Long-distance information: The legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, where Elvis cut his first record, is back in business. Richard Buskin reports

'The music we have recorded at this studio is something to hear, and I'm not saying that just because it's mine,' says Rufus Thomas, the celebrated Southern blues singer. He is talking about his most recent work which, at the age of 75, sees him teaming up with the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis. Once the launch pad for Elvis, Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, B B King and Roy Orbison, the studio recently started its own record label, after a hiatus of more than a quarter of a century.

The new 706 Records label (named after the building's location at 706 Union Avenue) is devoted to the roots music on which the studio forged its reputation. Original Sun acts like Rufus Thomas and Malcolm Yelvington are joined by newcomers like blues vocalist Phoebe Lewis (daughter of Jerry Lee) in a venture which finds its initiator, Gary Hardy, following in the footsteps of Sam Phillips, Sun's founder.

Phillips opened the Memphis Recording Service in 1950, to provide black artists with a receptive environment in which to record blues and gospel music. But it was with the discovery of a 19-year-old former truck driver named Elvis Presley that he hit paydirt.

Presley stopped by Sun in June 1953 and parted with dollars 4 to record a personal disc on which he crooned 'My Happiness' and 'That's When Your Heartaches Begin'. When he returned six months later to cut another two sides, Phillips decided to invest in the kid with sideburns. The results, as Phillips recalled, were 'all I've ever looked for in my entire life'. Following a succession of singles and concert performances which caused a sensation around the South, Presley's contract with Sun was sold to RCA in November 1955 for the unprecedented fee of dollars 35,000.

The cash brought Phillips success on a scale he can scarcely have dreamt of. Sun's current head of operations, however, finds himself in a radically different position. 'Sam thought that there was a revolution at hand and he was right, but I don't think I'll see another revolution in my lifetime,' says Hardy, who spent 20 years as a musician prior to taking control of the Sun Studio in 1987. 'So I'm not looking, I'm just listening, and if something is good, I'm gonna cut it.'

During the years following Phillips' departure to a purpose-built recording complex in 1960, the building at 706 Union went through a series of metamorphoses ranging from a garage to a barber shop, before falling into a state of disrepair. A number of attempts were made to launch the site as a tourist attraction after Presley's death in 1977, but they all failed. By 1986, under the auspices of the Presley Estate, Sun was about to become part of an Italian restaurant when Hardy stepped in with the idea of once again using it as an active recording facility.

Since then the list of clients has included U2 (three tracks on the Rattle and Hum album) and Ringo Starr, and the annual number of tourists visiting the studio has risen from 3,000 to 30,000. Walking in past the neon 'Memphis Recording Service' signs and 'Sun' facia, the visitor arrives in the tiny office where Phillips' assistant Marion Keisker first encountered Elvis. Beyond this is the basic, rectangular recording area where Jerry Lee Lewis pounded piano, Carl Perkins strummed and Johnny Cash growled, and on the other side of the partition window is the control room where Sam Phillips twiddled the knobs.

Archive photos now adorn the walls, but otherwise everything appears to be as it was, 'right down to the dirty tiles on the walls', according to Malcolm Yelvington, a former Sun artist who entered the studio in 1989 for the first time in 30 years. Meeting and talking to the artists on the new 706 Records label provokes a similar feeling of time-warp. A broad cross-section of musical styles and talents are represented, but all are united by the desire to make no-nonsense live recordings with the feel of the original Sun sessions. An all-star compilation album, entitled The Sun Studio Revue, provides a taster of what the label has to offer, from blues to rockabilly, soul to country.

The musicianship and the spontaneity evident on the record raise the question of how far popular music has moved on since the Fifties. Rufus Thomas is a throwback to the old school that subscribes to the belief that a record should be just that: the capturing of a spontaneous, live performance. He describes how recent work in the Sun Studio has reflected his own recording preferences.

'All the musicians would be in position, and then as soon as we'd get the sound balanced, hey, we jivin', we drivin'] We knew where we were and so we didn't have to do things bit by bit. We'd take all of the funk and do it real, instead of taking pieces and putting them together.'

Getting to actually hear the music going out on the 706 Records label could be a problem, however, for at present the recordings are only available in Europe on import. A full-scale release was planned for the beginning of this year, but the company behind the specially formed 'Music South' label went bankrupt. It was then that Hardy decided to go it alone and form 706.

The label's most recent release is a rockabilly album entitled Dream Girl by a group of Danish teenagers calling themselves The Billys, which features guest appearances by Carl Perkins, Charlie McCoy and the original Presley backing-vocalists The Jordanaires. It has garnered sufficient attention to attract substantial orders from overseas. At the same time, Dennis Muirhead, a London-based producer-manager who is representing both the label and the Sun Studio in the UK, is attempting to secure worldwide distribution for the new product.

Gary Hardy's thoughts, meanwhile, remain firmly on artistic matters. 'We don't have any restrictions on style or content, and we don't try to change what the music is in order to make it fit a trend. This music is good today, it will be good tomorrow.'

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?