The Million-Dollar Sound of a Unique Jam Session

Sep 9, 2019

Sean McGibbon, Chance Wall, Kavan Hashemian and Peter Oyloe (L to R) star in the Clarence Brown Theatre's production of "Million Dollar Quartet."
Credit Elizabeth Aaron

On a Tuesday afternoon in early December 1956, Carl Perkins stopped by Sun Studios in Memphis. The singer-songwriter was there to record what he hoped would be his next hit single. Studio owner Sam Phillips brought in a ringer to play piano in that session – a nineteen-year-old named Jerry Lee Lewis. Before the afternoon was done, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley also dropped in. And in a moment of tremendous foresight, someone thought to switch on the studio’s recorders.

The recordings of what came to be known as the "Million Dollar Quartet" were unearthed thirteen years after the session, and released to the public in 1981. More than a decade ago, the 1956 Sun Studios jam session inspired a musical. Million Dollar Quartet is running through September 22 at the Clarence Brown Theatre. Director Kate Buckley spoke with WUOT’s Brandon Hollingsworth about the musical, its backstory, and what it can bring to audiences today.