About the song
If you are a fan of rock and roll, you probably know the name Elvis Presley. But do you know the song that started his legendary career? It was “That’s All Right”, a blues tune that Elvis transformed into a rockabilly classic on July 5, 1954, at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. In this blog post, I will tell you the story behind this song and how it changed the course of music history.
The original version of “That’s All Right” was written and recorded by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, a Mississippi-born blues singer and guitarist, in 1946. Crudup’s song was a slow and plaintive lament about a woman who left him, with lyrics like “That’s all right, mama / That’s all right for you / That’s all right, mama / Just anyway you do”. The song was released as a single by RCA Victor, but it did not sell well. Crudup later re-recorded the song in 1949 under the title “That’s All Right, Mama”, which became RCA’s first rhythm and blues record on its new 45 rpm format.
Elvis Presley was a young truck driver who loved music, especially blues and country. He had a dream of becoming a singer, so he walked into the offices of Sun Records and the Memphis Recording Service on a Saturday night in the summer of 1953 and paid $3.98 plus tax to make a record as a birthday present for his mother. He sang “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”, two ballads that impressed Sam Phillips, the owner and operator of Sun Records, and his business partner Marion Keisker. Keisker wrote down “Good ballad singer. Hold” in her notes and suggested to Phillips that Elvis might be worth following up with.
A year later, Phillips decided to give Elvis a chance and sent him to meet with two of his session musicians, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. They jammed together for a while, but none of the songs they tried sounded right. Phillips was looking for a white singer who could sing black rhythm and blues, something that he believed would create a new sound and appeal to a wider audience.
On July 5, 1954, they went to Phillips’ studio to record some songs. They tried “Harbor Lights” and “I Love You Because”, but they were too stiff and uninspired. Phillips called for a break, and Elvis started to fool around on his guitar, playing and singing “That’s All Right” by Crudup, but at least twice as fast as the original. He gave the song a new energy and attitude, with lyrics like “That’s all right now mama / Any way you do”. Moore and Black joined in on their instruments, creating a catchy rhythm that matched Elvis’ voice. Phillips heard this from the control room and knew he had found what he was looking for. He told them to start over and recorded their spontaneous performance .
The result was a song that sounded like nothing else before. It had elements of blues, country, gospel and pop, but it also had something new: rock and roll. Elvis’ version of “That’s All Right” was released on July 19, 1954, with “Blue Moon of Kentucky” as the B-side. It was not a national hit, but it caused a sensation in Memphis when it was played on local radio stations. The listeners were intrigued by Elvis’ voice and style, which blended black and white influences in a way that challenged the racial boundaries of the time .
Some critics consider “That’s All Right” as the first rock and roll record or the beginning of the rock and roll revolution . Whether or not that is true, there is no doubt that it was a milestone in Elvis’ career and in music history. It launched Elvis into stardom and opened the door for other artists who followed his footsteps. It also marked the birth of Sun Records as a legendary label that produced some of the most influential rock and roll artists of all time.
So next time you hear “That’s All Right”, remember that it is not just another song by Elvis Presley. It is a song that changed the world.