Sam Phillips:The Man Who Invented Rock ‘N’ Roll
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
As the author of no less than three books on Elvis Presley, and other scholarly tomes about the history of American blues, country and soul, Peter Guralnick is not just a logical choice to assemble a compilation celebrating the work of Sam Phillips, he’s likely the most knowledgeable person to construct a 55 song, 2 CD set of the Sun label founder’s most representative recordings. Additionally, Guralnick has written a new book on Phillips and penned the script for an A& E documentary on the man. He has also co-curated an exhibit at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame dedicated to the “cosmic genius of Sam Phillips.”
These songs cover 1950-1961 and the artist’s names alone show the diversity of Phillips’ vision. From roots country and rocking legends such as Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, to the more obscure blues of Willie Nix, the smooth vocals of the Prisonaires, and the country/rockabilly of Ernie Chaffin, this is a remarkably varied set that presents a well-rounded portrait of the artists Phillips found, signed, recorded and promoted. Along with a sizeable sampling of recognizable performances such as Perkins’ “Matchbox” and “Blue Suede Shoes,” Elvis and Little Junior’s Blue Flames’ versions of “Mystery Train,” and Lewis’ signature “Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On,” Guralnick unearths lesser known, seldom heard gems just as worthy, if not as famous as the timeless tracks from the label’s renowned roster. He makes a case for hidden blues names such as Jimmy and Walter along with D.A. Hunt to stand toe to toe with their famous label mates on a two and a half hour set with no filler.
There may be larger, more complete Phillips’ collections but none combine classics and dusty, seldom re-issued tunes as seamlessly. Along with the book and museum exhibit, the set provides an extensively annotated and stunningly remastered example of music that is the bedrock of American songwriting.