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Arts & Culture

'Perfect Imperfection': Sam Phillips Captured The Birth Of Rock 'n' Roll

A picture of Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.
Sam Phillips created Sun Studio, where some of the earliest Rock 'n' Roll music was recorded.

Writer Peter Guralnick has spent his career interviewing and writing about some of the biggest names who were there at the very beginning of Rock 'n' Roll. 

He wrote the two-volume Elvis Presley biography "Last Train To Memphis" and "Careless Love," as well as books on soul great Sam Cooke and blues legend Robert Johnson. For nearly three decades, his work put him into close and frequent contact with Sam Phillips, the iconic founder of Sun Records in Memphis and Mr. Phillips is the subject of his new book.

The biography is called, "Sam Phillips, The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll: How One Man Discovered Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley and how his tiny label Sun Records of Memphis, Revolutionized The World."

"These were people that were never given a voice and this was music that had never been given a chance."

Guralnick says Phillips wasn't a musician, per se, but a lover of the music that permeated life in sharecroppers' fields and black churches in the deep South.

"He heard a music, a transcendent kind of music and a transcendent kind of culture growing up in Florence, Alabama," Guralnick says.

Then Phillips stumbled upon the Blues scene of Beale Street in Memphis, TN.

“To say he was blown away is to minimize the experience.”

He opened up Sun Studio in Memphis on January 2, 1950 to record the Blues artists who had "nowhere else to go."

Phillips was a staunch advocate of racial equality and of capturing "perfect imperfection" in records, the flaws that make performances so rich.

Guralnick has written liner notes for every song on a two CD set Yep Roc records released as a companion to the Sam Philips biography. Both are out now.

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