Tag Archives: Sam Phillips

Sun Studio on Registry of National Historic Places

photo by Mikkel Elbech, Flickr
photo by Mikkel Elbech, Flickr

Ten years ago on July 23, 2003, The U.S. Registry of National Historic Places declared Sun Studios a historic landmark.  Sam Phillips, a former radio disc jockey, established his Sun Record Company in Memphis in 1952. He had a keen ear for talent, discovering many important post-War musicians singing blues, gospel, country, and a new sound that merged them all together called rock n’ roll.


Thanks to NPR, you can take an audio tour of the studio where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike Turner, Carl Perkins, and Howlin’ Wolf cut their first records. Find out how Sam Phillips’ trademark slapback echo was created. There’s no fancy, modern multi-tracking here–just a bunch of guys getting together in a studio, playing their hearts out to get the magic down on tape.


In 1955, Johnny Cash recorded one of his best-known records, “Folsom Prison Blues,” at Sun Studio.

He was originally inspired to write the song while stationed at a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany when he saw the 1951 movie “Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison.” In an interview, Cash said how he wrote line “But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”: “I sat with my pen in my hand, trying to think up the worst reason a person could have for killing another person, and that’s what came to mind.”


Sun Studio
706 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN, 38103
Phone: 800-441-6249

U.S. Registry of National Historic Places


Howlin’ Wolf’s Birthday


We all know him as Howlin’ Wolf but he was born Chester Arthur Burnett in West Point, Mississippi on this day in 1910. After serving four years in the army, Wolf settled in Memphis where he had a regular 15-minute radio show on West Memphis station KWEM. He played the blues as he learned it from Charlie Patton (guitar) and Sonny Boy Williamson II (harmonica.) In 1951, Wolf’s commanding vocals and aggressive playing style came to the attention of Sam Phillips who heard his radio show performances between the farm reports, weather updates, and local ads.

photo by Ernest C. Withers
photo by Ernest C. Withers

Phillips recorded several sides at his Memphis Recording Studios while Wolf became widely-known around town. A year later, Howlin’ Wolf moved to Chicago and began his long association with Chess Records. He persuaded Memphis guitarist Hubert Sumlin to also relocate to the Windy City, and their band turned out numerous Willie Dixon-penned classics like “Back Door Man,” “Spoonful,” “Little Red Rooster,” “Evil,” “Killing Floor,” and “Smokestack Lightnin’.”


This National Public Radio feature covers Chester Burnett’s career and how his music and larger-than-life stage persona influenced other artists.

NPR – The Blues of Howlin’ Wolf

Although functionally illiterate until his forties, Howlin’ Wolf was a savvy businessman and was successful enough to provide his bandmates with a steady paycheck, including health insurance. In 1962, Wolf toured as part of the American Folk Blues Festival, a music festival that showcased top blues performers like Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and John Lee Hooker to European audiences for the first time

Copyright Hip-O Records and/or Reelin’ In The Years Productions

There are many collections of Howlin’ Wolf’s fabulous music but this comprehensive box set is one of the best:



Filmed live for British television, these historic concerts include Howlin’ Wolf and Hubert Sumlin performing “Smokestack Lightning,” and the newly-recorded “Don’t Laugh At Me.” Stashed away in a vault, these broadcasts were not seen for almost 40 years!