View Full Version : Elvis at the Louisiana Hayride
01-25-2005, 07:08 PM
Elvis at the Louisiana Hayride
Excerpted from the book "Something In The Water" by Frank Page with Joey Kent.
Dr. William Hunt shared the news with the congregation of the Second Baptist Church of Tupelo, Mississippi at their Wednesday prayer meeting. The day before, January 8, 1935, identical twin sons were born to Vernon and Gladys Presley. Jessie Garon was stillborn. Elvis Aaron survived.
Young Elvis spent an impoverished childhood in Tupelo. His mother took him regularly to church and this strict ritual coupled with his parent's love molded Elvis into a non-drinking, non-smoking, polite God-fearing young man. Bill Dugard, now a car salesman in Shreveport, grew up in Tupelo, East Tupelo to be exact, and lived next door to Elvis. They spent a lot of time together going to school and playing. Bill remembers a setting on the edge of town with trees on one side, their favorite swimming hole - a creek - on another side and bottom land to the north. They played "cowboys and indians" with stick guns but their favorite fantasy was driving their make-believe cars. The top of a lard can served as the steering wheel for their foot-powered vehicles. Bill and Elvis drove the lands where no 4X4 could ever go, limited only by their imaginations.
Neither boy had a bicycle, wagon or BB gun but they did have sling shots or "bean shooters" as we called them back then. One day, Bill shot a rock into a bunch of sparrows killing one of them. Elvis cried and cried at the sight and couldn't understand how Bill could have killed a living thing. Elvis had a soft heart. At age ten, Elvis won his first talent contest with a rendition of Red Foley's tear-jerker "Ol' Shep". In 1948, the year the Hayride started, the Presley family packed everything into a '39 Plymouth and moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Influenced by the big city, Elvis let his sideburns grow.
Elvis graduated high school when he was eighteen and, for a while, drove a truck to earn a living. During the summer of 1954, he went into Sam Phillips' Sun Records studio to record the song "My Happiness" for his mother's approaching birthday. It cost Elvis all of four dollars. Sam was impressed with the rendition and thought the young man might have a chance at success so, he asked two local sidemen to back Elvis on six songs: "That's All right, Mama", "Blue Moon Of Kentucky:, "Good Rockin' Tonight", "I Don't Care (If The Sun Don't Shine)", "Milk Cow Blues Boogie" and "You're A Heartbreaker". The two sidemen, Bill Black and Scotty Moore, were destined to be his first band and both would achieve success in the music world.
Sam soon called us at KWKH and sent along a crude 45 featuring "That's All Right, Mama", a black blues song that had been cut about 15 years earlier by a black singer named Arthur Cruddup, and a bluesy rendition of Bill Monroe's bluegrass tune "Blue Moon Of Kentucky". The record had been enjoying some success in the Memphis area. Now, there are all kinds of stories about how we all flipped when we heard it...but the truth is that neither Elvis nor those two songs fit the Hayride or the country music pattern of those days and we knew if we put him on the show we'd be taking a chance.
Horace Logan asked Norm Bale and I to listen to the record. Sam Phillips had said several times in his phone call that this was a white boy and before I heard the record, I kept wondering why he had said that since there were no black country singers at the time. When we auditioned the songs, I realized why. Elvis' style was more black than white and the performance was more rock than it was country. Here was a true-born son of the south singing like a black person. The Hayride had a reputation for taking chances, we were innovative. So, we agreed Elvis should be given a chance and booked him in for one performance on the show. We started playing the record on KWKH and it became popular before he arrived.
01-25-2005, 07:12 PM
It was Saturday, October 16, 1954 and Elvis was one of probably 20 singers scheduled to perform that night. The show began, as usual, at 8 p.m. Lucky Strike was one of the show's sponsors and Elvis was brought out as the Lucky Strike amateur contestant shortly after nine. The audience gave him a polite reception, nothing unusual by any means and nothing like the applause many of the others on the show got that night.
Horace usually introduced the main attractions but since Elvis was an unknown, I was asked to do the honors. We often ad-libbed our intros and that night was no exception. If I had known how famous those words would become, I would have put more thought into them. They were printed first in a Look Magazine article; later on in hundreds of books and newspapers. Every radio station in the nation, I suppose, has a cassette of the event and at last count the introduction has been put on 46 bootleg albums from Taiwan to Timbuktu. Elvis was tentative and polite. He didn't wiggle and had not developed his snarl or his put-on stutter.
October 16, 1954
FRANK PAGE: Just a few weeks ago, a young man from Memphis, Tennessee recorded a song on the Sun label and in just a matter of a few weeks, that record has skyrocketed right on up the charts. He's only 19 years old; he has a distinctive style.....
Elvis Presley. Let's give him a nice hand. We've been playing his songs around for weeks. Elvis, how are you this evening?
Elvis: Just fine. How are you, sir?
Frank Page: Are you geared up with your band there...?
Elvis: Geared up.
Frank Page: To let us hear your songs?
Elvis: Well, I'd like to say how happy we are to be out here. It's a real honor for us to get a chance to appear on the Louisiana Hayride show and we're gonna do a song for you. You got anything else to say, sir?
Frank Page: No, I'm ready.
Elvis: We're gonna do a song for you we've got out on Sun Records and it goes something like this.
Elvis sang both sides of his record beginning with "That's All right, Mama". It was a bluesy Beale Street song that got a good response. "Blue Moon of Kentucky" was at least a country song, though Bill Monroe never sang it that way! On the recording of these first performances, you can hear that the engineer working the broadcast had to turn up the volume on the microphone in the audience in order to pick up a reasonable amount of applause. It was not a sensational beginning for the man who, in a matter of just a few more months would be dubbed "The King of Rock and Roll", whose every record would threaten to turn to gold and every album to platinum.
I remember talking to Elvis backstage that night. I was interested in how he was being received wherever he appeared because a decision would have to be made right away whether or not to put him back on the show. He said he had been working a few clubs in the Memphis area and that, frankly, he didn't go over big with an older audience, that it was teenagers who dug what he was doing. I could understand that. He was a good-looking boy, dressed conservatively. Elvis had brooded for several weeks about the rejection he encountered at the Grand Ol' Opry and had just about decided to give up singing when he got this chance to appear on the Hayride. Had we turned him down, he might have given it up. He told me that Jim Denny, who ran the talent office at the Opry, told him he'd better stick to truck driving, that he'd never make it as a singer. I told Elvis not to pay any attention to that kind of advice, to give it a try and make up his own mind without listening to anyone else.
We booked Elvis back on the show and on November 6, 1954 signed him to a year's contract at union scale. Scale was $15.00 per sideman, double scale for the leader. That meant $15.00 each for Scotty and Bill and $30.00 for Elvis. It was evident to all at this time that Elvis had arrived and was where he should be. Soon, the young people began showing up in droves, riding the trolley or dropped off by parents, squealing and eventually swooning when that became "the thing".
About the time Elvis signed on the Hayride, Bob Neal became his manager. Bob was an early morning disc jockey doing a country music show on WMPS in Memphis and, like most jocks in that position, in his spare time he put together small package shows of country artists and did some booking in the area to supplement his income. Bob was one of the few guys in this business who was known for his honesty, his integrity and his total dedication to the man he represented. He handled Elvis intelligently, getting him maximum exposure while the act was perfected. Bob took him at the right speed and got his career on solid ground.
Elvis criss-crossed the South and Southwest playing schoolhouses, church socials, nightclubs, road houses and even the dedication of a building's new central air conditioning system! He was dubbed the "Memphis Flash" and the "King of Western Bop". "Pappy" Covington and Tilman Franks began booking out shows in the coverage area of KWKH. Horace Logan went on some of these excursions taking along other Hayride stars. Elvis didn't always receive top billing but word spread fast that this "Hillbilly Cat" was something to see. Fans had already heard the excitement on the radio and they were waiting for him to show up in their town.
While living in Shreveport, Elvis stayed primarily in hotels. They were called "tourist courts" in those days and the Al-Ida Motel and the Shirley Temple Courts were typical haunts. On Fridays he would often have breakfast with Stan Lewis, owner of a prominent local record shop. Stan wold invariably pick up the check as the Hayride didn't pay big money! Elvis would return the favor by holding autograph parties at Stan's Record Shop, just a few blocks down from KWKH's studios on Texas Street. Elvis kept company with Carolyn Bradshaw, a petite big-eyed brunette who also sang on the Hayride. He would often be found nearby playing the pinball machine at Murrell Stansell's Bantam Grill. Harry's Barbecue was also a familiar hangout. (George Jones and Faron Young were known to have had a few altercations there!) When he had time, he went to the movies at the Strand or the Don Theaters.
By the end of his first year on the Hayride, Elvis was hotter than a two dollar pistol. Back and forth across the Southwest he went, appearing with Mother Maybelle and the Carter sisters and Hayride stars Faron Young, the Wilburn Brothers, Slim Whitman, Jim Ed Brown, Johnny Cash, Ferlin Huskey and others. He learned much from these performers, especially Johnny Cash. They used to sit backstage and watch each other perform, making mental notes of what worked and what didn't and incorporating that into their acts. During this period, Hayride staff drummer D.J. Fontana was added to the Presley ensemble. Elvis signed for another year, this time receiving $200 per week, but super stardom was just around the corner. Only one more thing was needed to take him nationwide, a network television show.
Elvis' contract allowed for him to be off only once every 3 months but his new manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had other plans. Tom had been managing Eddy Arnold at the time and had brought him to stardom. He knew the big time was calling Elvis. Recognizing this fact ourselves, we let Elvis off to be on the Tommy Dorsey Show, the Jackie Gleason Show, and others. The Presley career was now well underway. The Colonel tried many ways to get Elvis out of the remainder of his contract. He even approached KWKH about buying into the Hayride but Henry Clay refused. Who knows what might have happened to the show if that had taken place.
Ultimately, the Hayride knew they couldn't hold this rising star so, in early April of 1956, Elvis was allowed to buy out the remaining six months of his contract for the then unheard of sum of $10,000. Though March 31 had been his last performance, under the terms of the buyout agreement he agreed to do one more show at a later date. The proceeds would go to charity.
Elvis really loved Shreveport and put on one of his best shows ever that winter. It was held in the largest facility in the city, the Youth Building at the State Fair Grounds (now the Hirsch Coliseum). Tickets were $2.00 in advance and $2.50 at the door. The proceeds went to benefit the YMCA Camp just south of Shreveport in Forbing, Louisiana. The money helped build, among other things, a swimming pool where, to this day, the waves move to Elvis' rock 'n' roll rhythm!
The date was December 15, 1956. In addition to being charged with keeping the location of his motel room secret, the police set up a fake Elvis to decoy the avid teenagers away from the real one. Patrolman Robert Catts had the same build and sleepy eyes so, he was outfitted as Elvis and a pink Cadillac was rented from a used car dealer. The pink Caddy took off with police car escort and headed toward the front entrance of the Youth Building. Catts was mobbed while Presley slipped quietly into the back door almost unnoticed.
It had been just over two years since Elvis had first appeared on the stage of the Louisiana Hayride. We thought we had the crowd figured out. We built a fence in front of the stage and put the chairs about 30 feet behind that. There were no reserved seats, it was "first come, first served". The seating capacity of the Youth Building was right at 10,000 and every ticket had been sold. We opened the doors on the multitude of screaming teenagers and watched them run down through the enormous building. Each grabbed a chair and put it as close to the fence as they could, thereby defeating out plan. The eighteen or so policemen could only look on in amazement.
I had been with Elvis every Saturday night he'd performed on the Hayride and knew how audiences had come to react to this young man. I was prepared for something bigger than that, but I wasn't prepared for that evening. When Elvis finally came on stage, thousands of Brownie Reflex cameras went off simultaneously. Many of the photographs taken that night show me off to one side and I look terrified....I was! I had never heard ten thousand teenagers screaming at the top of their lungs before. It was absolutely frightening. The screaming began when Elvis came out on the stage and it never let up for the entire time he performed. Many people told me later that the audience couldn't tell whether he was singing or not, or even if the band was playing... and nobody cared. The King had come home. I had the feeling that something had to happen, either panic or a riot or even that the very walls would crumble. Frankly, I never want to experience anything like that again.
The now legendary phrase "Elvis has left the building" was first uttered by Horace Logan that night, quite by accident. The show had been a regular performance of the Hayride and Elvis was but the third act of about twenty. Once his 45-minute performance was over and the encore complete, the crowds of teenagers made for the exits. In a plea for the acts that would follow. Horace announced to the young people to please return to their seats. He told them Elvis would not be back out but that there was still much left of the regular show. As the crowd's exodus continued unabated, Horace made a final plea. "Please, young people...Elvis has left the building. He has gotten in his car and driven away...Please take your seats..." The show somehow went on.
Norm Bale, Hayride announcer, remembers the 1953 Chevy that Elvis, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black drove to the Hayride on that first night back in October, 1954. They'd borrowed money to eat dinner before the show. From a lowly beginning in Shreveport, Elvis rose to the heights of world popularity. They were meager times in the beginning but success came fast and in overwhelming amounts. His life would never be the same. "Elvis would gladly have gone back to East Tupelo," Bill Dugard believes, "to walk that flat dusty path, kick up the dirt, swim in the creek, and shoot the bean shooter. He loved his childhood and never forgot it."
Elvis came back to Shreveport a couple of times after that memorable '56 performance. He called me on one occasion to urge us to keep the Hayride going and thank us for what we'd done for him. His last appearance in Shreveport was July 1, 1976. On the day he died, I was called by radio and television stations throughout the world to get my reaction...and what do you say? "The King is dead."
The Presley name tops the list of "Hall of Fame" performers that "graduated" from the Hayride stage. Elvis' eighteen-month rein not only changed his life but the course of the Louisiana Hayride forever. There had been stars before him, even super stars - in the movies, in sports, in music - but there had never been one quite like Elvis Presley...and probably never will be. Yes, the King is dead but his spirit lives on.
01-25-2005, 07:15 PM
First Record & Early Gigs
Courtesy www.elvis.com - On Monday, July 19, 1954, hot off the presses at Buster Williams' Plastic Products plant on Chelsea Ave. in Memphis, came the release of Elvis Presley's first record. It was Sun record number 209 -"That's All Right" backed with "Blue Moon of Kentucky". Producer/Sun Records owner Sam Phillips already had 6,000 local orders. Peter Guralnick in his book "Last Train To Memphis" said, "Ed Leek, a Humes classmate who was premed at Memphis State, described going down to the plant and watching the first records come off the press with Elvis, who was 'like a little kid at Christmas.'"
Scotty Moore and Bill Black were the musicians who backed Elvis and they were members of a band called the Starlite Wranglers. They regularly played on weekends at the Bon Air club on Summer Avenue in east Memphis. The Bon Air was a bit rowdy and the clientele were hard drinking lovers of hillbilly music. Elvis neither looked the part nor sounded like anything they were used to. Elvis and the boys played their two songs at the Bon Air a couple of weekends that July. However, that didn't last long. The Wranglers didn't take to Scotty and Bill's involvement with Elvis' act, not only because his music wasn't like their own, but because this act didn't include them. Scotty and Bill soon left the Wranglers. By August 1954 and continuing through October, Elvis and the boys were a regular part of the weekend entertainment at a club on Lamar and Winchester called The Eagle's Nest.
The Eagle's Nest was a part of the Clearpool Entertainment complex that included a large swimming pool, ballroom, and restaurant owned by the Joe and Doris Pieraccini family who also owned the Rainbow Lake amusement complex down the street, where Elvis' beloved Rainbow Roller Skating Rink was located. Memphis country music dee-jay "Sleepy Eyed" John Lepley and his band, fronted by Jack Clement, played the main sets of western swing with Elvis, Scotty and Bill as the intermission act. It was said that the young people hanging out at the pool would rush in to hear Elvis and then go back outside when the main act came back on. Often in the audience would be Elvis' parents Vernon and Gladys, Gladys' sister Clettes and her husband Vester (Vernon's brother), as well as Elvis' bosses from Crown Electric James and Gladys Tipler. All were proud of Elvis and his newfound success.
01-25-2005, 07:18 PM
Elvis on National TV
As of December 1955 Elvis had still not made an appearance on national television. His manager Colonel Tom Parker negotiated a deal through Steve Yates with CBS's "Stage Show" for four appearances on the show in January 1956 at $1,250 each and an option for two more at $1,500 each.
Harry Kalcheim, an agent with William Morris Agency, which represented Elvis, was upset that Parker had booked Elvis through another agent. Colonel Parker, in a straightforward letter written December 16, 1955, chastised Kalcheim for his lackluster attempts to book Elvis. Colonel told him that writing a letter and then sitting back and waiting to hear a reply was no way to sell Elvis. He continued, "If I waited for someone to call me with deals all the time, I would have to start selling candy apples again. Nuff said..."
On Monday, January 23, 1956, Elvis, Scotty, Bill and D.J. rehearsed in Memphis for their television debut. Elvis and the Colonel flew to New York on Wednesday the 25th. They stayed at the Warwick Hotel on 52nd Street. Scotty, Bill and D.J. drove from Memphis to New York and arrived on Friday, January 27th.
"Stage Show" was produced by Jackie Gleason and hosted by big band leaders Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. The thirty-minute program aired on Saturday nights at 8:00 PM as a lead-in to Jackie Gleason's "The Honeymooners."
Elvis and his band rehearsed at Nola Studios in New York on the morning of Saturday, January 28th. That night the show aired from CBS Studio 50. It was raining and the then-unknown Elvis Presley did not draw a large studio audience. Also appearing on the show were singer Sarah Vaughan and comic Gene Sheldon. Tommy Dorsey introduced Cleveland disc jockey Bill Randle, who, in turn, introduced Elvis to his first national audience by saying:
"We'd like at this time to introduce to you a young fellow who, like many performers - Johnnie Ray among them - came out of nowhere to be an overnight big star. This young fellow we saw for the first time while making a movie short. We think tonight that he's going to make television history for you. We'd like you to meet him now - Elvis Presley."
Elvis wore a black shirt, white tie, dress pants with a shiny stripe, and a tweed jacket. He sang a "Shake, Rattle & Roll / Flip, Flop & Fly" medley and "I Got a Woman." The audience reacted with both shock and interest. The show received an 18.4 % ratings share while its competition "The Perry Como Show" on NBC received a 34.6% share. The option was picked up and Elvis appeared a total of six times on "Stage Show."
For these appearances the band rented instruments in New York while Elvis associates Red West and Gene Smith transported the band's own instruments to the next concert appearance using a pink trailer that Elvis' father Vernon had built for this purpose. After the fourth "Stage Show" the rented standup bass that Bill Black had enthusiastically played had to be repaired. Bill had broken the neck, sound post and the back of the instrument. The repairs cost $32.96.
Elvis' sixth and final "Stage Show" appearance was on March 24, 1956. That night Carl Perkins was to have been on the opposing "Perry Como Show." However, Carl had been badly hurt in an automobile accident on the way to New York. That night on "Stage Show," out of respect for his friend Carl, Elvis refused to sing Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" as previously planned and instead sang "Money Honey."
01-25-2005, 07:20 PM
Elvis's first trip to the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport was memorable. He left Memphis on a Friday night, October 15, 1954, after a gig at the Eagles Nest, driving all night with Sam Phillips, Scotty Moore and Bill Black. They missed the turnoff in Greenville, Mississippi, because of Bill Black's clowning; later, Scotty Moore almost ran over a team of mules.
Arriving in Shreveport the next morning, they checked into the Captain Shreve Hotel downtown. The Blue Moon Boys, Elvis, Scotty, and Bill were on the road. They washed their faces (everybody waited while Elvis combed his hair), and then begun their round of Shreveport's music scene.
They met with T. Tommie Cutrer, a local DJ, who played Elvis's music on his radio show. T. Tommie had recently been in a car accident and was still convalescing an amputated leg. Undaunted, he regaled the boys with stories and promised to get out the word on their concert that evening. Next they paid a visit to Pappy Covington, the Hayride's grand-fatherly booking agent, who made the boys feel like up-and-coming stars. Then it was over to Stan's Records on Texas Street. Stan Lewis, the owner, was the major independent record distributor in the area. They made sure there was a bin for Elvis Presley.
From there it was a short walk to Shreveport's Municipal Auditorium, the home of the Hayride. Shreveport was much like Memphis. A spirit of racial toleration prevailed alongside Jim Crowe laws segregating the races. Shreveport was a relatively open city allowing a crossover of black and white music. Municipal Auditorium was a modern facility with good acoustics, at 3,800 seating capacity much bigger than the Grand Ole Opry's Ryman Auditorium where they had performed just two weeks before. The Auditorium had a large wrap around balcony; the main floor had folding chairs that were taken up to accommodate dances and basketball games. Backstage were large dressing rooms and a spacious area for performers to mingle. Admission to the Hayride was sixty cents for adults and thirty cents for children.
The Hayride has a storied history. Its first broadcast was April 3, 1948. It was broadcast live on Saturday nights from Shreveport on KWKH, a 50,000 watt clear station reaching 28 states. It was also on the CBS radio network to 198 affiliates across the country. Renowned for musical innovation, many country stars made their debut on the program including Hank Williams, Faron Young, Slim Whitman, Kitty Wells, Webb Pierce. Jim Reeves, the Carlisles, David Houston, and Elvis Presley. So many artists got their start on the Hayride that it was referred to as "The Cradle of the Stars." The great Hank Williams was a regular on the Hayride during 1948-49, and then again in 1952 until his death.
The Hayride was a raucous, enthusiastic crowd, typically the balconies packed to the rafters. There were a number of colleges and universities in the Shreveport area as well as Barksdale Air Force Base. The Hayride drew from this young audience as well as the avid East Texas music scene. Microphones placed in the crowd picked up the Auditorium's excitement for the radio broadcasts. The Hayride impresario, Horace Logan, lent a dramatic touch to proceedings by flamboyantly sporting about the stage in a ten gallon hat with six shooters. The emcee, Ray Bartlett, spiced his act with somersaults and back flips.
On the evening of Elvis's debut, October 16, 1954, Horace Logan strutted across the stage to the microphone to open the Hayride. Offstage Elvis looked on nervously. This was the largest house, by far, that he had played. Horace Logan: "Is there anyone from Mississippi? Anyone from Arkansas? Let's hear it from the folks from Oklahoma. Now who's from Louisiana. Now how many of y'all from the great state of Texas?" The Hayride band struck up its theme, "Raise a Ruckus Tonight," as the crowd joined-in. "Come along, everybody come along, while the moon is shining bright, We're going to have a wonderful time, at the Louisiana Hayride tonight!"
Emcee Frank Page introduced Elvis who was standing against a painted backdrop of a willow tree and barn. The call letters of the station, KWKH, and a Louisiana Hayride banner stretched across the scene. Overhanging was a Lucky Strike cigarette banner with the logo LSMFT, Lucky S trike Means Fine Tobacco. Elvis was in a pink jacket with black shirt and colorful tie, white pants, and two-tone shoes. Scotty Moore and Bill Black were in western shirts. Frank Page: "Just a few weeks ago a young man from Memphis, Tennessee, recorded a song on the Sun label and, in just a matter of weeks, that record has sky-rocketed right up the charts. It's really doing well all over the country. He is only nineteen years old. He has a new, distinctive style. Elvis Presley. Let's give him a nice hand. Elvis, how are you this evening
"Just fine. How're you, sir?"
"Are you all geared up with your band--"
"I'm all geared up."
"to let us hear your songs?"
"Uh, well, I'd just like to say how happy we are to be down here. It's a real honor for us to get a chance to appear on the Louisiana Hayride. We're gonna do a song for ya--you got anything else to say?"
"No, I'm ready!"
"We're gonna do a song for ya we got out on Sun Records. It goes something like this." Elvis sang That's Alright Mama. Whether it was Elvis's stage fright or the originality of his act before a new audience, his performance was flat much like his Grand Ole Opry debut a few weeks previous. Elvis huddled with Sam P hillips during intermission. Sam exhorted Elvis to be himself, do his own kind of show; all he could do was fail and that would happen anyway if he didn't loosen-up.
The second show was different. It was a young crowd hungry for excitement. A huge cheer went up from the first bars of That's Alright Mama. It wasn't country music, it was rock n' roll and the audience loved it. On their feet, clapping and dancing, the crowd rode the thunderous beat. They didn't want Elvis to stop. Gyrating like a dervish, Elvis burned That's Alright Mama and Blue Moon of Kentucky. The Hayride had birthed its greatest star.
On 6 November 1954, Elvis signed a contract to appear on the Louisiana Hayride every Saturday night for a year. Gladys and Vernon Presley came to Shreveport to witness the contract because Elvis was underage. He was nineteen years old. Elvis was paid eighteen dollars per performance and Scotty Moore and Bill Black twelve dollars each. The Hayride became the foundation of Elvis's early rise to stardom. He would tour nearly half million miles during the next year, often before audiences that had heard him first on Hayride broadcasts. During 1955, if it was a Saturday night, Elvis was back in Shreveport for the Hayride.
An interesting note: Elvis did the only commercial of his life for any product on November 6, 1954, for Southern Made Doughnuts. He sang their jingle. "You can get 'em piping hot after four PM, you can get 'em piping hot. Southern Made Doughnuts hit the spot, you can get 'em piping hot after four PM." Nothing is known of Elvis's impact on Southern Made Doughnut sales.
01-25-2005, 07:22 PM
Elvis' Employment History
The summer of Elvis' freshman year of high school, his dad Vernon bought him a push lawn mower. With the mower and a couple of sickles, Elvis and his three buddies - Buzzy Forbes, Farley Guy and Paul Dougher - started a lawn business. They charged $4.00 per yard. This was the beginning of the working life a young man who would very soon become a millionaire.
Elvis received his Social Security card #409-52-2202 in September 1950. That all he went to work as an usher at Loew's State Theater on Main Street in Memphis.
Starting in June 1951, Elvis held a summer job at Precision Tool. He worked three months operating a spindle drill press at this plant, which manufactured rocket shells for the military. He made $27.00 a week. That same year he took his driver's license test using his uncle Travis Smith's 1940 Buick.
In April 1952 Elvis returned to Loew's State Theater as an usher, only to to be fired five weeks later for an altercation with a fellow usher. Some say it was started by the other usher, prompted by his jealousy over a female employee's apparent fondness for Elvis. Soon after, in June, Vernon Presley bought a 1941 Lincoln, which became regarded as Elvis' car. It is said he spent more time pushing it than driving it.
In August 1952 Elvis applied at the Upholsterers Specialties Company. On the application he gave his date of birth as January 8, 1934, adding a year to his stated age in order to qualify as old enough to work there. He worked there one month, earning $109.00.
In September 1952 Elvis worked for MARL Metal Products, a furniture manufacturer. He worked the 3:00 PM - 11:00 PM shift as an assembler. His mother Gladys made him quit this job because he kept falling asleep in school.
On March 26, 1953 Elvis visited the Tennessee State Employment Security Office. On his application he wrote under "leisure time activities": "Sings, playing ball, working on car, going to movies." The interviewer noted: "rather flashily dressed 'playboy' type". On April 6, 1953 he visited the employment office again and updated his application for work saying he wanted to operate "big lathes".
On another visit to the employment office on July 1, 1953, Elvis reported he needed to "work off financial obligations and that he owns his own automobile". This time he was sent to the M. B. Parker Company for a temporary job as an assembler. He worked there until the job ran out at the end of the month, making 90-cents an hour or $36.00 a week.
Returning to the employment office in August 1953, he indicated he wanted a job in which he could "keep clean". He was sent to several places for interviews, including a Sears & Roebuck store and a Kroger grocery store. He was not hired from any of these interviews.
On September 21, 1953 Elvis returned to Precision Tool company, operating a drill press for $1.55 a hour. He continued to work there until March 19, 1954.
Elvis filed his first income tax return on March 6, 1954, listing himself as "semi-skilled labor" and having earned at total of $129.74 at M.B. Parker and $786.59 at Precision Tool for a total of $916.33.
On April 20, 1954 Elvis began working at Crown Electric for $1.00 an hour. He delivered supplies to the job sites and hoped to train to be an electrician. He stayed at Crown until mid-October 1954 after having recorded his first record at Sun Studio and officially become a self-employed entertainer.
In 1955, he reported on his income tax return a total of $25,240.15 in earnings. This figure would jump the following year to $282,349.66. By 1958 he had earned over a million dollars in one year. In a short time he had come a long way from his days behind a push mower.
01-25-2005, 07:24 PM
AUGUST, 2002 - Anniversary of Presley's death brings fanfare, but doesn't explain how he became a cultural icon
By Susan Whitall / The Detroit News
Most Elvis fans younger than age 55 tend to ignore Elvis' image during the Vegas years, which they see as more of a joke. If you don't like Elvis Presley, find a cabin in the woods right away with no TV, radio, Internet access or newspaper delivery. Hide under the bed for good measure, and do it now, as the 25th anniversary of his death rolled around.
Because as intense as the coverage is now -the King can be heard on the radio singing the re-released "A Little Less Information" and seen on TV as the morning news shows crowd Graceland's gates -- it's all going to grow to a crescendo of Elvis mania by Friday.
Since Elvis Aron Presley's death on Aug. 16, 1977, millions of Elvis records have been sold, millions of people worldwide tour Graceland and there are so many Elvis impersonators they have an official organization. There are Elvis references in every part of our culture - postage stamps, black velvet paintings and jokes about Elvis sightings at Burger King restaurants. Why are so many of us still infatuated with the former truck driver born in Tupelo, Miss.?
Over the years, many have wondered why Elvis is the King of Rock 'n' Roll and why not Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry or Highland Park's own Bill Haley and the Comets, whose frantic song "Rock Around the Clock" still sends shivers down the spine when it kicks off the movie "Blackboard Jungle."
To fans and pop culture experts, Elvis is the ultimate riddle: an enigma cloaked in mystery. Yet his appeal abounds, because everyone has an opinion about what made Elvis so unique.
That includes Kay Wheeler, the feisty Texan who formed his first fan club back in 1956 before she hit it big as a wild, bop-dancing rock girl in movies like 1957's "Rock Baby, Rock It!"
Wheeler, now a Realtor in Silicon Valley, Calif., travels the country giving talks on her memories of Elvis while demonstrating the bop, a dance she says would be considered X-rated today.
"Elvis will last as long as there are women around," Wheeler says flatly. She ought to know - she not only started up his fan club when she was 15, but she dated him as well.
"Elvis is something for the girls, and he's what every guy would like to be," Wheeler opines, "a hunka, hunka burning love. He really let go on stage, he made love to the audience. And there was more intensity in his little finger than anybody had in their whole body."
That intensity, and his wild shaking as he performed led to cameramen on "The Ed Sullivan Show" being instructed not to shoot Elvis from the waist down. Wheeler believes that Elvis is appealing because he blew right through the inhibitions most of us have.
"He didn't worry about body language, he just did it," says Wheeler, who also danced the bop in the Gene Vincent movie "Hot Rod Gang." "He was uninhibited, and it gives us a release to watch him."
According to a Harris Poll released, while Elvis' strongest fans are women 50-64 years old (45 percent), it's surprising how potent his appeal is with 18- to 24-year-olds, for whom there never was a living Elvis.
Thirty-nine percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have watched an Elvis movie, 38 percent have danced to a song by him, and 37 percent have seen an Elvis impersonator.
But for that age group, the fat, bloated Elvis of the Vegas years is a familiar joke figure, far from a real person. For them, and for that matter, anyone younger than 55, it's necessary to look back to the pre-Elvis 1950s through the eyes of those who were there.
Imagine a time when there was no youth culture, when teen-agers listened to Perry Como's "Hot Diggity Dog" with their parents and wore smaller sizes of adult-styled clothing.
"There was nothing for us," says Wheeler, 61. "It was a Donna Reed kind of world. So when rhythm and blues started in, it was an underground movement. If you listened to it, you were considered a dangerous teen-ager. The kids would sneak over the 78 records and we'd have bop parties when our parents were at work. We'd play Hank Ballard and the Midnighters' 'Sexy Ways' and 'Work With Me, Annie,' and the Clovers' 'Little Mama.' When I heard those records, I flipped! We learned how to dance and bop and do things way beyond what Presley was doing."
In Detroit, hometown of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, rhythm and blues was part of the radio diet for black and white teens. White disc jockeys would slip rhythm and blues records into their shows increasingly in the '50s, led by Mickey Shorr, because it was what the kids wanted.
Robin Seymour started spinning records in Detroit as a teenager on WJBK-AM, then moved to WKMH-AM.
"As a kid, I didn't know what I was doing," he says with a laugh. "I played records by black artists on labels nobody heard of. The station, 'KMH, was in Dearborn, and management used to give me hell about it. But they were selling radio (ad) time, so they let me do it."
Detroit teens liked the way Elvis blended rockabilly with R&B and flocked to his 1956 shows at the Fox Theatre.
Because of their devotion to Elvis, Seymour concocted a stunt to get their attention which backfired completely. Although he had espoused R&B for years, the DJ decided to "ban" Elvis records from his program, "Bobbin' With Robin," saying he thought Elvis was just a fad that would go away. The results were dramatic.
"Two hundred kids showed up on their bikes in front of my house on West Franklin in Dearborn," says Seymour, who now lives in Los Angeles. "They had signs, 'Ban Bobbin' With Robin.' The newspapers came out. It was tongue in cheek!"
Musically, Elvis delivered the potent excitement of R&B and rockabilly combined in a freewheeling way, complete with shaking hips abhorred by parents.
Bill Haley almost achieved it with "Rock Around the Clock," but he wasn't as subversively photogenic as Elvis. Nor can one imagine anyone studying Haley in a comparative religion class.
Norman Girardot, a professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, uses Elvis as an example in his comparative religion class, along with Mao Tse Tung, of a person who is worshiped like a god.
"Why Elvis?" Girardot ponders. "There are two primary reasons: Elvis was truly a charismatic figure. Whatever one thinks, he aroused emotion in people. He became a focal point of people's fears and hopes. Of course, there are plenty of charismatic folks around, why isn't Kurt Cobain or Jerry Garcia a god?
"He was also the right person at the right time," Girardot says. "American culture was at a crucial turning point in the '50s, even more so than the '60s.
"The transformation of American society is the great gift of African-American culture," he says. "It loosened us up! It made the whole culture realize that spirit is the most important thing, not petty hatreds. Sexuality was part of that, and when Elvis twitched his hips, thousands of teen-age girls realized that they were sexual creatures."
What truly makes Elvis worthy of study in a religion class, Girardot believes, is the mystery at the core of his appeal.
"The mystery, the ubiquity of the Elvis phenomenon - how do we explain that? There's a kind of spookiness attached to it."
And always, fans bring it back around to something simple. "Elvis made us happy," says his fan club president Wheeler. "You came back from an Elvis show on a real high. When you hear his music, you still feel happy. People need to feel happy."
You can reach Susan Whitall at (313) 222-2156 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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