Tag Archives: Sun Records

Music: Sun Records

Sun Records had an impressive beginning by distributing such blues artists as Rufus Thomas. But they also rented the studio by the hour, and one day a truck driver named Presley stopped in during his lunch hour...Photo by Rick Kobylinski.

With today’s sophisticated software, almost anyone can record music and cut their own CD, or create a digital file that can be downloaded by listeners. But let’s go back to 1952, when recording equipment was a lot more expensive. And much more scarce. A fellow could create a record label, then charge people to record their music.

In 1953, a truck driver came into the Memphis studio of Sun Records on his lunch hour and paid four whole dollars to record two songs. He later said it was a gift for his mother, but he probably wanted to be discovered. Sam Phillips, the legendary owner of Sun Records, wasn’t there at the time, so his secretary managed the recording. She was sufficiently impressed to tell Phillips about this

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Elvis fellow, but it was still months later before Phillips got him back in the studio. This time, there was no missing his talent, and his first song (“That’s All Right, Mama”) came out in 1954. Elvis had only five singles on Sun Records before moving to RCA, but the partnership was the springboard to success for both artist and label.

Sun Records became the leading distributor of what came to be known as “rockabilly” records. Among the label’s stars were Jerry Lee Lewis (“Great Balls of Fire,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On”), Carl Perkins (“Blue Suede Shoes”), Johnny Cash (“I Walk the Line”), Charlie Rich (“Raunchy”), and Roy Orbison (“Ooby Dooby”). Unfortunately for Sun and Sam Phillips, his artists became so successful that he couldn’t afford to keep them. The Sun began to set after about a ten-year phenomenal run. But during that time, it had such a profound impact on both rock and country music that it holds a permanent place in American musical history.

Song: “I Walk the Line”

 

Recorded on the legendary Sun Records label, "I Walk the Line" became Johnny Cash's first number one hit. It stayed on the charts for 43 weeks. Uploaded by tinypic.com.

Seems like you can almost hear a train in the rhythm of many of Johnny Cash’s (Great American Things, June 6, 2009) songs. That distinctive sound is one of the elements that makes “I Walk the Line” memorable. That, along with simple but heartfelt lyrics and that unmistakable Johnny Cash voice.

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One of the distinctive things about the song is that, going against convention, “I Walk the Line” doesn’t build to a conclusion. In fact, the last verse is sung an octave lower than the first verse. People asked Johnny why he hummed before each verse. The song changes keys several times, and he said “I hum to get my pitch.”

The song was released on the famous Sun label. It was Johnny Cash’s first number one country hit, and made it to number 17 on the pop chart. “Because you’re mine,” he sings, “I walk the line.” Johnny, what did you mean by that? “I was newly married at the time, and I suppose I was laying out my pledge of devotion.” I guess he did, with a song that stayed on the chart for 43 weeks, and earned the number 30 spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.