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Sam Philips - SUN Timeline

By NPRJul 31, 2003
Sam Phillips/Sun Records Timeline

Jan. 5, 1923
Sam Phillips is born in Florence, Ala.

June 1945
Phillips moves to Memphis, taking a job as an announcer and maintenance and broadcast engineer at WREC.

Oct. 1, 1949
Phillips signs a lease on a storefront at 706 Union Ave. in Memphis.

Phillips opens Memphis Recording Service and begins recording several local blues artists, including B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf and James Cotton.

Phillips records "Rocket 88" with singer Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner's band for Chess Records. This recording, widely considered the first rock 'n' roll record, hits No. 1 on the R & B chart. Phillips records "How Many More Years/Moanin' At Midnight," the first single by Howlin' Wolf.

Phillips launches his own label, Sun Records, with the release of "Drivin' Slow" by saxophonist Johnny London.

Elvis Presley stops at Memphis Recording Service to record two songs, "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," as a birthday present for his mother. Phillips notes that Presley has a good feel for ballads and should be invited back. Sun releases "Mystery Train" by Little Junior Parker.

Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black record "That's Alright Mama" at Sun Studios. It becomes Elvis' first hit.

Drawn to Sun by Presley's first single, Carl Perkins and his band audition for, and are signed by, Phillips. Phillips signs aspiring country singer Johnny Cash and releases his debut single, "Cry! Cry! Cry!/Hey! Porter." Despite Presley's growing popularity, his five Sun singles fail to make a dent on the national charts. Phillips sells his contract to RCA Records for $35,000.

Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" becomes Sun's first certified million-seller.

Sun releases "Flyin' Saucer Rock 'N' Roll" by Billy Riley and His Little Green Men. Featuring Roland Janes on guitar and Jerry Lee Lewis on piano, the song is a rockabilly classic. The label also issues Lewis' second single, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."

Phillips launches a new label, Phillips International. Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash sign with Columbia Records. Perkins leaves Sun immediately and Cash leaves in August when his contract is up. Jerry Lee Lewis hits No. 1 with "Breathless."

Phillips opens a new studio at 639 Madison Avenue in Memphis.

Phillips sells Sun Records to Shelby Singleton.

1970 - present
Phillips' sons run the family studio, the Sam Phillips Recording Service, and a music publishing company in Nashville. Phillips focuses on radio stations he owns in Alabama.

Phillips is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Phillips is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
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