December 13, 2006 Fifty years ago this month Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins got together in Memphis' Sun Records studio and now we finally can hear the whole thing. A new CD, The Complete Million Dollar Quartet, contains 12 minutes of previously unreleased material from the famed session and puts the music in its original sequence.
In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Robert Hilburn describes the day the four musicians happened to get together. Carl, whose "Blue Suede Shoes" had been a Top 10 hit, was in the Sun studio on December 4, 1956, when Elvis happened by. Johnny, who had already released "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line," also was on hand, along with Jerry Lee, who was playing piano on Carl's session.
Although it's generally assumed that Johnny left before the session really got going, the CD offers a revealing glimpse into the musical instincts of these extraordinary figures. Taking turns on lead vocal, Elvis, Carl and Jerry Lee went through some country tunes, some Chuck Berry numbers and some Elvis hits. But the focus was on gospel, including "Just a Little Talk With Jesus."
When the tape starts, the musicians appear to just be jamming, but they soon go into an instrumental version of "Love Me Tender," followed by "Jingle Bells" and "White Christmas." They follow with another unreleased track: Elvis singing the bluesy "Reconsider Baby," the Lowell Fulson song that he later recorded for RCA.
Through the entire album, a sense of experimentation and wonder underscores just how young these music giants were at the time. Elvis and Jerry Lee were both 21, with Carl the old man of the group at 24.