On This Day

elvis demo disc, elvis sun studios, elvis record, elvis
Associated Press
A disc recorded by Elvis Presley as a
demo for Sun Records.

On This Day: Elvis Presley Makes First Professional Recording at Sun Studio

July 05, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On July 5, 1954, truck driver Elvis Presley visited Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn. The recording session launched Presley’s music career and is seen by many as the birthday of rock and roll.

Elvis Presley at Sun Studio

Elvis Presley was a 19-year-old truck driver, barely living above the poverty line, when he entered Memphis’ Sun Studio in July 1954 to record with local musicians Scotty Moore, a guitar player, and Bill Black, a bass player.

Presley’s recording session wasn’t noteworthy until he began to fool around during a break, singing “That’s All Right,” an up-tempo blues song written by Arthur Crudup. Presley’s recording session wasn’t noteworthy until he began to fool around during a break, singing “That’s All Right,” an up-tempo blues song written by Arthur Crudup. Rolling Stone describes that studio owner Sam Phillips, “stopped them and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘We don't know,’ they said. Phillips told them to ‘back up and do it again.’”

Phillips saw the potential for Elvis’ unique style of music, which fused the sounds of black and white music in a blend of blues, gospel and rockabilly. “That’s All Right” was released as a single with a version of Bill Monroe's “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the flip side. “With a faster tempo, a driving rhythm and shimmering vocals that played out teen melodrama, the record set the stage for rock & roll's arrival,” writes PBS.

In 1955, Sun Records sold Presley’s contract to RCA Records for an “unprecedented $35,000,” according to Elvis’ official Web site. Soon after his 21st birthday, he recorded “Heartbreak Hotel,” a chart-topping single that sold more than one million copies and transformed him into a superstar.

Biography: Elvis Presley

Elvis Aaron Presley was born Jan. 8, 1935, in a two-room house in Tupelo, Miss. His teenage years were spent the poor neighborhoods of Memphis, Tenn., where his “musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager,” according to his official site.

After graduating from high school, Elvis worked various jobs and made a few demo recordings at Sun Studio, the first of which he “reportedly gives ... to his mother as a much-belated extra birthday present,” his official Web site reports.

Elvis became the “King of Rock and Roll” in the mid-50s, enthralling audiences with his unique musical style, provocative hip gyrations and electric personality, and producing such hits as “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender,” “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

Presley’s musical career declined after a stint in the Army from 1958-60. He began devoting most of his time to making movies, including “Fun in Acapulco” and “Girls! Girls! Girls!” He stopped performing concerts and his popularity slowly waned.

He made a singing comeback in 1968 and toured the country throughout the 1970s, but he struggled with the demands of his taxing concert schedule. “By the beginning of 1977, when he turned 42, Elvis Presley had become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self. Hugely overweight, his mind dulled by the pharmacopoeia he daily ingested, he was barely able to pull himself through his abbreviated concerts,” writes Tony Scherman in American Heritage.

Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, of a heart attack. He is regarded as one of the greatest musicians of all-time. U2 frontman Bono, writing for Rolling Stone, says, “In Elvis, you have the blueprint for rock & roll: The highness—the gospel highs. The mud—the Delta mud, the blues. Sexual liberation. Controversy. Changing the way people feel about the world. It's all there with Elvis.”

Background: Sun Studio

Sun Studio was a small recording studio opened in Memphis, Tenn., by Sam Phillips in 1950. The studio grew as it launched the careers of many legendary black bluesmen with nowhere else to record, such as B.B. King, Howlin Wolf, Bobby Blue Bland, Rufus Thomas and Junior Parker.

Sun Studio would record what many consider to be the first rock and roll song, “Rocket 88.” Phillips and his studio helped launch the careers of musicians such as Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.

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