Our Visit to Sam Phillips Recording Service

Sam Phillips first heard the rhythm that would make him, and many musicians, famous while picking cotton alongside black laborers. A visit to Beale Street at sixteen sealed the deal.


Phillips opened his first studio, The Memphis Recording Service, in 1950. He recorded anything, even speeches and weddings. Two years later he launched the Sun Studio label. The rest is, well, rock n’ roll, Elvis, blues, and Memphis music history.

“He was recording people that nobody else would record. He did it intentionally because he said right here in Memphis was an entire race of people that were not given a chance to prove themselves.” —Memphis Jones

Eventually, Phillips felt the need for larger recording space, offices, and room for multi-track recorders. So in 1958 he built out a new recording studio at 639 Madison Avenue. Sam Phillips Recording Service, a celebration of curved lines and the “space age” aesthetic, opened in 1960.

“We are fully equipped to perform the finest recording techniques now, and we are prepared for any new innovations that may come along.  We have one of the best equipped, most versatile recording studios, not just in the South, or even the nation, but in the world.”–from the 1960 Commercial Appeal article on the grand opening

Not only was the interior design state-of-the-art, but so was the recording technology. Part of that technology included moveable panels on the walls that changed the sound. Today’s artists can still achieve a unique sound when recording there.

“It has been said that walking through Phillips Studio is like standing on a Hollywood street corner during its heyday. It is a very imaginative place, perfect for an artist.” –Richard Rosebrough

If you’re interested in reading the entire “Sam Phillips: After Sun Studio” story, grab our book in Memphis here or on Amazon. It’s all there, starting on page 106.

Now, onto the visiting part! From what I understand, ours was a rare peek into the Sam Phillips Recording Service.

The first thing I noticed upon walking in, aside from the wonderful people in the foyer, was the curved walls.



Even the lovely ladies in the downstairs bathroom are, shall we say, curvacious. The ladies room and a lounge area have recently been revamped by a local interior designer, Christine Burkett. It’s fun, funky, and very much in keeping with the feel of the original décor.



As you head upstairs, there’s a fountain.


The upstairs is the executive suite. It feels like you either stepped back in time or onto the set of Mad Men.


We were told a lot of deals got made in this bar.



Right down the hallway is Sam Phillips’ office.


It’s just fabulous and comes complete with a jukebox desk.



Right off the office was a rooftop where girls would lounge about in the sun.


There’s even a very special executive doorknob.


Next up: The craziest recording ever made at Sam Phillips Recording and… the studio!


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By Caitlin L. Horton

Partner-in-crime for entrepreneurs and community builders getting their message out with thoughtful design and marketing.

2 replies on “Our Visit to Sam Phillips Recording Service”

The Southland Mall deserves some attention as the regions first. (Still a nice mall today) It was marketed as having 54 stores under 1 roof at 72 degrees year round.
As a child my most vivid memory was of the ORGAN GRINDER! Yes a man would play this wind up “organ” and a little monkey wearing a jacket would take off his hat and collect money from the families gathered around. This was late 60s or early 70s so the entire mall experience was new and exciting.
Across the street the Southbrook Mall stands in stark contrast and a monument to failure and struggle.
I feel the contrast plus some LONG OVERDUE Whithaven love.
I love the show🙂

Thanks Gary! You know I was just telling someone yesterday about a memory I had of a monkey wearing an apron and people giving him money… but it wasn’t near as great a show as what you got! Haha Did you listen to our Mall episode? We focused on only three malls but I agree, Southland Mall does sound like it would have enough to make its own episode. I do have a fascination of malls of the past.

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