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Sun Records: At the Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll
Label Feature

Sun Records: At the Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll

The tagline of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll was born here’ of Sun Records might sound like the rock equivalent of bragging and boasting. But with releases by then-unknown blues, country & rockabilly artists like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Rockin’ Guitar Man” Carl Perkins early on in their label’s existence, later joined by Roy Orbison, Bill Justis and others, the iconic label certainly comes damn near close to the birth of rock 'n' roll.

By Tracklib
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Sun Records took country and rock 'n' roll to new heights through one man's vision: Sam Phillips, who named his label after the sun to represent a new dawn and a new beginning. Rockabilly was another important part of that: as opposed to the generally drumless sound of country music, rockabilly brought together elements of country and rhythm and blues.

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That crossover was considered a predecessor of classic rock ‘n’ roll—and a term Phillips himself didn’t necessarily like. "I've never liked the term 'rockabilly',” he said in a 2003 interview towards the end of his life, “I've always thought 'rock & roll' was the best term, because it became all-inclusive of white, black, and the whole thing, whereas 'rockabilly' tended to just want to lend itself so specifically to white. It also promoted the feeling that maybe we were stealing something from the blacks and wanted to put it in a white form, so I never did like 'rockabilly'.”

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That quote illustrates an important intrinsic mission of Sam Phillips: to cross race, age and gender boundaries with music, and to show how music of black and white Southeners could bring down racial and social boundaries. “As Sam saw it,” , Peter Guralnick writes in his biography The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll, “what he was doing was to help open doors through which black artists and white artists alike — poor people deprived of education and opportunity but possessed of innate wisdom, talent, and imagination — might someday pass.”

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Sam Phillips
Sam Phillips

"I believe Tracklib can truly breathe new life into old catalogs and allow a new generation of fans to appreciate classic sounds."

—Chase Gregory (VP Digital & Creative, Sun Entertainment)
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These days Sun Records is continued as Sun Entertainment, building on the rich legacy Sam Phillips left behind. “The majority of people think Sun Records is still in Memphis, but, since we have always been in Nashville, we respect being part of the Nashville music industry, while also respecting that Sun was founded in Memphis,” tells John Singleton, president of Sun Entertainment.

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On top of their classics and reissues (such as together with Nashville-based label Third Man Records of Jack White), labels such as SSS International, Plantation Records, and Blue Cat Records are part of their catalog - and now also available on Tracklib to find crossovers in new places. “I believe Tracklib can truly breathe new life into old catalogs and allow a new generation of fans to appreciate classic sounds,” explains Chase Gregory (VP Digital & Creative) about that move.

“In recent years, we have put time and energy in using the Sun logo to continue and enhance the legacy of Sun,” adds John Singleton. Showing praise for the optimistic vision of Sam Phillips, who aimed for a new beginning and gave life to a new wave of rock 'n' roll music.

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Recommended Tracks From Sun Entertainment

Chase: “These are some of my personal favorites from the SSS International artists. While Bettye LaVette and Johnny Adams are fairly well-known, the rest are buried treasures waiting to be discovered. All of these tracks have great grooves and good instrumental sections or simple lyrics which should make for easy sampling."

Bettye LaVette - He Made a Woman Out of Me

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Johnny Adams - Living On Your Love

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Big John Hamilton - Before the Next Teardrop Falls

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Mickey Murray - Mamas Got the Wagon

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Sam Dees - Lonely For You Baby

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