|Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash|
It was December 4, 1956. The famous black and white, now sepia photograph snapped that winter afternoon shows four young men, silhouetted against acoustic tile, making joyful noise. Three of the four were standing around the one at the piano, the one who would be king. When this photograph was taken, two of the men were 21-and the other two, 24-years old. Two were Baptists and two the chosen, Assembly of God, with both traditions shot deep in their individual flawed psyches. All were Scotch-Irish, hard-scrabbled proud Southern poor. These young men, young adults in the Post-War '50s, were about to change a culture so profoundly that we can scarcely consider our "today" without them.
The picture is of Sam Phillips' "Million Dollar Quartet" taken at Sun Studios, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. The four men were, in order, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and the man who would be king, Elvis Presley.
The "Million Dollar Quartet" recordings were of an impromptu jam session between the four young stars. The session seems to have happened by pure chance. Perkins, who by this time had already met success with “Blue Suede Shoes,” had come into the studios that day, accompanied by his brothers Clayton and Jay and by drummer W.S. Holland, their aim being to cut some new material, including a revamped version of an old blues song, “Matchbox.” Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, who wished to try to fatten this sparse rockabilly instrumentation, had brought in his latest acquisition, singer and piano man extraordinaire, Jerry Lee Lewis, still unknown outside Memphis, to play the piano on the Perkins session.
Sometime in the early afternoon, Elvis Presley, a former Sun artist himself, but now at RCA, dropped in to pay a casual visit accompanied by a girlfriend, Marilyn Evans. He was, at the time, the biggest name in show business, having hit the top of the singles charts five times, and topping the album charts twice in the preceding 12 month period. Less than four months earlier, he had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, pulling an unheard-of 83% of the television audience, which was estimated at 55 million, the largest in history, up to that time. After chatting with Philips in the control room, Presley listened to the playback of the Perkins’ session, which he pronounced to be good. Then he went into the studio and some time later the jam session began. Phillips left the tapes running in order to “capture the moment” as a souvenir and for posterity. At some point during the session, Sun artist Johnny Cash, who had also enjoyed a few hits on the country charts, popped in (Cash noted in his autobiography Cash that it was he who was the first to arrive at Sun Studio that day). As Jerry Lee pounded away on the piano, Elvis and his girlfriend at some point slipped out. Cash claims in Cash that “no one wanted to follow Jerry Lee, not even Elvis”
The following day, an article, written by Memphis newspaperman Bob Johnson about the session, was published in the Memphis Press-Scimitar under the title, “Million Dollar Quartet.” The article contained the now well known photograph of Elvis Presley seated at the piano surrounded by Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
That fateful jam session so caught the public imagination that it is now a successful Broadway show . "Million Dollar Quartet - The Musical" is based around this famous foursome, all of whom grew up in areas influenced by Scots-Irish culture and went on to be trailblazers in the world of Rock 'n' Roll.
a few songs from the famous jam sessionStory sources: