I have deep interest in the history of the recording industry, and I have a special thing for stories set in the milieu of recording studios. Part of this affection comes from an era in my own life when I made a big chunk of income from doing voice over work. I did about 75 voice overs between 1987-1997, and I loved the work.
I was especially pleased when I would get to record at Bad Animals Studios in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. At the time, Bad Animals was owned by Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson (of Heart), and walking in the corridors, I would pass Michael Stipe, Eddie Vedder or Joan Jett. I once waited next to Johnny Cash to use the restroom (talk about your Ring Of Fire) and bought a coffee for B.B. King.
Among my favorite films that take place in or around recording studios:
Once (2006), Grace Of My Heart (1996), They All Laughed (1981), the much neglected In A World (2013), and, of course, Dreamgirls (2006). Also, check out the terrific documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom, and its look at the backup singers who have careers just beyond the spotlight.
So, I felt I should check out the new series on something called CMT. This show is set in one of my favorite eras and stories, the birth of Rock N’Roll.
It takes place in Memphis during the tumultuous early days of the Civil Rights movement, and tells the story of legendary Sun Records, started by Sam Phillips. That’s the spot where young Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis combined the styles of Country Music with the 1950s R&B sound of artists like B.B. King, Fats Domino and Ike Turner. They, of course, changed music forever. The series looks at these young artists’ sudden meteoric rise to fame with a backdrop of sweeping political change and social unrest.
The mostly unknown singing actors playing these famous musicians are just terrific, and they are total hotties: a sweet, shy Elvis Presley played by Drake Milligan, arrogant fireball Jerry Lee Lewis played by Christian Lees, brooding Johnny Cash played by Kevin Fonteyne, swaggering Ike Turner played by Kerry Holliday, and visionary Sam Phillips played by Chad Michael Murray. Memphis plays itself and does a great job.
I am only two episodes in, but I already appreciate that Sun Records invests considerable time and effort into the interesting recording-session scenes. Check it out for the music and the guys. Sun Records is based on the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet, which played in 2010-11. It airs on Thursdays after Nashville and is available on CMT On Demand.