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VOL. 126 | NO. 207 | Monday, October 24, 2011

Apple Founder Visited Sun While Recuperating in Memphis

By Andy Meek

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Many details about Steve Jobs’ brief time in Memphis in 2009 are still not known. That’s partly because of the late Apple CEO’s penchant for secrecy and the sensitive nature of his trip to the city, which came about because of his need for a critical liver transplant at Methodist University Hospital.

But some new details were revealed in the biography of Jobs released Monday, Oct. 24, that was written by Walter Isaacson, a former managing editor of Time magazine.

Here’s one story that hasn’t been told widely before now: Jobs, at one point in 2009 after he was well enough to venture out of the Memphis home where he was recuperating, made a point of visiting Sun Studio.

Matt Ross-Spang, an engineer who was at the studio when Jobs visited, recalled that Sun got a call one day in the spring of that year from a lawyer on behalf of Jobs. Ross-Spang didn’t remember the month, but he remembered what the man said.

“He asked if we could stay open late to give a tour to someone who’s a heavy-hitter in the music industry,” Ross-Spang said. “He also said at that time that he couldn’t say who it is for now.”

Isaacson’s biography says that lawyer was George Riley, a “San Francisco lawyer who often served as Apple’s outside counsel.” The book also explains that both of Riley’s parents had been doctors at Methodist, Riley himself was born there and that Riley was a friend of Dr. James Eason, the man who ran the hospital’s transplant institute and who performed Jobs’ transplant.

Riley wanted to see if Sun would give Jobs a private tour.

Jobs and his family arrived at Sun about 7 p.m. that day, after everyone else had left. The Apple founder was then given the tour that countless other Memphians and tourists have taken.

Jobs likely was played some of the early rock recordings as background for the story on the tour, and he would have stood in the famed studio itself with tape still marking where Elvis once stood.

He also likely listened to the recordings that captured Elvis cracking up at Carl Perkins, who the tour guide would have pointed out was in the front room behind glass apparently trying to make Elvis laugh.

He might also have taken particular pleasure in the story tour guides often tell about Bob Dylan, one of Jobs’ favorite artists. Dylan, the story goes, was so overcome upon visiting Sun that he fell down and kissed the floor.

There’s also a story that a female visitor once kissed the studio’s microphone. The tour guides then generate chuckles by instructing visitors not to lick the equipment, but that they can kiss the floor.

Jobs hung out for a little while and chatted before he left. He also took home some gifts from the gift shop.

The story has a surprise ending, though.

Jobs told Riley, according to the biography, that they ought to hire Jobs’ tour guide.
“That kid was really smart,” Jobs said, according to the book. “We should hire him for iTunes.”

According to Ross-Spang, the local musician who gave Jobs his tour was David Brookings. A few weeks later, Brookings got an email.

Apple flew him out to California. Brookings was hired to “help build the early R&B and rock-and-roll sections of iTunes,” according to the biography. And he’s still there today.

“You hear all these stories about what an innovator he was and what a great businessman but also how demanding it was to work for (Jobs),” Ross-Spang said. “The Steve I met was a really nice guy, and he changed one of my best friends’ lives forever.”

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