Rockin' Sun Records tribute at Hard Rock Atlantic City; Resorts marks Frank Sinatra birthday with tribute show
It’s not surprising that Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn. is arguably the most famous music-recording facility of all time. After all, it’s where a 19-year-old truck driver named Elvis Presley recorded a couple tunes as a gift for his mother, and where he and other first-generation rockers including Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis created the “rockabilly” sub-genre of rock ’n’ roll.
What is surprising is that with the exception of Million Dollar Quartet, the popular Broadway “jukebox musical” that focused specifically on the night in 1956 that Presley, Perkins, Lewis and Johnny Cash got together for an impromptu jam session, Sun Studio has never been given the stage-show treatment.
But that will no longer be the case as, on Dec. 17, Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City will host the world debut of Under the Sun, a celebration of the music that emanated from the storefront studio owned and operated by the visionary producer, Sam Phillips.
Under the Sun is the brainchild of Jon Rossi, a veteran of various Million Dollar Quartet productions in which he served as both drummer and musical director. It was that show that inspired him to create Under the Sun.
“I've always loved this music, and it was such a bummer to me that ‘Million Dollar Quartet,’ as great as it is, misses so many of the best tunes that are in the Sun [catalog],” Rossi said during a recent phone call. “And so I just wanted an opportunity to bring those songs and some of the artists to people and let them hear some cool things that maybe they've never heard before when they just want to come out to hear ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ again.
“It was really exciting when I realized there really isn't anything else quite like that out there.”
As such, while the program includes many of the iconic Sun songs by Presley, Lewis and other early-rock icons, it also provides a showcase for lesser-known numbers and performers, including “Bearcat” by R&B titan Rufus Thomas and “Flying Saucers Rock ’n’ Roll” by Billy Lee Reilly & The Little Green Men.
At first glance, the 41-year-old Rossi’s musical history doesn’t suggest that he’d be the one to honor this slice of pop music history. He explained he started out exclusively playing jazz—a genre that, superficially, at least, is light years from the basic backbeat and three chords that are the foundation of rockabilly--and that his exposure to rock’s earliest sounds came via The Beatles.
“I discovered The Beatles and then Sun Records through them,” he offered. “They were especially huge Carl Perkins fans. And even though I was growing up decades later, it felt like I had found this dirty, raunchy rock ’n’ roll. I think it was the experience a lot of kids had back in the Fifties, only I was having it in the Nineties.”
Given his career has been so intertwined with the Sun Studio story, it’s only logical that Rossi’s first of many visits there was profound.
“It was one of the most overwhelming feelings I ever had,” he said. “By that point, I had probably been with, Million Dollar Quartet for about three years. It was the strangest thing because it felt like I was going to a Mecca; it was almost a holy experience. But it also felt like I was coming home because I'd been walking into ‘Sun Records’ [in the show] a couple hundred times by that point.
“I walked in and I caught my breath and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ But at the same time I was like, ‘Yeah, of course I'm here; I'm supposed to be here.’”
Rossi is just one of countless artists whose lives were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on live performing. In his case, however, it proved to be a blessing in disguise, as it led him to a second career that has nothing to do with music: He hosts a podcast called The Rossifari Podcast” that is dedicated to the animal world—specifically zoos, aquariums and similar animal sanctuaries, as well as conservation.
“This little thing called COVID showed up and wiped out all of my gigs for a full year,” explained Rossi, whose recently posted video of him and an elephant drumming at the Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, Mass. has garnered some 25 million YouTube hits.
“And even though we ended up coming back quicker than that, all of the original dates I had booked were gone. And I had nothing to do. And so I was like, ‘Hey, remember that podcast thing that you don't know how to do? You can learn.’ And I already had all the recording gear from being a drummer, so I just learned how to do it and started it.
“It's become pretty darn popular.”
For tickets, click here.
Crooner Michael Martocci, who a few months ago shared the bill with Frank Sinatra’s longtime opening act, Tom Dreesen, at Ocean Casino Resort, is headed back to Atlantic City for another tribute to the immortal entertainer.
In honor of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ 107th birthday (Dec. 12), on Dec. 10, Martocci is headlining Frank Sinatra’s Birthday Bash at Resorts Casino-Hotel’s Superstar Theater, the venue that was the first one Sinatra played after legal gambling was instituted in AyCee in 1978.
Billed as a multi-media tribute, the presentation will, in addition to Martocci, feature vocalists Brandon Tomasello, Sonny Averona Jr., Zach Taglioli, Joanie Schneider and Sunday Grasso. All will be backed by the 22-piece Ol’ Blue Eyes Orchestra.
For tickets, click here.