© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The Source: How Sam Phillips' Sun Records Shaped Rock 'N' Roll

Wikimedia Commons/Adam Jones, Ph.D.

Credit wikicommons / cc
Sam Phillips (Left) started Sun Records of Memphis to push a new sound.

Rather than Elvis Presley, it was his first producer Sam Phillips of Sun Records of Memphis who has been credited with creating rock 'n' roll.

While that may be an exaggeration, it would only be a slight one. Phillip's role in the discovery and development of the founding artists of that and other genre's is incalculable. In addition to Elvis Presley, there was Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.

As we learn from Peter Guralnick, author of "Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll," Sam had no business plan when he started Sun Records. He just knew he wanted to create a place for the great black artists of the south to make music.

Guralnick says he did this because of his admiration for John Lee Hooker and Lightning Hopkins, because of the sounds he heard on his fathers rented farm from the fields. He believed that this music could change the world.

"He [Sam] believed to the core of his soul that once a mainstream audience heard the music" says Guralnick, "that mainstream audience would find it impossible to resist the power of the music, the beauty of the music - and at that point the music would break down the walls of segregation at the very least within  the musical world."

He had no idea how he would make money doing this, but knew he would do anything to keep his studio open.

Guest: Peter Guralnick, author of "Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll. How one man discovered Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, and how this tiny label Sun Records of Mempis, revolutionized the world!" (@PeterGuralnick)

*Audio for this segment will be posted by 5:30 p.m.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive