Vintage footage of Carl Perkins playing a P-90 equipped first generation Gibson Les Paul Gold Top, Elvis Presley’s guitarist Scotty Moore spanking out licks on an ebony ES-295, and Roy Orbison picking a modified ES-335 while crooning “Oh, Pretty Woman” is on display. There’s also a pair of Orbison’s high-powered glasses and surprisingly small stage boots, one of Jerry Lee Lewis’ early-career jackets, too, and — the principal gem on exhibit — an extremely rare acetate of Elvis’ first hit recording “That’s All Right.
Presley cut that song for Sam Phillip’s Sun Records on July 5, 1954, propelling himself and Sun into rock ’n’ roll history. A small but well-curated part of that history is on display now in the award-winning Johnny Cash Museum's new “Legends of Sun Records” exhibition. The show primarily focuses on Presley, Lewis, Orbison, Perkins and, of course, Cash, who were the breakthrough artists who put Sun on the map after Sam Phillips had been recording African-American bluesmen including Gibson legend B.B. King and Ike Turner for years without much sales. The first rock ‘n’ roll single is considered to be “Rocket 88,” which Sun owner Sam Phillips recorded for Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm.
“Legends of Sun Records” brings together a collection of artifacts from the “Fab Five” including original hand-written lyrics, high school yearbooks, early singles and guitars. The most sacrosanct item for musicians may be W.S. Holland’s 1950s four-piece drum kit, which the early Sun session player used to cut Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes,” Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire” and other smashes. During Holland’s 40 years playing with Cash, the kit was also the first drum set to appear on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.
The Johnny Cash Museum is at 119 Third Avenue, South, in downtown Nashville.