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.'

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

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week