Million Dollar Quartet: Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins And Jerry Lee In '56

By | December 2, 2020

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L-R Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley (sitting), Johnny Cash - The Million Dollar Quartet - group shot at Sun Studios (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

On December 4, 1956, "The Million Dollar Quartet" existed briefly when chance brought Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins together at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. The label mates took part in an impromptu jam session that yielded between 17 and 40 songs, depending on how you define "song," as many of the surviving tracks are snippets. They weren't there to cut an album, they didn't call themselves the Million Dollar Quartet, and they played more old country and gospel than rock 'n roll. It was just a jam session, arguably the most famous in history.

Following the session, the stars went their separate ways, with Elvis and Johnny Cash becoming some of the biggest stars of the 20th century. Carl Perkins became legendary as the godfather of rockabilly, and Jerry Lee Lewis, the only surviving member as of 2020, is the most influential piano player in rock history.

The recordings weren't released until 1981, and much of how the session came together remains a mystery.

Fate brought these stars together

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source: wikipedia

Carl Perkins went into the studio on December 4, 1956, intending to record a song he'd written called "Matchbox" (which had some lyrics in common with Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Match Box Blues") with his brothers Clayton and Jay, and by drummer W.S. Holland. To fill out the thin rockabilly sound he asked new Sun Records artist Jerry Lee Lewis to sit in on the Wurlitzer Spinet piano. At the time, Lewis hadn't even released a single yet but he'd already made an impact on the crew.

As chance would have it, 21-year-old Elvis Presley happened to be visiting the studio after moving over the RCA Victor, and depending on whom you ask Johnny Cash was either already in the studio so he could listen to Perkins' session, or he showed up super late. Cash said that he was early, everyone else said he waltzed in late to see what was going on.

Whoever showed up first doesn't really matter. It's what the four singers did together that lasts, not their day to day schedule.