The Sun Records Collection
Rhino R2 71780 (three CDs), $49.98 . CODE: RHR-14
Sam Phillips was ready for alchemy to happen when he opened his recording studio in Memphis in the late 1940s. He loved blues, black popular music, gospel, white country, and everything in between, and he welcomed it all into his little offices. He cut his first hit in 1951 with the rollicking “Rocket ‘88’” by Jackie Brenston with His Delta Cats, who included a young pianist named Ike Turner. In the early fifties he recorded B. B. King and Howlin’ Wolf and a foursome of Tennessee State Penitentiary inmates called the Prisonaires, and he remarked that he could “make a million dollars if I could find a white singer with the Negro sound and the Negro feeling.” That white singer showed up in the form of Elvis Presley, whose first record, “That’s All Right,” in 1954, sparked a revolution. Other youngsters cutting discs in Phillips’s studio over the next couple of years included Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison. They all outgrew him and moved on to major labels, but not before Sun made them stars. This compendium includes many of their earliest classic sides—like “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Coin On.” The excitement and novelty of the time is summed up in a legendary moment in 1956, captured here, when three singers happened to find themselves together in the studio and belted out a thrilling, spontaneous “Down by the Riverside”: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins; Johnny Cash had just stepped out to go shopping.