It’s a music legend that has been immortalized by a secret recording, a Broadway show and endless tall tales of the first rock ‘n’ roll music industry backstabbing. A chilly Memphis afternoon, Dec. 4, 1956, sees the once-in-a-lifetime meeting of music legend Sam Phillips’ greatest discoveries. Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley convene at Sun studios in Memphis. Legend has it that it was the day Elvis broke his contract with Phillips and the day that Cash, whom Phillips had asked to convince Presley to stay, asked to be released from his too.
The secret recording, that has since sold millions, shows no signs of such acrimony. The quartet play together on dozens of songs and laugh through it all. Some say this is the moment that redefined the term “jamming.” Nevertheless, life went on and the term Million Dollar Quartet, given to express the groups combined salaries at the time, has come to immortalize these four men who reshaped popular music in their image.
Presley, Perkins, Lewis an Cash – A Million Dollar Christmas is a show based on their legendary once-in-a-lifetime partnership, but with a Christmas twist. The show plays at the Living Arts Centre on Dec. 14.
“The show is basically a live performance review of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley,” explains performer Ben Hale, who sings Johnny Cash in the show. “In addition to all of their classic songs, we’ll be including their renditions of many Christmas tunes too.”
Lest that seem like an odd conceit, all four members of the quartet released multiple Christmas recordings over their careers. Run, Run Rudolph, Blue Christmas, Silent Night, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Jingle Bells, White Christmas and many others were all released by one or more of this legendary bunch.
“It’s ultimately a really great celebration of that era of music” explains Hale. “It’s a high energy, rock ‘n’ roll shot in the arm.”
The quartet will be backed by top session players out of Nashville and Los Angeles playing a classic backline of upright bass, drums, piano and electric guitar. In between songs, the singers share stories, legends and tall tales about the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. While not in role as the legends, their spirit and lives are central to the entire performance.
“We definitely are about authenticity of feeling,” Hale says. “But the music is paramount. As for lip curls, leg shaking, and the pageantry—we do a bit out of reverence but never for parody.”
Audiences can expect the evening to feel like a classic era rock concert. Genre-defining songs like Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Great Balls of Fire, Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On, Folsom Prison Blues, Walk The Line and Blue Suede Shoes will all be on the setlist.
“These guys were the architects and archetypes for being rock stars,” says Hale. “People are so drawn to them that they go crazy for us, while we’re paying tribute.”
When asked what the audience in Mississauga can expect from the show, Hale doesn’t even hesitate.
“It’s always a rowdy good time!”
Presley, Perkins, Lewis and Cash: A Million Dollar Christmas is at the Living Area Centre at 8 p.m. on Dec. 14. Tickets are available online here