Tag Archives: Sun Studios

Lux Interior (1946-2009)

Found out late last week that Lux Interior, the “Godfather of Psychobilly”, and lead singer of The Cramps died at the age of 62 in Glendale, California. Yes, that Glendale, California. Who knew that a rocking dude like Interior lived and died a few blocks from the place my brother calls home. Crazy…

Crazier still was the fact that it was my brother, Ryan, who first introduced me to Interior and The Cramps’ strange brew of classic rockabilly, punk, and straight up hilarity. I kid you not, amigos, the distinctive sound he created with founding bandmate, wife, and only permanent Cramp member, Poison Ivy, was insane.

RIP Lux Interior!

RIP Lux Interior #2!

Their music was gritty, raw, beautifully written, and filthy as the day is long. And though I loved a lot of the stuff my brother was grooving on in the mid-to-late-80’s (and still do…long live Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds!) The Cramps had a sense of humor that truly set them apart from some of the other dark-ass shit Ryan listened to back then.

I think he probably has all their best albums on vinyl or, horror of horrors, on…cassette tape, but the one Cramps CD I have is “A Date With Elvis”, and it rocks! I’m sure hardcore Cramps fans would tell you that “Elvis” was the band’s sell-out record, and maybe it is, but to me it was their most polished, lushly musical album and if you haven’t heard it, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Christine and I have spent the whole weekend rediscovering it and, trust me, “A Date With Elvis” still packs a serious punch. From the jangly opening chords of “How Far Can Too Far Go?” to the children’s chorus is “People Ain’t No Good” and the swinging “South Pacific” vibe of the hilarious “Kizmiaz”, Interior and company prove themselves to be masters of not just the psychobilly genre, but straight up rockabilly as well.

And the way they recall some of the early Sun Studios work by fellow madmen like Rufus Thomas and The King himself in such songs as “It’s Just That Song”, “Cornfed Dames”, and “Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?” is freaking ingenious. And best of all, it’s just really good music. Seriously, you could dance all night to these songs. Hell, we did!

I guess the thing I found most shocking about Interior’s death was that he was so young, I mean, Joe Strummer, most of The Ramones, and then this…what the hell? Why all the good punk rockers gotta die so young, man? Sad…

Our thoughts go out to Interior’s widow, Poison Ivy, right now. I know it’s small consolation at a time like this, but here’s hoping you know what a huge impact you and your husband’s music had on these three impressionable youths. RIP, Lux Interior…long may you rock!

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Legendary Sun Studios

We tried coming here the day before and were told that every tour that day was sold out…every single tour! Wow. So, Christine and I came back first thing the next morning and managed to score tickets for the 9:40am tour. I know…early.

Legendary Sun Studios, Memphis

But, hey, early or not, there was no way we were gonna miss out on a visit to Sun Records Recording Studio, home away from home to many of music’s most iconic figures and quite literally the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Rock.

Our rockabilly tour guide put it best when she said: “It’s been written that if music was a religion, then Memphis would be Jerusalem, and Sun Studio would be it’s most sacred shrine.” And man, was she right. Being here was truly a religious experience for us both.

Wall outside Sun Studio

Even before an 18 year-old Elvis stepped through the front door to record a couple of songs for his Momma’s birthday, pioneering producer/Sun Records founder Sam Phillips was making music history at Sun with blues artists like Howling Wolf, Rufus Thomas, B.B. King and Ike Turner’s former band, Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats, who recorded the first true rock ‘n’ roll song, “Rocket 88″here in March of 1951.

Bean @ Sun!

Originally known as the Memphis Recording Service — a place where anyone who paid their $3.25 could make a record — Phillips turned the tiny building on the corner into a world-class recording studio that is still in operation today with acts like REM, U2, Paul Simon and Beck lining up to record on the hallowed ground where Elvis Presley first stepped behind a microphone to record his seminal rock ‘n’ roll hit, “That’s All Right (Mama)”.

Memphis Recording Studio Neon

Aside from Elvis’ brief stay at the label (Phillips sold Presley’s contract to RCA in the fall of 1955 to settle an unrelated lawsuit that had nearly bankrupted the company) Sun Records was also home to legends like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins.

Inside Sun Records Recording Booth

Legend has it that when Elvis (his star already well on the rise) stopped by Sun to visit Phillips one December day in 1956, he heard Perkins recording in the studio and decided to join him in an impromptu jam session. When Jerry Lee Lewis joined the pair, Phillips immediately called Johnny Cash at home and told him to hurry down to the studio, where the foursome joked around on tape and recorded together for the rest of the afternoon.

Labeled by the media-savvy Phillips as the Million Dollar Quartet, this one time gathering of the greats was immortalized in the now famous photograph shown behind my head in the picture below.

The Million Dollar Quintet

The tour (a steal at $10 per person) begins upstairs in a small room above the studio that is full of super cool stuff that, sadly, does not photograph well sans flash (they have a pretty strict no-flash-photography rule, upstairs at least).

But the loot up there is first rate — they have some of Elvis’ suits, dozens of original records and promo posters from various Sun artists and a treasure trove of instruments — the coolest thing is that everything the tour guide tells you is punctuated with the actual recordings she is talking about. And the music just chills you, baby. Seriously, the goosebump factor was off the charts.

Elvis & Roy!

Cool Wall Of Fame Stuff

Moving downstairs, you stop just outside the recording studio at the old front office. Here they have meticulously preserved the desk of Sam Phillip’s secretary, Marion Keisker. The first person to hear Elvis’ voice on tape, Keisker (pictured below with Elvis and Phillips) did the actual recording the day Elvis, the “White kid who sings Black” walked in off the street to make a record for Momma.

Pretty cool, huh? Just wait…it gets even better.

Marion Keisker’s Desk

Sam, Elvis & Marion

Stepping inside the studio, the first thing you see is a small “X” marked on the floor with tape. This folks, is the exact spot where Elvis Presley stood to record “That’s All Right (Mama)” in 1954. Whoa!

If you had told me the day before that a worn old piece of black tape would give me the chills, I would not have believed you. But it did. Big time! Hallowed ground indeed.

The exact spot where Elvis stood!

And then, the true highlight of the tour…just beyond the tape is the actual microphone Elvis used to record. And not only can you pose with it — which, as you can see we both eagerly did — but you can actually TOUCH it too.

I thought Christine was gonna faint. Seriously, she is kind of a fainter.

Christine @ Elvis’ Mic!

Tom @ Elvis’ Mic

All in all, the tour was spectacular. And after fighting off the crowds (there were already two packed tour buses there at 9:00am!) to buy some Sun gear, we somehow snagged a table at the original Sun Cafe — which is little more than a lunch counter and two small booths nestled inside the store — where we shared a coffee and a fantastic chocolate malt for breakfast.

Surely, Elvis would approve…

Me & Mr. Malty

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