JAN. 5, 1923-JULY 30, 2003

By Gillian Welch
Updated December 26, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Farewell: Gillian Welch pays tribute to Sam Phillips

You’ve got to give it up to Sam Phillips for having such a prescient ear. It’s just ridiculous the people who came through his door at Sun Records — Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison. It’s the centerpiece of the canon of American music, and you can get it all on one label. What the hell category would you put those guys in? Country? Rockabilly? R&B? You can’t put a label on them. I love the story of Elvis’ ”That’s All Right”: The guys had been trying to cut a ballad all day and then they started goofing around with this completely different groove. I love that Sam had the sense to say, ”Do that again, and I’m going to press ‘record’ this time.” He’s also been in my thoUGHTS LATELY BECAUSE I HEARD HIM TALKING not long ago, saying that the reason he started his own label in the first place was because he didn’t like the record business. As soon as he said that I had to laugh, because that was the exact same reason I started my label. It’s the best explanation I’ve ever heard. (Phillips died of respiratory failure in Memphis.)