This year marks the 67th anniversary of a rare, charming and entirely spontaneous collaboration of rock ‘n’ roll legends. On December 4, 1956, four rock icons came together by chance in a little brick building in Memphis, Tennessee for a jam session. Later coined the ‘Million Dollar Quartet,’ this ensemble featured the musical talents of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. The spontaneous studio session resulted in an iconic album that forever changed the world of rock ‘n’ roll.
Elvis Presley decided to pay Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins a visit at Sun Studio, where they had already gathered for their own recording session. Rising music star Johnny Cash, who was in the area, also dropped in to pay a visit. The four proceeded to play in an impromptu jam session spanning three hours, with a unique blend of bluegrass, gospel and popular rock ‘n’ roll hits. The jam session was completely unplanned, and the gathering of these four musicians was completely coincidental.
Sun Studios owner, Sam Phillips, quickly alerted the press of the big-name gathering taking place in his studio, and soon photographers and journalists arrived to document the once-in-a-lifetime recording session. Elvis’s girlfriend Marilyn Evans, who was present at the session, described the session to reporters as ‘otherworldly.’ The press shared her sentiments; they dubbed the gathering ‘The Million Dollar Quartet’ on front page headlines the next day.
What makes the Million Dollar Quartet particularly significant is its rarity and spontaneity. Only one such collaboration of these four legends exists, and if it wasn’t for pure happenstance, it wouldn’t exist at all. Had the four not crossed paths one Tuesday in a recording studio, the world would have never heard the unique collaboration of the Million Dollar Quartet. The experimental nature of these recordings showcases the music stars’ raw creativity and portrays them in a more intimate setting than the concert venues of their time. The tracks in between songs feature dialogue among members of the quartet, demonstrating the unique interpersonal dynamics of the group. Their interactions on tape allow us a glimpse into their personalities otherwise never captured in any staged recording, live performance or interview.
The legend of the Million Dollar Quartet session grew over the years, with new snippets of audio recovered nearly each decade until the final cut came out in 2006. To experience this serendipitous and defining moment in rock ‘n’ roll history, you can listen to the full session here.