GREENVILLE — John Mueller’s passion has remained with Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and the rock and roll from the 1950’s.
Mueller, of Wichita, Kansas, portrays Carl Perkins in “One Night in Memphis”, which was presented by the Darke County Center for the Arts (DCCA), Saturday night.
“There is something about the beat and the music that just grabbed and stuck with me,” Mueller said. “This is when everything was just starting to happen and these guys were the pioneers. It was just music then – there were no political messages in rock and roll at that point. It was just, ‘Let’s have a great time’. It was about love, taking your sweetheart out, breaking up with your sweetheart through a sad love song – it was innocent. Something about that innocence attracts me.”
Known for his show “Winter Dance Party,” the official tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, Mueller created “One Night in Memphis”, also known as “A Night to Remember”, back in 2012. Fascinated by the magical night of rock and roll, December 4, 1956, when Sun Records Studios had Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley all together, Mueller decided to create a tribute to that night, and take on the challenge of learning all the classic guitar solos that accompanied the music from these artists.
According to “One Night in Memphis” history, December 4, 1956 was a wonderful occasion for rock and roll. Wonderful because it was a night that featured four large music talents: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, all sharing a microphone, jamming in a studio and leaving behind a live recording of the session. The night began with a simple recording session, booked by Carl Perkins at Sam Phillip’s Sun Studios. He brought with him his brothers Clayton and Jay, with W.S. “Fluke” Holland on drums. Buck Perkins, Carl’s father was also there and in the booth watching. A twenty-one-year old Jerry Lee Lewis was booked by Sam, to play piano on Carl’s session.
Johnny Cash dropped in at some point, and then a little later Elvis Presley arrived to the studio with a Las Vegas dancer he met by the name of Marilyn Evans. Elvis was with RCA records by this time, and no longer a Sun Records recording artist. He was already signed to shoot his very first Hollywood movie. Elvis sat at the piano for a bit, and this was the first time he and Jerry Lee Lewis had ever met. Sam Phillips was wise enough to know he might never get all these guys in the studio at the same time, so he called the local paper and a reporter by the name of Robert Johnson came by with a photographer. The next day Johnson referred to everyone in the article as “The Million Dollar Quartet”, according to “One Night in Memphis” history.
DCCA Artistic Director Keith Rawlins said “One Night in Memphis” is one of the best shows he has ever experienced, which is why DCCA brought it to Greenville.
“I’ve heard a lot of tribute artists and all kinds of different artists, and these are some of the best dang musicians I have ever seen do this kind of thing,” Rawlins said. “There was that great night, December 4, 1956, when these four guys got together in Memphis and that’s what this whole thing is about. It’s just bringing back the sound, the look and everything about that night.”
On a stage with the Sun Record Label projected behind him, Mueller, as Perkins, greeted the Greenville crowd.
“Carl Perkins was the whole reason this evening started, in 1956,” Mueller said to an enthusiastic and packed house. “He had a session booked at Sun Records, in Memphis Tennessee and while he was recording, all of these fellas came by, and we have them coming by tonight: Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.”
As each performer came onto the stage, large images were projected behind them of the real performers back in the day. In addition, trivia and humor were intertwined between the songs. Blair Carman, of Cincinnati, portrayed Jerry Lee Lewis. He has been playing piano since he was twelve-years-old. He grew interested in 1950’s rock and roll by listening to his parents old 45’s. Blair was the only Jerry Lee Lewis performer personally invited to play at Jerry Lee Lewis’s 75th birthday party, in Louisiana. He has been rocking and rolling with “One Night in Memphis” since 2012, frequently combing his hair throughout the show.
Neil Morrow, of Anaheim, California, portrayed Johnny Cash. He also plays in a band “Memphis 54”. From Classic Rock, Rock and Roll, Rockabilly and Country, Neil Morrow’s repertoire of songs is quite impressive. Morrow knew at an early age that he wanted to play music. It wasn’t the current sounds on the radio at the time that sparked his interest, but it was something a little older. Alex Swindle of Birmingham Alabama, portrayed Elvis Presley. He has been impersonating Elvis since he was a young child.
After the show, folks young and old lined up for autographed copies of “One Night in Memphis” posters, and pictures with the stars.
“This was a quieter crowd for us believe it or not,” Mueller said. “Last night we were in Frankfort, Kentucky, and we had to come back and play an additional song after we left the stage, because they wouldn’t let us leave the building. It was a really loud, raucous crowd. That is a testament to how valid these performers were. People are still going nuts about them.”