June 21, 2019, Crossville, TN-
No, this little city in east central Tennessee has its charms, but rock’s birthplace is not its claim to fame. That, of course, is a claim to be made by Memphis.
I visited Sun Studio, one of my “gap” goals from years past. In the early 1950’s, one Sam Phillips, an eager young musical production visionary, began this studio, on a shoe string budget. He had an idea that Gospel, Country and Blues, when blended together, would produce an amazing new sound. Sam was all about music as a means of expressing personal emotional power and he wanted to hear some rawness in the voices of those he auditioned.
Elvis Presley, happening by from his hometown of Tupelo, MS, was NOT one of those voices, initially. He crooned, stuck to a mellow vibe-and bored Sam Phillips to tears. After several auditions, Elvis’ mood changed, he rocked on out with a tune and got Sam and his crew running into the sound room, to see what was happening. The rest is musical history. Other musical greats, among them Johnny Cash, Ike and Tina Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Howlin’Wolf, BB King and Roy Orbison got their big breaks with Sam and Sun Studio.
Here is Elvis, visiting Sun whilst on leave from the Army, doing a set with three of his contemporaries. This session became known as The Million Dollar Quartet.
Below, our host, Lahna, is recounting one of many stories about Sam and his vision of musical fusion. You can spot a photo of Sam Phillips on the lower right.
Here are some promos for Howlin’Wolf and Ike Turner (before Tina). Ike was the pianist on the first-ever Rock n’Roll tune: “Rocket 88”.
Fun fact: If Sam DIDN’T like a demo record, this is what happened to it. (See floor).
He was all about the base.
Marion MacInnes was Sam’s office manager, and his faithful right hand. Is anyone familiar with the contraption on the left?
Lahna is giving her wrap-up for the tour, in front of the sound room window. Another fun fact: Larry Mullen, Jr., of the band U2, donated a set of drums to Sun Studio-for display purposes.
This was an awesome bit of musical history, made all the more enjoyable by a woman who clearly knows her rock stuff.
I took a bit of a ride eastward, well before actually leaving Memphis, and found La Ceiba, the area’s only Honduran restaurant. Its forte seems to be seafood, yet I was in the mood for chicken. I ordered the first item on the menu, which puzzled the hostess. It turned out to be fairly recognizable: Lightly battered fried chicken, apparently not the hostess’s favourite, but good-tasting, nonetheless. I also found the chips and sauce, (not salsa), potentially addicting. La Ceiba is well worth a try.
A long drive around the fringe of Nashville ensued, as it was getting late and I wanted to get here to my friends’ house, before they needed to turn in.
NEXT: Reflections on Three Days By A Pond