The capital city of soul and rock'n'roll, which launched the careers of stars including Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Jerry Lee Lewis, has hit hard times. In its heyday Elvis was its king in his Graceland mansion. Yet today the stardust of Memphis is gone, replaced by high unemployment, crime and grinding poverty.
Now an unlikely figure, the former boy band member Justin Timberlake, has emerged as its would-be saviour. He is negotiating to build a huge recording studio complex and to buy up two of the city's world-renowned record labels, Sun, which gave the planet Elvis and rock'n'roll, and Otis Redding's Stax. The audacious plan would revive Memphis as a creative centre in a way not seen since BB King and Booker T and the MGs played Beale Street in the Sixties.
Timberlake's move is not without controversy. Smaller studios and labels that have struggled in the city for years fear they could be ruined by such a powerful player signing up local talent. Senior figures behind the project said Timberlake, 24, could launch a new record label to go alongside the revival of Sun and Stax, or dramatically expand the company he started up this summer, JayTee Records, which signed hip hop's Joshua B as its first act. 'Right now it is something that is in the works, but it's not something that can really be spoken about. It would be great, wonderful for Memphis,' said Jon Hornyak, senior executive director of the Memphis chapter of the Recording Academy, the body behind the Grammys music awards.
'[Justin] is the biggest pop star in the world right now. It's like when Elvis was here 50 years ago, it shook a lot of things up and people paid attention,' said Hornyak. Timberlake started out as a teen pop vocalist, but as a solo artist has swung towards R&B and rap. His studio would probably record a variety of styles.
It's very exciting to have someone of his significance participate in the music scene here,' said Ray Fleming, president of the Memphis Music Foundation. Sun Studio is now primarily a tourist attraction, especially the room where in 1954 a young Elvis sang 'That's All Right (Mama)' and rock 'n'roll was born. It also hosted Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash; Carl Perkins recorded 'Blue Suede Shoes' there. Country music producer Shelby Singleton bought Sun in 1969, and ever since his family has owned a major stake in the valuable back catalogue of more than 7,000 songs.
'We have been talking to Ray Fleming about a group he is working with who might be interested in buying Sun. It depends if the price is right. I have also heard that they [the group of investors and Timberlake] may be trying to buy Stax too,' said company president John Singleton. Fleming said Stax was now worth more than $1 billion.
'Even Puff Daddy or Jay-Z's labels do not make that kind of money,' he said. Not everyone is thrilled at the prospect of Timberlake's homecoming. The city has about 20 independent recording studios and about 50 tiny record labels. 'The business leaders say Timberlake will bring wealth to the town for everyone but there are too many vested interests at the top of the industry, and we are worried that all the power and investment will be kept there,' said one small-label owner.
'All the new talent would probably want to sign with him, not us.'
Justin Timberlake Bids For Elvis's KingdomOctober 02, 2005 | Other Source:For Elvis CD Collectors Forum
sttos wrote on October 03, 2005
I hope that the common sense of memphis is to keep people like Justin Timberlake from ruining the historic atmoshpere in memphis. Letting him near there would be like taking a wrecking ball to every building in beale street.
shaneleebrown wrote on October 03, 2005
I disagree, if Memphis is struggling and someone like Timberlake thinks he can revive it, good luck to him. It sounds as if he is going to revive the Sun and Stax labels therefore keeping some of the heritage and also moving with the times with his own label. I agree that historical places such as Memphis (and, more importantly, New Orleans)should keep their original appeal, but things can't be stuck in the past. Celebrating the past and also giving a future is a good move in my eyes.
cathyreno wrote on October 03, 2005
as long as they keep sun studios untouched I dont care who owns it.But if Mr Timberlake gives this place the respect it deserves fair play.I think he will, hes a memphian at heart.
buyep01 wrote on October 03, 2005
I agree with sttos I would almost bet that at first you would see heritage and hear justin timberlake talk about the history of memphis. AS always when Historic sentimental value vs Cash people would find someway to justify remodeling Sun studios. Justin Timberlake may think he represents my generation (I am 28) well maybe a little younger generation but I cant stand him, my ex wife got me a free ticket to go to his concert and I gave it away. Graceland and Elvis presley are that city financialy and Historicly. The tape on the floor where the king invented Rock and roll in sun studios in a matter of time will be no more if this happens. Maybe it is a good thing EPE was bought by a Billionaire. With his wealth surely he has enough pull to keep this from happening. I never thought I would say this but can we have Mr. Tom Parker back just to nip this thing in the bud, He would probably keep 80% of the money made but you could be guaranteed Elvis would be the focal point of the whole deal in the end, I don't know if I love him or hate him I guess it depends on which stories about him are fact or fiction.
PTCJones wrote on October 04, 2005
I found what Jon Hornyak said was most amusing. No disrespect, but Timberlake is no young Elvis and I certainly don't consider him the biggest pop star in the World. I do agree on one thing though, Memphis is a pit and needs some serious money invested in such an important City
cathyreno wrote on October 04, 2005
I dont think much of him myself but money talks I know. Who owns sun studio's at the moment? why are they selling? thats what I like to know
byebye wrote on October 04, 2005
The issue is not about money.. Its about the fact that a wannabe like JT has about as much credibility as Boney M! Of course he wants to stand in the limelight of the SUN.. Let Bob Dylan buy it for 1$! and people with real aim to make quality music would be drawn to those labels again. Thats whats gonna pay off in the long run for Memphis.
MauriceColgan wrote on October 04, 2005
According to the Memphis newspaper "The Commercial Appeal" the story of the Sun studio sale is wrong. Nevertheless like the Kate Bush, Elvis song story, the international media has latched onto it. Even here in Irelandtoo the Justin Timberlake story is circulating.
ta2k wrote on October 04, 2005
I don`t like JTimberlake`s music so pay no real attention to him,but on the occasions i have come across interviews or comments from him,i`ve never heard him mention his love for Memphis,the only love he constantly expresses is of MJackson.I think that say`s it all really! He is not fit to enter the studio,never mind buy it!!! TCB
Teacher wrote on October 04, 2005
FYI: Sun Studio: Sun Studio opened by rock pioneer Sam Phillips at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 3, 1950. It was originally called Memphis Recording Service, sharing the same building with the Sun Records label business. Rock-and-roll, country music, and rockabilly artists, including unknowns recording demos and others like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Feathers, and Jerry Lee Lewis, signed to the Sun Records label recorded there throughout the latter 1950s until the studio outgrew its Union Avenue studio. Sam Phillips opened the larger Sam C. Phillips Recording Studio, better known as Phillips Recording in 1960 to take the place of the older facility. In 1969, Sam Phillips sold the label to Shelby Singleton, and there was no recording-related or label-related activity again in the building until the September 1985 Class of '55 recording sessions with Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, produced by Chips Moman. In 1987 the original building housing the Sun Records label and Memphis Recording Service was reopened as "Sun Studio" as a recording business and tourism attraction. "Sun Records" of Memphis: The most famous Sun Records was the fourth label to bear the name. It was based in Memphis, Tennessee starting operations on March 27, 1952. Founded by Sam Phillips, Sun Records was known for giving notable musicians such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash their first recording contracts and helping to launch their careers. Although, before those days Sun Records was recording African-American artists. Phillips loved Rhythm and Blues and wanted to get Black music recorded for a White audience. It was Sun producer and engineer Jack Clement who discovered and recorded Jerry Lee Lewis while owner Sam Phillips was away on a trip to Florida. The music of many Sun Records musicians helped lay part of the foundation of late 20th century popular music and rock and roll and influenced many younger musicians, particularly the Beatles. In 2001, Paul McCartney released an album titled "Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy Of Sun Records".
ElvisDayByDay wrote on October 05, 2005
I don't understand all the negative comments here. Sam Philips sold SUN, the building has been a butchershop and a diving school before being (re)turned into the museum and recording studio it is today. To put it negative, all that's original are the building itself, the tiles on the floor and the special ceiling for recording. What remains is that it is the spot where everything happened. That makes it an historic landmark in my eyes. We all want young people to enjoy the "old" music we love. Now one of the big names and a young Memphis artists wants to do something positive with the old labels and studio's and most commend are negative. Wouldn't it be great to see this label active again?
Teacher wrote on October 05, 2005
From the Commercial Appeal: Investors aim for Sun label, Only if the stars align, say catalog's Nashville owners. By Michael Lollar, October 4, 2005 Sun Entertainment Holding Corp., the Nashville company that bought Sun Records in 1969, has been talking about a possible sale that could bring Sun back to its Memphis roots. Sun chairman Shelby Singleton and his brother, Sun president John Singleton, said Monday they met earlier this year with Memphis Music Foundation president Rey Flemings, who told them the foundation is interested "in bringing Memphis music back home." Shelby Singleton said Flemings told them he represented a group of roughly a dozen Memphis investors that would include pop star Justin Timberlake. Singleton said that Sun would be for sale "if the price is right." That would mean a minimum of $35 million, he said. Flemings said Monday he did meet with the Singletons, but he denied indicating that Timberlake was part of an investment group. Ken Sunshine, a New York spokesman for Timberlake, said it is "not true" that the pop singer plans to invest in a repurchase of Sun or its catalog. John Singleton said he understood during Flemings's visit to Nashville that Timberlake would be an investor. "We got that impression, that he was part of a group." Flemings said he does not represent Timberlake and denied being involved with "any ongoing" negotiations. The Singletons said other musicians have expressed interest in Sun, including U2's Bono, who recorded tracks for Rattle and Hum with the band at Sun in Memphis. Bono is a partner in a California investment company, Elevation Partners, which has talked to Sun owners about a sale, Shelby Singleton said. "There are a lot of people who have come around and kicked the tires, but nobody has brought any money." The record label sold the early Sun recordings of Elvis Presley, including his first releases, "That's All Right" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky," but it still owns recordings by Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins. "(Sun is) a one-of-a-kind, the Mona Lisa of rock and roll," Shelby Singleton said. Knox Phillips, son of Sun founder Sam Phillips, said the Phillips family retained a 20 percent ownership when the Sun catalog was sold to the Singletons for $1 million in 1969. "I have not been involved in any discussions about this," Phillips said. "Over the years, there have been many different people who have been interested in buying the catalog, from Robert Plant to the Rolling Stones, wealthy people who would like to own a piece of Americana."
Bill E. Burk wrote on October 05, 2005
Don't anyone hold their breath until Justin Timberlake -- or anyone from Memphis, for that matter -- buys the SUN and STAX catalogs. SUN, alone, would cost a minimum of $35 million. STAX, probably more. Memphis as a major recording center in the late '60s, early '70s, will never return to its once-lofty heights. I have served on the Memphis Music Commission two times and I know, from personal experience, that is too much in-fighting to allow Memphis Music to climb back. Still, the current MM leadership dreams on. Remember, it was this same in-fighting that led Chips Moman to close his ultra-successful American Sound studio here and move on. And even when the city offered Chips that sweetheart deal of $1 a year rental on a new studio ... he couldn't make a go of it. I would LOVE to see those Glory Days of recording return to my city, but it ain't gonna happen, folks.