Broadway Features and Reviews
Million Dollar Quartet- Broadway Meets Rock Legends
By Andrew Walraven, Broadway Magazine
December 4, 1956 at Sun Records featured one of the greatest one-off jam sessions in rock history, as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins recorded in a group that could only rightfully be called the "Million Dollar Quartet". Soon, Broadway will welcome a new musical based on that fateful day in old time rock 'n roll history.
It began with Carl Perkins, who's band had already been winding down on a recording session. Jerry Lee Lewis, a newcomer to Sun Records, worked his way into the sessions by playing backup piano. It was only when Presley showed up that afternoon, despite having left Sun Records the previous year, that producer Sam Phillips and writer Robert Johnson (who coined the phrase "Million Dollar Quartet") believed they had something historic on their hands. Immediately they called Johnny Cash, a Sun artist at this point, who gladly came by the studio.
The following day Robert Johnson wrote "If Sam Phillips had been on his toes, he'd have turned the recorder on when that very unrehearsed but talented bunch got to cutting up". Fortunately, that is exactly what happened.
With the mics already in place from the Perkins session it was only natural to document the afternoon in as much detail as possible, including a photo session that captures many of the personalities at Sun Records that day. As Presley said, "It was what you might call a barrelhouse of fun. Carl Perkins was in a recording session and he had one that's going to hit as hard as Blue Suede Shoes."
What becomes obvious in listening to the album is that Elvis Presley was undoubtedly the strongest personality in the room that day. His vocals are featured throughout the session. Indeed, he was even thrilled to be playing with other great artists. On Jerry Lee Lewis he claimed "That boy can go. He has a different style and the way he plays piano just gets inside of me."
This session even offers a rare glimpse of Presley talking honestly about his own music. After a short version of "Don't Be Cruel" Elvis admits that "I heard this guy in Las Vegas- Billy Ward and his Dominoes. There's a guy out there who's doin' a take-off on me- 'Don't Be Cruel.' He tried so hard, till he got much better, boy- much better than that record of mine." The singer was most likely Jackie Wilson. Not until 1968 in a come-back special would Presley be recorded speaking this candidly of his own material.
It may seem that the album is guided by sheer celebrity, but there is a certain quality to the musical blend of originals, covers, and improvisations that is impossible to ignore. Even today the impromptu session at Sun Records is still earning attention, as a production based around that afternoon has been playing in Chicago for the past year. "Million Dollar Quartet", written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, is set to begin previews on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre in March of 2010.
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