the memphis sound

Colonel Tom Parker knew there would never be another 1956. It was highly unlikely that Elvis Presley, or perhaps anyone, would so dominate the record charts, spending half the year at number one with multiple million-selling releases. The colonel knew, in fact, that as that first blush of the teeny-boppers of the 50’s matured and were abducted by real life, record sales were declining. Even though Elvis still put out million-selling records, the sales figures had been trending downward since “Jailhouse Rock”.

Elvis Presley’s first record sold one copy, and he was the one who bought it. In the summer of 1953, when the teen-aged Elvis drove up to 706 Union Avenue and finally worked up the nerve to go inside, the lady who greeted him at the front desk at Memphis Recording Service was Marion Keisker. Marion had been a radio personality at WREC in the 40’s, where she met Sam Phillips, then joined him in the adventure of starting and running a recording studio. Marion gave Elvis the rates for making a simple recording, $3.98 plus tax, then oversaw his first foray into fame.

In its mission statement, the United States Department of Defense accepts responsibility “for providing the military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of our country.” In the 1958 to ‘60 era, the US had a small contingent of “advisors” in Vietnam. The only actual armed deployments were Marines to the Lebanon Crisis in 1958, military aid to “Papa Doc” in Haiti in ‘59, and Marine protection for US nationals following the Cuban revolution in ‘59 and ‘60.

As the decade of the 1950‘s came to a close, the Memphis recording scene was in transition. Many of the big name players had moved on. Johnny Cash signed with Columbia records, as did Carl Perkins. Following the success of “Blue Suede Shoes”, Carl had four more charted records, “Boppin’ The Blues” and “Your True Love” on Sun, “Pink Pedal Pushers” and “Pointed Toe Shoes” on Columbia. Jerry Lee Lewis recorded for Sun until the early 60‘s. He hit the top ten with “Breathless” in 1958.

Memphis became a regional hub of recording activity due to a number of factors, not the least of which was the availability of talent. Additionally, from Clarence Saunders and Kemmons Wilson to Fred Smith and beyond, Memphis has been blessed with entrepreneurs not afraid to take a chance with a good idea. Sam Phillips was just such a visionary, and turned his idea to harvest the abundance of Mid-South musical talent via records into Memphis Recording Service and the Sun label.