Sam Phillips born on this day in country music history
On this day in 1923, legendary producer, record executive, DJ and Sun Records/Sun Studios founder Sam Phillips was born to a pair of poor tenant farmers near Florence, Alabama. You likely know the name for his work founding this seminal recording studio/label, as well as for helping discover and foster the sounds of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Howlin' Wolf...and on and on.
Photo courtesy of sunrecords.com Sam Phillips
Dig a little deeper, and you might be familiar with Phillips' days as a radio DJ in Muscle Shoals, where he worked at "open format" station WLAY which, in the 1940s, played the music of both black and white musicians, an experience attributed to informing his later work as a boundary-blurring producer.
It is for this unifying quality that Sam Phillips has remained a notable figure in country music as well as rock 'n' roll, inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Phillips was monumental in a schizophrenic time in American music - a time when R&B was not to touch country music was not to touch this newfangled rock 'n' roll - and he buoyed the musicians who seamlessly blended all the genres, while inspiring a listening public who loved it all, the kinds of folks whose minds were not rocked by the whole idea (Rockabilly whaaa?!?...DEVIL'S MUSIC!).
During its initial 16 year run, Sun Records produced 226 rock 'n roll singles, more than any other label of its time, and last October, bounder-blender Chris Isaak's Vanguard release, Beyond the Sun, paid homage to Phillips and the Sun Studio days - you might have caught his Wednesday night performance on Conan. It's a great album; every bit as inspired as Dwight Yoakam's 2007 homage to Buck Owens, even if lacking in a bit of the same panache. You probably know most of the Sun Studios classics in their originally recorded form, so check out Isaak's take on them here:
"Ring of Fire" - Johnny Cash
"Dixie Fried" - Carl Perkins
"I Walk the Line" - Johnny Cash
"That Lucky Old Sun" - Jerry Lee Lewis