- MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET SESSIONS -
Tuesday, December 4, 1956
 
 

On November 19, 1956 Elvis Presley and then girlfriend Marilyn Evans (far right) promote Easter Seals. Born in 1937, Evans was a dancer whom Elvis Presley met her at the New Frontier Hotel in Las  Vegas when he appeared there earlier that year >
 
DECEMBER 4, 1956 TUESDAY

After Carl Perkins' Sun session, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash  hold the impromptu "Million Dollar Quartet" session singing mainly religious songs. Pianist  Smokey Joe Baugh is also present along with members of Carl Perkins' band.

Elvis Presley, Cliff Cleaves, and Marilyn Evans, the Las Vegas showgirl, stopped at 706 Union  Avenue by Sun Studios in Memphis. There they found Carl Perkins middle in a recording  session. Also on hand was Jerry Lee Lewis, who had just had his first single, "End Of The  Road"/"Crazy Arms", released by Sun Records. For the next three hours, the three  performers, later with the addition of Johnny cash, also a Sun recording artist, ran through a  succession of gospel and popular songs.
 
 
Sam Phillips called the Memphis Press-Scimitar, and a  reporter Bob Johnson, and the photographer George Pierce, were dispatched to cover this  impromptu event. later, this would be referred to as "The Million Dollar Quartet".

While the group sings some country and rock and roll, it is ragged gospel harmonies which  predominate, along with Elvis' animated impression of the unnamed "colored" singer Jackie  Wilson, who has so captivated him in Las Vegas with his version of "Don't Be Cruel". "He tried  so hard", Elvis tells a disbelieving audience of fellow singers and hangers-on, "till he got  much better, boy, much better than that record of mine. Man, he was cutting out. I was  under the table when he got through singing".
 
DECEMBER 4, 1956 TUESDAY

Carl Perkins was completing a recording session. Jerry Lee Lewis had been playing piano for  him. Johnny Cash called into see how things were turning out. This already formidable trio  was joined by Elvis Presley who dropped by to visit his old friends at Sun.

Before too long  the Million Dollar Quartet" was launched into a jam session. Sun label boss, Sam Phillips,  decided to invite the local press along and at some point he also had the tapemachine  switched on.

What survives on tape is a fascinating and enjoyable flashback to the time  when rock and roll was young, when its earliest exponents retained their brash enthusiasm  and innocence.  Johnny Cash had left by the time these recordings were made but the trio of  Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis provide a thoroughly rivetting country music  and a into rock and roll. None of these artists yet had a million dollars. They just had a  million dollar worth of talent.
Johnny Cash was only present for publicity photographs before this session took place, he  was not present when the session was recorded (as was previously believed), although the  following is what Johnny Cash has to say about this session: "I was there, I was the first to  arrive and the last to leave, contrary to what has been written, but I was just there to  watch Carl record, which he did until mid-afternoon, when Elvis came in with his  girlfriend.  At that point the session stopped and we all started laughing and cutting up  together.
 
Then Elvis sat down at the piano, and we started singing gospel songs we all  knew, then some Bill Monroe songs. Elvis wanted to hear songs Bill had written besides  ''Blue Moon Of Kentucky'', and I knew the whole repertoire.
 
So, again contrary to what  some people have written, my voice is on the tape. It's not obvious, because I was farthest  away from the mic and I was singing a lot higher than I usually did in order to stay in key  with Elvis, but I guarantee you, I'm there..". Johnny Cash claims more, there is another  tape missing of him with the group. Another tape in poor quality exists of Christmas songs.  Since the sound quality is awful its hard to tell who's who is.


© - 706 UNION AVENUE SESSIONS - ©

JAM SESSION FOR ELVIS PRESLEY, JERRY LEE LEWIS, &  CARL PERKINS
AT THE MEMPHIS RECORDING SERVIVE FOR SUN RECORDS 1956

SUN RECORDING STUDIO
706 UNION AVENUE, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
SUN SESSION: DECEMBER 4, 1956 TUESDAY AFTERNOON
SESSION HOURS: 59,34 MINUTES
PRODUCER - SAM C. PHILLIPS AND/OR MARION KEISKER
RECORDING ENGINEER - JACK CLEMENT
RECORDED ON SCOTCH MAGNETIC TAPE

Recorded for "The Million Dollar Quartet", authentic studio recordings. Session Hours, 59,34 minutes Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. RCA Matrix numbers used for release. Photos taken by photographer George Pierce.

While Elvis was home in Memphis celebrating Christmas and New Years Eve he dropped in at 706 Union Avenue (the Sun studio) where the three others were present. They all had a nice time talking, singing, and playing for a couple of hours. Sam Phillips turned the tape recorder on and recorded The Million Dollar Quartet".

Marilyn Evans sits on the cabinet of the piano >
 
 
Because of copyrights and probably due to the lack of technical and artistic quality too, the material from this session most likely won't ever be available to the public. What does exist on tape is difficult to say.

 
 
01 -"INSTRUMENTAL" - B.M.I. - 1:46
Composer: - Million Dollar Quartet
Publisher: - Public Domain
Matrix number: - None
Recorded: - December 4, 195
Released: - September 19, 2006
First appearance: - Sony BMG Music (CD) 500/200rpm 82876 88935 2-1  mono digital
THE COMPLETE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

This rhythm and bluesy instrumental opening jam probably features Carl Perkins and his band, brothers Jay and Clayton with W.S. ''Fluke'' Holland on drums, plus Jerry Lee Lewis, whose unmistakeable pumping left hand enlivens the number and adds a powerful rhythmic undertone. There are no composer credits and it has not been identified as any particular song. It is a driving, though fairly aimless, piece of improvisation with Carl's rockabilly guitar and Jerry Lee's relentless piano to the fore most of the time before it fizzles out. Apart from Jerry Lee's contribution, the playing is unspectacular though competent, but the band sounds tight. Fluke lets rip on the drums every now and then, demonstrating a real confidence in his ability despite a total lack of training and a fairly short career. Carl later said he did not think his guitar playing was particularly good that day. It all sounds like the sort of musical backdrop you might expect to hear at any number of smokey bars and honky-tonks on a Saturday night in small town fifties America, the kind of place Carl and his brothers had headlined countless times. Perhaps this was a piece Carl and his brothers had in reserve for those occasion when they had worked their way through their repertoire and needed something else to keep the crowd happy.

Although it is only speculation, this instrumental might have been played after the initial unrecorded songs, and after the photographs had been taken and Elvis was saying goodbye to Johnny Cash and the men from the press. Alternatively, Elvis might simply have been taking a break, chatting to Sam or others, possibly in the control booth. Perhaps the sound of Carl playing about with one of his recent big hits towards the end of the number made him think it was about time he was getting back to the musical fray.

02 -"LOVE ME TENDER (INSTRUMENTAL)" - B.M.I. - 1:00
Composer: - Vera Matson-Elvis Presley
Publisher: - Hill and Range Songs Incorporated
Matrix number: - None
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - September 19, 2006
First appearance: - Sony BMG Music (CD) 500/200rpm 82876 88935 2-2  mono digital
THE COMPLETE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Carl's session was over, the quartet had probably worked their way through some songs together, posed for some photographs, and now, for a spell, Elvis was apparently absent, but in their thoughts. Carl and Jerry Lee start this ''Love Me Tender'' instrumental quite tentatively but soon get the hang of it. They are of course familiar with it since it has been a national hit; both were well able to play songs by ear. Jerry Lee embellishes the sound with some flowery piano phrases. Fluke hits a few beats but there is no rhythm to get hold of so he gives up. Voices can be heard in the background.

''Love Me Tender'' was an updated version of a sentimental ballad of the Civil War are, written by George R. Poulton and W.W. Fosdick and published in 1861. It was originally called ''Aura Lee'' (and sometimes known as ''The Maid Of Golden Hair''). it became popular with barbershop quartets and also soldiers at West Point where it had become a graduating-class song in the nineteenth century. It was embedded in America history, popular with several generations.

Elvis' recording had been released at the end of September 1956, one of a veritable blitz of releases by RCA, keen to recoup the money they had spent on Elvis' contract and exploit his massive commercial potential. Elvis performed the song on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956. The following day RCA received a million advance orders making it a gold record before it was released. The composers of the song are stated to be Vera Matson and Elvis Presley.

The song reached number one on the main Billboard chart at the start of November 1956 and stayed there for five weeks, a period which included the day of the Million Dollar Quartet session. ''Love Me Tender'' became a standard for a while and was recorded by many artists including Paul Anka and Engelbert Humperdinck.

After playing ''Love Me Tender'' for approximately 50 seconds, Jerry Lee cuts into ''Mr. Sandman'' with some support from Carl. Fluke tries to add some drums momentarily but gives up after a while, apparently unable to get a handle on the song. This was traditional clean-cut pop, with completely innocent lyrics, the sort of thing that happened before rock and roll came along and shook everything up. It had been a number one hit for the Chordettes in 1954.

Now a standard, the song has been covered and adapted by a wide variety of artists. It was a Top 20 UK hit for Max Bygraves at the beginning of 1955. In 1978 the trio of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt recorded a version. The songs is a gift for a piano player with its chord progression in the chorus which follows the circle of fourths for sic chords in a row.

03 -"JINGLE BELLS (INSTRUMENTAL)" - B.M.I. - 1:58
Composer: - James Lord Pierpont
Publisher: - Public Domain
Matrix number: - None
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - September 19, 2006
First appearance: - Sony BMG Music (CD) 500/200rpm 82876 88935 2-3  mono digital
THE COMPLETE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

No doubt the festive season was already well underway by early December, with Santa Claus much in evidence in the shops, and thoughts of Christmas would naturally have come to mind. This family favourite is familiar to all, young and old, and Jerry Lee and Carl deliver a fairly straight, jaunty rendition, respectful of the traditional nature of the song, though naturally with Jerry Lee at the piano it bounces along at a fair lick.

Though they had only for the first time that day, Carl and Jerry Lee play together as if they were used to each other's musical company. One of the best-known and commonly sung winter songs in the world, it was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893) and originally published under the title ''One Horse Open Sleigh'' in the autumn of 1857. It was recorded in 1898 by the Edison Male Quartette on an Edison cylinder as part of a medley of Christmas songs.

Even though it is commonly thought of as a Christmas song, it was originally written and sung for Thanksgiving. It is one of the best known and best loved of all secular songs, albeit one associated with Christmas in the minds of many. It duly earned its writer a place in the American Songwriters Hall of Fame.

As with other songs by the quartet, ''Jingle Bells'' represents traditional values and customs; this is quite ironic when the four young performers were often associated with behaviour which was deemed by many to be a threat to good morals and the American way of life.

04 -"WHITE CHRISTMAS (INSTRUMENTAL)" - B.M.I. - 2"07
Composer: - Irvin Berlin
Publisher: - Irvin Berlin Music Group
Matrix number: - None
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - September 19, 2006
First appearance: - Sony BMG Music (CD) 500/200rpm 82876 88935 2-4  mono digital
THE COMPLETE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

As ''Jingle Bells'' peters out, Carl neatly morphs the chords into those instrumental of ''White Christmas'' after after momentarily revisiting ''Don't Be Cruel''. Themes of family and tradition are once more the fore. Written by Irving Berlin in 1940, ''White Christmas'' is a secular song which looks back nostalgically, with all the trimmings, to a bygone image of Christmas, with references to such festive delights as glistening treetops and sleigh bells in the snow. Given the song's strong association with Christmas, some commentators have referred to it as a secular hymn. Bing Crosby's version, which was featured in the film Holiday Inn is the biggest selling single of all time according to Guinness World Records. It was recorded in 1942 with backing vocals provided by the Ken Darby singers. The huge success of the song might, as with ''Aura Lee'', be related to its warmly sentimental nature and the connection to a time of war. Elvis went on to record the song in 1957 for ''Elvis' Christmas Album''.

Jerry Lee delivers a colourful and showy version of the song with Carl adding occasional guitar flourishes and Fluke messing about on the hi-hat, trying to find a beat amongst Jerry Lee's Liberace-like twist and turns. Once more their instinctive choice of song shows a respect for tradition of them which was based on the new cutting edge sounds with which they were exciting their younger fans, and upsetting many in the establishment

05 -"BLUEBERRY HILL" - B.M.I.
Composer: - Larry Stock-Al Lewis-Vincent Rose
Publisher: - Redwood Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Sun Unissued
Recorded: - December 4, 1956

''Blueberry Hill'' was originally recorded by Gene Autry in 1940 for the film ''The Singing Hill'' but was soon picked up by other artists and producers who realised the simple little song had the makings of a classic. Countless artists have put their own stamp on the song but it is the version of Fats Domino, released in 1956, which had best stood the test of time. Domino's influential oeuvre has compassed pianobased rhythm and blues, rock and roll, zydeco, Cajun and boogie woogie. It was almost certainly his version - lilting rock and roll which the quartet was best acquainted with. According to several reports, Elvis started the session with this song. Needless to say the piano parts would have been put in Jerry Lee's hands. ''Blueberry Hill'' has been recorded by numerous acts over the years, from the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1940 to Led Zeppelin, who performed it live at the Los Angeles Forum in 1970 at a concert from which a bootleg album called ''Live At Blueberry Hill'' subsequently appeared.

06 - "RECONSIDER BABY" - A.S.C.A.P. - 2:53
Composer: - Lowell Fulsom
Publisher: - ARC Music Corp
Matrix number: - WPA5-2537
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Elvis can be heard faintly off microphone.
Released: - June 1992
First appearance: - 1992 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm PD 90689(5)-5 mono
THE COMPLETE 50'S MASTERS
Reissued: - September 19, 2006   Sony BMG Music (CD) 500/200rpm 82876 88935 2-1   mono digital
THE COMPLETE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

This is the point at which Elvis is first heard singing on the recordings; the point at which he returns to the music and takes over the show. Although others provide backing vocals, it is Elvis who now leads the singing, until he hands over to Jerry Lee Lewis towards the end of the session. He is the undisputed main man; that said Carl Perkins had probably been singing without much of a break for several hours by this stage and might well have been content to have Elvis sit in the driving seat and    is singing off mike for the last of the recording. "Reconsider Baby" was written and recorded by blues guitarist and singer Lowell Fulson in late 1953. Fulson, one of the founding fathers of West Coast blues, a sub-genre which features elements of jazz, rhythm and blues with piano and guitar solos to the fore. It developed when blues players moved from Texas (or in Fulson's case Oklahoma) to California in the 1930s and 1940s and then blended the music they brought with the music they found in their new home. West Coast blues favours smooth vocals and is generally more accessible than some of the purer, harder edged types of blues.   His recording (Checker 804) reached number 3 on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues chart in 1954 and remained his biggest hit. A blues classic. Once more the instinctive draw for the quartet was towards outstanding songs, iconic examples of particular key styles. At times Elvis' singing is barely audible whereas the piano and drums remain constant; perhaps he was moving around as he was singing, putting himself out of range of the fixed microphone emplacements. Fluke provides a rock solid shuffle beat.

Elvis Presley recorded "Reconsider Baby" on April 4, 1960, at RCA's Nashville Studios. For years, his performance at the Bloch Arena in Honolulu on March 25, 1961, has appeared on bootleg albums. Finally, in 1980, RCA released the live recording on the Elvis Aron Presley boxed set. Originally, a live afternoon performance of the song at Madison Square Garden on June 10, 1972, was scheduled for the 1973 "Elvis" (APL1-0283) LP, but was finally deleted. The performance, which was filed by RCA's as "A Blues Jam" later appeared on "Elvis A Legendary Performer, Volume 4". ''Reconsider Baby'' has since been done by many artists, including Eric Clapton who has often featured it in its live concerts. Fulson's original version was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the ''Classic of Blues Recordings;; category. It it also included in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll.
 

07 - "HOME, SWEET, HOME - WHEN IT RAINS, IT REALLY POURS" - B.M.I.
Composer: - William Robert Emerson
Publisher: - Hi-Lo Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - None - Sun Unissued
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - Unreleased - Probably Tape Lost

"Home, Sweet, Home" was written by American John Howard Payne and Englishman Sir Henry Bishop in 1823 as the closing number to Act 1 of their opera "Clari". It was introduced on stage on May 8, 1823, at London's Covent garden by Maria Tree in the title role. Payne wrote his lyrics based in part on his own homesickness for America. Bishop's melody came from "A Sicilian Air", which he had written one year earlier. In 1842 Henry Bishop was knighted by Queen Victoria for his "Home, Sweet, Home" - the first musician ever knighted. During the Million-Dollar-Quartet sessions, Elvis Presley sang "Home, Sweet, Home". While the band was playing the song, Elvis blurted out two lines of "When It Rains, It Really Pours" (You know what it takes, you've got it, baby").
 
 
 
08 -"YOU BELONG TO MY HEART" - B.M.I. - 0:45
Composer: - Ray Gilbert-Augustina Lara
Publisher: - Public Domain
Matrix number: - VPA4-5298
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1983
First appearance: - Laurel Records (LP) 33rpm LPM-3002 mono
PLAY IT HOT
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-1 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Elvis Presley sang it primarily by himself, with his own guitar accompaniment.

''You know a song that'll come back some day''? says Elvis. ''It'll make a splash... it's an old popular song''. This one could be said to have an interesting and unusual provenance for a song plucked out of the air in a jam session in Memphis.  Written by Ray Gilbert and Augustin Lara, "You Belong To My Heart" was introduced by Dora Luz, who played a live-action bathing beauty in the 1944 fulllength animated Disney film "The Three Caballeros". The song's Spanish title is "Solamente Una Vez".  Both Bing Crosby (Decca 23413) and Charlie Spivak (Victor 1663) had hit versions of "You Belong To My Heart" in 1945. Ezio Pinza recorded a version for the 1951 Lana Turner movie "Mr. Imperium".

Elvis sings the song, with effortless and convincing passion, adding colour by mixing the English and Spanish lyrics, and humour by camping up his vocal delivery.

 
09 - "WHEN GOD DIPS HIS LOVE IN MY HEART" - B.M.I. - 0:18
Composer: - Gleavant Derricks
Publisher: - Public Domain
Matrix number: - VPA4-5299
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-2 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins provided vocal harmony.

As with the other religious songs, ''When God Dips His Love In My Heart'' is one which will have been familiar to most of the people Elvis and the others grew up with; it would have been a favourite at church and in gospel concerts. Perhaps the first version they heard was the 1946 recording by the Blackwood Brothers, the white gospel quartet of whom Elvis in particular was a great fan. 

It was not just that they all knew so many religious songs, they clearly loved listening to them and singing them. It is hard to avoid the feeling that modern country singers include a few religious songs in their repertoire because some expert in the publicity department has said they will go over well with some sections of their potential demographic target. No such thinking applied with the quartet in the fifties.

Although sometimes attributed as ''traditional'', t his gospel song was written by Cleavant Derricks in 1944, whose whole life was devoted to religious matters. He was a pastor, a church builder, a choir director, a poet and the composer of around 300 religious songs. His initial motivation for embarking on his writing career was to inspire and give hope to people, especially poor black people, whose lives had been made even worse by the ravages of the Great War and the Great Depression. That said, Derricks understood that his concerns applied just as much to poor whites as they did to poor blacks and as the years went by many of his gospel songs were sung by black and white people, though not often together initially; as with many areas of life, churches were divided along racial lines. They were sung by innumerable mass choir, quartets and Sunday night gatherings around the piano in little country churches. It can be argued that they succeeded in helping people to rise above many instances of racial segregation and an atmosphere of prejudice, both commonplace during this era. Ironically Derricks, a black man, did not receive anything like the financial rewards he should have done while his publishers raked in large profits from the songs he wrote.

The ensemble just has a very brief stab at the song. In what might be a fragment of a longer version, Jerry Lee is singing lead and the uptempo rhythm is emphasised by hand-clapping and some vocal sounds from Elvis which might have been an indication that on this occasion he did not in fact know the words. 

10 - "JUST A LITTLE TALK WITH JESUS" - B.M.I. - 3:52
Composer: - Clevant Derricks
Publisher: - Charly Music Publishing Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5300
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-3 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley, co-lead Jerry Lee Lewis, guitar Carl Perkins.

Towards the end of ''When God Dips His Love In My Heart'', with Jerry Lee in full flow on lead vocals, Elvis cuts in and brings the song to an abrupt ens, ''I known one Carl... 'Just A Little Talk With Jesus'... remember that''? Carl does and they quickly start it up. Jerry Lee is once more relegated to piano player and backing singer albeit one who is doing his level best to be at the forefront of the action, providing the calls for Elvis to respond to, something he had clearly done many times before.

This is another inspirational gospel song from the pen of Cleavant Derricks which was originally copyrighted in 1937 as ''Have A Little Talk With Jesus''. An instant classic, black and white audience quickly took it their hearts; they loved the simple and direct message of the comfort provided by religious belief and devotion. It was framed in language that resonated with ordinary people leading lives that were often hidebound by poverty and where physical pleasure were few.

After doing the song for a while, Elvis gets Carl to slow down from uptempo gospel swing to a more soulful tempo. Once more he is in charge, making things happen in the way he believes brings out the best in the song. This was his modus operandi regardless of whether he was in an RCA studio or enjoying an informal jam with friends in Memphis. Carl delivers some tastefully picked country style leads.

 
11 - "JESUS WALK THAT LONESOME VALLEY" - B.M.I. - 2:52
Composer: - William L. Dawson
Publisher: - Charly Music Publishing Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5301
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-4 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal by Jerry Lee Lewis, co-lead Elvis Presley, guitar Carl Perkins and band.
Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis continually share the lead.

''Remember some of those real old ones Carl''?, Elvis inquires. The impression is given that the session is all about Elvis with Carl as a kind of first mate. Elvis' remarks are rarely addressed to Jerry Lee. Apparently not even waiting for a reply, he launches into the song; Jerry Lee positively explodes with delight when he realises which song is kicking off and again does his best to hijack it. He is in his element with music like this and makes no attempt to retrain his exuberance; on this one he outshines Elvis. He comes alive in the joy of the moment, breaking into a kind of delirious falsetto at times. As for Elvis, his singing is natural and relaxed, free from the exaggerated mannerism which were often in evidence on his later official RCA releases such as ''Jailhouse Rock'' and ''Are You Lonesome tonight''.

The song is sometimes described as ''traditional'' which is partly right; it can also be attributed to William L. Dawson, born in 1899, who, as well as being a famous composer, was a teacher and arranger of music. For this and other songs he drew on the lyrics of traditional American folk songs. He also used melodies of old spiritual songs whose origins were lost in the mists of time. 

His Negro Folk Symphony of 1934 garnered a great deal of attention at its world premiere; it was later revised and revamped with greater emphasis on African rhythms. The composition attempted to convey elements of native music that were lost when Africans came into bondage outsite their homeland. The music the quartet chose to play really did connect to deep roots which spread far beyond the comparatively limited geographical boundaries of where they had been brought up.

At this stage it appears there are fewer people in the studio since there is hardly any applause at the end of the song, and what handclapping there is appears to come mainly from the musical participants themselves. Throughout the session there is an ebb and flow of people.

Both the Carter Family (Vocalion 03112) and Roy Acuff (Vocalion 04730) had popular recordings of "That Lonesome Valley" in the 1940s under the title "Lonesome Valley". Another popular version was Stuart Hamblen's 1955 recording (RCA 47-6152). The Kingston Trio recorded the song as "Reverend Mr. Black" (Capitol 4951) in 1963, reaching number 8 on the Hot 100 chart. It was their second most successful recording, after the number one hit "Tom Dooley".

12 - "I SHALL NOT BE MOVED" - B.M.I. - 3:21
Composer: - Traditional Arranged by H. Young
This popular gospel tune was written by John T. Benton in 1949,
with an arrangement by Mrs. James A. Pate.
Publisher: - Charly Music Publishing Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5302
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-5 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

''Here's an old one'', says Elvis by way of introduction.
The group launch into the song with real gusto, all contributing to the lead vocals.

''I Shall Not Be Moved'' is a traditional African American spiritual whose origins might well date back to the slave era. It has also gained worldwide popularity as a protest song in the form, ''We Shall not Be Moved''. The song's format meant that it was easy to remember and it lent itself to group singing where all participants could feel included and express straightforward ideas. It consists of a series of verses, each of four lines. The title is repeated three times with one new line being introduced each time; this new line can easily be adapted to suit particular new situations. It came to be strongly associated with the Civil Rights Movement.

This version stresses the song's religious origins, which is how it would have been experienced by all participants as they were growing up. If unaware of the true situation, a listener to the recording might reasonably think it was made in church on a Sunday afternoon not least because of the ''Glory Hallelujahs''. The image of ''the tree that's planted by the water'' is one that seeks to express a message of hope, security and faith, to equip people for the trials of life. It images a better world ahead.

From left: Pianist Smokey Joe Baugh,  Elvis Presley, Sam Phillips >

Lead vocals by Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, guitar Carl Perkins and band.

Quote at end: ''Boy this is fun, I think Jerry Lee Lewis would be a quartet". The person on the left side of the frame is Smokey Joe Baugh. This statement, at the end on a quartet is very strange because, some researchers say that Johnny Cash was not present. Then it is not sure who the fourth person could be.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 13 - "PEACE IN THE VALLEY" - B.M.I. - 2:11
Composer: - Thomas A. Dorsey
Publisher: - Chappell Music Incorporated - Unichappel Music
Matrix number: - VPA4-5303
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-6 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal by Elvis Presley, background vocal Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Possible Marilyn Evans or Marion Keisker, guitar Carl Perkins, most likely.

Before this song starts, there is talk of doing''Softly And Tenderly'' again but after doodling for a while, and after Elvis apologises for burping, he leads the way into ''Peace In The Valley'' against a background of doors closing and opening, people coming and going. There are no drums and on this song Jerry Lee takes a break from the piano, just providing backing vocals. Occasional snatches of a woman singing in the background are also detectable. See above.

While Reverence Thomas A. Dorsey was travelling from Indiana to Cincinnati in 1939, the train he was on passed through a valley. Dorsey noticed how peaceful the animals on the farm was guest of honour at the E.H. Crump Memorial Football Game in Memphis, which was a benefit for the blind, lands seemed to be. That tranquil scene inspired him to write "Peace In The Valley". The full title of the song is "(There'll Be) Peace In The Valley", and was originally performed by Mahalia Jackson who, apart from being an outstanding gospel singer, was also a prominent civil rights campaigner. Dorsey originally played jazz and rhythm and blues but switched to writing religious music in the 1930s. According to some sources it was he who coined the term ''gospel music''. It was one of Elvis' favourite styles of music throughout his life and he would often listen to it for pleasure in his spare time, away from the pressures of the studio. 

''Peace In The Valley'' has been covered by countless artists and is one of the first gospel songs to sell a million copies. It is not hard to see the link between traditional gospel music and the soul music which developed from the late fifties onwards. The version freshest in Elvis' mind could have been Red Foley's 1951 country hit.

In order to please his mother, Gladys, Elvis sang this song, against the wishes of the producers, during his 1957 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was probably the moment when most people started to see him not as a satanic figure who was a threat to women and the morals of the nation but actually a nice boy who believed in God and American values. later in the year he recorded a version for RCA.

As the song draws to a close, Jerry Lee says to Elvis with great sincerity, 'Yeah that's brilliant. It is, it's beautiful'''.
14 - "DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE" - B.M.I. - 2:28
Composer: - Traditional
Publisher: - Charly Music Publishing Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5304
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-7 mono digital
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal by Elvis Presley, background vocal Jerry Lee Lewis, guitar Carl Perkins and band, drums W.S. ''Fluke'' Holland. Quote at end: ''Take It Easy Boy'' by Elvis Presley. It is here that Elvis Presley's guitar can be distinctively heard and in fact is probably the only guitar heard prominently although Carl Perkins is playing too.

As they mess about between songs, Jerry Lee appears to suggest, tentively, doing ''My God Is Real'', but is quickly outgunned as the others get going with ''Down By The Riverside''. Elvis sparks it off once he has checked what key Carl was playing in before - A. This is the last in this continuous run of religious/spiritual songs but the singers have lost none of the fervour shown in the previous songs. Somebody, possibly Fluke, adds percussion from about halfway through by hitting something metallic rhythmcally, but it is not a conventional drum-kit sound.

Carl Perkins recalled people working in the cotton field singing this song in unison in order to raise their spirits and get through the day. A traditional gospel song, it was known during the American Civil War and also has associations with slavery in the Deep South. The words have been adapted to many situations over the years.

It falls into a category of folk music which is beyond mere entertainment; rather it is a traditional part of the fabric of particular communities, especially the rural working class, a unifying activity in which everybody can join. Such songs can be readily understood by anyone and the themes they cover include war, civil rights, work, satire and love. Such music is timeless; in the years following the Million Dollar Quartet sessions, many other artists deployed folk music in their opposition to the Vietnam War and the government's unpopular economic policies. ''Down By The Riverside'' is still sung regularly all over the world, little changed, as an anthem of hope and triumph over adversity.

15 - "I'M WITH THE CROWD BUT ON SO ALONE" - B.M.I. - 1:20
Composer: - Ernest Tubb-Carl Story
Publisher: - Ernest Tubb Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5305
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-8 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley, imitating Hank Snow.

The indefatigable Jerry Lee suggest another religious song, ''Jesus Hold My Hand'', even as Elvis launches into an imitation of Ernest Tubb doing ''I'm With A Crowd But So Alone'', and managing to sound like Hank Snow along the way. This is clearly a spoof with Elvis trying to force his voice lower than its usual comfort zone. Such imitations were not unusual and were more affectionate than mocking, Johnny Cash regularly imitated Elvis during his live concerts around this time.

Country singer Ernest Tubb, The Texas Troubadour, was someone Johnny Cash in particular looked up to; Tubb gave Johnny a lot of useful advice early on in his career and acted as an informal mentor. Country through and through, he was at the height of his career in the mid fifties. It was a career which lasted more than half a century during which time he scored numerous hits and helped to popularise country music beyond the strict confines of Nashville and environs. In 1955 he had enjoyed an enormous hit with ''The Yellow Rose Of Texas''.

Ernest Tubb, singer born in Crisp, Texas, on February 9, 1914. Tubb composed with Carl Story ''I'm With A Crowd But So Alone, and composed, with Johnny Bond, "Tomorrow Never Comes", which he recorded in 1949 (Decca 46106), and which Elvis Presley recorded in 1970. When he was a lad in 1936, Jimmie Rodgers' widow gave Tubb one of her husband's guitars. In 1940 Tubb began a long association with Decca Records. His record store, the Ernest Tubb Record Store in Nashville, Tennessee, is world famous. It was out of that shop that publicist Gabe Tucker worked. Elvis Presley appeared on Ernest Tubb's radio program, "Midnight Jamboree", the same night he made his only appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, on October 1954. Tubb wrote and recorded "I'm Walking The Floor Over You", which has been recorded by several people, including Bing Crosby. Tubb's son, Justis Tubb, toured with Elvis Presley from January to April 1956.

Tubb, who in 1965 was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, was portrayed by Ed Moastes in the 1980 TV special "Hank Williams: The Man And His Music". Ernest Tubb died of a heart attack in 1984.

16 - "FATHER ALONG" - B.M.I. - 1:54
Composer: - Reverend W.B. Stone
Publisher: - Charly Publishing Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5306
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-9 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, voices by Marion Keisker.

The group returns to religious music at this point following a request from a woman in the studio, called Marion Keisker. ''Would this rover boy's trio play ''Father Along''? The request does provide a particularly strong piece of evidence in support of the proposition that Johnny Cash was not present when the recordings were made, quite apart of course from the fact that his voice is nowhere to be heard and none of the recorded conversations make direct reference to him.

The rover boy's trio can indeed play ''Father Along''. The fact that so often they all knew all the words of the religious songs provided s strong flavour of a bygone era when a certain level of social cohesion was achieved, and cultural values shared, through the practice of all children in particular areas learning the same songs. Apart from knowing the words, the trio of vocalists give an excellent close harmony rendition of the song; clear evidence that even at this early stage, their credentials as top notch vocalists were established beyond question. 

The lyrics of ''Father Along'' were written in 1911 by an itinerant preacher called Reverend W.A. Fletcher. A gospel promoter, J.R. Baxter, then arranged for the words to be put to music.  Since that time, the song has served as a standard for gospel groups.  The theme of the song is that in heaven all truths will be revealed and all questions, in particular those relating to the many injustices in the world, will be answered. To this day the song is included in the repertoires of many of the top traditional country artists.

Just after the songs finished a female voice can be heard to say, ''There go the strings'', which might refer to the departure of Carl's brothers.

17 - "BLESSED JESUS (HOLD MY HAND)" - B.M.I. - 1:32
Composer: - Albert E. Brumley
Publisher: - Charly Music Publishing Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5307
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-10 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

Jerry Lee was not to be denied. The ensemble now turns its attention to the song he had mentioned just before Elvis launched into ''I'm With A Crowd But So Alone''. His appetite for religious songs was huge. This fairly brief rendering is a vocal duet by Elvis and Jerry Lee with acoustic guitar courtesy, presumably, of Carl. Elvis and Jerry Lee sound as if they have been regular singing partners for years despite a brief breakdown halfway through.
 
This gospel song was written by Albert E. Brumley in 1933 and was popular in church services in the 1940s and 1950s. It is a heartfelt plea for God's protection through life's journey and even more importantly for the believer, the reward of a place in heaven at the end.

18 - "AS WE TRAVEL ALONG ON THE JERICHO ROAD" - B.M.I. - 0:48
Composer: - Donald S. McCrossan
Publisher: - Charly Music Publishing Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5308
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-11 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

This song flows almost seamlessly from its predecessor. When after a few bars of the song Elvis says, ''Take young Johnny Cash to do this;;, he surely provides yet more evidence of Johnny's absence.

The Jericho road runs from Jerusalem to Jericho; it is a difficult road, very steeo, a place where in the past robberies routinely occurred. In the song it serves as a metaphor for the difficult and perilous journey of life that everybody has to go through on the wat to eternal happiness, a journey that can only be successfully negotiated with the help of Jesus in the view of Christian believers. The underlying message of many of the songs is the same, it is just framed in different ways; a bit like country love songs.  Once more the song is an Elvis and Jerry Lee duet with acoustoc guitar backing.

Donald S. McCrossan wrote "On The Jericho Road" in 1928. The arrangement was by Luther G. Presley, who was not related to Elvis Presley. The Speer Family recorded this traditional gospel tune in early 1951 (Columbia 20762).

19 - "I JUST CAN'T MAKE IT BY MYSELF" - B.M.I. - 1:08
Composer: - Herbert Brewster - Copyright Control
Publisher: - Charly Music Publishing Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5309
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-12 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Quote at end: - Jack says Sam's gonnabe - Carl Perkins (referring to Sam Phillips) going out to get photographer George Pierce.

This soulful gospel song, initiated once more by Elvis, was written by Herbert Brewster. A trained minister, he experienced a great deal of racial prejudice at the outset of his career when he tried to get work; as a result, he set up the Brewster Theological Clinic. He also worked as a pastor at other churches most notably East Trigg Avenue Baptist Church in Memphis. The congregation was black but quite a lot of white people, including Sam Phillips and Johnny Cash, regularly tuned in to the radio broadcasts of the service. Elvis Presley attended service there from time to time. Yet again the song contains the same message of obedience and reassurance which is found in so many religious songs.

''Though afflictions fill my soul
I'm determined to make the goal
I've gotta have Jesus
Cause I just can't make it by myself''

Elvis stammers slightly in his enthusiasm to propose the song; in the end gives up and just starts singing it. It is striking that once he starts singing, in other words once he is in his natural element, his vocals are almost invariably smooth and consistent.

20 - "LITTLE CABIN ON THE HILL" - B.M.I. - 0:44
Composer: - William Smith "Bill" Monroe-Lester Flat
Publisher: - Copyright Control
Matrix number: - VPA4-5310
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-13 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal by Elvis Presley, imitating Bill Monroe, guitar Elvis Presley. Vocal support was provided by Carl Perkins.

Just as the previous song is starting to fizzle out, a voice is heard. ''Jack said sing some of Bill Monroe''. No further encouragement was required following this command, which was presumably passed on from Jack Clement in the control room. The trio fire straight into a medley of brief extracts from four Bill Monroe song; along the way Elvis amuses the others with an imitation of Monroe's high tenor voice.  Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt wrote "Little Cabin On The Hill" in 1948, and  now regarded as classics and include the four laid down during the Million Dollar Quartet. Elvis recorded a version of this song (it was entitles ''Little Cabin On The Hill'') in June 1970.

21 - "SUMMERTIME HAS PASSED AND GONE" - B.M.I. - 0:15
Composer: - William Smith "Bill" Monroe
Publisher: - Charly Music Publishing Incorporated - Copyright Control
Matrix number: - VPA4-5311
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-14 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Elvis' imitating Bill Monroe.

''Y-y-y-you know what I like''? Without further ado Elvis has a go at the first line of the song but doesn't remember where to go after that. Carl tries to help but it quickly fizzles out. The spirit was keen but the memory weak.

The lyrics of the song are typical of many classic Bill Monroe songs of this era, poignant folksy classic about love and loss

''Summertime is past and gone
And I'm on my way back home
To see the only one I ever loved
Now the moon is shining bright
It lights my pathway tonight
Back to the only one I ever loved''

Bill Monroe wrote and recorded "Summertime Has Passed And Gone" (Columbia 20503) in late 1948.

22 - "I HEAR A SWEET VOICE CALLING" - B.M.I. - 0:34
Composer: - William Smith "Bill" Monroe
Publisher: - Charly Music Publishing Incorporated - Copyright Control
Matrix number: - VPA4-5312
Recorded: - December 4, 1954
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-15 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, guitar Elvis Presley.

Having failed to ignite the previous song there is some chat about other possibilities, Elvis suggests ''Christmas Time's A Comin''', but that comes to nothing. Then someone suggests ''I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling'' which someone describes as a ''pretty thing''. They have a go but beyond providing a hilarious opportunity to mimic Bill Monroe's high voice, this one also fails to take off. Clearly the boys did not know their Bill Monroe songs as well as they knew the religious material, but then again they had not learned them all through their childhoods.

Bill Monroe recorded this song in 1946 and then again in 1956; presumably it was the latter version that was fresh in the minds of the guys. Following a long established country tradition of tragic tear-jerking songs, often with religious overtones, it is about a dying girl who is sure there will be a place for her in heaven. Popular music has always found room for songs like this. In the seventies Terry Jacks had a major international hit with ''Seasons In The Sun'' about a boy dying of cancer.

23 - "SWEETHEART YOU'VE DONE ME WRONG" - B.M.I. - 0:31
Composer: - William Smith "Bill" Monroe
Publisher: - Copyright Control
Matrix number: - VPA4-5313
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-16 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and guitar Elvis Presley - Carl Perkins singing harmony.

Elvis initiates this song which seems to take off well with an uptempo bluegrass beat emphasised by someone working a bass drum pedal (or something similar) in time to the music. Reflecting the feel of the song somebody says, ''Yeah, sounds like a party''. Like the other Bill Monroe songs however, this one soon falls away. Once more the maudlin lyrics are typical of Bill Monroe's music.

''You told me that your love was true
Sweetheart, I thought the world of you
But now you've left me all alone
I have no one to call my own
Now sweetheart, you've done me wrong''

Bill Monroe wrote and recorded "Sweetheart You Done Me Wrong" (Columbia 20423) in 1948. Lester Flatt played guitar and Earl Scruggs banjo on his recording.

24 - "KEEPER OF THE KEY" - B.M.I. - 2:07
Composer: - Harlan Howard-Kenny Devine-Lance Guynes-Berverly Steward
Publisher: - Southern Music Limited
Matrix number: - VPA4-5314
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-17 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins background, Elvis Presley guitar, Jerry Lee Lewis, piano.

Carl now wonders aloud if anybody knows Wynn Stewart's ''Keeper Of The Key''. He leads the singing with Jerry Lee providing harmonies and positive comments about the song. After a pause Elvis yet again asks about the key A, and it seems that he might have a go at it himself but this does not happen; Carl sings this one.

The song brings the trio into the orbit of one of the most prolific and successful writers of everyday country songs of all time, Harlan Howard, one of four writers of this particular song. Howard's career lasted for more than a half century and his songs have been recorded by countless artists including Patsy Cline, Ray Charles and the Judds. Asked for his definition of a good country song Howard is reported to have said, ''Three chords and the truth''.

At the time of the Million-Dollar-Quartet session on December 4, 1956, country singer Wynn Steward had just released "Keeper Of The Key" (Capitol 3515), which his wife, Beverly, had written with Harlan Howard, Kenny Devine, and Lance Guynes. Along with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, Stewart was associated with West Coast country music and the Bakersfield sound, stripped down honky-tonk, a driving beat, with the instrumental emphasis on electric guitars ahead of steel guitars.  Although popular in the South, "Keeper Of The Key" did not chart nationally. Porter Wagoner later had a version that also did not chart, as Jimmy Wakely (Shasta 110).

As the song finished Jerry Lee says, ''Yeah, that's the way I done it... on the piano... a while ago''. Does he mean that he and Carl Perkins, with his band, played the song on Carl Perkins earlier session on this day.

 
25 - "CRAZY ARMS" - B.M.I. - 0:15
Composer: - Ralph Mooney-Charles Seals
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5315
Released: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-18 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, guitar Elvis Presley.

In 1956 Ray Prize had a number one country hit and million-seller with "Crazy Arms" (Columbia 21510) produced by Don Law. The song, which was written by Ralph Mooney and Chuck Seals, peaked at number 27 on the Top 100 chart. Mooney wrote "Crazy Arms" after his wife temporarily left him because of his drinking. In 1963 Marion Worth had a number 18 country hit with his rendition (Columbia 42703). On this track Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis sang a few lines of "Crazy Arms" during this Million Dollar Quartet session on December 4, 1956.  For his part Jerry Lee was doubtless keen to show it off to the assembled group. However he had to wait until later in the session, when Elvis was otherwise engaged, to play something approaching the full version, in his own unmistakeable swaggering stomping style, a star performance by a star in waiting.  Just three days earlier, Sun Records released "Crazy Arms" as Lewis's first record (SUN 259).

"Crazy Arms" must have sounded decades old the moment it was released, for Ray Price spends the whole record on the edge of a pure Jimmie Rodgers yodel and the fiddles and steel guitar belong to another era, one in which Elvis and Little Richard are barely conceivable, much less standing at center stage. On the other  hand, the concept of the pop star as a person on the edge of insanity has some of its most important roots in just this kind of country record, in which the singer confesses - and genuinely seems to feel - that his behaviour is a form of madness, that he has little or no control over what his body is going to do even though his mind (or at least, his conscious moral sense) urges him in a more godly (or at least sensible) direction. You tell me the difference in attitude between that posture and many random heavy metal band's.
 
 
26 - "DON'T FORBID ME" - B.M.I. - 1:17
Composer: - Charles Singleton
Publisher: - Campbell Connelly & Company Limited
Matrix number: - VPA4-5316
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-19 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and guitar Elvis Presley.

"Hey, have you heard Pat Boone's new record?", Elvis says, to laughter all around. "It was written for me. It stayed around the house for ages, never did see it - junk lyin' around''. Elvis kicks it off with Carl providing rhythm guitar.  ''That's Pat Boone'' says Jerry Lee during a vocal pause. Someone else says, ''He's got a hit, man''. 

''Crazy Arms'' was a piece of straightforward country music from which the guys moved effortlessly to the clean-cut mainstream pop of ''Don't Forbid Me'', which Elvis returned to a few minutes later. They were easily able to turn their hands to a wide variety of musical styles; for them what mattered most was the quality of the song.

"Don't Forbid Me" was written for Elvis Presley by Charles Singleton in 1956 (who later co-wrote the Frank Sinatra hit ''Strangers In The Night''.  Pat Boone recorded it in November 1956, he had a number one hit and million-seller with the song in late 1956 (Dot 15521).
27 - "TOO MUCH MONKEY BUSINESS" - B.M.I. - 0:05
Composer: - Chuck Berry
Publisher: - Isalee Music Company
Matrix number: - VPA4-5317
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-20 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

28 - "BROWN-EYED HANDSOME MAN" - B.M.I. - 1:13
Composer: - Chuck Berry
Publisher: - Jewell Music Publishing Company
Matrix number: - VPA4-5318
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-21 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and guitar Elvis Presley.

Jerry Lee tries to generate interest in ''Too Much Monkey Business'' but Carl, who says shortly afterwards that he has just ''come off a five-week tour with Chuck Berry'', quickly moves them onto another Chuck Berry song, ''Brown Eyed Handsome Man''. Not long afterwards Elvis responds to a question about ''Too Much Monkey Business'', making it clear he prefers ''Brown Eyed Handsome Man''. He says, ''It's all right but I like this one better''.

They have real fun with the song, stumbling over the words, stopping and starting, and getting some help with the lyrics from one of the women present in the studio. One or possibly more children can be heard in the background adding to the party atmosphere.

Whilst there is no one person who can legitimately claim to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry surely has a strong a claim as any artist alive or dead. It was inevitable that the guys would come across one of his songs sooner or later. Their sheer delight in the irresistible fun qualities of the song is palpable, although they break down several times as they try to get the words right.

Chuck Berry wrote and recorded "Brown-Eyed Handsome Mane" (Chess 1635) produced by Leonard Chess, in 1956. It was the flip side to his "Too Much Monkey Business". Both songs reached number 7 on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues chart. 

Despite the light-hearted feel of the song it was inspired by the kind of racial tensions which were all too prevalent in parts of fifties America. It was written by Berry after a visit to California when he had witnessed a Hispanic man being arrested by a policeman in questionable circumstances, an incident which prompted a bystander to intervene on his behalf. One commentator has surmised that the song is subtly challenging racial attitudes in suggesting for instance that the very white and very beautiful Venus de Milo would ''lose both her arms in a wrestling match to win a brown eyed handsome man'' (i.e. a black man). Elvis later said that Chuck Berry told him the song was originally called ''Brown Skinned Handsome Man'' but that, ''They made me change it''.

One point that emerges from the sessions is a clear lack of racial prejudice on the part of members of the quartet, no mean feat at a time when it was so prevalent. Then again, their eclectic taste in and respect for all types of music by black and white artists would surely have made it illogical for them to have held any such views.

In 1969 Waylon Jennings revived the song in a popular country hit (RCA 0281), reaching number 3. Years later, Felton Jarvis recorded a studio jam session in which Elvis sang many Chuck Berry tunes, included "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man". The tape has never been released. A decade before "black is beautiful" achieved radical chic, Chuck communicated that very message with a jittery, ragged guitar line and rapidfire vocal delivery that suggested just how much he risked merely by celebrating the facts. I've always wondered whether that home run hitter in the final verse was Jackie Robinson or Willie Mays, but what really matters is that its the most organic connection anybody's ever made between rock and baseball, Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty included. Here, Chuck fakes nothing - except for his substitution of "-eyed" for "-skinned", of course.

29 - "OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND" - B.M.I. - 0:41
Composer: - Ivory Joe Hunter-Clyde Otis
Publisher: - Charly Publishing Limited
Matrix number: - VPA4-5319
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-22 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, guitar Elvis Presley.
Elvis patterned his styling after the Five Keys' recording.

''Hey I'll tell you one I like'', Elvis knowledge of songs was seemingly inexhaustible. This pop song, with its doo wop crooning, was an ideal vehicle for Elvis' smooth soaring tenor; and his simple acoustic guitar backing fitted the feel to a tee. ''Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind'', was written by Ivory Joe Hunter and Clyde Otis, two black men who had considerable success in a white dominated world. 

Otis was one of the very first black executives of a major record company, Mercury Records. He produced records by Brook Benton, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, amongst others. He also wrote or co-wrote hundreds of songs which were recorded by artists from Bobby Darin to Aretha Franklin. Ivory Joe Hunter started out as a rhythm and blues singer and pianist but latterly he also achieved recognition in the fields of blues and country. Each man enjoyed a substantial degree of success and ''Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind'' was merely one passable piece of pop they conjured up together; a small part of a huge body of work. Hunter alone is estimated to have written or co-written more than 7,000 songs.

The year after the Million Dollar Quartet session, Elvis invited Hunter to visit him at Graceland. They spent a day together, talking and singing songs. Hunter said later that he was struck by Elvis' courtesy and spirituality. Even at this early stage he felt moved to say, ''I think he's one of the greatest''.

Sheet Music ''Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind'' >

Jimmy Wakely recorded "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind" (Capitol 2484) in 1953. His recording didn't chart, nor did one by Porter Wagoner (RCA 47-7457) in 1959. The hit recording was by the Five Keys (Capitol 3502), who reached number 23 on the Top 100 chart in 1956. Thirteen years later, Little Anthony and The Imperials had a moderately successful version of the song (United Artists 50552), reaching number 52 on the Hot 100  chart and number 38 on the Rhythm and Blues chart.
 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
30 - "BROWN-EYED HANDSOME MAN" - 2 - B.M.I. - 1:53
Composer: - Chuck Berry
Publisher: - Jewell Music Publishing Company
Matrix number: - VPA$-5320
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-23 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocals by Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, guitar Elvis Presley.

31 - "DON'T BE CRUEL" - B.M.I. - 2:21
Composer: - Otis Blackwell-Elvis Presley
Publisher: - Elvis Presley Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5321
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-24 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and guitar Elvis Presley.
During between track 23 and track 27 on this session Elvis commented to Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins that he'd heard a member of Billy Ward and His Dominoes sing "Don't Be Cruel" in Las Vegas. He enjoyed the slower version so much that he wished he'd recorded it that way. The unnamed member of the Dominoes to whom Elvis was referring was Jackie Wilson. Elvis then demonstrated to Lewis and Perkins how Wilson sang "Don't Be Cruel".

Here the conversation:   ''I hear this guy in Las Vegas - Billy Ward and his Dominoes. There's a guy out there who's doin' a take-off on my - ''Don't Be Cruel''. He tried so hard, till he got much better, boy - much better than that record of mine''.  ''He was real slender - he was a colored guy - he got up there an' he said...''.
 
And Elvis leapt into an imitation of this other singer's version of his song, carefully mimicking every changed inflection, every turn of his performance.

''He had it a little slower than me.... He got the backin', the whole quartet. They got the feelin' on in.... Grabbed that microphone, went down to the last note, went all the way down to the floor, man, lookin' straight up at the ceiling. Man, he cut me - I was under the table when he got through singin'.... He had already done ''Hound Dog'' an' another one or two, and he didn't do too well, y'know, he was tryin' too hard. But he hit that ''Don't Be Cruel'' and he was tryin' so hard till he got better, boy. Wooh! Man, he sang that song. That quartet standin' in the background, y'know - BA-DOMP, BA-DOMP. And he was out there cuttin' it, man, had all'm goin' way up in the air''.  ''I went back four nights straight and heard that guy do that. Man, he sung hell outta that song, and I was under the table lookin' at him. Get him off! Git him off''!.

Although Elvis Presley probably didn't know it, the singer he was watching must have been Jackie Wilson, then the lead singer with Billy Ward's Dominoes.
Jackie Wilson (1934-1984), one of Elvis' favorite artists. On occasion, Wilson was referred to as the "Black Elvis". His first hit song, in 1957, titled "Reet Petite" was co-composed by Berry Gordy Jr., founder of Motown Records. In the 1950s Wilson was a member of Billy Ward and His Dominoes: (their 1951 hit "Sixty Minute Man" (Federal 12022), which was the first rhythm and blues record to chart on Billboard's Hot 100, can be heard in the 1979 movie Elvis).

Wilson replaced Clyde McPhatter, who had just departed the group to join the Drifters. In 1975, when Wilson suffered a disabling stroke while singing "Lonely Teardrops" at the Latin Casino nightclub in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Elvis Presley offered to help pay the hospital bill, sending Wilson's wife a check for $30,000. Elvis Presley said to Wilson, upon meeting him in Las Vegas, "I thought it was about time the white Elvis Presley met the black Elvis Presley".
March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-1 mono digital The Million Dollar Quartet >

At the Million-Dollar Quartet session on December 4, 1956, Elvis remarked that in Las Vegas (November 1956) he saw Billy Ward and the Dominoes perform six times and that the lead singer sang a terrific version of "Don't Be Cruel:, in a style he wished he had recorded it. Unknown to Elvis Presley at the time, that lead singer was Jackie Wilson.
 
Wilson died on January 21, 1984, never having awakened from a coma after collapsing onstage in New Jersey and paralyzed since September 29, 1975. He was buried in Westlawn Cemetery at 31472 Michigan Avenue, tel, 313/722-2530, in Wayne, Michigan.

Otis Blackwell wrote "Don't Be Cruel" in 1955 and sold the publishing rights to the song on Christmas Eve of that year to Shalimar Music for $25. The song's full title is "Don't Be Cruel (To A Heart That's True)". Reportedly, the song was first offered to the Four Tunes, a rhythm and blues group that recorded...
 
 
...for RCA Records, but they turned it down. When Elvis Presley heard Blackwell's demo of "Don't Be Cruel", he fell in love with it. To get Elvis to record the song, Blackwell had to give 50 percent of his writers's rights to Elvis Presley. That's why Elvis is listed as co-composer. In 2004, the song was listed at number 197 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. The fact that Elvis performing it during all three of his appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show contributed to its massive commercial success. The record quickly reached number one on the Billboard chart, to be followed onto the top spot by ''Love Me Tender''. It was all part of an annus mirabilis for Elvis when virtually everything he touched turned to gold. Everybody round the piano seemed to love the song  since they had three shots at it.

32 - "DON'T BE CRUEL" - 2 - B.M.I. - 2:08
Composer: - Otis Blackwell-Elvis Presley
Publisher: - Elvis Presley Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5322
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-25 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and guitar Elvis Presley. 

During ''Don't Be Cruel'', when Elvis takes a break from singing to talk about Jackie Wilson, someone, probably Carl, asks about him doing Paralyzed'' in the same way but Elvis declines, at which point a woman's voice can be heard pleading with him to do it. The moment passed but once the first two takes of ''Don't Be Cruel'' come to an end it seems Elvis has a change of heart and the ensemble drifts into the song. Once more Elvis imitates Jackie Wilson's delivery, slower than his own version, and once more he asks what key it is in before he starts singing. For this song Jerry Lee is more restrained, more like the lowly session musician he was supposed to be.

With Elvis now in full flow, the session takes on the feel of an informal concert and there is enthusiastic applause from those fortunate enough to be in the studio, little did they know what historic events were unfolding before their eyes. Despite the best efforts of the engineers who restored the tapes, there are moments when some damage to the originals cannot be disguised, although it is to their immense credit that this barely affects the overall listening experience.

33 – "PARALYZED" - B.M.I. - 3:07
Composer: - Otis Blackwell-Elvis Presley
Publisher: - Elvis Presley Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5323
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-26 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Otis Blackwell wrote "Paralyzed" special for Elvis Presley, but once more the writing credit is shared with Elvis who had recorded it in the Hollywood studio at Radio Recorders for RCA earlier in the year. It appeared on his 1956 album ''Elvis'' and was also released on EP. As a sign of Elvis' star status the studio was locked when he recorded it and a guard vetted people who came and went, only those approved by Tom Parker gained admittance.

Even for a private recording engagement such as this Elvis felt he was on show and made sure that his clothes would make him stand out from the crowd. He wore black slacks, yellow socks, a red checked shirt, and black oxfords with red inserts. By contrast, for the Million Dollar Quartet session he wore genuinely casual clothes, confident that he was among friends for whom he did not need to make a special sartorial effort.

''Paralyzed'' was not released as a single, possibly as a result of some uneasiness amongst disc jockeys and others about the title, with its connotations of disability. This might have been an early example of a kind of political correctness; there is some irony if so. In a mixture of altruism and favourable publicity, Elvis had agreed to become a supporter of the March of Dimes. This was a high profile national campaign aimed at raising funds for research into a new vaccine for polio, responsible amongst other things for childhood paralysis. Perhaps Elvis' own people were also uneasy about the associations which might be created in listeners' minds. Despite such considerations, Elvis did feature it when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Apart from being photographed receiving a vaccination, he also recorded a public service announcement in support of the campaign.
 
But, on this track Elvis said he wished he'd recorded "Paralyzed" at a slower tempo, similar to the way Jackie Wilson sang "Don't Be Cruel" with Billy Ward and the Dominoes in Las Vegas. Elvis Presley then sang "Paralyzed" at a slower tempo for Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis in the studio.  "Paralyzed" inspired Terry Noland and Norman Petty to write "Hypnotized", which the Drifters (with Johnny Moore singing lead) recorded in 1957 (Atlantic 1141). Noland recorded his own version of "Paralyzed" (Brunswick 55010) in 1957.

34 - "DON'T BE CRUEL" - 3 - B.M.I. - 0:31
Composer: - Otis Blackwell-Elvis Presley
Publisher: - Elvis Presley Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5324
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-27 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and guitar Elvis Presley.

35 - "THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME" - B.M.I. - 3:41
Composer: - John Howard Payne-Henry Rowley Bishop
Publisher: - William Son Music Limited
Matrix number: - VPA4-5325
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-28 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal Elvis Presley, piano Jerry Lee Lewis, guitar Carl Perkins.

Carl Perkins kicks off this song which is often simply referred to as ''Home Sweet Home''. He starts tentatively picking the notes of the melody which Elvis quickly picks up on after humming it mellifluously for a few moment. ''Is that ''No Place Like Home'', Carl''? he asks. Things develop from there. The group choose a midtempo upbeat delivery, eschewing the more common slow ballad interpretation. Carl plays some tasty country-rockabilly guitar while Jerry Lee lays down some honky-tonk piano in the background. At this stage it appears that Carl's backing band, certainly Fluke Holland on drums and Clayton on bass, are still playing in support.

There is a lot of to and fro chatter in the background, some of which relates to the song. Elvis is asked if he has recorded the song for a new album, he had not but then he asks if there is a copy ''here''. Presumably he means a Sun recording. The response is '' Yeah, somewhere, I'll have to find it''. At other times the subject is football. It all goes on as the music continues.

This is a song with a historic stretching back to 1822. It was originally an operatic aria from Sir Henry Bishop's  opera Clari also known as The Maid Of Milan. The lyrics were written by John Payne. The melody was used by Rossini in The Barber Of Seville.

It has been adapted, and indeed had liberties taken with it, countless times over the years. However the powerful emotional message of the song, about the vital human desire to have somewhere to call home, a house, a region, a country, has never varied and has struck a chord with people all over the world. In Japan, a version which is akin to a secular hymn is regularly played ad weddings. Not surprisingly it was very popular during the American Civil War; so popular that, according to some reports, senior officers tried to ban it because it might make soldiers more likely to desert. The song has been part of the rich embroidery of popular American music for nearly 200 years. In the early days it was a song that was marketed to families as something they could, and perhaps should, sing at home.

Elvis' rich and honeyed tenor voice does full justice to the song, suggesting that even at this early stage in his career he was able to work his vocal magic on any musical style.

36 - "WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN" - B.M.I. - 2:17
Composer: - Traditional
Publisher: - Charly Publishing Limited
Matrix number: - VPA4-5326
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-29 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal by Elvis Presley, piano Jerry Lee Lewis, guitar Carl Perkins.

''The Saints'', as it is often referred to, is a traditional gospel hymn which could be said to fall under the general umbrella of folk music in the broadest sense. It marks the start of a run of eight religious-oriented songs which the ensemble performs with effortless confidence. Given their experiences during childhood, it was really inevitable that gospel would be one of the styles they would turn to early on in the session.

The song is often featured as a standard by jazz bands. There is however no definitive way of performing it and extra verses are Sometimes added. In New Orleans it is often part of the musical accompaniment to funerals; a dirge on the way to the cemetery, uptempo Dixieland on the way back, which is how the quartet do it. Jerry Lee can be heard singing backing response vocals with real fervour, reflecting his heavy personal involvement with so many aspects of evangelical religion throughout his 21 years. The listener can imagine the dilemma he regularly faced. Talking about his live performances he once said, ''I'm out here doing what God don't want me to do, I'm leading people to hell''. He was a sinner who would not stop sinning, but who always felt able to ask God for forgiveness. At the end he says with feeling, ''I sure do love that spiritual music''.

Earlier versions of the song emphasised its apocalyptic nature, ''When the sun, refuse to shine'', taking much of its imagery from the Book of Revelation, but excluding its more horrific depictions of the Last Judgment. Such aspects of religion would have been very familiar to the quartet as they were growing up and experienced the onslaughts of hellfire preachers for whom joy and damnation were inextricably linked. As time has gone by the lyrics have generally been softened. Louis Armstrong popularised the song in the 1930s to the disapproval of his sister who felt that his version wrongly took the focus off the religious nature of the song. Elvis later recorded his own version.

37 - "SOFTLY AND TENDERLY" - B.M.I. - 2:47
Composer: - Will L. Thompson
Publisher: - Babb Music
Matrix number: - VPA4-5327
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
- Lead Elvis Presley, piano Jerry Lee Lewis, guitar Carl Perkins
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-30 mono digital
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal by Elvis Presley, piano Jerry Lee Lewis, guitar Carl Perkins.

''Do you know 'Softly And Tenderly'''?, somebody asks. ''Gimme a key'', snaps Elvis, eager to get into another song. Carl starts playing some notes. ''That's a little bit high Carl'''. He brings it down, songs are invariably geared up to Elvis' vocal range; in consequence Carl and Jerry Lee's vocal sound a little strained at times as they try to fit Elvis' preferred keys. It is a given that Elvis knows the words.

The full title of this song, which dates back to the late 1870s, is in fact, ''Softly And Tenderly Jesus Is Calling''. It was written by Will L. Thompson and is a Christian hymn, a meditation on impending death, which was sung at the memorial service for Martin Luther King in 1968. Although Elvis is inevitably the lead singer, Jerry Lee does his best to keep up with him, oblivious to any notion that it might be appropriate for him to defer to a major star. That said Jerry Lee never sounds like a lesser star in the firmament; completely familiar with the song he sings lead and harmonises with ease, imbuing it with real gospel energy. A listener who did not know otherwise might well think he was black.

There is constant background chatter which appears to be vary convivial. People were clearly not yet in awe of Elvis as they would be soon, when the idea of a lot of people making noise when he was in a studio, some of them unconnected to the music, would be out of the question.

38 - "IS IT SO STRANGE" - B.M.I. - 1:11
Composer: - Faron Young
Publisher: - Carlin Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5328
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-31 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and guitar Elvis Presley.

Country singer Faron Young (aka ''The Singing Sheriff''), wrote ''Is It So Strange''. One of the most popular purveyors of smooth honky-tonk of his day, his career lasted around 30 years and included major hits such as ''Hello walls'', ''Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young'' and ''It's Four In The Morning'' (the last-named being his only UK hit).

Before he starts singing, Elvis jokes that Faron had sent the song to him but that he, ''Didn't want to give me none of it. He wanted it all''. This is presumably a (slightly sheepish-sounding) reference to the practice of compelling writers to give up a large part of the writing credit if they wanted Elvis to record their songs. In fact, Elvis recorded the song for RCA in 1957.

During this number, which Elvis sings solo and accompanies himself on acoustic guitar, a child's voice can be heard in the background, giggling at times. (The children's voicesare probably Jerry and Knox, sons of SamPhillips, according to Knox Phillips).  When Elvis stops singing, he is addressed by a woman: ''My little granddaughter (Susan) is a big fan of yours, would you put your name here''. Elvis, by now very used to dealing with such situations, display characteristic courtesy, completing the transaction with a very polite, ''Thank you ma'am'', as if he was the one being done the favour.

39 - "THAT'S WHEN YOUR HEARTACHES BEGIN" - B.M.I. - 5:09
Composer: - William J. Raskin-Billy Hill-Fred Fisher
Publisher: - Lowe Music Limited
Matrix number: - VPA4-5329
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-32 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and guitar Elvis Presley.

Elvis starts talking about this song, which he had clearly mentioned before at some point. ''I lost the dub on it''. This is the longest individual song by nearly a minute. It has a particularly treasured place in the history of Elvis Presley since it was one of the two songs that started it all; one of the songs he recorded at the Memphis Recording Service in July 1953. He says he had lost the disc but according to other reports he gave it to a friend of his who had provided the money for him to make the recording in the first place. By 1956 his voice is transformed, it is now smooth and assured, delivering his own interpretation of the melody with confident aplomb.

He next recorded it in rather different circumstances for RCA in 1957, when it appeared as the B-side of ''All Shook Up'' (RCA 20/47-6870). The song's three composers Fred Fisher, William Raskin and Billy Hill were all born in the late nineteenth century and were mainly associated with music from a different, bygone world. Fred Fisher, for instance, wrote music to accompany silent films and also co-wrote ''Whispering Grass''. Billy Hill, one of the most successful songsmiths on Tin Pan Alley in the thirties, co-wrote ''Have You Ever Been Lonely'' and ''The Old Man Of The Mountain''.

''That's When Your Heartaches Begin'' was first recorded in 1937 and in 1941 the Ink Spots also recorded a version which might well have been and  Elvis suggested that the right singer could really make a hit with the old Ink Spots song "That's When Your Heartaches Begin", something he himself had tried before, and would again. The Ink Spots were a popular black gospel vocal group whose heartfelt songs were characterised be sweet melodies with soaring vocals and gentle arpeggiated acoustic guitar breaking. The conservative, unthreatening nature of their songs and their clean-cut image made them acceptable to white audiences. They were major contributors to the development of the doo wop style of popular music. Their influence on Elvis is crystal clear on some of his later songs.

A particular feature of such songs, which Elvis here demonstrates, is the practice of speaking one or more of the verses in an emotionally charged voice, something he did with considerable skill in various songs over the years.

Elvis expresses the view that if someone could sing it right, ''a guy with a really deep voice'', it would sell. Could this be yet another reference to the self-evident absence of Johnny Cash?

40 - "BROWN-EYED HANDSOME MAN" - 2 - B.M.I. - 0:25
Composer: - Chuck Berry
Publisher: - Jewell Music Publishing
Matrix number: - VPA4-5330
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-33 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and guitar Elvis Presley.

41 - "RIP IT UP" B.M.I. - 0:15
Composer: - Otis Blackwell-John Marascalco
Publisher: - ATV Music Limited
Matrix number: - VPA4-5331
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
- Lead and guitar Elvis Presley
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-34 mono digital
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Elvis has fun with this one which he does in response to a request from a spectator; but he only really does the opening line. He deliberately gets the opening words wrong: ''It's Saturday night and I just got paid... laid''. This caught the mood of much of the session. It is delightful to listen to these artists simply being themselves and not putting on a show manipulated to fit in with demands of promoters or television producers.

Composer John Marascalco drove to Los Angeles in 1955 to sell "Ready Teddy" to Specialty Records as a tune for Little Richard to record. After selling the song to Specialty, Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, the label's A&R man, asked Marascalco if he had any other songs. Marascalco told him he had a country tune called "Rip It Up" that he could rework to suit Little Richard. 

After spending a week rewriting the song at a fleabag motel in Hollywood, Marascalco went back to Specialty and Blackwell bought it, taking partial writing credit, as he had for "Ready Teddy". Little Richard's "Rip It Up" (Specialty 579) sold over a million copies in 1956 and hit number one on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues chart and number 17 on the Top 100 chart. 

Marascalco also wrote songs with Fats Domino and a young Harry Nilson among many others. Blackwell went on to work extensively as a producer and was involved with the early careers of stars such as Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Sly and the Family Stone. Later in his career he produced some songs for Bob Dylan's album ''Shot Of Love''.   Bill Haley and His Comets cover version of "Rip It Up" (Decca 30028) stayed at number 25, also in 1956. Elvis Presley later recorded "Rip It Up" at Radio Recorders in Hollywood on September 3, 1956. Take 19 is the master. 

Occasionally over the years, Elvis sang "Rip It Up" in concerts. Some of these performances have surfaced on bootleg albums. "Rip It Up" was one of the many songs Elvis performed during the Million Dollar Quartet session on December 4, 1956.
 
''Did you ever hear ole Hank Snow do a song called ''I'm Gonna Bid My Blues Goodbye''? With that Elvis launches into a brief take on the song, once more, it appears, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, unlike Carl, his ability level was merely competent.

Close to the height of his career in the mid fifties, Hank Snow was one of the leading country artists of the immediate post-war era, whose inclusion in the session was highly fitting. All four members of the quartet grew up listening to his music on the radio and for all of them he was something of a hero as well as a strong influence.

Sheet music for ''I'm Gonna Bid My Blues Goodbye'' >

A natural showman, Clarence Eugene Snow, whose main early influence was Jimmie Rodgers, wrote, recorded and regularly performed a clutch of classic hits including ''I'm Moving On'' and ''The Golden Rocket'' in the fifties. Born in Canada he eventually became an American citizen in 1958 and settled near Nashville, the logical place for him to live.
 
His career spanned over 60 years and when he was 61, he became the oldest country performer to achieve a number one hit, with a song called ''Hello Love''.

Elvis brings the song to an end and moves away from the microphone. There is chatter, a door opening and closing and he is gone. His involvement in the music is now at an end. The last thing he can be heard saying is, ''That's why I hate to get started in these jam sessions, I'm always the last one to leave, always''.

There is a brief pause and then Jerry Lee can be heard seizing his opportunity and starting up on the piano which he now plays solo until the end.
 
 
42 - "I'M GONNA BID MY BLUES GOODBYE" - B.M.I. - 0:34
Composer: - Hank Snow
Publisher: - Charly Publishing Limited
Matrix number: - VPA4-5332
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-35 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and guitar Elvis Presley.

Hank Snow recorded "I'm Gonna Bid My Blues Goodbye" (Bluebird 55-3233) in the 1940s.

43 - "CRAZY ARMS" - B.M.I. - 3:45
Composer: - Ralph Mooney-Charles Seals
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5333
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-36 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and piano Jerry Lee Lewis.

Before he starts ''That's My Desire'', Jerry Lee grabs his turn in the limelight with a swaggering version of his first single, ''Crazy Arms'', released at the beginning of December. This time he was able to play it all the way through, earlier he could only deliver a brief snatch of the song because Elvis was still in charge of things at that point. This was the start of a run of five solo songs by Jerry Lee.

He does full justice to ''Crazy Arms''. His virtuoso display provides a detailed picture of the Jerry Lee Lewis piano technique, a veritable master class; the pounding left hand, the flowery embellishments with the right, the syncopation, it was all there. Johnny Cash later described him as ''the master of the keyboard''. The piano playing is remarkably clear unlike Jerry Lee's vocals which sound as if they were laid down in a different room from the microphone.

Jerry Lee plus piano really could cover all angles, a banking band was merely an optional extra. The song is now a country/honky-tonk standard which has been covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Linda Ronstadt. Perhaps the quartet's spontaneous attraction to such material was a sign of the kind of musical instinct that led them to be so successful themselves.

After ''Crazy Arms'' Jerry Lee moves onto classic, old school pop territory with the kind of song that his and his friends' parents might have listened to. ''That's My Desire'' was written by  Caroll Loveday and Helmy Kresa in 1931, and  Helmy Kresa who was the principal arranger and orchestrator for Iving Berlin. Since Berlin could not read or write music, he got Kresa to fulfill this role for the songs he wrote at the piano. Amongst many others, Kresa worked on ''White Christmas''.

Over the years the song has been covered in various styles by artists including Louis Armstrong, Dion and the Belmonts.  Sixteen years later after writing, bot Frankie Laine (Mercury 5007) and Sammy Kaye (RCA 2251) had big hits with the ''That's My Desire'', reaching number 7 and number 3 respectively on Billboard's Best-Selling Singles chart. In 1968 the song was one of many that Elvis rehearsed for the "Elvis" TV special but did not use in the broadcast.

44 - "THAT'S MY DESIRE" - B.M.I. - 1:15
Composer: - Carroll Loveday-Helmy Kresa
Publisher: - B. Feldman & Company Limited
Matrix number: - VPA4-5334
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-37 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and piano Jerry Lee Lewis.

45 - "END OF THE ROAD" - B.M.I. - 1:48
Composer: - Jerry Lee Lewis
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA4-5335
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-38 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

''Sing ''End Of The Road'', is the request from a female present, possibly Marilyn Evans. Jerry Lee says, ''I might as well do another one'' with an audible smile.  "End Of The Road" was the flip side of Jerry Lee Lewis's first record at Sun Records (SUN 259), which was released on December 1, 1956. The A side was "Crazy Arms".  Lewis sang "End Of The Road" (his own composition) during this session and again he gives a star performance which brings out the very best in a routine but highly catchy little song. Unaccompanied, his playing once more takes the breath away; his legendary skills are already well established and clearly in evidence.  Elvis and Carl Perkins did not participate in this song.

46 - "JERRY'S BOOGIE (BLACK BOTTOM STOMP)" - B.M.I. - 1:12
Composer: - Jerry Lee Lewis
Publisher: - Knox Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - VPA5-5336
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-39 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and piano Jerry Lee Lewis.

This rollicking jazz instrumental, imbued with hints of ragtime and Dixieland, provides Jerry Lee with an opportunity to show off another side of his effortlessly dazzling piano skills. On some early Million Dollar Quartet releases it is referred to as ''Jerry's Boogie''. It was written by Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (other spellings of this last name are often quoted), better known as Jelly Roll Morton, in 1925, and was originally called ''Queen Of Spades''. He recorded it in 1926. His version was a multilayered musical affair. In one fairly brief number he maintained listener interest with a range of techniques, stomps, breaks, backbeat, two-beat, four-beat, melody played all over the keyboard, increasing volume, reducing volume, and Jerry Lee does much the same in his interpretation. It might have been impromptu but it revealed the studious nature of his exploration and understanding of the music of key figures in the development of popular music from an early age.

Jelly Roll and Jerry Lee had other things in common apart from a gift for playing the piano, in particular a confident belief in their own abilities which regularly crossed over into arrogance. Jelly Roll often claimed that he had single-handedly invented modern jazz. Whilst his contribution was undoubtedly considerable, such a claim has been challenged by many commentators, although it is true that his number ''Jelly Roll Blues'' was in 1915 the first published jazz composition. He is even said to have falsified details of his birth date in order to make the claim more credible. Jerry Lee got up to similar tricks when it came to his early marriages. The pair also had colourful private lives with an impressive array of relationship with women to their credit.

47 - "YOU'RE THE ONLY STAR IN MY BLUE HEAVEN" - B.M.I. - 1:13
Composer: - Gene Autrey
Publisher: - B. Feldman & Company Limited
Matrix number: - VPA5-5337
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-40 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

Lead vocal and piano Jerry Lee Lewis.

The inclusion of a Gene Autry song creates a connection between the Million Dollar Quartet and cowboy music, which has been an important strand of country music for as long as there has been country music. He was one of the most successful of a small number of singing cowboys which also included Ray Rogers. He is probably best known for the western song ''Back In The Saddle Again'' although he was also responsible for some favourite Christmas songs including ''Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer'' and ''Here Comes Santa Claus''. Jerry Lee brings the song to an abrupt end as Elvis plus some others leave the building; he gets up to join in the farewells.

Back in the mid-1930s, while Gene Autry was appearing on "The Old Barn Dance" radio show, he began receiving love letters from a woman in Iowa. After several months the woman's doctor wrote to Autry and told him she was mentally disturbed. The physician requested that Autry write to her and tell her that he was not at all interested in her romantic overtures. In the last letter Autry received from the woman, she described being alone. After hearing Autry on the radio she walked outside and stared at the night sky. She wrote: "I looked at the stars in the heavens. I saw millions of them, but you're the only star in my blue heaven". That line inspired Autry to write the song "You're The Only Star (In My Blue Heaven)". His recording (conqueror 9098) was released in December 1935. Roy Acuff had a popular 1936 recording of the song (ARC-7-04-51). Autry sang the song in his movie "The Old Barn Dance" (1938).

48 - "ELVIS FAREWELL" - B.M.I. - 0:35
Recorded: - December 4, 1956
Released: - 1987
First appearance: - S Records (LP) 33rpm S 5001 mono
THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Reissued: - March 1990 RCA BMG (CD) 500/200rpm 74321 13840 2-41 mono
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

During the goodbyes the irrepressible Jerry Lee can be heard to sing the line, ''You're the only star in my blue heaven'', a couple of times. Elvis says, ''Good night boys, I'll see you again'', suggesting that the session has gone on well into the evening. Jerry Lee says, ''Yeah, mighty glad to have met y'all''. Elvis is heard saying, ''Thank you sir'' to someone.

It is poignant to think that these casual events, which the participants probably intended to repeat some time, never in fact happened again. It had been a once in a lifetime event. Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis did subsequently get together a few times, but never all four. Elvis' fame took him away from the possibility of such carefree spontaneous encounters for the rest of his life.

The recordings, a remarkable piece of audio archaeology, provide an extremely rare glimpse into s crucial stage in the development of western popular music. In the course of an unguarded and uninhibited jam session, without pre-planning, or pre-agreed set lists worked out by managers and producers, four giants revealed the musical DNA which they would transmit to the world. As Colin Escott said, ''This is what the founding fathers of rock and roll music heard and played solely for the love of playing it''.
 
Name (Or. No. Of Instruments)
Elvis Presley - Vocal and Guitar
James Buck Perkins - Guitar
Jerry Lee Lewis - Vocal and Piano
Johnny Cash – Vocals (?)
Lloyd Clayton Perkins - Bass
Carl Perkins - Vocal and Guitar
Charles Underwood - Guitar
W.S. "Fluke" Holland - Drums
Marion Keisker - Vocals
Cliff Cleaves - Vocals
Marilyn Evans - Vocals
Smokey Joe Baugh - Piano

Before Elvis Presley leaving he remarked, with no regret, "That's why I hate to get started in these jam sessions. I'm always the last one to leave".
PROBABLY RECORDED ON THIS SESSION

01 - ''MY ISLE OF GOLDEN DREAMS'' - B.M.I.
The Hawaiian guitar sound became hugely popular in America in the early part of the twentieth century as musicians from the archipelago brought the instrument with them on visits to the United States. This process was boosted by songs like ''My Isle Of Golden Dreams'' which mixed the sound of the Hawaiian guitar with sentimental English lyrics. This particular song was written in 1919 by Walter Blaufuss and Gus Kahn. A song like this would have been very suitable for Elvis who had an outstanding gift for romantic ballads; some reports have it that Johnny Cash sang on it too.

American enthusiasm for the sound of the Hawaiian guitar faded in the late twenties but the instrument, in the form of the steel guitar, became permanently established as the signature instrument of country music whose followers have loved its sweet emotional sounds ever since.

Though mainly as novelty numbers, Hawaiian songs enjoyed regular resurgences of popularity in subsequent years, notably in the hands of Marty Robbins and Bing Crosby.

02 - ''I WON'T HAVE TO CROSS JORDAN ALONE'' - B.M.I.
This is a gospel standard, originally copyrighted in 1934, which has been recorded by numerous artists; it has long been a fixture in American church hymn books. It would have been as obvious a choice of religious number as any of the others that definitely were performed that day. As with many other spiritual songs, it is concerned with the comfort offered to believers through religious faith. In 1962 Johnny Cash included it on his second album of religious material for Columbia, ''Hyms From The Heart'' (the first was ''Hymns By Johnny Cash'', released by Columbia in 1959 not long after Johnny's arrival at his new label). One of the reasons he had grown dissatisfied with Sam Phillips was his resistance to Johnny's wish to be allowed to record gospel songs for Sun.

03- ''THE OLD RUGGED CROSS'' - B.M.I.
Religious numbers featured strongly in the quartet's spontaneous selection. ''The Old Rugged Cross'' is a Christian song, loved by millions of people across the world, which was written in 1912 by a Methodist evangelist called George Bennard, whose ancestors came from Scotland. The song has been a standard, popular with black and white artists and audiences. It has been recorded by singers from Patsy Cline to Al Green and Willie Nelson. It even turned up in an episode of the popular British science fiction television series Doctor Who in 2007. 

04 - ''WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN'' - B.M.I.
This Christian hymn, written in about 1907 by Ada Ruth Haberson and Charles H. Gabriel, is one of the best known and best loved of all religious anthems. The lyrics aim to provide comfort for people who have recently been bereaved but over the years, singing the song in unison has come to be seen as an anthem appropriate for groups of people standing together in the face of adversity of any kind, announcing their common resolve to overcome their difficulties to the world. Countless concerts by traditional country-oriented musical groups, right up to the present day, feature the song as their finale, with the audience joining in. The quartet was probably able to sing bits of it before they could read and write.

Modern arrangements vary from medium paced and soulful to uptempo and joyous. Most are based on a rearrangement of the song in the thirties by A.P. Carter, of the legendary Carter Family, whose music provided the foundation upon which much of modern folk and country music has been built.

As evidence of its continuing appeal and relevance, the song was used as the title for a famous recording in 1972 by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band which brought together musicians young and old to record traditional old time songs. Bill Monroe was a notable refusenik.
 
 
 
05 - ''THERE ARE STRANGE THINGS HAPPENING EVERY DAY'' - B.M.I.
This is a traditional black American gospel song often adapted to various musical styles according to the preferences of performers and audiences. Although there have been many versions over the years, the most famous is that by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the electric guitar-toting firebrand Christian advocate. She recorded it in 1944 and regularly featured it in her live concerts. Some have claimed it as the first ever rock and roll record, others as an important precursor of rock and roll. This was partly due to the rocking nature of the song but also to Tharpe's stage presence and attack; she swung her hips and moved around the stage as she picked out catchy licks on her steelbodied guitar. The song's popularity was such that it crossed over from gospel charts to the ''race'' (later rhythm and blues) charts. Its popularity continues and there have been recent versions by Tom Jones and Michelle Shocked.

It would certainly have been a suitable vehicle for Jerry Lee who would doubtless have underpinned the song with a rollicking piano foundation.

06 - ''THAT OLD TIME RELIGION'' - B.M.I.
This traditional call and response song, alternatively called ''(Give Me That) Old Time Religion'', might trace its origins to English folk music. It has been a southern gospel rallying call since the late nineteeth century in America, loved by both black and white spiritual singers and their audiences. A standard for well over a century, it is a song the quartet would all have known well from early in their lives. Carl Perkins said he recalled it being sung at some point during the session and Johnny Cash said he remembered singing on it.

07 - ''BLUE MOON OF KENTUCKY'' - B.M.I.
Written by Bill Monroe, this song has been discussed elsewhere. As one side of Elvis' first single, it would have been an obvious choice for inclusion at an informal jam session. In his 1997 autobiography, Johnny Cash said he remembered singing it.

08 - ''WHEN I TAKE MY VACATION IN HEAVEN'' - B.M.I.
In a similar vein, ''When I Take My Vacation In Heaven'', sometimes simply called ''Vacation In Heaven'', is a gospel song, originally published in 1925, which has enjoyed considerable popularity over the years. It was also included on Johnny Cash's 1962 album, ''Hymns From The Heart''.

It was co-written by Herbert Buffum, a Christian evangelist whose output was prolific, around 1,000 published songs in his lifetime. When he died in 1939 one newspaper described him as ''The King of Gospel Song Writers''.

09 - ''TUTTI FRUTTI'' - B.M.I.
A major hit for Little Richard in 1955, the often indecipherable ''Tutti Frutti'' is among the most famous rock and roll song ever recorded, right up there with anything by Elvis, Bill Haley or Buddy Holly. The unaccompanied rhythmic onslaught that sets it off, ''A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom'', is arguably the most memorable opening to any piece of popular music. In 2007 a panel of experts assembled by Mojo placed the song at number one on its list, ''The Top 100 Records That Changed The World''. They characterised the record as no less than the ''sound of the birth of rock and roll''. RCA clearly saw that it was perfect material for Elvis and it was included on his debut album for them - albeit with the lyrics toned way down from some of the original words which were aggressively saxual. This song would have been a lot of fun for Jerry Lee Lewis and a real opportunity for him to show off his skills.

10 - ''THIS TRAIN (THIS TRAIN IS BOUND FOR GLORY)'' - B.M.I.
This well known gospel song was first recorded in 1925 though it had been sung in churches for some years prior to that. In 1935 a version was recorded with the title ''Dis Train'', a probable indicator that the origins of the song lay in black music. Sister Rosetta Tharpe recorded a version in the early fifties which, with her trademark electric guitar, sounded a lot closer to rock and roll than anything that might normally be heard in church. The song was also brought to wider public attention by the work of folklorists John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax.

The song has been covered by a great many artists in a wide range of musical styles from blues and folk to reggae and zydeco. A shortened version of the main hook line of the song provided the title for Woody Guthrie's autobiographical book, ''Bound For Glory'', which was later used as the basis for a biopic on Gunthrie's life,

Bruce Springsteen borrowed the theme of ''This Train'' on his song ''Land Of Hope And Dreams'', which was written in 1998 or early 1999, and debuted live with the E Street Band in March 1999. According to some reports Elvis also sang ''You Belong To My Heart;;, which was also sung later on, when the tapes were rolling.
As this was an informal jam session a number of songs are done only half, while some are mere attempt that all to soon disintegrate. The above has become known as the "Million Dollar Quartet". Probably more songs were recorded, but the owner of the tapes, Shelby Singleton's Company, with holds further information due to the many legal problems surroundings these tapes. With the exception of the last six titles, all the above have been released on bootlegs and in some parts of the world even officially by local licensees of Singleton's catalogue, but nothing has been released officially in the U.S.
 
Remarkably enough, Johnny Cash is not featured on any of the material so far available. Elvis sings lead or co-lead with Jerry on all songs, except on "Keeper Of The Key", which has Carl singing lead. Carl's band (Perkins, Perkins and Holland) can be heard on the first five songs.

The first four of the last six songs have been cited by both Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash as having recorded on this occasion. The last two were mentioned on a promotional single for a bootleg that apparently never was released, and "You Belong To My Heart" was in fact one of the items on that promo-single.

© - 706 UNION AVENUE SESSIONS - ©
 


The man at the right is Robert (Bob) Johnson a music writer at the Memphis Press Scimitar. Sam  Phillips invited Bob, colleague, Lee Soroca (left), the local agent for United Press to the studio. Bob  coined the phrase "Million Dollar Quartet" and used it to headline his article. Bob left the studio  before the session started >

DECEMBER 5, 1956

THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

From TV News And Views - Memphis Press Scimitar by Robert Johnson December 5, 1956.

"I never had a better time than yesterday when I dropped in at Sam Phillips' Sun Records on  Union and Marshall. It was what you might call a barrel-house of fun. Carl Perkins was in a  recording  session, and he has one that's going to hit as hard as "Blue Suede Shoes". We're trying to  arrange an advance audition for you Memphis fans before the song is released in January.  Johnny Cash dropped in. Jerry Lee Lewis was there, too, and then Elvis Presley dropped by.

Elvis headed for the piano and started in on "Blueberry Hill". The joint was really rocking  before they got truth. Elvis is high on Jerry Lee Lewis. "That boy can go', he said. "I think he  has a great future ahead of him. He has a different style, and the way he plays piano just  gets inside me". I never saw Elvis more likeable than he was just fooling around with these  other fellows who have the same interests as he does. If Sam Phillips had been on this toes,  he'd have turned the recorder on when that very unrehearsed but talented bunch go to  cutting up on "Blueberry Hill" and a lot of other songs".

This was the first intimation the world had of the existence of what was to become known as  The Million Dollar Quartet. Rumoured, speculated upon; it was the ultimate mystery, the  ultimately unobtainable recording for a quarter of a century. Even now the whole mystery  isn't solved but at least our voracious appetite for anything pertaining to the Million Dollar  Quartet is partially appeared; at least we now know what they sounded like.

I suspect that the Robert Johnson piece didn't arouse the intense interest that the M.D.Q.  was to subsequently generate. The American '16 Magazine' obviously picked up on the  Johnson story for in their May issue of 1957 they had this to say about the event: "Here's  how the jam session came about: One afternoon recently Elvis dropped in to see his old  friend, Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records, where Elvis got his start. With Elvis were two  friend, Marilyn Evans and Cliff Gleaves. In a nearby studio, Jerry Lee Lewis, who records for  Sun, was rehearsing for a recording session; and with him were Carl Perkins and Johnny  Cash, who had stopped by to hear the tape on Carl's newest, "Match Box Blues".

After talking for a while, Elvis moved over to the piano in Jerry's studio and started  pounding out "Blueberry Hill". Then he began singing it. Carl and Johnny drifted over and  they and Jerry joined in. making it a quartet. Marilyn leaned on the piano, listening to this  fabulous group. From "Blueberry Hill" Elvis swung into "Isle Of Golden Dreams" - and there  followed perhaps the most fantastic vocal concert ever heard as these four young artists just  let loose and enjoyed themselves, singing old songs, new songs, soft songs, rock "n" roll  songs - and hymns.

The article in the Memphis Press Scimitar establishes the exact date of this momentous  occasion as the 4th December 1956. Odd then that there is no such date filed for a Perkins  recording session. Could this just be an error in the Sun files, or is there another  explanation?. Bear in mind that Carl and his brother were involved in a near fatal accident  on their way to New York the previous March. (For Jay Perkins it was ultimately to prove  fatal). The band hadn't played or recorded for some nine months. So finally they're ready to  record and go in for another session.

One of the songs they have lined up, an old Blind Lemon Jefferson number (last recorded by  the Shelton Bross. in 1947), is called "Match Box Blues". Sam had suggested a young blonde  kid who'd just cut his first single, Crazy Arms", to augment the group on piano. They cut  "Match Box", maybe another tune or two and in walks Elvis, a knock-out dolly on his arm.  "Hey, Elvis man who's that chick...". Elvis is back home for Christmas. He's just swept the  nation with his second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show a month ago. He chats to Carl,  after all whilst Carl's been languishing in hospital Elvis has taken his song "Blue Suede Shoes"  up the top of the charts. Jerry Lee demand to be introduced. The musicians sit back, waiting  to get on with the session. But instead Elvis strolls over the piano, hits a few desultory  notes, carries on chatting, the guys start reminiscing; the Million Dollar Quartet session is  under way. After Christmas Carl returns to the Sun studio to do a full session and records  "Match Box" again along with "Your True Love", "Put Your Cat Clothes On", "You Can Do No  Wrong", and "Caldonia". Purr speculations of course, but its interesting that a whole lot of  new tapes by Carl have just recently been discovered amongst the Sun archives. There's two  versions of "Match Box" and a whole host of "Put Your Cat Clothes On", but back to December  4th.
 
July 1981 Charly Records (LP) 33rpm Sun 1006 mono  The Million Dollar Quartet >

Once it had become obvious that Elvis was in no hurry to leave, Sam Phillips never one to  miss an opportunity, phoned the local press who sent along photographer George Pierce  along with columnist Robert Johnson. "Everything was off mike. If it was on mike, it was by  accident", recalls Sam. "I told Jack Clement, "Man, let's just record this. This is the type of  feel, and probably an occasion, that who knows? - we may never have these people together  again'". 
 
Jack Clement remembers it much the same way; "it was rather a momentous  occasion. The only reason I taped it was we just decided: all that carrying' on ought to be  recorded". And recorded it most certainly was, but what became of the tapes?. Well, one of  the reasons for recording it was "to send everybody a copy. Which I never did get round to  doing". The tapes then seemingly disappeared.

 
 
The speculation as to their contents filled  many a magazine over the years. One popular contender, "Big Boss Man" wasn't even written  as the time of the session. Published articles obviously accounted for the inclusion of  "Blueberry Hill", and "Isle Of Golden Dreams". Other suggested titles included "I Won't Cross  Jordan Alone", The Rugged Old Cross", "Cry Cry Cry", "Down The Line" and "Peace In The  Valley". In fact out of that list of titles only "Peace In The Valley" has emerged on the hour  tape at present available. It is interesting to note that at the time of the M.D.Q. Elvis hadn't  recorded any religious songs. At his very next session he was to do so, cutting "I Believe",  "Take My Hand Precious Lord" and, yap you guessed it, "Peace In The Valley" in Hollywood by  Radio Recorders on 12/13 January 1957, having sung it on the Ed Sullivan show six days  earlier. Now I wonder what prompted him to sing it there?. Everybody recalls Jerry Lee  singing the Sister Rosette Tharpe number "Strange Things Happening", but it doesn't appear  on this tape. Obviously then there was more. Jack Clement puts it at two to three hours, in  which case, somewhere there's another 4 to 5 albums still to be revealed. But what of the  songs that we actually have?.

We kick off with "Just A Little Talk With Jesus"; Carl, his brother, W.S. Holland provide the  instrumental backing, Elvis and Jerry Lee harmonise. Most of the time Carl's tenor harmony  is consigned to oblivion. Says Carl, "I sat down beside Elvis on the piano stool and we shared  a microphone. Jerry Lee had a microphone by himself, and he - as always - did get in there.  I remember most of the things he was singing would be too high or too low, but they was in  the one or two keys that Elvis could play in. That's why on some of the stuff it was almost  impossible for me to sing tenor rhythm". And where does Johnny Cash figure in all this?.  Well, Carl recalls that once the photographic session was over he went shopping!. Just a  Million Trio then perhaps?. They chat, they prompt each other through "Walk That Lonesome  Valley", "I Shall Not Be Moved", "Peace In The Valley", "Down By The River Side". Gradually  the band drop out. Maybe they come to the conclusion that the session just isn't going to be  continued now and they've got better things to do. Elvis sets about imitating Hank Snow's  nasal tones with uncanny accuracy on "I'm With The Crowd But Oh So Alone", after all he's  toured with Snow quite extensively. When he first introduced himself to Snow at the Grand  Old Opry, Snow asked him what his real name was. Now everybody knows the name Elvis  Presley. He's the kid who has shocked and outraged middle-aged America. He's the Devil
incarnate. And yet here he is singing "Father Along", "Blessed Jesus Hold My Hand", "As We  Travel Along On The Jericho Road" and "I Just Can't Make It By My Self". And singing along  with him are those other two exponents of the godless music, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee  Lewis.

Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" was one of the songs that helped launch the Presley  legend. Elvis demonstrates his familiarity with Monroe's music by not only singing "Little  Cabin On The Hill" but also giving a passable imitation of Monroe's vocal. (It would be  another 14 years before Elvis actually recorded the number on his "Country" album). Then  its back to the religious tunes that they were all weaned on: "Summertime Has Passed And  Gone", "I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling", a touch of country lament on "And Now Sweetheart  You've Done Me Wrong" and a lovely rendition by Carl of Wynn Steward's "Keeper Of The  Key". A snatch of "Crazy Arms" (after all Jerry Lee has just recently recorded it, he'd be  bound to bring it in), and then perhaps the biggest surprise of all. Pat Boone has just hit with  "Don't Forbid Me". (Bear in mind that Boone is still something of a rival to Presley). Elvis  explain with a touch of bravado that he's had the song for months but never really bothered  with it. He proceeds to prove the point by singing the number accompanying himself at the  piano. At some point Jerry Lee took over the piano stool for Carl remembers Elvis saying,  "The wrong man's been sitting here at the piano". To which Jerry Lee riposted, "Well, I been  wanting to tell you that. Scoot over". But that must have happened later. Exactly what  happened later is still a closed book. but let us be thankful for this brief moment of history  being made, now after all these years, available to us. Sam was right, all these people never  would all get together in a studio again".

With acknowledgments to Peter Guralnick - "Million Dollar Memories", New Kommotion no  25, and Nick Tosches "The Million Dollar Quartet Marked Down", Goldmine No. 56.

Adam Komorowski, editor New Kommotion
 



Billy Boren of Tupelo, Mississippi, 1955 winner of the Mid-South Fair Youth Talent Contest, warms up his vocal chords for a free concert at Overton Park Shell in Memphis for September 1956. Anita Wood of Jackson, Tennessee, 1954 contest winner, will be a guest soloist. Kathryn Benander is accompanist.

 
TV News and Views
_________________

by Robert Johnson
Press-Scimitar Staff Writer

… His purpose in coming to Memphis is to investigate how this tremendous important work can be spread to  other sections of the country. You can get an idea of what Streamlined Reading is about by watching Channel  10 at 8 tonight. It's not entertainment. It is teaching. And it is wonderful in concept and execution.

On Ted Mack Show
Billy Boren, 19, of Verona, Miss., won our Mid-South Fair's annual Youth Talent contest this fall, and Billy  will be on the Ted Mack show on Channel 13 Sunday night. Billy is the younger brother of Charlie Boren,  owner and manager of Radio WAMY in Amory, Miss.

Charlie was the first person ever to put Elvis Presley on the air. He used to have a station in Tupelo, and  Elvis made his debut there singing in an amateur contest about 1945 or 1946. Didn't even have a guitar, then.  If Charlie had a movie of the event, he could get rich. But this is about Billy Boren.

He idolizes Elvis, but he sings a different type of music. He formerly attended Mississippi Southern, the  Memphis State rival down in Hattiesburg, but go so many requests to sing here and there he has left school.  He was worked as an announcer for the past three years on Charlie's station.

Send in a Vote
Listen to out local boy Sunday night, and send in a vote for him, we're really getting to be a musical center –  everything from Elvis to Phineas Newborn to Marguerite Piazza, even tho did disown us on the Herb Shriner  show last night. (Said New Orleans is her home town, which it was but isn't any more, she's ours).  I ever had a better time than yesterday afternoon when I dropped Sam Phillips' Sun Record bedlam on Union  at Marshall. It was what you might call a barrell-house of fun. Carl Perkins was in a recording session... and  he has one that is going to hit as hard as ''Blue Suede Shoes''. We're trying to arrange an advance audition for  you Memphis fans before the song is released in January, Johnny cash dropped in. Jerry Lee Lewis was  there, too, and then Elvis stopped by.

Elvis headed for the piano and started to Fats Domino it on ''Blueberry Hill''. The joint was really rocking  before they got thru.  Elvis is high on Jerry Lee Lewis. ''That boy can go'', he said. ''I think he has a great future ahead of him. He  has a different style, and the way he plays piano just gets inside me''.

Elvis debunked the newest rumor. ''No I haven't bought 200 acres at Collierville'', he said. ''How do those  stories get started''?
 

He talked earnestly about the Toledo incident. ''I talked to that fellow for at least 15 minutes, trying to be nice  to him and keep him from starting anything, but finally it just got out of hand''.  I never saw the boy more likeable than he was just fooling around with these other fellows who have the  same interests he does. 

If Sam Phillips had been on his toes, he'd have turned the recorder on when that very unrehearsed but  talented bunch got to cutting up on ''Blueberry Hill'' and a lot of other songs. That quartet could sell a  million.

This article was originally published in the Memphis Press-Scimitar on December 5, 1956.
 

SOME MINOR RECOLLECTIONS ABOUT THE SESSION OF
THE PRODUCTION PEOPLE BEHIND THIS DOOR

Jack Clement he says, ''Well, first of all Carl Perkins was cutting a session, Sam was  engineering it and I am sitting in the control room and Jerry Lee had been in town for a few  weeks and then I was using him on session, and I had convinced Sam and Carl to hire Jerry  Lee to play the piano and that is the reason Jerry Lee was there. He was hired to do piano.  The thing we did that day that was memorable was "Matchbox''.
 
Johnny Cash was there  because Carl had invited him and they were good buddies. The session was about to end and  Elvis walked in with a small entourage and of course everything just sort of stopped. Sam  went next door to Taylor’s Restaurant''.

''They were talking and pretty soon started jamming on some old gospel tunes, and the  mikes were still out there so I turned on the volume because I was still in the control room. I  was thinking that I would be remiss not to record some of this so I put...
 
 
 
...on a tape and walked  out into the studio and moved a couple of the mikes around where the people were jamming  and stuff and let it roll. Every time the tape would end I would put another one on. So I  think that there was about a total of about one and a half hours of it recorded that day.  Nobody thought much about those tapes and they just set there in the control room and now  it has found it’s way onto a record. I think they are going to pre-release it'', said Clement.

Carl Perkins recalled, "I had hired Jerry Lee Lewis to play piano, he got $15 for playing on  ''Matchbox'' and ''Your True Love''. Johnny Cash was there 'cause we'd often sit in on each  others' sessions. Then Elvis came in just after we finished recording those songs and my  session fell apart. We were all glad to see Elvis because by that time he was the biggest thing  in the country. He'd just been out to Las Vegas and he was tellin' us all about how exciting it  was and everything, and we just start singing old spirituals, gospel songs and things we all  knew. We all loved to sing those gospel songs. We had no idea it was being recorded. I went  back to the studio the next day and Sam Philips played some of it to me but I had no idea  there was so much of it. It sounds a lot better than I thought it would. Looking back on it  now, it was probably one of the highlights of my time at Sun Records".

More Johnny Cash recollections, "That particular session was a Carl Perkins recording  session, and when I went in Elvis Presley had just arrived and the session practically ended  when Elvis walked in. He sat down at the piano and then Jerry Lee Lewis came in later. Elvis  played the piano.. and the microphone was one of those old RCA Victor microphones way  down to Elvis' left. I was down at the other end of the piano, that's the reason you don't  hear me much, but we sang Bill Monroe songs and a little bit of everything, mainly gospel. It  was a big time, it took about two hours of Carl Perkins' recording session and we didn't know  at the time it was being recorded. I didn't leave,I was there for the whole thing. I was singing  the high part, the tenor part, I was singing Bill Monroe's part''!

From Johnny Cash's 1997 biography where Johnny Cash describes, "I was there. I was the  first to arrive and the last to leave. . Contrary to what has been written my voice is on the  tape. It's not obvious, because I was farthest away from the mike and I was singing a lot  higher than I usually did in order to stay in key with Elvis, but I guarantee you, I'm there".

And in the book 'Johnny Cash The Life of an American Icon' by Stephen Miller Jack Clement  said, "Elvis was cruising Memphis in his Cadillac with then girlfriend Marilyn Evans when he  saw that something was on at Sun and decided to drop in. An informal jam session started  up, and Sam Phillips, wise to the commercial possibilities of such a gathering, called up a  reporter from the Memphis newspaper the Press-Scimitar and told him to get along quickly.  He also phoned Johnny who was now the biggest star at Sun and he and Vivian called by  shortly after woods.

In no time at all. Elvis was at the piano with Carl, Jerry Lee and Johnny grouped around him.  Some reports that Johnny only stayed for a short time and then left, possibly to do some  Christmas shopping, though Johnny himself doesn’t accept this for a minute. He reckons he  was there pretty much for the duration and that he took part in a lot of the songs, more than  the eight to ten he is sometimes credited with. He recalls the gathering singing hymns and  folksy gospel type things like ''The Old Rugged Cross'', ''Will The Circle Be Unbroken?'' and  ''Blue Moon Of Kentucky'' on which he sang high tenor, and that the microphone was at the  far end of the studio, and that's why he can't be heard clearly".
DECEMBER 1956

After the Christmas break, Elvis Presley went out to Hollywood to cut some sessions for RCA.  In January 1957 he recorded four of the songs from the December jam session, ''Blueberry  Hill'' (reported by Johnson as having been sung, but as yet undiscovered on tape), ''Peace In  The Valley'', ''Is It So Strange'', and ''That's When Your Heartaches Begin'' (one of the first  songs he had recorded for Sam Phillips almost three years earlier). In February he recorded  ''When It Rains It Really Pours''.
 
Jim Thomas Baber Shop, 201 South Main Street, Memphis, Tennessee, 1956 >

Toward the end of his life, in an effort to get Elvis Presley to record something - anything - RCA brought truckloads of recording equipment into Graceland. Twenty years earlier, though, Presley had needed no encouragement to pick and sing all night. ''That's why I hate  to get started in these jam sessions'', he says on the tapes, ''I'm always the last one to  leave''...
 
 
...The surviving tapes from the ''Million Dollar Quartet'' sessions (as it was dubbed by  Robert Johnson in his feature the following day) hold some of Presley's least-guarded moments on record. The tapes also say more about the origins of rock and roll than a thousand treatises. Presley is loose, effortlessly in command, unself-consciously blending a  host of musical disciplines in what amounts to a primer on the creation of rock and roll.
 

DECEMBER 4, 1956: THE STORY TOLD BY STEPHEN MILLER

What is clear above all else is that nobody definitively how events unfolded that state will ever be able to day  in Memphis. A bunch of musicians got together by chance, chatted and played some songs together for a few  hours. Even allowing for the fact that one member of the group was already a star, a national sensation no  less, such impromptu sessions were not particularly uncommon. It would never have occurred to anybody to  make detailed notes of all that happened. If Sam Phillips had not thought to set the tapes rolling at some  point and call in a reporter, the chances are that the event would now be lost in the mists of time. It is  fortunate for the history of popular music that this did not happen.

The recordings which have emerged, along with a lot of jumbled memories, provide a piece of music  archeology. a fascinating snapshot of a crucial moment in the development of the diverse range of popular  music styles which have moved countless people all (ever the world ever since.

It might be argued that tapes, like pictures, don't lie. However, whilst they undoubtedly provide a lot of hard  evidence of what took place, there are still questions. When were they switched on? How many people were  actually participating when the tapes were rolling? Did the participants know they were being recorded?  Answers to many of these questions, often contradictory, come from the piously unreliable medium of  human memory.

The wider significance of the day only started to come to light later, particularly after the death of Elvis  Presley in 1977, and people interviewed on the subject were trying to remember its from one afternoon many  years in the past. No doubt they influenced by things other people had said or written. W.S. ''Fluke'' Holland,  the drummer on the day, and one of the very few people still alive who was actually there, states quite  honestly that his recollections of the day are ''hazy'' at best and that he simply cannot recall most of the  specifics. However, with the aid of experts who, restored the tapes and teased out some of their long held  secrets, many participants and others who have spoken about, analysed researched the session, it is possible  to construct a fairly detailed picture of the afternoon of December 4, 1956, when the world's first rock and  roll supergroup, jammed together for a time.

Sam Phillips was keen to conjure up another hit for Carl Perkins to match the phenomenal popularity  achieved by ''Blue Suede Shoes'' earlier in 1956. Carl's subsequent releases that year, Boppin' The  Blues''/''All Mama's Children'' and ''I'm Sorry, I'm Not Sorry''/''Dixie Fried'', had not fared particularly well.  Carl had also been involved in a serious car crash and from a career point of view there had been a  significant loss of momentum.

Sam was also aware that Carl, now fully recovered from his injuries, heavy touring commitments early in the  following year which meant there would be few opportunities to spend time in the studio. Like most people  in America he had observed the incredibly rapid of his former protege: Elvis Presley, who had recorded his  own version of ''Blue Suede Shoes'' for RCA earlier in the year. Carl was briefly seen as a rival to Elvis;  nobody seriously thought this any more but Sam was nonetheless keen to exploit his commercial potential to  the full without delay. He wanted to get some new hit songs in the can with a view to keeping Carl's profile  as high as possible.

Sam booked Carl and his band, brothers Clayton and Jay on bass and rhythm guitar respectively, and Fluke  on drums, for some sessions. For the one on December 4, 1956 he decided that Jerry Lee Lewis should play  piano and told recently hired engineer Jack Clement to give him a call. In some ways this was a surprising  choice. Sam believed Jerry Lee was a star in the making and so he was perhaps not an obvious candidate for  a session which would earn him a mere $15. Sam was also well aware that Jerry Lee was self-confident to  the point of arrogance and might annoy Carl; put bluntly, his personality might interfere with the success of  the session. That said, although Jerry Lee's first Sun single, ''Crazy Arms'', had been released on December 1,  he was as yet unproven, and like the great majority of artists that made records for Sun, had not yet achieved  any significant success. Sam knew that Jerry Lee was an outstanding piano player and perhaps he suspected  that he might just help to bring something extra out of Carl's performances; perhaps he could sweeten his  hard-edged sound, making it more attractive commercially. For his part, Jerry Lee was quite happy to earn  some money for the fast approaching festive season. His cousin J.W. Brown and his family, with whom he  was lodging, had been trying to get him some regular work, without any success.

December 4 was a Tuesday, a pleasant early winter's day with no rain and little wind. By the afternoon the  temperature had got up to about 18 degrees centigrade. Carl's session would probably have started in the  early afternoon. Also present in the studio were Sam Phillips, Jack Clement and Marion Keisker. Various  others were already there too and some came and went in the course of the afternoon. Precise ls of exactly  who was there and when have been lost in the sands of time.

Sam told Carl by phone that he had found a great new piano player or who would be there on December 4,  and the session marked first meeting of Carl and Jerry Lee. Carl was undoubtedly impressed by Jerry Lee's  piano pyrotechnics but he was irritated by manner. As ever, Jerry Lee was full of beans and full of himself.  He did not even take compliments well. If told that his piano playing had been really good on a particular  song his likely response would be along the lines of, ''You ain't seen nothin' yet'', delivered with a smiling  sneer.

As Carl listened to his boasts he thought to himself that as the guy gave the world ''Blue Suede Shoes'', he  perhaps had more reason than Jerry Lee to blow his trumpet. He also felt pangs of irritation at Sam's  unbounded enthusiasm for Jerry Lee's abilities, although he to admit that what he was able to coax out of the  upright spinet in the studio was truly remarkable. In order to eve the instrument a fuller, livelier sound Jack  Clement inserted thumbtacks into the stringhammers and then put the microphone under the piano.

There are varying accounts of just how many songs Carl and his laid down. No doubt plenty of ideas were  thrown around and various songs tried out. According to some reports Carl's father, was present for at least  some of the time. This would have a rare occurrence; according to some reports he had apparently  embarrassed when a reporter asked him questions about his career which he could not answer. He felt he  should get to know what Carl got up to in the studio.

According to one report it was Buck who reminded Carl of an old twenties Blind Lemon Jefferson song  called ''Match Box Blues''. Carl vaguely remembered a few of the key lyrics and in no time had come up with  his own version which he simply called ''Matchbox''. As soon as they worked it up they knew it was a  winner. Several years later no less a band than the Beatles covered it, probably because both George Harrison  and Ringo Starr were Perkins fans. Another song laid down that day was a Carl original.  ''Your True Love'', which, along with ''Matchbox'' was released as his single in January 1957. It is possible  that Carl also recorded, or at least tried out, versions of Jimmie Davis' ''Sweethearts Or Strangers'' and the  Fred Rose song ''Be Honest With Me'' as well as one of his own songs, ''Put Your Cat Clothes On''.

At some point in the afternoon Elvis, back home in Memphis for the festive season, was cruising around  town in one of his Cadillacs, perhaps the one he had customized in one of his favoured colour combinations  for clothes: black and pink. He might well have been doing some Christmas shopping. He was probably  wearing a washy diamond ring. He was with a girlfriend, Marilyn Evans. Elvis had met her at the New  Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas where he had played a series of concerts earlier in the year. The shows had been  poorly received initially although by the end Elvis had won round the bemused audiences, at least to some  extent.

Marilyn Evans, a pretty brunette with dark eyes from Fresno, California, was a 19-year-old dancer who had  appeared in floor shows at the New Frontier hotel as a chorus girl. He had been dating her for a short while,  almost certainly not on an exclusive basis. At the time of the session she was staying with Elvis at the family   home. They spent their days riding motorcycles, watching movies and eating out; speaking years later she  said the day at Sun had been great; he was young, I was young. I loved it, it was terrifically exciting and  wonderfully. She had been swept of her feet by the glamorous side of his star status lifestyle and was  battered when he sent her a note suggesting a date. Ironically she had no particular interest in popular music,  classical was more to her taste. It is probable that with Elvis and Marilyn in the car that day was a disc  jockey from Jackson, Cliff Gleaves, whom Elvis had met and got to know earlier in the when promoting his  records.

Elvis drove past 706 Union Avenue and decided to stop and check what was happening. This might have  been purely on a whim in which case it would not have been unusual. Since parting company with Sam at the  end of 1955, Elvis had remained on good terms with and had stopped in at the studio on a number of  occasions when pas back in Memphis. Sometimes he came by on his motorbike wearing black leathers. Jack  Clement later told an interviewer that time they thought he was a cop and that they were going to be busted.  On this particular December day there were some flashy cars parked outside and this might well have  sparked his curiosity.

Elvis was now a major star so his arrival undoubtedly caused a stir. That said, it was not unusual for well  known musicians to drop in sessions and listen to each other's work; in many ways his arrival was a fairly  normal part of the life of a studio. Once Elvis and his small entourage had entered the building, Carl's session  came to a premature end. It was not long after they had nailed ''Matchbox''. Carl later said that in some ways  it was a pity; he felt that he and the band were hitting their stride and laying down tracks of real quality. If  they had been able to keep going, and of course at Sun there were no time limits, perhaps they would even  have come up with another piece of musical magic to rival ''Blue Suede Shoes''.

Carl had encountered Elvis at some of the rough honky-tonks they both played for a time. He had also  appeared on the same bill as him on several occasions when they were on the way up and had got to know  each other reasonably well. Like everyone else, Carl had been knocked out by what Elvis did on stage.  However, he had not seen him since he had hit the big time and immediately struck by the radical change in  his appearance.  Gone was the acne that had caused him to wear his collar high. Now his skin was smooth like china. Before,  his hair had been a nondescript sandy colour; now it was a gleaming mass of brilliantine black. As Carl wrote  later, ''Everything was right. . . he looked sharp and great''. It seems the hillbilly cat was already well on the  way to rock and roll royalty. This was despite the fact that he, like the others on this particular day, was not  dressed to impress, all were kitted out in fifties smart casual.

There are moments during the recordings when Elvis betrays a level of excitable enthusiasm, verging on  anxiety, to the extent that he sometimes stammers at the start of sentences. However he had grown in  confidence since the early days when Sam had described him as ''probably the most introverted person that  ever came into Sun Studio. In similar vein, several others commented on his former habit of nervously biting  his fingernails.

Initially there was a lot of chat, back slapping, congratulations and general bonhomie. It all had the feeling of  some kind of reunion and indeed for Elvis, Carl and Johnny it was, they had toured together on a number of  occasions in 1955; and of course it was a reunion of sorts for Elvis and Sam, though not the first. Elvis  introduced Marilyn as his ''house guest''. Inevitably he was the centre of attention and from the moment he  arrived, events revolved around him. It was all a bit like a former pupil who has done well and who was now  returning to his place of learning to take some plaudits for his success, but also to catch up on what had been  happening since his departure.

There was recognition that he was extra special but they were all fellow professionals trying to make a  living, keen to avoid the dead end existences of their parents, and in that sense equals; not only that but they  all knew where they had come from, scratching a living from menial work was a great leveller. Elvis talked  about his stint at Las Vegas, his national television appearances and perhaps also the prospect of going into  the army. At the time Elvis arrived, everybody had been listening to playbacks of the songs that had just been  recorded. Elvis listened too and said he was impressed by what heard, particularly ''Matchbook''.

Before long an informal jam session started up. As with all other events of the day nobody will ever know  the exact sequence of events. Some reports indicate that Jerry Lee Lewis arrived after Elvis but this cannot  be right since he was playing on Carl's session earlier the day and no-one has ever suggested that Elvis was  present for that.

It seems most likely that Elvis was the initiator of the legendary session that followed, although any group of  musicians within arm's length of instruments will soon start making music; it is often difficult to say who  fired the first shot. Carl Perkins expressed his recollection of the start of the session in down to earth  language. He recalled Elvis singing ''Blueberry Hill'' and then ''all of us scooting around the piano'' with his  band ''kinda knocking along''.

Elvis launched into several songs, with the others quickly arranging themselves near the piano. An acoustic  guitar was produced and it seems it was played by, amongst others, Charles Underwood, a writer for Sam's  publishing company, who probably played rhythm on some of the early songs of the session and also  Smokey Joe Baugh, a Sun session artist who achieved minor success; they might well also have added a few  spontaneous backing vocals. It been suggested that Cliff Gleaves and Marilyn Evans might have tributes  some backing vocals but this appears to be in the realm speculation; and unlikely in the case of Evans in  view of her conservative musical tastes.

At this stage, by all accounts, the tapes were not rolling. Elvis sang several songs including ''Will The Circle  Be Unbroken'', ''You Belong To My Heart'' (a 1945 hit for Bing Crosby) and ''My Isle Of Golden Dreams''.  According to several reports, Johnny Cash sang on last two. Carl Perkins recalls ''That Old Time Religion''  being sung and it appears likely there were at least some others.

Jerry Lee Lewis, who had never met Elvis, was keen to make his acquaintance and get close to an artist who  had already achieved the kind of success he believed was sure to come his way soon. Unlike Carl, who  appeared to hold back a little, he was not at all overawed. He was certainly not impressed with Elvis' piano  playing which, compared to his own, was fairly basic. He saw Elvis' surprise arrival as an opportunity to  show off his skills. If he could impress a major star perhaps it would help his career prospects. Some reports  said he had been so anxious to impress Elvis that at some point during the day he asked Sam to play an  acetate of his new song ''Crazy Arms'' for him. It all smacked of the kind of arrogant self-confidence that was  to create so many problems in his personal and professional lives later on. It has been suggested that Jerry  Lee played some songs, including ''There Are Strange Things Happening Every Day'', before anything was  recorded. This would certainly have been a fitting song for Jerry Lee, a rollicking piece of gospel music that  is sometimes claimed as one of the first ever rock and roll songs. The spontaneous pleasure he clearly takes  in making music with the others captures brilliantly the essential mood of the afternoon.

It is hard to believe that the far more reserved Elvis Presley was much taken with Jerry Lee on a personal  level. Carl Perkins later said that for his own part he did not appreciate Jerry Lee's ''cocky brashness''. Elvis  invariably kept such conduct for his stage show.  He was however impressed by his piano playing; he is reported to have said to reporter Robert Johnson,  ''That boy can go. He has a different style, and the way he plays piano just gets inside of me''.

In his 1997 autobiography Johnny Cash said that he was already in the studio when Elvis arrived mid  afternoon. He said he was there because Carl had invited him to sit in on his session, and Sam Phillips also  recalled Johnny listening to at left some of Carl's session. He and Carl were already good friends at this  stage, ''befriends for life'' as Johnny put it, and so there would be some logic to this, but most accounts assert  that Johnny arrived after Elvis, indeed that as the presence of Elvis which inspired Sam to call Johnny and  bring the four of them together. Johnny also stated that he recalled singing on ''Blue Moon Of Kentucky'',  ''The O1d Rugged Cross'' and ''Will The Circle Be Unbroken'', none of which were on any be recordings  which have been released. He also said that Elvis asked him to sing some Bill Monroe songs which Johnny  said he did, because he knew ''the whole repertoire''. However these songs might well have been performed  prior to the rolling of the tapes, or indeed, perhaps there is yet another tape ''Holy Grail'', waiting to be  discovered somewhere, though this appears to be highly unlikely.

When exactly the recording started will never be known. It seems that Sam revised something special, of  historical importance even, was unfolding; famous musicians did get together from time to time this  particular cohort, featuring as it did one of the biggest new in America, was out of the ordinary. Perhaps he  sensed that they might never get the chance to play together again; if so, he was right. For Sam it was  personal and emotional. As he said later, ''It was like everything I had worked to achieve was there in that  one little room''

At a consequence, according to many reports, he did three things, tough the precise order is unclear. He  called the leading Sun artist of the time, Johnny Cash, and asked him to come over to the studio to add his  weight to the proceedings. He also called local reporter Robert Johnson, the entertainment editor of the  Memphis Press-Scimitar, a good friend, and suggested that if he could get over to the studio quickly with a  photographer there would be a story for him. In addition, at some point he told engineer Jack Clement to start  the tapes rolling.

The microphones were positioned as they had been set up for the Perkins session. Jack Clement said that in  preparation for making a recording session he ''moved the microphones around a bit'' but it is very unlikely  that the artists were properly mic'd up as they would be for a normal studio session. Informality was the  order of the day. It appears likely that by the time the tape machine was turned on the session had been going  for a while, perhaps an hour, with a number of songs, or more likely parts of songs, having been sung.

Robert Johnson arrived soon after the call from Sam; with him were photographer George Pierce and UPI  stringer Leo Soroka. It seems likely that when they got to the studio the session was already underway,  although it is not clear if the tapes were rolling at this point. When he wrote his regular column TV News  And Views the next day in the Memphis Press-Scimitar Johnson described the afternoon as ''bedlam'' and  referred to the music as an ''old-fashioned barrel-house session with barber shop harmonies''. He made  specific reference to the four principals. ''Carl Perkins was in a recording session... Johnny Cash dropped in.  Jerry Lee Lewis was there too; and then Elvis stopped by''. He went on to say, ''That quartet could sell a  million''. The photograph of the four singers taken at the piano which accompanied the article carried the title  ''million dollar quartet''. Robert Johnson thus came up with the name for the world's first ever rock and roll  supergroup. The classic photograph of the quartet also featured Marilyn Evans sitting atop the piano, but that  part of the image was cropped for the newspaper article and has been omitted from most subsequent  representations of the picture.

Clearly Johnny Cash was present for at least part of the time Robert Johnson was there. It might be that the  pair of them left around the same time, once the photographs had been taken. Johnson certainly never made  any reference to any grouping other than a quartet. In his article the next day he said that if Sam had been  smart he would have recorded the session. Perhaps he arrived when Johnny was one of the contributing  singers but before the tapes were switched on. If they left at about the same time then this would all fit with  the version of events that holds that Johnny did sing but was not recorded; and it would also fit with his  comments about the session being recorded, he would have been unaware that Jack started the tapes after he  left.

Johnson's use of the phrase ''million dollar quartet'' was not original journalese. The term had been used to  describe quartets of talented artists by the press, certainly in America, since the twenties. A recent example,  in July 1956, was a photograph of film stars Betty Grable, Jane Russell, Dorothy Lamour and Marilyn  Maxwell which appeared in the ''Syracuse Herald American''. The term had also been in a fiscal sense, to  describe a group of tax measures aimed at raising significant amounts of money.

The photographs confirm that Johnny Cash was there and Johnson's comments raise a strong presumption  that he sang. However, despite extensive expert analysis, no trace of Johnny Cash's voice has ever been  found on the tapes of the session which were subsequence released on various bootlegs and official LPs and  CDs. Johnny Cash claimed in his 1997 autobiography that he was ''the first to arrive and the last to leave'' but  there is virtually no support for this view elsewhere. Carl Perkins, interviewed in 1981, said the group should  have been called the ''Million Dollar Trio'' because Johnny just came in for the photographs and possibly to  get some money, and then left to go shopping with his wife, Vivian. One report claimed that he left because  he had to go and collect Vivian from work but this is unlikely since she had two young children and would  almost certainly not have gone to work at that time. Yet another report claimed that Vivian had accompanied  Johnny to the studio with Rosanne, the first of their four daughters. Whatever the truth, none of this  precludes the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that Johnny did sing for a while before the photographs were  taken and the tapes switched on. Yet it is strange that Carl, who said he recalled the day ''vividly'', should be  certain that Johnny did not sing at all.

In his 1997 autobiography Johnny claims to remember the point at which Jerry Lee took over on the piano.  He was bowled over by his playing which he had not heard before. Johnny went on to say that Jerry Lee  launched into ''Vacation In Heaven'' but this song does not appear on the recordings, so if it happened this  must have been before the tapes were switched on. Johnny also said that nobody ever wants to follow Jerry  Lee Lewis and that Elvis headed of when he started playing and that at this point he (Johnny) went next door  to Miss Taylor's restaurant for coffee. However, after Jerry Lee finished playing several song, at the end of  the recordings, he and Elvis can clearly be heard saying goodbye to each other when Elvis does finally leave.  Anyway at this stage of things it is hard to believe that a success story like Elvis Presley would have been in  the slightest bothered by following an unknown like Jerry Lee in this kind of casual get-together. Apart from  the difference in their commercial profiles it simply was not that kind of session.

In the sleeve notes to the 1981 album Live'', Johnny paints a rather flowery picture of the session which does  not appear to bear much resemblance to reality. ''New on the scene, Jerry Lee waited politely until the  singing came to a casual halt. When Elvis stood up, Jerry Lee said 'Let me at that piano'. . . when Jerry Lee  began, he led, and Carl, Elvis and I joined in whenever the key was right''. In reality Jerry Lee can be heard  to make robust contributions to most of the recorded material. In addition, the stage of the proceedings that  Johnny appears to be referring to, when Jerry Lee takes over on the piano, is part of the available recording  and there is no trace of Johnny's voice. This tends to refute his assertion that everybody, including him, sang  along with Jerry Lee. In fact once Jerry Lee took over it was to all intents and purposes a solo performance,  again the available evidence runs counter to Johnny's version of a key aspect of events.

Aware of numerous assertions that he was not at the session at all, or at least had not been present when the  session was being recorded, Johnny remained adamant that he had indeed been a key participant. Having  claimed that he had been there throughout, he went on to offer an explanation as to why his voice could not  be heard on the recordings. Elvis was of course the undisputed star of the proceedings and so events revolved  around him. Some referred to him as the leader. It followed therefore, Johnny explained, that songs were  played in a key to suit him. This meant that Johnny found himself singing an unaccustomed high tenor, ''Bill  Monroe's part'', as he described it, which made him less audible. He also said that he was furthest away from  the microphone, a point which it would be impossible to provide evidence on now. However Jack Clement  recently indicated that there were several microphones which would make it very difficult to explain how no  trace of Johnny's voice has ever been identified if he had been present throughout.

Johnny's explanation really does not stand up to much scrutiny. Whichever way he sang, Johnny had a  powerful voice. Leading experts have not been able to detect even one minute trace of it despite years of  work. However, the microphone was able to pick up innumerable snatches of conversation going on in the  studio which presumably took place further from Johnny's position which would, it is surely safe to assume,  have been close to the other artists, who picked up loud and clear. Also, Johnny had already built up a large  repertoire of his own songs, surely he would have performed at least one or two of them? There are none of  his songs on the recordings that have surfaced and no reference to any of his songs having been performed at
all.

Johnny Cash spent much of the sixties in a drug induced haze; he almost succeeded in joining the small club  of great artists who did not live past their twenties. Interest in the tapes only took of in the seventies,  especially in the wake of Elvis Presley's death. Johnny's autobiography was written in the mid nineties,  around 40 years after the events in Memphis, and so it appears that his robust assertions are a case of false  memory syndrome, unless of course there is another tape which says otherwise lurking in a vault somewhere.  However in the unlikely event that this was true, it could not support Johnny's claim that he was present and  singing throughout the whole session. One of the world's leading experts on Elvis Presley, Ernst Jorgensen,  who played a major role in bringing the recordings to public attention, does not think this is at all probable.  He is on record as saying that in his opinion all the tapes of the session have been recovered. Referring to the  2006 CD of the session he said, Everything that was recorded that day is on the Complete Million Dollar  Quartet CD. . . when you play the three tapes (sequentially), everything fits together perfectly. You can hear  Elvis come in on tape one and leave at the end of tape three. It's a myth that there is anything else out there  (from those sessions). Cash must have remembered incorrectly''. It might well be that Cash sang on some  songs before the tapes started rolling but it really does seem to be clearly established that he did not  contribute to what took place after the tapes started rolling.

Some further evidence on the subject comes from comments by some of the people present which were  recorded. At one point a female voice with a southern drawl (quite possibly that of Marion Keisker) can  clearly be heard to ask if this ''Rover Boys Trio'' can sing ''Farther Along''. This leads to a strong presumption  that a third of the way into the recording, only three artists were present. A little earlier in the tape a gravelly  voice, possibly that of Smokey Joe Baugh, is heard to say ''You oughta get up a quartet''. This could be taken  to mean that there are four people performing who are so good that they should take their quartet on the road  or tum professional. On the other hand, and on balance this appears more likely, it could also be read as  meaning that there were three people singing who would sound better with a fourth member. During one  song, ''On The Jericho Road'', Elvis, faced with the need for some low notes, says, ''Take young Johnny Cash  to do this one''. Just to muddy the waters, in the course of the final track, ''Elvis Says Goodbye'', a voice be  heard saying ''Johnny, I'll see you later''. Does this indicate that in fact Johnny was there right up until the end  of the session? Was there somebody else called Johnny present at the studio that day?

In a later interview engineer Jack Clement gave his own version of events which throws some further light  on events without necessarily clarifying them. ''Sam had been running the board for the Carl Perkins session,  but he left after the photos were taken, went to Mrs Taylor's restaurant next door, so I sat at the board in the  control room and and up a couple of knobs, and I could hear them all gossiping and jamming in there. I  remember standing up and saying, ''I'd be remiss didn't record this', so I stuck a tape on, moved a few mics  around that were already on stands in the studio, put them in front of people, and captured everything for the  next hour-and-a-half to two hours. We had 30-minute tapes, and every time I'd get close to the end I would  put another one on and just let it roll''. This account varies from Sam's. He said that he gave the order to Jack  to roll the tapes even though nobody was properly mic'd up. Jack's account seems to imply that he arranged  the microphones quite near to the various singers, which in turn contradicts Johnny's assertion that he was  quite far from a microphone.

Sam Phillips, so used to exhorting his artists to give of their best during lengthy spells in the studio, adopted  a different role altogether for the Million Dollar Quartet session. He was the facilitator and host an  impromptu party whose guest of honour was a rising star like no other. Far from directing the music he said  later that everything ''extemporaneous''. There was no set list, no pre-planning, no attempt to tease out a  particular sound or create a product which have commercial appeal. It was a case of somebody just saying,  ''Do you know that song''? Somebody else would say ''What key is it in''? and off they went. The participants  simply played music that came naturally to them, the stuff-that was in their hearts. They played for the love  of it and on the evidence of these recordings would have continued to play their music whether or not they  had achieved commercial success.

Writer and Sun Records archivist Colin Escott said of Elvis, ''Presley let his true musical soul come up for  air''. Carl Perkins said Elvis sounded as he had done in the early Sun days, uninhibited and joyful, and that it  was infectious. Carl also pointed out that Elvis sounded a little ''keener'' and higher explaining that this might  have been because Sun used fairly cheap equipment which did not allow for much ''bottom ended''. Once  Elvis went to RCA it was noticeable that he oversang a lot of the time; that is, he exaggerated a lot of his  vocal mannerisms, the ones that his producers had worked out sent the girls wild. There was no need for any  such over-egging of the pudding for such a relaxed and informal musical jaunt. What's more, the sound they  achieved had something of the raw purity and immediacy associated with the best of the Sun sound. This was  partly due to the basic equipment deployed, an economic necessity, but also the fact that the musicians were  all together in a small space producing their music simultaneously, interacting with one another  spontaneously. There were moments when it had the feel of a live gig in a small club. It was a million miles  away from the clinical precision of multi-tracking, mastering and overdubs associated with large studios.

It was not just Elvis who relished the opportunity for the kind of carefree fun afforded by the session. All  four were young men under enormous pressure to perform to the very best of their ability on a near daily  basis, live and in the studio, and to produce commercial returns in the fastest possible time. On December 4,  1956 in Memphis they could turn the clock back and forget all that for a brief time; they could do what they  used to do, and what countless thousands people have done for years, hook up with some friends to make it  together; a truly timeless human pursuit.

Sam could not pass up the opportunity to propose a little advantageous business following Elvis' unexpected  appearance at the studio. He reminded him of the song ''When It Rains, It Really Pours', which he had  recorded at Sun just before his departure for RCA. Sam's publishing company owned the rights to the song  would naturally be delighted if Elvis recorded it. The initiative worked. Elvis cut it the following year  although RCA did not actually release it until 1965.

For Elvis in particular it must surely have been a delight to play tic he loved without pressure from RCA  producers anxious to commercial product into the shops as quickly as possible. He had experienced the  intense pressure of having to perform to order front of cameras for his first Hollywood movie, ''Love Me Me  Tender'', which had been released in November. Perhaps he toyed with the idea of getting back to the more  carefree days of Sun, but things had moved on too far and he was now a hugely powerful brand on  unstoppable upward trajectory. It can only be assumed that Tom Parker was unaware of the session; if he had  received any kind of advance warning he would either have prevented it happening or ensured that contract  were signed, fees paid, film crews booked, order to ensure that the maximum commercial advantage was  squeezed out of the day. In the modern era such a session would be unthinkable, as soon as any arrangement  is made to lay down be creative work by a group of artists, the lawyers, consultants, accountants and  managers would be brought in to advise on the best ; to exploit the event and protect the interests of their  clients. It could be said that Tom Parker was merely a sign of thine to come.

It was quite sad really; in retrospect it is painfully obvious that Elvis was an ingenue, not really in charge of  his own destiny. This was cue to a greater or lesser extent for all of them. Despite the easygoing atmosphere  on this one afternoon, their careers and by implication their lives were very much at the mercy of managers,  agents and producers. What's more, there were no contracts with sophisticated clauses designed to protect  their financial interests, let alone their personal welfare, in fair and transparent ways. Indeed, all would have  reason to feel cheated financially in the course of their careers, not least by the host of the day's proceeding,  Sam Phillips.

In the course of the afternoon the small studio premises, about the size of a small neighborhood grocery  store, must have been quite crowded at times. It is clear from the recordings that many people came and  went, the numbers doubtless enhanced by the presence of Elvis. It is likely that the door between the  reception area and the studio itself was left open to enable people to move around. As part of the general ebb  and flow, doors can be heard opening and closing from time to time with visitors apparently oblivious to the  remarkable music that was being laid down a few feet away from them. At one point the name ''Charlie''' is  mentioned, this could well have been Charlie Feather, another Sun artist who achieved modest success.

Carl Perkins' band, brothers Jay and Clayton and drummer WS 'Fluke' Holland, were still there when the  tapes started rolling but, like others, drifted away in the course of the afternoon. Jerry Lee's cousin, J..W  Brown, with whom Jerry Lee was staying, might have popped in along with his wife, Lois. Later on,  amongst the tantalizing cocktail-party noise, the voice of a woman is suddenly clearly audible; she requests  an autograph for a young relative.

Once the tapes were rolling the group (a trio so far as the recorded evidence is concerned) continued with the  spontaneous session and played a series of songs which covered a remarkably wide range of musical styles  emanating from the latter part of the previous century right up to current fifties pop charts. It was all there:  folks bluegrass, country, rhythm and blues, gospel, Christmas songs, jazz and pop; a substantial portion of  the genome of popular music that has continued develop ever since.

This was the music the quartet had absorbed as they grew up. For cost part it was Elvis who was in charge of  proceedings. He comes over as excited, a little bit anxious but very keen to be the centre of attention; he  appeared able to overcome his natural shyness because he was so sure of his talent and so keen to sing.  Latterly, as becomes less involved, Jerry Lee moves centre stage. Like the young upstart he was, he relished  the chance to lay out his musical wares in the presence of established greatness. He was unburdened by any  self doubt. Carl Perkins on the other hand, whilst contributing much to the session, seemed to hold back a  little.

All participants sound relaxed. caught up in the moment and having fun. There was an appealing boyish  excitement about the way they compared notes on songs and hit upon the next one to play. They could have  been teenagers talking about cars or girls. One of the questions surrounding the session which has never been  definitively answered is whether they knew they were being recorded. On one view of it logic dictates that  they did know; this is a view to which expert Colin Escott, on balance, subscribes. They were in a studio  which had microphones set up for Carl's session earlier in the day. Johnny Cash talked about the positioning  of one microphone when explaing the faintness of his vocal contribution. Jack Clement has stated that he  moved the microphones in anticipation of recording what had already started to happen.

On the other hand, in his article next day, reporter Robert Johnson said that if Sam had been ''on his toes'' he  would have recorded the session; however it is quite possible this was because he left before the tapes rolled.  The presence of microphones in a studio was hardly unusual. There was a lot of general hubbub and it might  be that the singers saw them but did not realise or think that they would be activated. The process of starting  the recording would have taken place in the control room, away from the participants. As professional artists  aware of the value of magnetic tape, they might well have assumed that tapes would only roll when the  musicians were geared up to produce a really good version of a song in the right conditions - ice. not with a  party going on all around them.

Interviewed in 1978, Carl Perkins indicated that he was only vaguely aware that the session had been  recorded. He was at Sun the next day and said, ''Sam played a few snatches'' but it was only very recently  (1978) that he became aware that extensive tapes of the session existed. Confusingly, although Johnny Cash  talked about the positioning of the microphone, he is also on record saying that he was not aware the session  was being taped. As far as can be established, neither Elvis nor Jerry Lee have ever commented publicly on  the matter.

It might well be that there is a simple answer; the boys were so caught up in the session that regardless of  whether they had been told the tapes were rolling they simply forgot. Given the unguarded way in which  they talked to each other, sometimes about other artists, it is hard to believe that they thought they were  being recorded as they galloped through the songs. Elvis in particular gave every impression of being totally  uninhibited. This was in great contrast to his manner when interviewed on radio or television; then he was  often hesitant, keen to avoid criticism or controversy, giving every impression of worrying that he might be  saying the wrong thing, quite guarded.  This was particularly true when he suffered a strong backlash from several conservative quarters;  interviewers at this time could be quite hostile. A further possibility is that they were aware that they were  being recorded but never thought for a moment that the ones would ever get a public airing, so that there was  no need for any kind of discretion on their part.

Towards the end of the recordings Elvis drops out, presumably to talk to Sam and others, possibly in the  control room, and make preparations for his and Marilyn's departure. At this point Jerry Lee takes the  opportunity to move centre stage. To all intents and purposes the latter part of the recordings is a solo  performance by the Killer starting with a virtuoso rendition of his debut Sun single, ''Crazy Arms''. Prior to  this Elvis had said, by way of complimenting Jerry Lee's playing, that the wrong person was at the piano.  Without hesitation Jerry Lee said this is what he had been saying all along and Elvis to ''scoot over''. He  eventually stopped playing around the time Elvis was leaving and it was time for goodbyes to be exchanged  all round.

Towards the end of the recording Elvis can be heard to say, ''That's why I hate to get started in these jam  sessions, I'm always the last one to leave''. Goodbyes are exchanged along with firm expressions of desire to  do it all again soon; it was not to be. A few days after the session Sam sent a press release to the disc jockeys  on the Sun mailing list. He quoted the feature written by Robert Johnson in the Press-Scimitar and also  included a photograph of the quartet. At the bottom, in his own handwriting, he added:

''Our Only Regret. That each and every one of you wonderful disc jockeys who are responsible for these boys  being among the best known and liked in show business could not be there too! We thought however that  you might like to read first hand about our little shindig, it was a dilly! Sincerely grateful, Sam Phillips''.

Jack Clement said that he would arrange to send acetates of the session to the participants but he later told an  interviewer that he had never got round to it.

It seems the session kicked off around the middle/late afternoon with Elvis' arrival. When did it all come to  an end? Carl Perkins recalled Elvis leaving around eight in the evening; given that he was the star attraction  his arrival and departure times pretty much define the parameter of the Million Dollar Quartet session. Of  those five hours less than half were actually recorded and even less than that is available on publicly released  recordings.

The Million Dollar Quartet recording say more about the origins of popular music than a million words ever  could. Given the backgrounds of the participants the session also provided a glimpse of some of the key  artists who represented the rise of the south as an important musical force. Up until the mid-fifties most  popular music that was successful in national terms came from the north, in particular from New York. The  phenomenal success of the quartet in the years that followed meant that the big guns who had ruled the roost  for so long were faced with the reality that new forces were massing and that a fiery wind of change was  blowing up in their direction to shake up their more genteel world.

Away from the wider picture and on a more personal note, Sam sensed the significance of the session for the  individuals involved. He said later, ''I think this little chance meeting meant an awful lot to all those people,  not because one was bigger than another, it was kinds like coming from the same womb''.
 

''The Complete Million Dollar Quartet''
(Sony BMG  82876 88935 2) 2006

TAPES - BOOTLEGS - RELEASES

When the final goodbyes had been said and everybody had left the studio on December 4, 1956, it was, for  Jack Clement, the end of another day's work, albeit quite a special one. He put the tapes on the session in  metal containers and then put them away in a cupboard. He told the participants that he would send them  acetates of the session but has said in subsequent interviews that he never got round to it.

However it seems  likely that somebody, perhaps Sam Phillips, made arrangements for this to happen. Copies were later found  in Elvis vault at Graceland, after his death, and Carl Perkins is thought to have possessed a copy as well.

There was a frisson of excitement in the press the day following the session as a result of Bob Johnson's  article in the Memphis Press-Scimitar but after that it was business as usual;...
 
 
...there were always more artists  to record and aspiring hopefulls to consider. In the months that followed, Jack did listen to parts of the tapes  occasionally, but says that Sam Phillips never showed any particular interest in them.

Sam grew less interested in the studio business as the years went by. Jack Clement said he became bored by  it. In part at least this was because he no longer discovered artists who created that magical buzz that made  him believe he could once more take the music world by storm.

From time to time he received offers for the business and the back catalogue but these initiatives came to  nothing until 1969 when Sam Phillips agreed a sale to Shelby Singleton, a successful and shrewd music  producer and record label executive. He had started up and run a number of labels and had a knack for  identifying hit material from unlikely sources. He produced the ''Boll Weevil Song'' for Brook Benton in  1961 and ''Harper Valley PTA'', a massive worldwide hit for the then unknown Jeannie C. Riley, in 1968.

As part of the deal to purchase Sun, Singleton took delivery of a large quantity of boxes full of badly  catalogued tapes running to around 10,000 hours. Singleton began trawling through this material; in the mid  to late seventies he embarked on a major programme of re-releasing material by Sun artists including the big  names of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. He agreed a licensing deal with the British Charly  label which released material in Europe where the music from the Sun archives went over particularly well.

It was during his searches of the tapes that Shelby Singleton came across the Million Dollar Quartet session.  If he had chosen not to go through all the countless Ampex tapes from Sun in this way, it is possible that  these priceless tapes might simply have festered at the back of a cupboard, eventually becoming unusable,  and thus lost to the world forever. It seems the tapes, or at least about 35 minutes worth of them, came to  light in about 1978. Interest in items of this sort became intense after Elvis' death; there was a huge  worldwide desire for recordings, information and artefacts relating to all aspects of his life and career.

When it became known that Singleton was planning to release extracts from the Million Dollar Quartet  session, there were suggestions in some quarters that thousands of copies had already been pressed but this  has never been substantiated, lawyers acting on behalf of Elvis' estate, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins quickly  swung into action in an attempt to prevent this happening. A protracted court battle followed. Elvis' label  (RCA Victor) took the view that when the session was recorded in 1956, albeit in the most casual way, Elvis  was under contract to them and nobody other than them had the right to releases the resultant material.  Nobody was in any doubt that the main value of the tapes lay in the presence of Elvis. Apart from preventing  release of the recordings, RCA was seeking an order that they were the rightful owners of all recordings  which featured Elvis and that they and they alone were entitled to market them. Further, they sought an order  that they had the exclusive right to use Elvis' name, image or biographical material in connection with the  promotion and marketing of records and tapes which featured him.

Johnny Cash' and Carl Perkins' representatives stated in the course of the proceedings that the recordings  were private and that there had never been any intention that they be issued publicity. Carl Perkins put  forward the argument that since the ''practice'' session that day was his session then he had at least some  claim on the material that was recorded, even though on a commonsense view it was clear that as soon as the  Million Dollar Quartet session started the Carl Perkins session was over.

Johnny Cash's position was complicated by the fact that his voice was not audible on the tapes; however his  name was associated with the session and photographs proved he was there at some point and so he joined  the legal attempts to prevent release of the material. The point of all actions was not that the recordings  should never be released, simply that they should not be released by and for the exclusive benefit of Shelby  Singleton. Carl said that once they were released he would like at least some of the income to be used to help  underprivileged children, a particular passion of his and a cause he felt sure Elvis would have approved of.

At some point, when exactly is not clear, some of the tapes were stolen and bootlegged and released in  Europe. According some aficionados and collectors were extremely excited to be afforded the opportunity to  listen to parts of the 1956 session for the first time in more than 20 years; to eavesdrop on a vital moment in  history that up until then had been for most of them a matter of speculative conjecture rather than absolute  fact.

Following a legal settlement of the court case and an appropriate licensing deal, an LP, ''The Million Dollar  Quartet'', was released in Europe on Charly/Sun in 1981. It featured a section of the recordings with 17  tracks, mainly religious material, lasting about 35 minutes. Additional material came to light in the following  years and double albums (in LP and CD formats) entitled ''The Complete Million Dollar Session'' were  released on Charly/Sun in 1987. The lack of any evidence of Johnny Cash's voice on the recordings resulted  in the word ''quartet'' being dropped for his particular release which contained 40 tracks, close to the entire  amount of commercially usable material that has ever some to light. In 1990 RCA released the same  recordings for distribution in America as ''Elvis Presley- The Million Dollar Quartet''.

In 2006, the fiftieth anniversary year of the session, Sony BMG released what is almost certainly the  definitive version of the Million Dollar Quartet session. It included a further 12 minutes pf previously  unreleased recordings which were apparently found on a recording of the session in an archive in Graceland.  Strenuous efforts were made to ensure that the tracks appeared in the order they were originally recorded so  that the album is as true to the actual events of the day as humanly possible. That said, not everything that  was found was used, the tapes included items like Carl's band tuning up for instance, of interest to real  anoraks but not commercially justifiable.

The 2006 double album runs to 79 minutes and includes certain items omitted from previous releases, for  instance nearly a minute of the song ''Jesus Walked That Lonesome Valley''. This is a real boon since it adds  in a section of the song when Elvis and Jerry Lee work themselves into a religious lather when trading some  of the lines. There have been other releases of the Million Dollar Quartet session including a two-disc picture  vinyl edition on the Universe label in 2007.
 
 
 
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