BB learned his first three chords from a minister playing electric guitar at the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ before moving to Memphis and twisting the fingers of Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker through the twisted strings and the vibrato of its own sound.
Both King and Presley began their careers in an independent studio, run by the most talent-savvy man in town: Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, which was on Beale Street. When BB first recorded material at Sun Studio, he was playing nights with Bobby Bland, Johnny Ace and Earl Forest in a band called the Beale Streeters.
Phillips captured the birth of the musical revolution, producing blues expressionists like King, Howlin’ Wolf and James Cotton, as well as what went down in history as the first rock and roll record. Chicago’s Chess Records released it, but “Rocket 88” was produced on Beale Street, by Phillips, in 1951, according to Peter Guralnick. Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock’n’Roll.
The label for the single was a misprint, the group is called Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats but should have been credited as Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm with Jackie Brenston. Still, it was not a faux pas. Not only is “Rocket 88” recognized as the first song to epitomize the genre; it features the first rock and roll distortion guitar, played by Willie Kizart. He broke his amp on the way to the studio, stuffed it with newspapers, and Phillips loved the sound. It was quirky, like a white kid who “looked black,” according to the new 2022 biopic Presley.
In his 1996 autobiography, The blues all around me, King has defended Presely’s legacy against accusations of cultural appropriation. BB wrote: “Elvis didn’t steal music from anyone. He just had his own interpretation of the music he grew up with, that’s true for everyone. I think Elvis had integrity. BB first met Elvis at Phillips Studios, during the “Million Dollar Quartet” sessions with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
“I saw them all, but they didn’t have much to say,” BB recalled in king of blues. “It was nothing personal, but I could sense a little coldness between them and me. But Elvis was different. He was friendly. I distinctly remember Elvis because he was handsome, calm and polite until At first, I heard him strictly as a country singer.