Storms of rumors surround this “historic” day in Memphis, TN some 61 years ago. It is alleged, with some photographic evidence (take the cover, for example), that during a Carl Perkins recording session at Sun Records, Jerry Lee Lewis (then a young-fresh-fellow on the brink of superstardom), Elvis Presley, and the Man in Black, Johnny Cash recorded 30+ minutes of (mainly gospel) material for what turned out to be dubbed, The Million Dollar Quartet. The recording is heavy Elvis, and sounds much more like an unscripted, haphazard practice session of studio musicians than anything resembling a million dollars ($9,068,492.65 today). Johnny Cash’s presence is all but nonexistent, which raises questions to the album photo’s legitimacy (the official Sun Records release from 1981 has Marilyn Evans, Elvis’ then girlfriend, removed from the photo altogether). This bootleg version was released a year earlier by OMD, and is the only known release by the unknown label. Regardless of the recording’s legitimacy, it’s an educational spin and a gem of a find. Take it with a grain of salt, but enjoy nonetheless.
I’m excited to start my collection of reissue debut classics from the seminal four from Sun Records. First acquired is Roy Orbison’s At the Rock House (originally released in 1961). Somewhere in transit is Jerry Lee Lewis’ 1958 debut of the same name, and down the pike will be Dance Album of Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash’s With His Hot and Blue Guitar. As you can plainly see, Roy’s reissue is on rockin’ red vinyl, where Mr. Lewis’ is on sleek silver. Carl’s is on blue suede, and Cash’s on fire orange. A great (and cheap) way to acquire these rock n’ roll classics.
In 1984, Rhino Records, with exclusive license from Sun International Corporation, released this beautiful Greatest Hits album as a radiant picture disc. Long gone were the rights to Elvis, but each of the other legendary Sun Records icons are present. Roy Orbison doing Ooby Dooby, Carl Perkins doing Honey Don’t and Blue Suede Shoes, Billy Lee Riley doing Red Hot, Junior Parker with Feelin’ Good and Mystery Train, Jerry Lee Lewis with Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, and of course, Johnny Cash with Folsom Prison Blues. It’s worth owning even if picture discs are prone to skip (and they are).
Many thanks to the previous, and anonymous owner of my copy of the Sun Records released, The Million Dollar Quartet, for mummifying this 1986 magazine article, shining light upon, arguably, the most prolific, and storied combination of talented musicians the modern age has ever witnessed. Celebrated evening reading material, for sure. Perhaps I’ll transcribe it someday… perhaps.
Cataloged as SUN 119, Sunday Down South is a lot more than just a compilation of songs by the late 1950s masterminds of radio rock, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Apart from being a great representation of these legendary artists as they both entered the 1970s (this album was released in 1970), Sunday Down South is good ol’, down south rockin’ gospel done right. Something can be said about each of these man’s darker, more controversial sides coupled with their resurrected approach to religious music, but unfortunately, I have no idea what those words might be.
Clocking in at just over 22 minutes, Sunday Down South is a painfully brief, yet enjoyable journey into the rock n’ roll souls of these mythical musicians, and is a perfect album to enjoy on this, or any Sunday, regardless of your geographical location.
If it’s on any other label in the monumental history of music recording, it’s a lemon. Smash Records is a bit full of themselves, don’t you think? Looking at their big guns, or at least the four featured artists on this insert (that was printed in the U.S.A., mind you), this bold claim, at first sight, seems justified, or at least viable. But, given that these are only four artists out of, oh, I don’t know, EVERY ARTIST OF EVERY COUNTRY OF EVERY GENRE OF EVERY GENERATION THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY OF MANKIND, the phrase, “if it’s a hit… it’s on Smash Records” can be read as a stiff middle finger response to “the rest” of the hitless noise polluting the ears of the music-loving public all across this giant rock.
Roger Miller, Charlie Rich, James Brown, and Jerry Lee Lewis were all fantastic artists… but if your entire music vocabulary consists of only Smash Records recordings, 1) you’ve got a lot of work to do and 2) your lack of music-listening happiness gathers no sympathy from me.
Smash Records… Everything else is just noise.
When you purchase a used album, you really never know what you’re going to get. (Takes a few steps forward and smiles.) Hello, this is X from The Prudent Groove.
Not unlike downloading an album without the proper metadata, and we all know how annoying THAT can be, am I right?! (Takes a beat.) The level of quality attributed to a used record you find at say, a thrift store, is based solely on the mindset, (Beat.) and general care of its previous owner. (Looks down, then back up. Puts hands in pockets.)
Was the previous owner a neat freak who housed each of their cherished albums in overpriced, protective sleeves like we do here at The Groove? (Cocks head as to ponder this question.) Did they use the front jacket as a temporary table for rolling dried relaxation plants? (Beat.) Were they careless and used the back cover as a coaster, leaving a circular ring of ancient coffee above the “we’re trying to look casual” picture of the band? (Lets out a slight chuckle.)
These questions, and any others you may have of a record’s previous owner, will fall upon deaf ears, and the answers will only exist within our own imaginations. (Sits down on a chair. Where did the chair come from?)
Take for example this A&M Records insert I found inside my copy of Johnny Cash & Jerry Lee Lewis’ Sunday Down South album on Sun Records. (Holds up record, not pictured here.) The previous owner either didn’t care, or didn’t notice that the insert didn’t match the album. Not a very big deal as the record is in pristine shape. (Chuckles.) The previous owner probably didn’t enjoy the music and never played it, and THAT’S why it’s in such good shape. (Stands back up and begins walking.)
“Listen To Your World” is a clear-headed marketing slogan from A&M Records that suggests “your world” (Does quotes with his fingers… incorrectly.) can only be found on A&M Records. Clever girl. (Says in terrible British accent.) The flipside to this slogan showcases some pretty heavy-hitters from the A&M catalogue. (Looks down at insert as if to read.) Cat Stevens, Herb Alpert, Humble Pie, Quincy Jones and Burt Bacharach to name a few. With no date affixed to this insert, the words, “Listen To Your World” seem to become as timeless as some of the classic releases found on A&M Records. Coupled with the bold, white text on a basic, black background, this modern day musical proverb is a strong, and I hope profitable, marketing campaign for A&M Records, one that I’m happy I stumbled upon in an almost unorthodox manner.
Take a little mental trip on your next hunt through your local second hand store, and give a distinctive personality to that record you can’t live without. (Puts hands in pockets and smiles.) The album, like the music, exists as an entity in and of itself. Give it a history, and your collection will come to life in ways you never imagined.
This has been X from The Prudent Groove. (Smiles and puts hands on hips.) I’ll see you here tomorrow. Have a great afternoon. (Walks away in an awkward, no idea where he is stroll.)
I found this sleeve insert hiding inside a 1976 Mercury Records release of a Statler Brothers album. The story strives to inform the record owner of the hundreds of millions of dollars lost to 8-Track pirates. Bruce Meyer, who was apparently a UPI feature columnist, writes the story that still seems relevant some nearly four decades later. Jerry Lee Lewis makes a cameo.
Here is the story for your reading pleasure:
Tape Piracy… Everyone’s Problem
Next time you’re out shopping for records or tape—watch for pirates. Not the kind with skull and crossbones and rusty cutlasses—watch for music pirates. There are plenty of them around and, like their 18th Century colleagues, they’re breaking the law, to the tune of $200 million a year.
The modern pirates’ racket is duplicating and selling sound recordings that don’t belong to them, usually as a tape cassette or an eight-track cartridge. Their income goes right into their own pockets.
Lewis One-Man Pirate Smasher
While many recording artists have actively engaged in promoting the fight against antipiracy by appearing before state legislatures and acting as witnesses in court cases, Jerry Lee Lewis has taken the bull by the horns.
John Polk, RIAA investigator based in Nashville, told a NARM antipiracy seminar, that Lewis recently pulled up to a gas station in the south and noticed a rack of pirate tapes in the station. He asked who owned the rack and when told that an unidentified man serviced it weekly from the truck of his car, Lewis took the rack outside the station and smashed it. When the station operator asked him what he should do when the route man came and asked what happened to his rack, Lewis replied: “Tell him ‘Killer’ was here.”
A music pirate simply buys a record or tape and—without authorization from the company that released the original—makes copies of it. The copies are sold to wholesalers or retailers—or sometimes directly to the consumer.
The price of a pirate tape is usually lower than the original simply because the pirate can make huge profits at a lower retail price. He has none of the expenses of a legitimate recording company. The pirate picks only hit recordings, which means he supports none of the thousands of unknown artists legitimate companies carry at a loss in their search for the music the public wants to hear. The pirate pays no royalties to the performers whose work he steals and usually makes only token payments to music publishers to maintain a semblance of legitimacy.
Piracy flourished despite both federal and state laws against it. Recordings released before February 15, 1972, are protected under the laws of 26 states. Recordings made and releases since that date are covered by the Federal Copyright Law (as amended by Public Law 92-140).
Piracy hurts the record companies, of course. The $200 million that pirates pick up represents some 10 per cent of the total for the music industry and more than one-third of the legitimate industry’s tape sales. But it also hurts the artists, the unions, music publishers and honest retailers and wholesalers who refuse to handle pirated recordings. And in the long run, it’s bound to hurt you—the record buyer—because your money is going not to support the performers you enjoy, but to line the pockets of a criminal.
Watch for pirate recordings. The easiest way to spot them is the label.
IS THERE A PHOTOGRAPH?
Legitimate companies spend a great deal of money to make their products look attractive. Besides quality, multi-color printing, nearly all legitimate tapes and records have professional cover art. But pirate recordings usually have plain labels, often nothing more than a listing of title, artist and the names of the songs.
IS THERE MORE THAN ONE ARTIST ON THE SAME TAPE?
At times legitimate record companies put more than one artist on a record or tape, but it is rare. However, pirates frequently put together tapes composed of the current top hits, therefore many artists are represented. These tapes are often called “The Big Hits” or “Top 20” etc. Make sure you check these multi-artist tapes before purchasing.
WHAT IS THE PACKAGING LIKE?
Also record companies use distinctive cover art for each album and tape, generally depicting the artists in some way. Pirates seldom use photos or drawings of the artists and multicolor printing and art work is rare. Often just a list of tunes and artists appear on the cover and the same design can be used over and over with the titles changed to fit the piece of product. Even the shrink-wrap around an album or tape can tell the story. Legitimate product is professionally wrapped and fits tightly. Pirate tapes and albums usually fit loosely.
IS THERE A STATEMENT ON THE LABEL, something like “Copyright Law complied with” or “Fees and royalties paid”? If there is, it’s probably a pirate; legitimate companies have no need to put such statements on their labels.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU SPOT A PIRATE?
Contact your local police and describe to them exactly what you observed. (In most cities, music piracy is handles by the Bunko-Forgery Division). They will know which local, state, or federal laws may apply.
Alternatively, contact your local Phonogram distributor, the distributor for any legitimate recording company, or the local representative of the Recordings Industry Association of America (RIAA).
It’s up to those who are being injured by the pirates to stop them. That includes those in the records and tapes industry…. and you…
Story by Bruce Meyer UPI feature columnist.
So, Jerry Lee Lewis smashed a rack of 8-Track tapes. Ok, but who had to clean it up?