Now will Marion Keisker and Judd Phillips get their true recognition?
There is no doubt the Sam Phillips will be remembered as a giant in music history.
He founded the legendary "Sun Records" in Memphis and recorded, mostly in the 1950's,
music legends such as B. B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner and Rufus Thomas in blues
and R&B, and Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich
and Roy Orbison in rock and country. But, it is for Elvis Presley that he has received
the greatest recognition and fame. But, others are just as deserving and as the new
biographies are written about Sam Phillips perhaps the truth will emerge and that his
brother Judd Phillips and 'partner' Marion Keisker will finally get the real recognition
they are entitled to and history will be amended.
I had the pleasure of meeting Marion Keisker in Memphis in the late 1980's and spent
many hours in conversation with her. I found her a very bright, charming, articulate
and a true Southern Lady but inside she was a very bitter woman because of the way
she had been treated by Sam Phillips. She discovered Elvis Presley and it was Sam's
brother Judd who did all the hard work persuading radio stations to play Elvis' music
and record stores to buy the Sun singles. Judd was out day and night, on the road,
doing all the donkey work, all the hard-selling while Sam stayed at the Studio and
took all the glory.
Marion had told me she was a partner of Sam but as Elvis became more famous she was
pushed aside and Sam took control so that history has relegated her to just being Sam's
'secretary' or assistant but it was Marion who had recorded Elvis that June day in 1953 when
Elvis first came into Sun records to record "My Happiness" for his mother's birthday (Gladys'
birthday was in April?).
According to Bill Burk, author of "Early Elvis, the Sun Years" the exact date Marion had
recorded Elvis cannot be verified because the log for Sun Records for June 1953 was stolen
and has never re-emerged but it would have been a Saturday after Elvis received his pay
cheque (paid bi-weekly) and more likely the 13th June 1953. Also, Bill Burk discovered
that it was Marion who had Elvis first played on the radio and not Sam Phillips.
She offered the song on July 7th 1954 to the Radio Station WREC where she worked
as a DJ and only 30 seconds were played by a DJ, Fred Cook, who took it off the
turntable saying these immortal words " Marion, that's the worst piece of shit I have ever
heard". WREC were just playing wimp music by Bing Crosby, Pat Boone, Dean Martin and
Elvis was just too much for poor, old Fred who has since been relegated to a footnote
in Bill Burk's book while Elvis is a bit more famous. After he left Sun Elvis
hardly had anything to do with Sam Phillips even though Sam has often said he was
like a father to Elvis. Apparently, according to Bill Burk none of Sam's famous
recording artists renewed their contract with Sun records.
My first lawyer in Memphis, Harold Streibich, was also Sam Phillips lawyer and had told
me how Sam would call him 2 or 3am in the morning asking for legal advice. I met Sam
Phillips and found him very strange indeed. He had become a born again Christian and
had this manner of speaking as if he was an Evangelist talking to masses of people.
He had very piercing, penetrating eyes and you did not feel comfortable in his presence.
I just hope that now Marion will get the full recognition she deserves for discovering
Elvis Presley and Judd Phillips for the contribution he made to music although Sam
Phillips took the glory he still had a great gift to spot musical talent and Sun was
the catalyst for the true birth of rock 'n' roll. Of course, 2004 is the 50th Anniversary
of Elvis' first Sun recording that is arguably the 50th Anniversary of rock n' roll.
Sam Phillips will go down in history as the Father of Rock 'n' Roll but Judd Phillips
was an unsung hero who also gave birth to this new kind of music and maybe Marion Keisker
will eventually be remembered as the Mother of Rock 'n' Roll.
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