At Sun Records: The Collected Works (18-CD Box Set( By Jerry Lee Lewis

August 7, 2016


“You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain, too much love drives a man insane, you broke my will, oh what a thrill, goodness gracious great balls of fire.”

Several days ago, with those words firmly implanted in my mind, I opened the definitive, and I mean definitive, Sun box set by Jerry Lee Lewis. The 18 discs contain every session and track recorded by Lewis during his seven years with the Sun label, 1956-1963. That’s 623 tracks if you are keeping count. Also included are two 300 page books; one contains a complete discography with comments and notes and the other presents hundreds of pictures, with 100 being previously unpublished.

Today, Jerry Lee Lewis in one of the grand old men of rock and roll. He was one of the original ten inductees into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. While his career is now into its sixth decade, his time with Sun produced a body of work that helped create the fabric of rock and roll.

This is not a release for the faint of heart but for hard core aficionados of good old rock and roll. There are multiple tracks of many songs that will only appeal to the person who wants everything either by Lewis or from the Sun label, but if you fall into that category there is a gold mine to be explored.

His well-known material is the roots of 1950’s rock. “Great Balls Of Fire,” “Breathless,” “High School Confidential,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” and others are a music history lesson. While many people may not need a dozen versions of these songs; the subtle differences and the final master create a traceable journey of how his songs took their final form.

His lesser known material and a few obscurities share the stage with his hits. He was never afraid to tackle songs outside his comfort zone as rock, pop, blues, country, and gospel all mingle together and emerge with his personal stamp. “Ooby Dooby,” “Love Letters In The Sand,” “Honey Hush,” “Singing The Blues,” “Mean Woman Blues,” “The Ballard Of Billie Joe,” and even “The Marine Hymn” all point to his flexibility as a musician.

The two books are a treat in and of themselves. The discography is a companion to the music as one is able to trace the various recording sessions in detail. The book of photographs is a trip in a time machine back to a very different era.

This is not a set for everyone. If you are not connected to Lewis or 1950’s rock and roll, there will probably be little interest. The other issue is the price given the enormity of the box set. If however you want to completely explore the early career of one of the legends of rock and roll and have a few dollars to spend; then this is a must purchase.

Blue Suede Shoes 45 by Jerry Lee Lewis

February 26, 2012

Jerry Lee Lewis released his version of “Blue Suede Shoes” while he was with the Sun Label. It did not become a hit as the original by Carl Perkins remains the standard for this classic rock ‘n’ roll song with Elvis’ a close second.

Still, during the late 1950s, Jerry Lee Lewis really did not produce any bad rock ‘n’ roll songs for the Sun label. While “Blue Suede Shoes” will never be associated with Lewis, it was still a rocking cover of a classic song.

Get The Water Boiling 45 by Billy Riley

March 18, 2011

When one thinks of the Sun label, artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins come quickly to mind.

There were a large number of other artists who recorded for Sun, but did not go on to fame and fortune.

Billy Lee Riley was primarily a session musician, but from 1956-1959, produced some excellent Rockabilly music for the Sun Label.

An excellent example of his style was “Get The Water Boiling.” Sometimes fate is not fair and it received no chart action. It remains one of the finer examples of the southern Rockabilly style of music.

The Legendary Sun Records Story by Various Artists

February 21, 2011

Sam Phillips’ Sun Label has become legendary as the first musical home for such rock ‘n’ roll giants as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins. It was also the home of dozens of other artists who may not have been as well known, but who produced equally proficient and, at times, spectacular rock ‘n’ roll.

The Legendary Sun Records Story is a three-CD, 60-track box set that presents a nice introduction and overview of the music recorded for the label. In addition to the aforementioned legends, artists such as Sonny Burgess, Carl Mann, Eddie Bond, Vernon Taylor, Billy Riley, Warren Smith, and a host of others are represented by some of their best material. The only artist missing is Elvis, which was for contractual reasons. He is really not missed, though, as his material has been constantly re-issued down through the years; plus it’s nice to hear some of the label’s lesser known songs.

Women were few and far between on the Sun Label, but those who were there could rock just as hard as their male counterparts. The RCA label signed Janis Martin as the female Elvis Presley. Sam Phillips responded by signing dance band vocalist Barbara Pittman and re-inventing her as a rock ‘n’ roller. Her included tracks, “Everlasting Love” and “It’s Getting Better All The Time,” represent some of the better female rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950’s. Linda Gail Lewis is the younger sister of Jerry Lee Lewis. Her rendition of “Nothin’ Shakin’” is a fiery song that should have made her brother proud. She continues to record today with her two daughters as The Lewis 3. Jean Chapel was as close to a female sex symbol as the Sun label would come. She recorded a gospel-tinged rendition of “Welcome To The Club.”

There are a number of other artists contained here that are worth exploring as well. Harold Jenkins recorded a moody “Gimme Some Love” during 1956. He would change his name to Conway Twitty and become one of the most successful country artists in history. Ray Smith was a pianist who could rock as his “Break Up, Shake Around” and “Right Behind You Baby” clearly shows. Billy Riley was a session guitarist and harmonica expert and his “Flying Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” are rockabilly at its best. Sonny Burgess is rockabilly personified. His “Red Headed Woman,” “Itchy,” and “We Wanna Boogie” are all energetic pieces of 1950’s music history. The most unique track here is Rufus Thomas’ “Bear Cat,” which was his answer song to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog.”

There is also a generous offering of well-known tracks. “I Walk The Line” and “House Of The Blues” by Johnny Cash,” Blue Suede Shoes” and “Match Box” by Carl Perkins, “Breathless” and “High School Confidential” by Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Domino” and “Rock House” by Roy Orbison are always welcome.

Sam Phillips is sometimes remembered as the man who sold Elvis Presley’s contract to the RCA Label. He always ran his company on a shoe-string budget and the money from the sale enabled him to record much of the music on this box set. The Legendary Sun Records Story is an excellent introduction to many of the famous and not-so-famous musicians who provided the foundation for the development of rock ‘n’ roll music.

Article first published as Music Review: Various Artists – The Legendary Sun Records Story on Blogcritics.