Friday, December 2, 2011

December 4, 1956: The 'Million Dollar Quartet' is Born

It all began the night Sam Phillips booked a recording session for Carl Perkins on December 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." (The song was only a minor hit when Perkins recorded
it, but when the Beatles released a version in 1964, it reached the top 20 of the Billboard

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

Phillips, ever the savvy marketer, knew the growing importance of the music and mainstream  press, 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, where he called the
session "an old fashioned barrel-house session with barber shop harmonies resulting."

While the Million Dollar Quartet session was indeed turned into a media event, it was clearly
still an organic and real get-together. In that way, it is of historical significance not only as a
landmark event in the age of rock 'n' roll's genesis, but as a significant milestone in the ever-
changing world of 20th Century popular culture and mass media.

Now Million Dollar Quartet is a smash-hit Broadway show inspired by music history and headed to the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center February 7-12. You can find out more about the show and the legends who inspired it at

Tickets for Million Dollar Quartet start at $53 and can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787 or the Center’s ticket office at (920) 730-3760. Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center’s ticket office or online at  

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