On December 4th, 1956, the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee held an impromptu jam session between four of the most famous artists at the time. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash all performed together for the first and only time. The result was one of the most indelible moments in the history of rock ‘n roll and it was dubbed “The Million Dollar Quartet”.
How the Million Dollar Quartet came together
One of the most famous moments in rock ‘n roll history happened by pure chance as Carl Perkins, who had enjoyed considerable success with “Blue Suede Shoes” went into the Sun Records Studio on December 4th with his brother and drummer to record some new material in order to follow up that huge hit. At the same time, Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records had brought with him the then little-known Jerry Lee Lewis to play on Perkin’s new recording.
Early that afternoon, Elvis arrived with his girlfriend simply to pay a casual visit and had no intention of recording when he went into the studio. As Elvis listened to what Perkins and Lewis had recorded, he commented that he really liked the sound and joined in with them on a jam session. Around that time, Johnny Cash who had just started out his career at Sun came into the studio and joined in on the session. As it began, the Sun engineer that day, Jack Clement thought that he would be very remiss in not recording what happened and so the Million Dollar Quartet was born.
Millioni Dollar Quartet Recording
During the session, all four artists ran through a number of different songs. Perhaps because of Elvis’ fame and his own love of music, he directed the recording session to the extent of leading the others in different songs. Because all four had a rich background in gospel music, that type of music was most prominent during the relatively short time that all four men spent together.
Sam Phillips, who was not one to miss out on the importance of this gathering, quickly contacted the local newspaper, the Memphis Press-Scimitar and the entertainment editor quickly came in to write an article about the session and shoot a few photos. The one of Elvis singing at the piano with Lewis, Perkins, and Cash behind him was used in the paper and quickly became the most famous of all that were taken that day.
The Release of The Million Dollar Quartet
The entire session lasted perhaps a couple of hours and was quickly forgotten since the recording never made it out of the studio. It was not until 1969 that interest in the Million Dollar Quartet started to surface as a result of Shelby Singleton, the new owner of Sun Records found the recordings. However, it was over a decade until at least part were made available to the public. Seventeen tracks from The Million Dollar Quartet were originally released in Europe as most of the music was old gospel songs.
However, additional material was discovered and it was released in 1987 on CD as The Million Dollar Sessions. A total of 46 music tracks have been discovered, although many are incomplete with much talking and chattering about. Still, they have become a focal point of rock ‘n roll and their importance cannot be underestimated.
Million Dollar Quartet Niagara Falls Show
The musical, Million Dollar Quartet, recreates this historic day, and mixes in a number of artists hits that weren’t recorded on this day, creating a unique musical that has literally swept the nation. There are currently three on-going acts for this musical-- a touring company, Chicago Residency and a residency at Harrah’s in Las Vegas. Don’t miss your chance to see this historical musical live and in-person in Niagara Falls.
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