A Tour of Sun Studios: The Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll

The last time I was in Memphis I’d missed Sun Studios, the legendary spot where Elvis got his start.

I had been just passing through Memphis, long enough to do a quick tour of Graceland and check out Beale street, and then I was back on the road. It was also the middle of summer, when the humidity was so intense you don’t want to be outside for more than a few minutes.

That’s also why this time we’re here in May. I wanted to enjoy the area before unbearable Deep South heat set in. And this time, I made it a priority to see Sun Studios.

As soon as we got to Memphis we headed to the Peabody Hotel to see the ducks , and then we set off to Sun Studios to catch a late afternoon tour.

IMG_4150 Sun Studios in Memphis

Sun Studios is often considered the ‘birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll’.  And it’s also (one of) the most famous recording studios in the world. In addition to launching Elvis’s career, it helped start the careers of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis,  B.B. King and many other famous musicians.

In 1950 a guy by the name of Sam Phillips, a record producer, opened this spot as recording studio. It was originally called ‘Memphis Recording Studio’ and shared the space with the Sun Records label.

He sold the studio in 1969 and sadly it sat vacant for years. Until 1987, when Gary Hardy re-opened the building as a recording studio and a tourist attraction. So that’s why today you can take a tour of the studio to learn more about its history  the famous blues and rock ‘n’ roll musicians who have recorded here.

IMG_4068Hanging out at Sun Studios waiting for the Tour

When we walked into the door of Sun Studios you’re basically standing in the ‘rock shop’ where you can buy your tour tickets, as well as t-shirts and other rock memorabilia.

IMG_4067Cowboy posin’ it up at Sun Studios

It was quite busy, not too surprisingly, so our tour wasn’t ready yet (it was the tail end of tourist season just before it gets too hot here). So we wandered through the shop and Cowboy bought a Sun Studios black T-shirt, which I thought looked great on him.  We then grabbed a seat at the cafe counter and ordered a cold drink while we waited for the tour.

IMG_4084Cowboy hanging out at the cafe counter waiting for the start of the tour

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IMG_4064 The Rock shop was chock full of people waiting for the tour

The wait for the tour was actually quite long (almost 40 minutes), even though we got there 15 minutes before the next tour was supposed to start. But I think it’s because that tour was already full since it was such a busy afternoon. But the wait, as we would soon find out, was totally worth it. 

IMG_4086  When they finally announced our tour, we lined up to follow our guide upstairs to the tiny recording space.

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Our tour guide then gave us the low down on the history of the studio and all the famous musicians who walked through these doors to record their (now) famous tunes. Our tour guide was great, she was very knowledgeable about music and many of the blues and rock musicians. And she seem to very much enjoy it, you can tell she’s a big music lover.

We got to check out all the cool recording studio space and the memorabilia on the walls.

IMG_4118   And we even got to listen to a song by a very young Elvis Presley!

 It was the early 1950’s and an 18-year-old by the name of Elvis walked into the studio (back then it was open to the public to record demos) and asked to record a song as a birthday present for his mom. He’d lived closed by and was working as a truck driver at the time.

IMG_4115  We also got to listen to the first rock ‘n’ roll single called Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston & is Delta Cats (along with song composer Ike Turner on keyboard). Which is why the Studio claims this  to be the birthplace of rock’ n’ Roll. It was quite awesome to be standing in this historic spot listening to the first rock song ever!!!.

After touring upstairs we then headed downstairs to the main room where Elvis had walked in and asked to record his first demo.  This was yet another fun highlight of the tour. 

Our guide then let us all take turns standing at the mic and posing it up (and of course pretending we could sing, well I’m sure some of us in the group could, but it’s definitely not one of my talents!. We had fun rockin’ out, even if it was just for show.

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IMG_4141 More recent bands such as U2 and Def Leppard (yeah, love me some Def!) have also recorded here in this very room.  Though I hate to admit I’m actually not a U2 fan (gasp!!I know, I’m crazy. But I did like their 80s stuff). And I’ll admit, it was pretty  neat to be in a room where the famous Bono has belted out tunes.

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IMG_4140 What a fantastic tour, we loved it. Even if you’re not an Elvis fan (or even a huge rock ‘n’ roll lover) I still think this place is worth checking out just for the history alone.

And it’s fairly cheap at only $12 plus tax.  If you have a CAA (AAA) card, show it and you’ll get a small discount.

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Sun Studios is open daily from 10am until 6pm (last tour at 5:30). Tours start at 30 minutes past the hour. It`s located at 706 Union Avenue, Memphis. 901-521-0664. More info here

We’re off to Beale Street next! Will share details soon 🙂

Have you been to Sun Studios and did you enjoy the tour? If so, I`d love to know your thoughts and about your experiences in Memphis. Let me know in the comments! 

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6 thoughts on “A Tour of Sun Studios: The Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll

    • Thanks Barbara! It was really great to be standing in a spot with so much history and the talent the studio had walking through its doors. Even if you aren’t a huge Elvis (or blues fan) it’s a great tour and a lot of fun. If you get down to Memphis, I definitely recommend it (and its only 10-12 $, so not crazy pricey either…some tours are very $$).

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