JULY, 2020

ELECTRONIC EDITION: Now free to email subscribers and supported by tasteful, music-oriented advertising with a unique news-format approach.
A monthly guide to early rock, blues, country, folk, and traditional jazz in the Seattle area and beyond.
Editor and Publisher: Doug Bright
Email: subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com

WHAT'S IN STORE: News From The Musical Marketplace


By Doug Bright

Summary of Parts 1-3:
"I didn't set out to revolutionize the world," Sam Phillips once told biographer Peter Guralnick. Nevertheless, that's just what he did as owner and operator of the Sun record label that launched Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Guralnick, whose books have told the stories of Presley and Sam Cooke, entitles his latest one SAM PHILLIPS: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll.

To invent is, by definition, to bring something into being that didn't previously exist, but as Guralnick points out, Sam Phillips' part in the creation of rock 'n' roll was more that of discoverer than architect. From the moment he opened his studio in January 1950, his aim was to identify the defining essence of every artist he recorded and "find the key to unlock it." It had its roots in a keen power of observation that characterized him from his earliest childhood in rural Alabama.

Born January 5th, 1923, Samuel Cornelius Phillips spent his first ten years of life on a farm about ten miles from the town of Florence, learning his guiding values from hard-working parents. A defining moment in his life occurred in 1939 when, at age sixteen, he traveled to Dallas with his older brother J.W. and three other young men to hear one of the most famous preachers of the time, Dr. George W. Truett. To get there, they passed through Memphis, Tennessee, and the city's musical mecca, Beale Street, made an indelible impression.

Spurred on by the impoverished circumstance of his family, Phillips was a hard-working, frugal, and ambitious youth, working six days a week at a local grocery store or drugstore in Florence and, for a while, operating a summertime drink stand in front of the family residence. He had taken up drums in the sixth grade, and during his ninth-grade year, he showed his capacity for leadership by successfully mounting a one-kid campaign to a reluctant administrator to outfit his school marching band with uniforms and even a sousaphone, which he himself undertook to learn.

In the summer of 1941, at the end of his sophomore year, Phillips recruited the most musically dedicated of his fellow students to form a dance band. After only a couple of performances, he and his fifteen-member crew were asked by the commander of the local American Legion Post to play its awards ceremony at the Teachers College's outdoor amphitheater. When they arrived, Phillips was shocked to learn that the show was to be broadcast live on WMSD, a station based across the Tennessee River in the town of Sheffield, Alabama, and when he was asked by station manager Jimmy Connolly to announce his combo's repertoire, he bravely agreed. At the end of the show, Connolly was so taken with the sincerity of the young bandleader's on-air personality that he offered him an afternoon spot five days a week on "Hymn Time", which featured records by the era's great Southern gospel quartets. Given Phillips' love of the music, it was a good fit.

In the summer of 1949, after Phillips had earned a Class C engineer's license and gained valuable radio experience at stations in Alabama and Nashville, his elusive career vision began to take shape when Memphis's 250-watt WDIA became the first station in America to target an African-American audience. "My conviction was that the world was missing out on not having heard what I had heard as a child," he explained to his biographer. "Memphis was the inducement--I mean, going out and hearing a black man pick a guitar and pat his foot and put a wood box under his foot to pat while he sings. These were elements that I knew were not going away. Then I said, "I've just got to open me a little recording studio, where I can at least experiment."

That October, Phillips found the location he wanted: a vacant storefront on Union Street that had formerly housed an auto-glass and medical-supply company. From the outset, he built into his enterprise a practical way to finance his larger artistic dream, recording weddings, conventions, and other community events for customers who wanted them documented in high-quality sound. His goal was to be up and running on the first business day of the second half of the twentieth century, and true to character, he met his self-imposed deadline, opening Memphis Recording Service to the public on Monday, January 2nd, 1950.

On March 1st, 1951, Phillips met Leonard Chess of Chicago's now-legendary Chess label, who happened to be in Memphis to promote bluesman Muddy Waters' latest single. "He'd heard about my studio," Phillips recalls in Guralnick's book,
"and he came by, and we talked, and he said, "Man, I'd give anything to work with you." And the first thing I gave him was "Rocket 88."
I Like Ike: The Best of Ike Turner
The song, regarded today as a rhythm-and-blues classic, was composed by Jackie Brenston,
I Like Ike: The Best of Ike Turner
the baritone sax player in a combo called the Rhythm Kings led by future legend Ike Turner.
I Like Ike: The Best of Ike Turner
His inspiration was drawn from jump-blues bandleader Jimmy Liggins' 1948 hit "Cadillac Boogie"
and the "rocket ship" look of the new Oldsmobile.

"This sensational new record, "Rocket 88",
I Like Ike: The Best of Ike Turner
is going to make my first million for me," Phillips wrote to Jimmy Connolly at his station in Bessemer, Alabama four days after recording it. "Seriously, Jimmy, this is one of the best race records I have ever heard, and I think you'll agree with me when you hear it."

By June 9th, it had vaulted to Number 1 on Billboard magazine's rhythm-and-blues charts, where it stayed for a month, and by the end of August it had sold a hundred thousand copies. By this time, however, the band was on its way to breaking up. The problem lay in the fact that Chess had released the record under Jackie Brenston's name rather than Ike Turner's and identified his Kings of Rhythm as Brenston's Delta Cats, a name that the label had created out of thin air. With no official recognition given to its leader or the name it was using to build its reputation, the band was populated by some very unhappy musicians--so much so that Phillips wasn't even able to get them together in the studio for a follow-up release.

In the long run, however, none of that mattered because by then Sam Phillips had discovered the artist whose compellingly earthy sound represented exactly what he had been seeking all along. Chester Arthur Burnette, born near Tupelo, Mississippi in 1910, had spent his youth singing and playing guitar around the Delta, taking his musical identity from country bluesman Funny Papa Smith's song "Howling Wolf Blues".

The year 1948 found him in West Memphis with an early morning radio spot on KWEM, advertising farm tools and dry goods for the sponsors and promoting the gigs he played in the area with the band he had put together. On a tip from an announcer at the station, Sam Phillips tuned him in. "I heard one number," he recalled to Peter Guralnick, "and I instantly said, This is what I'm looking for."

A few days after their meeting at the studio, Wolf showed up with guitarist Willie Johnson, drummer Willie Steele, and an assortment of harmonicas tuned in various keys. The two resulting sides, "How Many More Years (have I got to let you dog me around)"
Howlin‘' Wolf: The Complete RPM & Chess Singles As & Bs, 1951-62
and "Moanin' At Midnight",
Howlin‘' Wolf: The Complete RPM & Chess Singles As & Bs, 1951-62em
erged on Chess as Wolf's first single at the end of August. "How Many More Years" reached Number 4 on the national rhythm-and-blues charts, and the primitive, field-holler blues "Moanin, At Midnight",
Howlin‘' Wolf: The Complete RPM & Chess Singles As & Bs, 1951-62
which Phillips proudly characterized as "the most different record I ever heard," also charted.

By early 1952, Sam Phillips was beginning to rethink his original strategy of shopping his work to companies like Chess. He had already scored Top Ten R&B hits with Jackie Brenston and Howlin' Wolf, both of whom he had discovered. Perhaps it was time to start a new label of his own after all.

"The name "Sun" seems to have been percolating for some time," Peter Guralnick reflects. "To Sam, "Sun" represented a new day, opportunity, the dawning of hope."

"I wanted something short, simple, a common denominator that was hard to forget," Phillips recalls in Guralnick's book.

The first Sun release featured fifteen-year-old high-school sophomore Johnny London and his rhythm-and-blues combo, The Rockets. "We saw the studio and wanted to record," London later recalled.

The two resulting instrumental sides, the laid-back blues "Drivin' Slow" and the moderately paced jump blues "Flat Tire", spotlighted London's wailing alto saxophone, backed by a memorably creative pianist, a rudimentary but solid drummer, and a tenor saxophonist who played an effective supporting role. It got the young band a few gigs and garnered some airplay around Memphis, but aside from that, nothing came of it. "In all the years I knew him, in all our far-ranging conversations, I never heard him bring up this record," Guralnick comments. "The label didn't last, so in the end he was left with little more than the wisps of a dream, a name for his record company if he could ever manage to get it off the ground, and a label design that he felt neatly encapsulated everything he wanted to say about the new day dawning."

In early 1953 Sam Phillips relaunched Sun Records with new partner Jim Bulleit, who had lucked his way to fame and fortune in 1947 on his J-B label with bandleader/composer Francis Craig. Despite Bulleit's best promotional efforts, nothing came of Craig's record until a DJ in Griffin, Georgia flipped it and discovered a song called "Near You",

universally regarded today as a pop standard. "To Sam," Guralnick explains, "Jim Bulleit was the man who had recorded "Near You," a record man who, even if he was down on his luck, knew everything there was to know about distribution and the trials and tribulations of the independent operator." Consequently, the March 21st issue of Cash Box magazine published Phillips' press release from Memphis with the headline, "A New Indie Rhythm and Blues Label Was Launched Here."

When Phillips first heard blues shouter Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog",
The Singles Collection 1951-61
released by Peacock Records earlier that month, he was fascinated by its musical simplicity and raw power. The tamed-down, hillbilly-themed version that Elvis Presley

would ride to the top of the hit parade three years later dealt with a hound dog of the four-footed variety, but the object of Thornton's tirade was a no-good man. "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog, been snoopin'' round my door," she accused. "You can wag your tail, but I ain't gonna feed you no more."

In "Hound Dog",
The Singles Collection 1951-61
Sam Phillips saw an opportunity to write an answer song from a male perspective for the gruff-voiced Rufus Thomas,
The Sun Years, Plus: His R&B Recordings 1949-1956
whom he had recorded a year earlier for Chess Records without any chart success. Its title, "Bear Cat"
The Sun Years, Plus: His R&B Recordings 1949-1956
was, as he explained to Thomas, an Alabama term for a superlatively mean-spirited woman. It was released on March 22nd, two weeks after it was recorded, and it got the lead review in the same issue of Cash Box that spotlighted the relaunch of Sun Records.

Nevertheless, "Bear Cat"
The Sun Years, Plus: His R&B Recordings 1949-1956
was almost a carbon copy of the song that had inspired it, with only a few lyrics changed, and Don Robey of Peacock Records lost no time threatening a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Knowing he was unlikely to win such a battle, Phillips settled, paying Robey's Lion Music Publishing Company $1,580.80 and giving up all claims to song-publishing rights. Nevertheless, his record rocketed up the charts right along with Thornton's original, and by June it had reached Number 3. "Sam had already had big hits with other labels," peter Guralnick points out, "but this was the first he had ever had on his own. In spite of all the legal and financial trouble it had caused him, nothing could diminish the satisfaction he took, the pride that came with Sun Records' first real breakthrough success."

Sun's next hit came from a most unlikely source. Through one of his contacts in the record business, Jim Bulleit found the Prisonaires,
Just Walkin' in the Rain: The True Story of the Prisonaires: the Convict Pioneers of R & B and Rock & Roll
a quintet of inmates at the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville serving a combined sentence of 850 years for crimes ranging from larceny all the way up to rape and murder. The five singing convicts had been discovered by warden James Edwards, an old friend and appointee of newly elected state governor Frank Clement.

Performing mostly spirituals at gubernatorial functions, they were soon appearing at churches and Rotary and Exchange Club meetings, with the warden or his wife transporting them to and from their engagements. In only a few weeks they were guesting on radio, and that was how Bulleit's contact, music publisher Red Wortham, became aware of them. Impressed by his first meeting with them, he returned to the prison to record them.

When Sam Phillips heard the tape, the effortlessly soaring tenor voice of lead singer Johnny Bragg and the group's smooth backing harmony convinced him that he had found an opportunity not to be missed. Consequently, on the morning of June 1st, 1953, the Prisonaires arrived under armed guard at the Sun studio. One of the songs they recorded was "Just Walkin' In The Rain",
Just Walkin' in the Rain
an expressively delivered torch ballad written by Bragg and fellow inmate Robert Riley, accompanied only by Prisonaire William Stewart's smooth acoustic guitar work. "We used to practice, practice, practice," Bragg recalls in Guralnick's book.
Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll
"I wanted to be the Ink Spots."
The Golden Age Of The Ink Spots: The Best Of Everything - 101 Classic Original Recordings
The record was released on July 8th, and in two months it had sold thirty thousand copies nationally. "It continued to generate both publicity and goodwill, long after it had fallen off the charts," Guralnick summarizes. Three years later, Johnnie Ray was to revive the song, taking it to Number 2 on the pop charts and establishing it as one of the decade's best-remembered hits.
The Best of Johnnie Ray

(This article will be continued in the next issue of Heritage Music Review.)


Discover "The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll" At Phinney Books

"I didn't set out to revolutionize the world," Sam Phillips once told biographer Peter Guralnick. Nevertheless, that's just what he did as owner and operator of the Sun record label that launched Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Your copy of Guralnick's book, SAM phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll, is waiting for you at Phinney Books in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood.

Phinney Books 7405 Greenwood Avenue North
Phone: 206/297-2665
Web: www.phinneybooks.com ----------------------------------------

120-bass Accordion At Dusty Strings
Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop in the Fremont district, long known for its array of fine stringed instruments, instructional workshops, and folk concerts, has recently acquired a full-size 120-bass Rivoli accordion, made by Sonolo, in perfect playing condition. I've tried this instrument out myself and can happily testify that it even has the so-called Bassoon keyboard setting that I choose for simulating clarinets and big-band reed sections in my role of preserving vintage jazz as Dixieland Doug. It sells for $595, and although it isn't displayed on the Dusty Strings website, you can request a photo by emailing music@dustystrings.com

Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop
3406 Fremont Avenue North
Phone: 206/634-1662.
Web: www.dustystrings.com
1960 Les Paul Standard At Emerald City Guitars
Emerald City Guitars in Seattle's Pioneer Square, well known for its fascinating selection of new and vintage acoustic and electric guitars, amps, and accessories, has recently acquired a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard electric in very good condition with original hard shell case. "A Holy Grail instrument with an ummatched sound," the website proclaims.Emerald City Guitars 83 South Washington Street Phone: 206/382-0231. Web: www.emeraldcityguitars.com.---------------------------------------- ON THE NEWSSTAND: HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW The print edition of HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW is available by mail for $15 per year and on sale at the following Seattle newsstands and music venues:FREMONT: Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop: 3406 Fremont Avenue North.UNIVERSITY DISTRICT:Bulldog News 4208 University Way NortheastGREENWOOD: Phinney Books: 7405 Greenwood Avenue NorthPIONEER SQUARE: Emerald City Guitars: 83 South Washington Street.QUEEN ANNE HILL:Queen Anne Book Company: 1811 Queen Anne Avenue NorthCAPITOL HILL: Elliott Bay Book Company: 1521 10th Avenue. For a free sample copy of the print edition, just reply to this message or, if this issue was forwarded to you, send your mailing address to subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Forwarding of this Electronic Edition is strongly encouraged. If you wish to subscribe or unsubscribe, simply send your request to editor Doug Bright: subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com.----------------------------------------