The stars of Sun Records

Published 7:14 AM ET, Wed November 18, 2015
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Sam Phillips, right, founded his Memphis Recording Service in 1950 and Sun Records three years later. He helped discover some of the most important talent in rock 'n' roll history, including Elvis Presley, here with Scotty Moore and Bill Black in 1954. `/Glenn A.BakerArchives/Redferns/Getty Images
When Phillips first heard Howlin' Wolf, he said, "This is where the soul of man never dies." Wolf, born Chester Arthur Burnett, was recorded by Phillips in the early '50s. His records were released by Los Angeles' RPM Records and Chicago's Chess, and Wolf moved to Chicago in 1952. Today, he's best known for such songs as "Smokestack Lightning" and "Little Red Rooster." Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
"Rocket 88," often credited as the first rock 'n' roll record, was recorded in 1951 by Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm -- but it was singer Jackie Brenston, top left, who got the credit. The record, which Phillips leased to Chess, sold 100,000 copies, a huge number for an R&B record on an independent label. Gilles Petard/Redferns/Getty Images
Riley "B.B." King was a Memphis DJ as well as a guitarist when he recorded for Phillips in the early '50s. His early songs with Phillips failed to click, but not long after he left, his "3 O'Clock Blues" made him a star. Colin Escott/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty images
Phillips' most important find was Elvis Presley, who first wandered into the studio in 1953. The next year, Phillips started producing his sides, and such songs as "That's All Right," "Baby Let's Play House" and "Trying to Get to You" made him a star. Phillips sold Presley's contract to RCA in late 1955 for $35,000 -- considered an outrageous sum. The rest, however, is history. He poses here with reporter Leo Soroka, Phillips and reporter Robert Johnson in 1956. Colin Escott/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty images
Another Phillips discovery, Carl Perkins, wrote and recorded the song "Blue Suede Shoes." When the song was released in early 1956, it topped the country, R&B and pop charts -- the first song with such crossover success, indicating that "rock 'n' roll" had broad appeal. Perkins stayed with Sun until 1958. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty images
Johnny Cash was another of Phillips' leading talents. His first hit, "Cry! Cry! Cry!" established him, and then "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line," from 1955 and 1956, made him a star. Cash also left Sun in 1958, embarking on a long career on Columbia. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Roy Orbison had one notable hit on Sun -- 1957's "Ooby Dooby" -- but his style and the label's clashed. His biggest hits came on Monument in the early '60s. Still, he spoke well of Phillips. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Jerry Lee Lewis started out with a series of smashes on Sun, including "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire," before his career was damaged by scandal when he told the press he had married his 13-year-old cousin. Phillips still stood by him and thought him the Sun musician with the most raw talent. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Billy Lee Riley's first Sun hit, 1957's "Flyin' Saucers Rock 'n' Roll" was typical of his hard-driving rockabilly style. His follow-up, "Red Hot," has been covered many times but didn't get a big push from Sun; Phillips put the publicity behind Lewis' records. Still, as Bob Dylan noted in 2015, "He was a true original. He did it all: He played, he sang, he wrote." Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Charlie Rich, the "Silver Fox," was a session pianist for Sun and had some early hits with a subsidiary, Phillips International, including "Lonely Weekends" and "Who Will the Next Fool Be." His biggest hits came in the '70s: "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." Ironically, he didn't play his distinctive piano on either. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images