Celebrating the “Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips” at Country Music Hall of Fame
A remarkable new exhibit just opened at the Country Music Hall of Fame honoring a singular figure in American music. The title says it all: “Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips.”
In fact, it was that audacious exhibit title that convinced the Phillips family that the Hall of Fame curators could be trusted with telling Sam’s story, his son Jerry said at the exhibit’s opening.
Phillips, the founder of Sun Records played a pivotal role in the history of rock and roll, signing Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Rufus Thomas, Charlie Rich and many more groundbreaking and envelope-pushing talents.
His production and release of Elvis’ first single – “That’s All Right,” backed with a revved up “Blue Moon of Kentucky” – is the Big Bang of rock, and arguably of Americana music as well.
I had the opportunity to interview Phillips in 1999 at an event at the Peabody Hotel. I asked him my first question, and 11 minutes later he wrapped up his response. He was a colorful and confident character.
But he also had character. Sam was committed to finding and recording fresh voices, breaking down barriers in the process.
The exhibit features an impressive array of artifacts, most notably Elvis’ first recording – “My Happiness” – at the Memphis Recording Service. The disc, recorded for his mother, is on loan to the Hall of Fame by Jack White. Other items in the exhibit include:
– Phillips’ mixing console and tape recorder
– A union contract signed by Presley and Phillips
– An electric guitar used by Howlin’ Wolf
– A vintage Johnny Cash stage costume
The exhibit is scheduled to run through June 2016.