BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM Chapter 501
Music City hosted Memphis this week and gave our West Tennessee neighbors a royal welcome with a first-class par-tay.
The Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum opened its doors to the family and friends of Sam Phillips on Thursday evening (Aug. 27). Every time a Memphian’s name was mentioned, many attendees erupted in wild cheers—the crowd seemed to include half the population of Memphis.
The occasion was the preview party of a new exhibit, “Flying Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips.”
“I thought that museum people were squares until I met with them, and they said they were thinking of that title,” said Sam’s colorful son Jerry Phillips. “These people are not squares.”
“American music would not be what it is today, if not for Sam Phillips,” said the museum’s Kyle Young. “Sam Phillips was a man with a mission. That mission got him elected on the first ballot to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.” Thanks to his ground-breaking work at Sun Records in Memphis, Phillips is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“Sun Records was a…beacon shining out to [musical] misfits. We all know their names,” Young added, referring to the brightest stars in the astounding Sun constellation—Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Ike Turner, Charlie Rich, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Roy Orbison and the like.
Jerry Phillips recalled an English rock band asking his father about the secret of his success. “Son,” Sam replied, “you gotta reach deep inside yourself and pull it out of your a—hole.”
Jerry and The Recording Academy’s Jon Hornyak led a parade of Memphis celebrants at the gig, not the least of whom was rockabilly legend Sonny Burgess.
The Sun veteran proved that he can still rock at age 84. Burgess drew a standing ovation with his Sun classics “We Wanna Boogie” and “Red Headed Woman,” backed by a band led by Nashville’s Colin Linden.
Appreciating the groove of it all were such esteemed music makers as Web Wilder, Paul Burch, Chuck Mead, David Olney, Kristi Rose & Fats Kaplan, Mark Collie, Bob Delevante, Erica Nicole, John Singleton and Memphis vets W.S. Holland, Dickey Lee (who was on Sun), Allen Reynolds and Bob McDill.
The Hall really put on the ritz for this soiree. The carved barbecue-turkey sliders were accompanied by peanut slaw, corn & quinoa salad, cucumber chow-chow, spiced deviled eggs sprinkled with bacon, marinated vegetables and jumbo stuffed olives. The wait staff circulated with poached pear plus goat cheese and walnuts on bagel crackers and braised oxtail on toast points.
On the balmy balcony off the event hall, you could savor your desserts of Elvis TCB peanut-butter mousse and banana chip on chocolate-cake crumbles in slipper spoons. Or sample the chess and fudge pie tartlets.
Downstairs in the actual exhibit, we oohed and ahhed over classic Sun vinyl, show posters, video clips, Cash and Jerry Lee sport coats, Elvis’s “My Happiness” first acetate, the Sun console and tape recorder that created the “slapback” echo, Wolf’s guitar, vintage photos and Sam’s Rock Hall of Fame garb and statuette. Plus more.
Lon Helton, Mark Moffatt, Trip Aldridge, Hank Adam Locklin, Colin Escott, Ernie & Jerry Williams, Ashley Ernst, Bob Goldstone, Eric T. Parker, Nicky Riggins, Lois Riggins & David Ezell, Susan Stewart, Jon Freeman, Karen Leipziger, Lyn Aurelius and Peter Guralnick moved and grooved and schmoozed.
Exhibit co-curator Guralnick is the author of the forthcoming book, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll. So the fun continues on Saturday (Aug. 29) when he moderates an 11 a.m. “Go, Cat, Go” panel discussion with Burgess, Holland, Phillips and J.M. Van Eaton.
This will be followed by a “Get Rhythm” celebratory concert at 2 p.m. co-starring Burgess, Linden, Collie, Mead, Phillips, Van Eaton, Holland, Eric Heatherly, Luther Dickenson, The Valentines, Marvell Thomas, The Secret Sisters, Billy Swan, Charlie Rich Jr. and The Kitchen Sisters. Be there or be square.