- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - The legacy of Sam Phillips is inextricably tied to Memphis, Tennessee, and his Sun Records and studio. But Phillips’ Alabama hometown holds the key to understanding the man who gave the world rock ‘n’ roll.

“Sam said to me many times, ‘the real story is in Florence,’ ” said Peter Guralnick, author of the biography “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

“The skeptical person in me said, ‘Yeah, sure, we all know the real story is in Memphis,’ ” Gurlanick said. “But when I went back to Florence with Sam in 1999 for the (A&E; Channel) documentary, it became clear to me how much it meant to him. He was like a completely different person. He felt so much more free and at ease at home.”

Gurlanick will read from his newly published book at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library. He will sign books at 5 p.m. The program will include a question-and-answer session with Florence native Hank Klibanoff, a Pulitizer Prize-winning author and journalist.

Phillips and his wife Becky left Florence in the 1940s for radio jobs. By 1950, he opened Memphis Recording Service as a sideline. He always was fascinated by the quality of sound, and remained a radio devotee all his life. He bought WQLT-FM and its sister stations in Florence in the early 1970s.



Not long after opening his recording service in Memphis, blues artists began showing up, and Phillips was eager to record them. Among the artists to record there were Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and Ike Turner. One of the most influential records he cut during that time was Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88,” considered by some the first true rock ‘n’ roll record.

A revolution occurred in 1954 when a jam session that included the then-unknown Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black took place in the Sun studio. “That’s Alright, Mama” was the sound Phillips had been hoping for - a white kid with the sound and feel of a black artist.

All of a sudden, poor, unknown singers and musicians were knocking on Phillips’ door looking for a hit. They included Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich and many others.

His willingness to allow poor, untested artists to express themselves through recording is one of the keys to understanding Phillips and his influence. Growing up in a poor family during the Great Depression shaped his world view and how people should be treated.

“Sam’s undergirding about music and the treatment of people was the stuff he saw growing up in the cotton fields with the different races being treated differently,” said Jerry Phillips, Sam’s youngest son. “It was a catalyst for his feelings that turned into what he put into his music. Florence was the most important undergirding. It’s where the essence of his feelings came from.”

Nancy Sanford, director of the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, said hosting Guralnick is a great way to kick off the new year.

“This is a book written about one of the most significant hometown boys in our community, ever,” she said. “Sam Phillips changed the world. This is still a big story.”

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