Great Balls Of Fire

Anyone who says that Nashville is the home of country music, has obviously never heard of Sun Records. In the 50s, the Memphis record label assembled soon-to-be country music icons Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Elvis Presley into their small building on Union Avenue and then knocked out some the greatest examples of pure rockabilly (which is country with a backbeat.)

Sam Phillips, proprietor and producer of Sun Records, is sometimes maligned as a man who took blues and "whitened" it so that it would have mass appeal. After all, before he enlisted his cadre of rockabilly artists, he produced predominately black blues musicians, including Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and a young Ike Turner, who penned "Rocket 88"--sometimes called the first rock and roll song--and recorded it at Sun Studios. Sun Records then seemingly took a radical new direction, promoting more white acts and moving to rock and roll instead of blues.

But Sam Phillips, struggling producer as he was, simply kept experimenting with new and different artists till something clicked. Artists like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins simply played the music they grew up with, which included country, blues, and gospel. And that whole "King of Rock and Roll" business and the fact that white artists outsold black artists was less Sam Phillips's master plan, and more an indication of the attitudes toward race by the public in the late 50s.

The library holds compilations (click on the names for links) by Carl Perkins, The Man In Black, The King, The Big O, and The Killer (we have mostly compilation as at the time, singles and not full-length albums were the rage) as well as several post-Sun releases like Live at Folsom Prison, Live at the Star-Club, Hamburg, Jive after Five, as well as Jerry Lee Lewis’s 2006 record, Last Man Standing (named for the sad fact that he is the last man standing from Sun Records.) The legacy of this one studio can be heard in any kind of rock, country, or blues music to follow.