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SAM PHILLIPS, legendary owner of Sun Records and the producer who put the names of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich and Jerry Lee Lewis, etc, on the charts . . . died at little after 7 p.m. July 30, 2003 in a Memphis hospital. Phillips, 80, had been ill most of the year, in and out of the hospital. He was taken to St. Francis Hospital Wednesday night, but it was too late, he was already dead.
         Phillips founded Memphis' Sun Records back in 1952. He's the man who brought us the sounds of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and many other musicians. Phillips sold the company in 1969 and has been focusing on the radio stations he owned in Alabama since then. Sam was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the 1980's, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. He leaves two sons, Knox & Jerry.
Friends, family and fans: Knox, Jerry, Becky and Sally are all aware of this tribute page. Please take a moment to send us an e-mail. Thank you.

E-mail your comments/thoughts on Sam Phillips

The family requests any memorials be sent to the Sam Phillips
Scholarship Fund at the University of Memphis School of Music:

         Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music
         The University of Memphis
         Music Building, Room 121
         3775 Central Ave.
         Memphis, TN 38152-3160

There'll be no good rockin' tonight, SUN Records founder, Sam Phillips, died yesterday at age 80. With his passing, it is decidedly the end of an era. Sam Phillips was a key cog in the creation of rock and roll as we know it and had his only credit been the recording of Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88," his place in R&R history would have been ensured.
         If it were not for Phillips, the careers of many of our favorite performers, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, and others would be decidedly different had they not gone through the SUN studios at the beginnings of their careers. Elvis might have kept on driving that truck and been lucky to record, if at all, for some small local label without ever meeting Scotty and Bill and being able to woodshed their way to that classic sound they developed spending hours in the SUN studios after hours.
         Perhaps he never thought of himself in this manner but Sam Phillips was decidedly a visionary and an American original. Fifty plus years after the fact, his SUN Records label is still selling those same recordings around the world and 100 years from now, someone somewhere will be grooving to the rock n' roll beat of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Mann and the other members of the SUN canon.
-Larry Shell, The Jersey Wildcat!
July 31, 2003

The stage of the Cannon Center in Memphis where Sam's tribute was held

When I was ten years old the music of Sun records changed my life. There will NEVER EVER be another innovator like Sam Phillips. May he rest in peace and his rockin' legacy live on FOREVER! Thank you for the music Sam.
Adrian Clements

I had the very distinct honor, privilege, and pleasure of meeting Sam Phillips on August 5, 2002, when he appeared at J. & R Music in New York City to sign copies of "Sun Records: The 50th Anniversary Collection."
         He began by giving a brief talk about Sun Records, and answered questions from the assembled admirers. I got to ask him about Charlie Feathers and Barbara Pittman. Sam then chatted individually with each of us as he signed as many records, books, and photographs as we each brought. Sally Wilbourn was with him, and pointed out my Memphis Recording Service T-shirt, and the Sun Records tattoo on my arm. Sam looked at the tattoo,  touched it, smiled broadly, and said "God bless you."
         It is inconceivable that there ever was, or ever will be, a person as important to the development of popular music and popular culture as Sam Phillips, and there is no one, past or present, who I would rather have met.
Byron Sondergard

Hello, I was just reading a passage in a blues history where Ike Turner was going into Sam Phillips' studio that he had just built in 1951, and I remembered him from listening to an Elvis history tape a while back. I don't know much about Sam Phillips but he must have been an incredible human being. I just found this site and found out about his passing. Very sad to hear. Take care.
A fan.
Rupen, NYC

Just last night I caught a documentary on Sam Phillips about his fifty year celebration of 'Sun Records'. What moved me was the music and Sam himself. I always heard mixed reviews on Sam Phillips from artists etc., but I knew that deep down inside, most hard core rock music fans carry a deep sense of gratitude for what Sam did in music. I am glad to see that he knew and recognized his own contributions to music and that he was humble enough to invest time into listening to newer artists etc. He will be missed but now that I saw the documentary, I might be driven to go out and purchase some 'SUN RECORDS' albums. God bless Sam and although his physical presence is gone, his spirit will live to be eternal as the people he recorded. As a lover of good music, I know how revolutionary Sam's approach to his artists music was. Sun Records will remain as having a timeless sound that can echoe for countless generations. Thank you Sam.
-Ben Greenwood

Hi, although I am a bit older (32) I have found a new love for music. I am from Greenwood, Ms and have been studying blues and old style country rock. My journey started with Robert Johnson here in Greenwood and have came across Jerry Lee Lewis, although I remember him greatly as a kid. I have passed his home many times in Nesbit when I was an auto repossessor looking for people's car out there.  But my new love comes from listening to talk radio for the past 8 years and now I am wanting to learn the piano and guitar ... never to late to learn I hope!  Any way, just a note to let you know I enjoyed this website and read every word!!
Jim Tedford

Thank you Mister Sam Phillips, God bless you.

I will never forget hearing Elvis Presley for the first time as a 7th grader. I was smitten at once! Little did I know that the brains behind the voice was that of Sam Phillips. He knew a hit when he heard it - he knew greatness when he saw it! It takes talent to sing and be king, but it takes even more talent to launch the king. Sam was the great "launcher."  V. Nicholson
Springfield, IL

We are big Elvis fans and I wish we could have met the man who started it.
Thanks, Jim Edwards

I'm 65 and I still play my collection of Sun Records. Back in 1956, I even tried to record at his studio but got into an accident and never made it there (from Ohio). While I didn't know him personally, he (through his records) is still as much a part of my household as any fixture in it. The greatest thing a person can ever do is bring the kind of pleasure and enjoyment to as many people as Sam Phillips did. May God bless him in a very special place in heaven.
   Bob Huge -

I often think of Sam Phillips; even though I never saw him in person or talked to him, I feel that I should have made an effort to do so. I think about it often and I'm sure I always will. I am a record collector of music of the 1950s, and I have a massive collection; including the Bear Family Sun Singles six box CD sets. They are on display in one of my record storage cases. As you know, when the boxes of the CDs are arranged in order, they create a picture of his face. Not a day goes by that I don't look at his face several times and then I think of how much I miss not meeting him. In my mind his efforts, talents, and accomplishments in music at the Sun / Phillips-International Record Company in launching the careers of so many artists and their music created a substantial part of the core of emerging 1950s Rock and Roll. I wish that I had made the effort to obtain his autograph; it would have found a good home in my music room. But, at least, I have a tremendous appreciation and wonderful thoughts of him and his contributions to my life's musical interests and  record collection. I feel very good that I was able to share my thoughts with you.
Laurence Hoefler
1800 Avenue E
Del Rio, TX 78840
Phone: 830-774-4900


Hello, I am 58 years old and I am just now getting around to reading about Sam Phillips. He did great things for the music world. Would you be so kind as to explain the details surrounding Mr. Phillips selling Elvis Presley's contract? Did he regret doing it? Was it a mistake or did he always feel that he did the right thing? How long was Elvis' contract with Sun Records? If there is anything else that you could tell me about that transaction and about RCA Records involvement as well as Colonel Parker's involvement, I would appreciate it. Thank you for your time. Sincerely,
John C. Stone

Many greetings from Prague! I'm jazzpianist and my first musical influences was those incredible recordings Mr.Phillips made in 50's with Jerry Lee

"rock and roll will never die" - I was seven years old when I first heard Elvis singing "That's all right" on the radio. Sun records and Sam Phillips changed my life for better and forever. Thank you for the greatest music ever created on earth. Aloha,
Randle Brashear
Honaunau, Hawaii

Sam 'THE MAN' Philips, I will always be grateful for the fantastic, unique contribution you gave to the music of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis, Roy Orbison etc. You have achieved something by doing that, for everybody close to you (family and friends) to be so damn proud of you! You're just as legendary as the artists themselves !! Hope to meet you one day in rock and roll heaven ! (I hope). Leon van der Goes, Bladmos 23, 2661 MG Bergschenhoek, The Netherlands

Dear friends, I am sorry to hear about the passing of Sam, he was a great guy, one of a kind. I wanted to send my condolances. I am a member of Rockabilly Hall of Fame. My last contract was with SUN in Nashville with Shelby Singleton. Sam saw Sam at a rockabilly concert in Jackson, TN 2002. We sure will miss him. Your friend,
Bobby Caraway 

Sam Phillips and Jerry Lee are the reason that I keep plugging along on the piano here in Nashville! Had it not for Sam, There would have not been a Jerry Lee Lewis!! Jerry Lee tried, in the 50's! But, He was a lot like me!!! Nobody wants a Hony Tonkin Rock-n-Roll Piano Man here in the music city ... unless you're Brandon Giles ... according to Mickey!, Oh Well, I'll keep a rockin just as long as I can, cause I'm a Honky Tonkin Rock-n-Roll Piano Man!
Dom Fierro

From Michigan: So sad, the passing of a man who impacted my life as no other. My regret is that I never got to meet him.

MAN OH MAN WHAT A LOST A TRUE LEGEND. THE MAN BROUGHT ME THE BIGGEST GIFT TO LIFE WHEN HE SIGNED JERRY LEE LEWIS TO A SUN CONTRACT: HECK IM ONLY 19 YEARS OLD, but I feel the music that this man had these great men make. I'm a keyboard player with a JERRY LEE STYLE AND I LOVE HIM AS MUCH AS I DO SAM. Man I miss you. Wish i got a chance to take the sun studio tour ... it would have been an honor to have meet you. Anyways, to Sam I say thanks for the music, thanks for the memories and thank you for rock and roll. Sincerly your biggest fan.
mark anthony uzueta


He will be always remembered as the man who gave so many stars a chance to to express their musical talents and he knew talent and gave the world rock and roll a complete breath of fresh air. From all the rock and roll fans in Scotland, Sam you will be sadly missed.
Stan Moscrop, Specification Sales Manager, 07710 120963

From France: The name of Sam will always be associated with the explosion of rock'n'roll. He 's the one who made kings (Elvis and B.B) and earls (Jack of course), Killer and boppin' Perkins, the Man in black and the big O, the silver fox and the Howlin' Wolf and many, many others. Without him and some others (like Alan Freed) would rock'n'roll be here to stay for years and years? Thank you Mr Phillips for having my life change with your golden risin' sun.
David "long tall" Phisel from Paris

Well, like many, I suppose I've heard the good and the bad about Sam. I'm glad I had to opportunity to see him at the Rockabilly Festival in Jackson, TN last year. He gave a very impressive speech and I really enjoyed it. Whatever Sam was I don't think that there is any denying that he was an innovator and that he recognized raw talent and the kind of talent that had never been heard before. Therein lies part of his greatness. There never had been the pumpin' piano of Jerry Lee before Sam or the blue suede shoes guitar picking of Carl Perkins before Sam or the Folsom Prison sound of Johnny Cash before Sam. Of course there are countless others which Sam gave us. Perhaps they would have gone on to make it without Sam, who knows? What we do know is that Sam Phillips, good or bad, changed the history of music in the world forever. Thank God for you Sam. You'll be missed but the music you brought us will live forever.
Don Pittman,
Jackson, MS

Just found out about this. In following music, Sam's name was frequently mentioned for his support of unknown artists. He was a special person and just wanted his family to know that I, as well as other music lover friends of mine, have you in our thoughts and prayers.
Johnny Phillips
Fort Mill, SC

My sincere condolences go out to the Phillips family and friends.   I met Sam Phillips a few times and he treated me like a friend. There is nobody like Sam Phillips.   He discovered and developed every artist I ever really loved.   I will forever appreciate what he did for the music world and for the soul of every music lover.  He will be truly remembered and missed.
Kathy Hendren
Dyersburg, Tenneessee

Becky, family & friends,
I hope this reaches you - I have such fond memories of working for Sam under the name of Elaine Carroll at WLIZ in Fla. I treasure the days & some very special moments, spending time with Becky & Sam when they came to town. One hi-light was when he brought Jerry Lee & we all went out to dinner.
         The days at "LIZ" were some of the best in my life. I can't believe Sam is gone. I still remember him as he was in the 60's.
         I live now in Old Lyme, Ct. Still working for a major book publisher with an office in my home.
         Again, my thoughts are with you & of all the memories I will treasure forever.

My condolences to the family. I am still upset that his passing has not been mentioned on a wider scale. I'm afraid that the fluff that has become american culture doesn't have enough conscience to pay respect to one of the great heroes in all music history. I always hoped i'd get to meet sam someday. His genius cannot be overstated in terms of cultural impact and music history. Anyone who knows what they are talking about would agree, and I guess that counts for something. Good Luck.
Pete Silas

I Never Knew Sam Personally, but I Sshould have I feel like I lost something. He Was A Genious! My prayers to Both Knox and his brother Jerry. May God Be With You Both. Maybe Sam can starta recording studio In heaven for the angels, 'cause Sam could really spot talent! Sam you were a wonderful man. Love,
Kay Nell Gibbons -

It was such sad news to hear of the death of Sam Phillips. We will always remember his great contribution to real rock n roll. May his soul rest in peace.
Rockin' Robin (Jeff Smith) and Ian Levene

"...At the radio station (WREC) he was frequently met by fellow workers with greetings like, "Well you smell OK, I guess you haven't been hanging round those niggers today". By his own account, though , Sam Phillips wasn't fazed in the least."
         "I saw what I was doing not as deserting the black man - God knows,there was no way I could do that, because without the black man I don't know if I would have had the thoughts go through my mind that I did." (both quotes from 'Lost Highway' by Peter Guralnick). Sam not only changed the musical landscape but was truly opened minded and colour blind, rock n roll/rockabilly is not Mr Phillips only contribution to our culture he provides a great role model for compassionate rebels everywhere.
Ray Newe

To the general public he will always be the man who discovered Elvis Presley but there was much more to Sam Phillips. Most European music lovers and record collectors learned about Sam and his Sun Recording studio during the mid sixties when records on the now famous yellow label appeared on various auction lists. I believe I bought my first Sun singles from "Breathless" Dan Coffey and they included such gems as "Rock Boppin' Baby" by Ed Bruce, "With Your Love With Your Kiss" by Johnny Powers, "Slow Down" by Jack Earls, "Red Hot" by Billy Lee Riley, "Rock & Roll Ruby" by Warren Smith, "Right Behind You Baby" by Ray Smith, "Red Headed Woman" by Sonny Burgess.
         Then one weekend a friend came by with an album which made me dig even deeper and further back into the Sun catalogue "The Blues Came Down From Memphis" featured some of the blues material Sam recorded prior to his discovery of Elvis and his ventures into Rockabilly. The album stayed on the record player all weekend as we listened and critiqued "The Boogie Disease" by Dr. Ross, "Baker Shop Boogie" by Willie Nix, "Cotton Crop Blues" by James Cotton and "Bear Cat" and "Tiger Man" by Rufus Thomas. It eventually lead to the discovery of "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston (with Ike Turner on piano), the great Chess sides of Howlin' Wolf as well as Junior Parker's "Mystery Train" and "Red Hot" by Billy "The Kid" Emerson.
         In the early seventies I had the good fortune of being able to make two trips to Memphis. I never did meet Sam but I spent several days in the backroom of his brother Tom's "Selecto Hits" record store, digging through stacks of boxes with original Sun singles. The real great stuff, like albums by Charlie Rich, Carl Perkins and Frank Frost were gone but lots of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins material was still readily available.
         Around that same time Sam struck a deal with Shelby Singleton in Nashville which resulted in the release of many albums with Sun recordings. Mostly reissues of previously released material but every now and then an unreleased track would appear. Then when Charly Records in England obtained the rights to the Sun catalogue the flood gates opened. Compilations like "Sun Rockabillies Vol. 1 -3" and box sets covering the complete recordings of Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins showed the world how much great music was recorded at 706 Union during the late fifties. This barrage of unreleased material continued, on the new CD medium, into the eighties and nineties.
         It must have filled Sam with great pride to have the Sun Records building at 706 Union in Memphis declared a National Landmark recently. A tourist attraction by day, the studio is still used at night time to record any artist who is willing to pay for studio time. Billy Swan recorded his highly acclaimed Elvis tribute CD "Like Elvis Used To Do" as well as "Bop To Be" at Sun Studios during the nineties and also original Sun rockabilly cats Billy Lee Riley and Jimmy Van Eaton returned to 706 Union to record.
         Sam Phillips, through the music recorded on his labels, touched the hearts of millions of people all around the world. The Sun catalogue is without equal in the world of the independent labels and fans of Rockabilly, Country and Blues music will always be thankful to Sam for providing the opportunity to record to so many artists who knocked on his door. May he Rest In Peace!
Web Site:


Sam Phillips was truly a unique "one-of-a-kind" person. I had the great fortune to be able to meet and visit with Mr. Phillips on several occasions, and he always treated me like an old friend. The world has lost a very dear, extremely intelligent man who did so much for so many. My sincere condolences go out to all of his family. Sam, we love you and will miss you so much.
Marsha Whitehead - Corinth, MS

My thoughts and prayers go out to Knox Jerry, Sally, Becky and Sally. Sam played a big part in my career, and that is much appreciated. Your friend,
Johnny Powers

Truly we've lost another great one. Just look at the roster of artists he brought forth. A visionary for sure. Rest in Peace Sam. You're with your friends and laying down the great sounds.
Don DesChamps

I just hope that Sam Phillips wrote an autobiography that might get published someday. I don't know if he did.
"Daddy-o Dilly" Mark Dillman

Sam's contribution is enormous. He gave the world such legends as Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Howlin Wolf, Charlie Rich and - of course - the two I consider his best discoveries: Jerry Lee and Elvis. He also produced lesserknown but equally talented artists like Billy Lee Riley, Sonny Burgess and Junior Parker.
           Sam's label, Sun, is now wellknown. In the 1950s, it was a small label standing up to the megabuck RCA, Decca, Columbia, etc. Like King Records before it, Sun managed to survive and contribute. Although RCA made Elvis internationally famous and Jerry Lee and Roy would find greater success in the 1960s, these very artists wouldn't have been featured on any label in the 1950s bar Sun or some other local label. It gave these artists the start they needed - so much so that RCA couldn't afford to ignore Presley.
           Sam had his faults and failings, true, but he also had guts. He did the best he could with what he had. His biggest mistake probably was moving to Nashville. His best contributions were made in Memphis. Nevertheless, he gave it what he did in Nashville and held his own for a while.
           It is amazing what Sun achieved in many regards. A small label suddenly produces hits that top all three charts. Country stars like Lewis, Perkins and Presley suddenly challenge the Sinatra territory bigger than ever before (Moon Mullican's #15 pop position with "I'll sail my ship alone" was the rumblings of the coming musical revolution; Hank Williams' songs being covered by pop stars showed further disquiet with pop audiences at the time with 'pure pop').
           Finally, when one looks back at all this, it is nice to say that few producers can claim to have achieved so much with a small record label. His label now is as famous as any and more famous than most. Historically, it is arguably the most important label of the late 20th century.
Patrick Wall

Please check out the memoriam for Mr. Phillips in the Aug. 11th issue of TIME, page 19. Seems Sun Records was home to two kinds of artists, black and "redneck"!   The New York media-elite still don't get it. "Southern man don't need 'em around any how". Mr. Phillips was a true visionary, and deserved better.
     Mark A. Robey

Mister Sam Phillips, a icon of Rockabilly a man who did a hell of job for our music. A legend who wil never be forgotten. Rest in peace Mister and enjoy the compagne of so many great Artist ... sounds like you are back home ... we will meet again. Our toughts are with the family and all dear ones... BLESSINGS.
Nol & Wies

Thank you for your GREAT contribution for the BLUES, the COUNTRY MUSIC and the ROCKABILLY  MUSIC. We will pay a respectful homage to you and will devote a great article on Sun Records in our next number. R.I.P.
Bernard" Big Joe" ZITOUNE -Rock and Roll Music - France

Who knows what today's music would be like without the great Sam Phillips?!?!??? NOBODY!! He was the man who, after years of releasing GREAT black blues artists, discovered Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Warren Smith, Sonny Burgess, Billy Lee Riley and many, many others. I guess that most folks outside "the scene" really don't fully understand what kind of a label SUN really was. Just think about the names who has recorded there!! Charlie Feathers!!! Jack Earls!!! There is too many great names to mention here, really. Well ... it's a sad day for our kind of music - that's a fact! I'll NEVER forget Sam Phillips!!!
Svein Amundsen

I wish he is in heaven with EL, marion and other sun artists.
keiko oota -

Although I never got to meet the man, Sam Phillips will be sorely miss by everyone who knew and worked with him. I'm sure everyone on this list has some stories to tell about Sam who arguably is one of rock n roll's pioneers of promoting rock music during the early 50's. Chess records came around 1950 but Sun certainly had some of the best R&B singers in it's early years 52-55. When Elvis came along Sam had a huge star in it's hands which we all know would go on to greatness over the next 20 years. He branched himself into the rock market and creative some of the best recorded music in the history of popular music from 55-62 he had a lot hit records on Sun that crossed over from Country to R&B as well into mainstream Pop which during it's heyday Sam was at the top of his world. After 62 Sam never could emulate the sucess he had with Sun which by then became an obscure label which had other artists coming in to record music which never reached chart status. By 68 Sun was gone and it really marked the end of an era that really planted the seed of the birth of rock n roll. Sincerely,
Max Brand

From France. Grace à toi, tout les jours, j'écoute de l'or.

Sam Phillips was a true visionary and musical genius. He was able to think outside the musical box at the time, and with that created the new sound of Rockabilly with the likes of Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, Sonny Burgess, Billy Lee Riley and on and on.  What a fantastic life and time Sam must of had working and promoting these great legends. I, myself have wondered wouldn't be great and a job of a lifetime to have a time machine and go back to 706 Union Ave. in Memphis in between 1955 and 1958 and just see all the legendary music being made.  Rest in Peace Sam and God Bless you for what your visions brought forth to the musical world. Bennie Dingo, Rock-it Radio / KRKT 99.1 FM
e-mail: - website:

Sam Phillips came to the funeral home to pay his last respects when my Father passed away in 1998. Sam was wearing a white suit and Sally, his secretary for many years, was right there with him. My Mother introduced me to Sam and I remember him saying "you are as beautiful now as you were when you were just a little girl." I know Mr. Sam Phillips was only trying to brighten the sad day I was having and I thanked him for that.
         I saw Mr. Phillips a couple of times in 2002 and I knew he was not well then. My dad and Sam probably butted heads a few times in the music business but I know they never lost the personal respect they had for one another.
         What Sam Phillips/Sun Records did for the music world will never happen again. There will never be another Sun Records and there will never be another Sam Phillips. May you rest in peace Sam, you will always be remembered.
-Wanda Feathers Vanzant

The all girl station, WHER, became the first all talk station in the world. Before that they played Pop, big band, etc., but from the start they had a lot of news, talk, etc. It was started by Sam's wife Becky. Marion Keisker was one of the on air personalities. They signed off at night. I listened to WHER. I stopped listening to Top 40 radio. They only played Beatles, and I did not care to be bored to death. That was 1964, in Memphis, TN.

I had the great honor of making a film with Sam called Good Rockin' Tonight a few years ago. My heart is heavy there last few days. He touched me deep inside. I will miss him.
-Bruce Sinofsky

Sam Phillips - I went to the Jackson Rockabilly Festival,Jackson, Tenn (a few years ago) - luncheon honoring Sam Phillips. I recorded his talk and boy what a person. He not only was a pioneer but started the first women's radio station, in the US. Sam was dressed in all white, with his former secretary sitting right next to him. He spoke with articulation and pride in his work. He had the utmost respect and courage to give the Black artists a change. Our radio station aired "Fresh Air,"- today, with an interview Terry Gross did, a few years back. It was a great interview - if you are able to try and go to fresh airs website, it is truly a gem. On Monday, August 4, tune into (the Stranger) at 9-11pm, for a rockabilly special.

I think if it weren't for Sam Phillips we would never have had rock n roll, doo wop, punk, metal, and every other genre of music.
-Fred Borja

"Sam Phillips, in scarcely a decade of full-scale involvement in the record business -and for most of that decade functioning largely as a one-man operation -created a legacy comparable to no other, really provided the stylistic bedrock not just for rock 'n' roll, but for much of modern blues as well."
-Peter Guralnick

Sam Phillips recorded and preserved early blues and country and then took us all into a whole new age of RockN'Roll and RockABily, while never bragging (in the early years) and giving us some of the finest musicians we've ever heard: Billy Lee Riley, Charlie Feathers, Elvis, and even gave us a little taste of the early FEMALE RockABilly singers. He didn't always promote well and paid even less but he was willing to take the chance. Just here in Seattle a little over a year ago, gone too soon for any of us, now a legend, he'd been out of the recording industry itself since 1962. Rest In Peace Sam, we didn't interview you enough!
-Ed Rollman, a fan. Bremerton, Wa.

I have had the opportunity to meet Jerry Phillips (Sam's son) on several occasions, but only met Sam and his other son Knox once. I've heard the good and bad about the man from many Sun artists and I think Sam's contributions by luck or passion can't be denied. When I did meet Sam a couple of years ago, it was at a Jerry Lee Lewis Birthday Party/Concert in Memphis (with Shaun Mather and Phil Davies from Wales). The Killer came on stage, saw Sam in the front row and announced that "this will a six hour show," causing Sam to slouch down in his seat. Jerry Lee went on to do 2 hours and 20 minutes while he had Sam as a captive audience member. Finally the house lights went on and JLL was asked to shut down the show. But as The Killer said good night, he pointed at Sam and added ... "remember next time ... a six hour show!"
-Bob Timmers

My husband and I were very sad to read about Sam's passing. Here's a romantic little story....
Sam Phillips was the first person we told that we were engaged. My husband proposed to me in Memphis on a trip there in 2001. We decided to go to the Elvis theme bar afterwards to have a few drinks for fun ... it turned out Sam Phillips happened to be hanging out there that night. We went over and struck up a conversation, feeling a bit overwhelmed and intimidated of course. He was wonderful, funny and friendly. And gave us both big kisses on the cheek to congratulate us on our engagement. We took this as a sign of good luck. What was so amazing was how young he looked despite his years. Hope he's recording something good for us to listen to up there in heaven. :)
-Laura McGuire

The cover and one of the inside pages from the memorial booklet distributed at Sam's Funeral Service.

Sam Phillips's Obituary from the London Telegraph
Sam Phillips, who died in Memphis, Tennessee, on Wednesday, July 30, 2003, aged 80, was a vital figure in the emergence of rock and roll as the dominant form of popular music.
         Those to fall under the aegis of his Sun studio in Memphis included Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, as well as earlier black performers such as Ike Turner and B B King. His greatest achievement, however, was to launch the career of Elvis Presley. Phillips had long realised the lucrative potential in convincing a white audience to buy unacceptably black music. "If I could find a white man with the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars," he had told Marion Keisker, his office manager. She persuaded him to take a look at a 19-year-old truck driver who had come in to record two songs for himself in the summer of 1953 and had told her: "I don't sing like nobody." Phillips was initially unimpressed but, after helping Presley get a band together, decided to record their progress on July 5 1954.
         As Phillips attended to a technical problem, Presley, who had become frustrated by the delay and a studio temperature above 100F, began to sing and jiggle urgently to Arthur Crudup's blues tune That's All Right. Phillips burst in and excitedly demanded: "What the devil are you doing?" "We don't know," replied the guitarist Scotty Moore. "Well, find out real quick and don't lose it," ordered Phillips, who immediately recorded the tune.
         While Presley cowered in a cinema the next evening, the local radio station played the new record 14 times in a row in response to white teenage demand. Sam Phillips had found his man. Samuel Cornelius Phillips was born on January 5 1923 at Florence, Alabama. His father was a tenant farmer. Travelling through Memphis with his family in 1939 on the way to see a preacher in Dallas, young Sam managed to slip off to the city's musical heart, Beale Street. "I just fell totally in love," he later recalled.
         The Depression had bankrupted his father and on his death in 1941 young Sam had to leave High School in order to support the family. In doing so, he abandoned his ambitions to become a criminal lawyer. Instead he became a disc jockey and radio engineer, first in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, before moving to Memphis in 1945, where his brother Judd worked as a backing singer for jingles. He found Sam a job with a local radio station; among his tasks was the job of supervising the broadcast of dance bands from the roof garden of the Peabody Hotel.
         In 1950 Phillips opened a recording studio, hoping to record local blues acts. Initially he had to content himself with playing music at weddings, but he soon came to an understanding with the major blues labels, the Chicago-based Chess and Los Angeles's Modern Records, to produce Southern talent.
         Among those nurtured by Phillips were B B King and Howlin' Wolf. On first hearing the latter, Phillips exclaimed: "This is for me! This is where the soul of man never dies."
         Phillips aimed to capture the spontaneous feel of the music which emanated from his tiny studio. Much of the dynamism of the records associated with him could be attributed to his engineer's ear for sound and his innovative use of echo and tape delay.
         When Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm arrived to record in March 1951, their guitarist's amplifier had been damaged on the way when it fell from the roof of the car. Phillips stuffed the burst speaker cone with paper and used the distorted sound to create a booming boogie rhythm. The result was Rocket 88, often nominated by critics as the first rock and roll record. Phillips's make-do-and-mend approach continued. To create an over-amplified sound for Carl Perkins, he wedged the speaker against the lavatory.
         Although an earlier venture had been unsuccessful, Phillips's success with black acts allowed him to set up his own label in 1952, Sun Records. It flourished, with Phillips signing talent such as Rufus Thomas, Little Junior Parker and a group of Nashville inmates, The Prisonaires. The label also released the first five Presley singles.
         In 1955 Phillips sold Presley's contract to RCA Victor for the then prodigious sum of $35,000. He was often criticised later for having let Presley go, but at the time Phillips had mounting debts, and owed money both to his record-pressing factory and royalties to Presley. He invested the money in new white talent, notably Perkins and Cash, as well as the country singer Charlie Rich. After a lengthy theological discussion, it was Phillips who finally persuaded his piano session player, the pulpit-bound Jerry Lee Lewis, to cut Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On in 1957.
         Another target of his advice was Fidel Castro, who had been ridiculed by the press on his visit to New York in 1960. Phillips had a certain empathy with those damned by the moral majority and, after a few drinks, decided to call Havana. He eventually pummelled the operator into connecting him with Castro's bemused brother.
         "Raul," he said, "you tell Fidel the next time he comes to America he can come to Memphis, Tennessee, and stay with Sam C Phillips. Then maybe we can straighten things out." Diplomacy aside, Phillips was increasingly distracted by other interests. He had ploughed his profits from Sun into tin mines, oil wells, a string of radio stations with all-female announcers and, shrewdest of all, the fledgling Holiday Inn chain.
         Sun's major weakness was its inability to retain star performers. Presley, Lewis, and Orbison all moved to bigger labels in search of greater success, and by 1960 Sun was being overtaken as a creative force by Motown in Detroit and, in Memphis itself, by the Stax label. Phillips sold the entire concern to the country music entrepreneur Shelby Singleton in 1969. Phillips, who had long enjoyed upholding Southern traditions of conviviality, became increasingly reclusive in recent years, and gave few interviews. He remained fervent about his twin passions, Memphis and music, and brought a characteristic intensity to a later enthusiasm for Christianity.
         Describing rock and roll as "the Holy Ghost within us all", he once said his recording philosophy had been to give "the influence to the people, black and white, to be free in their expression". He was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Phillips had been in poor health for the last year, but until then refused to slow up. "I'll never retire. I'm just using up somebody else's oxygen if I retire," he said in 2000. He married, in 1942 (dissolved circa 1960), Rebecca ('Becky') Burns; they had two sons, Knox and Jerry. After 1960 his companion was Sally Wilbourne.

(Sam Has Left The Studio)
It's a Lonely Weekend

It's quiet at the little studio on Union Ave in Memphis, Sam's gone home only memories hang form the walls where rock-a-billy music was born. Memphis has lost The Father of Rock-n-Roll.
         I was there this past year and made my way around the studio. I looked over the modest console that Sam had recorded "That"s All Right" on. No 32 track Hi-Tech catch-every-sound deal, just a 1 track get it down-right-the-first-time or lose-it-forever.
         Looking through the large glass window from inside the console you see the area that Scotty Moore, Bill Black and Elvis stood when when Sam recorded them playing the sounds that later would become history.
         Born in Florence, Ala,Sam made his way to Memphis working in radio stations as a Dis-Jockey till he had enough money saved to buy the equipment he needed to build a recording studio. A building was available on Union Ave. at a monthly price that Sam could afford. Sam moved in and begin to build his dream. He called his new business The Memphis Recording Service. Now he had a building and a studio but no business and a family to feed.
         This is not a story that has rich beginnings such as Henry Ford or Howard Hughs, Sam Phillips was a long way from making money or being Famous. Sam met Dewey Phillips a local DJ and they decieded to form "The Phillips" record Co. Howlin Wolf came by, Ike Turner and Rufus Thomas and slowly the company begin to do a little business. Nothing was easy, all the Big Name record companies were in New York, Chicago or Los Angles. Nashville had Country Music under control leaving no reason for Sam Phillips to survive with his recording studio near the muddy Mississippi in the Western sticks of Tenn, in Memphis.
         But survive he did aganist all odds, keeping his dream alive with one set back after another. Sam disolved his partnership with Dewey Phillips, as the company was going no where. Sam begin to record blues artist and sell the masters to Duke, Modern/RPM, Chess/Checker, Flair, Trumpet and Bullet records in Nashville. He even sent some demos to Mitch Miller at Columbia.
         Sam had recorded B.B. King, Little Milton, Roscoe Gordon, Sleepy John Estes, and Joe Hill lewis and was still just making enough to pay the rent and buy a few groceries, he was getting no where selling his masters to other record companies, His Dream to do something no one else was doing was gathering dust. If he could only find something or someone who was different?? However Sam needed to do something quick or his Dream would go broke.
         In Feb of 1952 Sam decieded to form his own record company and become an independent label. A move he was never to regret. In 1952 Sams brother Judd became a partner and Sun Records was off and running. Judd was everything Sam needed. Judd had worked for Roy Acuff and then moved on to Hollywood to work for Jimmy Durante in the Publicity Dept. Judd knew how to sell records through radio and was an ace at peddling records all over the south out of the trunk of his car. Judd set up record distrubition in New York Los Angeles and New Orleans.
         Now Sun had National record Distribution. Junior Parker gave Sun it's first "hit" with (Feeling Good) then another with (Mystery Train). Most people have only heard Elvis sing the song however the orginial by Parker really Rocks. Next Sam begin to record country artists, he had Malcom Yelvington, Maggie Sue Whimberly who became Sue Richards and had a "hit" with (Norman) after she left Sun. Doug Poindexter, Clye Leoppard, Slim Rhodes, Hard Rock Gunter, Bill Taylor and Brad Suggs all recorded country music on the Sun Label.
         All these artist passed in and out of Sun before Elvis came along. It's true Elvis got Sun Records known world wide. Then came Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis to help make Sam Phillips even more famous. However we must give credit where it is due. Sam didn't have to let Elvis go when he did. He could have held on to Elvis, he didn't, in a smart move he sold him for the amount he asked for. He then used some the money to buy into the newly formed Holiday Hotel which later became Holiday Inn.
         Sam also kept Jerry Lee Lewis stable after his marrage to Myra Brown when the whole world was down on Lewis. He encouraged him and told him to wait things out that he would once again be rich and famous. With Sam's blessing Jerry Lee moved on to Country Music and did become again rich and famous.
         Another artist from Sun that stayed in the shadows but has a world of talent is "the one and only" Billy Lee Riley. Billy Lee Riley has become an Icon of Rock-a-billy music. Billy Lee has kept going and and going and going and it's paid off for him as he's known around the world for his dynamic shows. You can't put on a Genuine Rock-a-billy show without Billy Lee Riley and without Sam realizing Billy Lee's talent we'd have missed a great entertainer.
         Sam, thanks for those famous Sun 45's with the name Red Hot - Billy Lee Riley And The Little Green Men stamped on the beautiful Sun label. Sam ole boy, you gave us many memories that will last forever. Also, thanks for dropping by Memphis and setting up shop and filling our Hearts with the best Rock-a-billy music ever recorded. My friend, you stand tall in my Rock-a-billy book. Rest in Peace, I'll always remember you.
-Widmarc Clark

"Sam Phillips' gave us the best of rock-and-roll...
By Karl Rohr. Only a few select mailing addresses have been branded into my brain so deeply that I can recall them without hesitation. With apologies to former girlfriends, I can only remember the addresses of my current residence, present employer, the University of Mississippi, my mother and for reasons I don't fully understand, a small building in Memphis, Tenn.
         Maybe the address of 706 Union Avenue, appropriately enough, just sounds good, or maybe at some point during one of my visits, an electric power surge sent shock waves into my fingers as I touched the studio walls, traveling through my arm, into the coronary arteries and smacking my brain so hard that it not only burned my brain, it warmed my soul. I mean, boiled it alive, baby.
         What went down at Sun Records in the 1950s could only have happened in Memphis. The fact that it happened at all staggers the imagination. In the midst of McCarthyism, Cold War paranoia, desegregation violence and Eisenhower conservatism, America found a cure in a boiling cauldron in Memphis, full of dangerous ingredients guaranteed to spin the head and the hips.
         Sam Phillips, the alchemist responsible for this potent brew, died of respiratory failure in his beloved Memphis on July 30 at the age of 80. His death did not receive the media coverage I thought it deserved, but Phillips was never a star. One doesn't make headlines for having great ears.
         Still, America lost one of its cultural heroes. Johnny Cash said it best: "It was like Camelot. For one shining moment in history there was a unique situation, never before and never after. And he was the man who brought it all about."
         A memorable description of the 1950s Phillips appears on the first page of Peter Guralnick's essential Elvis Presley biography, Last Train to Memphis: "In the Peabody Drugstore, on the corner of Union and Second, a well-dressed, elegant-looking young man of twenty-seven sits, nervously drumming his fingers on the countertop. His tie is carefully knotted, his luxuriant chestnut-brown hair is carefully sculpted in such a fashion that you know that this might be the feature of which he is most proud; he is smoking a Chesterfield in a slender cigarette holder and wearing a gold pocket chain."
         It took a man of confidence to promote the music he enjoyed most. The white Phillips recorded important black blues artists and leased the masters out to other independent labels. The music soon transcended race, chipping and eventually sledge-hammering away at segregated Memphis, including its radio stations.
         Phillips became known in Memphis as the man to see if you wanted to cut a record. Scholars will never tire of telling us the cultural, racial and social class issues that came together to create the Sun Records legend, but no one can explain why the talent was so d**n good, the artists so eccentric and how attitude mattered big time in all of this. A musician had to be more than just a great player to make it at Sun. Even the label's country artists would have given Nashville the creeps.
         Elvis gets all the headlines, and it's fair to say that he above all others is the artist forever associated with Phillips, as well he should be. Phillips knew that the Memphis music he recorded needed an interpreter who could wrap it all up in one package with a pretty bow and sell it to the public. If such a person emerged, Phillips knew he would become a millionaire. But the connection with Elvis always includes the question, "Why did Phillips sell Elvis to RCA?" Phillips never publicly regretted the decision to lose his biggest-selling artist, but those who called Phillips daft could not comprehend what he could see coming. No one, least of all Elvis himself, could contain his star and Hollywood power. And Phillips had no use for Hollywood. His place was behind the control board on Union Avenue.
         The clearest proof is found on Elvis' The Sun Sessions CD, in which the listener hears studio outtakes and Phillips trying to direct the raw kid from Tupelo, Miss. Nearly 50 years after the sessions, the record still packs a wallop. The songs and mood swing from flat-out rockers to revved-up country, from make-out ballads to eerie, atmospheric something, all recorded in glorious echo, all saying that no record label on Earth was like Sun.
         Although Phillips had a rogue's gallery of gifted artists, including Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison, Ike Turner, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas and Charlie Feathers, one behemoth bluesman from Mississippi always awed Phillips above all others. My first awareness of Phillips came not from Elvis, but from Howlin' Wolf, the untamed, gigantic force of nature that made Robert Johnson sound like a wimp. When Phillips first saw the Wolf, he remarked that he had the biggest feet he had ever seen on a human, and when he first heard him sing, he said, "This is it for me. This is where the soul of man never dies."
         When I first visited Sun Records, I wondered how that tiny studio ever contained Howlin' Wolf. I recalled when Phillips told an interviewer that the Wolf was the only artist he ever allowed to drink booze during recording. It had little to do with soothing the vocal cords and everything to do with Phillips' fear of Wolf squashing him like a bug if he took his bottle away.
         As a history doctoral student at the University of Mississippi, I walked many Memphis streets and visited many musical landmarks, and tried to understand what hung in that thick, hot air when Phillips switched on the studio microphone. One of the wonderful things about studying history at Ole Miss was the steady stream of great southern historians, artists and musicians who spoke or performed on campus, and on one extremely memorable day in 1998, Phillips spoke at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.
         The room was full of faculty and graduate students, and our collective identity as nerds reaffirmed itself all too clearly when Phillips walked to the podium. Lean and hip with long, wavy brown hair, sunglasses, smartly-tailored brown suit and attitude to burn, this guy, I thought, is what I want to be like when I'm in my 70s. I could tell that he had some cosmetic help with the agelessness, but he still had a calm confidence and aura that plainly told the audience, "I'm the coolest person in this room." Had I not known who he was, I would have said, "That guy has to be in the music business." And he must have something to do with rock-and-roll. I mean, real rock-and-roll.
         Phillips told us that if he had the choice between deafness and blindness, he would have chosen the latter. He could not live without music, and as long as he had it, he would never be blind.
         If you love American music, you can be thankful that Phillips was born more than a little color blind, and he heard things that most other Americans could not even imagine in the 1950s. For an all too brief period ‹ he sold Sun to Mercury Records in 1969 ‹ Phillips gave us many of the most soulful, strangest, beautiful and rocking recordings in this country's history. His body of work is thrilling in its sweeping vision and formidable array of talent, but it sadly reminds us of the soullessness, shallowness, and tastelessness of today's popular music.
         Sam Phillips was a man of taste, and he helped to give us rock-and-roll. What his music became has been out of his hands for a long time. But while he was at the board, it rocked hard with heart and deep soul. Thanks, Sam. You heard America calling and served our country when we needed you most. Rest in ever-rocking peace..." html
(Karl Rohr teaches history at Western Carolina University. He can be reached at

"A Legend ... Who Didn't Act Like One ...
By Jennifer Van Vrancken. Sun Studio is Sam Phillips' most obvious legacy, but from the mix of folks who were paying their last respects at a visitation service. Sam Phillips also leaves a legacy in the people he touched and by the doors he opened. Such a mix of folks - young and old, black and white ... some you recognize ... others you wouldn't know at all. But that's the beauty of the man they're all here to honor. Dean Richard Ranta of the University of Memphis says of Sam Phillips, "Willing to talk to anybody ... so gracious ... so willing to spend time with folks. He was a person who was truly historical, but really never acted like that." Sam Phillips was the man who gave us Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis ... but he was also the man who made Leroy Bratcher feel just as important. Bratcher says, "I've been knowing Mr Phillips a long time. He did two or three recordings of my gospel group. That's what brought me down here to pay my last respects to the man." Bratcher and others also remember Sam Phillips for the doors he opened for African American musicians. Lynne Sitler is with the Memphis and Shelby County Film Commission, "What he did in the early days for racial harmony, recording the black artists is as important as his contribution to the world of music." George Klein, a longtime friend of Elvis Presley and Sam Phillips says, "He opened the doors for a whole lot of people. I mentioned that to the Everly Brothers one time and they said.. No George, Sam Phillips didn't open the door ... He kicked it down and we walked through." Now a whole new generation is walking through those doors and they're well aware that they have Sam Phillips to thank. Aspiring Film maker Craig Brewer puts it this way, "There's something that even Sam was shocked about - how many young musicians in Memphis hold him up as their idol. Many people think that Memphis is all about Elvis and BB King - and while I respect their legacy ... we all know who got the ball rolling..."

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