The subtitle of your book is “The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll.” I don’t think you’re the first person to call him that, and the phrase served as the title for a documentary years ago. Overall, give us a sense of how important Phillips was to the birth and early evolution of the music.--Marshal Zeringue
What I think was remarkable about Sam, besides the fact that from a tiny little storefront studio in Memphis, so much music came out of such a tiny space, from something that was essentially a one-man operation. From Elvis to Carl Perkins to Johnny Cash to Jerry Lee Lewis, [he created] what was essentially the dominant strain of rock ‘n’ roll during the first few years of its existence.
What I think is extraordinary about Sam is that he had a vision for rock ‘n’ roll long before the music existed, long before he was even able to give expression to it… Years before he even conceived of building a recording studio, he conceived a music that could bridge all gaps, that could deny category… An African-American-based music that could leap across the chasms of race and social origin and class. And when he opened his studio, the first hit he had come out was [Ike Turner’s] “Rocket 88.” It doesn’t matter how you label it – the fact is, it was an extraordinary hit, it sold over 100,000 copies.
In his first public utterances, in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, he spoke of that same vision. Of “Rocket 88” being the kind of music that could appeal to all kinds, that could reach a mainstream audience, that could bridge that gap. While the record may not have fully realized what we envisioned for it, that was clearly what he was looking to achieve from the moment he started recording anyone.
He had the same vision for...[read on]