The Million Dollar Quartet – COMPLETE PHOTOGRAPHY (December 4, 1956)
By Bob Pakes
The 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
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!
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.
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.
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.
PHOTO N0. 6
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.
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.
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.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTETTE
(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).
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.
“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!
THANKS & 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.