Rock n roll history comes alive like nowhere else on a guided tour of legendary Sun Studio…
Sun Studio: the birthplace of rock n roll… What could we possibly say about this place that hasn’t been said by some of the most famous names in music? Just standing outside the Sun Studio sign as we did on one trip through Memphis is enough to give you goosebumps, but we wanted more. On our last run through of Memphis, we finally had a chance to tour the most famous recording studio in the world, and it was everything we hoped it would be.
For those of you who lived under a rock during the 1950s and 60s, Sun Studio is the place where some of the most iconic names in music cut much of their earliest records. You’ve probably at least seen the famous picture of the “Million Dollar Quartet” of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and the King himself Elvis Presley jamming out around a piano at Sun Studio.
They’re not the only greats to pick and strum in this hallowed place. Other legends like B.B. King and Roy Orbison also graced the studio over the years. While Studio B in Nashville may be the “Home of 1,000 Hits,” most of those hits wouldn’t have been possible without Sam Phillips’s vision and his beloved Sun Studio.
Most of the great meccas of music like the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman, and Graceland offer wonderful exhibits, guided tours, and what not, but none feel quite as genuine, quite as “rock n rollin’” as a tour of the still-active Sun Studio.
The staff at Sun Studio gives off a passionate vibe that’s downright contagious, and if you told me they gave our tour after coming off an all-night recording session, I’d believe you. That’s not to say the tour guide seemed tired. He didn’t. I’m saying they still live and breathe real rock n roll at Sun Studio, and it makes for an authentic, unforgettable tour.
Without totally spoiling all the fun and surprise, let’s talk a little about the tour itself. After climbing a flight of narrow stairs, you’ll find yourself immersed in a shrine of music memorabilia as your tour guide tells the story of Sam Phillips and his studio. Mixing music and storytelling, you’ll learn how African Americans and even prisoners truly led to the founding of what we call rock n roll.
After a bit of exploring upstairs, it’s time for the studio itself. You’ll walk by a tv sold to Sam’s secretary by none other than Johnny Cash before entering the same space he recorded hits like “Cry, Cry, Cry,” and where music changed forever. Once in the studio, your guide continues to drop amazing little stories on you while mixing in some of the hits recorded in the studio.
Sun Studio isn’t a particularly large place, and the tour itself doesn’t take very long, but it’ll be the best couple hours you spend all day. With a free shuttle to and from Graceland and the Rock n Soul Museum, there is absolutely no excuse for not stopping by Sun Studio on your next trip to Memphis.
706 Union Ave
Cover photo: Malcolm Surgenor