Disc jockey Sam Phillips opened the Memphis Recording Service in 1950 and established Sun Records in the same building in 1952.
Phillips initially concentrated his efforts on recording black rhythm and blues artists, including BB King and Howlin’ Wolf. In 1951 Phillips arguably recorded the first rock song, Rocket 88 by Ike Turner and Jackie Brenston. Phillips is regarded as instrumental in bringing rhythm and blues to the mainstream consciousness.
Elvis Presley recorded two songs at Sun in 1953 as a gift to his mother. Phillips saw something he liked and signed the young singer. Presley recorded That’s All Right (Mama) in July 1954 and played at a number of engagements around the southern states that gained him a major following.
Due to financial difficulties at Sun, Presley was sold to RCA for $25,000 in 1955, a record at the time for a recording artist.
Presley’s success saw Sun move away from its rhythm and blues roots in favour of rockabilly and rock and roll artists. Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash all launched their careers with Sun although Perkins and Cash both moved to Columbia in the late 1950s. Lewis went to Smash Records in 1963.
The company was sold to Shelby Singleton in 1969, since when it has solely rereleased material.
Sun is known primarily as a singles label; it has only ever produced 12 non-compilation albums.
Sun discs are popular with collectors and can exchange hands for sizeable amounts. In 2009 record collector John Tefteller bought a 1953 Lonesome Old Jail and Greyhound Blues 45 rpm by blues artists DA Hunt for $10,323.00. This is the only known 45 rpm pressing of the track.
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