- How do you get to be famous? Part 1
- Official Site for Sun Records
- Official Site for Sun Studio – make a record!
- Matt Ross-Spang in the studio
Sun Records: still a place for dreams
Sam C. Phillips of Memphis had a novel idea. His Memphis Recording Service would record weddings, parties, and even funerals. “We record anything –anywhere – anytime,” his business card read (telephone JA1 0664). But Sam’s real love was music, and when he recorded a fellow named Rufus Thomas in 1953 on the newly dubbed Sun label, he had a hit in “Bearcat.”
Hits followed in the tiny studio located on 706 Union Avenue. Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and a host of others walked through the door to sing here. But eventually Sam had to find another voice. Things were looking bad until 1953 when a dusky eyed 18 year-old electrician wandered in, plunked down $4, and recorded “My Happiness.” Still, Sam wasn’t convinced this Elvis kid was much until one day he started fooling around, singing this blues tune with a twist – literally. Later, selling Presley’s contract for about $30,000 saved the bankrupt Sun Records label.
Sun Records continues to record musicians today, musicians who are looking for that 50’s sound, says recording engineer Matt Ross – Spang. Matt is now the man behind the booth in the Sun Studio recording stage, where singers like Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike Turner, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins once stood. Now the singers come to record here “for the vibe. It’s smaller, it’s old school; it’s the birthplace of rock and roll” (Rock ‘n’ roll was born when an amplifier fell off a car en route to the studio, broke the cone and distorted the sound. Musicians liked it). Matt believes artists are returning to a more natural sound now. “People are looking to get back to original sound, and (Sun is) modern, but we do use 50’s gear” for a cleaner, pure sound. Recently, John Melancamp, Elvis Costello, and Robert Plant had each been in the studio, using Sun to do some work.
Matt Ross – Spang has worked behind this glass since he was 16 as an intern at Sun, and has seen a lot of famous faces. Why do people want to be famous? “A lot of people like attention,” he philosophizes, “to be in the spotlight. In our society, (a music star) is as high as you can go, more so than a president or a senator.” He advises people who seek success to stay humble and not let fame change them. “And when you get there, don’t screw it up with drugs,” he emphasizes.
Matt’s advice from the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll: “even if you get signed by a major record label doesn’t mean you’ll become famous.” Acts are signed, dropped, or signed and still never become household names. Consider, “there’s still only one Elvis, only one Beatles.” Still, he encourages people who are serious about their music. “You can use Myspace and Youtube, all of that, to promote your music.” Matt explains artists need to play every venue they can and promote their music any way they can; the trick is to build a fan base so when they are offered a contract, ‘the artist has the upper hand.” One current popular singer did just that: he began by playing to crowds of 10-20, and eventually sold out arenas. Initially he turned down his first contract. “Most people’s dreams are to make a living and pay the bills,” Matt says. This artist now receives proceeds from merchandising because he was able to make stipulations on his contracts, something unheard of in the business. “Touring doesn’t pay the bills,” Matt advises. Touring is to build a fan base and sell music and merchandise.
Matt Ross – Spang is now sitting where Sam C. Phillips once sat, watching musicians trying to make dreams come true, chasing that dream of fame.
All photos by J. Yates & may not be copied without permission
My book on Africa helps endangered animals, and would be a great read while listening to some old-school music!
Photo of JY credit