Elvis Presley microphone, Sun Studio, Memphis
Memphis, Tennessee — Pictured above is the Shure 55 microphone said to have been used by Elvis Presley, and beyond it, the control room window at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service (now known as Sun Studio), the birthplace of rock and roll. The first rock and roll song, “Rocket 88,” was recorded here in 1951.
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On July 18, 1953, an 18-year-old Elvis Presley showed up and paid $4 to record an acetate intended, the legend goes, as a gift for his mother. He sang “My Happiness” for the A side, and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” for side B. (You can listen to both sides on YouTube.)
A year later, Elvis was invited back to the studio. At his first real recording session on July 5th, 1954, he cut “That’s All Right,” his first real record, which was played repeatedly the following night by Dewey Phillips on his WHBQ radio show, “Red, Hot & Blue.” The song became an instant sensation.
An astonishing succession of rhythm and blues, country, and rockabilly artists — including Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Ike Turner, Rufus Thomas, the The Prisonaires, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich recorded in this studio at 706 Union Avenue throughout the 1950s. It is the most important room in the history of rock and roll music. (See Elvis/Sun Records guitarist Scotty Moore’s website for more of the history of Sun Studio.)
Music writer Peter Guralnick has authored a masterful two-volume biography of Elvis Presley (Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley) as well as a book on the genius who discovered, recorded, and popularized all of this talent, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll. All three books are highly recommended reading.