American Masters: Season 16, Episode 5

Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records (28 Nov. 2001)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary, Biography, History
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 76 users  
Reviews: 3 user | 1 critic

A history of Memphis' Sun Records, the legendary label that started the careers of such rock and country icons as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others. ... See full summary »


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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Himself (archive footage)
Carl Perkins ...
Himself (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Sam Phillips ...
Himself - Founder, Sun Records
Jack Clement ...
Himself - Sun Engineer / Songwriter
Scotty Moore ...
Himself - Elvis Presley's guitarist
Billy Lee Riley ...
Himself - Sun Artist
Sonny Burgess ...
Himself - Sun Artist
Himself - Founder, Atlantic Records
Chester Burnett ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Howlin' Wolf)
Himself - Sun Artist
D.J. Fontana ...
Himself - Elvis Presley's drummer


A history of Memphis' Sun Records, the legendary label that started the careers of such rock and country icons as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others. Included are archival footage and interviews with many rock and country artists who either recorded for Sun or knew owner Sam Phillips. Written by

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

rock music | See All (1) »





Release Date:

28 November 2001 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:

Box Office


$1,300,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Did not make the final edit: During the finale, shot in the tiny, crowded studio, Sam Phillips went wild when he saw Little Milton enter the room. He called out to Milton to PLEASE set the record straight and contradict what Rufus Thomas was saying about Phillips' lack of honesty: "Milton here knows the truth and he'll tell you. I never cheated my artists." See more »


Roland Janes, the longtime engineer for Sam Phillips at his various recording studios, was the original smoking guitarist on many Sun hits, most notably Billy Lee Riley's "Flyin' Saucers Rock 'n Roll." Roland was sitting in the reception room of the old Sun Studio when Billy Lee took the mike to perform his old hits for the recording crew. Mr. Phillips came out and begged Roland to pick up the guitar and play that scorching opening. Roland was reluctant to do so, because he gave up the guitar some years ago, but Mr. Phillips kept after him. Roland finally agreed, entered the studio and started his blistering attack on the electric guitar. Inexplicably, Roland Janes' remarkable playing is nowhere to be seen. See more »


Down In The Bottom
Written by Chester Burnett (as Howlin' Wolf)
Performed by Chester Burnett (as Howlin' Wolf)
See more »

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User Reviews

Nice Tribute To The Pioneer Rockers, But Phillips Is A Little Much
7 December 2008 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This was a real mixtures of highs and lows, as far as I was concerned. Seeing and hearing rock legends like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins back in the 1950s was great and might make me buy this DVD. I also thought some of the tribute songs that a few performers did were excellent, too, and featured some unique takes on some of these rock 'n roll standards.

My only annoyance was listening to Sam Phillips go on and on about what a great pioneer he was in the record business. This man is a real blow-hard, a man with an over-sized ego with run-on sentences about himself. Since this DVD is a tribute to Sun Records, however, Phillips is the key man since he began the company and ran it! His Sun Studios, in Memphis, Tenn., is still famous. This is the studio where those guys mentioned above, and others, got their start. Phillips. Still, less Sam and more singers would have made this documentary more appealing.

In the meantime, I learned about Sonny Burgess, Billy Lee Riley and a few other "cats" from that era that never got publicized as they should but were almost as talented as the big stars.Burgess is still bitter over that, and expresses it a few times on the DVD, blasting Phillips. So, to the documentary's credit, both the good and bad of Phillips are presented.

It was great to see Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, two guys who played with Elvis in his early days. Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler, Ben Folds, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Johnny Halladay, Zucchero, Third Blind Eye, Malcolm Yelvington and Kid Rock all pay their respects to the beginnings of rock and to Sun Records. All in all, it's a nice tribute.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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