4th December 1956 is one of the most famous dates in music history. It is the date that rock ‘n’ roll pioneers Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins jammed together in Sun Records Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. But who were these musicians, and how did they get together?
Born in Mississippi in 1935, Presley was the second youngest of the group. At the age of 18, he walked into Sun Records and recorded his first songs in the hope of being discovered. He was successful, and was kept on to record a few songs. Elvis’ first success was with the song That’s All Right, which lead to a career that included hit songs, an infamous TV appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and the beginning of a film career.
As one of 7 children, Johnny Cash knew how to stand out in a crowd. With his deep voice, he was involved in many singing groups, and Cash was writing songs at the age of 12. Even when he was enlisted to the US Airforce he started his own band. After he was discharged, he made a visit to the Sun Records in 1954 with the hopes of getting a recording contract. After many tries and auditions he was successful, and embarked on the beginning of his huge career.
Jerry Lee Lewis
Lewis was born to a poor family in Louisiana, and began playing the piano at the age of 8. His talent was so great, that his parents would mortgage their farm in order to pay for his piano. Whilst a student at Southwest Bible Institute, Lewis played a boogie-woogie version of ‘My God is Real’ that earned him an exclusion. After that, Lewis began playing in clubs all over southern America and recorded his first song in 1954.
Perkins was a determined musician from a young age – his family couldn’t afford to buy him a guitar, so his first instrument was a cigar box and broomstick that a been fashioned into a guitar. When he was 14 and had purchased a real guitar, Perkins and his brother Jay began playing in pubs and taverns all around Jackson, Tennessee. In 1954, Perkins successfully auditioned for Sun Records, and soon after this his nationwide success began.
4th December 1956 – the most famous recording session in history
The jam session that spawned a new era of rock ‘n’ roll music happened by chance. At the time, Carl Perkins had already had a hit record with Blue Suede Shoes, and was visiting the recording studio to record some new songs. Sam Phillips, who owned Sun Records, introduced Perkins to Jerry Lee Lewis who would be playing piano for the songs Perkins was recording. Later on in the afternoon, world famous Elvis Presley entered with his girlfriend and listened to what Perkins and Lewis had been recording and decided to join in, and Johnny Cash would join in soon after. The four would use their similar gospel influences to create songs that are still loved to this day. The recording session would become an iconic moment in music history, with the four of them being dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet”.