BBC: Elvis producer Phillips dies. One of those headlines you really wish you could rewrite. How about, “Sam Phillips, secret father of rock and roll, dies”? Because surely Phillips’ role in encouraging Elvis’ recording sessions away from bad ballads and towards “That’s All Right’ is among the founding moments in the creation of the music, as is his role in starting the careers of Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash.
When I toured Sun Studio back in 1997, on our pre-honeymoon in Memphis, I felt Sam’s presence around every corner of this unremarkable little building in a gravelly parking lot. The old recording equipment, shockingly primitive compared even to the tiny studios I’ve been in, and the unadorned plainness of the space told a different story than the pictures in the entranceway (also reproduced on the home page for Sun), showing Elvis at the piano and Jerry Lee, Johnny, and Carl Perkins (composer of “Blue Suede Shoes”) leaning over and singing along. The picture has the feeling of iconography, but the studio was set up for hard work and inspiration, the piece that Sam brought to the mix.
Sleep well, Sam.