This weekend marks the Second Annual Bone Appetit — an event that benefits Downtown Dogs Group, a no-kill animal rescue organization based in Jackson, Tenn. In addition to celebrating our furry friends, the event also features a lot of food and a lot of music. The event is catered by many of the top chefs and culinary experts from the United States, including Andreas Kisler of Memphis’ famed Peabody Hotel. Bone Appetit will also celebrate the musical heritage of West Tennessee, with Cody Ray Slaughter and a few other performers from the stage production of Million Dollar Quartet entertaining those in attendance.
Slaughter — who plays the Elvis role in Million Dollar Quarter — says that Presley’s music has always been an influence. “I don’t know when I first started listening to his music because it seems that he’s always been a part of my life,” Slaughter, owner of three dogs, told Billboard. “My father had a lot of Elvis cassette tapes, so I listened to those, saw the pictures and scrapbooks and stuff. It just grew from there.” Slaughter went on to say that he appreciates the “rags to riches” story of Presley. “He was such a legend — this small-town boy from Tupelo with a big dream, and I admired that a lot. His music really touched me a lot.”
Million Dollar Quartet shines a light on the historic events of Dec. 4, 1956. At Sun Records that day, there was a Carl Perkins recording session scheduled. But it turned out to be much more than that, as Sally Wilbourn — who worked at Sun Records — remembers.
“I had been packaging records on Jerry Lee Lewis‘ release of ‘Crazy Arms,'” she recalled for The 615. “Jack Clement was there helping Sam, and in walks Elvis Presley with two or three people. He asks if he could come in. He walks in, and everyone was glad to see him. He had been gone since he signed with RCA and had two or three gold records. Carl had ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ by that time. Johnny [Cash] was on his gold record with ‘I Walk The Line,’ and Jerry Lee’s had not been released.”
Lewis was playing on the Perkins session but was not yet well known outside Memphis. Sam Phillips wanted to share the new music from the Louisiana native with the crowd that had turned up that late fall afternoon. “He played Elvis and Johnny Cash — who had stopped by — Jerry Lee’s record of ‘Crazy Arms.’ He wanted Elvis to hear it because Elvis had been impressed with Jerry Lee’s piano playing.” Presley definitely became an instant fan, recalls Wilbourn. “He was interested in everything else he had done. As he was leaving, he wanted to know if I had another Jerry Lee record, and I did. So he left with the record.”
The Perkins session turned into a musical free-for-all, with each artist joining in the afternoon’s festivities. “Everybody just stopped and was talking and laughing. All four of them had grown up in the church, and knew the words to every gospel song that had ever been recorded. I don’t think you could come up with one that they didn’t know the words to. That had been their music all their lives. That’s how it started. They sang gospel music all afternoon long. It was a fun day for all of them. They’d stop, talk for a while, and go back to singing.”
Though Phillips had sold Presley’s contract to RCA Victor a year earlier, the Sun founder had an idea of what might be happening that afternoon. “Sam told Jack to turn on the machine and let it roll,” said Wilbourn. “They moved the microphones to where it would pick them up better. He knew something special was going on with it, even though he knew he couldn’t do anything with it.”
The session came out in bootleg form in 1981 but wasn’t officially released by RCA until the summer of 1990. A once-in-a-lifetime day at 706 Union? For sure, but Wilbourn says nobody knew it at the time. In fact, the Sun staff was working so hard to make a living that making “history” or “magic” was the last thing on anyone’s mind. In fact, there was not even a camera inside the Sun office.
“Sam did call the newspaper. He felt it may have been the only time they would be together in the studio. He called Bob Johnson with the Memphis Press-Scimitar, and told him what was happening. So he came and brought a photographer with him. Otherwise, we would have never had a picture. The next afternoon, he wrote a column about the session, and he termed it the Million Dollar Quartet. That’s how the session got the name.”
All in all, the session started at 1 p.m. and was over at 5. Just another day at the office? Not so, says Wilbourn, who still works with the Phillips family. “I was very privileged with a lot of things that I was able to see and be a part of. Now, to me, it’s one of the great events of my life.”