Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here

. . . and so am I

I think your life is incomplete
But maybe that's not for me to say 
They only pay me here to play

From the short-lived Hesitant Thoughts Rock Movement of 1966 courtesy of Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention.  This song also raises the question of why kazoos are not used more often in rock:

Monday, July 30, 2012

Larry And Mark's Excellent Adventure

I spent last Thursday and Friday at the Antietam National Battlefield with Larry - no, not that Larry, this Larry:

The battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862 in and around the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, about 10 miles north of Harpers Ferry (then Virginia, now West Virginia).  That single day saw 23,000 soldiers, North and South, killed or wounded (about 10x the number of American casualties on Omaha Beach during D-Day) and it forced Robert E Lee to abandon his plans to invade Pennsylvania and led to the withdrawal of the Confederate Army (the Army of Northern Virginia) south of the Potomac River.  It reversed a series of Union military disasters, allowing President Lincoln to declare a Union victory and giving him the political justification for issuing the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22.

Antietam may not have been a tactical victory for the Union but it was a strategic victory and one of the decisive moments of the Civil War.  In September 1862 a successful rebel invasion of Pennsylvania and defeat of the Union army might have triggered diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and France - an action under serious consideration in both countries at the time.  Once the Emancipation Proclamation was issued it made the chance of foreign recognition negligible.

We took four battlefield tours during the two days.  For two of the tours our guide was Ed Bearss (pronounced "bars" as in "I kilt some bars").  This is Ed Bearss.

Ed Bearss is 89.  Ed was with the National Park Service (NPS) from 1955 through 1994, serving for the last thirteen of those years as the Chief Historian of the NPS.  In 1995 he became Chief Historian Emeritus of the NPS, a position he still holds.  If you watched Ken Burns' The Civil War you saw Ed.  The state of most of our military historic sites was very poor 50-60 years ago and Ed played a vital role in the preservation of these sites and the expansion of the parks.  Ed Bearss enlisted in the Marines in WWII and fought at Guadalcanal and New Britain, where he was severely wounded spending 26 months in military hospitals.  The physical effects of his wounds are still visible today.

A tour with Ed is quite an experience.  You are watching a performance.  The man knows how to tell a story and he's told it many times before.  According to Wikipedia, a Washington Post reporter likened Ed's style to "Homeric monologues".  His voice is still commanding and his stamina amazing.  (Ed in 2005)   While he was commanding us to move quickly and stay hydrated, he never slowed down and never took a drink himself even on a three hour walk in the area of The Cornfield in the heat and humidity of summer in Maryland.  As a bonus, on our bus Ed regaled us with the inside stories of the NPS so we know about some of the interesting personal characteristics of past park superintendents at Antietam and Gettysburg.    

Ed still spends up to 200 days a year giving battlefield tours and it was a privilege for us to be able to have this experience and to thank him for what he has done for preserving America's heritage.

We also toured hospital sites in the area around the battlefield.  When the battle ended there were 18,000 wounded soldiers around Sharpsburg, a town with 1500 people.  (Sharpsburg during the Civil War)  For the townspeople the day of the battle was not the end of their involvement.  There were more than 80 hospital sites established in the area for the wounded and the last of them did not close until January 1863.  All five of the town's churches became hospitals and two of them had to be demolished and rebuilt because of the damage.  We visited a Lutheran church which has a beautiful stained glass window donated in 1894 by the survivors of a Connecticut regiment who had been cared for in the church.

The fourth, and best, tour was with Dennis Frye (the guy in white above), Chief Historian at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.  Dennis grew up in the Sharpsburg area and has studied the battle since he was a child 40 years ago.  He's developed his own compelling presentation style for his tours.  Dennis took us on a tour of decisive turning points (some of which were several miles from the battlefield) and had a very non-traditional perspective on the battle.  Most historians excoriate the Union commander, George McClellan, for losing a unique opportunity to destroy Lee and his army and end the war.  Frye, while not a McClellan fan, makes the case that   many of his decisions made more sense in the context of the time than he is given credit for today.  Of course, he did drive Lincoln crazy with his "slows" and despite the President's visit to Sharpsburg in early October (see photo) McClellan would not advance leading the President to relieve him in November. 

Lincoln and McClellan.  Lincoln's the tall guy.

Antietam was also the first battlefield where we have photographs of the dead after a battle.  These had quite an impact when published bringing home the reality of the war to the general public for the first time.  Below left is a picture of Confederate dead in Bloody Lane (below it is a photograph of the Dunker Church, a key focal point of the battle.)  Below right is Bloody Lane as it looks today.

Even if you are not interested in the battle, the Sharpsburg area is worth a visit.  The countryside is beautiful and there has been very little commercial development in the area (unlike Gettysburg).  On our tours we went on a lot of small country roads through rolling hills with 19th century stone bridges still intact.  The battlefield itself has no development on it.  This picture above looks north over The Cornfield.    A peaceful setting but within the area covered by this picture (with some additional area on both sides) 8,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in three hours on the morning of September 17.

The tour we were on was conducted by the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars.  These seminars, started in 1989 and sponsored by the Chambersburg, PA Chamber of Commerce, occur three times a year and bring together military historians, authors and the National Park Service experts.  I'll do it again.

To read about another significant Civil War battle of 1862 go here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lines Form On My Face And Hands

It occurs to me that the lyrics of this song work for guys no matter what age we are.

Take it away, Alice:

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Praiano, Italy (about halfway between Amalfi and Positano if that helps).  Where we stayed on the Amalfi Coast in 2006 and 2010.  We'll return sometime.

This is the Hotel Onda Verde.  Actually, while the Hotel is in this picture a lot of what's in the picture is not the hotel.  I'm still not quite sure of the exact line between the family owned hotel and the various private residences built into the cliff.

Starting at the left you see a Saracen Tower, part of a series of towers built along this coast in the 9th and 10th century to provide warning of raiders from North Africa and Sicily (which was conquered by the Arabs in the 9th century).  To the right of the tower and closer to the water (with the yellow sign) is a restaurant not associated with the hotel.  Most of the hotel lies directly and to the right above the restaurant.  You have to park up on the road which is at the very top of the picture and then take an elevator down to the hotel's lobby.

Here's a view looking towards where the picture above was taken.  The hotel is along the cliff to the left.  In the opening between the two cliffs in the center is a beach and an area with three or four restaurants where we would walk down in the evenings and get dinner.  You can see part of the main road above this area and at the right side of the picture.  The road passes through tunnels on either side of the opening.
Breakfast was pretty nice:

Actually, it was pretty nice any time of day.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Questions You Never Thought To Ask

. . . but once you hear them you think "yeah, I'd like to know the answer to that, in fact, I now need to know the answer to that".

In that spirit we'll follow up our science post from earlier today with another pressing scientific matter:

From What If?

What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?

Let’s set aside the question of how we got the baseball moving that fast. We'll suppose it's a normal pitch, except in the instant the pitcher releases the ball, it magically accelerates to 0.9c. From that point onward, everything proceeds according to normal physics.:
pitcher throwing ball The answer turns out to be “a lot of things”, and they all happen very quickly, and it doesn’t end well for the batter (or the pitcher). I sat down with some physics books, a Nolan Ryan action figure, and a bunch of videotapes of nuclear tests and tried to sort it all out.

To find out how it all turns out and how to apply the results using Major League Baseball Rule 6.08(b) you'll need to go to the full article.

If there are any physicists in our audience please let us know how well the author did his homework


On August 5, NASA's Curiosity Rover is scheduled to land on Mars.  Curiosity is on a mission to determine whether Mars was ever able to support microbial life.  This is the most advanced Rover we've put into space.  The technological challenge of landing on Mars is immense and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has produced a video to explain how they are doing it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Misremembering History Part Deux

For the first installment of this series look here.

When I was a kid (around 1960) the Darien Showcase put on a production of Inherit The Wind, which had been a hit play on Broadway and then a successful movie starring Spencer Tracey, Frederic March and Gene Kelly.  The play was based on the events of the Scopes Monkey Trial that took place in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. (Clarence Darrow & William Jennings Bryan)

So why would I know this?  Well, my dad had a small role in the production playing an Italian organ grinder with a trained monkey (see how this neatly fits into the title of the play!) who is one of the flock of people drawn to Dayton (called Hillsboro in the play) and creating the circus like atmosphere around the big trial.  From my perspective it was very cool because we drove to the Hartford area and actually got a monkey which stayed in our house for the week and which my dad brought onstage for each performance.  As I remember, the monkey was a nasty little bugger.

The authors of the play, Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, stated in the preface that it was not meant to be an historical account of the trial.  Rather it was intended as a parable attacking Senator Joe McCarthy and Red Scare tactics.  At the time, this limitation was recognized.  The New Yorker drama critic wrote that in the play "History has not been increased but almost fatally diminished" and the review in Time magazine stated "The script wildly and unjustly caricatures the fundamentalists as vicious and narrow-minded hypocrites" and "just as wildly and unjustly idealizes their opponents".

However, the power and enduring legacy of the play have transformed it in many minds into an accurate account of the trial and of the struggle between science and fundamentalism.  Since the original 1955 production, which ran for nearly three years, there have been several Broadway revivals of the play, including two within the past 15 years.  The 1960 movie was followed by TV films in 1965, 1988 (starring Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas) and 1999 (starring Jack Lemmon and George C Scott).  The play is still frequently performed by local theater groups and in schools.  Inherit The Wind also became used in schools to teach students about the 1920s - in 1994, for instance, the National Center for History in Schools instructional standards recommended using selections from the Scopes trial or excerpts from Inherit The Wind.  This trailer from the 1960 movie gives you a better idea of the tone:

The plot revolves around the trial of a schoolteacher in a small town where a tough mayor and fundamentalist preacher rule the roost.  The schoolteacher is accused of trying to teach evolution in the local school and faces jail.  The town is portrayed as governed by a mob atmosphere.  The lawyer for the prosecution is shown as a narrow-minded man trying to manipulate the mob and the defence lawyer as the voice of tolerance.  At the climax of the play, the prosecutor rails against the small fine levied on the defendant by the court and then collapses and dies.

I was one of those many minds who thought the play bore some semblance to reality.  It was only through understanding the history of that era more thoroughly and, most importantly, reading Edward Larson's book, Summer For The Gods, a Pulitzer Prize Winner in 1998 that I slowly unlearned what I thought was the history.  The real story of the Scopes Monkey Trial is more rich, interesting and complex than the story presented in Inherit The Wind.  It also reminds us that trying to pigeon hole America's past history into today's categories can lead to an impoverished understanding of our past.

In the next installment, we'll look at what actually happened in 1925 and why a misdemeanor case caught the nation's attention.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Little Seen Films By Great Directors

This is from Listverse.  Ten films that weren't seen much, but are terrific.  I've only seen four on the list and agree with their inclusion so I'll take a shot at seeing some of the others.  The four:

The Last Waltz (1976), directed by Martin Scorcese.  The last show by The Band (with a lot of musical guests).  I used a clip from this movie in this post on Levon Helm.

Without Limits (1998) by Robert Towne (he wrote the script for Chinatown), about the 1970s  long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine.  It stars Billy Crudup (who's actually good in it) and Donald Sutherland.  The film does not follow the usual athlete story arc.

Sorcerer (1977) by William Friedkin.  Friedkin directed The French Connection and The Exorcist in the early 1970s, both of which were smash hits.  He then spent two years making this film which flopped and his career never recovered.  Larry and I saw this in a theater in the Brighton section of Boston when it was first released and were overwhelmed by the intensity and great performances (including by a truck).  Based on a renowned existentialist French film from the early 1950s, The Wages of Fear, it's the story of four hunted, desperate men who take a job transporting truckloads of nitroglycerin through near impenetrable terrain in South America.  I never understood why it didn't have more success.  Maybe it was the terrible trailer:

The Limey (1999) by Steven Soderberg.  Soderberg is very successful today having done Ocean's 11, 12 and 13 (see this post for more), along with Out Of Sight (another favorite of mine), before making some bombs recently.  However, after making a splash with his first film, Sex, Lies and Videotape he went into a long commercial slump.  This film came near the end of that downturn and stars Terrence Stamp and Peter Fonda.  It's about a recently released British criminal who comes to Los Angeles to find out how his daughter died. What seems to be a violent revenge film at the start turns into something more intriguing.  Stamp's performance is sparse and riveting and the cinematography is outstanding.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cultural Commentary

Relative frequency of mentions in Google Books for George Marshall (Army Chief of Staff WWII and Secretary of State and Defense under Truman and one of the most important Americans of the 20th century) and Marshall Mathers III (Eminem) as analyzed by Google Ngram about which you can read more here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another Childhood Illusion Destroyed

Godzilla was not real!

More at Retronaut

Ode To Youth

Wait . . . did you mean yoots?

Where was I? . . . Oh, yes, here's Options by Gomez.  Good pop tune from 2011 (although not a good video - sort of like how the Pretenders had all those great songs in the late 70s/early80s with lousy videos).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Misremembering History

We often misremember history.

Sometimes it's funny:

You can find Bluto's entire rant which inspired a memorable but "useless and futile gesture" here.

Sometimes it's not so funny.  Here's the same topic as Bluto's rant.  It's taken from Guests of The Ayatollah, Mark Bowden's 2006 book on the 1979-80 Iranian hostage crisis (Bowden also wrote Blackhawk Down and both books are worth reading).  After the American hostages were taken in Tehran by the radical Iranian students, they were subjected to lectures about American history and imperialism (many of them were also beaten, but that's another story).  One of the students most despised by the hostages was a young woman named Nilufar Ebtekar who spoke excellent English acquired when she lived in Philadelphia while her father was working on a Doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania.

At one point Ebtekar was lecturing hostage Tom Schaefer on evils of America including the "racist" decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when Schaefer responded.

"The Japanese started the war, and we ended it," Schaefer said.
"What do you mean, the Japanese started the war?" Ebtekar asked.
"The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, so we bombed Hiroshima."
"Pearl Harbor?  Where's Pearl Harbor?"
After a moment of silence Ebtekar asked "The Japanese bombed Hawaii?"
"Yep" said Schaefer.  "They started it, and we ended it."

I'm sure you will all be happy to know that the learned Ms. Ebtekar changed her first name to Masoumeh, founded an Iranian Women's NGO Network, became the first female Vice-President of Iran and in 2006 was named by the United Nations Environmental Program as a "Champion of the Earth" (your tax dollars at work!).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Can't Believe My Dilemma Is Real

. . . I'm competing with The Man of Steel.

As part of its continuing series of instructional videos for managers, Things Have Changed Management Consulting LLC presents this advice on how to empower your team on setting aggressive goals.  As you can see, the narrator of this song has set for himself what we would refer to as a "stretch goal" which he pursues with unbridled enthusiasm.

Jimmy Olsen's Blues (1993) by the Spin Doctors.  While not exactly "one-hit wonders" this band can be considered a "one-CD wonder".

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Passage Of Power

I've just finished reading The Passage of Power by Robert Caro.  This is the fourth volume of his planned five volume biography of the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson.  I had not slogged through the three prior volumes which together weight in at around 2,500 pages.  The Passage Of Power is "only" 600 pages and is a magnificent book and I look forward to the final volume.  Caro started work on the first volume in 1975 and is now 76 years old so let's hope he works quickly.

The Passage of Power starts in 1958 with Johnson's hesitation over whether to run for the Democratic Presidential Nomination (his life long goal) in 1960.  It ends on July 2, 1964 with the signing of the Civil Rights Act. At the beginning of this period, LBJ is at the height of his political power as the most effective Senate Majority Leader of the 20th century.  Then, after losing the nomination and agreeing to become John Kennedy's Vice-President, he finds himself powerless and humiliated (and according to Caro, likely to be dumped from the ticket in 1964) and then finally and unexpectedly he becomes President.  The first half of the book covers 1958 to November 21, 1963.  The second half of the book takes us through the next 7 1/2 months and more than a third of the book is about the seven weeks from JFK's assassination to January 8, 1964 when LBJ gave his first State of the Union address to Congress. It is this seven week period that makes for the most compelling reading in the book.  From the events in Dallas and LBJ taking charge, to his successful efforts to keep JFK's staff on board, to providing stability while the nation was in shock and then, in the midst of this transition to coming up with the strategy to unlock the Congressional stalemate on JFK's entire legislative agenda makes for gripping and fast-paced reading.  LBJ's legislative experience and ability to read people united with his will to action meant passage for the long-stalled tax cut bill (JFK's top domestic priority) and the civil rights bill (LBJ's top priority).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Where Did You Get Those Shoes?

I stepped out on the platform
The man gave me the news
He said, "You must be joking son.
Where did you get those shoes?"
- Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan

Picture by Bob Egan at his website popstopsnyc.com where he recreates famous scenes from pop culture in the original settings.
steely dan pretzel logic album cover in front of actual location in new york

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Common Law Origins Of The Infield Fly Rule

I'm sure many of you have often thought "Gosh, I wonder how the Infield Fly Rule originated?", while others have pondered the more fundamental question "What's the Infield Fly Rule?", and some may at this point just be thinking to themselves "What?" (though that can have serious consequences).  Fortunately for both the baseball fan and lawyer readership of this blog the answer can be found in a 1975 article in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review  - a parody of typical law review writing (see the 1st footnote and the end of the 2nd footnote) as well as a semi-serious musing on the subject.  Below is an excerpt from the beginning of the article.  [UPDATE:  Every extract of the excerpt I've inserted here has proven to be unstable in the viewing mode so you'll have to go to the link - it's worth it even if you just read the first page.]  You can find the whole thing here.

For some context here's the 2008 New York Times obituary of the author, William S. Stevens.  The obit notes:

"Published as a semi-parodic “aside” in June 1975, “The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule” quickly achieved legal fame, in part because nothing like it had ever appeared in a major law review, in part because of its concise, elegant reasoning. It continues to be cited by courts and legal commentators. It is taught in law schools. It is credited with giving birth to the law and baseball movement, a thriving branch of legal studies devoted to the law and its social context. It made lawyers think about the law in a different way."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Learning To Manage

Do you manage people?  As the next installment in this series, we at Things Have Changed Management Consulting LLC, are going to help you succeed by giving you some tips on how to motivate your employees.  It turns out that Alec Baldwin, perhaps the greatest actor in the history of the world (albeit somewhat nuts), has throughout his career provided a virtual tutorial on how to demonstrate leadership.  We've chosen two examples in the hope that you can learn from them and apply the lessons in your workplace.

The first is from the movie Glengarry Glenn Ross (1992), written by David Mamet.  The cast includes Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris and Alan Arkin.  The story revolves around a real estate boiler house operation selling worthless plots of land.  Alec Baldwin only had one scene - but what a scene.  Find out why Mitch and Murray sent him.  If he can't motivate and inspire you I don't know who can.  Just think of the value it will add if you show this at your next team meeting.  Plus it contains some inventive prize ideas for your next office contest. The second, from 30 Rock, shows the more nurturing and intuitive side of leadership.  Watch it and you'll learn how to listen to your employees, empathize with them and embrace their craziness.
Let me know how it goes!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thanks Kids!

A thanks is due to the younger readers of this blog. As a recent retiree I look forward to your contributions to society (and me)!  Here's an excerpt from Nick Gillespie's article at Reason.com explaining why. You can find the whole article here. Actually, stop reading this and get back to work. I need the money.

The Real Class Warfare is Baby Boomers Vs. Younger Americans

"Hey kids, wake up! Stop playing your X-Box while listening to your Facebooks on the iPod and wearing your iPad with the cap turned backwards with the droopy pants and the bikini underwear listening to Snoopy Poopy Poop Dogg and the Enema Man and all that!
Take a break from getting yet another tattoo on your ass bone or your nipples pierced already! And STFU about the 1 Percent vs. the 99 Percent!
You're not getting screwed by billionaires and plutocrats. You're getting screwed by Mom and Dad.
Systematically and in all sorts of ways. Old people are doing everything possible to rob you of your money, your future, your dignity, and your freedom.
Here's the irony, too (in a sort of Alanis Morissette sense): You're getting hosed by the very same group that 45 years ago was bitching and moaning about "the generation gap" and how their parents just didn't understand what really mattered in life."

Gettin' Ready For The Second Half

As the All-Star break is ending here's a fun video of young Kenyan schoolkids reenacting the end of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.  As painful as it is for a Red Sox fan, it's amazing how well the kids imitate every specific gesture and posture by each player on that fateful play.  The kid playing Mookie Wilson actually has the same hitch in his swing and run as Mookie!  Plus it has the original Vin Scully call.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Was at Fenway last night to see the Sox beat the Yankees 9-5 in a sloppy game that saw seven errors (plus a couple of other plays that could have been scored as errors)l.  Since five of them were by the Yanks and it's always fun when it's not your team I enjoyed it.  If you look at the box score it claims that 11 of the 14 runs were earned but at least eight were really unearned.  The game started out bad, with the Sox third baseman (Mauro Gomez - who?) botching plays on the first two batters and then Texeira hitting a 3-run homer for the Yankees.

The good times for Sox fans (and boy, have they been few this year) arrived in the form of Granderson and McDonald botching a routine fly ball, Jeter screwing up a double play grounder, the right fielder falling down on a play and Nix, the third baseball making an error (third base was a black hole for both teams).

The hitting, fielding and base running star for the Sox was Pedro Ciriaco (Who?  I never heard of him before last night either) playing his second game with the team. 

By the way, before the season began who would have bet that the Pirates, Nationals and Mets would all be at least seven games above .500 going into the All-Star break?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Helpful Career Advice

Today's diverse and rapidly changing workplace requires increased collaboration and teamwork.  To boost your chances of success and rapid career advancement, Things Have Changed Management Consulting LLC is pleased to provide you with a helpful tip on interacting with co-workers in a way that can enhance longer term working relationships even on those occasions when you may feel a tad frustrated.  The first 6 seconds of this instructional video will repay your close study and your colleagues will be thanking you!  We extend our thanks to Mr. Mark Wahlberg of Boston, Massachusetts for his gracious participation.  Although the video contains additional instructional material prepared by Mr. Wahlberg, Things Have Changed Management Consulting LLC does not endorse the use of these techniques except in certain limited circumstances, primarily involving the associated use of firearms.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

That's All Right

Around 7pm on July 5, 1954 nineteen year old Elvis Presley walked into Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee.  It was the prior August when a shy Elvis first wandered into Sun and asked if he could record an acetate of himself singing and playing.  He paid the $3.98 (+ tax), recorded My Happiness, a 1948 pop hit, and left with the acetate.  For the next several months Elvis would occasionally show up at Sun to hang around, asking whether they knew a band that needed a singer or guitar player and recording an additional acetate according to the exhaustive account of Elvis' early years by Peter Guralnick in Last Train To Memphis (1994) from which much of this post is drawn. 

These brief encounters made an impression on Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records and producer at Sun Studios, a tiny record company with a heavy emphasis on R&B.  Phillips decided to invite Elvis in for a more formal recording session to see how he sounded on tape.  He asked Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass) to come for the session.

The July 5 session initially went very poorly. For a couple of hours they tried recording various ballads but it just wasn't working. The music wasn't right and Elvis sounded tentative in his singing. Then, while on a break, Elvis started singing parts of That's All Right (Mama), a blues song by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup.  Phillips was astonished that the kid even knew a blues song but he loved the way he made it sound.  They recorded a satisfactory version in just a couple of takes.

Scotty Moore remembered::

"It just sounded sort of raw and ragged.  We thought it was exciting, but what was it?  It was just so completely different.  But it just really flipped Sam - he felt it really had something.  We just sort of shook our heads and said 'Well, that's fine, but good God, they'll run us out of town!'"
This is the song.  You can hear how confidently Elvis plays with the melody and lyrics and the power in his voice which is quite a contrast to how tentative he sounded earlier in the evening.

Phillips knew he had something but what was it?  Was it too close to the "race" music that he specialized in recording and thus unacceptable for playing on white radio in the South?

On July 7, he invited his friend and the most popular radio DJ in Memphis, Dewey Phillips (no relation) over to hear the tape.  Dewey played a lot of gospel and R&B and had expanded his initial heavily black audience and started to attract white teenage listeners.  They listened repeatedly to That's All Right but Dewey did not commit himself.  The next morning, Dewey called Sam and told him he hadn't been able to sleep because he was thinking about the record and wanted two copies for that night's show.

That afternoon, Sam delivered two acetates (acetates are not records and there is no flip side) and Dewey played it for the first time around 10pm on July 8.  The reaction was instantaneous with phone calls and telegrams flooding into the show and Dewey began playing That's All Right over and over again.  Within a few minutes he called Elvis' home and got him to come to the station for an interview.

Dewey recounted their meeting in a 1967 interview:
"I had a couple of records cued up, and while they played we talked.  I asked him where he went to high school, and he said 'Humes' [a white school].  I wanted to get that out because a lot of people listening thought he was colored."

That's All Right became a regional (not national) hit after it was released as a single on July 19, Sam Phillips signed Elvis and his career was launched.  During late 1954 and into 1955 he built a fervent regional fan base while touring extensively in the South. In January 1956, Heartbreak Hotel (his first #1) was released, in June he provoked national controversy with his performance of Hound Dog on The Milton Berle Show and in July, Hound Dog was released as a single and rocketed to #1 where it stayed for a record eleven weeks (it was actually released as the B Side of Don't Be Cruel, which also became #1).  ELVIS! was born.  For more on Elvis read this earlier post.  His best recordings by far were with Sun and during his first year with RCA before he descended into dreck and self-parody.

Sam Phillips is one of the major figures in the creation of Rock n Roll.  In a brief period in the mid-50s he signed Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins (in December 1955 he sold Elvis' contract to RCA for $40,000 so he could focus on promoting Perkins).  Earlier in the 50s he was the first to record Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King and he also recorded and released what some consider the first Rock n Roll record, Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats.

The always entertaining Phillips talks about the origin of Sun Records and what he saw in Elvis Presley as a white singer with a black sound and crossover potential.  It also includes Sam and Scotty Moore talking about the recording of That's All Right: