The Commercial Appeal - March 28, 1951

Assignment: Memphis--
Rocket Becomes Flying Disc,
Spins Toward Record Glory


If you have a song you can't get published, you might ask Sam Phillips for help.
Look what he did for "Rocket 88"!
You may not have heard this musical explosion yet, but I expect you will. Im afraid you are utterly doomed to hear it, sooner or later. Brace yourself now and check your shock absorbers.
Sam, the recorder behind the Rocket, is the closest thing Ive found to a Memphis contact-man for song-writers. Even he is not in the sheet music business, but he does know people who are.
What he does, as operator of Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union, is to locate and record songs for record companies. He makes the acetate masters from which the retail platters spring.

Also A Talent Scout
That means his is a recording engineer, but he's also a talent scout. He has agreements with two recording companies to locate and record hillbilly and "race" music. Race numbers are those tailored for the Negro trade.
Sam auditions musicians with original songs. when he finds something he's sure will sell, he gets it on the acetate and sends it to one of the companies. He doesn't charge the musicians anything; like them, he gets his from the company, unproductive auditions are just part of the days work.
Let's use "Rocket 88" as a thumping, throbbing case history.
B. B. King of Memphis, one of the race artists Sam has been recording, passed the word along to Ike Turner, a Negro band leader of Clarksdale, Miss., that the market was open. Ike brought his band up for an audition.

Oozin' And Cruisin' Along
His vocalist, Jackie Brenston, had composed "Rocket 88," a red-hot daydream of high life in a convertible. The car in the lyrics goes "oozin' an' cruisin' along," but the song could hardly be said to ooze. It erupts.
Sam was sure it would hit. He got the acetate on a plane to Chicago that night. Chess Records took it, sent Jackie a contract, arranged for sheet music to be published and went into production.
Just to complete the local picture on it, copies of the record for distribution in this are are being pressed at Plastic Products, Inc.
Sam is convinced the Rocket will move out of the race field into general popularity. He says Jackie will get 3 1/2 per cent of the retail record sales, plus whatever his contract calls for on the sheet music. Jackie, when I talked to him about 
(Continued on Page 4, Column 1)

'ROCKET 88' is Oozin' And Cruisin' To Record High
(Continued from Page One)

it, said that if he makes enough out of it he's going to buy one of those cars.

Glad To Look It Over
But to go back to the songwriter's angle, which started all this.
Sam's direct search is for musician-composers in the hillbilly or race field who can record their own songs. But he may branch out some day, and he figures its to his interest to know what's being done around here in the whole field of popular music.
so he says if anybody wants to bring him a song, he'll be glad to look it over. If he thinks it has merit, he'll send it to one of the publishing firms he's become acquainted with through his recording work. Whether they take it or not, he says, they'll at least give it serious consideration.
He says he'll be glad to do this, but please don't fight with him if he doesn't think your song has merit. And there will be no charge.
Let me make that no-charge business clear. some song-writers are bound and determined to have a recording of their song made. they think that will help sell it to a publisher.
From what i can learn, this is probably a waste of money. Sam agrees, and he's in the recording business.
So if you insist on making a recording against advice, that's another matter. That costs money. And if you're stubborn enough to do it, don't say I got you into it.

Article by Lydel Sims - March 28, 1951 Commercial Appeal courtesy Michael Rose and

article added May 28, 2013

This article is reprinted exactly as it appeared in the March 28th 1951 edition of the Memphis Commercial Appeal for posterity.


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