5 Star Stories Studio Sessions: Memphis’ Sun Studio -- the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Updated: Dec. 22, 2020 at 9:45 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As we celebrate the things we love about the Mid-South, here’s a fun fact: nearly 20% of the earliest Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers came from a 100-mile radius of Memphis and many of those early talents laid sound to vinyl at 706 Union Avenue.

Tonight, our 5 Star Stories “Studio Sessions” takes us inside Sun Studio.

Memphis’ Sun Studio -- the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

”Sam Phillips started the studio in 1950,” said head engineer Daniel Crockett Hall

He says it started out as Memphis Recording Service with the Sun Records label in a back room.

”He started the studio with the intention of recording people like Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and Roscoe Gordon,” said Hall.

Ike Turner composed Sun’s first song, as other artists like Rufus Thomas took to the mic. Breaking racial barriers.

”He wanted to record blues musicians,” said Hall. “Blues musicians he heard on Beale Street. There wasn’t a professional recording studio in town where these people could go and record their music.”

Rock and roll was followed by country and rockabilly.

And what was once a mechanic shop along Memphis’ old Auto Row became the place where Elvis made his first recording -- catapulting Sun Studio to international status.

Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins.

”Bob Dylan said artists and singers who were recording here sounded like they were singing for their lives,” said Hall.

In 1955, the studio broke barriers for women with the launch of the world’s first all-female radio station W.H.E.R. funded with money Phillips received by selling Presley’s recording contract.

In 1959, Phillips closed Sun to open a studio with his namesake.

For decades the building sat empty until Memphis rocker Gary Hardy brought the studio back to life in 1987.

”There were so many people that came through, wanting to get in and see the place because around that same time is when U2 came through here and recorded several songs off of Rattle and Hum,” said Hall.

Now, Sun Studio is a tourist attraction by day, and a recording studio by night.

”Most studios nowadays, like you’re saying, you can record just one part or even just the vocal or the drums only, and we’re recording the entire song, all at the exact same time,” said Lydia Flecther, Sun Studio Co-engineer.

Sun’s vintage feel captured the attention of Rolling Stone Magazine this September, when former Stax Records house band artist Steve Cropper recorded in the studio where Fletcher says they still use the same equipment from the 50s.

”We definitely still record to tape here, which is not the norm, and a lot of other studios are modern-day,” said Fletcher. “We also use a console as an old broadcast console for when Sam was actually a DJ.”

A draw that captivates musicians and tourists alike, who leave this place with mementos, be it a Howlin’ Wolf T-shirt or a hit record, spreading Memphis music history around the world.

“There are so many artists that have been influential and when they come here to record, I think the icing on the cake is they find the room itself still sounds incredible,” said Fletcher. “There’s a magic in that room that, you know, I’ve never been a very superstitious person, but there’s definitely some incredible energy that has occupied this space.”

For more on hours and prices for guided tours and studio time, click here.

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