Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Floyd: Sun Records: An Oral History

Under the editorship of Dave Marsh (writer and editor at various times for Creem, Rolling Stone, Rock & Rap Confidential, and Playboy), Sun Records: An Oral History is one of three titles initiating the new For The Record series. Released concurrently with similar volumes chronicling Sam & Dave and Black Sabbath (with titles covering Sly & The Family Stone, George Clinton, and the women of Motown soon to follow), Sun Records: An Oral History is precisely what its title suggests: the story of Sun—the tiny Memphis record label that launched the careers of B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley—as told by those who were there. Most of the major players don't weigh in, but it scarcely matters. Everyone who cares about such things has already heard Johnny Cash talk politely about his Sun tenure; considerably fewer have heard what Scotty Moore, Roland Janes, Rufus Thomas, and Malcolm Yelvington have to say. Often, what they have to say is fascinating. Bill Riley, the man behind "Flying Saucer Rock And Roll," contributes a terrific, if sad, story about nearly trashing Sun after being booted from a heavily promoted tour in favor of Jerry Lee Lewis—an outburst that included dumping a bottle of booze into a piano while saying, "You're the piano that Jerry Lee Lewis plays. I think you need a drink." Riley was talked out of his rage by Sun mastermind Sam Phillips with the promise of future stardom, something that never quite arrived. By the end of the book, it becomes clear that Phillips, as much as Sun, is the enigma everyone is talking around. An instinctual genius, Phillips was also a troubling central figure in the extraordinary music made in Memphis in the '50s and, to a lesser extent, '60s. This book may not get at that enigma, but the stories associated with it are often fascinating. By tracking down and preserving these stories, Marsh and associates aren't just providing entertainment for music aficionados, they're doing music history a service.


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