While preparing for our trip to Arkansas and Tennessee in October of 2020, there were a lot of things I wanted to see and do on our list. One of the main things I wanted to see in Tennessee, besides Graceland, was Sun Studio. As an Elvis fan, it has always been something I have heard about and wanted to see one day. I didn’t know much about it, except that it was the studio where Elvis was discovered. I learned a lot more during our tour.
Here are some of the things I learned. The studio was opened on January 3, 1950, by rock and roll pioneer Sam Phillips. One of the first thought-provoking facts I learned was that Sun Studio was originally named Memphis Recording Studio and actually shared the building with Sun Records label business. I thought that was very interesting.
During our tour, our guide Daniel shared that the studio’s first rock and roll single was Jackie Brenton and his Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88”. It was recorded in 1951 with song composer Ike Turner on keyboards, thus leading to the claim status as the birthplace of rock and roll. So fascinating.
Here is a list of some of the more famous Rock and roll, country music, and rockabilly artists who recorded there throughout the mid-to-late 1950s: Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Feathers, Ray Harris, Warren Smith, Charlie Rich, and Jerry Lee Lewis. What a lineup, lol
One fact I learned that was a little surprising was that Sam Phillips didn’t really seem to like Elvis in the beginning, or didn’t really appreciate his style apparently. It wasn’t until a late-night recording session with Winfield Moore and Bill Black that Elvis broke out into “That’s All Right”. He was jumping around and acting a fool, then Bill and Winfield joined in the craziness. Phillips heard this and is stated to say that this was the sound he was looking for. The rest is history!!!
Many years later, in 1969, Sam Phillips sold the label to Shelby Singleton, and there was no recording related or label related activity again in the building until September of 1985. This was when the Class of ’55 recording sessions happened with Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, produced by Chips Moman. Apparently the album was in part a tribute to Elvis Presley, but it was also a commemoration of those young performing hopefuls who all began their careers with Sun Records in the 1950s.
We had an incredible time and were very happy to be able to finally take a tour of Sun Studio. However, I have to say the best part was actually being in the studio. While we were sitting and standing around Daniel (pictured above with a mask thanks to the stupid Wuhan Virus) told us quite a few stories and played a lot of music and musicians that recorded there. Even some talk between some of the artists. It was amazing. I felt like I was sitting in on some kind of jazz session. I was sad to leave.
One of the best parts was being able to able touch and use the actual microphone that Elvis, and many others, used throughout the years. Of course we had to take pictures. If you are in the area, this should definitely be on your to-do list. Here is a link to their website with more information, etc.
Sun Studio’s Visitor Information
706 Union Avenue
Memphis, TN 38103
Corner of Marshall and Union
Sunday – Thursday 10am – 5:15PM
Friday & Saturday 10am – 6:15pm
Tours begin at the bottom half of every hour from 10:30 – 4:30 and 10:30 – 5:30 on Friday and Saturday. Tour tickets are available first-come, first served. All our tours are guided and last approximately 40-45 minutes
Adult tickets: $15
$2 Discount for Students, Military, and AAA
Children 5-11: FREE
Sun Studio state that children under the age of 5 are not permitted on the guided tour. If you have more questions, please contact a staff member for more information.
In 2003 the building that houses Sun Studio was designated a National Historic Landmark, thus major renovations cannot be made to the studio. The gift shop/cafe is wheelchair accessible. While the first half of the tour is inaccessible due to a staircase, happily the second half inside the studio is wheelchair accessible so everyone can enjoy it.
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