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News createt: 28-09-2010

Remembering Daddy O Dewey Phillips

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"Daddy-O" Dewey Phillips (May 13, 1926 – September 28, 1968)

On a hot, sweaty July night in 1954, Sun Records owner Sam Phillips sent an acetate disc of a single from a young Elvis Presley to his former business partner, Dewey Phillips (no relation) who was working as nighttime DJ on WHBQ in Memphis.

The single was “That’s All Right”/“Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and the eccentric Phillips – known for his crazy, fast-talking patter and open-mindedness to both black and white music – decided to give the unknown Presley a spin on his Red Hot and Blue show. Listeners went crazy, immediately calling in to the radio station, jamming the switchboard while a beaming Phillips played the song over and over.

He eventually called Sam Phillips to get Presley into the radio station studio for an interview. Elvis’s parents, Gladys and Vernon, grabbed their son from a local movie theater and sent him down to the station. During the interview Phillips let everyone know that Presley was a graduate of Humes High School, well known locally as an all-white school, probably to dispel the impression that Presley was black. Not only did the radio show benefit but pre-orders for the Sun single stacked up so much that 7,000 were already sold when the disc was finally released on July 19, 1954.

Elvis always credited Philips for kick-starting his recording career. “Daddy-O Dewey” was the archetypal crazy DJ, fast-talking, hip and always the coolest dude in the room. He saw no boundaries in music and spun everything from blues to country, R&B and dance records and played a major role in opening the doors that would allow rock and roll to fuse black and white music at a time of racial segregation and distrust.

So popular was Phillips that in 1956, his radio show got the simulcast treatment on WHBQ-TV in the afternoons, making Phillips Pop Shop the first TV show to play rock and roll, a year before American Bandstand existed. Sadly, Phillips’ over-the-top persona was too exaggerated for television, but his radio show stayed true to its roots until 1958, when the station changed formats and went Top 40.

Phillips would never be top dog again but he carried on playing records on radio, picking up a good reputation on a small station in Millington, Tennessee in the ’60s. After hurting himself a couple of times in car wreck, Philips existed on heavy doses of painkillers and his health deteriorated. He died in 1968 on September 28 from heart failure. He was 42 years old.

Last year Phillips was honored with a Brass Note on Memphis’ famed Beale Street. His son Jerry said at the ceremony, “It means a lot… because he was the first white man in Memphis to play black music.”