The Info List - Sam Phillips

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Samuel Cornelius Phillips (January 5, 1923 – July 30, 2003) was an American record producer who played an important role in the development of rock and roll during the 1950s. He was the founder of Sun Records
Sun Records
and Sun Studios, in Memphis, Tennessee, where he produced recordings by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Howlin' Wolf. He launched Presley's career in 1954. Phillips sold Sun in 1969 to Shelby Singleton. He was an early investor in the Holiday Inn
Holiday Inn
chain of hotels. He owned and operated radio stations in Memphis; Florence, Alabama; and Lake Worth, Florida. He advocated racial equality and helped break down racial barriers in the music industry.


1 Early life 2 The Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records 3 Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison 4 WHER 5 Other business interests 6 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 7 Later years and death 8 Notable portrayals 9 References 10 Notes 11 External links

Early life[edit] Phillips was the youngest of eight children, born on a farm near Florence, Alabama, to poor tenant farmers, Madge Ella (Lovelace) and Charles Tucker Phillips.[1] As a child, he picked cotton in the fields with his parents alongside black laborers. The experience of hearing workers singing in the fields left a big impression on the young Phillips.[2] Traveling through Memphis with his family in 1939 on the way to see a preacher in Dallas, he slipped off to look at Beale Street, at the time the heart of the city's music scene. "I just fell totally in love," he later recalled.[3] Phillips attended the former Coffee High School in Florence. He conducted the school band and had ambitions to be a criminal defense attorney. However, his father was bankrupted by the Great Depression and died in 1941, forcing Phillips to leave high school to look after his mother and aunt. To support the family he worked in a grocery store and then a funeral parlor. In 1942, Sam, 19, met Rebecca “Becky” Burns, 17, his future wife while they were both working at WLAY radio station in Sheffield, Alabama, he was an announcer and she was still in high schoool and had a radio segment with her sister as 'The Kitchen Sisters' where they played music and sang. A January 18 2013 article in the Alabama Chanin Journal honoring Becky, quoted Sam as saying, “I fell in love with Becky’s voice even before I met her.” Becky described her first encounter with Sam to journalist Peter Guralnick: “He had just come in out of the rain. His hair was windblown and full of raindrops. He wore sandals and a smile unlike any I had ever seen. He sat down on the piano bench and began to talk to me. I told my family that night that I had met the man I wanted to marry.” They wed in 1943 and went on to produce a 2-child glorious marriage that lasted 60 years until Sam's death in 2003. Widow Becky Phillips passed in 2012, aged 87. [3][4] [5] The Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records[edit]

Sun Studio, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis

In the 1940s, Phillips worked as a DJ and radio engineer for station WLAY (AM), in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. According to Phillips, the station's "open format" (of broadcasting music by white and black musicians alike) would later inspire his work in Memphis. Beginning in 1945, he worked for four years as an announcer and sound engineer for radio station WREC, in Memphis. On January 3, 1950, Phillips opened the Memphis Recording Service, at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis. He let amateurs record, which drew performers such as B.B. King, Junior Parker, and Howlin' Wolf, who made their first recordings there. Phillips then sold the recordings to larger labels. In addition to musical performances, Phillips recorded events such as weddings and funerals, selling the recordings. The Memphis Recording Service also served as the studio for Phillips's own label, Sun Record Company, which he launched in 1952. Phillips recorded different styles of music. He was interested in the blues and said, "The blues, it got people—black and white—to think about life, how difficult, yet also how good it can be. They would sing about it; they would pray about it; they would preach about it. This is how they relieved the burden of what existed day in and day out."[6] Phillips recorded what the music historian Peter Guralnick considered the first rock and roll record: "Rocket 88", by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, a band led by the 19-year-old Ike Turner, who also wrote the song.[7] The recording was released in 1951 by Chess Records, of Chicago. From 1950 to 1954 Phillips recorded music by James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon, Little Milton, Bobby Blue Bland, the Prisonaires and others. Sun Records
Sun Records
produced more rock-and-roll records than any other record label of its time during its 16-year run, producing 226 singles.[8] Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison[edit] Phillips and Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
opened a new form of music. Phillips said of Presley: "Elvis cut a ballad, which was just excellent. I could tell you, both Elvis and Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison
could tear a ballad to pieces. But I said to myself, 'You can't do that, Sam.' If I had released a ballad I don't think you would have heard of Elvis Presley."[9] Much has been written about Phillips's goals, but he stated that "everyone knew that I was just a struggling cat down here trying to develop new and different artists, and get some freedom in music, and tap some resources and people that weren't being tapped."[10] He didn't care about mistakes; he cared about the feel.[11] Phillips met Presley through the mediation of his longtime collaborator at the Memphis Recording Service, Marion Keisker, who was already a well-known Memphis radio personality. On 18 July 1953, the eighteen-year-old Presley dropped into the studio to record an acetate for his mother's birthday; Keisker thought she heard some talent in the young truck driver's voice, and so she turned on the tape recorder. Later, she played it for Phillips, who gradually, with Keisker's encouragement, warmed to the idea of recording Elvis.[12] Presley, who recorded his version of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "That's All Right" at Phillips's studio, became highly successful, first in Memphis, then throughout the southern United States. He auditioned for Phillips in 1954, but it was not until he sang "That's All Right (Mama)" that Phillips was impressed. He brought the song to Dewey Phillips, a disc jockey at WHBQ 560, to play on his Red, Hot & Blue program. For the first six months, the flip side, "Blue Moon of Kentucky", Presley's upbeat version of a Bill Monroe
Bill Monroe
bluegrass song, was slightly more popular than " That's All Right
That's All Right
(Mama)." While still not known outside the South, Presley's singles and regional success became a drawing card for Sun Records, as singing hopefuls soon arrived from all over the region. Singers such as Sonny Burgess
Sonny Burgess
("My Bucket's Got a Hole in It"), Charlie Rich, Junior Parker, and Billy Lee Riley recorded for Sun with some success, and others, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins, became stars.[13] Phillips's pivotal role in the early days of rock and roll was exemplified by a celebrated jam session on December 4, 1956, with what became known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis
was playing piano for a Carl Perkins
Carl Perkins
recording session at Phillips's studio. When Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
walked in unexpectedly, Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash
was called into the studio by Phillips, leading to an impromptu session featuring the four musicians. Phillips challenged the four to achieve gold record sales, offering a free Cadillac to the first, which Carl Perkins won. The contest is commemorated in a song by the Drive-By Truckers. By the mid-1960s, Phillips rarely recorded. He built a satellite studio and opened radio stations, but the studio declined, and he sold Sun Records
Sun Records
to Shelby Singleton in 1969. In 1977 Sam's sons, Knox and Jerry, were working with John Prine
John Prine
at the Phillips Recording Studio when Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
joined them to oversee recordings that were eventually included on the album Pink Cadillac.[14] WHER[edit] Phillips launched radio station WHER on October 29, 1955. Each of the young women who auditioned for the station assumed there would only be one female announcer position, as was the case with other stations at that time. Only a few days before the first broadcast did they learn of the all-female format. It was the first all-female radio station in the United States, as almost every position at the station was held by a woman.[15] Other business interests[edit] In 1950, he started a short-lived record label called "It's the Phillips".[citation needed] Through shrewd investments, Phillips amassed a fortune. He was one of the first investors[16] in Holiday Inn, a motel chain that was about to expand to a nationwide franchise; he became involved with the chain shortly after selling Elvis Presley's contract to RCA, for $35,000, which he multiplied many times over the years with Holiday Inn. He also created two subsidiary recording labels, Phillips International Records and Holiday Inn
Holiday Inn
Records. He owned the Sun Studio
Sun Studio
Café in Memphis. One location was in the Mall of Memphis. Phillips and his family founded Big River Broadcasting Corporation, which owns and operates several radio stations in the Florence, Alabama, area, including WQLT-FM, WSBM, and WXFL.[17] He also established radio station WLIZ in Lake Worth, Florida, in 1959. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame[edit] In 1986 Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly
Hall of Fame. He was the first non-performer inducted. In 1987, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.[18] He received a Grammy Trustees Award[19] for lifetime achievement in 1991. In 1998, he was inducted into the Blues
Hall of Fame,[20] in October 2001 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame,[21] and in 2012 he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Later years and death[edit] Phillips died of respiratory failure at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, on July 30, 2003, only one day before the original Sun Studio was designated a National Historic Landmark, and just over a month before the death of former Sun Records
Sun Records
recording star Johnny Cash, on September 12, 2003. Phillips is interred in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis. Notable portrayals[edit]

Paul Eiding played the role of Phillips in the Twilight Zone episode "The Once and Future King". [22] Phillips was portrayed by Gregory Itzin in the penultimate Quantum Leap episode, "Memphis Melody".[23] Phillips was portrayed by Dallas Roberts in the film Walk the Line.[24] Phillips was portrayed by Tim Guinee
Tim Guinee
in the CBS
miniseries Elvis.[25] On October 21, 2016, it was announced that Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio
will portray Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
in the forthcoming film based on Peter Guralnick's book, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll.[26] Phillips is portrayed by Chad Michael Murray
Chad Michael Murray
in CMT's drama series entitled Sun Records, airing February 23, 2017.[27]


^ Bertrand, Michael T. (April 2014). "Phillips, Sam". American National Biography. Retrieved October 22, 2016.  ^ " Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
Obituary". The Times. 1 August 2003. Retrieved 6 October 2011.  ^ a b "Sam Philips". Daily Telegraph. 1 August 2003. Archived from the original on 22 October 2016. Retrieved 6 October 2011.  ^ Laing, David (1 August 2003). "Obituary: Sam Philips". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2011.  ^ DeWitt, Howard A. (1994). Elvis: The Sun Years. Popular Culture Ink. ISBN 1-56075-020-0.  ^ Olsen, Eric P. "Founding Father: Sam Philips and the Birth of Rock and Roll." The World and I. Washington, May 2001. p. 76. ^ Guralnick, Peter (2015). Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll. New York: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-04274-1. ^ "Sam Phillips: Inducted in 1986. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
and Museum". Rockhall.com. 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2015-09-08.  ^ Olsen, Eric P. (May 2001). "Founding Father: Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
and the Birth of Rock and Roll". The World and I. Washington: 76.  ^ Naylor, Jerry; Halliday, Steve. The Rockabilly
Legends: They Called It Rockabilly
Long Before They Called It Rock and Roll (DVD)format= requires url= (help). 22:00. ISBN 978-1-4234-2042-2.  ^ "The Man and the Mistakes That 'Invented Rock 'n' Roll'". NPR. 23 November 2015. Archived from the original on 22 October 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2016.  ^ Guralnick, Peter (1994). Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley. Boston: Little, Brown. pp. 59–62.  ^ Guralnick, Peter (30 October 2015). "Elvis Presley: How Sun Records Boss Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
Discovered a Star in 1954". The Independent. Archived from the original on 22 October 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2016.  ^ Palmer, Robert. "'Pink Cadillac'—A Rite of Passage." New York Times, Sept. 3, 1979. https://www.nytimes.com/1979/09/23/archives/pink-cadillaca-rite-of-passage.html?_r=0 ^ "Lost and Found Sound: The Stories". Npr.org. Retrieved 2015-09-08.  ^ Martin, Douglas (August 1, 2003). "Sam Phillips, Who Discovered Elvis Presley, Dies at 80". New York Times. Retrieved 25 April 2017.  ^ "Ownership Report for Commercial Broadcast Stations (BOA-19991130ABY)". Federal Communications Commission. December 10, 1999.  ^ " Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
inductee page". Alabama Music Hall of Fame.  ^ " Grammy Trustees Award list page". The Recording Academy. Archived from the original on 2015-10-02.  ^ "Inductee search page". Blues
Foundation.  ^ " Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
inductee page". Country Music Hall of Fame.  ^ "The Once and Future King full cast & crew". IMDB.  ^ "Memphis Melody cast". Quantum Leap
Quantum Leap
TV.com.  ^ " Walk the Line
Walk the Line
full cast & crew". IMDB.  ^ "Elvis full cast & crew". IMDB.  ^ " Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio
To Play Music Pioneer Sam Phillips; Launched Elvis, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash
& Jerry Lee Lewis". deadline.com.  ^ " Sun Records
Sun Records
Full Cast & Crew". IMDB. 


Foster, D. Wayne. retrieved from 2008 audio interview recording Guterman, Jimmy (1998). "Sam Phillips". In Paul Kingsbury, ed. The Encyclopedia of Country Music. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 414. CS1 maint: Extra text: editors list (link) Olsen, Eric P. "Founding Father: Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
and the Birth of Rock and Roll." The World and I. May 2001: 79. ProQuest. Web. 22 Oct. 2009. Talevski, Nick. "Sam Phillips". The Unofficial Encyclopedia of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Pop Culture Universe. ABC-CLIO. 22 October 2009.

External links[edit]

Sun Studio
Sun Studio
official website Interview with Sam Phillips Rock Hall of Fame Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
at Sun Studio Country Music Hall of Fame
Country Music Hall of Fame
and Museum Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
at Find a Grave Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
on IMDb

v t e

Country Music Hall of Fame
Country Music Hall of Fame

Charley Pride
Charley Pride
(2000) Faron Young
Faron Young
(2000) Bill Anderson (2001) The Delmore Brothers (2001) The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers
(2001) Don Gibson
Don Gibson
(2001) Homer and Jethro
Homer and Jethro
(2001) Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings
(2001) The Jordanaires
The Jordanaires
(2001) Don Law (2001) The Louvin Brothers
The Louvin Brothers
(2001) Ken Nelson (2001) Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
(2001) Webb Pierce
Webb Pierce
(2001) Bill Carlisle
Bill Carlisle
(2002) Porter Wagoner
Porter Wagoner
(2002) Floyd Cramer
Floyd Cramer
(2003) Carl Smith (2003) Jim Foglesong (2004) Kris Kristofferson
Kris Kristofferson
(2004) Alabama (2005) DeFord Bailey
DeFord Bailey
(2005) Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell
(2005) Harold Bradley (2006) Sonny James
Sonny James
(2006) George Strait
George Strait
(2006) Ralph Emery (2007) Vince Gill
Vince Gill
(2007) Mel Tillis
Mel Tillis
(2007) Tom T. Hall
Tom T. Hall
(2008) Emmylou Harris
Emmylou Harris
(2008) The Statler Brothers (2008) Ernest Stoneman
Ernest Stoneman
(2008) Roy Clark
Roy Clark
(2009) Barbara Mandrell
Barbara Mandrell
(2009) Charlie McCoy
Charlie McCoy

v t e

Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album


Stan Freberg
Stan Freberg
– The Best of the Stan Freberg
Stan Freberg
Shows (1959) Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg
Lincoln Portrait (1960) Robert Bialek (producer) – FDR Speaks (1961) Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein
– Humor in Music (1962) Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
– The Story-Teller: A Session With Charles Laughton (1963) Edward Albee
Edward Albee
(playwright) – Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
(1964) That Was the Week That Was
That Was the Week That Was
– BBC Tribute to John F. Kennedy (1965) Goddard Lieberson
Goddard Lieberson
(producer) – John F. Kennedy - As We Remember Him (1966) Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow
- A Reporter Remembers, Vol. I The War Years (1967) Everett Dirksen
Everett Dirksen
– Gallant Men (1968) Rod McKuen
Rod McKuen
– Lonesome Cities (1969) Art Linkletter
Art Linkletter
& Diane Linkletter – We Love You Call Collect (1970) Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
– Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam (1971) Les Crane
Les Crane
– Desiderata (1972) Bruce Botnick (producer) – Lenny performed by the original Broadway cast (1973) Richard Harris
Richard Harris
Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1974) Peter Cook
Peter Cook
and Dudley Moore
Dudley Moore
– Good Evening (1975) James Whitmore
James Whitmore
Give 'em Hell, Harry!
Give 'em Hell, Harry!
(1976) Henry Fonda, Helen Hayes, James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones
and Orson Welles
Orson Welles
- Great American Documents (1977) Julie Harris – The Belle of Amherst
The Belle of Amherst
(1978) Orson Welles
Orson Welles
Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1979) John Gielgud
John Gielgud
– Ages of Man - Readings From Shakespeare


Pat Carroll – Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
(1981) Orson Welles
Orson Welles
Donovan's Brain
Donovan's Brain
(1982) Tom Voegeli (producer) – Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raiders of the Lost Ark
- The Movie on Record performed by Various Artists (1983) William Warfield
William Warfield
Lincoln Portrait (1984) Ben Kingsley
Ben Kingsley
– The Words of Gandhi (1985) Mike Berniker (producer) & the original Broadway cast – Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1986) Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chips Moman, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins
Carl Perkins
and Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips
– Interviews From the Class of '55 Recording Sessions (1987) Garrison Keillor
Garrison Keillor
Lake Wobegon Days (1988) Jesse Jackson
Jesse Jackson
– Speech by Rev. Jesse Jackson
Jesse Jackson
(1989) Gilda Radner
Gilda Radner
– It's Always Something (1990) George Burns
George Burns
– Gracie: A Love Story (1991) Ken Burns
Ken Burns
– The Civil War (1992) Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Robert O'Keefe – What You Can Do to Avoid AIDS (1993) Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou
On the Pulse of Morning
On the Pulse of Morning
(1994) Henry Rollins
Henry Rollins
– Get in the Van (1995) Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou
– Phenomenal Woman (1996) Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton
It Takes a Village (1997) Charles Kuralt
Charles Kuralt
– Charles Kuralt's Spring (1998) Christopher Reeve
Christopher Reeve
Still Me
Still Me
(1999) LeVar Burton
LeVar Burton
– The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.


Sidney Poitier, Rick Harris & John Runnette (producers) – The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (2001) Quincy Jones, Jeffrey S. Thomas, Steven Strassman (engineers) and Elisa Shokoff (producer) – Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones (2002) Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou
and Charles B. Potter (producer) – A Song Flung Up to Heaven / Robin Williams, Nathaniel Kunkel (engineer/mixer) and Peter Asher (producer) – Live 2002 (2003) Al Franken
Al Franken
and Paul Ruben (producer) – Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (2004) Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
– My Life (2005) Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Dreams from My Father
Dreams from My Father
(2006) Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
– Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis / Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee
Ruby Dee
- With Ossie and Ruby (2007) Barack Obama
Barack Obama
and Jacob Bronstein (producer) – The Audacity of Hope (2008) Beau Bridges, Cynthia Nixon
Cynthia Nixon
and Blair Underwood
Blair Underwood
– An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore
Al Gore
(2009) Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox
– Always Looking Up (2010) Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart
– The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart
Presents Earth (The Audiobook) (2011) Betty White
Betty White
– If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't) (2012) Janis Ian
Janis Ian
– Society's Child (2013) Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert
– America Again: Re-becoming The Greatness We Never Weren't (2014) Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers
– Diary of a Mad Diva (2015) Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
– A Full Life: Reflections at 90 (2016) Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett
– In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox (2017) Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher
The Princess Diarist
The Princess Diarist

v t e

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Class of 1986


Chuck Berry James Brown Ray Charles Sam Cooke Fats Domino The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers
(Don Everly, Phil Everly) Buddy Holly Jerry Lee Lewis Little Richard Elvis Presley

Early influences

Jimmie Rodgers Jimmy Yancey Robert Johnson

Non-performers (Ahmet Ertegun Award)

Alan Freed Sam Phillips

Lifetime achievement

John Hammond

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 44528599 LCCN: no98022462 ISNI: 0000 0000 5521 1068 GND: 136528724 SUDOC: 079489516 BNF: cb14487962s (data) BIBSYS: 11038001 MusicBrainz: 19af19b7-5018-4dd8-bf3f-6c17a2ee4