Customer Reviews: Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock 'n' Roll
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Have you heard the news? Good Rockin' Tonight is the encyclopedia for all fans of Sam C. Phillips' groundbreaking Memphis Recording Service and Sun/Phillips International labels. Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins, whose expert commentaries appear in the liner notes of many Sun CD reissue packages, deliver thorough accounts of the players and events in the Sun story. Full chapters are devoted to Sun's best-known players (Sam Phillips, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley) and the landmark events (the recording of Rocket 88, the arrival of Howlin' Wolf, and the birth of Rockabilly), but the real highlight is the attention to the lesser-known players like Joe Hill Louis, Scotty Moore, Sonny Burgess, Billy Riley, and Roland Janes. They didn't top the charts, but were as important to the creation of the "Sun Sound" as Perkins, Lewis, Cash and Presley were to its export outside the Memphis city limits, and in Good Rockin' Tonight they receive the recognition they deserve. Escott and Hawkins round out the Sun story with a complete discography of all the Sun and Phillips International singles, EPs and LPs released while both labels were active.
Sun was the first powerhouse independent record label of Rock & Roll music. It's catalogue, performed by rough-edged musicians who turned out consistently innovative material and a Top Ten hit here and there, has been exhaustively reissued over the past ten years, much to the delight of Sun connoisseurs. Sadly, the same can't be said of material written about Sun: most of the books (several also written by Escott and Hawkins) are now out of print. Good Rockin' Tonight stands alone as the most comprehensive work dedicated to Sam Phillips and the record label whose influence on popular culture deserves much more.
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on April 17, 2014
Growing up in the mid-1950s, I became an aficianado of the Sun sound.

The first Sun record I owned was "Mystery Train" by Little Junior's Blue Flames, purchased for 10 cents at Kresge's. It remains one of my favorite Sun records (though, alas, I no longer own the 45 I bought way back then).

I then bought everything I could find on Sun, even a few Elvis 45s (which also have disappeared into the snows of time), Warren Smith, Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, Billy Riley, Johnny Cash, Sonny Burgess, and etc.

This book was the best account to its date of publication of Sun. Since then a lot more information has come out, particularly in the notes and booklets in the glorious collections of Sun sides released by Bear Family. All Sun fanatics eagerly await Peter Guralnick's upcoming bio of Sam Phillips, the genius who created the Sun sound.

Phillips is never given his due. He wasn't a musician, but he had an uncanny feeling for "sound", the word he used constantly. Elvis' Sun sides are his greatest recordings, but Elvis is only part of the phenomenon: Scotty Moore's guitar and Phillips' recording technique are equally important. When "That's All Right" was released, even professional promoters and DJs didn't realize that there were only three instruments on the recording, most famously Jim Denny of the Grand Ole Opry who complained that he'd contracted for the whole band when Elvis, Scotty, and Bill turned up for their Opry appearance.

Phillips convinced Junior Parker to forget his saxophone driven urban style and go with his John Lee Hooker-inspired boogie, thereby creating the first big seller on Sun that was also a quality recording ("Feeling Good"). The follow-up "Mystery Train" was even better, though it didn't sell as well.

Doctor Ross was another artist who needed Phillips to create his best sides. "Chicago Breakdown" is a masterpiece, but even for its time, it was anachronistic.

Sun records was "pop trash" when I was a boy. Now it's one of the most important streams of American popular music in history. This book will go a long way in explaining why.
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on February 3, 2013
A detailed and informative account of Sam Philips and the Rise & Fall of Sun Records. The focus is limited to their time at Sun Records, with some discussion of their Sun Records career, and so those seeking a full history of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and others will have to look elsewhere. Many of the artists discussed are unfamiliar to me, but there's enough about them to warrant further exploration.
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on December 27, 2012
Engaging, telling the story of how Sam Phillips' vision and hard work slowly earned him success, each step of the way. Lot's of great stories and not bogged down in statistics or superfluous background information.
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on October 28, 2015
The book is mostly well written. The author does a good job of providing insight in to the person of Sam Phillips; his passion for relatively unappreciated grass roots talent, as well as his drive to discover the illusive “new sound” that would be the next “big hit”. He had a much more personal approach to running his tiny record company, creating a virtual incubator for innovation. This enabled him to capture the sounds that made Sun a legend in a field dominated by the contrivances of mainstream corporations with deep pockets, but narrow perspectives.

At times the timeline gets confusing as the author structured the book in a way that compartmentalizes the story into chapters about specific artists. I also found what appeared to be some minor typeset and grammatical errors.

The reason for my 4 stars was because this book was a blast read; mainly because I had such a good time using YouTube and Wikipedia to track down some of the original recordings and artists that were featured in the book. Using modern online resources provided the perfect background to the Sun story. I even discovered a new appreciation for some vintage artists that I hadn’t even heard of before such as Joe Hill Louis. I also discovered some more modern recordings that are available on CD such as the 1986 recording of “Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session” with Carl Perkins backed up by Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Thus, the real value of this book is in the fun you can have in rediscovering the wonderful texture of a bygone era, and the start of a musical revolution.
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on November 9, 2015
This is a great book! It tells the story of Sam Phillips and all of the talented musicians he worked with. A good book if you're interested in the birth of rock and roll and the amazing Sun Records. Next thing I knew, I was buying the music of many he took to stardom.
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on August 9, 2014
Nicely done, well documented, a real nice record of the story of Sun. Little interesting stories are scattered throughout, and when you read this you will be amazed at the sheer volume and diversity of the music Sam Phillips put out to create a niche in popular music. I recommend.
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on September 13, 2016
Everything and more that you’ve ever wanted to know about Sun Records is covered in this book. If this were a film it would be classified under “documentary.” It appears no sound screen, tape machine or desk drawer was left untapped, un-listened to or unopened to give this account of the legendary recording studio that deserves its reputation as one of the birth places of rock and roll.
Owner Sam Phillips didn’t start out with that goal in mind. Sun Records was originally founded on the idea of recording the blues and country music that wasn’t deemed marketable by larger labels. That is the beginning of the story, but as music fans already know the “real” story took off when a young Elvis Presley wandered into the store front of the small studio in Memphis and ended up setting the music world on fire. But it wasn’t Elvis alone. It was Phillips, the musicians, the setting, a feeling and inventive recording techniques that gave Elvis and Sun a sound that separated it from the competition.
What’s impressive is the enormous amount of research by the authors in detailing the recording sessions, musicians and record releases from the beginning to the end of Sun Records. It’s hard to believe anyone that ever walked through the front door wasn’t mentioned in this book. Of course the members of The Million Dollar Quartet, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis are the highlights. The account of their one-time, spur of the moment gathering in the studio with Phillips thankfully hitting “record” as they joined voices inspired the hit Broadway musical.
For diehard fans of early rock and roll, country and blues, this is a must read. Even if you already think you know the story of Sun Records, what you’ll learn will have your brain swimming in new information. But the novice fan might feel overwhelmed for the same reason. Along with The Million Dollar Quartet, Roy Orbison and Charlie Rich, each significant Sun artist is given his equal turn in the spotlight. This includes background details from birth and family, to music influences, performances, tours, past and future recording sessions and record releases, and finally how their careers continued or ended. Their complete Sun recordings are catalogued at the end of each chapter.
One final note: this is not a fast read. Being more of a “documentary” than a story based on facts, the details are a lot to take in. As a library reader for this one, I had to renew the book to finish, which is something I rarely do. But the extra time was worth it for an “informational read” rather than a simple joyride with The Million Dollar Quartet through Sun Records.
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on April 4, 2000
Coming from an age group that barely remembers the days of Sun Studio's most talented performers and songwriters, this book drives home the importance and impact of the many talents that emerged from this Memphis-based shrine.
This is a must read for anone who loves rock-n-roll, blues, jazz, or just wants to learn more about the hardships, the triumphs and the many lessons learned in the music industry.
Many top idols are present, but what makes the book such a worthwhile reading are the writings on those less known. My hats off to a true tribute for the sounds and artists of the south!
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on November 17, 2013
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