“You don’t have to be an outcast to be a rebel” – Sam Phillips
I’ve been re reading Peter Guralnick’s excellent biography of Sam Phillips, and that quote comes up several times in the book. I remember it from my first time through the book, more than five years ago. It’s stuck with me over time.
And its a perfect description of Sam Phillips.
He was a man with the vision to record Black musicians during the time of Jim Crow. Who gave complete unknowns like Elvis and Johnny Cash a chance to be heard. The man who wanted nothing to do with polished pop music and actively sought out the oddities and imperfections that lead to songs like “Rocket 88.” The man who started an all female radio station. Sam Phillips was the man who invented Rock & Roll. Only a rebel can do all of those things.
But he’s also the man who had a warm relationship with Billboard Editor Paul Ackerman. Who maintained a huge network of DJ’s, Record Distributors, and other business associates. and The man who cut a promotional deal with Dick Clark. The man who negotiated the blockbuster sale of Elvis’s Contract AND invested in the Holiday Inn hotel chain. A outcast can’t make all those deals happen.
Sam Phillips was most definitely a Rebel. But he wasn’t an outcast.