The Rise of Sun Records

(Gibson) On this day in 1952, Sun Records officially began operations in Memphis, Tennessee. Gibson takes a look back: If there was ever a place that could lay claim to the title of Rock and Roll's Delivery Room it was the building at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. This was the home of the Memphis Recording Service, which went on to house Sun Records rock and roll's original label. The roster of artists who would get their start at Sun was staggering Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and others but the success of the company could all be traced back to one man who wasn't a performer at all, Sam Phillips.

The son of a Florence, Alabama, farmer, Sam Phillips grew up with a love of traditionally black music. Born on January 5, 1923, Phillips befriended some of the black sharecroppers in the area as a child and learned to love the rhythmic blues music they taught him. This love of blues and country-based music eventually steered his career designs. With no money to go to law school, as he had aspired to do, Phillips instead studied audio engineering at the Alabama Polytechnical Instititute. He took his degree and settled into a DJ position at WLAY radio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. After a subsequent stop in Nashville, Phillips finally made his way to the musical Mecca where he would find his fame, Memphis.

From the first time he visited Memphis in 1939, Phillips fell in love the sounds emanating from the clubs and the street corner buskers on Beale Street. He was electrified by a town that seemed to run on music good music. And so, in 1945 he moved his wife Becky, pregnant at that time with their eldest son Knox, to Memphis, where he was both an on-air personality and an engineer at WREC. On his nationally syndicated Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance show, Phillips mixed in some of his beloved rhythm and blues with the jazz and pop offerings of the day. Ultimately, though, Phillips yearned to do more than play music; he had to make it.

In January 1950, Phillips leased an old auto upholstery shop on Union Avenue and set to work creating the Memphis Recording Service. He continued to pull double duty at the studio and the station for a while, but ultimately he decided to go all-in with his passion. Carrying a business card that read, "We Record Anything Anywhere Anytime," he took his recording equipment to weddings, parties and other events for bill-paying gigs. But even as he did this somewhat soulless busywork, his eye was firmly set on capturing the amazing sounds of the Memphis music scene. more on this story

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