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Played by Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, is the ‘Million Dollar Quartet Piano’ the most important in rock and roll history?

Million Dollar Quartet piano
(Image credit: Gotta Have Rock and Roll)

Featured on classic recordings by Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis - plus countless other songs released on Sun Records in the ‘50s - Sun Studio’s 1949 Wurlitzer spinet is being hailed by the auction house that’s currently selling it as “the most important piano in rock and roll history”.

This is a bold claim, certainly, but when you examine the instrument’s provenance, it doesn’t seem so outlandish.

The Wurlitzer was purchased by Sun Studio owner Sam Phillips in 1950 at the O.K. Houck piano store, located at 121 Union Avenue - the same street as his Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records were situated.

This is also where Elvis Presley and his family bought their first piano, and his first Martin guitar.

The piano was then played by Elvis on the legendary Million Dollar Quartet session in 1956, which also featured Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Classics such as Love Me Tender, Don’t Be Cruel and Paralyzed were among the songs that Elvis played, with Jerry Lee Lewis on the piano when five of the songs - including End of the Road and Crazy Arms - were recorded.

Lewis also played the Wurlitzer on his biggest hits, Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, as well as all the other songs he recorded for Sun Records.

In fact, between 1950 and 1960, the piano was the main sound on many of Sun’s most famous records. In 1961, Sam Phillips moved it to his home, and it’s said that both Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis would play it when they visited.

This is the first time that the piano has gone up for auction, and it was expected to sell for between $800,000 and $1,000,000. Bidding has now closed, but you can find out more on the Gotta Have Rock and Roll auction house website.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology.