous words). Today, along with Sam Phillips almost messianic ability to bring out the
rawest emotion in their art, qualifies the man as probably the first modern, record producer,
and possibly the greatest. It also ensures that his legacy is among the most important in
Doctor Isaiah Ross performed some excellent down-home blues for Sam Phillips' Sun label.
According to Ross, Phillips told him if he could find a white man who could play and sing as
good as a black man, he would make him a million dollars. Sun found its star in Elvis Presley,
and, as Doctor Ross recalls it, "The next time I went back, Elvis Presley had come through...
so they took my promotion off of my record and they put it on him .... I was probably one of
the first ones. Me, Joe Hill Louis, and Willie Nix. There was a bunch of us there that was on
that thing. But we were the ones who really started it".
"I was born with a tradition that blacks were over here (pointing in one direction), and
whites over here (pointing in another direction). The difference was that my family - my
mother and father, especially my father - had a real affinity for black people and their
plight, more so than many people I knew. There was a distinct difference; a tradition that a
black was supposed to stay in his place".
"We had a very definite, different feel - I always did - for black people, for one because we
had an old black man living with us named Silas Payne. He had been blinded by syphilis. He
had been let to go by this family because they didn't have enough food to feed him. My
daddy knew Uncle Salis was being put out. We didn't have much, but we took Uncle Silas in.
He was a very brilliant person. He had experienced all kinds of life in Louisiana and all over
the South. At that time, Uncle Silas was in his mid-fifties, which, when I was a kid, was very
old. He used to talk to me and I was amazed at his mental ability, his mental agility, his
knowledge of things, even though he had been blind for some time. This was during the war.
It was amazing how he could listen to the radio and learn and retain so much. I grew to
respect him a lot. I grew to respect the people I worked with in the cotton fields".
"I was always amazed how, someway or another, the black person could adjust to situations.
I never saw one of them really down, no matter how tough the situation was. There was
some kind of mechanism built into their souls, their psyche, their mental attitude that they
could sing their way out of a bad situation. They had a close relationship with something
better to come. I was always amazed at that. Also with their natural-born rhythms. They
showed this to me in many different ways, not just everybody standing around singing, but
the way they would pick cotton, hoe cotton, dance around a little bit, walk, at times get
"Then they would go to these little churches in the countryside, some no larger than my
den, and no matter how hot it was in July in northwest Alabama, they would sit through long
services - three to four hours. You couldn't get us white people to stay inside in the
summertime, even with all the windows open and if the preacher preached only one hour.
I'm talking about Baptists and they usually like to preach long. All of these things had an
influence on me as to basically how close a relationship mankind has, regardless of colour of
"I first came to Memphis in 1939, en route to Dallas to hear a baptist preacher. There were
five of us on that trip. We arrived about four-thirty or five on a Saturday morning in a
pouring-down rain. I had always heard of Beale Street, so I had to go see it. There was just
an awful lot of people down there, even at that time of the morning. People were walking
everywhere. We had to drive the car slow because the people weren't paying attention to
the cars. They were talking, having a good time, not just on the sidewalks, but in the middle
of the street. That fascinated me. Next thing I wanted to see was the Mississippi River - the
mighty, muddy, Mississippi. I had read a lot about it, how you couldn't tame it. I liked that
"I had wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer, but my father died in early 1942, and I had to
drop out of school in the eleventh grade. I had a deaf mute aunt and my mother left. I was
the youngest of eight children, and I had to work to support them".
"After working for a while at a small radio station in Decatur, Alabama, I got a big break and
landed at WLAC radio in Nashville. We programmed an awful lot off the networks. Soap
operas. I did a hillbilly country show every morning on WLAC radio. The artist was Big Jeff.
And at noon I did a show from a dealer's clothing store with Little Texas daisy. You had
general radio then, not specialized in one type of music or the other. You had some rhythm
and blues being played on the air in the forties, but not much. My brother-in-law had put the
"Atomic Boogie Hour" on down in Birmingham, and that was the first long-running rhythm
and blues program. It let to others, including WDIA radio in Memphis in the fifties".
"In 1945 I heard there was a radiojob available in Memphis at WREC radio, a 5,000 watt
station. I had gone from a 250 watt station in Alabama to 50,000 watts in Nashville. WREC radio was a well-respected station. Memphis had only four radio stations then. I flew over on a DC-3, was interviewed and was hired. I loved Memphis. I loved Beale Street. I thought it was a unique place. I loved being on the old Mississippi River". "WREC radio was in the Peabody Hotel. The big bands were coming to the Peabody to play the Skyway. I thought, growing up in Alabama, I would never live to see a big band, now, suddenly, here I was mixing the bands and feeding their music to the CBS network.
That fascinated the hell out of me. I had never studied production. I was a pretty good musician, having been captain of the band in high school. I never wanted to be a musician. I enjoyed music as an avocation. But I always enjoyed music - how it was played, how it came about, listening to it. I remember the Artie Shaw record, "Summit Ridge Drive", how it had a lot of drum on it - strange sounding drum and a strange sounding bass. It blew my mind. Then, Tommy Dorsey's original boogie woogie. I liked that, man, because it really had a rhythm pattern that engendered a lot. I liked a lot of things Glenn Miller was doing because it, too, had a lot of rhythm. I knew most of this music was coming out of Tin Pan Alley in New York".
"I knew, from all the music I had heard - from the churches, from black people singing, from
the Grand Ole Opry, from Tin Pan Alley - that there had to be something out there that was a diversification of all this. I guess there was a desire in me, perhaps subliminally, to do something different. There was a creative desire to experiment with the black people. I had no formal training at all. Whatever I did, I did by trial and error".
"I think the important thing was, I was not interested in just making a record. I wasn't
interested, necessarily, in recording the big bands. I guess there was something in me that felt that all these people - country artists and black artists - that just didn't exist (in recording studios), they were being overlooked. Totally overlooked".
"I started out recording black artists for Modern and RPM Records on the West Coast. They
liked what they heard. And once the word got out that a black man could record in the South, that they no longer had to find a way up to Chicago, that I didn't charge them anything to audition, the doors opened. What I did was giring them confidence in their own music. I told them when they came in I wasn't interested in hearing another Duke Ellington. I wanted them to play not for the white man, but to play the thing they felt and not try to please me from the standpoint of uptown music. That gave them a lot of confidence. They saw that I really meant that".
"I was looking for what they liked to do in their little clubs; what they just liked to do,
period; what felt good to them. This was something I wanted to do. I never went in there thinking I was going to get rich. I just hoped I could sustain myself until I could prove what I was doing was worthwhile; that people, once they were exposed to it, might accept it, hopefully. If they didn't, fine, but I couldn't stand the idea of not trying this thing. Even if it had failed, I would have been happy because I had tried and given it my best shot. I'm much happier that it didn't fail".
"There was definitely a black and white Maginot Line then. Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and
Count Basie were "white" people. I guess Pine Top Smith was accepted on both sides. There was a very definite distinction between black and white music and it's acceptance. I was getting a sense that young white people were seeing the vitality in black music, but they were afraid to acknowledge that fact".
I felt a void in the music industry. It was among the young people, especially in their teens,
when they are so active mentally, physically, sexually, emotionally. This was the group of people I felt was being totally ignored. I knew they would already have jumped on country music if they had really liked it. The rhythm and blues records just could not be played that much on the air. I knew we were going to have problems with adults because adults were just very demanding of their children".
"At the time I was doing the Skyway broadcast, you didn't see young people up there. These
were all people twenty-five to sixty years old from the Mississippi Delta. They came up there, had their booze, enjoyed the bands, danced and it was a great, beautiful thing, but there just wasn't any place for young people to go. This was very vital in the evolution of rock and roll, no doubt about it. These young people deserved something, the opportunity to hear something and not be ashamed or be denied the right to hear it, and buy it, if they wanted it".
"I wanted to produce. I came up with "Rocket 88". It became a classic. Billboard and others
say that, historically, that was possibly the first rock and roll record, even though it was cut by black men - Ike Turner and Jackie Brenston." "As we went along with rhythm and blues records, I had begun to think, man, if I could just find a white person who will not try to mimic - now that's very important - a black artist; if I could find a white artist with that innate, natural feeling, that maybe we could cut down that barrier a little bit. But they would still say 'he sounds like a nigger', and they would resent that.
But if this white guy is good looking, if he's humble and honest... I just hoped I could find somebody like that". "And that's when Elvis came in. I knew damn well this was what I wanted. He had the sound. The feel. Everything. He was not trying to copy anything. He was like me; he loved all types of music. He was a music nut - everything from Hank Snow to the Ink Spots and Mills Brothers, to Perry Como and Dean Martin. They pretty well run the damned gamut. I thought this was a hell of an opportunity".
"Everybody thinks this all happened overnight. Believe me, for a while it didn't look like it
was going to work out". Legend has it that in June 1954, Phillips could not find the black singer of a demo record, "Without You", that he had brought back from Nashville. He decided to record it with someone else. Marion Keisker suggested he try Elvis Presley. He did and was not impressed at first. Elvis tried other songs, including "Rag Mop" and a couple of Dean Martin hits. Phillips remained unconvinced, but heard enough there to ask Scotty Moore to invite Elvis Presley to his apartment and rehearse some songs. Bill Black dropped in and he, like Moore, was unimpressed.
"You have to keep in mind that Elvis probably had the greatest inferiority complex of any
person, black or white, that I had worked with. He was a total loner. He didn't have exposure to other kids. He didn't have many fights. He had a real feeling for his mother because her health was bad from the time he was a small boy. I think he kind of felt locked out. He was aware, I heard this later, that he lost his twin brother, Jesse Garon, at birth and they say that even though you don't know it at the time, that you know there's something missing. I don't know, but I do know he was a very insecure person at the time he came in".
"Scotty was a very patient guy. I had brought "Without You" over from Nashville. I thought it
would really be good for Elvis. It was a ballad. He sang it. It just didn't work out. Out of the eight, ten, twelve, fifteen times he came in over a period of six months, I just didn't hear what I was looking for. We did a lot of things that were good, but they weren't different".
Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black were in the Sun Studio on July 5, 1954, trying to
record "Harbor Lights". It, like the others before it, was going nowhere. During a Cola break, Elvis started playing with the Arthur Crudup tune, "That's All Right". Scotty and Bill joined in.
"We were about to close the studio and go home for the night. I wanted to encourage them,
so I told them 'y'll work a little more. Scotty and Bill were working, both of them had families. Elvis was working. He had a family to keep up. Mister Presley never did work that hard. His mother was a cleaning woman at St. Joseph Hospital, but it had gotten to where she couldn't work because of her health. Anyway, Elvis was playing around with this song. I didn't even know he knew this song".
"He started playing around on guitar, jumping around the studio, and I heard this thing and I
said, 'Oh, God, that's what I'm looking for!'. We got on mike and it sounded good".
"Some of the stories about this session say I went out of my mind. I really didn't. I didn't tell
them 'Hey, y'll got a great thing. I want y'll to get it just right'. All that is bull shit. I just let them know, 'This sounds good. We may be on to something here'".
"They continued playing around with it, probably thinking 'you can't please this sonofabitch',
talking about me. We had been working six months at that time. I guess it was on the second or third take, I knew we had a take. I just knew it!".
"The question has been asked, how much longer I would have gone with Elvis had that song
not come along that night. How much patience I would have had. I knew from day one I was working with amateurs and that's what I wanted to do. I couldn't answer that (about Elvis) truthfully; whether it would have gone on another month, two months, six months, two years, I don't know. I knew this about Presley. He had something distinctive in the way he said his words. I didn't want too much of a pretty voice, although he did have a pretty voice. I wanted somebody who had that instinctive rhythm feel about him and then could switch to a ballad and sing it with some conviction. I would have to have been convinced he absolutely could not do it and that could have gone on for ad infinitum".
"They weren't in there every night. I had to approach it from the standpoint they were
working, they would get together when they could and do it informally. I assured them I was going to give them every bit of attention I could. I had to reassure them because the odds of 'making it' are so against you. I feel the atmosphere I was able to create in that studio, the integrity they felt in there, had as much to do with these people being able to put themselves on display in the best manner possible. I think we did things and got things out of people that they didn't really know they had in themselves and they certainly didn't know they could do it in a public place. Maybe they thought they could do it at home on the back porch or something, but...".
"Anyway, back to Elvis, Scotty and Bill. Bill was the total opposite of Scotty. That was a good
mixture. I liked that. I had already told Elvis, 'Bill is going to kid you a lot and a lot of times you're going to think he means it. A lot of times he's going to walk up to you and say, 'Man, you can't sing at all'. He's liable to come up to you and say, 'Man, that's awful'. You're going to be auditioning and Bill Black will come up to you and say, 'man, that sounds horrible'. But he wouldn't mean it. It might have been the best thing they had ever done".
"I said, 'Now look, you just listen to Scotty. When you come into the studio, we will all
decide. You'll be in on it. Scotty. Bill. Everybody will be in on it. We'll make the decision'". "It worked out perfectly. The chemistry was just right. Anyway, we got a take on the song. We put the record on Dewey Phillips' program and everybody went wild in Memphis the first night we put it on. They literally did. People thought Elvis was black".
"When I hit the road to Shreveport, Houston and Dallas, some of the great disc jockey's who
had earlier played my black records, wouldn't put Elvis on. T. Tommy Coutrere had a country show with KCIJ in Shreveport. We had worked together at WREC radio. He was a great personal friend of mine, but he told me, 'I can't play this record. They would run me out of town if I played this record. I said, 'You mean, you can't play "Blue Moon Of Kentucky!' which was on the back side. It was no accident, by God, I had a country song on the back side. I had a lot of resistance".
"The same thing happened with Paul Berlin in Houston. I had taught Paul a lot about radio at
WREC. He was the big Number One disc jockey in Houston at this time. I went down there and he told me, 'Sam, I'm sorry, but that old ragged music I can't play. I would if I could, but I can't. I've got to play Patti Page, the "Tennessee Waltz", "Doggie In The Window", Como, mainly vocalists".
"He was very honest with me. I never tried to force anybody to play it. I just tried to
convince them. So I drove through a dust storm all night into Dallas and ran into Alta Hayes. She worked the counter at Big State Distributing Company. My ass was dragging. I had been turned down in Shreveport. I had been turned down in Houston. I must have looked like hell. I had driven all night. About smothered to death in that dust storm. I thought I was going to die".
Alta was a good looking chick and really an admirer of Sun Records for some reason or
another. She looked at me and said, 'Sam, you look like hell'. I was trying to get into Dallas on Monday morning because that was mainly when the jukebox operators came in to buy for their locations. Retail people would come in usually on Wednesday and Thursdays for the weekend trade".
"It was about eight-thirty in the morning and Alta said, 'Let's go up and have a cup of coffee.
You look bad'. I said, 'Thank you very much, Alta'. We went up to this little delicatessen where she always went. She had a cup of coffee and a chocolate eclair. I was sitting there sipping on my coffee and listening to Alta, and she said, 'Look, Sam, I don't care what they have told you, you have got a hit on Elvis Presley;. I told her, 'Alta, you're just trying to make me feel good. I appreciate that. All you're doing is putting a warm tile on my fort here. You're just too kind'".
"There was an unbelievable resistance (to what I was trying to do with this thing). Word was
going around that this kind of thing just can't be. This was coming from jukebox operators, retail outlet owners and operators. They were saying, 'Look, these young white children don't know any better and they're falling in love with niggers'. That's exactly what they were saying. It wasn't uttered just once. I had to counteract that without making these people mad".
"I said, 'No, they're really not falling in love with niggers, quote/unquote. They are loving
the vitality of what they're doing. There's no music on the market after you're three, four years old - kiddie records. You have to be twenty-five. Teenagers are in the roughest time because they are in a No Man's Land. Everybody's telling them 'you're too goddamned young for everything and yet you're too old to make a damned mistake'. So where do you go, by God? You're imprisoned in your own damned hull, shell, body, mind. You're controlled by everything'".
"I thought it was time to let people out of their own goddamned souls and let them search
out a few things they liked on their own. And, by God, this thing didn't let me down".
The growing success Elvis Presley was having with his debut record opened the floodgates at
Sun for what followed.
"Finding them (Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, etc.) wasn't the
problem. It was deciding on who was the person. You have to keep in mind Jerry Lee had been to Nashville and Dallas and they didn't feel a piano player had any place in country music. I mean, he was just supposed to be kind of heard a little bit behind somebody else. I didn't want another Burl Ives. At the same time, I did want something distinctively different, that might could be classified as maybe a little musical category itself, a sort of sub-thing to whatever this thing was going to be that we were doing".
"Me, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, all of us were raised to a great extent like
black people. We maybe had things a little better than black people because we were white, but we were damned near as poor monetarily. Once the opportunity was given to these people, the word spread like you might stick a match to dry sagebrush. You didn't have to go looking. They came to you. It was you picking out the one you felt. I'm sure I missed a lot. I was only one person. I was one of these people who thought nobody else could record as good as me. I honestly thought that. I'm sure that's wrong. I was just a hands-on type of person who didn't have enough sense to say maybe there's somebody else, now that we've broken this shell, that can do this. Later on, it was proven we did have in Jack Clement, who did a few pretty good things for me".
"The point is, it was very important to prepare these people. I wanted totally unknowns. I didn't want them to have to unlearn anything. After one or two records, I had all kinds of exartists that had a hit record or two or three coming to me. Mel Tillis. Webb Pierce. Mel was really stuttering in those days. Webb had fallen off. I told them, 'Look, I love you to death, but I would be the worst thing in the world for you. You would probably try to re-make yourself. I might be inclined to do that, or want to do that, and that would be a catastrophe for both of us".
"My thing was to pick out balls of clay and hopefully to mold those and not let them try to be something they weren't. The psychology of the moment was very important and this was between me and the artist. It was visible at times, sometimes invisible. But without that, and without them feeling they could do their own thing, this thing would never have happened".
"We're talking the same as the blacks here, but we're talking about the whites now. I didn't want them sounding like the people on the Grand Ole Opry. I said many times they got great country artists over there, and although I love country music, I'm just not going to specialize in country music because they're doing very fine over there. It was a question, really, of which ones I felt best about, which ones I picked".
"I wish I could have just been able to merchandise more of them because there were a lot of them I didn't get to work with long enough. Some of them I had some great things on, but I didn't get, them, off the ground. I didn't do like the major labels. They would have a quota of how many records had to be sold. I knew I had to take these unknowns and we had to go slow, we had to be patient, we had to give them time to incubate. If we said, 'We've got to bill this; we've got to ship these records', cram them down these people's throats, we would have been out of business and the chances are, there would have been no rock and roll".
"I've been accused that after I got Elvis I absolutely deserted the black man. That is the furthest damned thing from the truth that could ever be. I said, 'Look, if I can just some way broaden the base of acceptance of this great black music, by having a white person do it and get some acceptance - maybe he would be a step ahead because of his colour - instead of hurting the blacks, we would broaden the base for plays on the radio, and ultimately, (total) acceptance, and that's how it worked out. We certainly didn't know that was going to be the case, but that was damned sure our aim from the beginning".
"Sun probably sustained itself at the right time because of Elvis' unbelievable good looks. Carl was married. He told me at the time, 'Compared to Elvis, I look like an old mule looking over a whitewashed fence on the farm'. That's exactly what he told me. I think what happened at Sun would definitely still have happened; it would just have taken a little while".
"I worked with Elvis Presley even before I signed him to a contract. I had a four-year contract. We used twenty months of that contract, plus another five or six months before I signed him. So we're talking about two years here. You look back on it and you think, man, it happened overnight. It didn't".
Eventually, Elvis Presley became so big it was time to move on. He had cut a string of hits at Sun. His star was rising across the South. Beer hall gigs had turned into filled football stadiums. And Sun was not big enough for what was just over the horizon.
"When I sold Elvis' contract for $40,000 ($35,000 plus I owed him nearly $5,000 in royalties), well, up until then, the biggest sale of a personal services contract was Frankie Lane, whose contract was sold from Mercury to Mitch Miller at Columbia Records for $25,000. I made RCA an offer of forty grand, and Elvis got a Cadillac as a bonus. I didn't think they would take it. They went right up to the option period at midnight and Tom Parker called me from Nashville and said, 'I've finally gotten the money together and I want to know if you want me to wire it over there tonight so that our option won't run out and we would lose the option money we sent over to you'".
"I said, 'Tom, if you tell me you will be here tomorrow...". And he said, 'We will be there. These RCA people are coming out of Dallas and New York, but we will be there'. I said, 'There's no point in going to the expense of wiring that kind of money. If you're going to be here, I'll take your word for it'. We met the next day at WHER, my all-girl radio station in the Holiday Inn on Third Street. Then, we moved over to the Sun Studio and finalized the deal".
"...I'm well pleased. I could not be more happy or thankful for the influence that Sun Records has had on the industry. The money has been great, but if that had been the kind of thing that drove me, or initiated the tings I did - the hard work, the many tours - I don't think I would have really made it. And, hey, I like the money. I love it. But that was just not the driving force".
"Sun Records and that little studio - it really is the cradle, not because of me, because it's all bigger than me now. So many great things have come out of this thing that really meant something to civilization. I don't think any of us really realizes how much joy we have brought to people musically, how many people have learned to play the guitar because they were so inspired with what we did. All this happened because of the inspiration of this thing. And to a young singer named Elvis Presley!".
Currently involved in the family music publishing business, Sam Phillips received the Trustees Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences - the highest honer NARAS gives nonperformers - at the 1991 Grammy Awards. Samuel Cornelius Phillips died on Wednesday July 30, 2003, of respiratory failure at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 80, only one day before the original Sun Studio was designated on July 31 as a National Historic Landmarm. The memorial service was held at Cannon Convention Center for the Performing Arts in Memphis' new convention center, built on the side of the old Ellis Auditorium the next day. Sam is interred in the Memorial Park Cemetery, 5668 Poplar Avenue in Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee.
MARION KEISKER MACINNES
- College-educated studio manager for Sam Phillips at the
Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records until November 1955. Marion Keisker was born
in Memphis on September 23, 1917, and attended Memphis Southwestern College, where
she in 1938 graduated, and had majored in English and medieval French.
She had made her
radio debut on the weekly children's hour "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" on WREC radio
station in 1929 at the age of twelve and had been appearing on one show or another ever
After her marriage in 1939, she moved to Peoria, Illinois, returning to Memphis after her
divorce in 1943. She began work as a secretary to a businessman named Chambers, who had
offices in the Peabody Hotel, located at 149 Union Avenue.
The Peabody housed the WREC
radio, and Marion joined the station in 1946, a year after Sam Phillips. Keisker, who had held
the title of "Miss Radio Memphis", and had been an announcer with WREC radio, and she had
been the host of the very popular "Meet Kitty Kelly" since 1946, a talk show on which as the
eponymous hostess she interviewed visiting celebrities or simply discoursed on subjects of
her own choosing if a guest didn't happen to be on hand.
She was on the air five days a week, as well as the nightly broadcast of "Treasury Bandstand"
from the Skyway Ballroom at the Peabody Hotel. She wrote, produced, and directed as many
as fourteen other programs at a time on WREC radio and was an industrious on- and off-air
personality. When Sam Phillips opened his own recording studio she came along as his office
manager, although she continued to work part-time at the station until 1955 - she needed
the radio station paycheck because the Memphis Recording Service barely did more than
meet its own rent. Even after Phillips launched Sun Records in 1952, the picture didn't
improve. Marion recalled that she would sometimes place her own money into petty cash in
order to disguise the company's desperate financial picture from Sam Phillips, who suffered
from frequent depression because of his inability to sustain a living from the studio and the
Despite a background in light classical music, Marion developed a genuine taste for the blues
during her early years at Sun. She came to share Phillips' musical vision, and to cherish the
unsophistication that he sought. She had especially fond memories of Howlin' Wolf, and even
retrieved the rejected acetate masters of his sessions with Sam Phillips from the garbage for
her own collection.
She was the one who called in the musicians, paid them, and logged events in a notebook
that is the prime source for Phillips' activities during those early years. Without Marion's
notebook, Sun archaeology would be a barren field. Sam Phillips' documentation skills barely
ran beyond sticking a paper marker in a tape before his preferred cut. Marion also handled
much of the day-to-day contact with distributors and pressing plants, which accounted for
her distaste at later being tagged Sam Phillips' "secretary". Together with Sam and his
brother Jud, she nurtured the distribution network and radio contacts that would serve as a
launching pad for Sun Records. In her courtly southern manner she dealt with some of the
most rapacious individuals in the cutthroat rhythm and blues business.
She was present when Elvis Presley entered the Memphis Recording Service to cut "My
Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" in the summer of 1953. It was Keisker's
foresight that made her turn on the master Ampex 350 C (serial number 54L-220) tape
recorder while Elvis was singing and then to ask him for his address and telephone number,
written on the note: "Good ballad singer, hold". Most of the books written about Elvis
Presley, as well as the 1979 movie "Elvis", have repeated her famous exchange with Elvis.
"He said, "If you know anyone that needs a singer..."
"And I said, "What kind of a singer are you?"
"He said, "I sing all kinds".
"I said, "Who do you sound like?"
"I don't sound like nobody".
"I thought, "Oh yeah, one of those.... "What do you sing, hillbilly?"
"Yeah, I sing hillbilly".
"Well, who do you sound like in hillbilly?"
"I don't sound like nobody".
In the 1940s she used the on-the-air pseudonym Kitty Kelly. Keisker even contributed a
verse to the song "I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine", which Elvis recorded in September
1954. She joined WHER, an all-woman radio station in Memphis, in 1955.
After Marion quit radio station WREC in 1955 she worked with Sam Phillips to launch WHER,
an "all-girl" radio station (with all male shareholders). The parting of the ways eventually
came in September 1957, when Marion Keisker left to join the Air Force.
The rapidly growing
success of Sun Records had destroyed the personal and professional relationship between
Marion Keisker and Sam Phillips that seemed to have flourished in leaner times.
Sam Phillips, Elvis Presley and Marion Keisker, September 23, 1956 (Sunday), here together
on the birthday of Marion Keisker, front of 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
After she left the Air Force in a flurry of litigation in 1969, Marion Keisker returned to
Memphis to begin a new career in theater. On her return, she discovered that the era of
instant history was awaiting her. There was a steady procession of music historians waiting
to interview her about her involvement in Sun Records. Her assertion to Jerry Hopkins that
she recorded the first Presley acetate brought her into conflict with Sam Phillips, a conflict
that - like a Middle Eastern border war - would flare up intermittently over the next two
After an operation for cancer in August 1989 and subsequent hospitalizations, Marion
Keisker died on December 29, 1989 in Kennedy Hospital, located at 1030 Jefferson Avenue,
in Memphis. Sam Phillips would probably have accomplished what he did without her, but
Marion's organizational skills and support eased the pain. Though she never sought to deflect
attention from Phillips' artistic achievement, for six largely barren years she underpinned
his maverick operation.
- Born January 11, 1937, Sally Wilbourn begins working in October 1955 for Sam Phillips as his secretary, bookkeeper and
office manager and she will remain his personal and professional companion until his death. Today, Sally
lives in Memphis and continues to assist the Phillips family in the management of their publishing, radio and
other holdings. She has maintained Sun Records and Sam Phillips memorabilia and has assisted researchers
into Sam Phillips' life and career.
- Sun Records receptionist and promotion writer specializing in artist activities between
1958 to 1959 and one of the four woman employees who, Sam Phillips says, run the business. Always asked
what she had in her king-sized handbag, which is only slightly smaller than the office she works in, Regina
says ''I'm starting my own company''. Like Elvis Presley, Regina Reese was from Tupelo, but she was a
couple of years younger than Elvis was. Regina Reese sing as freelance backup on the Sun side ''Shut Your
Mouth'' recorded by Ernie Barton on February 25, 1959.
After Regina left Sun Records, she returned to
Tupelo to finish her college education and become a high-school English teacher. She married, and she and
her husband are now retired in Mississippi.
– Born October 25, 1933 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During Sun Records golden years, from 1957 to 1960, Barbara
Barnes Sims worked in promotion and publicity for Sun Records in Memphis, and wrote album lines and
notes for the first albums by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich and many others.
In 1960 she began a 36-year career teaching English at Louisiana State University, during which time she
married Robert Sims and they had a daughter, Sue Sims. She lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was
honored with two major university-wide teaching awards, and a scholarship was named in her honor.
Left to right: Sun promotion assistant Barbara Barnes, Sam Phillips, Carl Mann
and sales manager Cecil Scaife, Sun Studio, July 1959
edited several alumni publications at LSU, as well as publishing freelance feature articles and scholarly
papers on music, literature, folklore, and pedagogy. After leaving LSU, she became an independent technical
and business writing consultant for the State of Louisiana and major industrial corporations. Her husband
passed away in 2004, and her daughter resides in Kentucky at a home for individuals with special needs. In
2006 she taught a course in ''Sun Records and Early Rock And Roll'' at the Chautauqua Institution in New
York, at university adult-education classes, and for several cruise lines.
On August 2014, Barbara Sims published her book, The Next Elvis: Searching for Stardom at Sun Records,
chronicles Sims’s career at the studio, a pivotal time at this recording mecca, as she darted from disc jockeys
to distributors. Sims not only entertains with personal stories of big per-sonalities, she brings humor to the
challenges of a young woman working in a fast and tough industry.
Her disarming narrative ranges from descriptions of a disgraced Jerry Lee Lewis to the remarkable impact
and tragic fall of disc jockey Daddy-O Dewey Phillips to the frenzied Memphis homecoming of Elvis after
his military service. Collectively, these vignettes offer a rare and intimate look at the people, the city, and the
studio that permanently shifted the trajectory of rock and roll.
THE TRUE MEMPHIS MEMORIES OF BARBARA BARNES
When Barbara Sims was twenty-four, she went to work for Sun Records in Memphis. Headed by the fabled
Sam Phillips, Sun housed the studio where such stars-to-be as Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash,
and Roy Orbison recorded some of their first hits.
By the time she arrived in 1958, Elvis Presley was The One That Got Away. He had recorded such tunes as
''That’s All Right'' with Sun, but RCA bought out his contract for $40,000, giving Phillips enough cash to
keep his struggling business going. From then on, said Sims, Sun was looking for ''The next Elvis''.
The Next Elvis: Searching for Stardom at Sun Records, Sims's account of her years at Sun, will be published
in August 2014 by LSU Press. She writes about growing up in the small town of Corinth, Mississippi, and
later studying radio, TV, and journalism at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
''It was one of the first degree programs in the country in TV and radio'', said Sims, who was Barbara Barnes
when she graduated in 1955. ''I went to work for WAPB, the first public state network in the country. In
broadcasting, the only jobs for women were as advertising copywriters. I wanted to be in the news. One
station manager flatly told me they wouldn't hire a woman to do news. It was very discouraging. Women
were so discriminated against at that time''.
Eventually Sims headed for Memphis, the nearest big city, and worked in sales promotion for a TV station.
When Sam Phillips heard about her, he asked to meet her and offered her a job at Sun. ''That was probably
because of my background in broadcasting'', she said.
Cautious, Sims kept her day job while freelancing for Sun; her first assignment was to write liner notes for
albums by Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. As she got to know the place and the people, she was persuaded by
the messianic Phillips to quit her job and work at Sun full time. ''Sam was just sort of overpowering'', she
recalled. ''Everybody was drawn into his wake''.
At the time, its office at 706 Union Avenue was so tiny that ''everybody knew everybody else’s business'',
said Sims. The personnel then comprised Sally Wilbourn, office manager, bookkeeper, and longtime mistress
of Phillips; receptionist Regina Reese; and mail clerk Marion Keisker. Phillips's brother Jud was the sales
manager, traveling all over the country promoting Sun's releases. He and Sims worked closely together as
she wrote liner notes, brochures, press releases, and newsletters.
With Carl Perkins' ''Blue Suede Shoes'', Sun had its first post-Elvis hit. Sims, working in an office next to the
control room, got to know the musicians who recorded there. ''It was not like any other office I ever worked
in'', she said. ''I really enjoyed the musicians coming and going''. In time, she even met Elvis, who was on
leave from the army and dropped by for a visit. In uniform and ''yes ma'am'' polite, he was a ''beautiful sight'',
writes Sims in the book.
''I saw a fit and glowing specimen of manhood with a neat haircut and custom-tailored uniform that showed
off his perfect physique. He looked me squarely in the face in a sincere manner as he said he enjoyed
meeting me, and I thought he had a lovely smile, with some warmth and humility shining through. What a
Sims was a rare woman working in the mostly male world of the music business, which could be tough and
cut-throat. Aware of the mores of the 1950s, she was careful to keep a professional distance from those she
worked with and met at Sun.
''The culture in the fifties was so different'', she recalled. ''There was so much emphasis on propriety and
standards. All the TV stations and newspapers ignored the seamier side of life. Blacks were ignored. Society
has changed so much since the 1950s''.
Her book includes personal details about her cozy apartment and shopping for the right clothes for a promo
trip to New York or Chicago, where she met VIPs, stayed in fine hotels, and was introduced to escargots and
Unable to afford a car at first, she traveled by bus, caught rides, and occasionally borrowed a set of wheels. ''I
was always borrowing somebody's car'', she said. ''Having transportation was part of being truly independent.
Getting around in a city was a big preoccupation''. (Finally, in 1958, she purchased a 1949 Chevrolet for
''I had an unusual perspective about being self-supporting'', she recalled. ''My parents were divorced, and my
mother emphasized that everybody needs to be self-supporting. It was hard for women of her generation to
be divorced. She became a bookkeeper and office manager. The amount of money she could make was very
She praised Phillips for hiring mostly women to run the Sun office as well as a radio station he owned. ''He
was ahead of his time''.
Sims had always loved music, which made her time at Sun a happy one. ''My first musical memory is
marching around a table in Sunday school singing ''Jesus Loves The Little Children''. In my family, we were
very familiar with rhythm and blues and black music. We listened to it on the radio. That’s where we got our
music - church and radio''.
By the time she was in high school, Sims was playing piano with a small combo. ''We played at the Rustic
Inn in Corinth, Mississippi, which was run by a family of professional gamblers. I think people brought
bottles; in the back they had gambling. But it was not rough at all. My mother would drive me to work at 9
''I was seventeen. Sometimes I wonder why my mother let me do it. But the band members were very nice
people. We called ourselves The Southerners. I was the only girl. We had clarinet, sax, trumpet, piano, and
drums. We played standards like ''Stardust'' and ''Tenderly'', things that now are considered jazz. I could read
music really well. We occasionally played dances at other places.”
That love of music sustained her through some rough times at Sun. Phillips fired several employees,
including his own brother. In 1960, the business moved to larger office space, a three-story building where,
for the first time, Phillips finally had his own office. But the feeling of intimacy was lost.
Sims, who comes across as an unusually mature twenty-something in the book, decided to get a graduate
degree, with an eye toward teaching. While still working at Sun, she enrolled at Memphis State, taking
classes nights and on weekends. In 1960, she earned a degree in English literature and was offered a job
teaching English at LSU in Alexandria. She resigned from Sun and moved to Louisiana.
While living in Alexandria, she met and married Robert Sims. They had a daughter, Sue, who now lives in
Kentucky in a home for persons with special needs. In 1963, Sims began teaching at Louisiana State
University in Baton Rouge, where she remained for thirty-three years, retiring in 1996.
Her retirement, and her husband Robert’s death in 2004, gave Sims the time she needed to write a book about
her Sun experiences. ''People had told me for years that I ought to write a book, but between teaching and my
family I didn’t have time'', said Sims. But she realized there was great interest in her story when the
Chautauqua Institution in New York - as well as several cruise lines - hired her to lecture on the subject.
She started writing her story and found that her recall was excellent. ''I didn’t keep a diary, but I have very
vivid memories of most of it'', she said. ''A lot of the conversations I remember verbatim''.
While working on the book, Sims decided to clean out her attic and discovered the Sun newsletters she had
written, which helped with the timeline of her story. They, along with 45s, albums, and a few photos, are
among her treasured mementos of that time.
''At Sun I had witnessed three years of pure drama'', she writes. ''At Sun, making music was ''love in sound''.
That love has echoed in my heart and mind wherever I've gone, all the days of my life''.
Ruth Laney, July 2014
JACK HENDERSON CLEMENT – Is one of the few people associated with Sun Records who are more
famous for what they did after the Sun years than during the heyday of rockabilly. Clement is a highly
talented record producer, musician, occasional recording artist and genuine 'character', known as ''the
minstrel'' or ''cowboy''. Clement had made his name largely in country music, discovering Charley Pride and
Don Williams and delivering their music to a world audience. Clement played on important but subordinate
role at Sun between 1956 and 1958 as songwriter, studio engineer and musical catalyst.
Through this time, he
was constantly at odds with Sam Phillips about wanting to develop the Sun sound, to make it more musical.
It is entirely possible that Johnny cash would not have broken into the pop market in such a big way without
Born on April 5, 1931 in Memphis, Tennessee, raised and educated in Memphis, Jack Clement was
performing at an early age. Clement lived there until 1948 when he signed up for a year stint in the U.S,
Marines. At home he'd loved music of all kinds but especially the radio broadcasts of Roy Acuff and Merle
Travis. The guitar wizardry of Travis taught him that music cold be either simple or complicated but that it
had to be good. He would never tolerate second-raters even when recording the simplest of three-chord
rockers. He couldn't get to see Merle Travis perform, but he did go down to Smilin' Eddie Hill's ''High Noon
Roundup'' show which took place every day in a Memphis department store window and went out over radio
WMC. He would join the crowd around the store and listen to Hill, Harmonica Frank, Slim Rhodes, Wayne
Raney and the Delmore Brothers, and especially to the Louvin Brothers' light harmonies and plaintive hillcountry
songs. The Marine base where Clement was stationed was just outside Washington, D.C., and here in
1948 he was first exposed to bluegrass music. ''That was when I fell in love with the five-string banjo'', he
recalled, ''and I just had to get one and practice on it straight away''. Soon, he was proficient enough to play
duets with Roy Clark, later a country superstar but then a resident artist at a Washington club called ''The
Famous''. On Saturday nights, he would travel down to Maryland with Scotty Stoneman's band. Scotty was
the mainstay of the popular Stonemans. He played fiddle, with mandolin, banjo and bass support from Jack
Clement, Buzz Busby and Jimmy Stoneman. The group was completed by Ralph Jones on dobro and
Clement recalls Jones being one of the finest oldtime country musicians he ever knew. On June 15, 1952, Jack returned
briefly to Memphis. Soon, he was off to Wheeling, West Virginia with Buzz Busby doing, ''a bluegrass
comedy duet thing, kinda like Homer & Jethro''. Also at that time Jack played in Baltimore and Boston and
he made his first record in 1953, for the Sheraton label in Boston, Massachusetts. ''This was in 1953. We had
been playing a radio show in Baltimore when Aubrey Mayhew, who managed Hawkshaw Hawkins, asked us
to do a show in his WCOP Hayloft Jamboree in Boston. While we were doing that James Daliano, a famous
french horn player, came in and said he wanted to record us for his Sheraton label. Daliano was the owner
but he let Aubrey run the label. We recorded my first two published songs, ''I can't Say Nothing At All'' and ''I
Think I'll Write A Song''. They were by Buzz and Jack, and we did them in the style of Webb Pierce''.
Sheraton Records only distributed locally in the north-east, so nothing came of this development and Jack
got tried of the duo. Being a developing ''crazy'', he went off to join an Hawaiian band in Washington. He
then wound up back to Memphis in 1954. That year he answered an advert for training dance instructors and
he became an employee of the Arthur Murray School of Dancing on Main Street and to study English at the
Memphis State University from 1953 to 1955.
On evenings and weekends, Jack Clement shows with a western-swing influenced country band run by a pal
of his, truck driver Slim Wallace. Wallace's Dixie Ramblers played a regular spot at a club in Paragould,
Arkansas, and while returning one night Jack and Slim plotted their entry into the record business. Slim put
up most of the 450 dollars they needed to buy an old Magnecord tape deck from disc jockey Sleepy Eyed
John, and Jack built himself a studio in Slim's garage. The garage was on Fernwood Drive, so the label was
to be called Fernwood Records.
The first Fernwood disc does not exist. It was to be ''Trouble Bound'' and ''Rock With Me Baby'' by Arkansas
wild man Billy Riley. After working on the songs, Jack Clement needed somewhere to have his tapes
mastered for transfer to disc. On the advice of Bill Fitzgerald at Music Sales Distributors, Jack went to Sun
Records. Sam Phillips reward Clement's tape of Riley singing ''Trouble Bound'' and offered both Jack and
Billy Riley a job. Clement joined Sun on June 15, 1956. His only remaining interest in Fernwood was to use
Sun's facilities to make masters, and to add the echo to the number one hit ''Tragedy'' by Thomas Wayne.
This had been recorded at Hi Records since the garage studio was still incomplete. ''Sam Phillips always
wondered how they got that echo'', says Jack with a grin, ''but I figured it didn't take but a few minutes so
why should I tell him''.
On the question of whether Sam Phillips really controlled the development of the Sun sound, whether he was
''the man'' or just lucky, Jack Clement is in no doubt. ''All of Sam's early success was entirely Sam's. Elvis,
Carl, Cash. My work was with developing Cash's sound, and with Bill Justis and Charlie Rich. I was into
making things musical. Sam was not, but he understood one thing that I didn't at that time. He understood
''feel in music''. I was interest in machines and the way recordings would be better. Sam liked empty, hollow,
tubby sounds, but he knew a thing or two I didn't. He let me do that I liked, but he retained ultimate control
of what was issued. The first time Same gave me an artist to work with, it was Roy Orbison. I recorded
''Rockhouse'' with Roy and it was good. But Roy was not into what the Sun studio was capable of back then''.
Jack spent many hours working with several artists that he particularly liked. He began to recall them with
obvious pleasure. ''Cash. Sam gave me Johnny Cash from ''Home Of The Blues'' onwards. Sonny Burgess.
He was a fine artist but he didn't really fit into a groove, same with Conway Twitty who never made anything
that sounded much like a record. Then Ernie Chaffin and Mack Self, these were excellent country singers''.
In Jack Clement's view, Sun was not making records quite ''musically'' enough. He was responsible for
getting Cash into the pop market and for trying a range of experiments with vocal backings and steel guitar
sound. What he did like at Sun was firstly the depth of talented artists, and secondly the relaxed atmosphere.
He could do what he liked; work all night on a session, write songs in Taylor's cafe next door, like Cash's
''Guess Things Happen That Way'', or even build a bathroom in the control room. He once told Sam he could
built an office for promotion girl Barbara Barnes for a hundred dollars. So he canceled sessions and set to
with the woodwork. He also spent time helping to master recordings for his buddies on rival labels, and on
developing his own musical sound as a performer.
The Jack Clement sound was country, but it was not Sun sound. It was acoustic, with ringing tones instead of
the muddy Cash bass sounds. It was worked out with the help of Clement's buddy, Jimmy C. Wilson, Jack
says, ''Wilson was nearly as crazy as me. He was a bit of a nut. He lived in rooms above Taylor's and he was
a great player if he was in the mood. He had a pet coon which he used to bring in and cain to the piano. He
used to dismantle and rebuild old guns up in his room and he set fire to the place one time. After that he
loosed off a rocket, a home-made thing, up there and they threw him out. He went to California and married
Nudie the tailor's daughter''. In February 1957, Clement and Wilson, plus coon, took off for the RCA Studios
in Nashville. They hired bass player Bob Moore and recorded for songs. ''Ten Years'' was the major
contender, a light, pleasant country balled with an epic story song feel to it. It's the Jack Clement style, and it
was repeated in October when Jack recreated the sound at Sun on ''Black Haired Man''. This was a fast,
rhythmic development of the cash beat, a gunfighter balled of real class and a fairly successful record. The
flip ''Wrong'', is light singalong country pop with a prominent acoustic guitar from Jack.
There, Clement worked with future stars such as Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. But most
importantly, he discovered and recorded Jerry Lee Lewis while Sam Phillips was away on a trip to Florida,
one of those recordings, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'', was selected in 2005 for permanent preservation in
the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. In 1957, Clement wrote the song "Ballad Of A
Teenage Queen" that became a crossover hit for Johnny Cash. Other Cash hits written by Clement included
"Guess Things Happen That Way", which was number 1 country and number 11 pop in 1958, and the
humorous "The One On The Right Is On The Left", which was a number 2 country and number 46 pop hit in
1966. Clement performed "Guess Things Happen That Way" on the Johnny Cash Memorial Tribute show on
CMT in November 2003.
Leaving Sun Records early in 1959 with his part in a string of million-selling productions behind him, Jack
Clement used the proceeds of his song copyrights to buy equipment and to set up Summer Records on Main
Street in Memphis. Apart from an atrocious novelty called ''Motorcycle Michael'', Summer bombed. Clement
kept busy, though, fooling around with productions for Pepper Records (including his own song, ''Return Of
A Teenage Queen''), Hi Records (Tommy Tucker's ''Miller's Cave'') and for Echo Records, which he formed
with Stan Kesler and Clyde Leoppard and for which he built a studio on Manassas Avenue. In the fall of
1959 Jack Clement had blown all his money and, in his words, ''decided I had to do some work''. He called
Chet Atkins in Nashville and was hired as junior producer for RCA, then the most important label in the
After Clement's first stint in Nashville, he went to Beaumont, Texas, to work with music publisher Bill Hall.
While there, he pitched ''She Thinks I Still Care'' to George Jones and arranged ''Ring Of Fire'' for Johnny
Cash. In 1965, he returned to Nashville, and went on to become a significant figure in the Nashville music
business, establishing a publishing business, and his own recording studio, making records for stars such as
Ray Stevens and his biggest coup Charley Pride, but he also signed Townes Van Zandt, the Stonemans, and
several others left-of-center country artists. With Charley Pride money, he built a studio on Belmont
Boulevard next to Shelby Singleton's reconstituted Sun Records before moving a few blocks south
In 1971, he co-founded the J-M-I Record Company, he signed Don Williams to his label, but felt betrayed
when Williams wriggled out of the deal to sign with ABC. From the 1970s onward, Jack Clement newly
named Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa became Nashville's ground zero for off-kilter country.
Jack Clement wrote a number of highly successful songs that have been recorded by singing stars such as
Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, Carl Perkins, Bobby Bare, Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Jerry Lee
Lewis, Cliff Richard, Charley Pride, Tom Jones, Dickey Lee and Hank Snow. He was inducted into the
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973. He also produced albums by Townes Van Zandt and Waylon
Clement was involved in a few film projects as a singer or songwriter on soundtracks, and produced the 1975
horror film Dear Dead Delilah that marked the last film performance by actress Agnes Moorehead. In 1987
Clement was approached by U2 to record at legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. He had never
heard of U2 but took the session based on the urging of someone else in his office. The result was a portion
of the U2 album Rattle and Hum ("When Love Came To Town" with BB King, "Angel of Harlem" about
Billie Holiday, and "Love Rescue Me" with backing vocals by Bob Dylan), as well as the Woody Guthrie
song "Jesus Christ," which appeared on 1988's "Folkways: A Vision Shared, A Tribute to Woody Guthrie &
Leadbelly. Portions of the 2 sessions also appear in the film ''Rattle and Hum''.
In 2005, a documentary on Clement entitled Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan was created by Robert
Gordon and Morgan Neville, pieced together from Clement's home videos and interviews with peers,
including Jerry Lee Lewis and Bono. Clement currently hosts a weekly program on Sirius XM Satellite
Radio's Outlaw country (channel 60) from 2pm to 6pm (Eastern) on Saturdays. Jack Clement has been
inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Music City Walk of Fame.
On June 25, 2011, a fire destroyed Jack's home and studio on Belmont Boulevard in Nashville. Jack was
unhurt, but many priceless recordings and memorabilia were lost. Jack has two children. A daughter, Alison,
also a singer and writer, and a son, Niles, an engineer and photographer. Alison Clement has a website also
where you can read about her experiences in the music business as the daughter of a renowned Legendary
On the occasion of Sam Phillips' death, Jake Clement spoke movingly at the memorial service, barely able to
staunch tears as he recalled some of their late night telephone conversations.
On April 10, 2013 it was announced Jack Clement would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. A virtual jack of all trades in the entertainment business, Cowboy Jack Clement, 82, died Thursday August 8, 2013 at his Nashville home following a lengthy illness from liver cancer.
– Brother of producer Sam Phillips, John William ''Jud'' Phillips was born in
1921 and lived his early life in Alabama before joining the Marines where he served as a
Master Sergeant in the South Pacific for four years during the Second World War. After the
war, he stayed on the west coast for a while and worked in artist promotion with a number
of big names including singer Roy Acuff and comedian Jimmy Durante, and worked for
Colonel Tom Parker for a while. In July 1953 Jud joined Sam Phillips at Sun Records as co-owner,
until Sam bought him out in October 1955. Jud worked for Sam on the Phillips
International record label in 1957.
Sam Phillips said: ''Jud played a very important part in
the early stages of Sun Records. He kidded everybody about being the world's greatest
promotion man, and that wasn't altogether incorrect. But Jud had a versatile mind. He
would love to get too many things going at the same time for his own good''.
In 1953, Jud and Nashville music businessman Jim Bulleit each put up a third share in the
capital that enabled the relaunch of the Sun label, and they both went on the road
promoting records and artists while Sam Phillips concentrated on recording them. Jud and
Sam had a close but combative relationship. They both believed in the concept of Sun and
their religious upbringing found expression in how the label promoted the underdog a lot of
times. Jud wrote in a letter to Sam from Nashville on July 28, 1953, about the singing group
the Prisonaires, that recorded for Sun even while they were inmates of the state
penitentiary: ''I get a great joy out of helping people that I think really appreciate it, and I
know you do too''..
But business was always business, and in another letter written on August 23, 1954 from
radio WJOI in Florence, Alabama – on a letterhead with the slogan ''almost everyone under
the Sun listens to...WJOI'' – Jud was seeking $800 owed to him by Sam. Jud wondered:
''Perhaps you have overlooked it? I'm going to the bank in the morning to borrow enough to
get by on until I hear from you''. A year later, the exchange was still continuing, and Sam
wrote to Jud: ''I will play when I can, even though I know there is no way to get out with a
Note: (On the
1955 Broadcasting Yearbook (page 70) lists John William (Jud) Phillips as both Assistant Station Manager and Promotions Manager at WJOI. Tom York is both Commercial Manager and Sales Director while Paula Ferguson serves as Program Director and Women's Director. Paul Shannon is Chief Engineer).
That conviction proved incorrect, of course, when Sun was able to pay its debts with the
sale of Elvis Presley's contract and to start to develop into a big player on the recording
scene with the likes of Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Jud Phillips was
involved in transporting all of these artists way beyond their rural routes and onto national
TV and international music sales. In particular, he worked with Jerry Lee Lewis, whom he
saw as a major star. Jud was responsible for the promotion strategy that led to Lewis's
success, and he later advised and helped manage Lewis for many years in the 1960s and
1970s. He stood by Lewis after the teenage bride scandal and, according to his nephew,
Johnny Phillips: ''Uncle Jud was maybe the only person Jerry Lee Lewis ever really trusted''.
His nephew, Knox Phillips said: ''In a time before there was a definition for a promotion man,
Jud was the person that people patterned themselves after. I never met a single person that
didn't like him, from industry people to the artists. He was the consummate charismatic
communicator. The techniques that he developed in the fifties are still being used. Maybe
refined a little, but I doubt it''.
But those techniques involved money: Jud Phillips was a stylish dresser, and an epic
wheeler-dealer – a man with an eye for the main chance. He once joked to Sun recording
artist Billy Riley, ''when I'm gone, it'll take every accountant in Tennessee to straighten out
all my deals''.
Jud told me, in 1973, some fifteen years after the event: ''The Judd label came about when
Sam and I had a real separation of the ways, based on Jerry Lee Lewis. And, then, the payola
investigations were just under way at that time, and a lot of people thought that I had paid
disc jockeys and different people to help us promote artists and so forth. I haven't been an
angel, but I don't think I've ever done anything wrong in the industry, because I don't see
that I've promoted anybody that's been bad for the industry''.
In 1959 Jud Phillips launched Judd Records of Sheffield, Alabama, on which Sun artist Ray
Smith recorded his 1960 hit "Rockin' Little Angel" (Judd 1016). Judd Records was the original
label on which Tommy Roe and the Satins recorded "Sheila" in 1960.
''How the Judd label came about – there were a bunch of moneyed people, people that had a
lot of money. They wanted me to divorce myself from the shackles of Sam and to get into it
myself, and they put up all the money. I think they put up, I believe it was a million dollars,
and they gave me one third of it to produce and to merchandise and all. Al McLendon, he
was a doctor – there were three doctors in it. Dr. McLendon, Dr. Maxwell, and Dr. Wright. I
can't think of all the people. Anyhow, they put the money up and gave me no questions at
all. Sun had nothing whatsoever to do with Judd Records. At that time, Sun was Sam, and
he's never had a hit since I left the Sun company. He's never got in the charts. We cut 11 –
no, we cut 14 masters on the Judd label and we had 11 picks hits in Billboard, he was
The reality was similar to Jud's exposition, but not quite as well funded or as successful as
Jud remembered it. He ran the label out of his home in Alabama at first, although his
records carried the impressive strapline ''Judd Records – New York, Muscle Shoals,
Hollywood''. It seems that somehow the label designer got their wires crossed with Jud and
the result was a record label called Judd and not Jud. Charlie Terrell said, ''Jud's brother,
Tom Phillips, set up the distribution for the Judd label and he was very much involved with
that''. The label had issued at least seven and possibly fifteen singles – none of them earth
shattering – before Ray Smith turned up on Judd 1016 in August 1959. The first was Judd
1001 by Bobby Denton, later a local politician and businessman but then singing about going
''Back To School”. It was reviewed in the trade press on August 25, 1958.
Other Jud discs included The Creels with ''Do You Wanna Jump'', Mark Taylor with ''Linda
Lou'', and Morris Simmons, a protege of bandleader Pee Wee Maddux with ''Sharlene''. In May
1959 came a rare solo outing by Sun's session guitarist extraordinaire, Roland Janes,
''Guitarville'', underlining the fact that Bill Justis was now involved with production work for
Judd Records. Justis was known for stanguage that tended to put ''ville'' at the end of
everything. There were other discs by Bobby Denton among Jud Phillips' roster of Alabama,
Memphis, and Nashville artists. There was also the strange case of Judd 1007, Curley Money
singing ''Gonna Rock'', because that disc gave the label's address as 812 16th Avenue South
Jud sold the label to NRC Records in 1960. One story has it that Jud was standing in front of
the Memphis Recording Service while Elvis Presley was pacing the sidewalk one day in the
summer of 1953. Jud supposedly encouraged Elvis Presley to go inside and record his first
record, a four-dollar acetate. Jud Phillips' son Jud Jr., became an executive for Mercury
Records. On July 20, 1992 Jud Phillips died in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 71 years-old.
"He really wrote the book on promotion, especially on independent promotion", said nephew
Knox Phillips. "There wasn't any artist who didn't love him, no disc jockey, no distributor. He
really had the gift of gab, and was the consummate, charismatic communicator". "He didn't
propose to be a business person, and he really wasn't interested in the business end of
things", said his brother Sam Phillips. "But really had the kind of personality that was ideal
for promotion. He had an excellent mind, and he really enjoyed all the things that went with
promotion. He loved to sit down and talk; his thrust was people and he really believed in the
things that we were attempting to do at Sun. He was just a natural promotion person. He
could talk to you for a day and a half if necessary, and never get tired or flustered. He had
his own label for a short while, and even had a couple of hits, but that just wasn't where his
heart was. We never had anything real official; he'd come in and work with me a while, then
he'd go out on his own, then he'd come back again. But whenever he was with us, it was
Several musical greats, including Rufus and Carla Thomas, Charlie Rich and Jerry Lee Lewis,
appeared at Jud Phillips' funeral. He was buried July 23 in his birthplace, Florence,
DEWEY MILLS PHILLIPS
- Memphis disc jockey for 56 WHBQ radio, located at 272 South Main,
Memphis, Tennessee, who on his program "Red Hot and Blue", on July 8, 1954, first played
an Elvis Presley song on radio.
(Dewey Phillips was not only one of the first disc jockey to play an
Elvis Presley record, he was the first disc jockey to play a Sun Record, when on March 1,
1952, he aired the first record released commercially by Sun Records. The record was "Blues
In My Condition"/ "Sellin' My Whisky", SUN 174 by Jackie Boy and Little Walter).
Born on May 13, 1926 in Crump, Tennessee, Dewey Phillips grew up in the small town of Adamsville, Tennessee, and moved
to Memphis following a stint in the Army with nothing but a vague ambition to be a singer. A
misfit at most jobs (he was fired from a bakery for convincing his co-workers to shape the
loaves of bread like gingerbread men).
Lived at 1232 Rutland Avenue during the height of his
popularity, Dewey Phillips found his element on Beale Street, the heart of the black
community and proving grounds for dozens of rising blues and jazz artists. He was the rare
white person who felt comfortable haunting those clubs in that area, but then, "Dewey had
no colore", said Beale Street entertainer and Stax recording star Rufus Thomas.
In 1948, seeking an entree into the music business, Dewey Phillips got a job hawking
recorded at Grant's, a department store in downtown Memphis. He immediately began
blasting rhythm and blues through loudspeakers onto Main Street, then plugged a
microphone onto the record player and started blasting himself. He soon had the hottest
record department in the 500-store chain and had become his own brand of disc jockey. All
he needed was a radio station.
At the same time, another breakthrough had occurred in Memphis. WDIA, a small, dawn to
dusk radio station on the verge of bankruptcy, had gone to all-black programming. It was the
first station in the country and it was a spectacular success. It was a new kind of radio.
Instead of the polish and impeccable diction expected of radio announcers of the era, disc
jockey’s like Rufus Thomas and B.B. King brought a style of entertaining honed not in
announcing schools but on the stage of Beale Street and country minstrel shows. They sold
jokes, one-upped each other of the air and even talked over the music, if only because the
lyrics of so many blues records were considered too lewd for radio.
To its competitors, the only thing more shocking than WDIA's style were its profits, and they
yearned for a piece of the action. Still unwilling to take the drastic step of hiring a black
announcer, WHBQ radio decided to put on a rhythm and blues show called "Red Hot and
Blue" as soon as WDIA radio went off the air at sunset hoping the music alone would draw the
black audience. But hosted by a schooled, baritone-voiced announcer who knew nothing
about the music he was playing, the show flopped.
Apprehensively, but aware of his success at Grant's, the station gave Dewey Phillips a shot at
hosting in October, 1949, and in less than a year the show grew from 15 minutes to an hour;
then two; then three. Broadcasting from the magazine level (i.e. mezzanine of the Chisca
Hotel, his signature was a manic, machine-gun style of speaking that made few concessions
to proper English. "Dreegaw", he would yelp, and no one cared what it meant. If the jocks at
WDIA radio talked over records to disguise lewd lyrics, Dewey Phillips did it just because it
was fun. If he mispronounced his sponsor's names, that was fine. The customers came, with
Dewey Phillips' trademark on their lips: "Phillips sent me".
But while the local newspapers delighted in the story of the white disc jockey and his appeal
to black listeners (they reported people even showing up at the hospital emergency room
saying, "Phillips sent me"), something more was happening. White listeners were tuning in,
too. One was a struggling record producer with the same passion for rhythm and blues: Sam
Phillips. Although not related, the two struck up a fast and mutually beneficial friendship.
Dewey Phillips had a "platinum ear", Sam Phillips thought, an uncanny knack for picking hits,
and "Red Hot and Blue" became his personal test market, debuting the records of Howlin'
Wolf, B.B. King, and other then-obscure artists Sam Phillips was recording in his small
In July 1954, Sam Phillips showed up with a record unusual even by his standards. It wasn't
rhythm and blues. It wasn't country. It wasn't pop. It was Elvis Presley. Dewey Phillips played
"That's All Right" on his show, and the world has never been the same. Phillips was so taken
by the record that he played "That's All Right" fourteen times during the show.
According to fellow WHBQ radio disc jockey, Wink Martindale, "Phillips played both sides of
the 78rpm acetate, flipping it over the entire evening. Later that night, after receiving
fourteen telegrams and forty-seven phone calls, Dewey Phillips interviewed Elvis, Elvis' first
media interview. When Elvis Presley protested that he knew nothing about being
interviewed, Dewey's simple advice was, "Just don't say nothing' dirty".
Dewey Phillips and Elvis Presley, too, became fast friends. Dewey bought Elvis his first touring car, a $450 1941
Lincoln, but turned down an offer to manage him. His business of breaking new records was still not finished. It
was Dewey Phillips who often "broke" Sam Phillips' latest releases over the air in Memphis. Dewey and Sam's
friendship went back to 1950, when the two men launched their own record label, Phillips Records, billed as
"The Hottest Thing In The Country". Singer Carl Perkins has said that Dewey may have been the first to use the
expression, "Man, they're rockin' country music, they're rockabillies".
Elvis Presley and Dewey Phillips, Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee
June 4, 1956, after visiting Bernard Lansky (left at doorway)
In the next few years, Dewey would debut dozens of historic recordings coming out of Sam Phillips' Sun Records,
including Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" (SUN 234), Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" (SUN 232), and Jerry
Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (SUN 267). Of course, it was Dewey Phillips who played the first Jerry
Lee Lewis record over the air on WHBQ radio in 1956, when he played "Crazy Arms" (SUN 259).
Even more importantly, listening to Dewey Phillips had become almost a rite of passage for Memphis teenagers,
black and white. The integrated bands who would make the hits at Stax, Hi and American studios in the
1960s and 1970s had their ears trained listening to Dewey Phillips in the 1950s, often in the parking lot of a
supermarket, dancing in the headlights of their cars. Whenever you were, Dewey made it a party.
In 1956, WHBQ radio decided to try Dewey on television, initially following Lawrence Welk. "You better warn
those Welk listeners to grab that dial quick", he said, "because if they don't, I'll be right there at 'em". With his
sidekick, Harry Fritzius, an eccentric art student who did the show in a trench coat and gorilla mask, Dewey
Phillips' "Pop Shop" was a huge success. It was simulcast with his radio show, and because radio and tv broke at
different times for different commercials, Dewey was never sure if he was on one or the other or both. No
matter, "You really couldn't make a mistake on the show", a crew member said, "The whole show was a series of
Early in his career, WHBQ radio resorted to hiring "babysitters" for Dewey, just to protect their studio. "He was
not physically well organized", a colleague remembered kindly. He dropped the needle on records and slobbered
on the microphone. He eventually proved so abusive to the equipment that they gave him his own studio.
By the mid-1950s, though, the babysitter's main task was to protect Dewey from his fans. He had become as big a
star as the musicians whose records he played, and his country hipster comments became instant slang in
Memphis: "Anybody wanna buy a duck?". "If you can't drink it, Freeze it and eat it". "That'll get it. That'll flat get
But even as Dewey Phillips reached his peak, the future was closing in on him. Perhaps he had his first inkling
when he saw Elvis Presley singing on the Steve Allen show in a tuxedo. "What are you doing in that monkey suit,
boy? Where's your guitar?", he scolded. Rock and roll was here to stay, all the more reason but to leave it in the
hands of outrageous, untamable disc jockey’s. The future was called Top 40, with its pre-ordained play lists
handed down from on high.
Dewey Phillips and Elvis Presley had a falling-out in 1956, when on a visit to Elvis' house Dewey picket up the
test acetate of "Hound Dog", which RCA Records, Elvis' label, hand't yet released. Phillips proceeded to feature
the unreleased song on his radio show and on his new TV show as "way beyond Ernie Kovacs" in terms of cuttingedge
TV comedy. It would be years before Elvis Presley forgave Dewey for stealing the record.
In the late 1950s, Dewey's behavior became more and more erratic. Always an enthusiastic drinker, chronic pain
from the car accidents led to an additional dependence on painkillers. The combination began to take its toll.
When his partner, Fritzius, made lewd advances to a stage prop-a cardboard cutout of movie starlet Jayne
Mansfield Dewey's tv show was canceled instantly. Within a few months, he lost his radio show as well. Thus
began a tragic, 10-year odyssey during which he bounced from one station to another in Memphis and Little Rock,
never staying at any of them for long, lived mostly with his friends and began to address nearly everyone as
"Elvis". After Dewey and his wife separated Phillips became virtually homeless, staying with family members and
old friends. Most veterans of the Memphis music industry have a collection of Dewey-in-decline stories, of bailing
him out of jail or picking him up in various hospitals, where he'd often go in futile attempts to obtain drugs.
His last job was in Millington, Tennessee, at a small station in a small Navy town a few miles north of Memphis. On
a Saturday afternoon, Dewey Mills Phillips died of pneumonia on September 28, 1968, in bed at his mother's
house in Memphis, at the age of forty-two. Elvis Presley attended Phillips' funeral, where he embarrassingly
broke into a fit of nervous giggles.
The next day on September 29, 1968, the local newspaper published an article by James Kingsley about the
death of Dewey Phillips with headliner: DEWEY PHILLIPS IS FOUND DEAD. Disc jockey who launched Presley, Cash
Careers Was 42. One of the nation's most influential disc jockey’s who launched the careers of Elvis Presley,
Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in the 1950s, was found dead in his bed yesterday.
Dewey Mills Phillips lived of 3330 Macon Road, was discovered by his mother, Mrs. Odessa Phillips at 5 pm. He
was 42. Cause of death had not been determined last night. Mr. Phillips had talked briefly with his mother
yesterday morning. A saddened Elvis Presley last night said: "I am awfully hurt and feel very sorry about hearing
of Dewey's death. We were very good friends and I have always appreciated everything he did for me in helping
me in my career in the early days".
Mr. Phillips' broadcast over radio station WHBQ was the "Red Hot and Blue Show", one of the biggest in the South
and a major influence in launching careers of numerous recording stars. He played Elvis' first recording "That's All
Right" and "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" one night in early 1954. Elvis had gone to a movie afraid to hear the
recording on radio for the first time.
After the movie he raced to WHBQ radio studios to hear that the telephone lines to the studio had been jammed.
The callers wanted the record played over hundreds of times. He gave his first interview to Mr. Phillips that
''I was scared to death. I was shaking all over when I heard what had happened. I just couldn't believe it but
Dewey kept telling me to 'cool it'. It was really happening", Elvis recalled last night.
"He was top dog", recalls Rufus Thomas. "There was none before him and there was none after. Dewey was the
only white disc jockey doing black music. I believe he was doing it before". "He had the best ear for putting
things together", Sam Phillips recall. "That type of thing had no format and that was the beauty of it. You never
knew what to expect from Dewey. I am real careful about saying anything is unique. But Dewey was as close a
thing to being unique in this profession as anybody". "Somebody like that guy Dewey Phillips comes along that is
absolutely not supposed to make it in quote-unquote communications... He doesn't talk right; he doesn't do this
right; he doesn't do that right; he's not conventional", Sam Phillips continued. "But, he makes it! And he makes it
bigger than anybody who's ever been a disc jockey in this city. It's a damn fact!".
- Janes was born in Brookings, Arkansas, on August 20, 1933, and grew up in
St. Louis, Missouri. Janes met Jack Clement in 1956, when Clement was planning to launch
Fernwood Records with aspiring rockabilly singer Billy Riley. Janes was recommended as a
picker who might fit in, and he soon became a part of Riley's band. After Riley's contract was
bought by Sun Records, Jack Clement came on board as an engineer, and Roland Janes and
his partners in Riley's band became the de facto house band of Sun. Janes was without
obvious influences, sporting an eloquent and fluid style.
He cherished innovation, and his
curiosity would lead him to experiment with new sounds at Sun Records and later in his own
Sonic studios at 1692 Madison Avenue in Memphis.
He was a pioneer in the technique of playing two strings at once, best exemplified on Billy
Riley's recording of "I Want You Baby". In an interview with Rob Bowman and Ross Johnson,
he characterized it as a "funky sound, at that time. Most blues guitarists were playing single
string back then, and we wanted something that wasn't country but wasn't blues. We said,
'What can we do that's different to set this apart'".
After quitting Riley's band, Roland Janes worked on the road with Bill Justis and Jerry Lee
Lewis until 1959. At first Janes, Riley, and Sun's recently dismissed musical director, Bill
Justis, had an involvement with Top Rank/Jaro Records. They recorded pseudonymously as
the Spitfires. Then Janes and Riley decided that they wanted to move to the other side of
the studio glass. They talked to Sam Phillips about leasing the old studio, which was about to
be made redundant. The resulting product would have gone to Sun, but the idea never came
of the ground.
Roland Janes and Billy Riley eventually formed Rita Records, and scored an immediate hit
with Harold Dorman's "Mountain Of Love" in 1960, eclipsing virtually everything released on
Sun that year. Rita soon fell apart, however, and Roland Janes moved back to St. Louis for a
while. When he returned to Memphis in 1962 he opened Sonic Sound, on Madison Avenue.
Sonic operated primarily as a custom studio and a preproduction studio, although Roland cut
some hits there: Travis Wammack's "Scratchy", Jerry Jaye's "My Girl Josephine", and Matt
Lucas' "I'm Movin' On". After Sonic folded in 1974, Roland Janes eventually got back into the
business as an engineer at Sound of Memphis, and then at the Phillips studio at Madison
Avenue. In between, he worked as an instructor in recording technology at a primarily black
community college in Memphis.
In recent years, as visitors have come to the Phillips studio and lectured Roland Janes and
the other resident engineer, Stan Kesler, about how it really was back in the heyday of Sun
Records, Janes has kept enigmatically quiet. Perhaps better than most, he knows exactly the
way it was at Sun Records. He worked there virtually every day, saw it all, and, unlike most
of the others who walked throught the door, he didn't strive to lead the parade. In watching
the procession of inflated egos, Roland Janes conspicuously avoided developing one.
"I don't know why Sam hired me - probably took pity on my, I guess", is Roland Janes
typically self-deprecating way of explaining his arrival at Sun Records. But Sam Phillips knew
that he had found in Roland that most precious commodity: a guitarist who could submerge
his own ego and virtuosity for the good of a session. He also knew that Roland Janes was
supremely adaptable, able to fire sparks off Jerry Lee Lewis one moment and play the
gentlest fills the next. Roland Janes still works for Sam Phillips Studio today, he cab usually
be found behind the board engineering at the new studio on Madison built in the early
FROM ROCKABILLY TO RAP
ROLAND JANES IS BINDING FIGURE FOR MEMPHIS' MUSICAL LEGACY
During his 79-plus years, he has been called many things: Jerry Lee Lewis dubbed him "Roland Boy"; Bob
Dylan addressed him deferentially as "Mr. Janes''. Others refer to him with a simple, fitting sobriquet: the
With his shiny pate and expansive frame, Roland Janes does resemble a kind of wise hillbilly Buddha. To
those who have worked with him, he's the living embodiment of Memphis music, the last direct connection
to the city's great golden past. Janes was at Jerry Lee Lewis' side during the Killer's greatest triumphs in the
1950s, served as the linchpin for the Sun house band through the early 1960s, and played a crucial role in
town through the 1970s with his own Sonic studio. Since 1982, he has been the resident sage, engineer and
producer at the Sam Phillips Recording Service at Madison Avenue.
A few blocks away, at the old Sun Studio, tourists line up to pay homage to history. Meanwhile, Janes
continues to make it, arriving faithfully at Phillips each day in his big Lincoln Town Car. Artists come from
down the street and across the ocean for the chance to work with him. His production wizardry comprises a
mix of psychological tricks, dry wisecracks and Zen koans. In the studio, he's a teacher, a kidder, an
experimentalist and a pragmatist. He's also the crucial, if largely unknown, figure binding much of the Bluff
City's musical legacy. He was there for the big bang of rock and roll, helped usher in the garage band era,
and even aided in the flowering of the local rap scene.
He'll balk at any hint of his importance. More likely, he'll make a joke at his own expense, in a thick, cottony
drawl. "He's a funny, gentle character, but it would be a bad idea to mistake that easygoing-ness for
something else, Roland is smart as hell'', says Bay Area guitarist/singer Chuck Prophet, one of many
musicians to benefit from the Janes experience. "Here's a guy who witnessed the actual birthing of rock and
roll: Jerry Lee and scores of greats, lesser greats and total unknowns. He knew, he understood that music,
that making records, maybe even a hit record, could be created by anybody at any time. He cares about what
you're doing. And that can't help but make you care about what you're doing''.
To Knox Phillips, who grew up watching Janes through the glass at his father's Sun Studio and brought him
back to the family business 30 years ago, there's no mistaking his significance and continued relevance.
"There isn't a single person in Memphis that has been here active and effective in every decade the way
Roland has since the 1950s'', Phillips says. "He still has the respect and love of every young person that
works with him. You wanna talk about the ''last man standing'', he's the only one left still making records,
still showing up at the studio every day. He's probably there right now''!
You'd be hard-pressed to find an important contemporary Memphis artist who hasn't, directly or indirectly,
been impacted by Janes' work to some degree. "I've only met him a couple times, but I think that Roland
Janes, as much as anybody, has influenced me musically'', says Greg Cartwright, leader of latter-day garage
rock institutions the Oblivians and the Reigning Sound. "At first, I didn't even know how much. But when
you look at what all he was involved in, from the Sun stuff to the Travis Wammack records, the Ken
Williams records, to all the garage bands in the 1960s, his importance was huge for someone like me, who
learned by sifting through all this old Memphis music''.
For three generations of local artists, Janes has also been a personal mentor and guide. The late producer Jim
Dickinson entrusted his bands and his children to Janes, sending them all off to study at the University of
Roland. "When I started writing tunes, we were just kids, and Dad took us to Phillips'', recalls North
Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson. "We'd go over there and cut demos and rehearse with
Roland. Him helping you with arrangements, teaching you about recording, that's an integral part of the
Memphis experience. What can you say? He's encouraged all of us all these years. He's a saint''.
Godhead, saint, these are the absolute last things Roland Janes would claim of himself. Self-effacing to a
fault, he has strenuously avoided the spotlight. A few years ago, when the Recording Academy wanted to
present Janes with a series of citations for having played on multiple Grammy Hall of Fame songs,
representatives had to lie in wait and surprise him at the studio to give him the awards. He has rarely talked
about his achievements or his years at Sun, and always downplays his own role whenever he does. But make
no mistake, Janes was there for all of it, and then some. As he approaches his 80th birthday, Janes remains
part of the very fabric of Memphis music, the thread in the lives of so many of its artists.
A few weeks ago, guitarist Steve Selvidge went to Phillips to record with Janes. It was the first time he'd
played music since the death of his father, Memphis folk-blues singer Sid Selvidge. As everyone was posing
for pictures with Janes after the session, a funny realization hit Selvidge: "You know, I cut my very first
session with Roland'', he said. "Come to think of it, so did my dad''.
Music is made, children are born, songs are sung, fathers pass on, and Roland Janes is there though it all, the
man behind the board, tying the sounds and memories together. 'He was the glue'. Brookings, Arkansas,
doesn't turn up on most maps. A former wilderness located along the Black River, it's where Roland Janes
was born in 1933, the sixth of seven kids. His father was a timber cutter, a Pentecostal preacher and a
sometime-musician; much of Janes' family played, though never professionally. "They were all more talented
than me. I was just smarter'', Janes says with the timing of a born comedian, "or dumber, take your pick''.
Janes' parents divorced before he was 10, and for a time he ended up shuttling between his mother in St.
Louis and his father in Arkansas. He began playing music, mandolin at first, and then guitar. He was weaned
on country music while in the South, pop sounds from the radio stations up North, and gospel in church.
Whatever the genre, Janes was always first and foremost a fan of a good songs. "I just like songs and
songwriters ... sometimes the songs more than the writers'', he says.
After high school and a stint in the Marines, Janes settled in Memphis in 1955 and started playing music
professionally, just as rock and roll was beginning to percolate in the Bluff City. He soon hooked up with a
fellow ex-Marine, Jack Clement, and his truck driver partner, Ronald ''Slim'' Wallace. The pair had started
the Fernwood label in a South Memphis garage. They cut a couple of tracks by a flashy young singer named
Billy Lee Riley, with Janes on guitar. Clement took the tapes to Sam Phillips over at Sun Records so he could
master a single. Impressed by what he heard, Phillips ended up hiring Clement to work for him, signed Riley
to the label, and brought Janes into the fold.
Janes says it wasn't just talent, but fate and Sam Phillips, that brought everything together so perfectly.
"There's talent everywhere, but Memphis was one of those few places that actually had an outlet for the
talent. You could walk into Sun and if you had anything at all, Sam would listen to you'', Janes says. "In
other cities, people rode around on their high horse, thinking they're too good to talk to you. You could go to
towns like Nashville, and you couldn't get in the door. And even if you did, the first thing they'd try and do
was change you. Sam would take you as you were. So you were a little raw, so you didn't play it like
everyone else, well, that's what he wanted: 'This guy's got something different'''.
Janes delivered an opening lick for the ages on Riley's 1957 single "Flyin' Saucers Rock And Roll", a
rockabilly rave-up inspired by the era's UFO mania, that would propel the song onto the charts and give the
band its name: the Little Green Men. The group, which included Roland Janes, Billy Riley and drummer
Jimmy M. Van Eaton, would become the de facto house band at Sun, providing backing for the likes of Roy
Orbison, Charlie Rich, Bill Justis and Barbara Pittman, among many others.
As a session player, Janes' dry wit and easy demeanor would become his greatest assets. He had the ability to
soothe an impatient, highly sensitive talent like Rich, or bluff his way through a track with the formally
trained Justis. "(Justis) would put sheet music in front of us sometimes. Hell, I can't read music, I can barely
spell m-u-s-i-c'', Janes says. "But I'd improvise my way through the song, and he'd usually love it. Making
records is just about being able to work with all them different kinds of personalities''.
Just a kid then, Sam Phillips' oldest boy, Knox, would visit his father in the studio, keen to watch the guitarist
with the knowing eyes and jet-black hair. "Roland was just this guy that everybody gravitated to'', Knox says.
"The secret to the band that cut all those magnificent records at Sun was Roland. Every member was
important, but Roland was the glue. He was the glue on everything he played on or was involved in. And it's
still true today''.
Although their production styles and personalities were markedly different, Janes learned many key lessons
at the foot of Sam Phillips. "The one thing I admired most about Sam was that he went strictly for the 'feel''',
says Janes. "If there was a mistake on the track, he would let that work to his advantage, like with Elvis on
''That's Alright Mama'' where he forgets the lyrics and just starts humming: da-da-da-de-de-de... Anybody
else would have said, 'Let's cut it again'. Not Sam. He took a negative and looked at it as a positive. He was
that way about a lot of things. He was a smart man''.
The respect and affection between Roland Janes and Sam Phillips ran both ways. "From the moment Sam
first met him, he had an understanding and admiration for Roland that I heard about many times over the
years'', says Knox Phillips. "Roland is a lot like Sam: He's a philosopher; he's an 'originalist'. He's someone
that created his own sound. Like Sam, Roland is a person who has his own way of thinking. You never know
where his mind is going or what he might say, but it's always bound to be helpful to you''.
Janes' most famous association at Sun, however, started in the fall of 1956 when Jerry Lee Lewis arrived at
the studio. Over the next seven years, Janes rode shotgun as Lewis rose, fell and rose again, like some
boogie-woogie phoenix. Janes played on Lewis' epochal recordings of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and
"Great Balls of Fire"; toured with him during that first furious flush of fame and appeared on nearly every
side the pianist cut until he finally left Sun in 1963.
The low-key Janes proved the perfect foil for Lewis. As Sam Phillips recalled in 2000: "I knew I had to have
a certain type of guitar player for Jerry Lee. The worst thing that you could have done is got in Jerry Lee
Lewis' way ... The guy that I knew would fit perfectly was Roland Janes. Roland wasn't trying to be a star; he
wasn't trying to show off. ... He never was exactly comfortable. He would never enjoy the sessions, but he
will never forget as long as he lives that we didn't do sessions without Roland''!
Somehow, Janes managed to survive those chaotic early years working and touring with the Killer. "Playing
with Jerry Lee was just like playing with anybody else, almost'', says Janes, grinning. "He had a little
different personality, but hell, who don't? We always got along OK''.
While his time with Sun and Lewis has always been celebrated, Janes' guitar playing had been somewhat
overlooked. Even now, his work, the wild double string action and whammy bar manipulations of "Flyin'
Saucers Rock And Roll'', the driving rhythms that girded Lewis' fiery sides, or his later solo instrumentals
like "Guitarville", remain vibrant and inventive. These days, however, Janes says he no longer plays the
guitar. "Nah, I gave it up'', he says. "If you don't play all the time, you lose a little edge, and I don't want to
embarrass myself. Let someone else embarrass themselves''.
Janes has long had a stock answer for anyone who tells him they'd love to hear him play: "You've heard me
play''. It's not bragging; it's true. Pretty much every human being in the Western Hemisphere has heard
Roland Janes play guitar.
By 1959, after nearly three years of touring with Lewis, Janes began to tire of the grind. "I was on the road
probably 300 days a year or more'', he recalls. "One city today, another city tomorrow; sometimes we'd play
two towns in one day. There was always a big crowd, but you didn't even get a chance to tune up your
"One time, I got kinda frustrated on stage. The kids was screaming, and none of us knew if we were in tune
or not, and nobody seemed to care. So I just banged the hell out of the guitar, making an awful racket, and
the crowd went crazy. I thought, 'Man, this isn't what I practice for.' That was it for me. Being on the road
was like being in the Marine Corps: I'm glad I did it, but I wouldn't want to do it twice''.
By the end of the decade, Janes had married his wife, Betty, a union that would produce two sons and a
daughter. He was ready to settle down and make the studio his home. Although he would continue to play
sessions for Sam Phillips for a few more years, by the early 1960s, it was obvious the golden era of Sun was
coming to an end.
"We had a run of about five years where we could do no wrong'', Janes recalls. "What shot us out of the
saddle was the (radio) payola scandal. All those records that used to be you could get played, you couldn't
get played anymore. In other words, the big labels took control of the business again. Although they were as
guilty of payola as anybody, in a way they made them little independent labels look like they were the bad
guys, and it got harder and harder to get anything going''.
Sam Phillips was already busy planning the construction of a new modern studio on Madison Avenue and
expanding into the radio business. Janes and Billy Lee Riley tried to get Phillips to lease them the old Sun
space at 706 Union. "We wanted to keep it open and record in there and give him the product. Sam said, 'Let
me think about that'. But he never did get back with us. That's the reason why we formed our own record
label, Rita Records''.
Janes' short-lived Rita Records was a story of musical success and financial failure. The label released 16
singles in 1960 and 1961, including five chart records and a smash in Harold Dorman's "Mountain of Love"
(later covered and made an even bigger hit by Johnny Rivers). But Janes and his partners got shorted on the
profits from their distributors. Expecting money that never materialized, Janes even had to abandon the
construction of his own studio halfway through.
Dejected, Janes left Memphis for a time and moved to Missouri. "I thought, 'Man, I don't know about this
record business'", Janes recalls with a chuckle. "I've had five chart records, one Top 10, and I had to leave
town. If I'd had a sixth one, I'd probably had to commit suicide''.
After a few months, he returned to Memphis and finally opened his own place, Sonic Recording at 1692
Madison. He established a series of indie labels (ARA, Renay, Rolando) and scored hits with the wild
instrumental "Scratchy", by the studio's teenage house guitarist, Travis Wammack, and Matt Lucas' frantic
reworking of Hank Snow's "I'm Moving On''.
Janes' success was short-lived, however. In November 1963, the Beatles hit the U.S. charts, and for the next
year no one could get an American record played on the radio. "And I'm still mad at 'em'', he says. Janes soon
shifted his focus completely to the studio. In a sense, Sonic became a spiritual extension of the old Sun.
Charging just $10 an hour and $3 for tape, Janes had an open-door policy, willing to take a chance on anyone
with a spark of talent or a good idea.
Over the next decade, Janes and his studio would help write the history of Memphis garage rock: Practically
every teen band of the time was baptized into the recording world at Sonic. Many of them, like the Castels,
Jades and Mudmen, conceived their classic works there as well. Local groups would regularly record tracks
with Janes, then mime to them on George Klein's WHBQ "Talent Party" TV show. As future Box Tops
guitarist Gary Talley would note, for a generation of kids in the '60s, recording with Janes was "a rite of
"Roland was a big part of Sun and played guitar on all those famous records, but to me, Sonic studio was his
shining moment'', says Greg Cartwright, a collector and historian of the local garage scene. "His studio was
the ground zero for all these different things to congeal. Outside of Memphis, people talk about Sun, but a lot
of them don't know about Sonic studios, and don't know what that place meant to Memphis music, especially
Memphis teenagers. It wasn't just the older, seasoned people who were Roland's age making records, but a
whole new generation of kids that were cutting their first demos and making their first records at Sonic''.
Janes, always a friend to songwriters, also turned Sonic into a launching pad for a series of successful
tunesmiths, including George Jackson (author of "Old Time Rock 'N' Roll" and "One Bad Apple") and Bill
Rice, who penned country hits for Hank Williams Jr. and Charley Pride.
While the rest of the studios in town followed the technological advancements of the 1970s, moving from
one-to two-to four-and eventually eight-track boards, Janes continued working in mono, mixing as he
recorded, leaving little room for doubt or error.
If Sam Phillips was the Van Gogh of mono recording, then Janes was its Gauguin, mastering the nuances of
the medium. "One thing about recording in mono is that you learn to work and mix defensively'', Janes says.
"You learn to bring the good parts out, and you learn to hide the bad parts, at least to where they're not
damaging the recording as a whole''.
Janes would continue gigging around town into the 1970s, often as part of a combo with Little Green Men
alum Jimmy M. Van Eaton. But his own musical aspirations took a backseat to running Sonic. By 1974, after
more than decade laboring as a one-man operation, the studio business had become a drain.
"When you own the studio, you got to worry about the rent, the taxes and the equipment'', Janes says. "Plus,
you end up using some of your best ideas on someone else's song, just to get through it, and it's probably
gonna be a crummy record anyway. I was making a living, but I was working myself to death. I got
discouraged and sold the studio. Sad story, ain't it''?
Janes then spent a couple of years engineering at the Sounds of Memphis before he made a left turn,
becoming a recording instructor at Kansas Vo Tech, a predominantly black vocational school in South
Memphis. For the next five years, Janes taught classes five days and two nights a week. Kansas Vo Tech
often sent its most troublesome, rambunctious students to Janes. Somehow, he managed to get them to learn,
using the same jokes and laid-back manner that had charmed and calmed the likes of Jerry Lee and Charlie
The experience would serve Janes well in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a generation of young
African-American rappers began calling on him to make their first records. At a time when few places in
town would even consider recording rap acts, Janes did what he'd always done: He threw open the studio
doors. Author Robert Gordon, who wrote the 1995 underground history "It Came From Memphis" recalls
hanging around the Phillips studio and seeing Janes' democratic approach in action.
"I'd be over there talking to Roland, and he'd take every call, treat every person with respect'', Gordon says.
"At that point, Roland had been in the business for decades; he had every reason in the world to be be jaded,
but he's never been that way. It didn't matter if it was some young unknown rapper; he viewed everyone like
they had the potential to be a star, to be the next Jerry Lee Lewis coming in off the street. Roland has a
natural eye for talent and was always interested and welcoming of whoever and whatever came through the
door. That's a big reason why he's thrived for so long''.
Through the studio's relationship with rap merchants Select-O-Hits (a record distribution company owned by
another branch of the Phillips family) Janes would record acts like Three 6 Mafia, Skinny Pimp, Gangsta Pat
and Al Kapone, making a connection with a new genre of artists. "You'd think there would be some big
generation or cultural gap, but these guys would come in and Roland would do what he always does, start
joking with them and having a ball'', says Select-O-Hits head Johnny Phillips. "That's the thing: everybody
who meets Roland falls in love with him''.
"I can remember some times down there with Roland'', Kapone says. "I got my first engineering skills from
working with him. I ain't gonna lie: coming (into Phillips) I felt a little intimidated, like 'Man, I'm walking in
the steps of history here.' But it was real easy 'cause Roland was one of the coolest dudes. He passed on some
gems to me about recording, and I soaked it up. I still use some of those techniques''.
From rockabilly to crunk, from "Great Balls of Fire" to "Whoop That Trick," the music may have morphed,
but Janes' impact has remained unchanged.
When it opened officially in September 1960, the Phillips Recording Services seemed like some strange,
magnificent dream: a melange of jet-age technology, pyramid fades and pastel-colored walls sprung from
Sam Phillips' fevered imagination. During its first two decades, the studio produced seminal recordings by
the likes of Sam the Sham, the Cramps and Alex Chilton, to name a few. For much of the 1970s and into the
1980s, Phillips' son Knox, along with his brother Jerry, had helped oversee the studio for their father. In the
fall of 1982, the family asked Roland Janes to run things. He accepted and has been at Phillips pretty much
every day for the last 30 years.
Janes has spent decades cultivating the sound at Phillips. By contemporary recording standards, his setup is
almost counter intuitive. The whole studio is carpeted, and there's a permanent house drum kit set up in a
burlap-strewn plywood booth (if you want to move it, you can, but you'll have to put it back yourself). Janes'
microphone placement isn't strictly regimented; you won't find him on all fours on the studio floor with a
tape measure. He'll usually put a modicum of mics wherever it "feels" right. On paper, none of it should
work, but all of it does: The sounds Janes gets are utterly singular and beautiful.
It isn't just the sound that makes the studio special; it's also Janes himself. Ask Chuck Prophet, and he'll tell
you: An encounter with the man can be a life- and career-changing experience. Back in 1988, Prophet was
the lead guitarist for California roots-rockers Green on Red. The band was on its third label deal and its last
legs, having effectively imploded on tour in Europe. Emerging from the wreckage, Prophet and singer Dan
Stuart limped into Memphis to try to salvage the band with the help of producer Jim Dickinson, who
promptly took them over to Phillips.
"We were supposed to make demos... and we had no songs. Nothing. We were just scraping around making
stuff up and Roland was recording it'', recalls Prophet. "I tried to make conversation. I was like, 'Oh, hi, how
many tracks do we have here?' He looked up and gestured toward the 16-track machine, which had tracks
pulled out with their wires and capacitors and guts exposed. He said, 'Well, we've got 16 on a good day... We
got 14 today'".
The demos Prophet and Stuart cut with Roland Janes would form the basis of Green on Red's 1989 classic
''Here Comes the Snakes''. "That record gave us a second lease on life, really'', Prophet says. "We were pretty
lost at that point, and there we were just thrashing around, reaching for something. And Roland was real
patient with us. Let me say this: He never made us feel bad about what we were doing ... and some of what
we were doing was pretty bad''.
Over the years, other artists, like Robert Plant and Phil Collins, have made pilgrimages to Memphis, seeking
Phillips' sound and Janes' touch. "Actually, I think it's more them wanting to be associated with something
having to do with Sam Phillips, than anything to do with me'', Janes protests.
A couple of years ago, a certain touring musician, who was in town to perform at Mud Island Amphitheater,
called at the last minute asking if he could cut a session with Janes. The next day, the singer ambled in to the
studio. "Mr. Janes, my name's Bob Dylan'', he said, extending a hand. "I've been fan of your work all my
life''. "Well, Bob, it's nice to meet you'', Janes replied. "I've been listening to you for a long time, too''.
Dylan wasn't merely paying lip service. He'd long been an admirer of Janes' one-time partner and foil Billy
Lee Riley, covering his songs and inviting him out on tour. In fact, in 1978, when Dylan was going through a
costly divorce, one of his most impassioned live performances was of an obscure Riley song, written by
Janes, called "Repossession Blues''.
That day at Phillips, as the story goes, when Dylan was through cutting his track, he asked Janes for his
opinion. "I tell you, Bob," said the ever-truthful Janes. "It's a good song, but I think it's just got too many
About a decade ago, the Phillips family had to make a decision: Update the studio's equipment and go with
the emerging digital technology, or remain committed to analog tape recording. They decided to stick with
the latter, and it's proved to be the right choice, as big true analog studios like Phillips have become
increasingly scarce and in demand.
For Janes, there was never any doubt what his preference was. "Working with digital, you're sitting looking
at squiggly lines on a (computer) screen. That’s put me to sleep'', he says. "You're looking at a screen and not
even thinking about the damn music. To me, the music is much more important than that. It's not about all
this gear anyway. Some of the biggest hits I've ever heard in my life were cut on some real sloppy
The current pop music landscape is anathema to Janes, as the recording process increasingly has become
slave to technology like Auto-Tune, drum fixing, and the relentless manicuring of tracks. "It's senseless to
strive for perfection'', Janes says. "It's like people ask me: 'Do you use a click track?' No, if the drummer ain't
good enough to play without the damn click track, he don't need to be playing to start with. Look, I don't
mind the tempo changing; that's the human element. Humans are not perfect, and their music don't need to be
perfect; it just needs to be good''.
That philosophy is exactly what so many have come to prize in Janes. "I don't want to come off all new age
or whatever, but Roland is the kind of guy who gives you faith in yourself'', Prophet says. "Nowadays, it's
hard to find people who are as pure. Some people just want to get in there and fix your mistakes. Some
people just don't get it. Why would they? They've never taken a ride on the Flying Saucer of Rock and Roll,
and they probably never will''.
It's a gray March day as John Paul Keith and his band work through a session at the Sam Phillips Recording
Service. Roland Janes is directing the action on the studio floor and fiddling with an old tape machine that's
acting up. Though he walks slowly, "got bad knees'', he says, his hands move swiftly across the console, and
his wit, proffered over a talkback mic, is lighting quick.
Keith is working on his third solo album for the Mississippi label Big Legal Mess. A 37-year-old from
Knoxville, he has had a roller-coaster career: He earned a pair of ill-fated major-label deals before he turned
20 and then slogged it out for a decade, only to see his dreams dashed after stints in New York City and
Nashville. Keith actually quit music for a time before rediscovering his muse in Memphis. A soulful singer,
songwriter and guitarist, equally versed in honky-tonk, rock and pop, he's a throwback to the days of Sun
triple threats like Carl Perkins and Billy Lee Riley.
"This kid's really talented'', Janes beams, as Keith leads the band on a catchy swamp-flavored number called
"We Got All Night''. "He's got a brand on him''.
Keith hadn't met Janes before asking him to record the band. "The first thing I picked up on in talking to him
was that he clearly had no interest in doing a nostalgia or vanity project'', Keith says. "He still considers
himself in the game and in the music business and is very much concerned with how all that relates to what
he does. I remember after he agreed to do the record, he shook my hand and said: 'Let's cut some hits'".
Keith initially was worried about the terms Janes had set: He'd work only from noon to 6 p.m. each day, and
he preferred the band use the house drum kit. "Well, we get in there and it takes Roland about five minutes to
get the drum sound totally nailed," Keith says. "I hadn't even poured myself a drink and we were ready to
record. Most places you go, it takes hours and hours just to get the drums. We were cutting pretty much right
The process for making each track, from the first rundown to the odd overdub to the finished recording, takes
an economical three hours. Keith and company complete 14 songs in less than nine days; nearly all the music
and more than half of the vocals were tracked live.
"It's the fastest project I've ever worked on'', Keith says. "And we were all buzzing about it. It sounded
incredible. That's all down to Roland. The speed at which he works is part of the process. Nowadays,
everybody likes to... spend all their time and energy messing with (digital recording program) ProTools, and
because of the technology, you can tinker forever. But working that way you won't get even a fraction of the
results that Roland gets in a six-hour live session. The way he works forces you to be decisive''.
As Keith and his group take another pass at the song, the musicians, longtime local band veterans Al Gamble
on organ, John Argroves on drums and Mark E. Stuart on bass, are clearly relishing Janes' banter and ribbing.
Janes chides Gamble for texting in between takes ("Al, you should get two phones and double-fist it"). Later,
Gamble is fretting over the final note he played on another track, insisting he can do it even better. "Al'',
Janes drawls, "if they don't like the song by the last note, it's too late''.
"Roland always has the right perspective'', Keith says. "You never get bogged down; you're never chasing
your own tail with him. He really does what a producer should do, which is facilitate creativity''. And, of
course, if there's a call for employing an old Sun-era recording technique, who better than Janes to impart
those secrets? "Well, he knows how all that stuff is done 'cause he helped invent it in the first place'', Keith
Although Janes will turn 80 in August 2013, retirement hasn't really entered his thoughts. "Well, I gotta make
a living. That's always number one on the agenda'', he says. "And, second, I still love it. I've got the same fire
I always had. I get just as big a kick out of working with someone like John Paul, or someone that's got
talent, as if it was my own session''.
The late Jim Dickinson used to say that Knox Phillips would keep the family studio going until it fell over in
a heap. Today, Knox allows that the studio's long-term future may be as a museum, a repository for Sam
Phillips' legacy. "But for now'', says Knox, "we're still making great records''.
Janes remains the catalyst for all that, even if he admits that he has occasional thoughts about walking away.
"There's no facet of recording that I don't enjoy; there's also no facet of it that I don't hate'', he says. "People
ask: 'You ever think about quitting?' I tell 'em, 'Yeah, every damn day. But, I still come back''.
Sure enough, tomorrow morning, just as the sun will rise and the Mississippi River will flow, Roland Janes
will pull his big car alongside the entrance to the Phillips studio, jingle his keys, unlock the door and open
for business. He'll make his way up the steps and take his place behind the board, ready to cut some hits.
© by Bob Mehr, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, June 2, 2013
CECIL SCAIFE - born as Cecil Ross Scaife in Helena, Phillips County, Arkansas on April 13, 1927 to Brooks and
Elsie Lumpkin Scaife. He attended the University of Arkansas at Monticello where he was President of the
Student Body, voted ''Most Likely to Succeed'' as well as ''Wittiest'' among his peers. In 1986, he was
selected Alumnus of the year and an endowment was established in his honor. He did his graduate study at
Texas Christian University.
Ever so theatrical, soon after graduation he was off to Broadway when he was
selected the winner of a Mid South talent contest sponsored by the Memphis Press Scimitar.
Cecil Scaife mix a drink for Bill Fitzgerald
Sam Phillips Studio, 639 Madison Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, 1960
He loved acting
throughout his life and was in numerous films in Hollywood and appeared on Broadway.
In his early years he worked with KFFA Radio, in Helena, Arkansas and then was hired by Sam Phillips as
the first National Sales and Promotion Manager for Sun Records in Memphis. One of his biggest acts was
hired in 1955 Elvis Presley to a Helena, Arkansas show although he also worked with Johnny Cash, Carl
Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Mann and Charlie Rich at Sun Records. Sam Phillips then asked him to move
his family to Palm Beach, Florida where he managed the nations first all girl radio station, WLIZ.
In the early 1960s the family made their last move and it was to Nashville where he opened the third multitrack
recording studio in Nashville. He later created one of the first gospel labels in the nation, ''Songs of
Faith'', which celebrated the Gospel Music Industry’s first million selling record, ''Sorry I Never Knew You'''.
When Cecil retired in 1998 he had in his desk the receipt from where he paid the original charter fee for the
Gospel Music Association of which he was one of the original founders. Scaife's other achievements include
having served on the National Board of Governors/Grammy Awards Committee, serving as a lifetime elector
to the Country Music Hall of Fame Committee, a member of the Country Music Association and the
National Association of Recording Merchandisers. He also served as president of the Nashville Chapter of
the Recording Academy (NARAS) and was responsible for bringing in his friend, Dick Clark, to host the
Nashville segment of the Grammy Awards Show which was featured on the national Grammy Award show.
He was commended for serving on President Nixon's council to combat drug abuse in the entertainment
industry and being recognized by the Religious Heritage of America for his work. He was an executive with
CBS Records for many years where he had the distinct honor of giving Johnny Cash his Gold Record Award
for ''I Walk the Line''. Cecil Scaife retired due to illness in 1998 after running Music Incorporated which he
and his wife Sherytha stared together the early seventies. It was one of the largest Christmas Music
Catalogues in the country.
Cecil Scaife was a renaissance man in the truest sense of the word. He was known for his dapper fashion
sense and loved to dress up. He wore many hats, literally. He was most known for his black cowboy hat and
his Tennessee Walking horses but had a true love of the sea and was often seen in his ''Captain's'' cap. He
designed his beloved yacht, Commodore's Lady that he docked in Florida and in Nashville for many years.
He was a teacher with an open door policy, a Gideon reaching out to others, a disciplined coach, an award
winning record producer, a loyal friend, a true cowboy, a caring and generous father and a loving and doting
Cecil Scaife was a visionary and was the force behind the music business program at Belmont University. He
was a Music Row pioneer and veteran, and was the visionary that planted the seeds for what has blossomed
into today’s thriving Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. He knew Belmont had a
Music Education department and a Business department and he suggested to then President of Belmont
College, Dr. Herbert Gabhart, that he consider combining the two and form a Music Business Department.
He asked his good friend Bob Mulloy to help him create and then oversee the project and throughout the
years under Bob’s watchful eye, it became the world-renowned Curb College. The Cecil Scaife Visionary
Award has been established in his honor and was given earlier this week to Record Producer Tony Brown.
Last years recipient of the Cecil Scaife Visionary Award was Mike Curb.
Cecil Scaife was a member of the Soujorners Class at First Baptist Church in Nashville. On March 5, 2009
Cecil Ross Scaife died at the age of 81 in Nashville, Tennessee and is buried in a private graveside in historic
Mount Olivet Cemetery.
- Bill Fitzgerald was hired by Sam Phillips on August 4, 1959 to be Sun Records,
Phillips International, and the publishing companies, as general manager, a position that had not previously
Secretary Barbara Barnes announced in the September Sun-Liners of 1959, that he was going to be
Sam's right-hand man, charged with supervising activities associated with the move to fine new studios,
thereby letting Sam return to cutting records. Barbara Barnes had often talked with Bill Fitzgerald at Music
Sales, located at 1117 Union Avenue, Memphis, where he was manager of Sun's Memphis distributor, and
knew him to be a mild-mannered person who had known and admired Sam a long time.
As a part owner of Duke Records in 1952 with a WDIA executive, David James Madis, whose professional
experience had acquainted Bill with black music, he also knew many of Memphis's black artists. Duke was a
serious competitor of Sam's for musicians in the days when Sam was cutting masters to sell to other
companies, but the label was sold to Don Robey's Peacock Records of Houston sometime before Bill came to
Though Bill Fitzgerald knew the world of independent labels from several angles, Sam had not given him
much responsibility right away, possibly because things were slow for Sun when Bill came to Sun. Thus he
had the time to sit around and talk with another Sun employee, Regina Reese and Barbara Barnes every day.
They found him sincere, idealistic, and likable, a good church-going family man. Bill wore a diamond
Masonic ring and swept his blond hair in a sort of swirl over his forehead. ''Regina and I decided that in
many ways Bill seemed by our standards to be the most ''normal'' man we had come across in the Sun
environment. He did have one quirk, though. He lobed to tear off a little corner of any paper he came across,
roll it into a ball, and chew on it. We always knew, 'Bill was here', when we saw invoices memos, etc., with a
little corner missing'', says Barbara Barnes.
''Bill was the one who confided to me one day that in the days before rhythm and blues developed into rock,
the term ''rock and roll'' meant sexual relations'' says Barnes. ''I either already knew or had concluded as
much, though in my college years as I was listening to pure rhythm and blues, I had taken ''rock and roll'' to
mean to dance, which in the context of many songs it did. Later it meant just to ''get on with it'' whether that
mean traveling or most anything''.
Bill Fitzgerald was also the instigator of the decorations, and he also had planned the office for Christmas
Eve December 24 party's. Bill Fitzgerald remained with Sun Records until 1969, when he took a position
with a major recording label in Nashville, Tennessee, serving in Artist & Repertoire management until his
retirement. Bill Fitzgerald died in 1991.
- Country singer, disc jockey since 1950. Born Winston Conrad Martindale in Bells (nearby Jackson), Tennessee, on December 4, 1934. Martindale has also been called Win Martindale. He has hosted the TV game shows "Gambit", "How's Your Mother-In-Law?", "Can You Top This", "What's This Song", "Words And Music", and "Tic Tac Dough", among others.
At the age of 24, Wink Martindale has reached an enviable position as disc jockey, it all started in
Jackson, Tennessee. Later he came to Memphis and Martindale worked at 56 WHBQ radio,
beginning on April 20, 1953, and was there when Dewey Phillips first played an Elvis record.
Wink Martindale met Elvis Presley for the first time that evening. On Memphis' KLACTV's "Dance Part",
Martindale interviewed Elvis Presley on June 16, 1956. On December 31, 1956, Elvis Presley
gasting Wink Martindale's program "Holiday Hop" for KLAC-TV, Memphis, Tennessee.
Martindale, like almost everyone else in Memphis, cut an unreleased song at Sun Records, "Bug A
Bop", backed by Bill Justis' orchestra. He made his movie debut in the 1958 rock and roll movie
"Keep It Cool". In 1959 Martindale recorded a hit song titled "Deck Of Cards" for Dot Records
(Dot 15968) entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 7.
Along with all this, Wink Martendale found time to attend the Memphis University and to marry his
childhood sweetheart, Madelyn. Wink joined KHJ in Los Angeles, where he does his morning show,
"The Clock-Watchers Show". He likes the coast, and hopes to remain there permanently.
REBECCA ''BECKY'' BURNS PHILLIPS - A pioneering female disc jockey, matriarch of Memphis' legendary rock and roll Phillips family and the woman who provided the light for Sun Records. Long before Sam Phillips made his name and fortune as the man who discovered Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, he scrapped by for years chasing after his musical dreams. "And my mother was the reason Sam was able to do what he did'', said her son, Knox Phillips. "She would give him the spirit to get through all his trials and tribulations, starting out especially''.
Born Rebecca Burns on June 22, 1925 in Colbert County, Alabama, she was a 17-year-old high school student with a passion for radio when she got a show with her sister on Sheffield's WLAY in 1942. It was there that she met her 19-year-old husband-to-be Sam Phillips, who was starting out as an announcer.
They were married in 1943 in Decatur, Alabama, where they continued their careers as broadcasters. Sam would often describe his wife as "the best damn announcer I ever heard''. The couple moved to Nashville, and later settled in Memphis. Rebecca would give birth to two sons, Knox on October 30, 1945 and Jerry on September 9, 1948.
In 1950, Sam would launch his Memphis Recording Service and later Sun Records label. During those early years, it was Becky Phillips who helped her husband through the difficult times. "Sam worked 20 hours a day'', said Knox. "During that period, he had two nervous breakdowns and she saw him through all that''.
In 1955, Mrs. Phillips provided the spark for the launch on October 29, of Memphis' WHER, "the first All-Girl Station in the nation'', which went on the air that fall. "Sam was inspired by her, inspired by what a great announcer she was'', said noted music historian Peter Guralnick, who was working on a biography of Sam Phillips. "He saw (the station) … as giving women a way to express themselves that they hadn't been offered before''.
"At the time, females could not even go to the Columbia School of Broadcasting'', said Knox Phillips. "They would not accept them. But, because of my mother, when Sam started the station he made it all female: all female air talent, all female executives and sales staff''.
The history of the station and Phillips' role in it was the subject of a Peabody Award-winning piece on National Public Radio titled "WHER - 1000 Beautiful Watts" in 1999.
Becky Phillips would continue to broadcast on various Phillips-owned radio stations into the 1980s, signing off with her signature line "a smile on your face puts a smile in your voice''. It was an attitude Mrs. Phillips carried with her daily.
Rebecca Burns Phillips, the 87-year-old great radio announcer, died on Friday September 13, 2012 at her home in Collierville, Tennessee, after a long illness. She is buried at the Sheffield Oakwood Cemetery, Sheffield, Alabama.
Sun Studio and Sun label founder Sam Phillips with his two sons, Knox (left) and Jerry. Both sons
inherited Sam's musical genius and have successful careers, themselves, in the music business
– Music publisher, producer, and Memphis promoter. In the beginning… I was born into
Memphis music. My parents met in radio. Sam was an engineer and disc jockey; Becky was a singer and
ukulele player. Sam came to Memphis to work at WREC. He had passed through a few years earlier and
fallen in love with the city after seeing Beale Street at 3 a.m. in the pouring rain. He vowed he would return
I was born in Memphis on October 30, 1945. There was a judge named Knox in Lauderdale County,
Alabama, where my parents are from. My father always loved that name, so that’s where mine came from.
My brother, Jerry, is three years younger than me. It was not a life of luxury. Sam was totally consumed with
radio, it was his first love, and it was his last. He couldn’t put out of his mind the music he had heard on
Beale. Against all odds, he decided to build a studio to record that music.
It was a huge risk. Keep in mind, this was 1950. Segregation was at its height, and were in the South. He had
to give up his job. He had to weigh the risk to his family. But he always said he couldn't not do it. The only
failure would have been not trying.
He built Memphis Recording Service, what later became Sun Studio at 706 Union in 1950. I was five years
old, and I’d be there with Ike Turner, Howlin' Wolf, Rufus Thomas, Little Junior Parker, and Little Milton,
to me, it was the greatest music in the world.
Sam had no interest in recording anyone but the untried, the unproven, the dispossessed, black and white.
Every one of the people he recorded, including Elvis Presley, was frightened when they came into the studio.
And if they weren’t frightened, they were insecure. It was Sam's mission to give them a chance, to bring
something out in them that they might not even know they had themselves.
Sam's first hit was ''Rocket 8'' in 1951. We ended up with Ike Turner's ''Rocket 88'' bus in front of our place
on Vinton! Sam had helped Ike put that bus together for touring, but I don’t think it ever ran, so Jerry and I
had cap gun fights and imagined blasting off in our own, personal rocket ship! None of that today sounds
like your normal nuclear family experience, but it was my life, so it seemed pretty normal to me.
When my mother took us downtown, I’d see ''white-only'' and ''colored only'' signs. I couldn't understand
what it meant. It was just so contrary to everything I had been brought up to believe. I mean, we all drank
Cokes together at the studio!
Elvis came over to our house more than any of the other musicians, even after he was a superstar! Usually,
he'd come over after midnight. No matter what time, my mother always said, ''Sure, come on in, Elvis''! And
then she'd wake us. ''Boys, Elvis is here. Do you want to get up''? We'd say, ''Yep, probably so, Mom''! How
cool was that? My dad needed a bigger space, so he built Phillips Recording Studio at 639 Madison in 1959.
I worked there through high school and college.
I recorded some bands, and it was pretty much jumping into the deep end of the swimming pool. I didn’t
know what I was doing; the band didn’t know what they were doing; so we figured if we didn’t know what
we were doing together, maybe we’d get something! And that’s what happened.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Memphis was going through some pretty serious changes, just like the rest
of the music industry. That’s when we put together Memphis Music Inc., Memphis’s first music organization.
Memphis is a hard place to organize because everyone has such an extreme sense of individuality. That
quality is great for creating amazing music, but it’s not so great for organizational thinking! But we did it,
and it was the precursor to the Memphis chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
When we finally got the Memphis chapter, it was a really great feeling. Even when times are bad, there
would be hope! We’d have a voice!
In 2004, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told I needed to get my affairs in order. For 10
months, I was dosed with the most chemotherapy and radiation a person can have and still live. Diane
Duncan is my diamond person, and she helped get me through cancer.
The entire music community rallied behind me, encouraging me. I said, ''Well, I’m just going to get well''.
I’m telling you, the music community will come to your rescue, and they will do it unselfishly. Memphis is
nothing if not creative. It’s independent people with a free-thinking human spirit. Every piece of music you
hear, it’s in there.
At what point in my life did I consciously decide that I would make music for a living? I don’t know. Music
seeped into me by osmosis. I was around it, immersed in it. I lived it. Music became not just a part of my
upbringing, but a part of my spirit, my education, and my soul. As I look back on it, that’s how it happened.
Musicians tend to work hard and give their all whether in the studio or on stage.
From my father, I got a life philosophy. Things like: ''Be yourself, no matter what that self might be''. ''Praise
difference and individuality''. ''Do your best to work for the greater good''. Things like that. He was always
trying to inspire everyone he came into contact with to be a better person.
I have never consciously tried to hurt anybody or intentionally taken advantage of another person. I believe
we’re all in this life together. My favorite memory of Jerry Lee Lewis… When we recorded, we'd usually do
all-nighters. He was a night guy. We'd take a break, and he'd want to go down to an adult club. I’m just riding
with him. As soon as Jerry Lee came in, everybody would start jumping around
And dancing on tables. He was just a very big deal. On the way back to the studio, he’d always play a tape of
Jimmy Swaggart, all gospel songs after we'd been to this adult club! Then we’d go back into the studio, and
we’d do a song like, ''Don't Boogie-Woogie When You Say Your Prayers Tonight''. It was just this odd, but
somehow profound, intersection of values! There are no original followers!
To me, Memphis has been, more than anything, the home of the independent spirit. I never got into any real
trouble because Jerry and I were in the middle of it all the time! For us, that was normal. The music business
taught me that in the world of creativity, you give out but you never give up. From my mother, I got
kindness, a sense of grace, and a heart that gave off unequivocal love not only to her family but everyone she
Beyond the crazy stories, Jerry Lee is a genius with a generous, sensitive heart that the world rarely sees. In
the studio, he is a virtuoso piano player whose left hand was almost hypnotic to me. You’ve never heard
anybody with a left hand like his. It’s hard to believe a brain can operate both creatively and mathematically
in that manner. Totally amazing.
The worst moment of my life was being told that my daughter, Kimberly Layne, had died. She was a
renaissance kind of girl, a consummate dancer, and an unbelievable choreographer. She died from an
infection of the sac that encases the heart. It happened about a month before getting her master's degree from
Pepperdine University. But it teaches you to enjoy the happenings inside each moment. I wouldn’t be where I
am if if it weren’t for Sam, it weren’t for Diane, if it weren’t for rock ‘n’ roll.
The Prisonaires were five black guys, I think they had 599-year sentences between them! My father talked
the governor into transporting them to his studio from the maximum-security prison in Nashville. There were
two big, white guards in full regalia standing around. You wonder how anybody could sing in that
atmosphere, but my old man was pretty good at bringing people’s dreams into focus and helping them block
out some of the obstacles in their way.
The last words I said to my father before he died were ''I'll be over there tomorrow to watch the Cubs''. Then
he was gone. He was a big baseball fan. When he opened his studio in the 1950s, he did all the sound and the
organ for Russwood Park, the minor league baseball park in Memphis at the time. I'm always mistrustful of
somebody who wants me to make a snap judgment. I like writing songs but I wouldn’t hire myself!
Fighting cancer is like riding a motorcycle through the hills. It's valleys and hills and valleys and hills, hope
and despair. And then you get through most of those hills and you say, ''Well, these hills aren't so bad. I'm
just going to get through them and get well''. Once I got used to the ride, I didn’t notice the hills and valleys
It's hard to believe that I've enjoyed my life as much as I have. I think mainly because I was brought up
during a very revolutionary musical period that my father played a big role in. It brought people together,
changed the world, and changed me. My first true love was my father's studio and the music within, and that
love of music has stayed with me all my life. It hurts me when I unintentionally disappoint anybody. When
that happens, it’s a bad moment.
If I had a magic wand, I would try to get people to listen to music with their ears, hearts, and souls in a way
that would connect them and open them up to the emotional components in music that can change the world
and bring people closer together.
The one person I'd like to meet is Martin Luther King Jr., but there are so many others. My first thought
when I learned of my daughter’s death was, ''If this is true, I’m going to handle this well for myself and my
family, and I’m not going to fall apart''. Kim was such a strong person; it would dishonor her memory to fall
People today don't realize I’m handicapped! I've tried to learn to live with it and look as normal as possible,
but the cancer chemotherapy treatment did some extreme peripheral nerve damage to my system. I’m here,
but I’m numb! My all-time favorite thing in life is making records!
One of my greatest honors is receiving the Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of
Memphis in the Creative and Performing Arts. My dad received the very first award; I received the one this
year. On the large plaque listing the winners, Sam's name is the first one, and I’m the very last one that fits
on that same plaque. It’s the only award that he and I share.
I try not to think about … what if my cancer comes back? I can’t really take any more chemotherapy, so if it
comes back, I’ve got one less bullet in the gun to fight with. When you don’t have a full deck, you don’t
want to get in a game where you need one. I genuinely miss being able to play the guitar.
I want to be remembered as a true individual who made a difference and gave himself over to the larger
purpose of community. My life has been all about telling and shaping the Memphis music story, doing
whatever I could do to help the music community, help the mission of it, locally, nationally, globally.
My final 2 cents is this: Define yourself and never let anyone else define you; believe in yourself and prize
your individuality. There is no greater accomplishment in life than pursuing a goal that you believe in with
every fiber of your being and being recognized and remembered as a true individual. It’s all about finding
– Sam Phillips youngest son Jerry Layne was born on September 9, 1948 in Memphis, an
guitarist, songwriter, producer, and a member of the legendary
band, The Jesters, whose hit, ''Cadillac Man'', was on of the last release on Sun Records, and is
still a cult favorite in the United States and Europe. Jerry is a double treat on both guitar and piano.
Jerry Phillips, who owns and runs his Big River Broadcasting Corporation radio station in old WJOI building on
624 Sam Phillips Street in Florence, Alabama, now lives on Pickwick Lake at Eastport in Tishomingo County.
- American record producer and arranger, who is most famous for his association with a
number of country artists, most notably Tammy Wynette and George Jones.
Sherrill and business partner
Glenn Sutton are regarded as the defining influences of the countrypolitan sound, a smooth amalgamation of
pop and country music that was popular during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.
In 2008, Billy Sherrill was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.
On February 23, 2010, Sherrill was selected for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame along with
Don Williams, Ferlin Husky, and Jimmy Dean. In the 1981 made for television movie based on Wynette's
book "Stand By Your Man", Sherrill was portrayed by James Hampton.
Billy Norris Sherrill was born November 5, 1936 in Phil Campbell, Alabama. As a child, he'd often
accompany his evangelist father on the piano at revivals. Sherrill became initially interested in music,
particularly jazz and blues, learning to play the saxophone. During his teenage years, he led a blues band,
and later signed a solo record deal, though this led to little success.
In 1960, Sherrill moved to Nashville, where he was initially hired by Sam Phillips to manage the Nashville
studios of Sun Records. When Sun sold its Nashville studio the following year, Sherrill moved to Epic
Records, as an in-house producer he worked with acts like the Staple Singers. Given his limited exposure to
country music up to that point, his production incorporated many elements of pop music production. His first
success was with David Houston. Houston's recording of Sherrill's and Glenn Sutton's composition "Almost
Persuaded" spent nine weeks at the top of the United States country charts in late 1965 and into early 1966.
His association with Wynette began in 1966, when the then-unknown performer auditioned for him. He
signed Wynette to Epic, and involved himself in nearly every aspect of the aspiring singer's career, helping
her choose her stage name (Sherrill felt her name at the time, Wynette Byrd, would not lend itself to a
successful recording career, and suggested she adopt the name "Tammy"), and helping her to develop her
stage persona. In 1968, Sherrill co-wrote with Wynette her most famous hit, "Stand By Your Man".
By 1971, George Jones had arrived at Epic Records. In fact, Jones' recording contract with Musicor Records
was not even officially over in 1971 but a desire between both Jones and his then-wife, Tammy Wynette, to
record together led to a buy-out of Jones' current contract with Musicor. Soon after, Jones and Wynette began
recording together with Sherrill as the producer. Sherrill often played double duty as a songwriter, usually in
tandem with Norro Wilson and George Richey. Richey became the future husband of Wynette. The success
that Sherrill had with Jones proved to be his most enduring. Although Billboard chart statistics show that
Sherrill had his biggest commercial successes with artists such as Wynette as well as Charlie Rich, with
Jones, Sherrill had his most enduring and longest-lasting association. Sherrill's biggest hit with Jones was
"He Stopped Loving Her Today". In the 1989 video documentary, Same Ole Me, Sherrill recalled a heated
exchange during one recording session when Jones insisted on adapting the melody from "Help Me Make It
Through the Night". "I said, 'That's not the melody!' and he said "Yeah, but it's a better melody.' I said 'It
might be - Kristofferson would think so too, it's his melody!'" In the same documentary, Sherrill claimed that
Jones was in such bad physical shape during this period that "the recitation was recorded 18 months after the
first verse was" and added that the last words Jones said about "He Stopped Loving Her Today" was
"Nobody'll buy that morbid son of a bitch". Sherrill, once he vacated as the head of CBS/Epic, continued to
produce the recording sessions of Jones throughout the 1980s. Sherrill appeared in the video of Jones'
"Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" (1985), acting as the bus-driver. In total, Sherrill is credited as Jones record
producer for 19 years, 1971-1990.
When news surfaced that the couple were in divorce proceedings, which would eventually last quite a few
months, the song that capitalized on this the most was "The Grand Tour" which hit number 1 for Jones in
1974. The song is about a man inviting the listeners to walk through a house with him as he tells about a
divorce that took place. The woman left just about everything in the house except a couple of critical items
we are told at song's end. When their divorce became final in early 1975, the appropriate songs by Jones
released at the time were "These Days I Barely Get By", "Memories of Us", "I Just Don't Give a Damn".
Wynette had a hit during that time period with "'Til I Can Make It On My Own". The duo continued to
record through 1976, enjoying several more Top-10 and number 1 hits together such as "Golden Ring",
"Southern California", and "Near You" but the duo stopped recording together after the 1976 sessions. They
did not team up in the studio again until 1979/1980 with their final hit song being, at the time, 1980's "Two
Story House". Afterward they never recorded, or rarely appeared, together for the next 14 years. They
embraked on a reunion tour in 1995 in support of their first duet album together in 15 years, One.
In 1991, when Jones left for MCA Records and recorded under the production of Kyle Lehning it marked the
first time in 20 years that someone other than Sherrill was in the control booth. Lehning became Jones third
record producer. Pappy Daily produced all of Jones recordings during 1954–1971, and then Sherrill took
over the role for the next 19 years. During Jones' stay at MCA almost every album would feature a different
producer. Norro Wilson and Buddy Cannon show up more often during the MCA years as Jones' record
Another artist who benefited greatly from his association with Billy Sherrill was Charlie Rich. Rich had been
a marginally successful performer of blues and early rock and roll for Sun Records, scoring a minor hit with
the tune "Lonely Weekends" for Sun, but it was his early 1970s work with Sherrill, particularly the countrypolitan
hits "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World", that brought Rich to
national prominence. Along with songwriter Norro Wilson, Sherrill won a Grammy Award in 1975 for Best
Country Song for Rich's version of the song "A Very Special Love Song".
Other artists with whom Sherrill has worked included Shelby Lynne, Marty Robbins, Ray Charles, Elvis
Costello, Johnny Paycheck, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Cash, Janie Fricke, Barbara Mandrell, Lacy J. Dalton, Ray
Conniff, Bobby Vinton, Bob Luman, Johnny Duncan, Jim and Jesse, Jody Miller, Moe Bandy, Joe Stampley,
Charlie Walker, Barbara Fairchild, Andy Williams, Cliff Richard ("The Minute You're Gone"), Mickey
Gilley, Major Lance, and David Allan Coe.
Producer, songwriter, arranger and inducted of Country Music Hall of Fame Billy Sherrill, passed away in
his home late Tuesday on August 4, 2015, morning at the age of 78 following a short illness.
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