The Million Dollar Quartet (Chronic)

Por: Rico Malváez

A walk through the Deep South and enjoy a bit of Blues, Rock ‘n Roll, Rockabilly, Country, Soul, Bluegrass and Gospel, through Tennessee and Mississippi.

It was time to return to Mexico after a summer that had left me with a great satisfaction.

Good  company of some friends who always like to share music comments, good beer and conversations around the fire. In a classic and old pub in the area “The West End” of London, where there are the best theaters and therefore the best shows of the moment.

Rockabilly, which is the major issue we will deal with later, it was a little rainy, but great, having seen Brian Setzer and his colleagues at the Riot Fest. Now to culminate with another legend, well rather four legends, Elvis, Johnny, Carl and Jerry Lee, all meeting on Dec. 4 1956 in Memphis, in the Study of Sun Records, an important and historic moment in the music world.

The Noel Coward Theatre, is named to honor a great director, writer and actor born in England in 1899, before Christmas the end of the 19th century.

Ready as usual and the most enthusiastic joy I was about to see one of the best shows of the season in front of my four legends of Rock and Roll, and forever remembered “The Million Dollar Quartet“.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935, but at age 13 in 1948, he moved with his family to Memphis, Tennessee.

Where in 1954 he began his career with the owner of Sun Records, Sam Phillips. Sam saw his way to expand the Afro-American, was one of the originators of Rockabilly, a style of fast rhythms that is a fusion of Country music and Rhythm and Blues. After reaching an agreement that was his attorney for nearly two decades, Colonel Tom Parker, RCA Records record company got a contract to broadcast their music. The first single with this label, “Heartbreak Hotel“, released in January 1956, became a number one hit. Soon after his appearances in the media, became the leading figure in the popular sound of rock and roll, with a series of television shows and hits that reached the top of the charts. His energetic performance, especially African-American songs and uninhibited style was hugely popular and controversial. Months later, in November of that same year, undertook his film debut with the film “Love Me Tender

Recruited for military service in 1958, he resumed his career two years later, using a group of their material to achieve greater commercial success since. He gave few concerts, but in the 60’s, led by Parker, proceeded to engage in Hollywood films and film soundtracks, many of them derided by critics.

In 1968, after seven years away from the stage, returned to live presentations on a television special called “Come back ’68 TV Special,” where Elvis with his band of musicians executed a multitude of songs and a more acoustic rhythm in front of a small audience, which showed that the format of the program is the popular MTV unplugged precursor, resulting in a large series of concerts in Las Vegas and several touring musicals.

In 1973, he starred in the first live TV broadcast, global satellite, “Aloha from Hawaii“, seen by about 1,500 million people. Finally, over-consumption of prescription drugs severely compromised his health until he died suddenly in 1977 at age 42, but his music and talent are still alive today.

Johnny Cash

Johnny  Ray  Cash was born on February 26, 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas, raised on a farm at the time of the Great Depression. Life was harsh for his family and more with the death of his older brother Jack, an accident in a sawmill when he was just 11 years old left with a large and deep sense of melancholy.

He went deeper into the music to escape the monotonous life of the farm, listening to country music radio station in Memphis.

When discharged from the Air Force in 1954, he moved to Memphis with his first wife Vivian Liberto, forming his first band, “Johnny Cash and the Tennessse two“, which was the beginning of a distinctive and characteristic sound.

Using a technique that was to put a piece of paper between the strings of his acoustic guitar and percussion, giving a rhythmic sound, different from the classic country music of that era.

In 1955 he debuted with his single “Hey Porter” then “Cry cry cry” and went on with “Folsom Prison Blues” in December 1955 that his career took another course and his great success in May 1956 was with the classic song “I walk the line “.

In 1958 he signed a contract with Columbia Records and his career continued to flourish. With many personal problems, divorced from his first marriage and addiction problems were part of the scandals. Johhny did marry again in 1968 with the country music singer June Carter, co-author of ” Ring of Fire “and a member of an important family of music of that era, The Carter Family.

Three months after his wife June Carter died, September 12, 2003, Johnny Cash died at age 71 due to complications of diabetes, resulting in respiratory failure, while hospitalized at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee.

Carl Perkins

Carl  LeePerkins was born on April 9, 1932 in Tiptonville, Tennessee to a poor family of farmers. From a yound age he would work after school in the cotton fields of the region. There he was learning songs of Gospel and Blues from other workers in the fields and started playing guitar at age 7. His father was the one who made him his first guitar from a cigar box and broom handles. Blues music fan, Gospel and Country, he began to write his first songs as a teenager and started to play live at the end of the 40’s and early 50’s with his brothers.

His debut with his first single was in 1954, “Movie Magg“, recorded in October of that year, a song he wrote at the age of 13 years, was released in February 1955. He then made an extensive tour with Elvis Presley, later wrote the song “Blue Suede Shoes“, this was his big hit song that would boost his career.

Perkins was a musician for other musicians and their songs were sung by other artists. “Boppin the Blues” was a big hit for Ricky Nelson, “Daddy Sang Bass” Johnny Cash’s success, “Honey do not” and “Matchbox” and “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” were songs recorded by the Beatles, and Patsy Cline also had a hit with the song “So Wrong” in 1969 with Bob Dylan, he also wrote the album “Nashville Skyline“.

In the resurgence of Rockabilly in the late 80’s, was presented with a new audience of fans and with the Stray Cats would record again his smash hit “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1985. In the television special “Carl Perkins and Friends“, playing alongside celebrities, including George Harrison, Rosanne Cash, Eric Clapton and Ringo Star, recorded in London in 1986.

Also in 1986, he returned to Sun Studios to record with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison album “Class of 55’s“, a tribute album to his years at the company and especially the group called “The Million Dollars Quartet, “(Elvis, Johnny, Carl and Jerry Lee) of these jam sessions and now classic, recorded on December 4, 1956.

His last presentation was a charity show at London’s Royal Albert Hall in September 1997, four months before his death.

Carl Perkins died at the age of 65 years, because of throat cancer on January 19, 1998 and was buried in Jackson Cemetery Ridgescred.

Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis was born on September 29, 1935 in eastern Louisiana, Concordia Parish. From an early age he began playing the piano, his parents saw the talent he had, mortgaged the farm to buy him his own piano. Influenced by the music of the time, radio programs such as “The Louisiana Hayride” and “Grand ol’opry“, he began mixing the styles of the time, (Country, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel) to create his own style. He then started trying to play in Mississippi and Nashville clubs without much success.

His distinctive piano playing shows on several albums of Sun Records, from Johnny Cash, including “Matchbox Blues” from Carl Perkins, he was an essential part in the development of Rockabilly in which he added the sound of the piano, which previously had been rare.

His energy was most evident in hits like “Whole lotta Sakin goin on” and “Great Balls of Fire“, which made him a star worldwide. Always open and scandalous artist, Jerry Lee always caused controversy, either by the sexual nature of his songs or his firey temperament.

On one occasion he set fire to his piano on stage (years before Jimmy Hendrix), the marriage of Jerry Lee to his young cousin came to light during a British tour in May 1958 and did much damage to his reputation. So much that on his return to America, was found in the blacklist of radio and television. His popularity was back in the United States and Europe during the decade of the 60 `s,

His album, “Live at the Star Club, Hamburg” in 1964 is considered the highlight of a career and a very important point in the history of Rock and Roll.

In 1989 he won a new legion of fans around the world with the release of the film biographical and critical acclaim, “Great Balls of Fire“, which starred Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee. In 2006, the mega-sales of their album “Last Man Standing” (in collaboration with Willie Nelson, Jimmy Page and Mick Jagger), showed the wide range of its influence on popular music and his legacy to this day.

Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, was already a famous company since it sold its rights to Elvis Presley to RCA Label in the last days of 1955. All did better, increased its profits RCA, Presley became the “King of rock & roll” and Sam Phillips, owner and director of Sun, won prestige and signed a new and promising singers. Including Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, all musical myths today.

On December 4, 1956 Lewis, whom he had just done pretty well locally with “Crazy Arms“, was at the Sun recording studio making a preliminary test of “Great Balls of Fire“, a blast soon worldwide. In the audition room was Carl Perkins, who had just become the new rising star, rockabilly stomper triumph thanks to his song “Blue Suede Shoes“, listening to the evidence of his new album “Matchbox Blues“. He was accompanied by Johnny Cash, who had stunned the nation with his mix of Country and rockabilly hits of the year with “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line” and waited to hear some new songs he had recorded the previous day.

Well, Elvis Presley, and a star, came there with two friends to greet Sam Phillips and this introduced him to the other three. Jerry Lee sat at the piano and started playing “Blueberry Hill” whilst still talking, the thing was encouraging and the four sang “Isle of Golden Dreams.” At the end of the topic, someone in the sound room, the least slowest of all, set up the recorder forever immortalizing that historic and unique session. Sam Phillips called a photographer to immortalize the moment (there are only two pictures, almost identical) and said: – “With that quartet you could sell a million” – putting name without intent to short-lived group. Meanwhile, they kept singing popular songs, with Elvis almost always taking the lead, accompanied on guitar by Carl Perkins, which barely hear him because he was behind, whilst Jerry Lee, always superb, took a microphone to himself to be that were recorded. Sometimes a song starts and halved or dont know because they were laughing, as Elvis if imitating the voice of Cash “But I’m with a crowd so alone”, but clearly throughout the recording talents of these four geniuses.

So went that afternoon in Memphis, songs such as Brown Eyed Handsome Man “by Chuck Berry,” Rip It Up “by Little Richard or” When the Saints Go marchin ‘in “by Bill Haley and the” Dont Be Cruel Elvis’s own, which would pass into history as” The Million Dollar Quartet.

With a packed house and people cheering the performance and standing, we did travel to Memphis the afternoon December 4, 1956. Young actors, musicians and singers who delighted us this rainy afternoon in London and so had fulfilled a goal back again, leaving behind me and in memory, a musical that is changing the history of the theater on Broadway and West End of London.


Oliver Seymour-Mars Carl Perkins

Derek Hagen -Johnny Cash

Ben Goddard -Jerry Lee Lewis

Michael Malarkey -Elvis Presley

Gez Gerrard Jay – Carl Perkins

Adam Riley -Fluke

Bill Ward -Sam Phillips

Francessca Jackson- Dyanne

It should be mentioned as a very interesting and important fact; in September 2010 Jerry Lee Lewis surprised the audience of the show, in the United States, with an impromptu presentation of three songs after the show with the cast.

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