With Winfield 'Scotty' Moore on guitar, William 'Bill' Black on double bass, and a fresh-faced 19 year-old Elvis Presley on vocals and guitar, That's All Right, and the 'B' side, Blue Moon of Kentucky was released today on the Sun record label in 1954.
Recorded on the 5th July in the Sun studios in Memphis Tennessee, the one minute and fifty seven second recording was the first single released by Elvis, the first of 113 singles released during his lifetime.
The story goes that during a break in a fairly dull recording session, Elvis was messing around and started to sing the 'Big Boy' Crudup Blues song from 1946, That's All Right. Bill joined in on slap bass, followed by Scotty on guitar. The legendary Sam Phillips, producer and founder of Sun Records, liked the upbeat take on the slower original and asked the group to start again so he could record it. You can hear it here.
The vocals and instruments were recorded on one track, so it sounded like a 'live' recording, and the group recorded Blue Moon of Kentucky in a similar one track up-beat approach the following day.
On the 7th July, Phillips sent the recording to local radio stations, and, knowing the song was to be played on-air, Elvis went to a local movie theatre to try and stay calm. The song was played on Dewey Phillip's radio show, Red Hot and Blue at least 14 times and over 40 phone calls were taken in response. A week later, Sun had received about 6,000 advance orders for the recording. Due to the popularity, Elvis went in to hold a live radio interview and the recording sold over 20,000 copies after its release.
While not enough to chart nationally, the recording charted at number 4 in the Memphis charts, enough for Phillips to get Elvis back into the studio to develop his sound. Between August and December of that year, That's All Right, and Blue Moon of Kentucky continued to chart well across the south.
It's a shame Phillip's hadn't kept a diary and recognised the global potential of Elvis. A year and a day before, on the 18th July 1953, Elvis first entered the Sun Studios, and paid $3.98 to record two songs, "My Happiness', and "That's Where Your Heartache Begins". Some feel he was just trying to get noticed rather than the popular legend that he was recording a couple of songs as a birthday present for his mother. While he may well have been recording an acetate as a keepsake for his mother, the fact that they didn't have anything to play it on supports the opportunistic theory of self promotion. Well, that $3.98 might be the best $3.98 ever invested in music history! There would though have been a smooth synchronicity to the story if That's All Right had been released just 24 hours earlier.
Over the next fifteen months, the trio would release a total of five singles. That's All Right, Good Rockin' Tonight, Milkcow Blues Boogie, Baby Let's Play House and I Forgot to Remember to Forget. They toured widely across the south and appeared regularly on the Louisiana Hayride, the main rival to the Grand Ole Opry. In November 1955, Sun Studios sold Elvis's contract to RCA for $40,000, a record for this kind of transaction at the time.
RCA went on to release recordings nationally, and the rest, as they say, is history!
Elvis kept in touch with Sam Phillips and the studio, and on one visit on December 4th 1956, Elvis started singing along with a few young artists, which Sam kept the tape recorder on for. This session with a young Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins became known as the Million Dollar Quartet.
So, quietly creeping up on the inside, the 19th July is a pretty important day in history. If you'd like to learn more about Elvis, the definitive place is www.elvis.com
Thanks for reading!