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
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!