WEIRDLAND: Sam Phillips biopic with Leonardo DiCaprio, Buddy Holly's individualism

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Sam Phillips biopic with Leonardo DiCaprio, Buddy Holly's individualism

Leonardo DiCaprio is to produce and star in a film about Sam Phillips, the Memphis music producer famous for launching the careers of Elvis Presley, Ike Turner, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Paramount Pictures has acquired rights to adapt Peter Guralnick’s book Sam Phillips: the Man Who Invented Rock’n’Roll, and has enlisted DiCaprio to co-develop it as a star vehicle for himself, according to Deadline. Mick Jagger will reportedly co-produce alongside DiCaprio. He last produced HBO’s rock series Vinyl that was canceled after one season. DiCaprio has yet to lock down a writer and director for the project.

Sam Phillips – who worked as a record executive, music producer and disc jockey – is credited for playing a vital role in the emergence of rock’n’roll in the 1950s, largely by discovering Elvis Presley. Source:

It wasn't Elvis who handed Sam Phillips his first real smash. Carl Perkins did that, with "Blue Suede Shoes," after Phillips, who perpetually needed money, sold Presley's contract to RCA. He demanded $40,000 for his star, which included $5000 in royalties Phillips owed Presley—more than a popular singer's contract had ever brought. After brokering the deal, Colonel Tom Parker, the wily manager who used the honorary title a Louisiana governor had conferred on him, made Elvis a commodity.

The welcome infusion of capital let Phillips crank up the volume for other Sun artists, who included Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and a brash, boundlessly energetic Louisiana boy initially billed as "Jerry Lee Lewis With His Pumping Piano." When Phillips first heard Lewis, "he practically jumped out of his skin."In 1969, Phillips sold his 80% interest in Sun Records, formally putting his glory days behind him.

Although Guralnick admits that his use of Invented in his book's title is an overstatement, he makes it clear that Sam Phillips exerted considerable influence on rock'n'roll, in recording sessions spurring and steering his seminal artists through take after take. If the artists thought some of the touches that made it onto their records were mistakes, Phillips deemed them "original." For him, that was the heart of the matter: "Most of all, individualism... individualism in the extreme," insists Guralnick. Source:

Read my previous post: Sam Phillips and Buddy Holly: The Men who invented Rock 'n' Roll.

By the end of the 1960s, except among older fans and hardcore oldies listeners, Buddy Holly was a largely forgotten figure in his own country. The tide began to turn at the very tail-end of the 1960s, with the beginning of the oldies boom. Holly's image constituted a haunting figure, frozen forever in poses from 1957 and 1958, bespectacled, wearing a jacket and smiling; Holly stood there seemingly eternally innocent, both personally and in terms of the times in which he'd lived. Until "American Pie," most Americans equated November 22, 1963, the day of President Kennedy's murder, with the loss of national innocence and an opening of an era of shared grief. Don McLean pushed the reference point back to February 3, 1959, and an astonishingly large number of listeners accepted it.

Buddy Holly is perhaps the most anomalous legend of '50s rock & roll. Among his rivals, Bill Haley was there first; Elvis Presley objectified the sexuality implicit in the music, selling hundreds of millions of records in the process, and defined one aspect of the youth and charisma needed for stardom; Chuck Berry defined the music's roots in blues along with some of the finer points of its sexuality; Jerry Lee Lewis, often known as The Killer, had been described as "the rock & roll's first great wild man." Holly's influence was just as far-reaching as these others, if far more subtle. In a career lasting from the spring of 1957 until the winter of 1958-1959, Buddy Holly became the single most influential creative force in early rock & roll. Source:

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