GET READY TO CELEBRATE THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF ROCK-AND-ROLL
July 5, 1954: Elvis Presley records his first record, “That’s All Right”/”Blue Moon of Kentucky,” at Memphis’ Sun Studio. Three days later, Dewey Phillips plays the record several times and gives Elvis his first live, on-air interview. According to Phillips, the interview went something like this:
Phillips: “When the phone calls started to come in I got hold of Elvis’ daddy, Vernon. Before long, Elvis came running in. ‘I’m going to interview you,’ I said, ‘just don’t say nothing dirty.’”
Presley: “I was scared to death. I was shaking all over, I just couldn’t believe it.”
Phillips: “He sat down and I said I’d let him know when we were ready to start. I had a couple of records cued up and, while they played, we talked . . . Finally, I said, ‘All right, Elvis, thank you very much.’ ‘Aren’t you going to interview me?’ he asked. ‘I already have,’ I said. ‘The mic’s been open the whole time.’”
And so, Memphis is preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of rock-and-roll. Here’s how you can get in on the party:
• Discover Dewey Phillips’ DJ booth. If you haven’t toured Sun Studio in 2014, there’s something new you should see: Dewey Phillips’ DJ booth, the same booth he was broadcasting from that July night in 1954, authentic from the ceiling tiles to his microphone. The booth was originally located inside Memphis’ Hotel Chisca, one-time headquarters of WHBQ radio where Phillips hosted his popular “Red, Hot and Blue” radio show from 1953-1959. With the Chisca awaiting redevelopment, Sun Studio employees salvaged all that they could from Phillips’ booth, and re-assembled it at Sun in early 2014.
• Watch fireworks over the Mississippi—set to your favorite Elvis songs. July 4’s fireworks spectacular at Mud Island River Park begins at 9:45 p.m.
• Get to Sun early on July 5. The studio will be closed until late afternoon for a live broadcast featuring some very special guests paying tribute to Elvis. But don’t let that stop you from heading to the landmark. Outside the studio at noon, the public is invited for cake and a ceremonious playing of “That’s All Right” by Dewey Phillips’ sons. Immediately after, Sun will distribute 400 vouchers for a free, collectible 45 of Chris Isaak’s version of the song. Isaak recorded it in January at Sun using the same audio equipment Sam Phillips recorded Elvis with 60 years ago. This limited pressing will only be available by voucher and during this event on a first-come, first-served basis. Full tours of the studio begin at 4:30 p.m. If you’re at home that day, watch the NBC News spot chronicling Lester Holt’s recent visit to Sun Studio.
• Add on a Backbeat Tour. Memphis’ Backbeat Tours is offering an exclusive tour July 5. The 2.5-hour experience will include a guided tour of Sun Studio, drive-bys of Elvis-connected sites in Memphis, and Backbeat’s signature serenades courtesy of the company’s musical tour guides.
• Celebrate at Graceland. Visit Graceland July 5 to receive a free, limited-edition poster by rock ‘n’ roll artist Joe Petruccio. Through February 2015, you can also see a new exhibit on the VIP Tour of Graceland, “60 Years of Elvis.” The exhibit reflects on the past 60 years through artifacts including Elvis’ personal copy of “That’s All Right,” telegrams to his parents during his first few days on tour, and his 1955 RCA Records contract. You may also want to clear your calendar for Elvis Week 2014 Aug. 9-17.
• Enjoy a free concert. Memphis’ Levitt Shell will host a free, public concert in tribute to Elvis 7:30 p.m. July 5. The event is significant because The Shell is the site of Elvis’ first professional performance on July 30, 1954, a few weeks after his legendary Sun recording session and WHBQ debut; and the artists who will perform embody Elvis’ influences as well as what he inspired. You’ll hear gospel, country and rockabilly amid soulful interludes by Marcus Scott and numbers by hometown favorite Joyce Cobb.
• See the 60th Anniversary exhibit at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. Of course, it starts with Elvis and includes memorabilia like the guitar he played during his Army service. But it progresses from Elvis’ “big bang” along a rock timeline that marks the losses of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, the advent of “guitar abuse” at the hands of Pete Townshend in 1964, and the first Woodstock. The timeline closes on more recent memories from Nirvana to Napster and gawk-able memorabilia including a gown of Whitney Houston’s and glasses of Elton John’s. My favorite inclusion is a 1975 timeline entry of Bruce Springsteen’s unsuccessful attempt to meet the King of Rock-n-Roll by scaling a wall at Graceland. This 60th Anniversary exhibit, which runs through January 2015, lends a new conclusion to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum tour—a tour that’s essential to understanding how Elvis and rock-and-roll came to be.
What are your unforgettable moments in rock history? Tell us in the comments section below; then Tweet them to #rocknsoul60.