In February 1952, Sam Phillips launched Sun Records at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee – the site of his Sun Studio, previously known as Memphis Recording Service. Two years later, the visionary entrepreneur signed Elvis Presley, and then opened the doors to such other legendary talents as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, and more. The Sun Records rockabilly sound incorporated rhythm and blues, country, rock and roll, and gospel, forever changing the face of American popular music. 65 years after the label’s founding, a cadre of local Memphis artists have come together to pay homage to Phillips and his remarkable enterprise – and for a worthy cause. Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records is due from the Americana Music Society and Visible Music College tomorrow, June 16, and all proceeds from this spirited collection of all-new recordings will benefit the good work performed at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Red Hot has been produced by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars and author-producer Tamara Saviano (Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark), and features a host of acclaimed Memphis artists tackling Sun Records favorites. Excitingly, the album was recorded in two original Sun facilities: the original 706 Union Avenue studio and Phillips Recording, which he opened in 1959, at 639 Madison Avenue. This isn’t a mere gimmick; authenticity oozes from these performances.
The title track, “Red Hot,” was written and introduced by Billy “The Kid” Emerson at Sun in 1955; here, it’s tackled by Chuck Mead and the cast of Country Music Television’s recent Sun Records series including Kevin Fonteyne as Johnny Cash, Drake Milligan as Elvis Presley, Christian Lees as Jerry Lee Lewis, and Jonah Lees as Jimmy Swaggart. Cash’s famous “Folsom Prison Blues” is surveyed here by Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “High School Confidential” is performed by Jimbo Mathus of Squirrel Nut Zippers fame. Lewis and Cash’s fellow Million Dollar Quartet pal Carl Perkins’ “Sure to Fall (In Love with You)” is handled by Valerie June. Charlie Rich, who made his Sun debut in 1960, is represented by Shawn Camp’s take on his signature “Lonely Weekends” as well as by Bryan Hayes’ version of “Ways of a Woman in Love.” Veteran blues man Bobby Rush provides the only original song on Red Hot: his own “Tough Titty.” Producer Dickinson himself takes on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin’ at Midnight,” joined by brother Cody Dickinson on drums. Both Dickinsons play in the house band alongside John Paul Keith on guitar, Amy LaVere on bass, and Rick Steff on keyboards.
Vivid, vibrant, and above all, honest to the music, Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records is a potent reminder of the power of the thrilling sound created by Sam Phillips in his tiny Memphis studio. Look for this crackling benefit disc on June 16 at the links below!
- Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache – John Paul Keith
- Sure to Fall – Valerie June
- Lonely Weekends – Shawn Camp
- Ways of a Woman in Love – Bryan Hayes
- Red Hot – Cast of Sun Records featuring Chuck Mead
- Tough Titty – Bobby Rush
- Ten Cats Down – Amy LaVere
- High School Confidential – Jimbo Mathus
- Folsom Prison Blues – Alvin Youngblood Hart
- Moanin’ At Midnight – Luther Dickinson