Legendary Rock 'n' Roll Jam Session Comes Home

Mic at Sun Studio: Dan Ball

Home of the Million Dollar Quartet - Sun Studio. Photo by Dan Ball.

Sun Studios. Photo Credit: Commercial Appeal

Sun Studio tours give you the opportunity to see where Elvis and Johnny Cash recorded. Photo by The Commercial Appeal.

Sun Studios. Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks

Sun Studio keeps on pumping out musical hits. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Journey back in time to December 4, 1956 and the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Carl Perkins had come in that day with his brothers at his side to cut new material. Perkins is trying to extend a wave of success following his rockabilly hit “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Also in the studio were Sam Phillips (owner of Sun Records) and an unknown firecracker of a piano man by the name of Jerry Lee Lewis. Lewis was still an unknown and was brought in by Phillips to play piano on the session with Perkins.

History is a little vague as to who arrived next, but sometime that afternoon Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash also turned up at Sun.

Presley was at the top of his game at the time having five hit singles and two top albums in the past year. Just four months prior he had been on The Ed Sullivan Show in front of an estimated 55 million people (the largest single TV audience at the time).

Johnny Cash, the hot country star was still sizzling after his recent hits “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.” Cash claimed in his autobiography that he was the first to arrive that day, wanting to get grab a listen to the Perkins recording session.

As things got grooving so did these musical geniuses - an ad-hoc jam session that lasted late into the night evolved. Presley, Perkins, Cash and Lewis belted out hit after hit playing and tweaking each other’s music. That flaming ball of raw musical energy burned bright for more than three hours and planted Sun Studio as a musical shrine.  

Sam Phillips, the PR machine that he was, called up the local paper to help record this momentous occasion. The very next day the Memphis Press-Scimitar ran a piece titled “Million Dollar Quartet.” It was the first and only time the group ever played together.

Today you can relive the famed recording session at Sun Studio by touring the legendary Sun Studio or see the Broadway show live at Playhouse on the Square May 5 - 28 , 2017.