Musicians can become icons in not only the music world but in all of popular culture. While most of you can name a lot of the pop music stars from most of the big eras of music; sometimes events and musicians get forgotten with time. The Million Dollar Quartet was one of those events that got lost with time even though the participants in the quartet are some of the biggest names in music. After being unearthed years later, the Million Dollar Quartet is a documented impromptu jam session at the Sun Record’s Studio in Memphis, Tennessee on December 4th, 1956. The impromptu jam session may have happened by pure chance; but the results were historic!
After the success of his hit “Blue Suede Shoes”; Carl Perkins was brought into the Sun Record Studio by owner, Sam Phillips, to test out new material. Perkins was accompanied by his band members (his brothers Clayton and Jay, and drummer WS Holland). Sam Phillips was accompanied in the sound booth by fellow Sun Records artist Johnny Cash (who was enjoying a lot of success on the country music charts at that time). Cash reportedly wanted to listen in to the Perkins recording session (but some have rumored that he was there to get paid). The piano player, a recent acquisition to the label, Jerry Lee Lewis (an unknown -outside of Memphis- piano player and singer) was brought in to play for the Perkins session and boost the Rockabilly sound on which Sun wanted to capitalize. As Jerry Lee Lewis banged away on an old upright Wurlitzer Spinet piano, Elvis Presley casually stopped by with then girlfriend Marilyn Evans. After briefly talking to Phillips in the control room and giving positive feedback about the tracks he had heard, he eventually entered into the studio and one of the most seminal moments in rock and roll happened.
Engineer, Jack Clement, was working that day and he says on seeing the guild of talent building up in the studio that “I think I’d be remiss not to record this,” and thusly started to record the impromptu jam session. The Quartet ran through a myriad of snippets from country and Western songs (by the likes of Bill Monroe and Gene Autry), R&B, blues, and a plethora of Southern Gospel hits they were familiar with from their childhood. While Jerry Lee Lewis led the crew on the piano, Elvis took over and knocked out five quick piano ravers before he and his girlfriend had to leave. Elvis is clearly heard the most in the recording but the four stars contributed in different ways. They not only contributed to the recording that day; but each went on to shake the ground which created the seismic quake that would alter the popular music landscape in the late 1950s and subsequently the music and pop culture world forever.
Featured Image – Facade of Sun Records Studio with Elvis Presley Plaque – Memphis, Tennessee – USA by Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22198169
Sun Records 45s by Jeremy Burgin – Sun 45sUploaded by shoulder-synth, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8839268
The Million Dollar Quartet attributed to original Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31656737
Wurlitzer Spinet piano accredited to Daryl Durand from Kansas City, United States – Wurlitzer Spinet PianoUploaded by clusternote, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17823602
Million Dollar Quartet theater sign by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom – Noel Coward Theatre – St Martin’s Lane, London – Million Dollar Quartet – signUploaded by Oxyman, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22459361
Million Dollar Quartet image over the Soda Fountain at 710 Union St. next to Sun Studios by Chris Light – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68679898