The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum


Posts by Kathryn Metz, Ph.D.

A Million Dollar Jam Session

Thursday, September 29: 4:43 p.m.
The Million Dollar Quartet. Photo credit: Memphis Press-Scimitar

The story of rock and roll is often reduced to a happy mix of rhythm and blues and country music, but it is actually a far richer and more complicated comingling of styles, genres, instruments, cultures and people. For our Rock and Roll Night School last night, my colleagues and I researched a rather famous moment in rock and roll history featuring some of its greatest musicians playing together at an impromptu jam session at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in Memphis on December 4, 1956. Coined the “Million Dollar Quartet” by local journalist Bob Johnson who stopped by to chronicle the session, I was struck by the versatility of these legends and the diverse repertory they had in their wheelhouse.

Earlier that day, rockabilly king Carl Perkins had recorded some songs with Sun newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis on piano.  Former Sun superstar (and then RCA recording artist) Elvis Presley was home for the holidays and dropped by with his girlfriend. Johnny Cash swung by for a time as well. As the musicians began to play together, Phillips placed a microphone in the middle of the room and pressed record. What followed were hours of musical exchange, experimentation, improvisation, imitation ...


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