It’s truly impossible to determine where rock ’n’ roll was actually born, but Sun Studio in Memphis has as strong a claim as anywhere else. (Except, perhaps, Little Richard’s loins.) Founded in 1950 by Sam Phillips, the studio—and its accompanying record label, Sun Records—was undeniably important in the history of the genre.
Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis both graced Sun’s tiny floors, but of course the most notable resident was Elvis Presley, who had a musical epiphany in the recording studio in 1953 with the song “That’s All Right.” In a way, Sun acted like indie labels did 20 years ago, nurturing young talent until bigger fish came along to snatch them away, as was the case with Elvis. After Presley moved on, Sun saw a serious dip in business, but his legacy eventually proved big enough to keep it afloat.
U2 recorded a few songs at Sun for Rattle And Hum, and other artists have followed suit. According to our tour guide, Bob Dylan stopped by just to kiss the ground.
These days, Sun offers tours during the day and still records bands at night. PBS recently began airing Sun Studio Sessions, with modern artists—from The Walkmen to Eli Reed—performing songs in the legendary space.