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The Million Dollar Quartet – COMPLETE PHOTOGRAPHY (December 4, 1956)

 

By Bob Pakes
 
 

Sun StudioThe legendary photo of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash together in one frame, is almost as iconic as the cool jam-session that took place at Sun in the winter of 1956!
 
In this article you will find the most complete collection of photos that were taken on that historic day, in their best possible quality.
 
We’re gonna start this topic off with the short article that appeared in the local newspaper, The Memphis Press-Scimitar, the next day (December 5, 1956) and that actually gave the session it’s now famous name after reporter Robert Johnson introduced the words “MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET” for the very first time.
 
The PLACE: SUN RECORDS, MEMPHIS, TN
The DATE: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4, 1956
 
Enjoy!

 
 
 

MDQ top image

 
 
 

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Memphis Press-Scimitar

December 5, 1956 aricle(s) by Robert Johnson.
 
Memphis Press-Scimitar, December 5, 1956 (01) (James V Roy) Memphis Press-Scimitar, December 5, 1956 (03

 
 
 

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George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (01a)

PHOTO N0. 1

First up is the only solo photo of Elvis on this day that exists.
 
When looking at this image, one wonders if photographer George Pierce has also taken solo shots of the other artists. Even though Elvis was the main attraction, it would make sense that he also took portrait-shots of Carl, Jerry Lee and Johnny.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PHOTO N0. 2

Below: the most famous of all Million Dollar Quartet photos …

The original Fab Four!

 
 
 

George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (02a)

 
 
 

George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (03b)

PHOTO N0. 3

Often mistaken as one and the same image (with the photo above), here we have the 4 in a slightly different pose. And of course Elvis’ ladyfriend (Marilyn Evans) is now also in the frame.
 
Please scroll down, to the “Million Dollar Quartette” magazine article, for a much less cropped (but sadly rotated and overlapped by another image) version of this classic photo.

 
 
 

George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (04c)

PHOTO N0. 4

To the left we have a pretty sharp image of Elvis with Johnny Cash behind him and Carl Perkins to his right. And below a very differently cropped (and much blurrier) version of the same photo, this time without Perkins but including Marilyn Evans.
 
The uncropped photo that includes both Perkins and Evans in the same frame has not yet surfaced.
 
 
George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (04a)

 
 
 

George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (05a)

PHOTO N0. 5

An interesting one. At first glance this photo appears to be heavily cropped, but the ‘damage’ could be much less than it seems to be when going by the dimensions of the photo (apart from the ‘whites’ of course).
 
We can see that Johnny Cash is standing behind Elvis, and he is now playing (probably Carl Perkins’) guitar.

 
 
 

George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (06a) upgrade

PHOTO N0. 6

Here we have Elvis with Sam Phillips and Smokey Joe Baugh.
Smokey Joe had cut a couple of songs for Sun in 1955.
 
 
228a

 
 
 

George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (07a)

PHOTO N0. 7

In this photo we can see Sam Phillips and Elvis with the man who gave the session it’s name: Memphis Press-Scimitar reporter Robert Johnson, to the left.
And to the right we have Leo Soroca (a representative of United Press International).
 
 
 
 
 
 

PHOTO N0. 8

Soroca and Elvis seem to be shaken hands in the photo below, but a closer inspection learns us that Soroca is probably trying out some chords on Elvis’ guitar, much to the amusement of the bystanders.

 
 
 

George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (08a)

 
 
 

George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (9a)

PHOTO N0. 9

Sam Phillips and Elvis in the control room, with what looks a lot like the same guitar that Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash were holding in the previous photos.

 
 
 

George Pierce - Sun Records - December 4, 1956 (10a)

PHOTO N0. 10

Sam and Elvis on the same spot as in the previous photo, but this time without the guitar. Strike the pose gentlemen!
 
Elvis, at this point of his career, was riding high on the charts with his 2nd album currently in the number 1 spot and a seemingly unendless string of number 1 singles for RCA Victor. And while his first movie had broken all sorts of records for 20th Century Fox, the Elvis Presley Enterprises merchandise train broke even more records since the sale of Elvis socks, Elvis handkerchiefs, Elvis wallets, Elvis shoes, Elvis diaries, Elvis belts, Elvis mittens (Elvis mittens??), Elvis e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, had gone completely through the roof.

 
 
 

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MILLION DOLLAR QUARTETTE

Here we have a very nice article from the May 1957 issue of 16.
 
16 magazine (May 1957) 01 (Kari Paju) 16 magazine (May 1957) 02 (Kari Paju)

 
 
 

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Elvis Presley Sun publicity 1955

(Sun Records) Publicity Photos

To the right we have an original publicity photo, from 1955. This wellknown image of Elvis (from the December 27, 1954, photoshoot) pops up all the time in newspaper articles, advertisements and flyers in 1955.
The 8×10 photo was also widely at hand during live gigs, as can be seen in the image below (from March 4, 1955 in De Kalb, Texas).
 
March 4, 1955 Texas
 
Below we see original Sun Records publicity photos of Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. These kind of promo shots of Jerry Lee Lewis appear not to be existence.
Notice that Bob Neal (Elvis’ second manager) gets a mention as Cash’ manager.

Johnny Cash publicity still 1 Carl Perkins publicity still

 
 
 

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Carl Perkins October 26, 1994

“That session was so nice, I’m gonna sign it twice!”

Exactly 20 years ago on this day (October 26, 1994) I had the honor of meeting CARL PERKINS. After a concert he gave in my hometown, Perkins hung around for a little while to talk to the fans and sign autographs. I am still amazed at how incredibly humble and down to earth this man was.
After our talk I asked him to sign the Million Dollar Quartet album that I had brought. Carl had no idea that the famous session had been released officially by RCA, even though it had been on the market for almost 5 years. He joked that he could have made a Million bucks on it if he had been clever enough to tape the complete session himself. He then went on to say “That session was so nice, I’m gonna sign it twice!”. And he did.
Mr. Carl Perkins was a real cool cat!

MDQ CD1 MDQ CD2

 
 
 

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Sam and DeweyTHANKS & CREDITS:
 
* The 10 photographs at Sun were taken by GEORGE PIERCE.
 
* Thanks to Ger Rijff for his help in compiling this article.
 
* To Kari Paju (Finland) for allowing me to share the wonderful double-page article from 16 magazine (May 1957).
 
* To James V. Roy (USA) for the Memphis Press-Scimitar (December 5, 1956) scan.
 
* And to Josep Rulló (Spain) for sharing a high-rez image of the first Fab Four.
 
* The image from Texas (March 4, 1955) is scanned from the amazing A Boy From Tupelo.
 
* The image of Sun Studio at the top of this article, courtesy of The Memphis Public Library And The Shelby County Archives, with thanks to Mike Freeman.
 
 
To the right: Sam Pillips and Dewey Phillips in front of Sun Studio.

 
 
 

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18 Comments Post a comment
  1. colonel snow #

    Great other photos besides the often shown photos.
    Always interesting to read those old original articles.

    October 26, 2014
  2. Josep #

    Another priceless article!

    Thanks!

    October 26, 2014
  3. I enjoyed it very much. So cool to see the old photos.
    JK

    October 27, 2014
  4. Jans #

    Great article Bob.
    Amazing research !
    Keep up the good work.

    October 27, 2014
  5. Marcel Schuszler #

    I have this cd and play it over and over for many years now. It is an iconic piece of history in music. Elvis was the leading man that day, already showing what future lay ahead of him.

    October 28, 2014
  6. Jove #

    Another fantastic presentation!!!

    October 28, 2014
  7. Gerard #

    Alwys a pleasure to look at pics like this. Thanks !!

    October 28, 2014
  8. Diana from New York #

    Outstanding work, Bob! Thank you so much for putting this together. I love seeing dear Elvis so happy and hopeful. You made my day with this special article.

    October 31, 2014
  9. Jaap Melessen #

    Great article on the single most important session in history. Good to see that Mr. Ger Rijff conrtibuted as well. He is the man who made Elvis look cool again with his fantastic books and style.

    October 31, 2014
  10. Stanley #

    What a wonderful page. Are all the photos from this special day?

    November 3, 2014
  11. Linda Pierce #

    George Pierce was my husband’s father. Mr. Pierce passed away in 1962. To our knowledge all of the photographs taken that night at the studio were maintained in files owned by the Memphis Press Scimitar ( now known as the Commercial Appeal, Memphis).

    November 29, 2014
    • Robert Dye #

      Linda,
      I’d like to discuss your father-in-laws career sometime. I can be reached at 901-344-3221.
      I am the photo archivist at Graceland.

      November 16, 2015
  12. Craig Philo #

    Fantastic four….great research again guys

    April 12, 2015
  13. Wonderful! Thank for that great work !!!

    August 16, 2015
  14. Bonjour.
    Great! Merci!

    October 3, 2015
  15. Al Baer #

    Loved the photos. My wife and I saw the play Million Dollar Quartet at the Fireside in Fort Atkinson,Wi. Had no prior knowledge of this special day prior to seeing the play.Oh to be a fly on the wall and to have witnessed this! I’m jealous! Wish I could have.

    October 4, 2016
    • Don Oestreich #

      Our daughter took us to the same show a few days later. As children of the 1950’s, it was a chilling surprise and an incredible experience. The original recording published by RCA is such a precious archive showcasing the raw, natural talent of these young artists in what may well be the greatest jam session of all time. After being introduced to these legends, our daughter has become yet another big fan. The great ones are timeless!

      October 12, 2016
  16. Richard Morgan #

    FROM THE ARTICLE ABOVE; “I am still amazed at how incredibly humble and down to earth this man was.” ANOTHER OF THEM, JERRY LEE LEWIS, IN THE EARLY ’60S. PLAYED IN A CLUB IN ST. LOUIS “GASLIGHT SQUARE”. I WAS TOO YOUNG TO BE IN A LOUNGE OR CLUB WHERE ALCOHOL WAS SERVED. [I HAD SNUCK IN CASUALLY, AND BOUGHT A SODA BEFORE THE SHOW STARTED.]
    ALSO A PIANIST I LISTENED TO HIM DO HIS ROUTINE ‘TIL BREAK TIME AT WHICH I WENT & TALKED TO HIM FOR ALMOST THE ENTIRE BREAK. JUST LIKE TALKING TO YOUR FRIEND NEXT DOOR.
    THANKS FOR THE WONDERFUL SITE. ALSO TOURED SUN STUDIOS.

    December 29, 2016

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