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What Is Sun Rockabilly?


What Is Sun Rockabilly?

The legendary Sun Studios, Memphis, TN

Definition: Several sub-genres in oldies music are centered around indie labels -- Motown, Philadelphia International, Stax/Volt -- but Sun Rockabilly (sometimes simply referred to as The Sun Sound) was also based on the sound of a physical studio itself, in this case Sam Phillips' Sun Studios, located on Union Ave. in Memphis (and still open for tours). The room in which Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison recorded, along with many other lesser-known rockabilly musicians, had a natural echo that Phillips utilized for many of his recordings. "Sun Rockabilly," therefore, while by no means the only hybrid of "hillbilly" and "race" music in the Fifties, had a distinct sound, one that was even emulated by its biggest artists and others by more professional studios. Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel" and Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula" are just two songs that try to recreate the Sun echo.

Phillips' style of production and arrangement utilized this echo, as well as a jangly acoustic guitar-based rhythm, clean countryish lead licks, closely miked lead vocals, a standup acoustic bass, and occasionally raucous drums or honky-tonk piano. These elements comprise the Sun sound which came to define much but not all rockabilly music, a brand of rock which stood in stark contrast to the R&B sounds coming from New Orleans, the earthy blues of Chicago, or the slick productions of New York.

For a time, the Sun sound was folded into the mix of styles that was the Fifties rock and roll boom, but as the music became more mainstream in the late '50s, Sun -- the studio, sound, and label -- fell from grace with the record-buying public. However, rockabilly has survived over the decades, and the yellow Sun label stands to this day as an icon of the unique sound Phillips created in his "recording service."

Also Known As: Rockabilly, Rock and Roll
  1. "Baby, Let's Play House," Elvis Presley (purchase/download)
  2. "Folsom Prison Blues," Johnny Cash (purchase/download)
  3. "Blue Suede Shoes," Carl Perkins (purchase/download)
  4. "Ooby Dooby," Roy Orbison (purchase/download)
  5. "Breathless," Jerry Lee Lewis (purchase/download)
  6. "Flying Saucers Rock And Roll," Billy Lee Riley (purchase/download)
  7. "Rockin' With My Baby," Malcolm Yelvington (purchase/download)
  8. "Ubangi Stomp," Warren Smith (purchase/download)
  9. "We Wanna Boogie," Sonny Burgess (purchase/download)
  10. "Rockin' Love," Carl Mann (purchase/download)
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  6. Sun Rockabilly Music - What is Sun Rockabilly? - Oldies Music Songs and Artists

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