Samuel Cornelius Phillips (January 5, 1923 / July 30, 2003), better known as Sam Phillips, was an American record producer who played an important role in the emergence of rock and roll as the major form of popular music in the 1950s.
He was a producer, label owner, and talent scout throughout the 1940s and 1950s. He is most notably attributed with the discoveries of Howlin' Wolf, Elvis Presley
and Johnny Cash, and is associated with several other noteworthy rhythm and blues and rock and roll stars of the period. Phillips and Elvis Presley opened a new form of music.
Phillips said of Elvis Presley, "Elvis cut a ballad, which was just excellent. I could tell you, both Elvis and Roy Orbison could tear a ballad to pieces. But I said to
myself, 'You can't do that, Sam'. If I had released a ballad I don't think you would have heard of Elvis Presley. Although much has been written about Phillips' goals, he can be seen stating the following, "Everyone knew that I was just a struggling cat down here trying to develop new and different artists, and get some freedom
in music, and tap some resources and people that weren't being tapped''.
Elvis Presley, who recorded his version of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right" at Phillips' studio, met that goal, and became
highly successful, first in Memphis, then throughout the southern United States. He auditioned for Phillips in 1954, but it was not until he sang "That's Alright" that Phillips was impressed.
For the first six months, the flip side, "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", his upbeat version of a Bill Monroe bluegrass song, was slightly
more popular than "That's All Right''. While still not known outside the South, Presley's singles and regional success became a drawing card for Sun Records, as singing hopefuls soon arrived
from all over the region. Singers such as Sonny Burgess, Charlie Rich, Junior Parker, and Billy Lee Riley recorded for Sun with
some success, while others such as Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins would become superstars. Despite this popular regional acclaim, by mid-1955 Sam Phillips' studio experienced financial difficulties, and he sold Presley's contract in November of that year to RCA Victor's offer of $35,000 beat out Atlantic Records' offer of
$25,000. Through the sale of Presley's contract, he was able to boost the distribution of Perkins' song "Blue Suede Shoes", and it became Sun Records' first national hit.
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