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Welcome To ENN - Sam Needed The Cash

by Rich Wilson

Music historians will always write the story about how a young Elvis Presley stepped into the Sun Recording Studio in Memphis and soon a legend would be born. The birth of Rock And Roll music is often described in that way. There will always be the basic argument that Rock was being created long before Presley even thought of singing. That the Blues artists of Beale Street and other areas of Memphis had already given birth to the new music form. And no matter what your thoughts may be about that, Elvis Presley did, indeed stroll into Sun and did record songs that helped kick open every door that remained closed to these artists before him.

Sam Phillips was the owner of Sun Recording Studio on Union Street in Memphis and was, by all accounts, the man who discovered Elvis’ unique style. Sam would go on to find many talented artists by way of his small studio. Most of the performers were poor and had little to offer except for their talents. It would take time and money to record and promote each of these artists on the Sun label. Phillips was not a wealthy man by any stretch of the imagination. Unless something would change soon, Sun Recording Studio would have to close its doors.

The recordings of Elvis Presley were making small ripples in the big pond of radio. The cash return on these few releases by Presley was not enough to keep the bill collectors from Sam’s door. When suddenly, there was a break. It was the kind of break that was to solve the problems pressuring Phillips, and the kind of break that would eventually change the world. A small country music promoter by the name of Tom Parker would work his way into the life of Elvis Presley, become his manager, and get RCA Victor to buy the Presley contract from Sam Phillips for $35,000. In 1954-55, $35,000 was a lot of cash and was, at that time, the largest amount ever paid for a contract of an artist.

Although most would feel that this was a difficult decision for Phillips. Sam never thought twice about accepting the offer. Until the day he died, Phillips continued to say that he knew he could not handle what was about to happen with Presley. His company was too small. He had other artists waiting to be promoted. Artists like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich and Billy Lee Riley. And with all of the bill collectors standing in line, Phillips had only one choice. Sell the Presley contract and move on.

The question has been asked many times over, “I wonder if Sam Phillips ever regretted selling the contract of the world’s greatest entertainer, Elvis Presley for $35,000?” And the answer might be, “Yes and No” because when you take away all of historical events and you strip down to the basics of any decisions, survival was the first thing on his mind. Sam needed the cash. Sam got the cash and the rest is Rock And Roll history.

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