It was as if lightning struck Sun Records four times in the 1950s — the little Memphis record label was behind Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Those heady days at the start of rock ’n’ roll, are recreated in the stage show Good Rockin’ Tonight, The Sun Records Story, which stops on Tuesday at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.
Good Rockin’ is part play, part concert and part history lesson, said Bill Culp, who co-wrote the stage show with Dave Tufford three years ago, and likens it to the musical biography Jersey Boys about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.
The Sun Records show is about a magical era that still resonates with musicians and their audience, said Culp, who’s from the Niagara region of Ontario.
“The music was timeless, without a doubt.
“And the musicians at the centre of it were originals who were true to themselves,” he said.
“They had authenticity and they weren’t contrived — they were real artists.”
Culp plays Perkins in the family-friendly musical, while Tufford portrays Lewis, Djino LeFrancois is Presley, Jim Yorfido depicts Cash and Kevin Jollimore plays Sun Records producer Sam Phillips.
Much research went into getting to the truth of what happened at the start of these four famed artists’ careers, said Culp.
For instance, the show portrays why Presley became a household name singing Blue Suede Shoes — a song that Perkins wrote and actually recorded first.
“In 1956, Carl had Blue Suede Shoes and Elvis had Heartbreak Hotel,” said Culp. Both singers were scheduled to make television appearances to break the songs out to the masses, but Perkins never made it due to an unforeseen circumstance revealed in the musical.
Elvis ended up covering the song and the rest is history.
Rather than begrudging Presley’s stellar success, Culp said Perkins always maintained that losing the hit to the swivel-hipped superstar was the best thing that ever happened to him.
He became rich from residuals from Presley’s album sales, gaining the wealth but not the drawbacks of fame.
The story of the Sun Records artists will be told in two acts.
The first recounts how Phillips helped shape the four performers’ styles at the start of their careers, while the second is a recreation of the musicians’ appearance on the Louisiana Hayride radio show in the mid-’50s.
“The second act is more like a concert, with some radio commercials, and more interaction from the audience,” said Culp.
Good Rockin’ Tonight is on at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.