1988 Charly Records (CD) 500/200rpm SAM 103 mono digital
THE SOUND OF SUN
The brief history of the legendary record label. Sam Phillips from Florence, Alabama, originally aimed to be a criminal defence lawyer. Fate dictated otherwise and he became a radio disc jockey at first in Alabama, later moving
to Nashville and to Memphis, Tennessee, In 1950 he opened a small recording studio at 706 Union Avenue; the Memphis Recording Service. Sam had his dreams but little did he then realise that he'd just founded a legend.
Initially he recorded bluesmen such as B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf for other companies, before launching his own Sun record label in 1952. The following year he had his first notable successes with releases by
Rufus Thomas and Little Junior Parker. Many other fine blues/rhythm and blues artists recorded at Sun in the early years; some country and gospel acts, too. Then in walked one Elvis Aaron Presley.
Elvis was with Sam and Sun less than 18 months but by the time he signed to RCA in 1955 the curse of music history had changed irrevocably. So, too, the musical sounds at Sun. In Elvis' wake the label recorded a remarkable roster of rockabilly/rock
and rollers, some immediately entering the pantheon of ''all time greats'', Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, others who were more successful after leaving Sun (Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich) and many who have never fame except Sun worshippers.
For such a relatively small operation Sam Phillips' Sun Records a colossal legacy of exciting music to subsequent generations. Since the mid seventies Charly Records has been the most bountiful
executor of this legacy, releasing more albums, cassettes, box sets and CDS of Sun recordings than Sam can fit into his backyard.
you are not already familiar with ''The Sound Of Sun'' but like what you hear on this sampler, be prepare, you on the brink of astounding discoveries.
For music (standard Sun singles) on YouTube click on the available > buttons <
1 - Bear Cat (Rufus Thomas) 1953 (2:53) > Sun 181-A <
(Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller) (Delta Music Incorporated
Recorded March 8, 1953 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Rufus Thomas (vocal and piano),
Hill Louis contributes some stinging guitar work especially during his extended 36-bar solo
Houston Stokes (drums), Tuff Green (guitar and acoustic bass soon to be known as 'slap')
Billboard was not joking when it noted that ''Bear Cat'' was ''the fastest answer song to hit the market''. Big Mama Thornton's ''Hound Dog'' was recorded in August 1952 and shipped in January
or February 1953. ''Bear Cat'' was recorded on March 8, 1953 and was in the stores by the end of the month, if not before. On April 4, Duke/Peacock Records boss, Don Robey, whose Lion Music published ''Hound Dog'', wrote to Sam Phillips informing him that
the Harry Fox Agency, which issued mechanical song licenses, had not received a request for ''Bear Cat'' as an answer disc to ''Hound Dog''. Routinely, writers and publishers of answer songs had to surrender at least 50% of the composer and publisher share
to the original composer and publisher. Phillips claimed 100% of both. By not securing permission ahead of time, Phillips left himself open to Robey claiming 100% the publisher and composer's share, and that was happened. Robey instructed Fox to issue a mechanical
license for ''Bear cat'' giving him 100%, and Phillips refused the license. ''Bear Cat'' entered the carts on April 18 and reached its high point to number 3 on May 2. On May 18, Phillips paid Robey's Lion Music $1580 together with another 4500 to a law firm,
Shepherd Tate, suggesting that he'd already bowed to the inevitable. His first hit on Sun left him with a sour taste, and very financial benefit.
Gimmickry aside, ''Bear
Cat'' is a very primitive record. It is driven by Tuff Green's very percussive string bass and Joe Hill Louis's spare electric guitar. Louis has an extended 36 bar solo, after which Rufus elbows his way back in. To his credit, Louis does not run short of ideas,
many of which were borrowed directly from Pete Lewis, who played on the original record. The real problem is that gimmickry can't be put aside and as such this record hasn't weathered as well as some of the commercially less successful recordings from the
same period. Thirty years later, Sam Phillips' only comment was, ''I should have known better. The melody was exactly the same as theirs but we claimed credit for writing the damn thing''.
2 - Just Walkin' In The Rain (The Prisonaires) 1953 (2:50) > Sun 186-B <
(Robert Riley-Johnny Bragg-Buddy Killen) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
Recorded June 1, 1953 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Johnny Bragg (lead tenor vocal), Ed Thurman (tenor vocal), John Drue (tenor vocal),
William Stewart (baritone vocal and guitar), Marcell Sanders (bass vocal),
Possible Joe Hill Louis (guitar), Willie Nix (drums)
Variations labels. The demand for this hit record, was so strong that out of town pressing plant capacity was needed. Therefore, there are genuine 1953 first pressings both with and without push marks. The last
45rpm depicted is the re-release on thin vinyl with push marks.
Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley were walking to the prison laundry when Bragg remarked to Riley, ''Here
we are walking in the rain. I wonder what the little girls are doing''. ''Just Walkin' In The Rain'' was the song that stemmed from that observation, and it played to Bragg's strengths as a vocalist. He sang exquisitely and with deep feeling, both on the Nashville
demo and on the master version. The bridge (''People come to window...'') perfectly captured the yearning and regret he must surely have felt on so many occasions during his long incarceration. Although no lover of close harmony groups, Phillips released ''Just
Walkin' In The Rain'' on July 8, 1953. On July 28, Sam Phillips' brother, Jud, went to Nashville to meet Bulleit and the Prisonaires. Jud had joined Sun a few months earlier to work on promotion and distribution. ''The boys are getting from 10 to 25 letters
a day from all over the country'', wrote Jud. ''They plan to bring all of them to you they come over. They make me think of a bunch of baby birds. They are fine boys all of them. I get great joy out of helping people like that... I know you do too''. Phillips
also got great joy from watching the orders roll in. Ebony magazine reported that the record sold over 200,000 copies, and the group started making personal appearances on day passes throughout the state, and - with considerable complication - outside the
state. They were held up by warden James Edwards and Tennessee Governor Frank Clement as shining examples of rehabilitation. ''The hopes of tomorrow rather than the mistakes of yesterday'', gushed Clement. Although it didn't chart, ''Just Walkin' In The rain''
was a hit. One who took notice was Joe Johnson who worked for Columbia's country artist and repertoire man, Don Law. Johnson soon moved to California to work for one of Law's acts, Gene Autry, and told him about ''Just Walkin' In The Rain''. Autry acquired
the music publishing from Wortham, who probably thought the song had run its course. Johnson pitched the song to Don Law in 1956, who recorded it with one of his act, Dick Richards. law gave Richard's disc to Columbia's New York artists and repertoire man,
Mitch Miller, who produced Johnny Ray number 2 pop hit version. Bragg was invited to the annual BMI banquet in New York, but found himself otherwise engaged that night.
- Feelin' Good (Little Junior Blue Flames) 1953 (2:56) > Sun 187-A <
(Herman Parker) (Delta Music Incorporated)
Recorded June 18,
1953 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Herman "Little Junior" Parker (vocal), James Wheeler (tenor saxophone), Floyd Murphy (guitar),
William "Struction" Johnson (piano), Kenneth Banks (bass), John Bowers (drums)
Sun Records' first charted hit. It always sounded as if two guitars were
on the session, but Sam Phillips recalled that Floyd Murphy exhibited amazing dexterity on the guitar. ''He could make it sound like there were two man playing at one''. The whole performance owes a debt to the king of the one-chord boogies, John Lee Hooker.
Junior saw himself as a slick uptown singer and disavowed Hooker's sound. Phillips did not like the material that Junior was offering, and so, when Phillips went out to answer the telephone, the boys in the studio agreed to give him a taste of down home music.
To Hooker's template, Parker added some vocal finesse and an effective wall going up from flatted 7th to 8 similare to that he had already used on his very earliest recording (''You're My Angel'') for Modern. Phillips was thrilled and to Parker's surprise
''Feelin' Good'' became his first hit. On November 14, Phillips paid $50.23 in royalties to both Parker and the session's pianist, William ''Struction'' Johnson, suggesting that Johnson might have been the co-leader of the Blue Flames (certainly, when Parker
began recording for Duke, his group was billed as Bill Johnson's Blue Flames).
In 2011, an Austin, Texas-based garage soul band, Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, revisited
''Feelin' Good'' almost not-for-note as ''Mustang Ranch''. So someone's still listening.
4 - Tiger Man (Rufus Thomas) 1953 (2:48) > Sun 188-A <
(Joe Hill Louis-Rebecca Sam Burns) (Delta Music Incorporated)
Recorded June 30, 1953 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Rufus Thomas (vocal), Floyd Murphy (guitar), James Wheeler (tenor Saxophone),
William "Strutcher" Bill Johnson (piano), Kenneth
Houston Stokes - Drums
Rufus' menagerie was starting to fill
out, although the Dog and the Funky Chicken were still some years away. Joe Hill Louis and Sam Phillips (aka Sam Burns) were obviously wearing their hit maker's hats when they concocted ''Tiger Man''. Louis also played the insistent lick on the guitar. Rufus
comes across as an engaging personality but a limited singer with ragged timing. Joe Hill takes a primitive solo that hints at some rather than stating them, but is no less effective for that. On some level, this panders to African stereotypes, but Houston
Stokes' simulation of tribal drums, was pretty far out for its time. Red Saunders' 1952 hit ''Hambone'' had a proto-Diddley beat, but was tame compared with this. Surprisingly, the record failed to reach the charts and Rufus moved on to Phillips' local competitor,
Les Bihari at Meteor. Phillips eventually got a payday from ''Tiger man''. In 1968 when Elvis Presley filmed his comeback TV special, ''Elvis'', he received ''Tiger Man'', replicating Louis's guitar lick as closely as he could. It was dropped from the show
and the accompanying LP, but soon appeared on a budget LP. The likeliest scenario is that Phillips had given it to him back in 1954 or 1955, suggesting that he might like to cover it for Sun. Introducing the song on-stage in 1970, Elvis said, ''This was my
second record, 'cept no one got to hear it''. Louis would have benefited if Elvis had revived it in 1954 (he might even have made enough for the tetanus shot that would have saved his life), but he wasn't around to collect his share of the 1970s bounty.
Houston Stokes was Sun's versatile all-purpose house drummer in the early days. He played behind hillbilly piano player Red Hadley and bluesmen Jimmy DeBerry and Walter Horton, as well as
rhythm and blues icon Rufus Thomas. In this ''Tiger Man'', after an introductory scream, Rufus proudly announced himself to be the ''king of the jungle''. What sort of drumming does that cal for? Probably something that sounds like what got played in the era-s
B-movie about jungles - steady beats on tom-toms. And that is just what Houston Stokes provides - an unrelenting series of eighth notes with accents on all four beats in every measure. Once it starts, it just doesn't stop. Occasionally, toward the end of the
record, Stokes puts some accents in some other (by this time, more interesting) places and he even gets to have something of a drum solo at the record's end. Once the sound of the drum grabs you, it becomes almost hypnotic. Four years later, Jerry Allison
would take the same approach to drumming when he accompanied Buddy Holly on ''Peggy Sue''
Houston Stokes was one of the few drummers who was also a vocalist, and he made
several unissued blues recordings at Sun as a singer. When not recording, Stokes played in a Memphis jazz band led by Al Jackson and taught the leader's young son something about drumming. That worked out well for Al Jackson Jr. He grew up to become the drummer
in Booker T's MGs - the house band at Stax Records who also had some hits under their own name. The first and biggest being ''Green Onions''.
5 - Mystery Train (Little
Junior Blue Flames) 1953 (2:23) > Sun 192-A <
(Herman Parker-Sam C. Phillips) (Memphis Music)
Recorded August 5, 1953 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Herman Parker (vocal), Floyd Murphy (guitar), Kenneth Banks (bass),
Probably Raymond Hill or James Wheeler (tenor saxophone)
Johnson (piano), John Bowers (drums),
James Wheeler - Tenor Sax
Only rarely can two versions of a song be hailed as classics,
even less often are they on the same label. This beautiful poised blues tone poem is one of the finest of Phillips' early recordings, and Elvis Presley's striking re-imagination of it is, of course, is among rock and roll early defining moments. Everything
meshes on Junior's record so that the end result is much greater than the sum of its parts. And the parts are really disarmingly simple' Junior's melodic composition and smooth, high pitched vocal; the gentle train rhythm established by the bass and drums;
a breathy saxophone; and the instantly memorable guitar riff. In fact, it's the rhythm that provides the songs' hook. A piano is buried in the mix to no great effect. It's a deeply affecting, personal and atmospheric blues that stood little chance of repeating
the success of its predecessor, ''Feelin' Good'', at least in part because the title appears nowhere within the song. When it originally appeared, ''Mystery Train'' was credited solely to Junior Parker and published by Memphis Music. By the time Elvis Presley
recorded it in 1955 Sam Phillips had appended his name to the copyright (possibly in part settlement of Junior Parker's contract dispute) and the publishing had been transferred to Phillips' Hi Lo Music.
The guitar work on ''Mystery Train'' is by Floyd Murphy, a Memphis native. Sam Phillips said that Floyd had an amazing ability to make one guitar sounds like two, and that ability is in evidence on this track. While Junior is
singing and Floyd is accompanying the vocal with a simple figure, the record quite full. But when Floyd plays the melodic single-note lines in his solo, the sound thins out as if some band members had stepped out for fresh air. Those simple melodic lines are
a variation on the song's tune and they fit integrally into the record.
6 - Drinkin' Wine Spodee-O-Dee (Malcolm Yelvington) 1954 (2:42) > Sun 211-A <
(Stick McGhee-J. Mayo Williams) (Leeds Music Incorporated)
Recorded October 10, 1954 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Malcolm Yelvington (vocal and guitar), Gordon Mashburn (guitar)
Jake Ryles (bass), Reece Fleming (piano),
"Bubba" Winn (steel guitar)
Issued on Sun in November 1954, this was the first disc to appear on the label after the two-record debut of Elvis Presley that summer. This
song and Yelvington's treatment of it was certainly consistent with Sam Phillips' approach to country music at the point. However, Yelvington was some ten years older than Elvis Presley and he had learned his music in a different are. The Star Rhythm Boys
were essentially a western swing-honky tonk outfit, no matter how hard Sam tried to disguise the fact. As it turned out, the western swing treatment suited from an unprintable tune that McGhee had learned in the Navy, ''Drink' Wine Motherfucker''. He had first
recorded it for Mayo Williams' Harlem label in 1947 and subsequently sold half of the copyright to Williams for $10. McGhee recorded the song for Atlantic in 1949 and it became one of the first hits on that label. Yelvington and the boys whoop it up in fine
style with the help of a chorus that Phillips had literally brought in off the street. Yelvington sound a little uncomfortable at this tempo although his bullfrog baritone gets a chance to shine on the ''wine wine wine'' refrain. The group shows a little more
affinity for the material. The guitarist was obviously proud of his solo because he used it twice, for the intro and the first break. However, he had listed some of the most memorable licks from Brownie McGhee's solo on his brother's original version. Reece
Fleming's piano solo is rooted in the ''Your Red Wagon'' theme that became the base of ''Rock Around The Clock'' and countless other boogie tunes. Nevertheless, it is not hard to see why Phillips gravitated towards this song. It captured a proto-rockabilly
feel and was a very natural blend of black and white styles.
7 - The Boogie Disease (Doctor Ross) 1954 (2:33) > Sun 212-A <
(Isaia Ross) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
Recorded Late October 1954 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Isaiah Ross (vocal, guitar and harmonica), Tom Troy (guitar), Bobby Parker (drums)
The good doctor is in fine form on his second Sun single. ''The Boogie
Disease'' features a humorous and spirited vocal from Ross. Some of his lyrics are truly memorable. The man was not just spinning out cliches. (''Gonna boogie for the doctor/Gonna boogie for the nurse/Gonna keep on boogieing/Till they throw me in the hearse'').
Ross claims that he can only get better; he can't get well. In truth, it is hard to imagine him getting better than this. This is post-war country blues at its finest. Ross's guitar work, especially during the main riff and solos has an undeniable rockabilly
edge to it, a feature that has not gone unnoticed by collectors over the years. As usual, the ending cries out for a studio fade, and Sam Phillips refuses to oblige. He forces this tight little combo to end cold, which yields exactly the kind of chaos one
might expect. No matter; this is a splendid entry in Sun's blues years.
8 - Red Hot (Billy Emerson) 1955 (2:33) > Sun 219-A <
(William Robert Emerson) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
Recorded May 31, 1955 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
William Billy Emerson (vocal and piano), Jewell Briscoe (tenor saxophone),
Moses Reed (tenor saxophone), Calvin Newborn (guitar),
Kenneth Banks (bass), Phineas Newborn Sr. (drums),
Billy Love (piano), Band Chorus
derived this song from a cheerleader chant ''Our team is red hot...'' and recorded it with a band put together by Phineas Newborn, Sr. Rock and roll was clearly the coming thing when Emerson and Newborn settled down to record this in May 1955. A Little over
eighteen months later, Sam Phillips pitched the song to one of his rockabilly singers, Billy Riley, who stripped down the lyrics and goosed up the tempo while retaining Emerson's classic retort ''Your girl ain't doodley squat''. Bob Luman covered Riley's record,
but from that point the song remained untouched until Sam the Sham recorded it in 1966 in Phillips' new studio at Madison Avenue. Ten years later Robert Gordon turned in a sizzling rockabilly, rather than rhythm and blues classic.
9 - Blue Suede Shoes (Carl Perkins) 1955 (2:16) > Sun 234-A <
(Carl Perkins) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
Recorded December 19, 1955 at Memphis Recording
Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Carl Lee Perkins (vocal and guitar), James Buck Perkins (rhythm guitar),
Lloyd Clayton Perkins
(bass), W.S. "Fluke" Holland (drums)
Without a doubt, this single record has done more than any other to spread the gospel of rockabilly and draw the wave of collectors
to San and Sun. Subtract ''Blue Suede Shoes'' from the Sun catalogue, and there is no telling how fundamental the changes might be. When this record hit, shock waves were felt all over. Billboard reported ''Difficult as the country field is for a newcomer
to crack these days, Perkins has come up with some wax here that has hit the national retail chart in almost record time... Interestingly enough, the disk has a large measure of appeal for pop and rhythm and blues customers as well''.
''Blue Suede Shoes'' deserves its notoriety. Its impact is as direct today, nearly 55 years and millions of plays later. Perkins' vocal and guitar work are as energetic and full of good natured
menace as the day were conceived. To understand the importance of slap bass rockabilly, try to imagine this record mixed differently, driven by drums and not the clicking bass strings. It is entirely possibly the results and fortunes of ''Blue Suede Shoes''
would have been radically different.
10 - Rock And Roll Ruby (Warren Smith) 1956 (2:47) > Sun 239-A <
(John R. Cash) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
Recorded February 5, 1956 at Memphis
Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Warren Smith (vocal and guitar), Buddy Holobauch (guitar), Stan Kesler (steel guitar),
Ledbetter (bass), Johnny Bernero (drums), Smokey Joe Bauch (piano)
''Johnny Cash and Sam Phillips came in one night when I was playing with Clyde Leoppard'', recalled
Warren Smith. ''They invited me to come back to their table and sit down. To begin with, I thought it was some kind of fluke, then Sam Phillips asked me to come over to Sun the next day, and Johnny Cash said he might have a song for me''. Smith's performance
of ''Rock 'N' Roll Ruby'' belies his lack of professional experience. It is a supremely confident debut. Sun 239 was released in March 1956 and entered the Memphis charts on May 1. It reached the number 1 slot on May 26. By that point it had climbed onto some
other local charts and there was a surprising number of cover versions considering that the record never hit the Hot 100. Among the most notable were Johnny Caroll's Decca version, Lawrence Welk and Dave Burton's big band versions. Even a black vocal group,
the Saints on Salem Records, covered the song. There was also a Canadian cover version.
It appears as though the song was not actually from the pen of Johnny Cash, but
was bought by Cash from George Jones for $40. A solid investment, as it transpired. Despite all of the activity surrounding the song, Smith's national breakthrough was still over a year away. However, this did not impede him from acquiring the attitudes and
demeanour of one whose place in the pantheon of rock and roll was already assured. The portents were extraordinarily good. Neither Carl Perkins nor Elvis Presley had done so well with their debut release.
11 - I Walk The Line (Johnny Cash) 1956 (2:42) >
Sun 241-B <
(Johnny Cash) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
Recorded April 2, 1956 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue,
Johnny Cash (vocal and guitar), (paper woven between the strings to simulate the sound of
brushes on a snare drum, and
Luther Perkins (guitar), Marshall Grant (bass)
Johnny Cash's third Sun single established
him as a major country artist, capable of breaking through into the pop marketplace. As well, ''I Walk The Line'' became Sun's second major crossover hit in its last seven releases. There must have been a moment in mid-1956 when, after all his years of scuffling,
Sam Phillips must have thought, ''Hell, this is easy''!.
''I Walk The Line'' virtually defines minimalist production. There was no sparser arrangement on the pop or,
for that matter, country charts in 1956. There is no telling how this song might have fared with the standard Nashville treatment. In an interview with Billboard Phillips mused, ''Can you hear 'I Walk The Line' with a steel guitar''? It's not a pretty picture.
12 - Ooby Dooby (Roy Orbison) 1956 (2:12) > Sun 241-B <
(Wade Moore-Allen Richard Dick Penner) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
March 27, 1956 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Roy Orbison (vocal and guitar), Johnny Wilson (guitar), James Morrow (Electric mandolin),
Jack Kennelly (bass), Billy Pat Ellis (drums)
This is Roy Orbison's first Sun record and, years later, one in which he took no particular
pride. This is Orbison the rocker, the electric guitar player. There is no trace of the sensitive balladeer who would emerge barely four years later.
Despite Orbi's misgivings,
''Ooby Dooby'' is a fine record. True, it is not high poetry, but as a driving southern rocker, it is a standout. There is an almost unprecedented degree of crispness in the recording balance. The snare drum is tightly tuned, the guitar work stresses the high
strings and treble pickup, and the clicking bass is prominently miked. Aspiring rockabilly guitarists memorized every note of Orbi's piercing solo as if it were the holy grail. In case they missed it the first time, Orbi obliged with a repeat performance a
minute or so later. The ending of ''Ooby Dooby'' is a moment to be reckoned with. The bass walks down of five note sequence after all the other instruments have gone silent. Planned or unplanned, this is a sweet moment in Sun music history.
From a point of view, the song is simply there to bracket the guitar solos. The solos, which are essentially identical, are two full choruses long (solos were usually only one verse long
back then) and the record is built around them. The solo's first three lines follow the song's melody and then Orbison breaks free. He bends notes creating tension that gets resolved quickly; he attacks staccato chords; he runs up and down; and he closes with
a satisfying final chord that leads back into the vocal. It's a well-crafted journey. In later years, Orbison did all he could to disavow his Sun recordings. But the evidence is clear: He was one hell of a guitar player.
13 - Bobbin' The Blues (Carl Perkins) 1956 (2:50) > Sun 243-A <
(Carl Perkins-Howard Griffin) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
Recorded March 1956
at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Carl Perkins (vocal and guitar), James Buck Perkins (rhythm guitar),
Clayton Perkins (bass), W.S. "Fluke" Holland (drums)
What we casually refer to today as ''rockabilly'' or the ''Sun sound'' was new music back in early 1956. In fact,
nobody knew what to call it. Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins were still being described as performing ''hillbilly pop'' when this record came out. Billboard rightly described it as ''loaded with flavor and with potential for all three markets''. The Memphis
regional chart in May 1956 showed that Sam Phillips' vision had literally dominated the city's taste. ''Boppin' The Blues'' sat at number 3, bettered only by ''I Walk The Line'' and ''Blue Suede Shoes'' (at number 1 and 2, respectively). The number 4-6 chart
positions were filled by ''Heartbreak Hotel'', ''Ooby Dooby'' and ''Rock And Roll Ruby''. These were magic times to cruise down Union Avenue in your Chevy convertible with the radio blaring. (HD)
The notion that Carl's music was an irresistible and life-changing force (''I still love you baby, but I'll never be the same'') was a clever and powerful image. In fact, Carl took that idea one step further in ''Boppin' The Blues''. Like
Doctor Ross (''The Boogie Disease'') before him and Huey Piano Smith (''Rockin' Pneumonia'' and ''The Boogie Woogie Flu'') after him, Carl likened his music to an infectious disease. One exposure and you've had it, whether you like it or not. Ironically, this
was just the kind of perverse thinking that fueled anti-rock and roll boycots by the White Citizen's Council!
14 - Red Headed Woman (Sonny Burgess) 1956 (2:07) > Sun 247-A <
Burgess) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
Recorded May 2, 1956 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
(vocal and guitar), Joe Lewis (guitar), Johnny Ray Hubbard (bass)
Russell Smith (drums), Ray Kern Kennedy (piano), Jack Nance (trumpet)
It is doubtful that any record exudes more unfettered energy and joyous enthusiasm than Sonny Burgess' debut single on Sun Records. Burgess was a true wildman, a free spirit whose allegiance to rhythm and blues was in better evidence than
his hillbilly roots.
"We Wanna Boogie" and "Red Headed Woman" stand among the rawest recordings released during the first flowering of rock and roll. The lyrics were
almost unintelligible (although they repay close attention with some very funny couplets), and the instrumentation teetered on the edge of atonality. It was a record that sported an air of total abandon, sounding as if it had been created under the heavy burden
of alcohol, although Sonny Burgess remembers that everyone was stone cold sober, and nervous to the point of apprehension. Despite being almost unmarketable according to established precept, "Red Headed Woman" reportedly sold over 90,000 copies. It did especially
well in Boston, although Burgess was unaware of that fact until Jack Nance and Joe Lewis toured there a few years later with Conway Twitty.
15 - Come On Little Mama (Ray
Harris) 1956 (2:15) >
Sun 254-B <
(Ray Harris-Wayne Cogswell) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
Recorded June 20, 1956 at Memphis Recording
Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Ray Harris (vocal and guitar), Winston Wayne Cogswell (guitar),
Joey Reisenberg (drums), Unknown
There is a priceless anecdote about Ray Harris, practicing his vocal craft in a non-air conditioned Memphis apartment in July, standing in his overalls, dripping
with sweat, bellowing his heart out to his undeserving neighbors. Folks living blocks away got to preview an a cappella version of these sides, which Billboard later called "dangerous".
All the practicing apparently paid off for Harris, whose voice Billboard described as "extreme" and "emotion packed". In his more staid later life, Ray Harris spent years as the resident engineer at the Hi Records studio across town.
In its original 45rpm form "Come On Little Mama" proved to be a serious challenge for the avid listener as the single was pressed on particularly low grade vinyl. Only in recent years, with
the advent of the digital format, has it been possible to soak up the full impact of what Ray Harris first set out to archieve. As a point of interest, his right hand man was a fine guitarist by the name of Wayne Gogswell who saw success of his own when he
penned "Teensville" for Chet Atkins.
"Come On Little Mama" was one of the original Holy Grail Sun singles... and with good reason. Its one of the most berserk records
of the era. Ray Harris took his song to Sun. Sam Phillips, surely knowing that he couldn't sell Harris to the mass market, nevertheless responded to his maniacal energu. "I'll never forget it, he was so intense", says Phillips. "Ray was a very intense person.
He really put himself into it. He looked like he was going to have a heart attack every time he played. 'Rack 'em up, boy, let's go!. That was Ray's saying".
Little Mama" was a definitive statement of supercharged rockabilly: a word apart from country, but not identifiably rhythm and blues or pop. The lyrics were virtually unintelligible, the musicianship limited, and the production sparse, but the performance
was irresistible. "Come On Little Mama" apparently sold well locally, and Ray Harris was invited back to cut a follow-up.
16 - Flying Saucers Rock And Roll (Billy Riley)
1957 (2:03) > Sun 260-A <
(Ray Scott) (Knox Music Incorporated)
Recorded December 11, 1956 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Billy Riley (Vocal and guitar), Roland Janes (guitar), Marvin Pepper (bass),
James M. Van Eaton (drums), Jerry Lee Lewis (piano)
Note: "Flyin' Saucer Rock And Roll'' (misprinted as ''Saucers"" on the record label.
When Sam Phillips pressed the red
button on his Ampex tape machine to record Billy Riley's single, he was taking the plot of a sci-fi drive-in movie and turning it into a mesmeric rock and roll classic. The elements that he'd gathered together were right on target. Riley's hoarse throat vocal,
Jerry Lee's free styling at the studio upright and Roland Janes, with his eerily-echoed whammy bar, were enough to frighten anyone's horses. No wonder they were dubbed "The Little Green Men".
Billy Riley performs what has become a rockabilly anthem. His raspy vocal on "Flyin' Saucer Rock And Roll" soars over a frenetic musical sound anchored by newly recruited session pianist Jerry Lee Lewis. The guitar breaks by Riley and session
man Roland Janes have become models for aspiring rockabilly guitarists, but it is James M. Van Eaton who steal the show with some of the tastiest drumming in rockabilly history. His work during the spacy four bar intro, with that brief foray on to the tom-tom
are permanently ingrained in the consciousness of most Sun fans. Similarly, the last ten seconds of this record are an eye-opener. The snare roll during the last sustained chord might have been enough, but the unexpected bass drum stomp raises the record to
17 - Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On (Jerry Lee Lewis) 1957 (2:53) > Sun 267-B <
(Dave ''Curley'' Williams-Sunny David) (Marlyn Music)
5, 1957 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Jerry Lee Lewis (vocal and piano), Roland Janes (guitar),
(bass), Jimmy M. Van Eaton (drums)
Rockabilly pianist Roy Hall, who, under the pseudonym of Sunny David, wrote ''Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On'' with black
musician Dave Williams, also recorded his own version, before Lewis inspired a generation of teens by injecting the song with his inimitable brand of boogie-woogie, country, gospel and rhythm and blues-infused hellfire. Released in May 1957, the single rose
to number eight in the United Kingdom, reached number three on what was then known as the Billboard Top 100, and became an rhythm and blues and country chart-topper. In the process, it launched the career of the piano-pounding, rocket-fuelled wildman whose
manic, overtly sexual live performances provoked parental nightmares. As it happens, the self-described ''Killer'' only enjoyed four Top 20 hits before the scandal of his marriage to a 13-year-old cousin brought the successes to a screeching halt. Yet, courtesy
of a wide-ranging career that has now spanned seven decades and comprised an impressive body of work, Lewis’s legend has remained intact, and the tale of how he first came to prominence is, like the man himself, quite unique.
After four recordings, disc jockey Johnny Littlefield received Roy Hall's latest Decca release in the mail in the fall of 1955. He immediately began playing the record in the air. He also began singing the song
in his nightclub, the Wagon Wheel also called the Music Box in some sources). One of the members of his house band was piano player Jerry Lee Lewis. Reportedly, Lewis began begged Littlefield to allow him to sing the song in the club. Lewis has said that he
first remembers hearing "Big Mama Thornton's recording of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" sometime in 1955. Obviously, Lewis meant Big Maybelle, not Willie Mae Thornton. In any case, Jerry Lee Lewis incorporated "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" into his act.
On April 15, 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis appeared "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" on the Steve Allen show.
Jerry Lee didn't write many songs but he sure did breathe new life
into virtually everything he performed. "Whole Lotta Shakin'" is a case in point. Listen to earlier versions of the song by Roy Hall or blues shouter Big Maybelle. What Jerry Lee has brought to this massive hit is truly worthy of composer credit.
On this track, Jerry Lee's piano establishes the incessant and captivating rhythm before Van Eaton in, And a first his drum serves only to add backbeat emphasis to Jerry Lee's left-hand
piano figure. Jerry Lee keeps playing it, the guitar enters, and Van Eaton is freed to embellish the rhythm as he sees fit. And he does that, including a drum roll that leads into the instrumental solo and goes on too long, much as W.S. Holland had done on
There is more of an ''arrangement'' on this than on most Sun records. When Jerry Lee says, ''easy now'' and goes into his instructions on how to ''shake
baby shake'', the musicians play softer but, even so, that rhythm never stops. At the end of that section, it falls primarily to Van Eaton to emphatically announce that the high energy performance is coming back (joined by a glissando in Jerry Lee's right
hand). And the coordination of the piano and drum in ending the record is just lovely.
Note: Later releases gave the title of the Jerry Lee Lewis hit as ''Whole Lotta
Shakin''', but the label of the original release read ''Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On''.
18 - Raunchy (Bill Justis) 1957 (2:22) > PI 3519-A <
(William Everette Justis-Sid Manker) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated
5, 1957 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Bill Justis (alt saxophone), Vernon Drane (saxophone), Jimmy Wilson (piano),
Manker (guitar), Roland Janes (guitar), Sid Lapworth (bass),
James M. Van Eaton or Otis Jett (drums)
is, the record that put the fledging Phillips International label on the map. So popular was this disc in 1957 that it inspired cover versions by a host of artists including Ernie Freeman and Billy Vaughn. At one point, Sam Phillips bought space in the trade
papers beseeching the industry to listen to all versions and decide which was the original. Sam was on quite a roll in his defense of "Raunchy". He described counterclaims against Bill Justis' version as "uncouth" and went on to talk about the need for originality.
He underlined the importance of never becoming "stereotyped and parasitic". Big words for a guy in the record business but he was right about one thing: PI 3519 was neither of those things.
In truth, the artist, Bill Justin, was far too hip (and technically skilled) for Sun. His hilarious between-takes exhortations to his fellow musicians are thankfully preserved on tape ("Come on, girls, let's get really bad now so we can sell
some records:). In countless interviews, Justis maintained that his technically flawed sax work on this record (which only adds to its zany charm) stemmed from being out of practice. It may have been a mild musical embarrassment to him, but it kept Sam 'n
Sun on center stage in the music business. It was surely one of the first instrumentals with a rock and roll sensibility, and as such it led inexorably to the Champs and Duane Eddy and a host of others who perfected the form.
Just what was "Raunchy"? Was it an uneasy truce between big band music and rockabilly? You know in the first four bars that you're in the presence of something. Sax man Vernon Drane recalled to Colin Escott,
"I managed the Bill Justis band for nine years. We had a great band right after the war. We modelled ourselves on Count Basie and Shortly Rogers. After Bill went to Sun, I came with him. I actually named 'Raunchy''. ''I said, 'That's the raunchiest damn thing
you've ever done. If you don't record it, you'll miss a million seller'. He gave me a hundred dollar bonus for naming it. The guitarist Sid Manker was really the guy that worked up that riff though. He was a crazy man, high on everything. Hell of nice guy,
though". Whatever its title, the overall concoction didn't have much precedent in 1950s popular music. Another hybrid is born at 706 Union.
19 - Great Balls Of Fire (Jerry
Lee Lewis) 1957 (1:53) > Sun 281-A <
(Jack Hammer-Otis Blackwell) (Unichappell Music)
Recorded October 8, 1957 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Jerry Lee Lewis (vocal and piano), Probably Roland Janes (guitar),
Unknown (bass), Probably Jimmy M. Van Eaton (drums)
New York publisher, Paul Case, gave Jack Hammer's irresistible title to Otis
Blackwell, who came up with an entirely new discourse. After agreeing to cut the song, Jerry Lee initially wrestled with his conscience over the tone of the lyrics. The deliberation was worth it because many highlights resulted, particularly his demarcating
piano solo that shamelessly hocks the bass riff from Little Richard's "Lucille".
"Great Balls Of Fire" was no song Jerry had plucked from his reliquary, though; nor was
it dashed off in one or two takes. It was a conscious attempt to produce a hit record for the lucrative teen market, which Jerry Lee had just shown he was capable of penetrating.
song had been pitched first to Carl Perkins then Lewis as part of a deal in which they would appear in the movie "Jamboree". Then, in a move wholly untypical of Sam Phillips, he decided to forego the publishing on the flip side as well.
20 - Right Behind Your Baby (Ray Smith) 1958 (2:25) > Sun 298-B <
(Charlie Rich) (Hi-Lo Music Incorporated)
March 19, 1958 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Ray Smith (vocal and guitar), Dean Perkins (guitar), Stanley Walker (guitar),
James Webb (bass), Gary Diamond (drums), Charlie Rich (piano)
Charlie Rich had a major hand in writing and producing Ray Smith's first Sun record. The
results reflect the kind of rockabilly that was likely to emerge from Sun in 1958. There was plenty of energy here, but the sound was a little more intentional. This music has been thought through in advance, both lyrically and instrumentally. It is calculated
for the teenage marketplace. The guitar solos are still hot and the vocals still sexy, but something had plainly been learned from all the wild excesses of 1956 - namely that radio didn't play them.
21 - Pretend (Carl Mann) 1959 (2:39) > PI 3546-B
Recorded August 24, 1959 at Memphis Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Carl Mann (vocal and piano), Eddie Bush (guitar)
Robert Oatsvall (bass), W.S. Holland (drums)
Finding a follow-up to ''Mona Lisa'' was no small task. One of Sam Phillips' major frustration centered on his inability to sustain the momentum of those occasional hit records. In the case of Carl Mann, he played all the angles. The verdict
was to keep the formula (rock up another standard) and dig into the Nat Cole songbook if possible. And so ''Pretend'', a 1953 hit for Cole, was chosen. Everything else stayed pretty much the same as last time, which was of course part of the problem. The element
of surprise was totally missing here, even if this was a pretty terrific record. Guitarist Eddie Bush and drummer W.S. Holland generate a prodigious amount of energy together and the contrast between them and Mann is again striking: Bush and Holland are on
fire, and Mann is on Valium.
22 - Lonely Weekend (Charlie Rich) 1960 (2:07) > PI 3552-A <
(Charlie Rich) (Knox Music Incorporated)
Recorded October 14, 1959 at Memphis
Recording Service, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee
Charlie Rich (vocal and piano), Martin Willis (baritone saxophone), Roland Janes (guitar),
Riley (bass), James M. Van Eaton (drums)
Overdubbed The Gene Lowery consisting of
A. Davis, B. Gross, D. Horton, P. Jacobs, C. Walker and
P. Walker (vocal chorus and handclaps)
"Lonely Weekend" is the record that first put Charlie Rich on the map. Interestingly, it was his third single that hit big time,
just as had been the case with Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. This time they finally got it right. "Lonely Weekend" was just what Sam Phillips had asked for: "Big Man" without religion. The version that hit the market in January 1960 was quite different from
the tight, tense, passionate small combo effort that Charlie left the can in June 1959. After the session, Sam assigned the tapes to Charles Underwood, who brought them to the new studio at Madison Avenue, for overdubbing. Underwood added the dreaded Gene
Lowery Singers, a ton of echo, and some highly unusual rimshots during Martin Willis' baritone sax break. "I never liked that final version as much as the way we originally cut it", observed guitarist Roland Janes recently. "But then I doubt our original would
have sold as well".
Original Sun recordings licensed from Charly Records International APS
This CD @ 1988 Charly Records Limited
Compilation and co-ordination by Cliff White
Design and artwork by The Raven Design Group
© - 706 UNION
AVENUE SESSIONS - ©