Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips ( born January 5, 1923 in Florence, Alabama, as Samuel Cornelius Phillips, † July 30, 2003 in Memphis, Tennessee ) was an American producer and record label owner. Phillips was the owner of the record company Sun Records and discovered stars like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.


Childhood and youth

Sam Phillips grew up in times of economic depression on in Alabama. Born as the youngest of eight children, Phillips was influenced by the rural old- time music, the spirituals and the blues. In high school, he led the school band and worked part-time as a radio presenter for the station WLAY. After Phillips' father was killed in the war of 1941, he left school early to help support his mother. Actually, he had planned to study law, but then focused on his career as a radio presenter.

Beginnings as a radio presenter

1942 Phillips married Rebecca Burns and took a job at WMSL in Decatur, Alabama. After a brief stopover in Nashville, Tennessee, he finally found a job in June 1945 at WREC in Memphis. His daily radio shows, Songs of the West and Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance were sent nationally on the CBS system. Memphis was already established as a musical center, especially for blues and jug bands, but there was at that time, no recording studio in the city.

Founding Memphis Record Service

In October 1949, Phillips hired at 706 Union Avenue is a small shop where he set up a modest recording studio. He got financial help in Buck Turner, a musician who appeared frequently at the WREC. Phillips slogan was "We record anything -anywhere - anytime" ( "We'll take anything, anywhere, anytime !"). First, Phillips made ​​in addition to the recordings of artists and recordings at funerals and weddings, he then pressed on vinyl and sold. With his friend Dewey Phillips he founded the label Phillips Records, the blues musician Joe Hill Louis could force the first 300 plates for the August 30, 1950. However, the company was forced to close after the first publication again.

Phillips subsequently changed its strategy, now made ​​recordings of local talent and sold the tapes to labels such as Chess Records or RPM of the Bihari brothers. In April 1951 Chess released the single Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston. The song had been a month earlier included in Phillips' studio under the direction of pianist Ike Turner and reached in May of the same year the number one R & B charts. Rocket 88 is considered to be one of the first rock and roll songs that were recorded. Phillips promoted in the next few years more rhythm and blues artists such as Howlin 'Wolf, BB King, James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon, Little Milton and Bobby Blue Bland.

Founding of Sun Records

After Phillips had a falling out with Chess, he decided again to start their own label. He also came despite his success in financial difficulties. Therefore, he gave up his job as a radio presenter and founded Sun Records, whose first release was Drivin ' Slow the 16 -year-old Johnny London. 1953 saw the label with Rufus Thomas ' Bear Cat his first hit.

In the summer of the same year a young singer named Elvis Presley made ​​the first recordings at Sun Studio. Almost a year later, in the spring of 1954, Presley sang on request on again. Phillips once said, " If I could find a white man with the voice and the feel of a negro, I would be a millionaire. " With Presley of these musicians seemed to have come. After a session with the musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black, the two called That 's Allright ( Mama ) and Blue Moon of Kentucky came out. Due to the economical instrumentation and the blending of white country music with black R & B rockabilly was born.

Further successes and subsequent years

By the end of 1954, more country artists such as Malcolm Yelvington, Ray Harris and Johnny Cash had reported that also played a similar sound. But Phillips initially focused on Presley. He sold his records, managed him, got him appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride and directed his recording sessions. In November 1955, Presley's contract was sold to RCA Victor, which finally made ​​a star of Presley.

From 1955 on, Phillips devoted to other artists. Johnny Cash's first single for Sun Records appeared with Hey! Porter / Cry! Cry! Cry! on 21 June 1955, and reached number 14 on the country charts. Even with Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Warren Smith and other rockabilly artists Phillips celebrated successes. The "Sun Sound" was known throughout the southern United States and found numerous imitators. During the next few years, Phillips continued, rockabilly for sale, reaching high sales figures. One of his recent discoveries was Carl Mann.

In the 1960s, the success of Sun Records quickly faded and Phillips sold the label to Shelby Singleton in 1969. He focused back on the radio industry and had several unsuccessful Studio projects.

Sam Phillips died in 2003 in Memphis, Tennessee.


In the movie Walk the Line (2005) Phillips was portrayed by Dallas Roberts in Elvis (2005) by Tim Guinee and Great Balls of Fire ( 1989) by Trey Wilson.