Imagine the artists behind “Hound Dog,” “See You Later, Alligator,” “Riders in the Sky” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” recording together. Well, it happened.
On Dec. 4, 1956, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, four American music greats, found themselves in the studio of Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn. What they recorded is hailed as one of the greatest jam sessions in the history of music.
The group was nicknamed the Million Dollar Quartet.
On Tuesday, “Million Dollar Quartet,” the musical and theatrical interpretation of this fated meeting directed by Eric Schaeffer, opens at the Civic Center. The production will take audiences back to an era of grassroots musical evolution with Phillips helping to lead the cavalry charge of budding talent.
Yes, Big Boi and Goodie Mob came from the Southern music scene, too, but the rich history doesn’t stop there.
Read on to nosedive through the facts and important characters to know before the cast of “Million Dollar Quartet” takes the stage.
Sun Records was a prolific recording studio owned by Sam Phillips. Between 1952 and 1968, 226 singles were produced there.
Sam Phillips — Phillips is credited as the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He helped to discover Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. He was instrumental in encouraging the artists he worked with to try different styles. He also as a pioneer in creating the echo effect, used in Elvis’ recordings at Sun Records. He will be played by Vince Nappo.
Johnny Cash — If you remember the 2005 movie “Walk the Line,” it was about the Arkansas-born artist. Cash was also known as the Man in Black. Some of his top hits included “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line,” for which the movie was named. He will be played by David Elkins.
Carl Perkins — You might know “Blue Suede Shoes” from the Elvis Presley rendition, but Perkins was the man behind the tune. Perkins’ version topped the charts in 1956. He’s been called the King of Rockabilly, a style he developed under Phillips’ tutelage. Perkins was first inspired to seek out Phillips at his recording studio after hearing Presley sing “Blue Moon Kentucky” on the radio. He will be played by James Barry.
Jerry Lee Lewis — Nicknamed The Killer, Lewis helped Phillips broaden the types of instrument considered acceptable for rock ‘n’ roll. Lewis’ instrument of choice was the piano. “Great Balls of Fire” and “Real Wild Child” helped make him famous. Lewis is the only surviving member of the original Million Dollar Quartet. He will be played by Ben Goddard.
Elvis Presley — Known as the King of Rock and Roll, Presley arrived at Sun Records in 1953, and his first record was released by the label in July of 1954. In 1956, “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog” became number one songs for Elvis. He will be played by Cody Slaughter.
Million Dollar Quartet
Where: Civic Center, 221 Walnut St.
When: March 19-24
Cost: $20-$80, subject to change
Info: 246-2300, desmoinesperformingarts.org