In 1953 at the age of 18, an unknown Elvis Presley walked into Sun Records in Memphis, TN and recorded two songs to acetate disc for the whopping total of $4. Not long after, he received a Sun Records contract which was, in turn, sold to RCA for $40,000. In today’s market that would be upwards of $300,000.
That acetate disc was recently auctioned off by the family of the late Ed Leek, a classmate to whom Presley had given the disc for safe keeping (Leek may also have given Presley the money to record it). The winning bid was $300,000. At the time, the buyer was kept secret but was later revealed to be Memphis studio owner, rock musician, and analog audiophile Jack White.
The video below details White’s trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to have the acetate disc digitized. He enlists the help of Alan Stoker, Curator of Recorded Sound Collections, who is painfully aware of the importance of the recording. In an interview with Rolling Stone Country, Stoker says:
“Certainly I’m aware of how important this is…[It’s] kind of like the ‘Big Bang of rock & roll.’ Not this disc necessarily, but that performance because that’s where they first heard him. It’s a document of that performance. The guy is handing me a disc he paid $300,000 for, so that makes you kind of hold your breath a little. Once he handed it to me, it was pretty much routine. The disc was in pretty good shape; I don’t think it had been played that much. They said they thought it had mostly been held in a bank vault. That’s a pretty stable environment for these discs. The problem is when they are in somebody’s attic or basement. An acetate disc is like a piece of metal with nail polish painted on it. If it’s up in your attic, the acetate expands and contracts but the metal doesn’t, so eventually that’s going to create a crack in the outside.”
Jack White’s label, Third Man Records, released a facsimile 10″ of the original Elvis recording for Record Store Day this past Saturday. They will release a cleaned-up and re-mastered 7″ version in the near future.