Sun Records Stars

The 1950s were the golden era for rock and roll, as well as rockabilly music, with legendary artists stepping onto the scene and driving crowds wild with their unbelievable stage presence and musical talent.

Four such legends of the business, all got their start at Sun Records, Sam Phillips’ recording studio in Memphis. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis all wandered in to Sun Studio at different times in the early ‘50s, hoping to score a recording contract, and all four succeeded, later becoming the biggest acts of the time.

On December 4, 1956, fate found all four artists back at Sun Studio at the same time. Perkins was set to record new material that day, and Phillips had asked Lewis to come in and play piano during his session. Cash had heard Perkins was recording that day and came to the studio to listen. Presley, who had moved on from Sun Records to sign with RCA a year prior, just was dropping by the studio for a visit.

After Perkins’ session wrapped, the four artists mingled and sparked an impromptu jam session. The engineer in the sound booth decided to hit record, preserving the casual jam from these incredible talents, dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

This iconic session is what spurred musician Neil Morrow to create his tribute show, Cash, Killer & The King, which is returning to the Riverside Resort for the fifth time, Oct. 6-10 (8 p.m.). In his tribute, Morrow portrays Cash, Scot Bruce portrays Presley, Jared Freiburg portrays Lewis and the group’s musical director, Travis Daggett, will occasionally step in to add a few Perkins numbers.

“I started the show primarily out of being so influenced by that music from Memphis, the Sun Records label in particular, that Elvis started off on,” Morrow said. “I started out as a big Elvis fan. I mean I have a room in my house that’s dedicated to the Elvis memorabilia that I’ve accumulated over the years. So it was more or less, just a respect and understanding of that music and kind of it being second nature. So that’s why I went into tributing these guys — it was in my blood, so to speak.”

Morrow has been a musician his entire adult life, playing piano, guitar and singing.

“I started right out of high school, working in piano bars and just trying to make a living, or just trying to play music for the most part,” he said. “I’m all over the map as far as entertainment and music goes, I don’t like to be held to one thing. The tribute aspect just came from having a general respect for the music that we’re paying tribute to — the early ‘50s and ‘60s, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee — all of those guys from back in the day were the reason why I wanted to go into music.”

He first got into tributes by playing piano for a Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Elvis show, and eventually stepped into one of the lead roles.

“I really started out, as far as the tribute scene, as a piano player for an operation called Buddy, Roy and Elvis,” Morrow said. “Over time, the Roy Orbison guy who was doing that show decided to retire and I was asked by the owner of that group to take over the Roy Orbison part. That kind of shot me into a direction of, wait a second, I can do other voices, I can kind of sound like Johnny Cash or I could sound like Roy Orbison.”

While with that group, Morrow met Bruce, who plays Elvis in Cash, Killer & The King.

“We just kind of hit it off and became friends and over the years he’d hire me for certain things and I’d hire him for certain things,” Morrow said. “With the popularity of the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ show that came out quite a few years ago, I started seeing Johnny Cash tribute shows pop up. Elvis tribute shows have always been around but everything started getting more popular with that style of music. So I approached Scot Bruce and said, ‘I have an idea. We can take the music that we’re influenced by, kind of what ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is, and just focus on the music.’ It’s not so much a play like ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is, where there’s dialogue that’s written, like a musical. Though we do tell stories about how songs came about, we’re kind of different than the ‘Million Dollar Quartet,’ because this is more about the music, straightforward.”

A new member has joined the show to portray Lewis this time around.

“I’m working with a young man by the name of Jared Freiburg and he was actually in the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ over the years in Vegas,” Morrow said. “I ended up meeting Jared and working with him in another show and I was just blown away by his energy, and his talent and his 100% authenticity toward the music of Jerry Lee Lewis.”

While they focus on the big three, they do give a nod to Perkins during the show to round out the quartet.

“Well Travis Daggett, who is our musical director on lead guitar, he portrays a lot of the music of Carl Perkins, and sometimes he’ll open up a show with a Carl Perkins song or two,” Morrow said. “So we do kind of tease it a little bit but we found that for this style of show, the main three that we wanted to focus on was Johnny, Elvis and Jerry Lee. I mean I’m very influenced by Carl Perkins and I don’t think that he ever got the 100% notoriety that he deserved as a guitar player, singer and songwriter. So having Travis there kind of gives a little nod to Carl Perkins.”

Everything in the show is true to the ‘50s era, from the outfits to the instruments.

“This show is true, not just musically, but also true to the style — the haircuts, the clothes, the guitars — all of that,” Morrow said. “You’re not going to see in this show something like a guitar made in the ‘80s. You’re going to see a guitar that was famous in the ‘50s that these artists actually played. The clothes, the style, again, is all into it because it’s all a presentation.”

It’s difficult to fit all of the hits for these three giants in a 90-minute set, but Morrow’s group has found a way to intertwine all three artists and please the crowd each night.

“How the show flows is, Johnny Cash kind of acts as the host for the evening, so I come out and feature some music of Johnny Cash and I welcome the audience and tell a little bit of history,” Morrow said. “Then after that I introduce Jerry Lee Lewis and Jared will come out and portray the music of Jerry Lee and relay stories and stuff that influenced him — kind of take the audience on a ride with him. Then Johnny comes back out and does a couple other numbers and talks about Elvis and then we bring out the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ and he shakes things up and the crowd goes wild.”

The finale brings all three onto the stage to jam, somewhat like that storied day in 1956.

“Then we all join each other on stage for a big fun jam session and encore,” Morrow said. “So you’re really kind of getting three concerts in one. You really get sucked into one character at a time and then it kind of comes together like a big buffet at the end. It goes by quick because the energy and the fun that we all have. In the past at the Riverside, the crowds have been amazing, and have asked for several encores so we tend to maybe even go over a little bit, but we don’t even notice it because we’re having so much fun.”

Morrow has been a staple of the Laughlin music scene for nearly 20 years and the Southern California native brings crowds to their feet each time he returns. His passion for music translates to the audience, and both have been anticipating the return of his tribute show.

“I’m just very grateful to the Riverside for continuing to do these shows and continuing to bring people together through music and entertainment,” Morrow said. “We’re really fired up to be there. I’ve been looking forward to this show for over a year and a half now so I just hope that everybody comes out and just knows that they’re going to see a fresh look at old music.”