Would rock and roll be the same without Memphis’s legendary Sun Records and its founder, Sam Phillips? A new CMT original series aims to remind music fans the answer is a hip-shaking, earth-quaking “no.”
Sun Records, based on the Tony Award–winning musical Million Dollar Quartet, centers on the nascent days of the genre in the mid-1950s, when Phillips recruited a diverse slate of budding music-makers such as Elvis Presley, Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Ike Turner to his Memphis Recording Service studio, just east of downtown.
“Gimme something I ain’t never heard,” says Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill, Agent Carter) as Phillips in the trailer for the show. And his young unknowns (also played by relatively unknown actors in the series) deliver, as he inspires them to meld country music with the rhythm and blues being produced at the time by the likes of B.B. King and Turner, both also portrayed in the series. Phillips’s studio would go on to produce 226 singles in its sixteen-year run, including such career-making songs as Cash’s “I Walk the Line” and Lewis’s version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.”
Sun Records premieres Thursday, February 23, at 10:00 p.m. eastern on CMT following a show with which it shares some behind-the-scenes-of-the-music-industry DNA: Nashville, which debuted on the network earlier this year after moving from ABC. But this is likely just the beginning of a renaissance for the rockabilly label and its Hall of Fame owner: Leonardo DiCaprio is set to play Phillips in an in-development film adaptation of Peter Guralnick’s Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘N’ Roll.