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
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial