Here’s everything I know about Sun Studio: Elvis once recorded there. Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis owe their career to a long-nosed man named Sam Phillips. It’s still a working studio. U2 has come in. So has Maroon Five. Bob Dylan stopped by just to kiss the worn X, taped on the floor, where Elvis once stood (fun but very unhygienic).
And it has a draw for any fan of music. Every tourist and traveller in Memphis flits in and out of Sun Studio, forking over twelve dollars for a guided tour. We stand in the waiting-area before ours starts.
Please, be worth it. Please, be worth it.
We glance around the room – a parlour and cafe of sorts. It’s old-fashioned with a collage of brown and red hues striking the brick wall. There are stains on the ceiling, but you don’t notice them. All you see are the stacks of black shirts bearing the name Sun Studio. And the Sun Studio mugs. And the Sun Studio baseball caps. Don’t forget your very own Elvis record.
Please, don’t be a tourist trap. Please, don’t be a tourist trap.
We check out the rest of our tour group and slice its underbelly. Two sides slump out: the ones that lived Elvis and the ones that lived through Elvis. I remove my reigns as the resident tour guide when a perky young employee takes the stage. The tour guide rips off the top of our ticket and lets us parade up the stairs with the others. Watch your step!
The first room has the distant ambience of a museum. The world of Sun Studio is hidden behind glass panels, too far from our reach. We walk through silence. The only sounds we hear are the collective tapping of sneakers as the group sways from placard to placard. There are over twenty people, making this mid-size crowd far from intimate.
Is that it? Seriously. What a waste!
Then the tour guide glides into the room and begins weaving the tale of Sun Studio. This is not just about Rock and Roll. This is about Blues. This is about a backlash against pop. This is about creating music. This is about inventing music. Slowly, the panels seem to thin and the stories are staring us in the face. Each item has new meaning. Elvis doesn’t even enter the picture for the most part.
We learn of the story behind Sam Phillips. We learn of a group of prisoners who came to record in handcuffs and were released because their song was much-loved. We learn that the fast-talking Country accented radio jockey with a commanding voice, who played the new Sun Studio releases, had a raging passion for music more than you could ever imagine.
Each collection increases your love for the studio by leaps and bounds. This studio is history.
We are then allowed to prance around once more and soak in a new image with fresh eyes. We walk down the stairs to a separate room, with just a desk and a typewriter, and past that to a rack of guitars and images on the walls. There is a drum-set and three Xs on the floor.
The tour guide shuffles to the front and begins narrating a light-hearted speech on the Millionaire Quartet. Then, she draws out a mic – the very mic that graced the hands of all of the legends. It’s a interesting bequest from Sam Phillips who was kind enough to let music-lovers dream an untouchable fantasy that one day, they too could be like the King.
We stand in the X where Elvis stood, holding the mic as Elvis would. We strike our poses and snap our pictures. Then we walk out.
An hour has passed and we smile because it was worth it. Goodbye, Sun Studio. I think we’re ready to see the rest of Memphis.
Have you ever been to Sun Studio? Did you enjoy this Memphis: Sun Studio guide? Let me know in the comments below!