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Saluting Sam Phillips.

Sun Studios founder Sam Phillips. He is revered as one of the leading catalysts in post WW II American music. As a record producer in the 1950s and 60s his recordings launched the careers of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis and that’s just to name a few. Next Month, Phillips will be a celebrity host on the public radio program Beale Street Caravan. Phillips is now in his mid 70s.


Other segments from the episode on September 15, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 15, 1997: Interview with Sam Phillips; Review of new fall television shows.


Date: SEPTEMBER 15, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 091501np.217
Head: Record Producer Sam Phillips
Sect: Entertainment; Domestic
Time: 12:05

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Last month, America honored Elvis Presley on the 20th anniversary of his death. Today on FRESH AIR, we salute Sam Phillips who discovered Elvis and produced his first records -- the records many consider Elvis' best.

That would be enough to ensure Sam Phillips an important place in music history, but he's done even more than that. He founded Sun Records in Memphis which launched the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Charlie Rich. Before Phillips started his own record label, he produced the first records of bluesmen B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf (ph).

As Elvis' biographer Peter Guralnick (ph) says, Phillips has left a remarkable legacy, both of black blues and the white adaptation of it which became rock and roll. He has written one of the most astonishing chapters in the history of American popular music, and for this we can only be grateful.

Sam Phillips sold Sun Records in 1969. He still lives in Memphis. Let's start with one of the first records he produced in his Memphis studio, the 1951 recording many critics consider the first rock and roll record, "Rocket 88," featuring singer Jackie Branson (ph) with Ike Turner at the piano.


You women have heard of jalopies,
You've heard the noise they make,
Well, let me here introduce my new Rocket 88,
Yes, it's straight, just one way,
Everybody likes my Rocket 88.

Baby, we'll ride in style,
Moving all along.

GROSS: Part of your genius has been finding musicians who brought together black music and country music, creating rock and roll and rockabilly. I'm wondering how you were exposed to black music as a white man growing up in the segregated south?

PHILLIPS: My interest in black music started at a very early age. I worked with black people in the fields. My daddy was a farmer, and he grew cotton and, of course, cotton had to picked and hoed.

And my father, incidentally, did not own the farm. He was a tenant farmer, and he in turn would bring other people on to the farm to help him. So, we were able to be together an awful lot with black people because of the closeness of the type of work that we had to do on the farms.

GROSS: You started your producing career recording blues musicians and leasing the records to companies like RMP, Modern, and Chess Records. You recorded Howlin' Wolf, Walter Horton (ph), Bobby Bland (ph), Little Junior Parker, B.B. King at the very start of their careers.

I'm wondering what it was like for you, as a white man in the south in the late '40s and early '50s, to be recording black musicians. Was it ever difficult to have rapport? I'm wondering if they saw you as "the man" because you were recording them and because you were white?

PHILLIPS: It was a type of thing that I think most black people had some doubt as to what "we were up to" early on, because in many instances, black people were taken advantage of, and maybe when they thought something was for free or for a certain price, it didn't turn out that way.

I knew that the black people that I was going to record -- most of which had never seen even microphones let alone a little studio -- that the psychology that would be employed by me to have them feel comfortable and to do the thing that they felt they wanted to do in the way of music, rather than to try to please or do the type of thing that a white man might want to do -- have them do.

Because I was not looking for Duke Ellington or Count Basie or Nat King Cole or any of the outstanding black jazz and pop musicians. I was looking to try to attain from them a natural thing that they felt and wanted to do. The people that I was recording were people that had, to a great extent, the feel for the things they had experienced and they loved. And the way they spoke was, to the people, was through their music.

GROSS: What was your approach to making musicians comfortable so that they would be themselves in the studio and not try to be somebody else or not try to do something just to please the producer? How would you get them to be themselves?

PHILLIPS: It varied with each one, of course, because the minute you had tried to be non-condescending toward them, they would pick it up immediately. It would vary with the individual. Believe me, black people never missed anything when they were dealing with you. You might think they were abstract and really did not care that much about hearing what you had to say, but they truly did.

And so it -- psychology's always been, and I've never had one formal lesson in it, but I had a whole life of dealing with people, black and white, that were of meager means, and some of them were not as fortunate as even I.

But I really did not have a real difficult time in communicating what I believed the necessary ingredients for them to relax and to do what they really, truly wanted to do -- the type of thing.

GROSS: One of the great blues musicians that you discovered and first recorded was Howlin' Wolf. And I want to play the recording that you produced of him doing "Moanin' at Midnight" in 1951. And this was something that you did for Chess Records and it made to number 10 on the R&B charts.

Tell us about your first encounter with Howlin' Wolf?

PHILLIPS: The Wolf, as I've said so many times, is one of my favorite artists. He was so individual in the things that he did.

He had, number one, a voice that was so distinctive that there is -- nobody would mistake it for anybody else. That intrigued me.

He was so absolutely untrained in so many ways, but at the same time, it was so honest that it was just -- it brought about a certain passion just by listening to him, to sing.

And there was one things about the Wolf that you never had to worry about. When he opened his mouth in a recording studio -- and he would talk real low when he was talking to you and he's a big man, about six-feet-four and weighed probably 225 or 30 pounds and nothing but muscle -- but when he talked to you, you could barely hear him. When he sang to you, you hardly needed a microphone or an amplifier.

But more than that, though, I think that his ability to get lost in a song for two or three minutes, or however how long the song was, was certainly as good as anybody I ever recorded. And when I say "get lost" in a song, I simply do mean that. And I think that is a good, unsophisticated term of saying that we all tried to get lost in what we were doing, and I think that was part of our success.

GROSS: Well let me play this 1951 Howlin' Wolf record that you produced, "Moanin' at Midnight."

PHILLIPS: I'm anxious to hear that -- one of my favorite records.


Well, somebody callin' me,
Callin' me on my telephone.

Well, somebody callin'
Call by my telephone.

Well, keep on callin'
Tell 'em I'm not at home.


GROSS: That's a Howlin' Wolf recording produced in 1951 by my guest Sam Phillips.

Sam Phillips, you started Sun Records, your studio in Memphis, after recording for independent companies -- other people's independent companies like Chess Records. Why did you want to start your own studio? Did you have a vision of what you wanted to do in your own studio?

PHILLIPS: I actually never wanted to actually form a label as such, like Sun Records. I wanted to be strictly on the creative end of it because I believed so strongly in what I believed in, and I wanted to prove to myself one way or the other that what I felt, apparently for an awfully long time, was either something that was worthwhile, or that the public, if it had the chance, would tell us that, you know, you're on the wrong track.

But I guess that after dealing with RPM and Modern Records and Chess, I guess I was disappointed in the way that I thought business was done. And I don't like to speak disparagingly of people because these people were my friends, but I had some difficulty in, you know, working with them from a standpoint of what I felt was fair and equitable in the things that we had agreed on.

GROSS: You started Sun Records after you had a nervous breakdown and even got electro-shock therapy. I'm wondering if the two were related? If after the nervous breakdown, you decided you had to -- you had to be in business for yourself and do your own thing?

PHILLIPS: Well, I had worked hard, as many people had, all my life. I really did not know what, you know, the hands on the clock were for, for sure. And I don't know that that was smart, but anyway that's the way I felt about it.

I was totally and completely consumed in a way that I thought and still think was healthy. It was just that I was asking too much of my body to look after my deaf-mute aunt and my older mother and two young children, Knox and Jerry (ph), too, and my wife Becky. You know, I just had taken upon myself just more than I could handle for many, many years.

And so with the pressures of trying to keep the doors open to try, to prove one way or the other about music and what could be done with it, I just overworked myself and I had to go take electric shock treatments. And that is a horrifying experience, except by golly, it did the thing for me. I came back stronger than ever.

I do say, and I really truly believe this, that there's very few things that -- and I think this is one of the reasons that we had so much success in what we did in music -- is that so many people, although they may not have had electric shock, they went through some awfully hard times.

And to have the opportunity to make a record and to participate in music and to be given that opportunity that they thought they'd never have, that had an awful lot to do with us being able to do what we ultimately wound up doing, which did affect the whole world.

GROSS: My guest is Sam Phillips. He founded Sun Records, which he ran through the '50s and '60s. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Back with record producer Sam Phillips. He discovered B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.

When Elvis first auditioned for you, I know that he sang in styles of his favorite performers from, you know, white and black -- from Monty Johnson to Dean Martin. What did you do to try to get a sense from Elvis of who Elvis really was? Of what he kind of own voice was?

PHILLIPS: Well, Elvis being as young as he was -- and of course, I'm, gosh, I'm 12 year years and three days older than Elvis, when he was 19, I guess I was 31 or whatever -- but I can tell you, the only time that we possibly had what you might say a difference of opinion in what we were doing is that I really did not want to do some of the "more poppish" things that Elvis truly did like.

Because Elvis, let's face it, had an absolute beautiful voice from the beginning. Trained or not, it was beautiful. But at the same time, he also had a certain intrigue about his voice, and I knew that. And I knew that we needed to feel our way around between great gut bucket blues and country. I really, truly thought that.

And so I think Elvis, if he'd a had his way and he absolutely gave us no problem at all on it, maybe he wouldn't have put a country-type thing on the back side of each R&B record that we put out on him, or each "black- oriented" record. But I thought that was the thing to do at the time.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite of the Elvis Sun sessions that ...

PHILLIPS: I really do, and ...

GROSS: Good.

PHILLIPS: ... you know, I really, I really do and it -- I've kidded about it a lot because I wrote the song. I really didn't. It was the song "Mystery Train" that Little Junior Parker really basically wrote it, and we did it by him on Sun. And we did it in an entirely different tempo and approach.

And he had the idea for the song, and came in and it wasn't quite like we thought it should be, and so I worked with him a little bit because I really did love the idea of the song. And so when we decided to do it on Elvis, it is something that I think that we did so entirely different, although Little Junior Parker's record was Elvis' favorite of the two.

I have to say that both of them were my favorites, and I -- 'til this day, I'd have to say "Mystery Train" ranks way up there.

But anyway, on the records that I did on Elvis, I mean, I really did like all the things I did on him. I really did. Now, you know, hey -- I'm trying not to be partial at all ...


PHILLIPS: But I mean, I really am. Because I -- I mean, I just liked what we did -- everything from "You're A Heartbreaker." Now, that is absolutely the most nothin' record in the world except that it is something.

GROSS: Why don't we hear -- since you produced Junior Parker's version of "Mystery Train," too, why don't we hear both the Junior Parker and the Elvis version back to back.

PHILLIPS: We're in for a treat.


All aboard, train arrives.
Sixteen coaches long.
Train arrive, sixteen coaches long.
Well, that long black train,
Carrying my baby, come home.


Train, train,
Comin' 'round, 'round the bend.

Train, train,
Comin' 'round the bend.

Well, it took my baby,
But it never will again,
No, not again.

Train, train ...

GROSS: That's Junior Parker and Elvis Presley, both of their versions of "Mystery Train", both versions produced by my guest Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records.

You were just saying -- mentioning a song that Elvis did that was like a nothing song, but boy was it something when he did it. I'm going to give an example of that, too, and that is, like, "I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine" -- this is I think pretty much of a nothing song, and Elvis' version is so good. He has such joy in singing in this.

PHILLIPS: We had fun, and that's absolutely right. And one of the totally unequivocable assets that Elvis had was there was infection in the way he said every word that he said. And I think that is, to me, the way Elvis did so many things -- and so many of the artists that I worked with -- because it was kept so simple that you noticed and felt everything that came out of the mouth of these people.

But we did it in such a way that we kept it simple and always, when it was a vocals record, always that voice was the thing that we were after, and it had to say an awful lot and in most cases did.

GROSS: Why don't we hear "I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine" and we'll talk more with Sam Phillips in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


Well, I don't care if the sun don't shine,
I'll get my lovin' in the evening time,
When I'm with my baby.

Well, it ain't no fun when the sun's around,
I get going when the sun goes down,
When I'm with my baby.

Well, that's when we're going to kiss and kiss and kiss,
And we're gonna kiss some more.
But who cares how many times we kiss,
'Cause at a time like this
Who keep score?

I don't care if the sun don't shine,
I do my lovin' in the evening time
When I meet my baby.

Well that's when we're gonna kiss and kiss and kiss and kiss,
And we're gonna kiss some more.
Who cares how many times we kiss,
'Cause at a time like this,
Who keeps score?

Well, I don't care if the sun don't shine,
I get my lovin' in the evening time
When I meet my baby.

Well, I don't care if the sun don't shine,
I get my lovin' in the evening time,
When I meet my baby.

And it don't matter ...


Well that's when we're gonna kiss and kiss and kiss and kiss,
And we're gonna kiss some more.
Who cares how many times we kiss,
'Cause at a time like this,
Who keeps score?

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with more of our interview with Sam Phillips, who produced some of the most important records in the early history of rock and roll. He founded Sun Records in Memphis, which he ran during the '50s and '60s. He discovered and recorded Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Howlin' Wolf, and B.B. King.

But Phillips is most famous for discovering Elvis Presley and producing his first recordings.

You know, I have to ask you this: People are always saying that you used to say before you discovered Elvis, that you used to say, If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, or, If I could find a white man who could sing like a black man, I could make a million dollars -- or a billion dollars.

Did you really say that? And if so, what did you mean?

PHILLIPS: In essence, I did. And I simply meant that there was no feel better than the feel of black people and their rhythm. I still 'til this day feel that that is a true statement, regardless of the cultures that have changed to a great degree in many instances, and just a slight degree in others. I just felt like that.

Black music at that time did not have -- you have to keep in mind, radio was the big deal then, before TV, and there was no way at that time -- we've got to go back, transpose ourselves 40-something years here and realize that to get black artists played, it was very, very difficult because it wasn't that many stations on the air that were gonna play black records.

And I thought if we got a white person, and people knew that he was a white person, that there was a good possibility we could broaden the base for both black and white people that had talent. And that was my main reason for wanting to do that and saying -- making that statement.

GROSS: A lot of listeners have spent a lot of time over the years wondering how would music history have been different -- how would Elvis have been different -- if you never sold his contract to RCA. I wonder if you lose a lot of sleep thinking about that? If you spend a lot of time thinking about that yourself?

PHILLIPS: I have not lost one wink of sleep about it. I did give Elvis advice that he really should produce his records when he left Sun, because Elvis had an excellent ear. Corporate vice presidents of big major labels I don't think at all were into the idea of "let's find something that truly is new and different." I just -- I'm taking nothing away from them, personally -- but that was just a fact of life.

I knew that there were a lot of things that RCA put out on Elvis due to a lot of the motion pictures and everything that he was making that really weren't the best material in the world for Elvis to do.

If I had of had Elvis right on up until the day he died, I couldn't have kept Elvis ultimately from being a tremendous force in music and influence on people even if I had of tried. I do not regret whatsoever any of the things that took place between the time I sold Elvis and all of this that we have even today.

And you say: "Well, you mean, all of that money and that total effect that has been had around the world?" I feel like I was absolutely a part of that. And I don't care anything about claiming any credit for it, but I was a part of it because I recognized that Elvis Presley was unique, as I did so many, many other people that had no opportunity whatsoever.

GROSS: When artists like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis were getting played on the radio and it was just scandalous to a lot of people, the kind of -- the power and the sexuality of the music terrified a lot of adults, PTAs, church groups -- what did you make of all of the fuss about early rock and roll, a lot of which you were responsible for? I mean, did you think it was funny? Did you think it was scary? What did it mean to you?

PHILLIPS: No, I really did not think it was funny. I really, seriously considered the fact that I knew that this was going to happen. People truly believed, a lot of people, you can call them hypocrites or whatever, but I can understand they thought that this was absolutely going to be the end of the world.

And I saw it and I felt it, but I, at the same time, I thought this is just really one of the things that we will have to endure in order to find out whether or not what we feel about it is right. And if it's not right, then all they say is not going to kill it. If it is right, it will make it.

GROSS: Were you attacked personally in any way?

PHILLIPS: Not personally, no. I was -- I mean, physically, but personally, oh yeah, my name was called quite frequently across the country, and especially in churches. And I'm a good old Southern Baptist, and -- whatever that is -- but I, you know, that really, really -- not that I wasn't cognizant of the people's real concern about this -- but they had forgotten that the toughest time in a person's life, and I think any psychologist in this world will tell you this, is during the teenage years of anybody's existence.

And teenagers did not have, before rock and roll and rhythm and blues, they did not have any type of music they could call their own, once they got over four or five years old, until they were well into their 20s and were considered adults.

So I just felt that this was a vast field that had been overlooked by just about everybody, and that if we had a white person that they could justify maybe a little bit to their parents, that well, you know, it's a white boy or whatever, maybe the actual feeling of resentment might not be quite as steeped in the racial aspects of it.

GROSS: You know, it's interesting, you know, I think you're so right about -- obviously, you were so right about teenagers not having had their own music before. But when you had this realization, you weren't a teenager yourself anymore. You were in your early 30s. Did you understand teenage taste? Or did you just kind of share this same excitement about the music?

PHILLIPS: Oh no, I -- well, I did, but I also understood that teenagers were absolutely the people that -- and this is the truth -- I knew this: We would either be able to have a response that would be favorable from young people that had less bias and prejudice than the older people, or we probably would not make it.

And so I -- I didn't have any problem at all with knowing that we either had to make it through the younger people with what we were trying to do, or we probably would not make it at all.

GROSS: My guest is Sam Phillips. He founded Sun Records, which he sold in 1969. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Back with record producer Sam Phillips. He discovered B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley.

You gave up recording in about 1963. You gave up producing records. Why did you stop?

PHILLIPS: I think that the reason being is that I've always believed in younger people coming along and taking over. It became very difficult for independent labels to make it because, at that time, the major labels found out that we weren't just gonna fold our tent and go away; that when we started out, they thought well, this is a passing fancy and the chances are they won't be around long, so we'll get back to our regular curricular activities.

I saw the handwriting on the wall. When you would do what you did, had to do, and your distributors had to work with you, and then the major labels would come along and offer contracts that we couldn't even think about -- guarantees -- because we were still very, very limited on funds.

And so there was no use in me being a farm club, so to speak, for the major league club. And that's exactly what it came to be.

So I decided, and I was not going to work. Because I was offered a job with RCA by Steve Shoals (ph), to go to RCA at the time I sold Elvis' contract. And I did not go because, number one, I knew I would not be of any value to RCA because I had to do whatever I did, be it right or wrong. I had to do it "the way that I felt I had to do it and the way that I felt was necessary to prove what I had set out to prove."

I knew that that wasn't necessarily going to work well with a big company, and it would be absolutely no percentage and be only frustration. I would accomplish absolutely nothing.

GROSS: You must have, or I would imagine that you must have really missed recording people when you stopped, and missed discovering people.

PHILLIPS: I'll always miss it. I sure will. You let me, here, I bought every old record I reckon Time-Life put out on CD, to go back and just to hear it. Do you know, I go back right now and I hear "Summit Ridge Drive" by Artie Shaw. Now that you can hear absolutely some of the greatest rhythm. And this must be -- this was cut in the '40s or late '30s.

And you know, I mean, music -- music is not an option, really, with people. We take it for granted -- people that are in it professionally; people that just love it to listen to; and people that can take it or leave it -- but music is the single most important element outside of, I guess, we need a little oxygen to breathe in order to be able to listen to music. But there is nothing on the face of God's Earth that gives us more solace in more different areas, in more different ways than music.

And you better believe that if I could stay around here another 74 years, and I could start all over again and have my way with a major company or -- I would be recording people. Because there's nothing -- there is nothing in this world that is more rewarding, whether you got a dollar out of it or not, than working with I mean absolutely untried, unproven talent and seeing it come to the forefront and entertain, I mean, even the hardest-eared control-man in the world behind that glass.

GROSS: Did you ever wish that you were the performer and you weren't behind the glass in the control room, but you were in front of the microphone in front of the crowd?

PHILLIPS: Never, never, never, never. And that's a good question. That's probably one of the better ones, Terry, because that's another thing: I was never, ever jealous.

I was a pretty good musician. I've always said I wasn't worth a damn, but my bandmaster and everything at Coffey (ph) High School said I was good. I directed a band in the summer and this sort of thing.

But no, that did not enter my mind. Mine was strictly the laboratory and that's where I was happy.

Oh, it'd been great to gone out and had a little fun with a horn -- I played the tuba and played the drums and I played the sousaphone and that sort of thing. But no, uh-uh, no listen: I had the good job. I had the good job. The boys out there on the floor, they had the tough job. They had to worry about one instrument. I had to worry about three, maybe, you know?

GROSS: I think you just answered one of my questions. You said you played tuba when you were younger. You had said at one point that your favorite composer was John Philip Sousa. Now I mean, I love ...

PHILLIPS: That's right.

GROSS: ... marching band music. I love band music and marches and stuff. But I was really shocked to hear that from you, the man who discovered Elvis Presley -- John Philip Sousa ...

PHILLIPS: Hey, you been reading my record or something, girl.


PHILLIPS: Let me tell you something about John Philip Sousa. I heard this man -- anybody that can take a four-four beat like practically all martial music is -- and you take it and you have it stiff -- "stiff" -- I mean, and I'm not talking about marching as such, stiff-legged or -- but you take what martial music is is what I call "stiff" music.

This man absolutely got more melody chords. I'm not talking about necessarily harmony chords, because let's face it, martial music is not made up just for a nice big blend of harmony. But you listen to this guy and the way that he handled it. He is a -- this guy is a master at crafting music that if you can make people want to listen to it and if you can make somebody want to listen to a good martial piece of music like "The "Washington Post March" or a "Semper Fidelis" and enjoy it, I mean I want to tell you: You are a master musician.

He is the best -- he is the best at what he did. There's nobody -- there's not a good second. You can't name one. I would say probably some of the greatest directors in the world.

And of course, eh, the Boston Pops has always been one of my favorite -- and that Fiedler was so crazy I loved him, man. He was scared of nothing, absolutely scared of nothing. The criticism -- he didn't give a damn. Give him a drink before he went out on stage, a half-a-pint, and you can forget it, honey. You were going to have fun with music.

And boy did he help to separate the lines of demarcation in music and social affairs and, oh, I mean, you know ...

GROSS: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait...

PHILLIPS: ... really, don't -- don't get me started on music.

GROSS: ... no, no, no, wait, wait, wait, wait -- you mentioned, you know, that he a little drink before -- my understanding is that you wouldn't let your musicians have a drink in the studio, with the exception of Howlin' Wolf.

PHILLIPS: That is right.


PHILLIPS: Damn you, woman, I swear to God, do you have my jail record up there, too?

But honestly, that's a fact. And the Wolf -- I looked at him, as big as he was, and then a half of a pint of Thunderbird wine, and actually that half-pint was half gone already, and I said: "Do you know, there can't be too much harm done if I permit him to break the rules around here." And besides that, if he stepped on me, I might be no more.

GROSS: Now what about other people? Why wouldn't you let them drink, 'cause after all, you wanted them to be as relaxed and as natural and uninhibited as they could?

PHILLIPS: I don't really know. I really honestly don't know, Terry. I -- there was just something -- I wanted them to really get high on what we were attempting to do. And the one thing that I can tell you unequivocally again is that we did get high on our music. Even the cuts that we didn't feel that we had it on, we got high on it.

And I want to tell you: There is no high in this world better than when you cut something that you didn't believe that you could do. You maybe said to yourself: "I know I can do it." But you really didn't believe you could do it? And you do it?

Now, you tell me something that would be more potentially high. Now, that's high-octane stuff so far as I'm concerned.

GROSS: Sam Phillips, one last thing: I want to end with one of the records you produced, and I'll ask you to choose a favorite for us to go out with, and if there's a story behind it, to tell us the story if you can.

PHILLIPS: Well, let -- let me do this. I really -- I want to tell you. One of my favorite artists of all time was a guy known as C. Rich to us. His name is Charlie Rich. And when you listen to "No Headstone On My Grave," I want to tell you, you are listening to a masterpiece of what life is all about.

And knowing that Charlie could do just about any type of thing in this world, in addition to writing some of the greatest songs you ever heard, I would say that to go out on "No Headstone On My Grave" would be really the highest, highest esteemed, biggest stone in the whole cemetery.

GROSS: Sam Phillips founded Sun Records and was one of the most important behind-the-scenes figures in the early history of rock and roll.

Here's Charlie Rich.


Don't put no headstone on my grave.
All my life I've been a slave.
I don't want the world to know,
Here lies a man that loved you so.

Don't send no flowers when I'm gone.
Just put me down and then move on.
Just put me down and let me be.
Free from all this misery.

Tell my mother not to cry.
I'll see her in the by-and-by.
Tell her that I'm finally free
From the trouble you 'caused me.

But don't put no headstone on my grave.
All my life I've been a slave.
Just put me down and let me be,
Free from all this misery.

GROSS: Coming up, a preview of six new network shows. This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Sam Phillips
High: Sun Studios Founder Sam Phillips. He is revered as one of the leading catalysts in post-World War II American music. As a record producer in the 1950s and '60s, his recordings launched the careers of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that's just to name a few. Next month, Phillips will be a celebrity host on the public radio program Beale Street Caravan. Phillips is now in his mid-70s.
Spec: Sam Phillips; Elvis Presley; Music; Sun Records; Race Relations
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Record Producer Sam Phillips
Date: SEPTEMBER 15, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 091502NP.217
Head: New Fall TV Season
Sect: Entertainment; Domestic
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Traditionally, the prime time TV season begins the day after the Emmy Awards telecast, but this year there's more than one week before the new season officially gets started.

Even so, six new network series are launched this week, and TV critic David Bianculli is here with some thoughts on them and on last night's Emmy Awards.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: Let me get the Emmy Awards stuff out of the way first.

You know what bugs me? Last night, NBC's "Law and Order" won as best drama series, even thought it didn't win in any of the other categories all night. A year ago, "ER" did the same thing -- walked off with the top award without winning any of the individual ones.

What I want to know is: If a show doesn't win any Emmys for its acting, its direction, or its writing, how the hell does it qualify as the best series overall? It makes no sense to me.

Neither does the way the fall season is rolling out, for that matter. Three very long weeks ago, UPN premiered three new series on its fall schedule. Two weeks ago, another tiny network wannabe, the WB Network, premiered two of its new shows. Last week, Fox presented three new ones, and this week it adds one more.

Also this week, CBS unveils three new series tonight and ABC presents two new ones on Thursday. For a new TV season, that's an awful lot of pre-season activity.

But this year, for some reason, most of the good stuff is arriving early. "The Visitor," a sci-fi series launching Friday on Fox, is disappointing, but the same network's charming "Ally McBeal," which premiered last week, is wonderful. And tonight's new CBS shows all are worth sampling and supporting.

"The Gregory Hines Show" is the best and warmest single-dad family sitcom since "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." "Michael Hayes," the returned vehicle for former "NYPD Blue" star David Caruso, opens with a strong introductory episode. And "George and Leo," a new sitcom co-starring Bob Newhart and Judd Hirsch, is a delight, mostly because of Newhart.

Newhart plays George, a meek bookstore owner; and Hirsch is Leo, a very abrasive and very Jewish con artist who turns out to be the long-lost father of George's new daughter-in-law. Leo is so insulting and irritating, he even gets George angry enough to sink to his level. Though with Newhart in the role, even anger is a very funny emotion.


JUDD HIRSCH, ACTOR, "LEO": I'm very annoyed with you, George.

BOB NEWHART, ACTOR, "GEORGE": You're annoyed at me? I saved, I saved your life, you, you, you schmuck.


BIANCULLI: The new ABC shows premiering this week are Thursday's "Nothing Sacred" and "Cracker," both of which are strong also. "Nothing Sacred," starring Kevin Anderson as a young priest, is delightfully unpredictable and very compelling. And though ABC's Americanized "Cracker" is only a shadow of the original British telemovie series starring Robbie Coltrane, it's still a very dark and very entertaining shadow.

Robert Pastorelli from "Murphy Brown" plays the forensic psychologist in this new "Cracker," and with early episodes based on the original British scripts, it's getting off to a strong start -- but against "Seinfeld" it sure won't get strong ratings.

Finally, I should point out that even PBS is busy this week and shouldn't be overlooked. Tonight, it premieres Michael Palin's newest travel series, the 10-part "Full Circle with Michael Palin." It's a great show, and the former Monty Python member makes a great travel guide as he tours all the countries around the Pacific Rim.

"Full Circle" is a show that when you least expect it will have you laughing out loud. Palin got me in this sequence, for example, when he sits down at an outdoor restaurant in Mexico to sample its authentic menu from the days before Columbus. The cuisine, it turns out, is fried insects and Palin bravely orders the specialty of the house, a heaping plate of grazanos (ph).



MICHAEL PALIN, HOST: Now then, let me see -- grazanos, grazanos -- ah, here they are. Grazanos -- maggots.

So, I eat it with this. I see, a bit of tortilla and a bit of guacamole just to help the maggots slide down. There we are. Let's try one there. Two -- just try two to start with. They are nestling up.

Not the best maggot I've had, but pretty damned close. I (unintelligible) -- it's good grub.

BIANCULLI: That's the worst pun I've ever heard on public television, so naturally I love this show.

The TV season hasn't even started yet, but it's getting off to a very good pre-start.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

I'm Terry Gross.

Dateline: David Bianculli; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: TV Critic DAVID BIANCULLI previews six new network TV shows
that premiere this week. Also he comments on last nights Emmy Awards.
Spec: Television; Media; Emmy Awards
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: New Fall TV Season
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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