Discovery of the Original Sun Master 'Mother' Stampers
'That's All Right' and 'Mystery Train'
Joseph Pirzada, a world renowned collector of Elvis artefacts, is the current owner of the original Sun 45rpm 209 'Mother Stamper' master of Elvis's first recording 'That's All Right' and the last 'Mother Stamper' for Sun 45rpm 223 'Mystery Train'.
In the UK during the week of the 50th Anniversary of Rock n roll of July 2004, Joseph appeared on several television news and entertainment programs with the original Sun master of 'That's All Right' to show to the world. These programs included BBC, ITV and Sky News but to name a few.
Here is a fascinating story by the founder and previous owner of the masters, Graham Knight.
I HAD THE "MASTER" OF ELVIS's FIRST RECORD FOR 30 YEARS WITHOUT REALISING IT!
By Graham Knight
In November 1998, I found out that a record I bought in Memphis in 1968 is actually the original master of Elvis Presley's first ever record. "That's All Right Mama". It was recorded on July 5th 1954 by Sam C. Phillips at the Sun Studios, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis and was originally released as Sun 209 on July 19th 1954.
I am a real Jerry Lee Lewis fan and attended nearly all his UK shows in the 60's and 70's. I got to know him well and often received letters from Jerry asking me to send him boxes of Cuban cigars that he couldn't buy legally in the US. In 1968 I visited Memphis and stayed at Jerry Lee's house at 5042 East Shore Drive, Memphis. During this visit Jerry often dropped me off at the Select-O-Hits record shop at 605 Chelsea Avenue. It was owned by Tom Phillips, a brother of Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records. There was a large warehouse at the back where Tom kept literally millions of unsold Sun records.
It was a goldmine for a rock n'roll fan like me but Tom called it the "Sun dump" as it was full of old "Sun Junk" that included unopened letters and tapes from artists wanting auditions. I used to spend all day actually standing on piles of records while looking for something I didn't have. There was no end of great stuff just lying there - thousands of records by Jerry, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and other Sun artists. During that 1968 visit I found about 600different records I wanted and Tom charged me 15 cents a record.
At the back of the shop, near a smelly toilet, there was a large radio transmitter. Tom said it had belonged to Sam when he owned a radio station. As I am also a "Radio Ham" I remember looking at the back of this big unit to see how it was made. I cleared away a lot of junk to get behind it and one of the items I moved was an unmarked cardboard box that had a lot of what looked like 10-inch "metal" records in it. They looked like they were made from aluminium. I took this box out to Tom and he said they were "Mothers", the master that pressed the wax records. Tom suggested I just add the box to the other goodies I had collected. "You can have them for 15 cents each as well" he said, "They are no use to us now. There are plenty of them back in there somewhere along with piles of personal recordings and demos that people cut but never paid for". Tom searched out and gave me some of these acetates too. They have a green label with a "Sam C. Philips" logo and have hand-written song and artist information.
Not being a record seller, I only ever searched for records I did not have and at the end of each day I had usually amassed about 100 discs and Tom would help me pack them in a box and he would drive me to the Post Office. I would send them to Aberdeen by sea-mail. It took about six weeks for them to arrive in Scotland.
Tom's shop had thousands of old 78's and I found some really old Sun records like "My God Is Real" by the Prisonaires, "Peeping Eyes" by Charlie Feathers etc. I also found some 78 records by an artist I knew quite well and visited in New York a few days previously - Screamin' Jay Hawkins. As I wanted to make sure the Sun 78's were not broken - I decided to use two of the "metal records" as the "outers" to pack my precious 78's. Mindful of the fact that I was already over the baggage weight limit for flying home, I decided to use just two of the metal records as packing and I put the rest of the "metal" records back in the cardboard box and returned them to their original position behind the radio transmitter.
This all happened in 1968 and I had not given those metal records much thought until a young Jerry Lee fan visited my house in 1998. A new-generation, Jerry Lee fan, Craig McKenzie, came round one day to play some of my records. He found one of the green "Sam C. Phillips" labelled disks and we listened to a demo that must have been cut ages ago by "The Son's of Dixie". Craig then asked if I had any more unreleased Sun records and I remembered the "metal" records. I had never tried to play them before because Tom had warned me that they were an image of the record and that they would play the music backwards. However technology has moved on in the last 30 years, I soon had a turntable running in reverse, and I played a snatch of my "metal" records for the first time.
Craig and I got the shock of our lives when the tune that appeared was "That's All Right (Mama) by Elvis Presley". It took a few seconds to grasp the enormity of it all. This was the record that had started it all for Elvis Presley in 1954 and it had led on to the popularity of rock n'roll music.
Jerry Lee and hundreds of others might never have made it if Sam Phillips hadn't cut that first Elvis record. My metal record is the "Master" of Elvis's first record that was released as Sun 209. I think it sold about 6,000 copies and they must all have been pressed from my "metal" record.
Had I been more of a record collector than a fan of the music I would have found out what the record was long ago by the identifying the Sun matrix numbers that can be read by holding the disk up to a mirror. Of all the records made at Sun, it is astonishing that, unknowingly, I chose to keep the master of Elvis's first record.
After been shocked at this find, I was intrigued to hear what was on the second "metal" record. I hoped it would be the master for Jerry Lee Lewis's "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" but it was not. The second "metal" record is in fact the master for the last record Elvis Presley made at Sun - Mystery Train - it was released as Sun 223 on August 1st 1955.
This probably means that the box of "metal" records I found behind the transmitter were probably the original "masters" for all 10 of the sides Elvis released on his five Sun records.
It seems crazy that it took 30 years for me to find out what I had bought all those years ago. It was quite a shock discovering this but above all it has made me think about all the good times I had in Memphis. Above all I remember the kindness everyone showed to me back then.
The late Tom Philips and his wife invited me up to their house at Lookout Drive for dinner on many occasions. Tom and Sam's other brother, the late Jud Phillips, whom I had known since he came to the UK with Jerry Lee in 1962, took me to recording sessions and I had a great time.
Everyone in Memphis was very kind.
None of this would have happened if I hadn't know got to know Jerry Lee in 1962 and of course I remember how lucky I was to go to shows all over the place in his plane and how Jerry nearly drove me crazy with the way he drove his Rolls Royce like a racing car.
ELVIS METAL MASTER RECORDS – FURTHER DETAILS
Since I posted the story about my Elvis Sun "metal" records I have been inundated with questions which I will try to answer here:
Can you give an exact description of what they look like?
Both records only have grooves one side. Each record is heavy and the back is plain metal that looks brownish like copper. The front of the record is very shiny and it had grooves not ridges. They both run at 45rpm and have the matrix numbers that can be read if the disc is held in front of a mirror.
How did you first play them?
I reversed the polarity on the motor in a record player. The stylus plays from the centre out – I only played a few seconds of each record as I immediately knew what they were.
When did you re-discover them?
I have many old Sun records and a young Jerry Lee fan called Craig McKenzie, was searching through them in 1998. He found a demo record with a green "Sam C Phillips" label - recorded by the "Sons of Dixie". He found another demo that, if remember right, said "Luke McDaniel" on the same type of disc. Craig asked if I had anymore and I said there were a couple of metal records in my loft that I had found in Tom's shop in Memphis.
When I was young and foolish I used to have a jukebox in my bedroom and I kinda liked the look of the "metal" records. I framed them and put them up on the wall alongside my pictures of Jerry Lee, Carl and Screamin' Jay. I think I framed them before Christmas 1968. I moved house two years later and the jukebox had to go along with my huge pictures of Jerry and Jay. Laugh at the way I looked in 1968!
The "metal" records were consigned to the loft at my new house and forgotten about until Craig brought them down. Then I re-jigged the turntable and we listened to a snatch of each record and immediately identified them.
Are they in good condition? My business partner Neil Hunter, gave them a good clean and I had them mounted in a frame along with a description of how I found them. The frame also includes three Sun Elvis labels and that well-known picture of Elvis, Scotty and Bill in the Sun Studio with Sam at the controls. A second picture shows the late Tom Phillips outside his shop, Select-O-Hits at 605 Chelsea Avenue, Memphis.
The paper says you showed them to Scotty Moore. What did he say?
In April, 1999 Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana were touring Scotland and I went to see them at Kirkcaldy. I met Dan Griffin the co-producer of Scotty and DJ's "All The King's Men" CD. Dan and I talked quite a bit about the old times in Memphis and he recalled Tom's shop and the millions of records that were stored there. I told him about the Elvis "metal" records and he suggested I take them in to show Scotty when they came to my hometown, Aberdeen at the end of that week. By Friday, my local paper had somehow got to hear about the "metal" records. I do not know the source of their information but the story appeared in the Aberdeen Evening Express before Scotty and DJ's show. Perhaps Dan mentioned it to the management at the Aberdeen venue.
I took the records to the show and Scotty and DJ were very interested. Of course DJ was never on Sun but Scotty played on these records and worked as an engineer at Sun for years in the sixties. Scotty wasn't surprised when he saw them, he said "Everywhere I go in Europe – I see old Sun things that came out of that shop in the sixties". After closely examining them, he remembered that the tape for their first record had been sent to Los Angeles and a firm out there had cut that "metal" record. By the time the last Elvis record came out, Sun had its own equipment for creating the "metal" records. This is confirmed by the fact that they do look slightly different.
Why didn't we hear about them in America?
I'm not sure if it was ever reported in America. When the two stories, and their editorial that poked fun at me, appeared in the Aberdeen paper I was inundated with reporters from all over the UK. The story appeared in broadsheets like The Times, Daily Telegraph, Observer, as well as in tabloids liked the Mail and the Daily Record etc. It also appeared in some of the UK Sunday papers. Some of the press reports mention speaking to Bill Ellis, the Music Editor at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, who I know quite well and met again only two months ago when I was in Memphis for Jerry Lee's birthday party. So Bill and Sun Studio definitely knew back in 1999 and I believe the TV show I subsequently appeared in was show in several countries. I also recorded an interview with Brian Burnett for BBC Radio. For a few days all my customers were mentioning the "metal" records but the interest soon died off.
When were you on TV? Which station?
Chris Walley, a producer at Granada TV in the UK, contacted me in April 2000 asking whether I would be willing to appear in a programme about people who had discovered unusual things. I agreed on condition that I received no fee and no expenses. On June 23rd 2000 I travelled to London and appeared live on national UK TV in a Granada programme hosted by Carol Voderman. I walked on carrying four 78's and the two "metal" records. The others were a Sun "My God Is Real" by The Prisonaires, the Green labelled Sam Phillips demo of "Standing On Promise" by the Sons Of Dixie, "Please Try To Understand" by Jalacy Hawkins on Timely and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" by Jerry. The producer's idea was to show viewers how I protected my 78's with the "metal" records.
After some chat about me staying at Jerry's house in Memphis, Miss Voderman then told me the TV company had been in touch with Ted Owen of Bonhams who confirmed that these were collectors items. She then said they had taken the "metal" records up to EMI's Abbey Road Studios. Miss Voderman said that EMI identified the disks as "Mother Stampers" a process before making the master and that they were rarer than a master. Apparently you can churn out many different "masters" from one "Mother Stamper".
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