Sun Studio, Memphis. December 2013
You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain…
I came away from a tour of the Sun Studio in Memphis elated with the fact that I had made a total stranger very, very happy. (I’d also made a tour guide very grumpy).
In this building the first recordings of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, amongst others, were captured by Sam Phillips.
The studio itself had what appeared to be the original tiles on the floor and ceiling. I was able to stand on the spot, marked by an ‘X,’ where Elvis stood, for a photo with an ancient microphone.
The room is still a functional studio so there were guitars, amps, drums and a piano there. I would not say that the piano was the original in the studio but it had, as I was about to find out all by myself, the exact same jangly tone as heard on those original Sun recordings.
There was an elderly man in the tour group who was unashamedly crying and overwhelmed by the experience. He had travelled from New York State with his wife and had never been to Memphis before. Through his tears he told me these famous musicians had given him many great memories, and that visiting this shrine was the happiest day of his life.
On hearing this I was starting to tear up as well.
I was standing beside the piano, eyeing the keys. Will I or won’t I?
We had been given strict instruction to not touch any instruments. Will I or won’t I?
The piano lid was open. The piano stool awaited. Will I or won’t I?
It may have been the happiest day of the elderly man’s life but he looked to me like he needed cheering up.
As the tour guide was directing everyone out the studio door and to the gift shop I sidled up to the piano and ripped out the first notes of the opening riff of Great Balls Of Fire. You should have seen the smile on the old man’s face.
“Thanks so much, you’ve made my day even better,” he sobbed.
The tour guide was not so impressed. I think I might have shaken her nerves and rattled her brain, as Jerry Lee might say. She was almost out the door but made a quick reappearance to tell me off. Most of the rest of the tour group had already left.
There can’t be too many people who can say that they’ve played in Sun Studio – even if it is only about eight notes.
©David Oke.More stories by David Oke