‘Sun Records,’ recap: March 9
Legends of rock n’ roll are not yet on their path to stardom as “Sun Records” enters its third episode. J.R. Cash (Kevin Fonteyne) is stationed in Germany, leading an Ocktoberfest crowd in a rousing sing-along, Elvis (Drake Milligan) is still pinning for a childhood sweetheart and Jerry Lee Lewis (Christian Lees) and evangelist/cousin Jimmy Swaggart (Jonah Lees) are up to hijinks mocking sermons and flipping through risqué magazines.
The show, based on the hit musical “Million Dollar Quartet,” focuses on Sam Phillips’ (Chad Michael Murray) formative years at Memphis’ Recording Service when he launched Sun Records and the careers of some of the most iconic singers of all time.
This week, in 1951, as the babyfaced future giants of rock went their separate ways, Phillips scores his first big hit when an unknown, flamboyant singer named Ike Turner (Kerry D. Holliday) and his Kings of Rhythm turn up outside the studio. But first, the struggling group have to find a way to pay for studio time. After failing to convince a waitress named Wanda to join their session, Turner takes off with the restaurant’s tip jar and plunks the change down in front of Phillips.
As the Kings start jamming, a hungover Phillips takes notice —complimenting the broken speaker putting out a distinct sound and Turner’s piano playing, but saying that Ike’s singing voice is lacking. Sax player Jackie Brenston steps up to the mic and “Rocket 88” (considered by many to be the first rock n’ roll single) is born. Since Turner’s not happy about his vocals being replaced, the record is released under The Delta Cats.
Phillips and studio partner Marion Keisker (Margaret Anne Florence) hit the road to find a company to promote the record. They crash a pool party given by Chess Records founder Leonard Chess, take over his record player and blast “Rocket 88.” Things are going swimmingly until Phillips’ other client Joe Bihari (Mike Horton) confronts him about not being offered the tune, since he had just him a loan.
The song becomes a smash and zooms up the chart, but success is short lived for Phillips. Five weeks after “88”hits the charts, Chess is clamoring for another hit from Brenston and the Delta Cats. Unfortunately, Brenston drank all the band’s proceeds from the session and it turns out Bihari holds a grudge, luring Turner and the rest of the Cats sans a drunken Brenston away from Phillips.
Elsewhere, Colonel Tom Parker (Billy Gardell) is staying busy hocking lemonade and 8×10 glossies at Eddy Arnold’s (Trevor Donovan) concerts around Nashville. We see Parker pocket some cash and take an envelope from a promoter backstage, which Arnold also happens to catch. Worried he’s skimming money off the top, Arnold confronts the colonel who says the promoter owed him money. He angrily empties a bagful of receipts and IOUs, then walks out the door and straight into business with up-and-coming singer Hank Snow (Pokey Lafarge).
“Sun Records” is a 10-part miniseries airing on CMT at 10 p.m. Thursdays.