‘The Million Dollar Quartet’: Story Behind Iconic Photo of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash

by Matthew Wilson

There’s iconic, and there’s Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash all playing music together iconic. The four singers came together to form The Million Dollar Quartet in 1956.

The impromptu jam session happened by pure chance. All four musicians happened to be at Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee at the same time.

Perkins, experiencing fame with “Blue Suede Shoes,” came to the studio to record new materials. The owner of the label Sam Phillips invited a still unknown Jerry Lee Lewis to play piano for Perkins. The musician had yet to experience his meteoric rise and fall. Meanwhile, Presley had signed with RCA Victor but used to sing for Sun. He dropped by the studio with his girlfriend Marilyn Evans, just to visit.

As for how Cash entered the picture, he was a fan of Perkins. He wanted to watch the musician perform in the studio. It was Presley that kicked off the jam session with Perkins. Cash soon joined in as well. For a moment, the four music legends hung out together and played for the love of music.

Fans can thank engineer Jack Clement for deciding to record the moment in history. He said, “I think I’d be remiss not to record this.” The quartet performed several songs together. The Sun Record owner even got the local newspaper to come over and take that classic photo of the four. The newspaper created the headline Million Dollar Quartet.

Presley finally left after Lewis played a number on the piano, unleashing some of his highwire antics that would define his career. Cash later admitted that not even the King of Rock n Roll wanted to follow Lewis.

The Million Dollar Quartet’s Recordings Didn’t Release for Decades

Cash’s son John Carter Cash revealed that two people have been cropped out of the now-famous photo. One was Presley’s girlfriend to the right and to the left was WS Holland.

“For some reason, the person to the far left is typically cropped out of the photo,” Carter Cash wrote. “This man was at the time Carl Perkins’ drummer. WS “Fluke” Holland went on, beginning a few years later, to become Johnny Cash‘s drummer until the end of Johnny’s working career.”

After the jam session, the recordings didn’t see the light of day until 1981. The new owner of the record label began an extensive search of the catalog in 1969 looking for the session. Fans finally got to hear one of the greatest team-ups in music history that few even knew existed.