It was 67 years ago today (July 5th, 1954), that the future “King of Rock N’ Roll,” Elvis Presley, taped his first professional recording session at Memphis’ Sun Studios. Produced by Sun owner Sam Phillips, the session featured Elvis on acoustic guitar and vocals, Bill Black on double bass, and Scotty Moore on lead guitar. The session — which was recorded in hopes of issuing an actual single, followed a 1954 demo session and two 1955 studio rehearsals at Sun — featured two other songs, the ballad “Harbor Lights” and “I Love You Because.”
A song from Elvis’ second Sun session, recorded on Wednesday, July 7th, yielded the eventual B-side to “That’s All Right,” the nearly equally classic, “Blue Boon Of Kentucky.” Two weeks after it was recorded, Sun Records released the first Elvis single — “That’s All Right” backed with “Blue Moon Of Kentucky.” The single broke new ground, mixing R&B, country, and rockabilly, and is widely regarded as the first rock n’ roll single.
“That’s All Right” ended up selling around 20,000 copies upon its original release, and although not enough to make the Billboard and Cashbox charts, it went as high as Number Four on the local Memphis charts.
“That’s All Right” was originally written and recorded by one of Elvis’ main inspirations, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, with “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” already on its way to becoming a bluegrass classic by Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys.
“That’s All Right” was one of the few Sun-era songs that Presley continued to perform throughout his career. Before the song “C.C. Rider” became his official opening number in 1970, the majority of Presley’s’ 1969 “comeback” concerts in Las Vegas opened with either “Blue Suede Shoes” or “That’s All Right.”
During a rare press conference in Houston on February 25th, 1970, Elvis spoke about his deepest musical influences: “I liked all different types of music when I was a child. Of course, the Grand Ole Opry was the first thing I ever heard, probably. But, I like the blues and I liked the gospel music. Gospel quartets and all that.”
During his 2012 keynote address at Austin’s South By Southwest music festival, Bruce Springsteen broke down the cultural importance of Elvis Presley’s early career: “Elvis was the first modern, 20th century man. He was a precursor of the sexual revolution, of the civil rights revolution, drawn from the same Memphis as Martin Luther King, creating fundamental outsider art that would be embraced by a mainstream popular culture.”
Keith Richards credits Elvis for making rock a truly colorless art form: “The beautiful thing about Elvis was that, wow, he’s just sort of turned everybody into everybody it doesn’t matter now — ‘Is the guy black or white’ anymore. . . Y’know, and maybe even you can do it!”