It all began the night Sam Phillips, the “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” booked a recording session for Carl Perkins on Dec. 4, 1956.
Perkins was there to try out some new tunes with the hopes of recreating the recipe for success he’d found earlier that year. Thinking that Perkins’ sound needed a slight update, Phillips had brought in one of his newest artists, the young pianist Jerry Lee Lewis. Perkins and his band, along with Lewis, laid down some songs, including what would become one of the Best known Perkins songs, “Matchbox.”
While many of the details of the rest of the day’s events are still in dispute, this much is known: Perkins and Lewis were later joined by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, and they held an impromptu jam session. It was a reunion for Cash, Perkins and Presley, who had toured the South together in 1955. Lewis was still a star on the rise, but he quickly bonded with Presley over their shared knowledge of spirituals.
The recordings of the session – later released in a series of albums beginning in 1981 – show all of the men, particularly Presley, at ease with the music and generally just having a good time jamming.
Phillips, ever the savvy marketer, knew the growing importance of the music, and he helped turn the impromptu jam into a media event, calling a local reporter and photographer to document the scene. The writer, Bob Johnson, dubbed the four the “Million Dollar Quartet” in his piece in the Memphis daily paper the next day, calling the session “a barrel-house of fun.” Million Dollar Quartet brings that unbelievable musical moment to life, featuring timeless and enduring hits including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That’s All Right,” “Sixteen Tons,” “I Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Hound Dog,” and more. This performance, scheduled for April 13 as part of the 2019 MRAC Series, features a cast of characters that includes Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Sam Phillips, Dyanne, Brother Jay (Perkins), and Fluke.
The 2019 MRAC season also includes a performance by Doo Wop Live (featuring The Flamingos, Joey Dee & The Starliters, Danny & The Juniors, Jay Siegel’s Tokens, and The Crystals) on May 11. For information contact the MRAC box office by calling (434) 634-6001. Additional MRAC information is available on their web site located at www.mrac-arts.com. All performances take place at the Emporia Greensville Performing Arts Center in Emporia.