Praise from Sam Phillips inspired Chris Isaak's tribute to Sun Records

Touring behind his Sun Records-inspired and Sun Studio-recorded album Beyond the Sun, roots singer-songwriter Chris Isaak tells The Kansas City Star how the tribute set came about:

"My dad had records from Sun Studio," he told The Star recently. "I grew up listening to Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Later on, I remember being 14 or 15, and I was at a secondhand store with my mother, and you could get a stack of records for a dime. I remember finding a 45 (rpm) of 'I'll Never Let You Go,' and that record knocked me out."

An inspiration to record his new album came to Isaak unexpectedly more than 10 years ago as he was reading a magazine article.

"I was reading the 'Oxford American,' a great, great music magazine," he said. "It's like getting four years of 'Rolling Stone' all in the same magazine. I was reading an article about Sam Phillips, and toward the end, someone asked him what he was listening to. And he said some very nice things. He said he listened to me, and he really liked my music. It brought a tear to my eye.

"It's about as good as it gets. Sam Phillips is one of the reasons I went into music."

Of course, it's nothing new for national and even international acts to record or mix their albums in Memphis, where they can get a certain vibe or presence they can't find in state-of-the-art studios of Los Angeles or Nashville. But Isaak, despite his vintage style and sound, wasn't initially sold on the idea, he says:

"I'm not much of a touchy-feely guy," he said. "I'm pragmatic. When I go into a studio, I usually blow out the candles and turn on the lights. At first I thought, 'Why record at Sun Studio? I have a microphone at my house.'

"But I went into that room and went, 'This is a great-sounding room.' You can sing in there and it sounds beautiful. The kind of music it was built for, three- or four-piece bands, really sounds wonderful. It sounds bigger than any place I've ever recorded."

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