‘Sun Records’-Episode 1 Review


In the 1950’s the city of Memphis, Tennessee (my proud hometown) became ground zero for a revolution which changed music forever. The city had been a massive crossroad of sunrecords1culture for the first half of the twentieth century. African Americans from the share cropped farms of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana brought rhythm and blues to the Bluff City; while their white counterparts played a gritty bluegrass sound. East of Memphis in Nashville the polished sound of  “rhinestone” country was broadcast all over the south and making an impact on the music scene. Something big was on the horizon and Sam Phillips came to Memphis to find it and founded Sun Records to harness this new style which was dubbed rock and roll. The origin story for this famed genre is explored in the new series, Sun Records, loosely based on the stage production Million Dollar Quartet.

For a good chunk of last year, we Memphians were excited to see actors and film crews around the city making this new series. For far too long we have seen Louisiana used as a stand-in for our city, and frankly it is obvious that those films and shows are lacking a certain spirit and which comes from the actual location. Having recognizable landmarks such as; Beale Street, the Arcade Restaurant, and Cooper-Young, brings an authenticity to the production that no studio set can reproduce. The focus of the show is Sam Phillips, a pioneering businessman who knows there is something in the city if he just looks for it. Played by Chad Michael Murray of Gilmore Girls and Fruitvale Station fame, Phillips is shown to be the man behind the curtain and Murray plays this perfectly. From the accent to the physical mannerisms it is clear the actor has done his homework in taking on this part. In fact the entire ensemble brings their A-game to the premier episode. Teenage actor Drake Milligan perfectly captures the swagger and rebellious spirit of a young Elvis Presley; Keir O’Donnell duplicates the manic energy of radio DJ Dewey Phillips; Margaret Anne Florence brings a tenacity to Sam’s right-hand woman Marion Keisker; and comedian Billy Gardell is perfectly slimy as Colonel Tom Parker.

The series premier does establish that this will be slow-burn type of show as all of the sunrecords2characters are still in the earliest stages of their career and not even close to crossing paths yet. As the episode draws to a close we see; Johnny Cash escaping his family farm to join the Air Force; Elvis as the rebel who was ahead of his time in many ways; and Sam trying to forge his destiny. This is a story-telling method which could work which could pay off handsomely for the show if they are able to keep the flow going and not test the patience of viewers. It would appear the climax will come when Elvis and Cash join with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for their legendary impromptu jam session at Sun Records in 1956. Sun Records is telling a story we in Memphis have known for decades and love to share with the rest of the world.

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