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The Next Elvis

Searching for Stardom at Sun Records

240 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / 31 halftones

ebook available

Memoir | Music | Cultural Anthropology

  Hardcover / 9780807157985 / August 2014
An American institution, Sun Records has a history with many chapters—its Memphis origins with visionary Sam Phillips, the breakthrough recordings of Elvis Presley, and the studio’s immense influence on the sound of popular music. But behind the company’s chart toppers and legendary musicians there exists another story, told by Barbara Barnes Sims. In the male-dominated workforce of the 1950s, 24-year-old Sims found herself thriving in the demanding roles of publicist and sales promotion coordinator at Sun Records. Sims’s job placed her in the studio with Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, Carl Perkins, and other Sun entertainers, as well as the unforgettable Phillips, whose work made the music that defined an era.
The Next Elvis: Searching for Stardom at Sun Records chronicles Sims’s career at the studio, a pivotal time at this recording mecca, as she darted from disc jockeys to distributors. Sims not only entertains with personal stories of big personalities, she brings humor to the challenges of a young woman working in a fast and tough industry.
Her disarming narrative ranges from descriptions of a disgraced Jerry Lee Lewis to the remarkable impact and tragic fall of DJ Daddy-O Dewey to the frenzied Memphis homecoming of Elvis after his military service. Collectively, these vignettes offer a rare and intimate look at the people, the city, and the studio that permanently shifted the trajectory of rock ’n’ roll.

Barbara Barnes Sims worked in promotion and publicity during Sun’s golden years, from 1957 to 1960. She published newsletters, liaised with distributors, and wrote liner notes for the first albums of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich. In 1960 she began a 36-year career teaching English at Louisiana State University. She lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Praise for The Next Elvis

“[Sims’s] conversational tone and attention to small details keep the story lively, informative and truly entertaining. The Next Elvis is a fascinating addendum to the story of one of the greatest record labels of all time and a snapshot of the record business during one of the most exciting eras in American music.”—Randy Fox, Memphis Commercial-Appeal

“A fascinating first-person account of Sun in its chartmaking heyday. . . . Sims’ book vividly captures the electrifying atmosphere and major players at Sun, always an intimate operation even when it was moving millions of platters a year. . . . Sims moved on to other pursuits by the end of the decade, but she was on Phillips’ payroll long enough to amass a book’s worth of amazing experiences.”—ARSC Journal

“A great mix of the down home and the sophisticated.”—Offbeat

“When Sims, this rather ingenuous jazz buff, finds herself smack dab in the middle of rockabilly craziness, it’s tremendous fun for the reader. The book offers a rare opportunity to experience exactly what it was like inside that dingy, unpretentious little office/studio where colorful, larger-than-life personalities helped lay the foundation of an exhilarating, burgeoning new genre.”—Pop Culture Classics

“If you read Sims’ firsthand account of working at Sun —The Next Elvis: Searching for Stardom at Sun Records— you won’t get an overdose of gossipy details about stars she met, or vivid recounting of sexual escapades of rock ‘n’ roll pioneers. You’ll get insight into something far more important: the business. . . . She was a real lady amongst rock ‘n’ roll lions.”—Montgomery Advertiser

“What [Sims] saw and what she heard could only happen once. . . . Her writer’s eye for detail is extraordinary.”—Bill Bentley, The Morton Report

“You were one of the first females I admired in our business. . . .In my mind you were as big a star as Elvis and Sam."—Dick Biondi, legendary rock DJ

The Next Elvis: Searching for Stardom at Sun Records is a major contribution to our understanding of rock and roll music and the seminal figures who shaped its sound at Sun Records. Beginning with Sam Phillips, Barbara Sims explores in exquisite detail the musicians, promoters, and fans, who were drawn to Sun Records, like bees to honey. She writes eloquently about the Memphis music scene and her own pivotal role as the talented young woman who oversaw public relations at Sun Records. In a music field dominated by men, this book stands as a classic for understanding both rock and roll and the struggle of women in the American South.”—William Ferris, author of The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists

"Barbara Barnes Sims’s memoir of her experiences at Sun Records in the late 1950s does not miss a beat conveying the inside story of the excitements and frustrations of working for the small record company that was revolutionizing American popular music and influencing world culture. In lucid and vivid prose, she remembers label boss Sam Phillips and the other members of the Sun family, including the various ‘stars’—Elvis, Johnny, Jerry Lee, Carl, Roy, and Charlie—with insight and affection, yet she remains far from starstruck. Her portrayals of the various players in the Sun drama are clear-eyed and revealing, unapologetic and sometimes humorous. Her warts-and-all approach demythologizes Sun Records yet humanizes the legends. You'll never see Sun in the same way after reading this book."—Ted Olson, three-time Grammy Award nominee for music scholarship and coeditor of The Bristol Sessions: Writings about the Big Bang of Country Music

“‘I don't think that's such a good idea, Billy,’ says Barbara Sims to Billy Lee Riley early on in this irresistible chronicle of Sun Records in the years after Elvis came and went. It's my favorite sentence in the book and maybe the most emblematic. Sims's book catches the unique Sun milieu of hustling bohemians, purely Memphis-style, in their missions to make money, change the world, and get to work the next day with a clear head. It's the Sam Phillips legend as everyday life, where someone had to make sure that what was going out matched what was coming in, never taking her eye off the golden future that was always hovering just over the horizon (and already behind all those looking for it), until it was time to quit.”—Greil Marcus, author of Mystery Train and The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs

“Almost everyone knows something about the music and career of Elvis Presley, but the lives and music of those who aspired to be the ‘next Elvis’ on his original Sun record label are equally fascinating. Barbara Barnes Sims was right there when they came parading through the Sun studio and offices, trying to catch the ear of her boss, label owner Sam Phillips. With remarkable recall more than fifty years later, combined with the sensibility of the scholar and university professor that she later became, Sims lets us know from the inside how one of the greatest independent American record companies operated in the late 1950s and describes the larger-than-life characters that populated it. This is an important and very readable contribution to the understanding of one of the greatest periods in American popular music history.”—David Evans, Emeritus Professor of Music, University of Memphis

Extras for The Next Elvis

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Video courtesy of LPB

When Barbara Sims was twenty-four, she went to work for Sun Records in Memphis. Headed by the fabled Sam Phillips, Sun housed the studio where such stars-to-be as Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison recorded some of their first hits. By the time she arrived in 1958, Elvis Presley was The One That Got Away. He had recorded such tunes as “That’s All Right” with Sun, but RCA bought out his contract for $40,000, giving Phillips enough cash to keep his struggling business going. From then on, said Sims, Sun was looking for “the next Elvis.” —excerpt from "Memphis Memories" (Country Roads Magazine, July 2014) [FULL ARTICLE]

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