On February 6th, 2011 I went to my Mecca.
706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee is the home of Sun Records, and it is literally the birthplace of Rock & Roll. Opened in 1950 as a recording studio (not yet a label), this is where Rocket 88 (featuring Ike Turner) was recorded. Generally considered the first rock song ever recorded, Rocket 88 also features the first ever distorted electric guitar, the result of a minor traffic accident on the way to the studio when the guitarist’s amp fell out of the vehicle and tore the speaker cone. Owner Sam Phillips’ instincts told him to use the amp as-is, beginning a track record that would unquestionably change the world.
The tour started on the second floor, where pieces of recording equipment and other memorabilia sit behind glass. Right in front of me was the original master copy of Rocket 88, the disc that was used to reproduce every copy in existence; the circle that started it all. I stood there staring agape before I realized I was all alone, the rest of the tour having moved on.
I joined the group downstairs in the recording room. The Room. The room where BB King first laid down tracks. The room where Howlin’ Wolf was discovered. The room where Johnny Cash proved he had something new by singing Folsom Prison Blues to Sam Phillips. The room where Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison recorded some of the greatest songs of all time. The room where an eighteen-year-old Elvis Presley went from driving a truck to reigning as the King, buying Graceland a mere four years later.
My Mecca. Your Mecca. The Mecca of music lovers everywhere. Little has changed, the room still sports the original flooring, the original ceiling tiles, the original everything. There is tape on the floor marking where Elvis stood to record. Our guide told the story of the day Bob Dylan walked through the front door, knelt down and kissed that piece of tape before turning and walking back out again without a word. I parked myself on the piece of tape that indicated Scotty Moore’s spot (I’m no singer) and was loath to move. At the end of the tour the guide pulled out the studio mic that Elvis and a legion of others sang into and we all took turns monkeying with it, posing for pictures.
What a privilege it was to stand in that room. It was unquestionably one of the absolute highlights of the Rock and Roll Field Trip.