On the 4th December 1956, the Million Dollar Quartet featuring Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash were recorded during an impromptu jam session at Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. It was the first and last time that these pop music pioneers would record together.

The four recording stars had not planned to meet at the studios. Carl Perkins and his backing band went there to record some new material to follow up the success of Blue Suede Shoes. The still relatively unknown Jerry Lee Lewis had been invited by studio owner Sam Phillips to come along and add some piano to the tracks.

Elvis Presley had been signed to Sun Records until November the previous year, when his contract was bought out by RCA Victor. However, by chance he dropped by his old label on the 4th December 1956 to catch up with Phillips. Having listened to the playback of the Perkins sessions, Elvis entered the studio and began jamming with the band shortly afterwards.

Before long another Sun artist – Johnny Cash – arrived and joined in the jam. The quartet primarily played snippets of old gospel and spiritual songs that they had grown up with, including at least one request from Elvis’ girlfriend of the time who joined them in the studio. Engineer Jack Clement, who had discovered Jerry Lee Lewis, was in the control booth and decided to record the session and Phillips called a local newspaper to photograph and report on it. The subsequent article was the first use of the name “The Million Dollar Quartet”.

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© Scott Allsop