With the launch of the Million Dollar Quartet at Old National Centre this coming week, the music of those four legendary performers that haunted Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee in the fifties is back in mind. Recently, longtime WTTS favorite Chris Isaak recorded and released his own salute to the music of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis called Beyond the Sun. What makes the album even more interesting is that he did part of the tracking in the same room where the original songs were laid down, over five decades after the fact.
It’s a testament to the vision of Sam Phillips, not just as an A&R man and label boss, but as a technical guy – when you hear a certain kind of reverb, you instantly think “Sun Records” on hearing it. That effect was so distinctive that, according to Elvis scholar Ernst Mikael Jorgenson, when Elvis made the jump to RCA Records in 1956, the engineers for the label were so stymied by how Phillips got his slapback echo for his singles that they couldn’t reproduce it, and during the recording of “Heartbreak Hotel” were reduced to putting a microphone in an empty hallway to get a weak approximation of it.
Sam Phillips may no longer be with us, nor many of the genius talents that helped birth rock and roll with him, but the music continues with a little help from Chris Isaak. Todd Berryman will feature Beyond the Sun this week on OverEasy, this Sunday from 7 to 11am AND pm, on 92.3 WTTS.