Million Dollar Quartet
December 4, 1956: The “Million Dollar Quartet” has an impromptu jam session. Gathered together in the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee were four big names. The first to show up was Carl Perkins. He arrived with his brothers in order to record some new material as well as some remixed older songs. Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records, brought in a relative newcomer to play the piano for Perkins. Jerry Lee Lewis would soon have his first record released but he was generally speaking, an unknown outside Memphis. Next to show up was a 21-year-old phenomenon who stopped by with his girlfriend. Elvis Presley had been a Sun Record commodity but had moved on to RCA Victor. Marilyn Evans came with him. Presley talked with Phillips for a while and then listened to a playback of Perkins’s work and pronounced it good.
Presley entered the studio and started jamming with the boys there. And then another Sun artist came in – Johnny Cash. He had had a few hits on the country charts, but hadn’t broken into mainstream music yet. In his own autobiography, when writing about this day, Cash said he arrived first. Jack Clement was the engineer that day and when the four men started playing and singing together, he was smart enough to record the session. Evans slipped out after a while and the four men continued to sing and play. While they were having fun, Phillips called the local paper and they sent over a writer and photographer. When the picture appeared in the Memphis Press-Scimitar the next day, it was headlined with “Million Dollar Quartet”.
All four men would go on to be big names in the music industry in the late 1950s and helped to shape the course of music history, at least in the US. They each had illustrious careers. In 1969, Shelby Singleton purchased Sun Records and after doing so, went through more than 10,000 hours of tape. He also licensed much of Sun’s catalog to the English Charly label for issuance in Europe. As the two went through the catalog, they came upon a portion of the jam session from this date. In 1981, Charly/Sun issued The Million Dollar Quartet, an album containing 17 tracks. Most of the music was gospel/spiritual in nature as these were songs all the men had grown up with and were able to sing together.
Several years later, after more of the session was discovered, a second album was released called The Complete Million Dollar Session. Again it was released only in Europe. In 1990, RCA distributed it as both a CD and an LP album called Elvis Presley – The Million Dollar Quartet. A 50th anniversary release in 2006 had an extra 12 minutes of music never before available. This later source of the material was from a copy of the session owned personally by Elvis. This last issue contained about 95% of the recordings made on this date. There are 46 tracks which are mostly incomplete and interspersed with chatter between the artists.
I think I’d be remiss not to record this. – Jack Clement
We found three reels. You could always argue that there were more. But in the first you can hear Elvis arriving and in the last you can hear him leaving. I doubt that there are more. – Ernst Jorgensen
An old fashioned barrel-house session with barber shop harmonies resulting. – Bob Johnson
I was there – I was the first to arrive and the last to leave, contrary to what has been written – but I was just there to watch Carl record, which he did until mid-afternoon, when Elvis came in with his girlfriend. At that point the session stopped and we all started laughing and cutting up together. Then Elvis sat down at the piano, and we started singing gospel songs we all knew, then some Bill Monroe songs. – Johnny Cash
Also on this day: The Boss – In 1875, Boss Tweed escaped from prison.
Watch This – In 1791, the first Sunday newspaper was published.
Surf’s Up – In 1969, Greg Noll rode a big wave.
Home on the Grange – In 1867, the Grange was formed.
The King of Burgers – In 1954, Burger King is founded.
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