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
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

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.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us