The CMT channel is currently showing a mini series of Sam Philips and his Sun records which launched the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and many others. It stated in late February and airs Thursday night at 10 p.m..
Set in Memphis during the tumultuous early days of the civil rights movement, Sun Records tells the untold story of nothing less than the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. Guided by Sam Phillips, young musicians like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis combined the styles of hillbilly country with the 1950s R&B sound created by artists like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Fats Domino and Ike Turner, and changed the course of music forever. The series chronicles these young artists’ often jarring and sudden meteoric rise to fame in the face of sweeping political change and social unrest.
The producers and directors of this show go to great lengths to make this series as real as possible with having everyone look like the actual person and creating the feel of the time. My wife and I check on our computers as new characters are revealed and so far everything is accurate. Out of all the artists involved only Jerry Lee Lewis is still alive at 81 years old. He got married for the seventh time in 2012. There is a cute scene where Jerry and his cousin Jimmy Swaggert who became a preacher are in a church with Jerry playing his fast piano keys rhythm and Jimmy giving a sermon until a minister comes in and throws them out.
I think the young Elvis is a dead ringer for how Elvis looked at the time right down to the shape of his head, expressions and mannerisms. The couple portraying Elvis’ parents are just like his real parents too. His mother being short, dark haired and portly and his father being tall and lanky with wavy hair. When Elvis stops in a colored church to hear the songs the congregation is singing, his parents are furious he attended a black church and grounded him. Elvis sits in his room strumming his guitar trying to write a song and starts with “Are you lonesome tonite”
Col. Tom parker who was Elvis manager is a good character too and looks like the real Col. Tom Parker. They portray him as a heavy set, fast talking, cigar smoking, conniving, manipulating, anything for a buck promoter who stiffs his clients out of their rightful earnings for himself which he was and did. When he goes to the advertisers to promote his new find, Eddie Arnold, he tells them “You can turn on any radio channel and you will hear them playing him” What Parker did was go to various radio channels and tell them to play Arnold at a certain time. When he was before the advertising agency he put the radio on at the exact time and they were playing him on every channel.
Sam Phillips is a very shrewd and ambitious guy very intent on creating his record company. He is married, but has an affair with his assistant, but his wife seems to be Ok with that after he explains things to her and confesses that he still loves her and he stayed married to her his biography says. His wife and assistant became good friends
In last week’s episode Ike Turner and his band come to see Sam and since this is the deep south in 1950’s Tennessee they are met with racial epithets by two locals. Sam comes to their rescue. When they audition for him they also sing. Sam tells Ike. “Ike you’re a fantastic piano player, but you can’t sing for crap.”He tells each of the band members to try their part at singing. They are all terrible until the sax player steps fourth and sings a sound that is a joy to Sam’s ears. When he asks the sax player his name, he replies, “Jackie Wilson.”Sam signs them up with Ike playing piano and Jackie singing. He calls them The Delta Cats This is a great series and well acted and extremely well done and captures the mood of the period perfectly.
Check this series out if you remember these stars and Sun records like I did. You can catch them on Demand if you have it or watch them online in the link below.