Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm visit SUN RECORDS and add to Sam’s “Record Man Blues.” Joe Bihari doesn’t show any interest in any of Sam’s recent recordings much less return his calls. The studio is so strapped for cash, Marion looks for extra work reading copy at Dewey’s radio station. Then, Ike Turner rolls into town with his band, the Kings of Rhythm. Ike doesn’t receive a warm welcome from the raging racist car salesman who works across the street from Sun Records, but Sam is happy to welcome any customer that pays the $3.98 session fee.
Ike doesn’t have that kind of money on him, but he concocts a plan to get it. He drops by an old waitress acquaintance of his, Wanda, and offers her a spot singing on the record if she can chip in a dollar. Wanda isn’t interested so Ike steals the tip jar from the restaurant where she works. The chef chases him and fires a rifle at Ike as the Kings of Rhythm drive off, he puts a bullet through their amp.
Sam’s a little off this week, he keeps popping pills to deal with stress and he isn’t getting much sleep, but Ike’s music pierces his narcotic haze. Sam loves the song, but wants to replace Ike as lead vocals with the saxophone player, Jackie Breston. The rest of the band is also interested in the change. Ike is fantastic on the keyboard, but Jackie has a better voice. Sam offers to sign them, but Ike won’t comply unless he sings lead. He stole the $4 to record Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm. Sam suggests changing the name of the band for this one recording with Jackie as lead. The band agrees but Ike storms out. Sam records Ike’s song “Rocket 88,” but doesn’t take it to Bihari. Instead, Sam takes it to Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Chess has Muddy Waters on his label, but he likes “Rocket 88” and offers Sam double the royalty of Bihari. This enrages Bihari but Sam needs the deal.
“Rocket 88” sells a hundred thousand copies and spends five weeks at number one. The hit puts Sam on the map. He upgrades the studio equipment, buys a new TV and furniture, and gets gifts for both Marion and Becky. For a moment, he feels like everything is going to be okay, then the bottom drops out. Chess drops in at the studio and pressures Sam to get Jackie and the band in to record more music. Jackie is bombed, he can barely string two words together and he sounds terrible. Chess won’t send anymore royalty payments until Sam scores another real hit.
Ike returns, and Sam is glad to see him. He apologizes for not respecting Ike as the real talent of the group. He wants Ike to write but keep Jackie as lead vocals. Ike isn’t interested. He signed with Bihari and has already recorded sessions with B.B. King. He wants Sam to pay him royalties owed for “Rocket 88.” Sam pops his pills and drives off in the worse condition. It’s amazing these people could function at all. However, Sam isn’t the only one with artist and money problems.
Col. Parker owes $500 to a loan shark and he won’t stop betting until he’s flush. He makes more money on concert merchandise that ticket sales. On hot days, he sells lemonade and paper fans to people waiting for Eddy Albert to take the stage. He also pays a platoon of female fans a dollar each to mob Eddy after the concert in front of photographers. Hank Snow likes how Parker manages and asks if he’d take him on as a client. At first, Parker declines, but later Eddy confronts him about kickbacks he receives for putting different artists on his B-sides. Parker doesn’t like being questioned, he has taken Eddy to a whole new level. He quits and signs Snow as his new client.
There still isn’t a whole lot of movement in the world of the other three legends this week. Elvis sneaks into Trixie’s bedroom for a visit. She doesn’t get why he can’t enjoy the music at her church anymore. Elvis explains the music from the colored’s church makes him “shake and shutter right down to your toes.” He plays a little sample for her on her bedroom radio, but her father hears, gets pissed off, and grounds her. Thanks E.
Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart break into a church to impress some girl Jerry Lee likes, but gets busted by the preacher. Johnny Cash has a little movement towards legend this week. He’s stationed in Germany now and sings on stage during Octoberfest. Later we see him at his bed, working on a song, missing Vivian. It’s the start of Folsom Prison Blues and a move in the right direction. Next week is the midseason episode. Elvis, Jerry Lee, Ike, Cash; all these guys had tremendous energy. Sun Records needs to kick it up a few gears.
Season 1, Episode 3 (S01E03)
Sun Records airs Thursdays at 10PM on CMT
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Eric Rodriguez | Contributor