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Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips, born Samuel Cornelius Phillips (January 5, 1923 - July 30, 2003), was a record producer and the man responsible for the emergence of rock and roll as the major form of popular music in the 1950s. He was born in Florence, Alabama.

On January 3, 1950, Sam Phillips opened the doors at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee of what was to become arguably the most famous music recording studio in the world, Sun Records.

Sun Records

According to some, notably music historian Peter Guralnick, the first rock and roll record was "Rocket 88", by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (written by 19-year-old Ike Turner also the session leader) and recorded by Sam Phillips for his Sun Record label, in 1951. From 1950 to 1954 Phillips recorded the music of black rhythm and blues artists such as James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Rosco(e) Gordon, and others. His studio was where greats such as B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf made their first recordings.

However, all the while, Sam Phillips kept looking for a white singer with that special "sound". Phillips soon changed the face of popular music when he brought together the diverse elements that created rock and roll and when Elvis Presley played his version of "That's All Right Mama", a whole new era in music began.

Presley's success would be a drawing card for Sun Records as singing hopefuls soon arrived from all over the Southern USA. White singers such as Sonny Burgess ("My Bucket's Got A Hole In It"), Charlie Rich and Billy Lee Riley recorded for Sun with reasonable success while others such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins would become superstars.

In late 1955, Sam Phillips studio was in need of money and he had little choice but to accept an offer for Presley's contract. Atlantic Records tendered $25,000 but the powerful RCA Records secured Presley's services with an offer of $35,000.

The Million Dollar Quartet

On December 4, 1956, Jerry Lee Lewis was playing piano for a Carl Perkins recording session at Sun Records studio. While Johnny Cash stood by watching, Elvis walked in and the impromptu jam session was soon nicknamed the "Million Dollar Quartet".

In 1986 Sam Phillips was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1998, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, and in October, 2001, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Phillips died of respiratory failure on July 30, 2003.

Leslie "Sam" Phillips was a singer also known commonly as Sam Phillips.