Café Crem

Art, Music and Words around The Coffee Table

Here comes the Sun (previously published in mooremusic.biz)

 

For Miki and I, Sunday was just exactly that – SUN day. The day we would make our way to that unassuming building on Union Avenue, where Sam Phillips distilled what the world came to know as Rock’n’Roll.  For all the history, I wasn’t sure how this would work as a ‘tour’.  Studios from the 40’s and 50’s by their very nature were simple affairs,  so I didn’t think I’d be walking away with any more than a “bin there, done that”. How wrong I was.

 

 

From the moment we walked into the reception, which was a memorabilia-ridden 50’s style coffee shop, with an impressive 50’s style record shop in the back, we knew this tour was a good idea. The vibe in the place was just right, and we paid our money and waited our turn.

 

We were led up a narrow staircase into a room lined with glass display cases, containing amazing ancient recording devices, including an RCA lathe with a shiny uncut piece of vinyl on it. We saw Sam Phillips’ tape machine on which he recorded anyone and everyone.  Our guide for the tour was Cody, and I have to say right here, he was a star. He sounded genuinely enthusiastic, he was clear, concise, funny, and most importantly, brought the story of Sun Studios to life. Without him, it would have been the poorer.

 

I was incredibly moved by the tale of The Prisoners, who were actually prisoners, brought under armed guard and chained together around a single microphone to record “Just walking in the Rain”.   As the track played, haunting and beautiful, I could picture the scene.

 

We heard how Ike Turner’s band struggled up to Memphis, six in a car, with all their gear on top, and how the guitar amp fell off!  The speaker had two big holes in it, and when they arrived, they stuffed some newspaper in it, and used it for the session. The distorted sound it gave made “Rocket 88” the first genuine rock record with fuzz guitar. the track pumped out around us as I stared through the glass at the actual amp with the newspaper still stuffed into the speaker cone. History in my face.

 

 

Of course, inevitably, we came to the story of Elvis. What I learned was that perhaps the most influential person in the history of Rock was Marion Keisker,  Sam Phillips’ secretary. It was she that was on the front desk when a shy 18 year old Elvis walked in, pretending he wanted to record a song for his mum.  In those days, tape was expensive, so people who wanted to make a record for themselves paid their couple of dollars and had to record it in one take, directly onto the disc. Any mistakes were recorded for all time. If you didn’t like it, you poaid for another go!  And then, there it was, crystal clear, the young Elvis, singing “My Happiness” – his very first recording. Sam Phillips wasn’t in that day, nor was he impressed when Marion kept pressing him to take another look at this shy kid.  He hated the kind of ballady pop that My Happiness represented. A year would go by before events would conspire to bring Scotty Moore and Bill Black, guitarist and baassist respectively, into Sun to have a go at recording something. They didn’t have a singer on hand, and once again it was Marion who pushed Sam to get Elvis in.  Would you believe it, when Scotty and Bill asked this kid what songs he knew he suggested My Happiness once again! After a long day, Sam poked his head around the door and told them to call it quits. Elvis, panicking tried to play every style he knew – remember, he was influenced by country, blues, everything that was happening on the Memphis scene, and gyrating wildly, he launched into an Arthur Crudup blues song, “That’s alright Mama”. Scotty and Bill joined in, fooling around, playing wildly. Sam was stopped in his tracks. He asked them to get organized around the mikes so he could record it properly. This moment, this exact moment, was the birth of rock’n’roll, the creation of an entirely new genre, the  perfect amalgam of disparate styles. It is perhaps the single most important event in recording history. It cannot be overstated.

 

 

Me with Elvis’s microphone

 

As we walked through Marion’s office, and into the studio, we were played a recording of the very first time this song was played on the air. The DJ played it 19 times , one after the other, and the world would never be the same again.  As I stood in this completely authentic, unchanged studio, with this song playing around me, shivers coursed up and down my spine. I touched the microphone Elvis used here, I heard about the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ – when Sam Phillips had the tape running for an hour and a half as Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johhny Cash and Elvis recorded together.  It wasn’t until after Elvis’s death that Phillips revealed its existence, as Elvis was contracted to RCA when he ‘accidentally’ recorded him!

 

 

This studio launched the careers of all of these people not to mention a guy called Roy Orbison. It is truly the birthplace of rock’n’roll.  It had lain unused, abandoned for 25 years, and was lucky to have survived being demolished and turned into a McDonalds – but it  wasn’t – and I’m lovin’ it!

 

 

Kev Moore

 

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January 26, 2010 - Posted by | Entertainment, life, Music, photo, writing | , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. I’m getting tingly reading this! I’d love to hear those old recordings.

    Comment by shelleymhouse | January 27, 2010

  2. Wow! So, glad you found my old stomping grounds. They have really pulled out all the stops for the Old Recording Studio. I hope the Coffee Shop is good. Only thing missing is you sitting on that bench with a nice glass of Iced Tea with a sprig of mint. I knew that building as a small child. My Aunt went to school at Humes High with Elvis. There is a photo of Elvis holding a baby on a Motorcycle. That baby grew up to be a Memphis Mighty Blue. I worked with His Mum for years. My children were born in Memphis and if you go to the Memphis Brooks Museum Art and head to the Brushmark for lunch, make sure to see if the Black and White photos of Elvis are still hanging on the walls. It was termed a permanent exhibit at one time. In the photos is a beautiful dark haired girl- my children’s Father’s cousin. One did not live in Memphis and not be touched by Elvis.
    Thanks for the wonderful memories, chills on my spine and making me yearn to head from the Sun on down to the Rendezvous, for ribs and slaw and a slow warm day on the Banks of Old Man River.

    Comment by Sherrie Roberts | January 27, 2010

  3. Shelley – it was a wonderful experience

    Sherrie, welcome! -and thank you so much for your wonderfully evocative comments. So interesting to hear of your experiences. The phrase “One did not live in Memphis and not be touched by Elvis” rings so true!

    Comment by kevmoore | January 27, 2010

  4. You are most Welcome! I live in the Northeast now! When I look at a Map-I feel as if I am falling off the edge of the world. I have been to the Old North Bridge, where British soldiers lay, and to the Old North Church which I usually see the Steeple when ever I am in Boston proper. I definitely catch the Mast of the one and Only- USS Constitution- “Old Ironsides” the museum is wonderful!
    I never thought having been born in the South- I would ever see the Imposing North past the Mason-Dixon line, much less live here. There music scene seems to be repressed by the Boys of the South and the roots of all the new music. It was all born right there in that Sun Studio. Here the sound has already been introduced. Strange the way the world turns out. I miss seeing those original Ole Opray stars that belted out their music at Mid-South Fair. Real soap boxes were used.

    Comment by Sherrie Roberts | January 27, 2010

  5. I do have a soft spot for Boston though Sherrie, and played there on the 1998 tour of one of my bands. I got to see ‘Old Ironsides’ from a distance!

    Comment by kevmoore | January 27, 2010

  6. I’m goose bumps all over reading this!

    Comment by Susan | January 28, 2010


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