The Story of the Million Dollar Quartet

Posted: March 12, 2017 in Amazing and Interesting Stories, Music, Rock Music, Things I Love

Lewis, Perkins, Presley and Cash.

The jam session to end all jam sessions started innocently enough on December 4th, 1956,* at the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. But before the day was over, rock legends Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins would end up singing and recording together.

*By the way, that was exactly 1-year and 1-day after yours truly was born. Weird to think I was hanging out in my crib 586.9 miles to the northeast that day.

The session pretty much happened by pure chance. Carl Perkins, who by this time had already recorded a big hit with “Blue Suede Shoes,” had come into the studios to record some new material. Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, had brought in his latest signee, a cat by the name of Jerry Lee Lewis, to play piano on Perkins’ record. Jerry Lee was pretty much unknown at the time. Interestingly though, his first Sun single would be released just a few days later.

Then, sometime later in the early afternoon, 21-year-old Elvis Presley, a former Sun artist now with RCA Victor, arrived to pay a casual visit. Elvis already had hits with “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”

After chatting with Phillips in the control room, Presley listened to the playback of Perkins’ session, which he thought was very good. Then he went into the studio and the historic jam session began.

Then incredibly, a little later Sun artist Johnny Cash showed up. Johnny had already had a few hits on the country charts by this point, including “I Walk the Line.”

An engineer named Jack Clement was working that day and had the good sense to hit the record button, saving much of the session for posterity.

During the session, Sam Phillips called a local newspaper and alerted them of what was going on. Bob Johnson, the newspaper’s entertainment editor, came over to the studios with a photographer. Johnson wrote an article about the session, which appeared the following day in the Press-Scimitar under the headline “Million Dollar Quartet,” hence the name.

Amazingly, on an otherwise unremarkable early-December day in 1956, four artists who would each go on to contribute greatly to popular music all ended up on the same studio, just jamming and doing what they loved.

It was to be the one and only time they’d sing together.


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