ByVaria Fedko-Blake, writer at
Staff Writer at Moviepilot! [email protected] Twitter: @vfedkoblake
Varia Fedko-Blake

Leonardo DiCaprio is a pretty busy guy these days, and it appears that since his big win at the Academy Awards for The Revenant, his career is only going from strength-to-strength. And that's not even to mention his projects on the side — his recent debut of environmental documentary Before the Flood and the exciting announcement of his involvement in the new Captain Planet film being notable projects.

Now though, reports are out that DiCaprio will be embarking on another biopic journey in the near future — the actor is set to produce and star in a movie about rock pioneer Sam Phillips, the music producer responsible for the success of stars such as Elvis Presley, Ike Turner and Johnny Cash.

Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing Sam Phillips
Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing Sam Phillips

With a screenplay adapted from book Sam Phillips: the Man Who Invented Rock'n'Roll by Peter Guralnick, Leonardo DiCaprio will join artist Mick Jagger in co-producing.

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Currently, there's still no word on who will be writing and directing the upcoming biopic, but considering the amount of leverage Leo has in the movie industry, we can expect big names being attached to the feature in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, familiarize yourself with the true story behind the legendary musician Sam Phillips, the man behind Leonardo DiCaprio's next big role.

The True Story Behind Sam Phillips

Early Influences In The Cotton Fields

Born into unglamorous beginnings, Sam Phillips grew up on a small Alabama farm in the '20s. Yet, although the son of a farmer, the little boy was always exposed to music from an exceptionally young age — as a child, he often attended he town's dances and was immersed in the spiritual hymns of the local cotton pickers in the nearby fields. Similarly, at school he played a myriad of musical instruments and even ended up leading the marching band. Despite this though, the young Sam Phillips always had big dreams of a different sort, once admitting:

"When I was growing up, I wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer, because I saw so many people, especially black people, railroaded."

However, his aspirations all changed during one chance encounter in 1939, when his family took a trip to see a pastor in Dallas. On the way, they stopped in Memphis, where the streets were bursting with energy, people and most importantly, music.

Falling in love with the vibrant scene, Phillips returned a few years later to pursue a career in radio as a DJ and sound engineer. By 1950, he had opened the Memphis Recording Service in Tennessee, drawing in a slew of amateur performers and giving them a voice when nobody else would.

The Memphis Recording Service & Emergence Of Sun Records

Sam Phillips in the recording studio
Sam Phillips in the recording studio

In 1952, Sam Phillips launched his own label Sun Records, housed in a former automobile glass repair shop, and focused on combining many different styles of music. Speaking decades later, he explained his fascination with the blues genre in particular:

"The blues, it got people—black and white—to think about life, how difficult, yet also how good it can be. They would sing about it; they would pray about it; they would preach about it. This is how they relieved the burden of what existed day in and day out."

It was here in Tennessee, in the '50s, that Phillips recorded what many consider to the first rock'n'roll record ever made — "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats, led by a teenage known as Ike Turner:

Over the next 16 years, Phillips' Sun Records went on to produce 226 singles, plunging artists such as James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon, Little Milton, Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf into the spotlight. Yet, it was Sam Phillips's working relationship with Elvis Presley that perhaps became his greatest achievement.

The Rise Of Elvis Presley & Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley in 1956
Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley in 1956

In 1953, a young, 18-year-old truck driver waltzed into Sun Records, wanting to pay $4 to record a song for his mother's birthday. His name was Elvis Presley

Having grabbed his attention, the mad genius of sound saw the young man's incredible potential, confirmed even more so after hearing him sing "That's Alright (Mama)." Together, Phillips and Elvis went on to produce a new form of music, turning the musician into one of the most recognizable vocalists the world has ever seen.

Witnessing the success stories that came from Sam Phillips's Sun Records, musical hopefuls flooded his studio from all over the country, including a young Johnny Cash, Roy Orbinson and Carl Perkins — with the help of Phillip's magic touch, all became superstars in their own right. Here's Cash performing at Sun Records in the studio's heyday:

A Treasured Legacy

Sam Phillips continues to make an impact today
Sam Phillips continues to make an impact today

In 2003, a day before the original Sun Studio was named a National Historic Landmark, Phillips died of respiratory failure. Yet, to this day, the sound engineer's influence, energy and excitement still reverberates through musical creations all over the world.

These days, Sun is still operating under the name of Sam Phillips Recording Services, run by the late producer's brother Knox, his daughter Hayley and cousin Judd. And although the business now employs more modern technologies, there's no doubt about it — Sam Phillip's legacy firmly remains within every guitar riff and drum beat that echoes out of those historic studio doors.

So, we can only wait and see whether Leonardo DiCaprio is capable of doing justice to one of the most iconic musical talents of the 21st century, a man who was able to turn poor nobodies and young truck drivers into the legends that we know today.

Did you already know the true story behind Sam Phillips, the man Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing next?

(Sources: Salon)


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