1948-1953 MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
1953 ELVIS PRESLEY SESSIONS
Live Recordings for Elvis Presley On Various Locations, 1953 (Possible)
Live Recording for Elvis Presley, May 26, 1953 (Possible)
Studio Session for The Prisonaires, June 1, 1953 (Possible)
Demo Recording for Elvis Presley, July 18, 1953 (Demo)
"The coloured folks", asserted Elvis Presley, "been singing it and playing it just like I'm doin' now, man,
for more years than I know. They played it like that in the shanties and in their juke joints and nobody
paid it no mind 'til I goosed it up. I got it from them". "Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear Arthur
Crudup bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel all old
Arthur felt, I'd be a music man like nobody ever saw". "Yep, some of the music is lowdown. There are
low-down people and high-up people, but all of them get the kind of feeling that rock and roll music tells
about". "When I sang hymns back home with my Mom and Pop I stood still and I looked like you feel
when you sing a hymn. When I sing rock and roll, my eyes won't stay open and my legs won't stand still. I
don't care what they say, it ain't nasty.
Elvis Presley, Charlotte Observer 1956
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE 1948-1953
John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" and Muddy Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied" were recorded. The
longplaying record (LP) is introduced.
Seeking an entree into the music business, Dewey Phillips got a job hawking recorded at W.T. Grant's,
five-and-dime near, a department store near the Gayoso Hotel at Gayoso and Main Street in downtown
Memphis, where WHBQ radio was then located. His job description was counter clerk, but Dewey
Phillips as usual defied description. Dewey immediately began blasting rhythm and blues through
loudspeakers onto Main Street, then plugged a microphone onto the record player and started blasting
himself. He soon had the hottest record department in the 500-store chain and had become his own brand
of disc jockey. All he needed was a radio station.
APRIL 3, 1948 SATURDAY
On this day, the Louisiana Hayride first went on the air. The Saturday night show was initiated by Henry
Clay and Dean Upson, who belonged to the management of the radio station KWKH in Shreveport.
From 1948, the program was broadcast weekly. The reception was initially limited to Louisiana and the
surrounding states. From 1954, a 30-minute excerpt was transferred overseas via the AFN network. And over
the CBS network the show reached entire North-America.
Horace Logan played an important role in the development of the most influential radio show in the country.
Horace Logan’s career in radio began when he was 16 years old and won a contest as an announcer for
KWKH. After his military service, he opened a gun shop, but was persuaded to come back to the radio.
Along with Station Manager Henry Clay and the commercial Director, Dan Upson, he set out to establish the
single Jamboree, which was a serious rival to Nashville's famous Grand Ole Opry. The name "Louisiana
Hayride" was chosen because it suggested and also localized country music. Logan was the author of the
slogan "Elvis has left the building".
The Louisiana Hayride is one of the most popular country music radio shows in the United States. Since
1948 it is transferred from the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana, and was surpassed in the
1950s only by the "Grand Ole Opry" in popularity. The epithet of Hayrides is "Cradle Of The Stars" because
the show was known for many musicians as a springboard to a career and for his musical innovation.
The Municipal Auditorium was a modern building with good acoustics, a capacity of 3800 seats and much
larger than the Grand Ole Opry's Ryman Auditorium. It had a large balcony that curved around on either side
of the stage, and giving the room a natural echo. The balustrade was decorated all around with a small wrap
of velvet, and the main room had folding chairs that could be taken up for dances and basketball exhibitions.
Behind the stage were spacious dressing rooms and a large, common dressing room on the second floor were
set up as a meeting place for artists. Admission to the Hayride cost 60 cents for adults and 30 cents for
The Hayride-audience was a noisy and enthusiastic crowd, the balconies packed to the rafters. There were
various colleges and universities around Shreveport and also the Barksdale Air Force Base. From there, the
young people came - just like the fans of the enthusiastic East Texas music scene. Microphones placed in the
middle of the audience took on the enthusiasm of the crowd for the radio transmission.
Hayride impresario Horace Logan gave the performances a dramatic touch when he took the stage with a
fancy, wide-margined cowboy hat and six guns. The emcee Ray Bartlett spiced his appearances with
somersaults and back flips.
Municipal Auditorium, 705 Grand Avenue, Shreveport, Louisiana >
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE LOUISIANA HAYRIDE
One of the first stars was Hank Williams and Kitty Wells. But other stars like Faron Young, Slim Whitman,
Web Pierce, Jim Reeves, The Carlisle's, David Houston, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley were among those
who made their debut on the Hayride. Elvis Presley was a member of the ensemble for 18 months after he
had failed at the Grand Ole Opry.
The Louisiana Hayride was mostly in the shadow of the Grand Ole Opry.
"The Cradle Of The Stars" - as the Hayride was called - was especially emerging talent as a springboard, but
offered also established musicians who the strict regime of the Grand Ole Opry did not want to undergo,
opportunity to gigs.
After the leaving of Elvis Presley, the show experienced a gradual decline. Only temporarily tape recordings
of old shows were played. The station KWKH-retired and in 1969 the shipments were definitively set. David
Kent took over the naming rights in 1975 and revived the Hayride 1973-1987 again. The show was
performed in a different building with a reduced array of stars on. From 1984 the show was transferred
additionally on television. Three years later they moved back to the Municipal Auditorium. The successes of
the times from 1948 to 1960 could no longer be tied and the show was stopped again. There were plans to
restore the Municipal Auditorium and be held the Louisiana Hayride there again. Meanwhile, the restoration
was carried out successfully under new owners.
The current owner of the Louisiana Hayride is Maggie and Alton Warwick, which not only revived the
Municipal Auditorium and its surroundings, but also the Hayride with its tradition of voice and supporter of
local and regional talent. In many respects the Louisiana Hayride supplanted the Grand Ole Opry in two
ways. Both programs were focus on country music and oriented with its 50,000 watt signals on the same
area. At the Louisiana Hayride new artists and new musical innovations were welcome - in a way which
never pulled the strictly traditional Grand Ole Opry into consideration. While the Opry very rarely, if ever, an
artist who had taken no hit, did occur, the Hayride did the opposite and let aspiring performers, so that they
could find an audience. And while at the Opry electric guitars were banned, it was welcome on the Hayride -
an instrument that helped to transform the "hillbilly music" to the new hybrid form of music was the rock
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER 1948
After possibly two years in the Service, bluesman Howlin' Wolf returned to farming in Mississippi but
started playing in West Memphis, Arkansas around 1948. He probably continued to work on the farm for
a while at least because people recall seeing him show up for radio station work in his farm overalls. At
that time, West Memphis had longer drinking hours than Memphis, more gambling joints and a city
administration willing to turn a blind eye. On Friday and Saturday nights, school buses brought
sharecroppers in from the surrounding Delta country. The Wolf and his small group plied their craft as the
country folk boozed, whored and gambled away their meagre earnings. Pat Hare, who later played guitar
with James Cotton and Muddy Waters, recalled that his first paying job was working with Howlin' Wolf in
a West Memphis whorehouse in 1948 or 1949.
UNKNOWN DATE 1948
Jack Clement signed up for a four year stint in the U.S. Marines. The Marine base where Clement was
stationed was just outside Washington, D.C., and here late in 1948 he was first exposed to bluegrass
music. "That was when I fell in love with the five-string banjo", he recalls, "and I just had to get one and
practise on it straight away".
Soon, he was proficient enough to play duets with Roy Clark, now a country superstar but then a resident
artist at a Washington club called "The Famous". On Saturday nights, he would travel down to Maryland
with Scotty Stoneman's band. Scotty was the mainstay of the popular Stonemans. He played fiddle, with
mandolin, banjo and bass support from Jack Clement, Buzz Busby and Jimmy Stoneman. The group was
completed by Ralph Jones on dobro and Clement recalls Jones being one of the finest oldtime country
musicians he ever knew.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1948 MONDAY
The Presley's loaded their green 1939 Plymouth coupe and left Tupelo for good. Elvis Presley, thirteen
years old, puzzled by the sudden departure, nonetheless accepted the change. The imperative behind the
Presley's move to Memphis was actually made somewhat more smooth by the same factor that really
caused it, however: the moonshine whiskey business.
"We were broke, man. We just left overnight.
Things had to be better", Elvis Presley on poverty.
Looking north on North Gloster Street, Tupelo, Mississippi on September 1, 1948. This was Highway 45 and 78. The hill at the top is where Gloster and McCullough cross today. This is the same road the Presley family traveled when they left Tupelo for Memphis in 1948. Tom's Peanuts is in the same spot today. >
The majority of moonshiners were in it for strictly
personal consumption, and the local authorities usually turned blind eye in that case. But their sight
suddenly improved if you attempted to turn it into a business, like Vernon Presley.
Tupelo had a mayor and a prosecutor, but the sheriff ran things and was free to make certain decisions. He
decided to give Vernon Presley a choice, either go back to jail for several months or leave Tupelo for
good. He told Vernon he was a disgrace to the town, just the rest of his relations. He told Vernon to get the
hell out and never come back. If he does come back, the sheriff promised to put Vernon in jail without a
second thought, so what choice there got?
After moving to Memphis, via Highway 78, Elvis Presley returned frequently to visit his many close
friends and relatives in Tupelo. John Grower, manager of Tupelo's Lyric Theater, later recalled that Elvis
Presley participated in the theater's Saturday morning talent shows. One song that Elvis Presley reportedly
performed was Hank Williams' 1949 hit, "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It". By 1949, the Presley's were
residents of Memphis, where Elvis' musical education would soon move into high gear. Elvis Presley
strummed his guitar and watched the landscape change from rural to urban the closer they got to their
destination. Cotton fields gave way to industrial smokestacks spewing bad-smelling fumes, and the road
became crowded with cars. Elvis felt his heart sink as the crowded city came into view, the life he had
known was over forever. (Howard DeWitt says in his book they left September 12, 1948, Peter Guralnick
argues for November 6 and that Elvis knew ahead of time).
The Presley's made their permanent move to Memphis in the weekend on September 12, 1948. Elvis'
initial school enrolent the eith-grade, was at Christine School, an Catholic institution on Third Street.
Vernon Presley later recalls that shortly after walking Elvis to school on his first day, the boy reappeared
at home "so nervous he was bug-eyed". The Presley's waited nearly two months to send Elvis to Humes
High School, apparently in order to make sure they got settled first, because Memphis school system
records indicate that Elvis' first class was November 8, 1948.
Their determination to see Elvis Presley educated was for Vernon and Gladys Presley one shared passion,
and it had set them apart from most of other sharecroppers who thought kids only needed to know the
basics of readin' writin', and rithmetic before going to work in the fields full time. Vernon sat with Elvis
through the whole registration process, then left when classes were about to start. No sooner had he
returned home than Elvis returned home, too.
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER 1948
Vernon and Gladys Presley had debated their future. It was difficult for Vernon Presley to find work, and
they had moved from one small house to another for more than a decade. Although Vernon Presley made
small sums of money selling moonshine whiskey, it was just not adequate - by itself - to support the
family. Having had at least some success working in Memphis during World War II, Vernon Presley
ultimately came to view it as the promised land.
As the Presley's drove into Memphis in 1948, there were also indications of a social and economic
renaissance. The black and white stores and the local cress' had lunch counters open to blacks, and there
were signs of progress in employment, education, and entertainment. Blacks were key consumers in
Memphis, and it was just good business to appeal to their needs. The Memphis Commercial Appeal
covered black events with dignity and grace, and there was little evidence of media discrimination.
The newly arrived Presley's were initially unaware of the full scope of Memphis' musical underpinnings -
Beale Street, rockabilly, WDIA radio. It was natural for them to gravitate to the part of Memphis that
locals called "Little Mississippi", which was filled with people who had migrated from small northern
Mississippi towns. It was also not long afterwards that Elvis Presley discovered Beale Street and WDIA
The year 1948 also marked the radio debut of Dewey Phillips, whose radio style virtually defied
categorization. He was a white disc jockey from rural Tennessee who later hosted the show "Red Hot and
During this same time period, Colonel Tom Parker has become one of the top managers in the country
music field, with his sole client, Eddy Arnold, enjoying five number-one hits in 1948 alone. Parker
persuades Arnold at this point to quit the Grand Ole Opry for more lucrative show-business opportunities,
including - in the next year - television exposure, a Las Vegas booking, and motion pictures. Parker
himself receives an honorary colonel's commission in October from Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis, a
noted country singer in his own right, and henceforth will employ the title, first as a kind of joke, later as
if it were his legitimate due.
SEPTEMBER 12, 1948 SUNDAY
Having no specific destination, Vernon Presley drove to downtown Memphis. In the heart of the city,
prosperity and enthusiasm surrounded them. Every other car they passed was shiny and new. Clean,
shoplined streets were filled. Unlike, sharecroppers who trudge their way through life, these city folk
walked with a spring in their step. Even breathing was easier, the air free of choking dust. As he watched
the purposeful movement and felt the energy, the pain in Elvis Presley's chest temporarily eased. Maybe
his mother was right. Maybe Memphis was a promised land of opportunity.
After on a lunch of cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes, Vernon Presley set out to find his family a place
to live. At first they were awestruck at the stylish house nestled on neatly manicured streets; the thought
of living in such splendor made them dizzy. But their high hopes were rudely snatched away by harsh
financial realities. The neighborhoods that most appealed to them were way beyond their means and out
of reach. By nightfall, they were fighting crushing discouragement, and a shroud of despair settled on
Elvis Presley. The neighborhood had a rough, city feel to it and wasn't a safe place to walk around alone
On this early morning, the Presley family resumed their search and with each passing hour, the weary
family moved on to increasingly dingier neighborhoods until they finally found an apartment, they newly
arrived Presley's rented a room in a boarding house located at 370 Washington Avenue, and Vernon
Presley quickly walked down to one of the seven beer bars on nearby Poplar Avenue, along with Gladys'
brothers, Johnny and Travis Smith. The Smiths had also moved their families - along with Grandma
Minnie Mae Presley - to Memphis, and were working at Precision Tool Company on Kansas Street in
South Memphis, where Gladys' brothers Travis and Johnny are working, while looking for better housing.
The Presleys also joined the First Assembly of God church at 1085 McLemore Avenue. In October of
1948, Gladys began working as a seamstress for Fashion Curtains. While this improved the family's
finances, the work was hard and stressed Gladys physically and emotionally.
Elvis Presley spent the next days in a daze, hoping the empty feeling would stop hurting. Nothing put him
at ease. While it was true their new apartment was nicer than the shacks they'd lived in before, it didn't
feel like a home. In Tupelo, Elvis Presley had always been able to escape outdoors and feel free in the
open flatland, or clear his head with the sweet, heavy smell of a summer night. Now, instead of a front
yard, there was a concrete sidewalk and a busy street clouded by exhaust fumes and the acrid discharge of
nearby factories. No more lying on the grass watching the sun set over lazy farmland, they were
surrounded by the ugliness of city industry. But, the musically Sun of Memphis, waiting for him.
370 WASHINGTON STREET
- A Humes High School registration document records this as the address
the Presley's lived prior to moving to Poplar Avenue. It is unclear how long or under what circumstances
the family stayed here, than lived at Poplar Avenue, but it may have been only during the summer of 1949
while they waited for an apartment to vacate at Lauderdale Courts. The building was demolished some
years ago. The little apartment on Washington Street, for $11 a week, was dark and depressing, with
small, dirty windows that barely opened wide enough to let the air in.
Elvis and his family moved into a boarding house at 370 Washington Street in 1948. This was the family's
first home in Memphis. Today this address is nothing more than an empty lot with overgrown weeds and a
chainlink fence. >
There was a communal bathroom
on their floor that they would share with several families. "I don' wanna live here, let's go home. I don'
like it here", said Elvis. "I don' wanna get settled here, I wanna go home", he begged to his mother.
SEPTEMBER 13, 1948 MONDAY
Elvis Presley started attending for a number of weeks to (in 1920 built as Market Street School) the Christine School on 264 Third Street.
The school was re-named for a beloved teacher-principal and was closed and demolished in 1964.
few months later, in February 1949, Vernon found full-time employment at the United Paint Company. It
was back-breaking work, loading and unloading cases of paint, but Vernon was determined to keep it to
prove he could support his family. Shortly thereafter he applied for public housing assistance.
Christine School, 264 Third Street, Memphis, Tennessee, early 1950. ^
No history of education in Memphis would be complete without a reference to the old Market Street
School (Christine School). In 1870, a lot was purchased at the north west corner of Market Street and
Third Street and the first "real school" in Memphis was erected at a cost of $80,000. The 3-store brick
building opened in 1872. On the first floor were 4 classrooms for the elementary grades. Part of the
second floor was used for the secondary grades. The third floor was for lecture halls and exhibition space.
The basement was for the 4 furnaces and storage. From the opening date, the teachers and principals of
this historic school read like a Who's Who of Memphis education.
In 1877, the newly created Memphis High School, consisting of the combined Male High School and
Female High School, joined the high school section of the Market Street School and moved to the top
floor of the Market Street School building. During this same year, the Market Street School name was
changed to Smith School in honor of the first principal. The Memphis High School would stay at this
location until 1892. Because there were now two schools with different names, in the same building at
Market and Third, and because the newspapers frequently referred to both schools as "The High School"
or "The Market Street School", it's really difficult to sort out the complete, early history of either school.
To add to this confusion, at one time there were 4 other schools on Market Street - also referred to as "The
Market Street School". In addition, even though the Smith School was the new name for Market Street
School in 1877, the Memphis directories continued to list it as Market Street School until 1883.
Additional confusion resulted even from the graduates of Memphis High School at this time. Because
their school is located in the Market Street building, they often listed their high school (Memphis High
School) as "The Market Street School". During the period 1877-92, the two names were almost interchangeable.
By 1884 the Memphis High School had grown so rapidly that more space was desperately
needed. To accommodate them, the Smith School on the lower floors moved across the street to the north
east corner of Market and Third. When the Memphis High School moved to new quarters in 1892 (and
was renamed Leath High School), the Smith School moved back to their old Market Street School
building. In 1920 the Market Street School (now Smith School) name was changed a second time to
Christine School for a beloved teacher-principal. Throughout all these name changes, newspapers and
others continued to refer to the school as "the old Market Street School". The school was closed and
demolished in 1964.
Elvis also attended Pentecostal gospel services at the Reverend J.J. Denson's Poplar Street Mission,
located at 552 Poplar Avenue. His sons Jimmy and Jesse Lee were among young Elvis' closest friends.
Jim Denson, who claims to have first seen Elvis Presley late in 1947 - again, when the family had not yet
moved to Memphis. Elvis was immediately attracted to Jim, the older Denson brother. He was not only a
Golden Gloves boxer but a fisticuffs legend around the Lauderdale Courts. Jesse Lee Denson, a talented
country musician with a pop style, was eager to teach others his guitar licks, and Elvis Presley was one of
his earliest students. The Denson brothers recall Elvis as a shy boy who was often reticent to mix with the
other kids, something that may have been due partially to the Presley's perpetual housing problems.
"He showed up, he had a little itty-bitty, Gene Autry-type guitar that he really couldn't play. He couldn't
press the strings down on it they was set to high, so I let him practise on mine - I had a little Martin. I just
tried to show him basic chords. I would take his fingers and place them, say, 'You're pressing the wrong
strings with the wrong fingers', trying to straighten him out. He couldn't really complete a song for a long
time, couldn't move his fingers and go with the flow of the music, but once I straightened him out he
started to learn to do it right", recalled Jesse Lee Denson.
LEE ''JESSE JAMES'' DENSON – is a guy who was there when the rockabilly and rock and roll
avalanche started and who made some cracking good records, classic in fact. His patch crissed
crossed with many of those whose music is so revered by all of us to this very day. Born Jesse Lee
Denson on August 25, 1932 in Rienzi, Mississippi, he was the eighth (out of a total of ten) from the
loins of Jesse James Denson and his wife.
During the depression years, life was not easy in the little Mississippi town and so in December
1932 the Denson family took their car and headed for the nearest big city, Memphis. Just before
they reached the old Mississippi bridge the engine of their car, a Buick "Peace Arrow", failed.
so cold that the mighty Mississippi River had frozen over, something which has not occurred again,
and so Jesse Lee´s mother picked him up and carried him whilst dad gathered up the two 2 year old
twins and the family walked into Memphis. Lee almost died that day in his mother's arms due to the
intense cold. The Densons' finally settled in a housing project at Lauderdale Courts in Memphis.
Lee, as he became known, always had his own way of doing things that landed him in trouble
several times. For instance, he ran away from home (for the first time) at the age of nine. Hanging
around in the streets turned him into a pretty sharp fighter with the end result that he entered a
Golden Globe amateur boxing contest in 1952. The same happened to two of his school buddies
with whom he knocked around with, namely Johnny and Dorsey Burnette. As a bantam weight
boxer, Lee sang songs with his guitar before starting Golden Glove bouts in the arenas of Memphis.
Site of Reverend Denson's Pentecostal mission, 552 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. >
Lee remembers: ''When my brother, Jim and me got out of the backdoor to go to Humes High School one day, we saw Gladys and this young skinny guy who was taller than her. It was Elvis. We had not met him before but knew Gladys as she was around the mission and the house quite often. But the strange thing to see was that Elvis had his head on his mothers shoulder while walking hand in hand to the school.
A couple of days later my mother said to me in the kitchen "Jesse Lee Gladys has begged me if you would show Elvis how to play the guitar". I said "Mama, I'm not teaching that little chicken nothing, he's so fragile and so afraid of everything''.
''If I would start to teach him how to sing and play, the other kids would tease me. It´s hard enough already, but after that I would be in a fight every day". My Mother did not accept that and looked right into my eyes and told me: "Whatsoever you do, Jesse Lee, to these the least of my brothers that you will do on to me, and that's exactly what Jesus said". That really got me and I replied "Okay mama send him over". That afternoon I started teaching Elvis. He was 13 years old and he was slow, but he was better than most people thought. That's how it begun. We then got to his place, or in the basement to practice because there was a nice echo there. We lived there for about four years with the Presleys'. This building still stands, but the neighbourhood has deteriorated''.
Over the next two or three years Lee gave Elvis, who was about two years younger, informal guitar lessons. He also introduced him to some of his friends, like the Burnettes and brother Jimmy, but Elvis does not seem to have made a lasting impression on these guys at that time. Lee later liked what Elvis recorded but said: "I know by my heart that Bill Haley & The Comets started that all and to me he was the King. Elvis had all the breaks in the world because of his manager (Colonel Tom Parker)."
''I got into music when I was really small. My father played guitar in his mission but couldn't tune the guitar which I could do already at the age of 6. That's when it started for me. I thought it´s better to sing and play than to get into more trouble as some of my friends out on the streets did. In my early days, I was country. I liked to sing smooth like Eddy Arnold''. In 1953 Lee moved to Key West, Florida where he worked as a bellboy during the days. However at nights, he was singing in local clubs, eventually ending up in a bar called Sloppy Joe's which was a regular hang out for Ernest Hemingway. While living on the Florida Keys, Lee married and the couple had a son, Jesse James Denson, in 1955.
As the Florida islands only had limited openings for a young eager musician, he often went out on tours all over the USA. In mid 1956 he saw his old school buddies Johnny and Dorsey Burnette on the television show The Ted Mack Amateur Hour, which they won three times, plus securing a national tour with the programme as well as a recording contract with Coral Records. Lee thought that he could easily replicate this and called the brothers for advice with the end result that he moved to New York where he stayed for eight months. He also gained an appearance on The Ted Mack Amateur Hour where he came out the clear winner. Brother Jimmy was with him by now and it was he who took over promotion. Jimmy contacted people at RCA and got them to watch Lee on the show. Eventually Lee gained a recording contract with the Vik label, which was an RCA subsidiary company, and so he started searching for new material to record.
Whilst on tour on in California he met Ray Stanley who had connections with Eddie Cochran and his manager Jerry Capehart. On April 4, 1956 Jerry Capehart went to the Goldstar Studio to cut a demo of a song called "Heart Of A Fool" with The Cochran Brothers, Eddie and Hank. While Jerry Capehart handles the vocal, instrumentally Eddie gives one of his finest performances on record by providing devastating rockabilly guitar accompaniment. By the time they met up with Lee, Jerry, Eddie and Hank had not done anything with the song and so they gave their new buddy the chance to take the song to New York for his upcoming session.
On December 12, 1956 Lee went into the RCA's New York studio to cut his first four songs. He was accompanied by in the studio by top session men such as Panama Francis and Sam "The Man" Taylor. The output was "Heart Of A Fool" coupled with Lee´s own composition "The Pied Piper" which was the plug side. VIK´s press office issued the following release: This rugged, earthy singer with a rough-and-ready beat has a style which he calls a "tremolo yodel", adapted to the rhythm so popular today. He tells of the "Pied Piper" who charms all the "chicks" with his songs. Lee´s serenading rings out strong and true.
The RCA distributor arranged for three appearances by Lee on Dick Clark's Philadelphia based regional "Bandstand" television show - it did not become "American Bandstand" until August 1957 when the show went national. However this promotion failed to make the record a hit. Two other songs recorded at the same session, "Love Twister" and "It Took Too Long", remained unissued. Lee returned to California in May 1957 and rekindled his connections with Eddie Cochran and Ray Stanley. Whilst Lee stayed with his wife and son, Jerry Capehart got Jimmy an apartment on the third floor at 8608 Holloway Drive and which just happened to be next door to another of his then protégées, singers and composers Johnny Burnette and his brother Dorsey. Also living in the same apartment at the time was another Jerry Capehart artist, John Ashley, the movie actor and singer. Ashley frequently called upon Jimmy Denson's services to get the "mean-assed Dorsey Burnette" off of his back as Jimmy knew how to handle Dorsey from their earlier boxing days back in Memphis. The same building also housed other then young hopefuls such as actor (and occasional singer) Vince Edwards who later became famous as television's "Ben Casey". Eddie Cochran often dropped by, using the place as a hang out to party and generally chill out.
Ray Stanley believed in the talents of Lee and duly arranged a session for him at the Goldstar Studio on Santa Monica Boulevard. As Lee usually played solo or utlised the services of local bands such as The 3 Hearts, he did not carry regular musicians which meant he did not have a band to record with. Accordingly, Ray arranged some of his musician friends to play on the session. Eddie Cochran was on lead guitar along with Eddie's bass player Connie "Guybo" Smith and Jerry Capehart who banged away on some cardboard boxes to fill in for the drums. It took the group an hour, at a cost of $10 plus $2 for the tape, to record the songs. One was the ballad "Climb Love Mountain" with another being "New Shoes", a Ray Stanley rockin' composition which was laid down in a style not dissimilar to that of Gene Vincent. There have been rumours that two more songs were recorded at the session but confirmation has stubbornly failed to materialise. Lee took the two aforementioned songs back to New York for his next release on Vik Records in July 1957. Again, the second release failed to chart with the result that Vik did not renew Lee's contract. Denson decided to return to California but on route he dropped in to Memphis to visit his parents. This stop over has lead to further rumours that he recorded several acoustic demos for Lester Bihari ´s Meteor label but Lee cannot recall this happening. Being ever restless, Lee and brother Jimmy moved on back to Los Angeles where he secured a recording contract with Kent Records in February 1958. The first session for his new label was on March 3rd 1958 and produced the two self composed numbers "High School Hop" and "Devil Doll". With Jimmy handling the promotion, Lee obtained plenty of local bookings and magazine write-ups. Whilst Jimmy was not a musician, he was a capable composer with the result that he and Lee started to write songs together.
Come the time for the next Kent recording session, Lee recognised his brother's help and ability by recording some of the songs that they had co-written. Also sensing that a name change might help the next record release, the bothers pooled their christian names together and came up (yes you have guessed it) Jesse James. This release was the legendary slab of blasting rock 'n' roll "The South's Gonna Rise Again" coupled with 'Red Hot Rockin' Blues" which was released as Kent 314. The top side was composed by the two brothers from memories of what they had leant at school. (If only we had such history lessons in Europe to be able to create such sparkling rock 'n' roll). This cult favourite has been reissued several times since the first release, both legally and illegally. The reason for its popularity is not hard to determine, it is classic rock 'n' roll music. Actually when these tracks were laid down, it was a split session with singer Artie Wilson and boy the musicians such as Earl Palmer (who played on many hit recordings by the likes of Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bobby Day and Ritchie Valens) were cooking that day. Wilson's release from this session "Jerry Jerry" and "That's My Baby" (Kent 313) were two Larry Williams styled pounders, again first rate rock 'n' roll. Some of the songs cut by Denson as Jesse James have not been released as they were basically only demo recordings.
In late 1959, Denson pacted with Merri Records and laid down four songs. Two of the titles, "A Tree In The Meadow" and "Twang" were issued in 1960. The first mentioned of these songs became a significant hit several years ago. The other two songs from this session, with an updated sound, were released two years later.
Coming from a very religious family, Lee always kept his faith with God and so it was a natural thing for him to write gospel music. In 1960 he wrote an English version of Avai Maria titled "Miracle Of The Rosary". Denson attempted to get publishers interested in the song but as it was of a religious nature, enthusiasm was not forthcoming.. When Lee heard that Elvis was in Hollywood to film a movie, he visited with him at his Bel Air residence. Knowing that Elvis had retained his passion for gospel music, Denson was determined that Presley should hear this composition. At the house, Denson was warmly welcomed and had the opportunity to perform the song to Elvis and his Memphis Mafia. Lee remembered: ''After I finished this little girl stand up and said "It´s the most gorgeous song I ever heard in my life" and it was Priscilla''.
Jim Denson, 1986 >
This was the last time Lee saw Elvis in person. He later received a telephone call from one of Presley's sidekicks who inquired about the publishing for the song. The guy was told that the rights had been assigned to Dorsey Burnette's publishing company. Dorsey later sold his catalogue to Acuff-Rose and where it still resides. Seemingly, nothing was happening with Elvis on the song and so Denson recorded a version for the Enterprise label in the sixties.
This is the same Enterprise label for which Detroit rocker Jamie Coe recorded for and is not the same as the Stax subsidiary. Unfortunately from a commercial viewpoint, this release was stillborn.
One of the other artists on the Merri label was Lee's old buddy, Dorsey Burnette who by this time had decided to go into the record production side of the business. Dorsey teamed up with Ricky Nelson´s bass player Joe Osborne and together the pair launched started the Magic Lamp label. Brother Johnny Burnette had one release on the label in 1964 before he was accidentally killed in a boating accident. Joe Osborne run the label and produced several artists including Lee who was signed as a result of his connections with the Burnettes. Two country oriented songs "Sixteen States" and "Mississippi Bridge" were issued but the label did not have a good distribution and so rather quickly it went belly up. Incidentally the backing vocals on these recordings were by Richard and Karen Carpenter who of course went on to secure international success as The Carpenters. A little known fact is that the very first release by The Carpenters was on Magic Lamp Records.
Lee finally tired of the west coast scene and returned to Memphis in 1972 whereupon he signed with Stax Records. One evening that year, Lee got a call from his old school mate Red West who was then based in Nashville. Lee remembers the telephone conversation vividly: 'I have not heard from Red in quite a while. He told me to sit down which I did and he started telling me that day Elvis has recorded my song "The Miracle Of The Rosary" that day. I was glad he told me to sit down. I couldn't believe it after all those years. The version by Elvis has been on several of his albums and I still get royalties from airplay and records. I have been very fortunate and this money helped me doing what I wanted to do.' In recent times, the song has been included on Presley's "Amazing Grace" album and it is still selling to this very day.
Lee has, in subsequent years, recorded and produced four religious albums for his own Eternal Rainbow label and still writes poems in an attempt to show people a way out of the darkness of life. The last release was "God Bless America Again". All of these albums used large orchestras and, indeed, one of them had no less than sixty-three violinists on the recordings. Another personal favourite of Lee's is children's songs and he has been working on the "Legend Of The Snowprince" for many years now. He still maintains his close relationship with brother James "Jimmy" Denson and the two are involved on several projects together.
Jesse Lee Denson remains proud of his rockin' days and when he was close to some of the finest musicians of that era but is also looking forward to the future. Lee: "God took care of me. He helped me to do some of the things I wanted to do. I'm a happy man going from 1968 to 1969".
Lee Jesse James Denson died on November 6, 2007 in Memphis, Tennessee.
A few weeks after they arrived in Memphis, they moved from 370 Washington Avenue (now demolished)
into a small, one-room apartment located at 572 Poplar Avenue. The family lived there until September 20, 1949.
The $35-a-month rent for the small
apartment in the large, multi-storied building was within Vernon's budget, and there were a number of
other important reasons for renting it. The ground-floor efficiency was only a brisk walk from Beale
Street, and it was close to the growing downtown business section. The once luxurious house, though,
was in a sad state of disrepair, and the owner neglected to maintain it. The Presley family had to share a
bathroom with other tenants. It was a depressing home in a neighborhood that reeked of white poverty.
Elvis Presley never forgot the toilets, the stench from the kitchen facilities, or the degrading appearance of
the makeshift rooms. The sixteen-unit building, which was owned by Clifton and Mallie Johnson, had
previously been a large single-family house. To alleviate the pressures surrounding the sudden move to
Memphis, the Presley's joined the First Assembly of God church located at 1084 McLemore Street at the
South Main section. They found people much like themselves there - a group of recently displaced, rural
Southern migrants attempting to cope with the rigors of big city life.
(1) - A young Elvis Presley posing on his Firestone Pilot Classic bicycle in front of the S&S Drug Store in
1949 on Poplar Avenue in Memphis. (2) - Looking east down Poplar Avenue at High Street in Memphis
around 1955. The distinctive twin gable home on the right shows up in the background of the first photo.
(1)(3) - Then and now photo showing the spot where Elvis Presley posed for the snapshot in 1949. (4) -
S&S Drug Store building today(2015) at 548 Poplar Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. This was Elvis’
neighborhood for almost a year before moving to Lauderdale Courts in the fall of 1949. >
In January 2014, Vanity Fair magazine published an article showing a photo of Elvis Presley presumably
taken in downtown Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1947. The article traces the origin of the photo to a woman who
was walking into a drugstore to drop off some film that had one exposure left on the roll. According to the
story, she noticed a young Elvis on his bike and asked him to pose, snapping her last frame of him. The
woman later gave the photo to Presley family friend Janelle McComb of Tupelo, who passed along the
photo and the story of how she obtained it to Elvis fan and memorabilia collector Wade Jones shortly
before her death. The story behind the photo may have been correct, but the city was wrong.
The Presleys moved to Memphis in November 1948 and lived at 370 Washington before moving just
around the corner to a large rooming house at 572 Poplar Avenue (below) in June 1949. They briefly lived
there until September, when they moved to Lauderdale Courts. Elvis' grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley,
continued living at the Poplar address, according to the 1950 Memphis City Directory.
The 1950 directory also shows the S&S Drug Store, Lando Marossi restaurant and Milo’s liquor store that
appear in the Vanity Fair photo. John Sampietro, whose father operated the S&S Drug Store at the corner of
Poplar and High Street, remembered his father talking about how a young Elvis would come into the store
to play pinball.
Milo Solomito operated the liquor store just across the street from the drug store and his son, Milo Jr.,
identified the store in the photo as the one his father ran for many years. To the right of the liquor store was
the Marossi restaurant, which was also located across the street from the drug store before moving to a
nearby location in 1954, according to Jerry Marossi.
Posted by Elvis Presley's Graceland on October 12, 2015
572 POPLAR AVENUE - This is one of the many apartments for the Presley's in Memphis. Living in this
sixteen room boarding house, and sharing a bathroom and kitchen with fifteen other families, was
difficult for the family. Times were hard. Minnie May Presley was living with the family, and Elvis Presley had to begin at a new school. The Presley's lived in a ground level apartment in this once-grand mansion. The lack of privacy was bad enough, but it was the filth that was most unbearable. Cockroaches were so plentiful they boldly climbed the walls, even in daylight.
Plaster was knocked loose in place, exposing gaping holes and
ancient lathe work, and aside from the ornate but neglected woodwork, little remained of the once fine house. Given the condition of the house when the Presley's lived there, it is not surprising that the property was eventually razed.
The site is now a vacant lot. A neighbouring house that survived until the early 1990s
has been mistakenly identified as the house where the Presley's lived; however, the city directories last
listed the 572 Poplar Avenue address in 1970. While this vacant lot, nestled among pawn shops and
tenements, is all that remains of Elvis Presley's first year in Memphis, the site still speaks loudly of the
trials of his childhood and the wonder of his rise to stardom.
FIRST ASSEMBLY OF GOD CHURCH
- The Presley's would attend the First Assembly Of God Church
located at 1084 East McLemore Avenue, about two blocks east of the later built Stax Records studio in
Memphis, where Elvis Presley later would sometimes record.
Elvis Presley attended Sunday School, as
did Cecil Blackwood, the younger brother of R.W. Blackwood of the Blackwood Brothers gospel group.
Elvis Presley's girlfriend Dixie Locke Emmons also attended services there, and works as a secretary.
The Assembly of God in Memphis had started out in a tent and later moved to a storefront location on
South Third and finally into a church on McLemore in 1948.
In the early 1950s Pastor James E. Hamill, a
well-educated, fire-and-brimstone preacher who denounced movies and dancing from the pulpit and
encouraged ecstatic demonstrations of faith in his church, had been minister for ten years. It was at this
church that Dixie Locke first saw Elvis Presley.
James Blackwood, leader of the Blackwood Brothers recalls: "Elvis' love of gospel music is wellchronicled.
When Elvis was living in Lauderdale Courts and we had those big gospel conventions at the
Ellis Auditorium, I would take Elvis backstage with me and he would visit with all the groups and the
singers. One time I didn't see him and he went to the front door to try to get backstage with us. The people
at the door didn't know who he was, so he had to buy a ticket. Later, when I learned about this, I wrote
him a letter and enclosed a check, I think it was for $1.25, and sent it to him to refund his money. I knew
he didn't have much money in those days. I have heard they still have that letter and check down at
Elvis and Cecil Blackwood were in the Sunday School class at First Assembly of God Church. Cecil,
young James Hamill and a couple of others had a gospel group, the Songfellows. Elvis would sing a lot in
rehearsal with them. One of the guys was set to leave and Elvis was all set to take his place, but the guy
changed his mind, so Elvis just kept patiently waiting. Then, when Cecil left to join the Blackwood
Brothers, Elvis wanted to take his place. He auditioned for the group, but it was about that time Sun
Records called him in to start recording. I have seen stories that said Elvis tried out for the Songfellows
and the Blackwood Brothers and didn't make it. That's just not the way it happened.
Even after Elvis got his break at Sun Records, he continued his deep love of gospel music. He still
continued to come to the gospel conventions, at least in his early days at Sun, and when Bob Neal was his
manager, we would introduce him and he would come on stage and sing a couple of gospel songs. We and
The Statesmen, featured Jake Hess, would sing harmony behind him.
Then, after Colonel Tom Parker took over, he put a stop to Elvis' singing on stage. Still he would come,
but we could only introduce him. Once, in 1955, still during the Neal days, we were both booked on July
4 at DeLeon, Texas, where each year they had a country gospel sing. It was Elvis and us. He drove in his
Cadillac and we were there in our bus. He stayed with us all day in our bus and when we went on stage,
he announced he was not going to sing anything but gospel, and that is what he did.
He was referring to the airplane crash in 1954 when my brother, R.W., and others were killed. He was
dating Dixie Locke at the time and he told me when he heard the news of the airplane crash, he and Dixie
drove to a park along the river, probably Riverside Park, one of Elvis' favourites, and they cried for a long
Eventually Elvis Presley stopped attending because he did not want his fame to disrupt the services, but
he would remain close to the congregation and especially the Blackwood. When Gladys Presley died, the
family called Reverend Hamill to preach at her funeral
Although Elvis Presley voraciously read books on a number of religious and philosophical topics in his
later years, he never forgot his roots in the Assembly of God Church. In 1962, the First Assembly of God
Church moved to 255 North Highland Street. Today Dixie Locke Emmons is the church secretary.
The church building is now occupied by the Alpha Church Congregation Of
The Temples Of The Living God.
UNKNOWN DATE OCTOBER 1948
Gladys Presley and her sister-in-law, Lorene Presley, found work as seamstresses with Fashion Curtain
Company. Located at 284 Monroe Avenue, it was tough work sewing small curtains from early in the
morning till six o'clock at night. Soon the long hours began to tell, and she deteriorated physically and
OCTOBER 19, 1948 TUESDAY
The Presley family was in need for money and Vernon Presley takes out a loan for $200, to be repaid in
twenty weekly installment of $10 each.
OCTOBER 25, 1948 MONDAY
Radio station WDIA made broadcasting history, when its financially strapped owners, figuring they had
little to lose, made the groundbreaking decision to hire Memphis' first black radio announcer; teacher,
author, black community leader Nat D. Williams. But breaking the broadcasting color line didn't mean
that radio became integrated. Instead, as had happened with the successful local black newspaper the
Tristate Defender, William's success inspired WDIA's white owners to turn it into the nation's first allblack-
staffed radio station. With a license that limited broadcasting to daylight hours - a common
restriction for smaller stations - WDIA radio played blues, swing, gospel, pop, and the latest in rhythm
- In the fall of 1948 WDIA in Memphis, Tennessee, became the first radio station in the
South to adopt an all-black programming format. The station was owned by two white businessmen, John Pepper and Dick Ferguson, where both white and the format was a mix of country and western and light pop. But,
the man most responsibly for the format change at WDIA radio was Nat D. Williams, a local black high
school history teacher. Williams was brought into the station to do his own show on an experimental
basis, it proved to be an overnight sensation. He was the first black radio announcer in the South to play
the popular rhythm and blues records of the day over the airways. His show was so successful that within
six months of its debut WDIA radio had changed its format from a classical music station to one
appealing solely to black listeners and advertisers.
In addition to initiating an entirely new music format, Williams launched a wide variety of programming
innovations at WDIA radio and recruited other talented blacks onto the airways. His first recruits were
fellow high school teachers A.C. Williams and Maurice Hulbert. Both men went on to have long and
distinguished careers in black radio. His most famous recruit was a youthful B.B. King, who used the
exposure on WDIA radio to initiate his career as the country's premiere urban blues artist. In addition to
these black males, Nat D. Williams also recruited the South's first black female announcers to WDIA's
airways; two of the best known were Willa Monroe and Starr McKinney, both of whom did programs
oriented toward black women.
Gospel music, religious programs, and black news and public affairs shows were also prominent on
WDIA radio. The most acclaimed public affairs program was called "Brown America Speaks", it was also
created and hosted by Nat D. Williams. The program addressed race issues from a black perspective and
won an award for excellence from the prestigious Ohio State Institute for Education in radio in 1949.
With the success of WDIA radio, other radio stations around the country also began to adopt blackoriented
formats, and black radio became a fixture in commercial broadcasting nationwide. WDIA radio
station still programs for a black audience in Memphis, making it the oldest black-oriented radio station in
In the early 1950s, the station was advertised as "America's Only 50,000-Watt Negro Radio Station".
Rufus Thomas, a discjockey at WDIA radio, recorded one of the first releases for the Sun label with "Bear
Cat" (SUN 181) in 1953. Blues singer B.B. King also served as a discjockey at WDIA radio. James
Mattis, another discjockey at the station, founded Duke Records of Houston, on which Johnny Ace and
Bobby "Blue" Bland recorded. Joe Hill Louis, another Sun artist, had his own show on WDIA radio.
White blues artist Mike Bloomfield once recorded a song titled "WDIA".
Originally, WDIA's white program director David James instructed the station's disc jockey’s not to play
Elvis Presley records, in a bit a reverse discrimination, but discjockey Rufus Thomas played him anyway,
because he liked the Elvis' sound.
On December 22, 1956, an concert held at the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis for the WDIA's "Goodwill
Review". The artists were: Little Junior Parker, Earl Malone, B.B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, and Elvis
Presley, although Elvis did not perform, he did appear in a walk-on, visited with other artists, and
appeared in publicity poses. The black audience applauded Elvis Presley, with the girls going wild.
WDIA radio discjockey Rufus Thomas has remarked about the show, "Never in my life have you seen
such a surge of black faces converging on that stage. In my lifetime, I know of only one other person who
could have that kind of magnetism, and that was Dr. Martin Luther King".
Today the station and its FM counterpart, K-97, are still the market leaders in Memphis radio. The station
broadcast now from an office at 112 Union Avenue, the former home of radio station WMPS. Today
WDIA radio is located downtown, a few doors west of the Peabody Hotel on Union Avenue on the
NOVEMBER 8, 1948 MONDAY
Elvis Presley switched from Christine School to Humes High School, located at 659 North Mananas
Street, Memphis, Tennessee, a combination junior and senior High School. His first year at Humes, he is
present 165 days, absent fifteen, and never tardy. He receives an A in language; B's in spelling, history,
and phys ed; and C's in arithmetic, music, and science. Elvis Presley attended Humes High School until
he graduated in June 3, 1953. Many students and teachers remember Elvis Presley strolling through the
halls at Humes lugging his guitar.
HUMES HIGH SCHOOL (L.C. HUMES HIGH SCHOOL)
– All-white, 1,700-student Memphis High
School, located in a three-story red brick building at 659 North Manassas Street, which Elvis attended
from late November 1948, until June 1953, when he graduated, while Thomas C. Brindley served as the
principal. In 1950, when he was fifteen, Elvis worked in the library at Humes. Singer Johnny Burnette
was also a student there. Elvis graduated from Humes High (Over on the other side of Memphis, Booker
T. Jones and Maurice White, future drummer for Ramsey Lewis and leader of Earth, Wind and
Fire, respectively, were classmates in the same grade school.
Booker T. would later attend Booker T.
Washington High, where his father taught myth and science. Both Johnny Ace and Rufus Thomas had
also previously attended Booker T. Washington High, on June 3, 1953, in Class 202.
The ceremonies were
held at Ellis Auditorium, located at 225 North Main Street. George Klein, Principal T.C. Brindley, and
Memphis Superintendent of Schools Ernest C. Ball were speakers.
The school, which was named for Laurence Carl Humes, a past president of the Memphis Board of
Education (1918-1925), is presently used as a Humes Junior High, but back then it served grades seven
through twelve. The school had previously been named the North Side High School. Humes High fielded
the Tigers football team, which Elvis attempted to join. He went out for a few practices, but quit because
the coach, Rube Boyce Jr., gave him a hard time about his hair. On April 9, 1953, Elvis performed at the
school's annual Minstrel Show. He had been encouraged by teacher Mildred Scrivener. Singing John
Lair's "Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Of Me", he got the loudest applause from the student audience,
which allowed him to sing an encore, his version of Teresa Brewer's "Till I Waltz Again With You".
(Some sources indicate the encore was "Old Shep"). The school program, which also featured Red West
playing trumpet, misspelled Elvis' name as Elvis Prestly. In 1955 Elvis would give a benefit show at
Humes High. In January 1973 the L.C. Humes High School Marching Band played "Happy Birthday To
You" in front of Graceland in honour of Elvis' thirty-eight birthday.
Principal T.C. Brindley >
Humes today looks much as it did in the 1950s. In fact, it looks like most large brick school buildings of
its era. The auditorium where Elvis Presley performed has been renamed in his honour. Now, as then, the
hallways are filled with only black students who have hope in the future. During Elvis Presley Memorial
Week, held every August to mark the anniversary of his death, pupils take visitors on guided tours of the
school, relating stories of Elvis Presley and classmates, Red and Sonny West.
After Elvis Presley became famous, he did not forget that moment at the variety show and the teacher
who encouraged him. He returned twice to be a guest star on the show. Both shows sold out, raising
money for the school. Miss Scrivener recalled the story of Elvis Presley's return to Memphis in 1956,
days before performing at the Tupelo Fair. Rather than act the movie star, Elvis chose to spend his time
with students at Humes High School, bringing along actor Nick Adams. Together they talked to students
in a class and answered their questions. At the end Elvis Presley went to his old homeroom and sat down
at his old desk.
During one of his visits to Humes High School, Elvis gave a teacher a television set to be used in the
classroom. Then he gave the ROTC department nine hundred dollars to buy new uniforms for a drill
Richard "Tuff" Green, Phineas Newborn, and Ben Branch were injured in a band bus crash outside
Memphis that killed three members of the band. Green quit touring after that, while Phineas senior, with
his two sons quickly coming on of age, decided to form a family band. Calvin played guitar, and the
brilliant but tragically unstable Phineas junior played piano. In the early fifties, the Newborn family band
was one of the hottest acts on the Memphis club scene. Along with their regular gigs on Beale Street and
in West Memphis, the Newborn family band helped B.B. King make his first recordings in the studios of
WDIA radio, and the band make many early Sun Records recordings.
In Tupelo purchases the former home of Pvt. John Allen at corner of Madison and Jefferson streets and
converts it to use as the county's first freestanding library.
JANUARY 8, 1949 SATURDAY
Vernon Presley gives Elvis a paperback book of cartoons by George Price with the inscription: "May your
birthday be sprinkled through 'n through with joy and love and good times too. Daddy". The book
traveled with him to Germany in 1958 and was left behind in his rented house at 14 Goethestrasse.
FEBRUARY 17, 1949 THURSDAY
Vernon Presley found full-time employment at the United Paint Company, located at 446 Concord Avenue
in North Memphis, just a few blocks away from the rooming house on Poplar Avenue. It was a tough job
requiring him to handle hundreds of cases of paint each day. Vernon Presley's job was the hardest he'd
ever had, but he kept it to prove that he could work full-time. One person referred to the United Paint
Company as a place for "mule work". It required an extraordinary amount of physical stamina, and the
working conditions were primitive.
For the week of April 29, 1949, Vernon is paid $37.62 for forty-five hours's work. On the same day he
pays an $11.28 bill at Williams Grocery, 116 Poplar Avenue in Memphis. Vernon Presley's income was
$2,000 a year. According to Elaine Dundy, in her book "Elvis And Gladys", Vernon went to work there as
early as 1949 and received a $10-a-week raise in 1951, enough to get him and his family kicked out of the
UNITED PAINT COMPANY
- Located at 446 Concord Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, Vernon
Presley hopped from job to job. That may have been in Tupelo, but not in Memphis where he held onto
his job at United Paint Company for five years. Vernon was hired at the company on February 19, 1949.
Though the job was mundane - packing paint cans into cardboard boxes - the company's location was
appealing since it was within walking distance of the boarding house on Poplar Avenue. United Paint only
paid a beginning wage of eighty-three cents an hour.
The site of the United Paint Company factory is nearly impossible of find because so many of the streets
have changed. Concord Street is now North Parkway. Danny Thomas Boulevard and Interstate 40 have
drastically changed the neighborhoods in this part of Memphis. Going back to the 1950s addresses, there
are two listings for the United Paint Company factory, one at 446 Concord Avenue and one at 345
Jackson Avenue, depending on whether you look in the phone book or in the city directory. Concord and
Jackson Avenues were parallel to each other so most likely these two addresses were part of the same
complex facing two different streets. Today there is no recognizable part of the complex.
MAY 5, 1949 THURSDAY
Vernon Presley pay with overtime comes to $51.88, and the next day he pays his $12.11 bill at Williams
Jerry Lee Lewis' first public performances at the Ferriday Ford dealership. He sang "Drinkin' Wine Spo-
Dee-O-Dee", a song he must have picked up at Haney's, and the sweet rapture of the applause that
followed set Jerry Lee on his personal course - initially across the river to Natchez, Mississippi, and then
to Shreveport, Louisiana, to audition for a Hayride package show that was to be headlined by Slim
JUNE 17, 1949 FRIDAY
As a follow-up to Vernon's application for public housing, Jane Richardson, a home service adviser for
the Memphis Housing Authority, visits Gladys Presley and Elvis in the Presley family's rented room at
572 Poplar while Vernon is at work. She notes that they share a bathroom with the other residents and
cook on a hot plate. They pay $9.50 a week in rent. Miss Richardson's report indicates that their
application has merit and that they could use housing, preferably near Mr. Presley's work. The son, she
notes, is a ''nice boy'', and bot Mrs. Presley and the boy seem ''very nice and deserving''. Vernon salary is
listed as $40.38 per week at 85 cents per hours.
Eddie Hill started his session for Decca Records in Nashville, Tennessee, which was held at the same time
as Bob Price's session.
Lauderdale Courts, Winchester Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. >
SEPTEMBER 20, 1949 TUESDAY
According to Jane Richardson, Elvis Presley and his family moved into Apartment 328 of the
Lauderdale Courts, a public housing project located at 185 Winchester Street. Interestingly, Guralnick says this move occurred first on September 20, after Elvis had already started his freshman year at Humes High.
All in all, it was a happy move: the apartment was not only much cleaner than the one on Poplar Street, but it
had a living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a private bathroom. Rent was $35 a month; low enough that Vernon could easily meet it. The day after the Presley's moved into the Lauderdale Courts, the telephone company installed a desk phone in the front room. Their telephone number was 37-4185.
Elvis Presley quickly memorized the telephone number and urged everyone that he knew to call him. The Presleys lived in the Courts for
three and a half years. Soon after the move, however, Vernon's mother and Elvis' grandmother, Minnie Mae Hood, came to live with the Presleys, having been granted a divorce from her husband Jessie D. in 1947. This caused over-crowding in the apartment, leaving Vernon and Gladys with no privacy and creating tensions within the family. Mrs. Presley was more popular than Mr. Presley in the Courts; everyone spoke of her warmth and liveliness. Still, the Presleys kept mostly to themselves. They were like a family set apart, almost sealed off from the people around them. And the absolute focus on Elvis, their only child, sometimes led even family members to feel like outsiders.
Part of a courtyard of Lauderdale Courts, Memphis, Tennessee, 1950s. >
Once in Memphis, young teenage Elvis underwent a number of transformations. At his old First Assembly of God church in Tupelo, people were not allowed to see movies or to dance (although it's clear Elvis did both). In Memphis, Elvis rejected these notions. Years later he remarked "I don't like a church where you can't enjoy small pleasures''. He began to pursue his true passion: music. Beale Street in Memphis was the place to hear it all, and Elvis did.
Early on, he was impressed by the guitar and piano accompaniments of the blues acts he heard, because they packed such power. As a teenager, Elvis witnessed such blues greats as B.B King and Arthur Cruddup. In addition to the blues, Memphis was a major center for hillbilly and country music, as well as early rock and roll ("Rocket 88", considered to be the first rock and roll song, was recorded and released by Sam Phillip's Sun Studio in 1951), all of which would combine in the 1950's into the kind of music known as rockabilly. Elvis listened to a lot of this emerging music on the numerous Memphis radio stations, including WHBQ, the home of Dewey Phillips' infamous "Red, Hot, and Blue" radio show.
The scene in Memphis reflected other new aspects of the music business as well, specifically the rise in small local record labels. Sun Studios, which made Elvis famous, was only one of many such studios. These studios allowed many performers to cut records who, without access to the great labels of the period such as RCA, Decca, or Capitol, normally would have been unable to do so.
The summer after his freshman year, Vernon bought Elvis a push lawn mower, which Elvis used to solicit jobs at $4 per yard. He and his friends also sold fruit discarded by supermarkets in order to earn money. Elvis loved to work. But he also did the things other teenagers did, including playing football, going to movies, and eating shakes and hamburgers. Elvis quickly discovered the Suzore #2 movie theater, which was near the Courts. The Suzore featured Saturday afternoon bargain matinees at which Elvis, a long-time lover of movies, became a regular. Tony Curtis was one of the screen stars Elvis actively emulated- his senior photo features Elvis with a home permanent, meant to imitate Curtis' curly black hair.
UNKNOWN DATE OCTOBER 1949
Sam Phillips signed the lease on a small storefront property at the junction of Union and Marshall
Avenues, near the heart of downtown Memphis. The rent at 706 Union Avenue was $150 a month. He
installed his recording and transcription equipment with the help of a two-year loan from Buck Turner, a
regular performer on radio station WREC.
Working with the slogan "We Record Anything-Anywhere-
Anytime", Sam Phillips opened the doors of the Memphis Recording Service in January 1950. Becky
Phillips took a photo of her husband standing outside the studio and pasted it into the scrapbook with her
caption, "A Man's Dream Fulfilled-What Next?".
When Sam Phillips opened his Memphis Recording Service in 1950, he was literally taking a chance on a
new area of business in Memphis. There just had not been any successful attempts to set up a commercial
recording venture. There were no record labels currently operating in Memphis. Even a company called
Royal Recording, set up in 1948 to record private functions and the like, had folded during 1949. "It was
because of the closure of the Royal Studio downtown that my bosses at WREC radio warned me against
trying to start my own recording business", Sam Phillips recalled.
Despite the legendary reputation the city now has for its recorded music, Sam Phillips could have stood in
his new studio and looked back over the short history of recorded sound seeing no local expertise upon
which to draw other than radio. The local radio engineers sometimes recorded music or advertising
material onto disc for subsequent radio broadcast. Occasionally radio studios would be used by an out of
town recording company. Other then this, and the booth in a local store where you could record a message
for your own private use, there were no recording facilities in Memphis.
Major national recording companies had occasionally made recordings in Memphis "on location" as part
of a field trip to find regional music forms, but there had been no concerted effort to document or market
Memphis music, be it popular, jazz, blues, gospel or hillbilly. In other regional centers, it sometimes
occurred to local furniture stores to make recordings to sell in their shop along with the phonographs.
Bullet Records of Nashville and Trumpet of Jackson, Mississippi started in this way, but there appears not
to have been a Memphis equivalent of these ventures. Similarly, there had been little interest shown by
local radio engineers or record distributors as sometimes occurred elsewhere. There were large record
pressing and distribution organisations in Memphis from the late 1940s - Plastic Products, and Music
Sales - but they were geared to the major labels and to west coast and north eastern independents.
Sam Phillips was a radio man. At heart, he still is. It was through his friend and contacts at radio station
WREC in Memphis that he acquired sufficient equipment to set up his studio in the first place. He bought
his first recording machines from WREC's country disc jockey Buck Turner.
Apprehensively, but aware of his success at Grant's the station gave Dewey Phillips a shot at hostling, and
in less than a year the show grew from 15 minutes to an hour; then two; then three. Broadcasting from the
magazine level (i.e. mezzanine) of the Chisca Hotel, his signature was a manic, machine-gun style of
speaking that made few concessions to proper English. "Deegaw", he would yelp, and no one cared what
it meant. If the jocks at WDIA radio talked over records to disguise lewd lyrics, Dewey Phillips did it just
because it was fun.
Colonel Tom Parker's variety shows (All-Star Shows) in the late 1940s. He used a covered wagon on his
letterhead. Parker was still using the All-Star Shows name during the 1960s and 1970s.
Leadbelly appears in France, becoming the first country bluesman to perform in Europe.
OCTOBER 15, 1949 SATURDAY
The edition of the Memphis Housing Appeal, the Housing Authority's newspaper, lists the Presleys as one of seventeen
new families who have recently moved into the Lauderdale Courts. Quietly, without going out of his way to call
attention to himself, Elvis Presley starts to make new friends, playing guitar with a group of older boys
under the leafty trees of Market Mall, the path that bisects the neatly kept housing development.
remains in the background for the most part, singing the gospel numbers and popular ballads that he loves
and learning all that he can from these more experienced teenage musicians.
Photo: In 1935, Memphis became the second city in the nation to establish a Federal Housing Authority. The first project was to build two housing projects: Dixie Homes for blacks - and (construction circa 1937) Lauderdale Courts (above) for whites. Lauderdale Courts was Colonial Revival in style with brick exteriors and porches covered by metal roofs. It became famous because Elvis Presley and his parents lived at 185 Winchester Street and occupied apartment 328 from 1949 to 1953 (below). The complex closed in 2000 but was renovated and reopened in 2004 as Uptown Square. >
UNKNOWN DATE DECEMBER 1949
Elvis Presley first met Billie Wardlaw Mooneyham at Lauderdale Courts. "One day someone knocked on
my door. I went to the door, and there was Elvis", recalled Billie Wardlaw, "I could see he was holding
something, it looked like some kind of package, behind his back. I knew his name was Elvis because I
had talked to him from my window. We were standing there in the doorway talking and finally he took
this package from behind his back and said, 'Here, I brought you something'. I opened the package and it
was a pair of blue jeans. The first pair of blue jeans I ever had.
And Elvis said, 'Now you can come down and play with us. Now you have some clothes to wear'. So I
started going down and playing and talking with the gang. I guess it was early that December that one day
Elvis again knocked on my door. Again he had something for me. He handed me a bock of cherries. He
must have paid fifty cents for them. And he told me, 'These are for your Christmas. You can't eat them
until then'. After that, we started walking to school together. All of us walked together to school in those
days because it saved us a dime. I asked him once to teach me how to play the guitar, so he would bring
his guitar up and show me where to put my fingers. When I was working at Britlings, lot of times when
my mother and I would walk home, Elvis would be outside picking his guitar in the dark. His mother and
dad would be sitting out there on quilts listening. We knew he could sing, but I don't think he ever thought
he was good as a singer. He was really embarrassed a lot about his singing. Once my mother told him,
'Elvis, you sing so good you ought to be singing on radio'", says Billie Wardlaw.
"Elvis was different from all the other kids in those days", says Billie, "that was probably his trait, but he
was never like anybody else. He was all the time combing his hair, but that wasn't because he was in love
with it so much as it was long. If his hair fell all the way down, it could reach his chin, so he was always
combing it to keep it from falling down across his face. He had real straight hair".
"After we broke up, one of his cousins came home from the military and wanted to take me out with him
to get something to eat. We were in the Presley's apartment at the time. I said, 'Elvis, why don't you come
along, too? You can go with Mary Elizabeth, my friend'. He didn't put up a fuss. He said, 'OK,' and we
drove over to Leonard's to get something to eat. When they took out order, I said, 'I want a milk shake and
a big hunk of ice cream'. Then I turned to Elvis and said, '...and Elvis, you can pay for this'. Elvis
exploded. He said, 'goddam it, Billie, you know I ain't ever got no money!'. He got out of the car and he
and his cousin began arguing. We tried quite a few times to get him back in that car, but he wouldn't get
back in, so we drove off and left him there at Leonard's. The next day he told me four girls in a
convertible came along and they gave him a ride home. I didn't believe it when he told me, but looking at
how his life turned out, maybe it did happen the way he told it".
Billie continued, "And then his first record came out and soon he was famous. He came to Memphis to
play a concert at the Ellis Auditorium and I went. After the concert, Elvis Presley gave me an autographed
picture. On it he had written, 'To Billie, My Little Ex-'. The only time I saw him after that was one day I
was riding a bus home from Britlings. I looked out the window and there was Elvis driving alongside in a
convertible. I stuck my head out the window and yelled, 'Elvis! Elvis!'. He looked up and was he
surprised seeing me. He yelled at me to get off that bus, that he would drive me home, so I got off and got
in the convertible with him and he drove me home. And during that drive, Elvis told me, 'Billie, I have
changed. I am not like I used to be'. I could see that.
What with him now becoming famous and the women at Britlings knowing I had dated Elvis before, they
started joking with me that I had made a mistake, that I should have stayed with him, adding, 'Look what
you would have now'. But Elvis never had anything when I dated him. He was as poor as I was. Had I
ended up staying with him and marrying him, who knows? He may have never had anything".
"Even today, sometimes I will think about him and I really get mad at him and I say to myself, 'Elvis, you
were just a year older than me. You don't have to be dead".
Britlings at 74 Union Avenue right next door to the Loews Palace Theatre. >
UNKNOWN DATE LATE 1949
Gladys Presley worked parttime at the coffee urn at Britlings Cafeteria, located at 74 Union Avenue,
- was a chain of cafeteria-style restaurants, which originated in Memphis
during the 1920's.
The company was owned by John H. Holcomb of Birmingham and a Memphis partner.
About 1930 the partners split but they agreed the Britlings name be continued. Britlings cafeterias were
Their motto was: Good food is good Health. Sunday afternoon lunch at Britlings was a
tradition. One of the downtown Memphis locations is noteworthy for one of it's former employees was
Gladys Presley, mother of Elvis. Britlings fell into decline in the 1970's as fast food restaurants became
more popular, and they were never as successful in moving to the suburbs. The Britlings on Madison
opened in 1921, the Britlings on 74 Union Avenue opened in 1938 and featured murals by prominent
Memphis artist, Burton Callicott. This building was demolished along with the next door Loew's Palace
Theater for a parking garage.
1950 Memphis Telephone Directory, it lists the Presleys! >
Sometimes he slipped into the ghetto to listen to the black music. In these early Memphis years, Elvis avidly pursued his musical interests, listening and learning all he could. He was already practicing his future hits "I Need You So" and "Hound Dog", and had listened to Franklin McCormick's version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" way back in 1953, in a record shop on Beale Street.
He loved the group The Ink Spots, whose songs "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" were the first he ever recorded. He often hung out in record stores, finding new and old songs alike. Anyone who had a guitar became Elvis' friend.
In addition, Elvis loved gospel music of all kinds, and it was this music which brought him actively into the First Assembly of God church. As a sophomore, he discovered the Odd Fellows Hall at Columbia Mutual Tower, a place where country and gospel performers alike performed. This was the first place he saw Bill Black play. He also met up with Doug Poindexter, whose group The Starlite Wranglers featured Scotty Moore on guitar.
At the Lauderdale Courts, Elvis befriended Evan "Buzzy" Forbess, and soon met Buzzy's friends Paul Dougher, Farley Guy, and Jim Denson. Johnny and Dorsey Burnette lived there, Johnny Black also lived there - his older brother Bill became Elvis' bass player. Elvis and his friends roamed around Memphis, exploring the many sights and sounds. Elvis also held many parties at his Lauderdale apartment, where he often played his guitar and sang (although he was so shy he usually would only do so with the lights out). Elvis often amazed his friends by knowing all the words to every song. Gladys supported Elvis in his musical endeavors. At one point she asked Jim Denson's mother if Jim's older brother, Jesse Lee, known around town for his guitar playing, would give Elvis guitar lessons, which Jesse, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to. Every Saturday and Sunday Elvis showed up for his lessons - often they went down into the basement below the Courts to play, so as not to disturb others.
Fist fights were as common as weather changes, for in the projects it was be macho or not survive. Fights would start suddenly, even among best friends, and many times as soon as they were over, the two antagonists shook hands and were again best friends. There was no room for sissies. People in today's world look down on those living in federal housing projects. They see them as people who will always remain poor. But from this two square block area of Lauderdale Courts, during the time Elvis Presley lived there, more success stories had their beginnings than in probably any other neighborhood in America. Escaping from the Lauderdale Courts, Johnny Avgeris and Stanley Myers became doctors; George Blancett became a judge; Hugh and Paul Hathcock became outstanding educators; Jerry May and Charles and John Bramlett would become star football players in college, with John playing many years in the National Football League; Maury Joe Smith became a Catholic priest; and Gigi Poston became dean of music at Arkansas State University. And then, of course, Elvis Presley became... Elvis! It was here, during these formative, impressionable years that young Elvis Presley attended Humes High School, and one day escaping the project.
When Elvis Presley was 15, he and first girlfriend, Betty McMahan, posed across the street from Lauderdale Courts housing development, where the Presley family lived from 1949 to 1953. >
His first girlfriend in the Courts was Betty McMahan, whom he is sitting next to in one of the more famous photos of the young King. He often took her to the Suzore. Billie Wardlaw, Betty's friend, became Elvis' girlfriend after Betty started dating someone else. Billie said of Elvis, "Elvis was a great kisser, and since we were always playing spin the bottle in the dark, he didn't let his shyness get in the way''.
Elvis liked being around girls - even though he may not have admitted it, he felt more comfortable around them. And the women liked him, too: he exuded a kind of aching vulnerability which made them want to care for him.
In November, 1950, Elvis was hired as a part-time usher at Loew's Theater. A few months later, in January of 1951, Vernon was laid off from work due to back problems. Elvis therefore worked 35 hours a week for almost a year, despite school, using his earnings to help his family. He was fired from Loew's after getting in a fight with another boy, but soon started working at the Malco Theater. As a student, Elvis went rather unnoticed his first two years at Humes High. Although he played for his friends in the Courts, Elvis didn't reveal his musical interests to very many people at Humes until eleventh grade, when he once again began toting his guitar to school. Like others, he listened to Dewey Phillips on WHBQ. Elvis also listened to lots of other Memphis stations and was exposed to a large variety of music, everything from the blues to country to gospel to rhythm and blues.
As a sophomore, Elvis joined the ROTC. Although he loved it and especially enjoyed wearing his uniform, he quit after a year due to lack of time. He also liked reading history and literature books, and became a library volunteer worker. Elvis read voraciously. Comic books were among his favorite, because of their images of power and success, and he long admired Captain Marvel. Many people believe the lightning bolt Elvis used as his 1970's trademark came from Marvel's costume. In high school, however, his friends didn't understand his enthusiasm for books, and so he turned to reading in private. Elvis hid his great love for reading for the rest of his life - he often brought trunks of books with him on tour, something which only a few knew about.
In the summer of 1951, the summer before his junior year, Elvis went to work for Precision Tool. He was eventually fired after his employers discovered he was not yet 18. Elvis kept his badge, badge #78, even though he wasn't supposed to: he'd liked the job. As a senior, Elvis started working part-time in September, 1952, for Marl Metal Products, a furniture-assembling plant. He worked from 3:00 to 11:30 p.m. every day, a heavy work load for a high school student.
Jim Cannon (left), Jean Jennings (middle left), Johnny Black's wife Carolyn (middle right) and Elvis Presley (right) mingle at a party at Cannon's mother's house on Colby Street (Lauderdalev Courts), before Jim Cannon left for Korea, August 1952 >
Because his work was causing his grades to slip, Gladys forced Elvis to quit so that he could focus on school. She herself had gone back to work as a nurse's aide in November 1951 at St. Joseph's Hospital.
after Gladys told Elvis about the rich patients at the hospital, one of whose husband drove a pink Cadillac, he laughingly promised he'd buy her a new pink Caddy when he got rich, a promise he didn't forget.
By eleventh grade, Elvis appeared to have gained some self-confidence. He brought his guitar to school again. He changed his hair, wearing it long and somewhat greasy. He even tried out for football. Some of the boys on the team ganged up on Elvis in the locker room, however, threatening to beat him up if he didn't cut his hair. The coach eventually kicked him off the team because he refused to do so, although others suggest that at 6 feet and 150 pounds, Elvis was considered too small to play. In addition to his noticeably different hair, Elvis began dressing in a more distinctive manner. Where others wore jeans, Elvis wore dress pants, often in his favorite colors of pink and black. He often wore a black bolero jacket he had bought at Lanksy's clothing store on Beale Street, one of his favorite haunts which featured the latest new hip styles. Elvis seemed determined to be himself, to express his individuality through his wild clothes. Others thought he was a freak, but Elvis was aiming for his own style.
One of the places Elvis and his friends visited was the Blues Shop, or sometimes called Charlie's, a record store. Customers could take a record from the inventory and listen to the music on phonograph players inside the store. It was at 281 North Main Street according to the 1954 Memphis telephone directory, next door to the Suzore #2. It was a favorite hangout for teens who were really into music. Henry's Record Shop was another hangout spot for Elvis, especially since black musicians gathered there as well. From them Elvis acquired immense knowledge of urban Memphis blues. Billy "The Kid" Emerson, Charlie Feathers, Little Junior Parker, and Malcolm Yelvington's Star Rhythm Boys were among the many musicians who influenced young Elvis. He collected as many records as possible, and spent a lot of time watching television. He was always studying the music scene, on whatever medium available. At noon on any given free day, Elvis went down to the WMPS studio for the High Noon Round Up, emceed by disc jockey Bob Neal, his future manager. He became a regular at the All Night Gospel Singings, held in the Ellis Auditorium just up the street. It was here he first saw the Blackwood Brothers perform. Elvis was very drawn to quartet music, an interest reflected years later in his choice of the Jordanaires as his back-up group. He particularly liked the Ink Spots and the Statesmen. Music, more and more, became the focus of his life.
Elvis performed in the December 1952 Humes High Christmas talent show, singing his favorite, "Old Shep". He was the only act awarded an encore. This show increased his popularity at Humes, and in turn Elvis gained more self-confidence. Although Elvis had made some friends at Humes, including George Klein and Red West, many of his best friends in his high school years went to South Side High, including Ronald Smith, Johnny Burnette, Kenneth Herman, and Barbara Hearn, whom Elvis dated for a while. Ron and Elvis got along especially well because they were both very into music.
The Presleys had been notified in November of 1952 by the Memphis Housing Authority their income was high enough (at $4,133 a year) that they no longer qualified for public housing. Vernon received an eviction notice on November 17th, stating they had to be out by February of 1953.
In all the interviews with Humes High, Class of 1953, graduates, one and all pointed to Evan Buzzy Forbess
as Elvis Presley's best friend during his years at Humes, and not the other profiteers such as......! In fact, from
the tales told by a number of people who knew Elvis in those years, one might term the quartet of Elvis
Presley, Buzzy Forbess, Paul Dougher and Farley Guy as ''the rat pack''. They were seemingly inseparable –
at times industrious, at times energetic, at times joking, at times fighting and making up, but at all times
Humes High version of ''The Rat Pack'' at the Lauderdale Courts 1952. From left: Farley Guy; Elvis Presley; Paul Dougher and Buzzy
Like many best friends everywhere, they slowly parted ways after leaving high school as each
began the pursuit of his own adulthood, his own career, his own family. And while their paths would cross
again from time to time in later years, it just wasn't the same anymore. Evan Buzzy Forbess found work at
the Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division and has spent his adult life there. Forbess lives comfortable north
Memphis home near Bartlett.
When Farley Guy's father, a railroad man, died in 1949, his mother moved into Lauderdale Courts. That
summer, Farley, who had stayed behind to finish his seventh grade school year in Macon, Tennessee, moved
in with her. They had a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor at 185 Winchester in the Courts. Below
them lived the Presley family; above them, the Doughers. Farley liked that because both families had sons
about his age. Even then, living in the city, Farley could not escape the country boy in him. He brought with
him his love for the farm, especially horses. It is a love that continues today. Farley, a slow talking, plain
talking dude, operated the stables at sprawling Shelby Farms in Memphis.
Paul Dougher, lived on the third floor at Lauderdale with his mother and brother who was a elevator
operator. Dougher who now owns a north Memphis liquor store, named by the name of ''Hollywood'' at
1994 Chelsea Avenue in Memphis wrote his book about his youth with Elvis, called ''Elvis: Before He Was
King'', a story told to author Gene Myracle.
''Elvis: Before He Was King'' offers a firsthand account of the life of a young Elvis Presley. The book begins
in 1949 when the Presley family moved into the Lauderdale Courts, a Memphis Housing Authority complex
in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis was fourteen years old at the time. On his second day in the Courts, Elvis met
Paul Dougher who lived in the same building. Paul and Elvis formed an immediate friendship that lasted
until Elvis’ death. In the book, Paul shares stories that reveal a unique portrait of Elvis during his teenage
years. He includes details of many boyhood experiences that formed the basis of their lifelong friendship.
The book also touches on the isolation Elvis felt once he reached a level of success that would be unmatched
by any other entertainer. It offers insight into the despair and loneliness surrounding Elvis toward the end of
his life. In the final few chapters, Paul offers his personal thoughts on the events and actions that contributed
to the untimely death of his friend, a man with one of the greatest voices the world has ever heard.
According to Paul Dougher, ''We stayed close friends, but later on it got to be such a hassle to try to see him,
I gave up. Used to, you could just call and get right through. I could almost always get him on the phone or
go out to the gate. They would let him know I was there and he'd say "Let him come up". But later, with so
many people trying to do that, I guess he wanted more seclusion. When I would call up there, Charlie Hodge
would get on the phone, or Joe Esposito. They would say, "He's busy with something''. They probably
wouldn't even let him know I was on the phone. I finally gave up and would only see him when he came to
see me. He would come by and I would say, "I tried to get hold of you". Just tell them who you are," he'd say.
"That doesn't always help'', "I explained''.
Very unfortunate, in a newspaper report in the Commercial Appeal from June 25, 2003, mentioned that, the
67-year old liquor store owner Paul Dougher robbed and wounded on his way to deposit store receipts at a
midtown bank may be the latest victim in a string of similar crimes, police said. Paul Samuel Dougher
longtime owner of Hollywood liquors, remained in critical condition Tuesday night at the Regional Medical
Center at Memphis. He was shot twice during a robbery Monday morning at the National Bank of
Commerce at 1985 Union Avenue and has undergone several surgeries. ''We are just praying'', said his wife,
Cherri Dougher. ''We just don't know''. Dougher appears to be the first person seriously injured in the series
of robberies over the past two months.
Dougher said her husband has been the proprietor of the liquor store for about 30 years and was dropping off
receipts from weekend sales. Police said that at about 11:30 a.m., Dougher got out of his Mercury Grand
Marguins with a drop bag in his hand, heading toward the bank. He was confronted by a gunman who
wrested the bag from his hand. Dougher chased after the suspect and was pistol-whipped and shot twice,
police said. Witnesses described a black Nissan Pathfinder that sped south on Barksdale from the bank
Jim Cannon (left) and Johnny Black (right) pick and sing at Cannon's mother's house (Lauderdale Courts) at party for Cannon before he left for Korea.
Carolyn Black (right), Vivian Miller (middle), and Joseph Buck Cannon (left) watch and sing along behind them. Johnny, who is left handed, would flip his guitar and play it upside down. >
UNKNOWN DATES 1950-1951
Elvis Presley began to make new friends at Humes. George Klein, who eventually became the senior class president
at L.C. Humes High, befriended Elvis Presley during the ninth grade. Initially, it was not a close
relationship. Klein was a slick politician interested in maintaining his popularity. As a result, he was
friendly to everyone. Red West and his cousin Sonny West had introduced Elvis Presley to George Klein
at Humes High, but Elvis Presley was initially nervous around the overly-aggressive and socially-mobile
Klein. Few people remember George Klein as one of Elvis' friends during Elvis Presley's years at Humes
High. Kenneth Herman, Eddie Bond, Ronald Smith, and Jim Denson all recalled that Klein was
personable and nice to everyone, but that he was simply not one of Elvis' closest High School friends.
Klein's lifelong friendship with Elvis Presley did not really begin until 1956. Elvis Presley took a class in
music in the eighth grade. Mrs. Elsie Marmann, the school's music teacher, later recalled that Elvis sang
in 1953 "Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Of Me" and "Old Shep" for her class. Elvis Presley would later
joke about getting an "F" in music class. However, the fact is he received a "C" from Mrs. Marmann.
Evan "Buzzy" Forbess one of Presley's new friends who remembered how nervous Elvis Presley was
during the songfest. "He was shy", Forbess remarked, "but we loved to hear him sing". The reason that
Mrs. Marmann asked Elvis Presley to sing was because he often carried his guitar to school. Jane
Lazenby, a student in the music class, recalled that Elvis Presley often walked through the Humes High
School halls, his collar turned up, plunking away at his guitar. After the short singing session, Mrs.
Marmann was critical of Elvis' singing. The incident apparently had no effect, as Elvis Presley and his
guitar remained inseparable.
"We were in the eighth grade", said George Klein, "and it was coincidental that Elvis and I were thrown
into the same class together, and we went all the way through together - same class. I wanted to be a disc
jockey, he wanted to be a singer. I remember in the eight grade one year we had a music class, the teacher
was Miss Morman, and Elvis brought his guitar to school at Christmas time and she let him get up in front
of the class and sing". "I was in a class that didn't know anything about..., I mean we were studying basic
stuff, Bach, Beethoven, what sharps and flats were and all that", said George Klein. "But Elvis got up and
he stood not behind a podium but behind a table and he sang "Cold, Cold Icy Fingers". I think he might
have done "Old Shep", I'm not sure. He got some applause from his classmates. From then on I would see
him around school and we would chat and talk. Now, we weren't by any stretch of the imagination what
you would call best friends, but we were good friends".
"That was the first time I'd ever heard him sing and I was very impressed. I liked him, but singing wasn't
something you did at school at that time, really... Everyone was into sports and that kind of thing. Then
we went on, there were other talent shows and then the senior class show which he won. I remember that,
I was on the front row that night".
"The way I found out he could play the guitar, I never remember seeing him have it in school", remarked
Red West, "but one of the projects we had in wood shop was to bring an article from home that needed to
be repaired, and our wood shop instructor, Mr. Widdop, would look at it and evaluate what had to be
done, and that would be our project for a six-week time period. Anyway, I brought something from home,
and Elvis brought a guitar. And he fooled around with in, sanded it, used some rosin glue and fixed a
crack in it, stained it, varnished it, then he took this real fine seel wool to get all the bubbles out of the
lacquer and bring it down to a satin finish so it looked really good. Then he put the strings back on it and
was tuning it just before the period ended. So, naturally, somebody came up and said, 'Hey, man, can you
play that thing? And he said, 'No, not really. I just know a few chords. My uncle's taught me a few
chords'. So they said, 'Why don't you play something for us'. He said, 'Naw, I can't do that', and he kept
tuning it. Well, somebody grabbed him from behind and locked his arms behind him, and another guy got
his car keys out of his pocket, and they said,'If you play something, you'll get your car keys back'. He
said, "well, okay, I'll try, but I really don't know that much". And he started picking out the melody to a
song that most people today probably wouldn't even know called "Under The Double Eagle", and he did it
very expertly. And it just blew me away. I didn't even know he could play that guitar - I just thought he
was fixing it for somebody else".
MARKET MALL / LAUDERDALE COURTS
- Lauderdale Courts covered such a large expanse that
it was much like a small community, complete with its own facilities, parks, and recreation
areas. In 1949 the twenty-six-acre project included sixty-six three- and two-story apartment
buildings, with 449 apartments in all.
The complex included a steam power plant at 243
Winchester Avenue and the headquarters of the Memphis Housing Authority at 264 North
Lauderdale Street. Not surprisingly, the Courts' residents adopted their own areas to
Market Mall was one such place. Before the construction of Lauderdale Courts, this was
actually part of Market Street. Renamed Market Mall when the street was blocked off, it is
the east-to-west pedestrian walkway that begins at Third Avenue and ends at Lauderdale
Street. On either side of Market Mall, apartments were built, with entrance doors facing the
mall and a row of steps leading on to each door. The Market Mall and the doorsteps became
informal gathering places for the young Lauderdale Courts residents. Many of these residents
remember Elvis Presley entertaining on Market Mall.
Johnny Black, brother of Bill Black said, "It was just whoever would come, whoever showed
up. We'd have a mandolin maybe, three or four guitars, and the people would gather. We
weren't trying to impress the world, we were just playing to have a good time".
RECREATION HALL (TEEN CANTEEN) LAUDERDALE COURTS
- Located at 243 Winchester Avenue, near the boiler house, was the maintenance building of the Courts.
This is the former recreation hall for the Lauderdale Courts housing project. Elvis Presley attended teen
dances here, and sometimes performed. Paul Burlison used to say that he, and his friends Johnny and Dorsey
Burnette played the same dances here.
They would not let Elvis perform with them. They were older and
among the toughest kids in the city.
The Burnette brothers and Paul Burlison became the Rock And Roll Trio. The Burnette brothers were Golden Glove boxers with a combative disposition to match. The Rock And Roll Trio would later record some of the most distinctive rockabilly of the era.
Johnny and Dorsey both wrote songs and recorded as solo acts before their untimely deaths. Paul Burlison chose to give up life on the road and raise his family.
Buzzy Forbess, a friend of Elvis, remembers being teased by Elvis at one of these dances. Elvis asked the crowd to be quiet so that he could make an announcement. When he had everyone's attention, he declared that everyone except Buzzy had paid a quarter for admission. What Elvis neglected to say was that that afternoon, while horsing around, Elvis had talked Buzzy out of his quarter (his last quarter that he was saving for the dance) and lost it in a pinball machine. Of course, Buzzy was embarrassed.
When Elvis's friends organized these events, Elvis would often sing. However, other residents of the Courts also held parties in the hall, and Elvis wasn't always allowed to perform. An older, thougher group of aspiring musicians performed at many of these gatherings.
Today this building is a health club for the Uptown Square residents.
The Weaver's version of Leadbelly's "Goodnight, Irene" sells over 2 million copies. Across the river in
West Memphis, Arkansas, radio station KWEM was developing a reputation for country music. In the
1950s, their top disc jockey’s were Bill Strength and Dick Stuart, supported by live acts including Clyde
Leopard's band, Charlie Feathers and Jack Earls.
The competition for Bob Neal in the country disc jockey stakes came from Dick Stuart on KWEM and
Sleepy Eyed John Lepley on WHHM. Other forms of specialised music programming included some
blues and gospel on most stations, particularly KWEM and, of course, the black radio station WDIA in
As to recording actually made in Memphis in the immediate post-War years, very little activity has been
uncovered before the establishment of Sun, Duke and Meteor in 1952 and Starmaker in 1953. Ike Turner
recorded some blues in makeshift studios for Modern Records of Hollywood in 1951 and 1952, and Rufus
Thomas and others recorded for Star Talent at Johnny Curry's Club in Memphis. There were some very
short-lived labels operating in 1953, including one-issue blues labels like Wasco (Professor Longhair) and
Back Alley (Tippo Lit). The only vaguely substantial recording enterprise to predate Sun appears to have
been the Buster label formed in the late 1940s by Buster Williams started in 1949. However, the evidence
suggest that the Buster releases were in fact reissues of material from west coast record labels and that
Buster was primarily a manufacturing and sales exercise rather than a recording enterprise related to local
In Tupelo, at the North Mississippi Community Hospital, a three-story wing that increases the bed
capacity to 95 is constructed and joined to the south side of the original building.
UNKNOWN DATE JANUARY 1950
Further research may reveal other Memphis recordings and labels. There are still some puzzles to be
solved. Someone called Dreamy Joe recorded "Hardin's Bread Boogie" on a promotional 78rpm for
Action Promotions. There will have been other promotional discs made, and possibly some of these saw
limited commercial releases.
Sam Phillips organises a deal with Bill McCall of 4-Star and Gilt-Edge Records in California, whereby
Sam Phillips will record country and blues musicians from the Memphis area and sell the recordings to
McCall for commercial release. Phillips records blues musicians Lost John Hunter (for release on 4-Star)
and Charlie Burse (unissued). He also records gospel music with the Gospel Travellers, whose songs he
pitches to Modern Records in Hollywood.
The first time Ronald Smith met Elvis Presley, he attended on a birthday party for Patti Philpot in the
Cummings area of South Memphis. It was Patti Philpot who introduced Ron to Elvis and they quickly
became close friends. Jesse Lee Denson from Lauderdale Courts was at the party, and they all played
together and sang into the night.
"I first met Elvis Presley in 1950 at a birthday party", Ronald Smith remarked. "He was singing an Eddy
Arnold song, "Please Mommy Please Stay Home With Me". Elvis Presley sang some Hank Snow songs,
and he really liked Lefty Frizzell's music. I was impressed", Smith remarked. "I had never seen a guy with
that much knowledge".
"I had gone there with Jimmy Wright and we had brought our guitars along to the party", said Smith, who
was attending nearby South Side High School at the time. "Elvis walked in the door and I mean, hey, this
guy was too cool. We didn't know how to treat him until he picked up Jimmy's guitar and got to singing.
Man, I was sitting there thinking he was as good as Marty Robbins!".
"Elvis was seeing Patti at the time", said Ronald Smith. "He was also seeing Dixie Locke. Sometimes he
would go see Dixie first, then he would drop by and see Patti. And sometimes, when he didn't have
enough time to see Patti, he would ask me how she was doing and I would tell him, 'Man, you're causing
Patti to put on a lot of lipstick".
"Patti's mom was always having to go out there and chase Elvis off the porch. Patti wasn't but fourteen at
that birthday party, but she was mature, like Barbara Pittman was when I first started dropping by Hurt
Village and picking her up so we could go play at the Eagle's Nest. When I learned Barbara was only
twelve, I almost fainted".
Following their initial meeting, Ronald Smith began calling Elvis Presley whenever someone was looking
for a band to play here and there - little gigs where they might each take home a buck or two after playing
UNKNOWN DATE APRIL 1950
One of Elvis' favourite songs was Ivory Joe Hunter's "I Need You So". In April 1950 Hunter's tune was
played on Southern rhythm and blues radio stations, and Elvis Presley identified with the slow, soulful
direction in Hunter's music. Another 1950 song that influenced Elvis Presley was Bob Wills and the Texas
Playboys' "Faded Love". The close friendship that Elvis Presley had with Ronald Smith and Johnny
Burnette further helped to develop Presley's music. Lonzo Green, another Memphis musician, remembers
an attentive Elvis Presley following his chord progression on guitar. Green says that he sat with Elvis,
tuned his guitar, and then sang several songs and taught him several chords. Black musicians in Memphis
remained a strong influence upon Presley. He prided himself as a person who could search out new songs.
"Elvis loved the record stores", Ronald Smith remembered. "He loved to find obscure tunes. We were all
searching for a sound", Smith remarked. "No one knew what type of sound, so we looked for new
records. When we went to Ruben Cherry's store, he was nervous about us, a younger guy let us listen to
records", Smith maintained.
Many of the songs that Elvis Presley listened to were discovered at Ruben Cherry's Record Store, named
"The Home Of The Blues" on Beale Street across from Main Street. Cherry's store was a second home to
Elvis Presley, who frequently wandered down to listen to the new records. A slight, kind man, Cherry
Ruby often reminded Elvis Presley that a purchase was required, and this prompted Elvis Presley to begin
collecting rhythm and blues records.
HOME OF THE BLUES RECORD COMPANY AND AFFILIATED PUBLISHING COMPANIES
Originally founded in 1960 by Ruben Cherry owner/operator of the Home Of The Blues Record Shop at
105-107 Beale Street (billed as ''The South's Largest Record Store'') in Memphis (occupied by the Elvis Presley statue), the small regional label
(and its affiliated publishing companies) were only active for a few years, but recorded many wonderful
examples of post-Sun blues and rockabilly and pre-Stax and Hi soul.
With the financial backing of Cherry's aunt, Mrs. Celia G. Camp, who derived her wealth from the oil
business, the companies began as an outgrowth of the Home of the Blues record shop at 107 Beale Street.
Later, the record store moved around the corner to Main Street and continues to thrive. However, despite
the continuing success of the store and the engagement of another Camp nephew Wolf Lebovitz, who
diversified the label with affiliates such as 1st, Zab, Rufus and Six-O-Six Records, the label ceased
operations by the end of 1962. Nevertheless, for a short time both before and after that, it did lease
existing, as well as new productions to other labels. Following Cherry's death and prior to her own, Mrs.
Camp left the assets of the label to Lebovitz.
When the Rock And Roll Trio, made up of Johnny and Dorsey Burnette and Paul Burlison, stopped in
Memphis before a Nashville recording session, the newspaper reported that they were going to the Home
Of The Blues Record Shop to pick out songs to record. "If you liked it you could always change it into
rockabilly if it just had good words and a melody", Paul Burlison said. "You could always put a beat to it
if you wanted to. You could take an old country song and put a beat to it like Elvis did with "Blue Moon
Of Kentucky". Johnny Burnette once told an interviewer that after school he used to hang out in the Home
Of The Blues. He used to run into Elvis quite frequently there, he said. When "That's All Right" was
released, Ruben Cherry was the first to stock it. In fact, many Memphians remember buying their first
Elvis Presley records at Home Of The Blues. Ruben was such a strong supporter of Elvis Presley that he
even loaned Elvis money to get to his early concerts.
The name of the store may have inspired Johnny Cash, Lily McAlpin, and Glan Douglas to compose the
1957 Johnny Cash recording of "Home Of The Blues" (SUN 279). In 1976, upon learning that his old
friend was ill, Elvis Presley wrote a letter to Ruben thanking him for his early support. The letter was read
at Ruben's burial service.
HOTB's early roster contained fine period original recordings by rhythm and blues vocal stylists Roy
Brown, The 5 Royales., Larry Birdsong, Dave Dixon and Jimmy Dotson, in audition to a hit by Willie
Cobb that it leased from a local rival. In addition, HOTB recorded a good deal of instrumental music by
the likes of trumpeter Bowlegs Gabe. Topping the list of instrumentalists, however, are the initial
recordings and productions by a future star of 1970s soul music, Willie Mitchell. It was while at HOTB
that the trumpeter honed his skills to become the great band-leader and record producer of so many fine
recordings to come from the Hi label, especially those by the now-notorious Reverend, Al Green.
Talent of varying stripes found its way to the HOTB label, where the down-home blues man Woodrow
Adams also found release, but highly-revered Chicago guitarist Sammy Lawhorn did not. HOTB gave a
chance to numerous local unknown and amateur vocalists (soloists and groups, both black and white),
but, with the exception of James Austin (aka Charles James), none created much of a stir and many
One fine white vocalist who did see release on the label was rockabilly star Billy Riley, but rockabilly
legend, Harmonica Frank Floyd, was only among the possibilities for release when the label folded.
(Frank's recordings may yet see the light of day, as the original session tapes were found intact when the
label and its publishing affiliates were acquired by Delta Haze Corporation some years back).
Another couple of white artists, both vocalists/instrumentalists, were recorded at the end of HOTB's
lifetime and did see release – one on Home of the Blues and the other on subsidiary 1st Records. They are
Billy Adams and Bill Yates. Both are examples of the influence that black music had on young white
singers and musicians in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
All told, the Home of the Blues label temporarily filled the void in the recording of Memphis blues,
rhythm and blues and soul music until Stax and then Hi Records would come along and do it up brown...
- Owner of Ruben Cherry and his Home Of The Blues record shop at 105-107 Beale
Street, billed as ''The South's Largest Record Store''. Cherry had bought the premises in the late 1940s
after he came out of wartime military service. He had been born in Memphis on January 30, 1922 and his
parents, Harry Cherry, a naturalized Russian, and Ida Goldstein, ran a grocery business, Rosen's
Delicatessen at 606 South Lauderdale just south of Beale Street. In the family tradition, Ruben Cherry
was a good but cautious businessman. He advertised his store as being '' on the street where the blues was
born'' but he stocked the full range of music - pop, jazz, and country as well as blues - and he prided
himself that he kept in stock one copy of every disc in print at any time.
His shop was frequented by black and white customers including disc jockey Dewey Phillips, Elvis
Presley, and Johnny Cash. Cash recorded a song confirming ''you'll find me at the home of the blues'', and
Cherry stood behind his old wooden counter with photographs of himself – as president of the local
Variety Club - with Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Wilson and other entertainers. Not that Cherry was
universally liked. Some described him as ''peculiar'' and writer Robert Gordon quotes Milton Pond from a
rival record dealership, Poplar Tunes, saying: ''Lots of people didn't like Ruben. They thought he was
pushy and too obnoxious. The main thing I remember about him, up by the cash register he had a nickel
glued on the glass counter. He'd wait for somebody to try to pick it up, and when it wouldn't move he'd
get the biggest kick out of that''. According to musician Jim Dickinson, ''Ruben kept this rubber
rattlesnake behind the counter which he used to scare off would-be stickup men. When he held it, it really
liked real. When it was not there one day, Cherry said ''that goddamn Elvis Presley, he came in here and
stole my rubber snake and ran down Beale Street shaking it''. Guitarist Ronald Smith remembers, ''Ruben
Cherry used to sell me records back when I was a kid, 1949 or so. He'd special order in guitar records for
me by Chet Atkins. Ruben was kinda eccentric, a bit unusual. He'd chase people out of the shop, us kids.
He jumped all over me one day for no reasons and I figured he'd confused me with Reggie Young who'd
ordered a disc and not collected it''.
Ruben Cherry apparently had a deep interest in black music and many connections in Memphis and
nationally. Eventually he decided to channel this interest into his own label, which was bankrolled by his
mother's sister, Cella Goldstein, who had also started out in the delicatessen business before marrying
Clarence Camp, owner of Southern Amusements a 628 Madison Avenue in Memphis. The path from
jukebox and record dealing into label ownership was a familiar one in most US cities. In their edition of
August 13, 1960 the Cash Box ran a story below a photograph of Cherry with rhythm and blues star Roy
Brown: ''Memphis, Ten – Newly formed label, Home Of The Blues Co. has signed two artists to wax
exclusively for it. HOTB execs Ruben Cherry, president, and Mrs. C.A. Camp, sectreasurer, are shown
inking the contract with Roy Brown''. Brown opened the label with release number 107, after the address
of Cherry's store, Cherry and Camp recorded a mix of established black performers, such as Brown and
the Five Royales, and local singers associated with the Memphis club scene, like Willie Mitchell and
Bowlegs Miller. The latter was a regular at the Flamingo Room, a club upstairs above Cherry's store.
Willie Mitchell provided the studio band and from accounts by Mitchell and Jim Dickinson (who
recorded there as Little Muddy) it seems that most of the earliest HOTB sessions were made at the
Fernwood Records studio at 415 North Main Street. Roy Brown told John Broven: ''I did a few things for
Home Of The Blues in Memphis in 1960. It was Willie Mitchell's band, he was quite a guy. It was just a
small studio... near to radio WDIA... but the guy we had on my session was Scotty Moore who handled
the session. And I had two things that went well, as a matter of fact we sold forty four thousand copies of
''Oh So Wonderful'' in Memphis alone, but the company didn't have (good) distribution outside of
Ruben Cherry and Celia Camp diversified in mid 1961 by setting up subsidiary labels to issue music
produced and bankrolled by independent producers. The Zab, Rufus, Six-O-Six (named after the store
address where Cherry lived as a child), and 1st Records labels were an effort to ring the changes. Mrs.
Cam was wheeling and dealing in more than records: Billboard reported on May 22, 1961: ''Memphis:
Mrs. Celia G. Camp has purchased the majority of the stock in Southern Amusement Company from her
ex-husband... the largest phonograph and game operation in the mid-South... Camp began his coin
machine empire in 1938, with Mrs. Camp's help. They founded Southern Distributing Company with
Kenneth Wilson. Wilson has long since left the field and is now a multi-millionaire builder and president
of Holiday Inns Inc... Mrs. Camp owns Music Systems Inc, 407 Madison Avenue, where her office is, a
background music operation. Mrs. Camp also owns oil wells in Kentucky, Illinois, and Arkansas. A year
ago she helped found HOTB record company and is secretary-treasurer of it. She has put up the money
for its operation. They are hoping to become a hit-producing record company, have great hopes for the
Five Royales they are recording''. These hopes soon met the reality of average sales figures, and Camp
brought in her nephew, Wolf Lebowitz, a Memphis-born journalist and photographer, who hawked the
label around the northern record business. By November 1961 Billboard was reporting: ''Chicago – Vee
Jay president Ewart Abner has worked out an agreement with Ruben Cherry's label HOTB to distribute
the latter's records. Future HOTB releases will be issued on Vee Jay with an additional emblem of
HOTB''. Soon, the label would transfer this arrangement to ABC-Paramount Records and their Apt
Ruben Cherry's dream of a successful rhythm and blues label had collapsed through weight of
competition from Hi, Stax and others, and his Home Of The Blues label closed. The record store
continued to trade through the 1960s but Cherry died in January 1976, aged just 53, after 27 years in the
A. Schwab Dry Good Store, 163-165 Beal Street, Memphis, circa mid-1950s. >
Elvis Presley visited and saw, the famous stripper, Gypsie Rose Lee at the Cotton Carnival down by the
Mississippi River and rode the rides on the Cotton Carnival midway, and went to the street dances in
Court Square. "That was a good place to be, one of our favorite places during Carnival", recalled Buzzy
Forbess, "we would watch people drink and dance.
Once, during carnival, they had a woman playing
piano and she asked Elvis, 'What's your name?', and Elvis said, 'Charlie'. So she started singing a funny
song about a guy named Charlie. Don't ask me why Elvis said his name was Charlie. That was just Elvis.
That was the way he was, even then".
UNKNOWN DATE MID-1950
Elvis Presley bought his hair oil "Triple Active Success Hair Oil" at A. Schwab's Dry Goods store, located
at 163 Beale Street.
ABRAHAM SCHWAB DRY GOOD STORE
- Ca. 1865 was built. Located at 163-165 Beale Street,
Memphis, Tennessee, tel, 901/523-9782, between Second and Third Street, their long-time motto "If you
can't find it at A. Schwab's, you are better off without it!". Those doors first opened in 1876 and have
remained open throughout urban renewal efforts, making Abraham Schwab the oldest continuous
business on Beale Street.
Abraham Schwab sells jars of "Money Drawing Oil", bottles of "Most Powerful Helping Hand Bath And
Floor Wash", tins of "Come To Me Love Drawing Incense", or a jar, bottle or tin of something made to
satisfy whatever you need or desire can be purchased here.
Elvis Presley purchased "Triple Active Success Hair Oil" at Abraham Schwab in the early 1950s. Take a
look at some John The Conqueror root - a mandrake named for the mythical figure who tore off the
Devil's arm and whipped his butt with it. Virtually unchanged in appearance since the opening, the oldest
store on Beale claims "If you can't find it at Schwab's, you're better off without it", but that assumes you
do feel a need for 99 cent Mississippi Slim Jim ties, grossly oversize clothes, and a specialty line of
In 1912 Abraham Schwab moved his dry good business from 149 into larger quarters at 163 Beale Street.
The family business had been on Beale Street since 1876, first as grocers then as dry goods merchants. L.
Bauer and Sons (dry goods) and then a Piggly Wiggly grocery store occupied 164 Beale Street until
Schwab took over the building in 1924.
Schwab's is the only original business still in operation on the street. Inside and out, it is a remarkable
holdover from old Beale Street. The iron attic vents and architectural design is brought out by the deep
rich colour of the red brick. The interior has high ceilings, wooden floors, old style display bins, and a
variety of merchandise which suggests the old-time dry goods store. The original building shows the store
front with an overhang that extended to the curb to protect customers from bad weather, a common
feature during this period.
LATE MAY OR EARLY JUNE 1950
WHBQ radio program director, Gordon Lawhead, began a fifteen-minute segment that he called Red Hot
& Blue, taken the name from a patriotic musical film of that year starring Victor Mature, not exactly a
king of the blues himself, and twenty-four-year-old Dewey Phillips starts this WHBQ broadcasting from
the Gayoso Hotel, located at Gayoso Street. He is on air from 10:00 p.m. to midnight every weekday, and
until 1:00 a.m., on Saturday nights, while keeping his job in the record department at W.T. Grant's on
South Main Street. The music that he plays is some of the finest American vernacular music ever
recorded: in the course of one fifteen-minute segment, you might hear Muddy Waters' latest hit, a gospel
number by the Soul Stirrers, with the great singer, R.H. Harris, Larry Darnell's "For You, My Love", and
Wynomie Harris' "Good Rockin' Tonight" - "boogies, blues, and spirituals".
"Dewey was hawking records at Grant's just like those guys down on Beale Street were hawking people
to come into the pawnshops", recalls veteran disc jockey George Klein.
Gordon Lawhead did give Phillips a few pointers, showing him how to run the radio control board, a skill
Lawhead says Dewey never quite mastered. Phillips was later given his own studio so that on occasions
when he broke the equipment the station wouldn't be totally incapacitated. Lawhead also gave Phillips
some tips in reading advertising copy, and claims to have given him what would later become his catch
phrase. "I suggested that when he was reading a spot, to say, 'Co in and buy this and tell 'em Phillips sent
To Lawhead's amazement, the response was immediate and overwhelming. "The day after, we got seven
postcards asking for specific rhythm and blues music. And the next day we got seventy; and the next day
we got seven hundred. It was a monsoon of mail".
Dewey Phillips' Red Hot & Blue show, was soon expanded to three hours, from nine to midnight, and
Phillips also began an afternoon show at 2 p.m. that mixed country records in with the rockabilly and
rhythm and blues. Dewey's salary rose from nothing to $125 and than to $250, a sizable sum in fifties
And of course those were the glory days of payola, a time when independent labels owners like Syd
Nathan of King Records paid so much money to disc jockeys to guarantee that his records got played that
he actually listed the bribes on King's ledger books as business expenses. Some Memphis music insiders
estimate Dewey Phillips pulled in as much as $100,000 annually from record companies.
Sam Phillips meets with disc jockey Dewey Phillips, whose Red, Hot, and Blue, a melange of "boogies,
blues, and spirituals", is the hottest thing on Memphis radio, attracting a huge black and white audience
with its idiosyncratic style. Sam Phillips recognizes a kindred spirit in Dewey, and while the partnership
that they form later this summer, known as "The Phillips" label, doesn't last more than a month or two,
they remain the closest of ideological allies.
Elvis Presley finished the ninth grade. One of Humes High School's teachers, Susan Johnson, remarked,
"When one of our boys or girls does something special, like Elvis Presley, they should put an extra gold
star after his name, because our children have farther to go than most. Elvis Presley liked to sing songs to
a few friends during lunch or at a school assembly at Overton Park".
Among those who became caught up in the different sound was a thirteen year old living in a public
housing development in Memphis. Elvis Presley began collecting the records of such bluesmen as Arthur
Crudup and Big Bill Broonzy. Later, still in Humes High School, he started going down on Beale Street
and emulating its musicians, not only in what they sang but in the way they sang it (and also in what they
wore). He became acquainted not only with Nathaniel Dowd Williams, but with Robert Henry, who
introduced him to many of Beale Street's entertainers. "I taken him to the Hotel Improvement Club
with me, and he would watch the coloured singers, understand me, and then he got to doing it the same
way as them", Henry said. "He got that shaking, that wiggle, from Charlie Burse, Ukulele Ike we called
him, right there at the Gray Mule on Beale, Elvis, he wasn't doing nothing but what the coloured people
had been doing for the last hundred years. But people... people went wild over him".
Interview with Robert Henry, October 19, 1973 by Margaret McKee.
Sam Phillips starts The Phillips label with disc jockey Dewey Phillips. There is one release by bluesman
Joe Hill Louis "Gotta Let You Go"/"Boogie In The Park" (The Phillips 9001/2).
JULY 7, 1950 FRIDAY
At the works in the auto plants in Pontiac, Michigan, Johnny Cash returned home, although he made his
return somewhat sooner than most - after three weeks. Still determined to get out of Dyess, Johnny Cash
joined the Air Force on July 7, 1950. By his own account, Cash's 'four long, miserable years' in the Air
Force were relieved only by playing music with fellow southerners.
AUGUST 21, 1950 MONDAY
In June 1950 Sam Phillips made his first tentative venture into the record business with WHBQ radio disc
jockey Dewey Phillips. Here, Sam is trying to pitch the record to his cousin, Jim Conolly, at WJLD. Note
the emphasis that he is placing on quality. The Phillips label didn't last out the year, though.
Mr. James Edward Connolly August 21, 1950
Under separate cover - a couple of quilts and four blankets - I am sending you the hottest thing in
country - the first official release of the newly organised PHILLIPS label.
I have written Bob, telling him of our artist, and I thought you might like to know of the deal, too.
Dewey Phillips and I are partners 50-50 on our new label, and we're going to do our best to make it roll in
Our first releases is by an ex Columbia recording artist, Joe Hill Louis, and the "Gotta Let You
Go" side is already getting hot here. I know umbach can put it over down there, too.
We're going to put nothing but the best race and spiritual artists obtainable on our label, and
though we may not have the number of artists that other companies have, we're going to do our durndest
to have the best. I'd appreciate your singing on the station and signing it off with our records from time to
time. In fact, I think it would make a good substitute for the Star Spangled Banner.
All kidding aside, do what you can to help us, and I might even buy you a couple of extra fish
hooks. If our records happen to get hot down there before we get a distributor and a retail outlet in
Birmingham, let me know, and we'll try to rush up the thing some. But its keeping me going night and day
getting this thing set up. Therefore, if you receive any inquiries about obtaining any of our records there,
please contact me, telephone collect.
Hope to get down to see y'll before too long, and give you the story on the deal. In the meantime,
if you an round up the hard and pick up ol' Dobbin and head NW we'd love seeing you,
Thanks, Jimbo Best wishes, I am
AUGUST 30, 1950 WEDNESDAY
Buster Williams' Plastic Products pressed three hundred copies, and first released "Gotta Let You
Go"/"Boogie In The Park", recorded by Joe Hill Louis, on the Phillips label (The Phillips 9001/9002),
shipped them to Music Sales for distribution in Memphis, and billed Phillips fifty-one dollars. It turned
out to be the label's only release. The extreme scarcity of the record today suggests that there never was
another pressing, and, as far as anyone, the label was DOA by September.
Elvis Presley enters his tenth-grade year at Humes High School, enrolling in ROTC, in which he receives
a grade of C for the first term and B for the second. Except for an A in English and an F in typing, his
grades are C's and B's. Elvis Aron Presley is issued a Social Security card, number 409-52-2002.
SEPTEMBER 20, 1950 WEDNESDAY
Gene Autry send Colonel Tom Parker an letter to thanking him for sending pictures taken at the
Knickerbocker Hotel. Autry also thanked the Colonel for suggestions he made about the Checkerboard
Jamboree. Autry sent his regards to "the gang". Autry explained in a handwritten note in blue ink at the
bottom of the page that the letter had been misdirected when it was sent to him to be signed. He redated
the letter November 1, 1950. Gene Autry, well-known country singer, knew Colonel Tom Parker from his
Nashville connections. The Colonel represented Eddy Arnold, and Autry often toured with Arnold for
SEPTEMBER 24, 1950 SUNDAY
The first time Elvis Presley's voice was ever recorded was on September 24, 1950 at a birthday party.
"Everyone says that the first recording Elvis did was when he went down to Sun Records, but that isn't
true", says Doris Guy Wallace, three years younger than Elvis Presley while living in Lauderdale Courts,
Doris Guy was, nonetheless, right in there when all the boys in the Courts started doing things physical. "I
was a little thing, right at five feet tall all my life", she says. "Fact is, I didn't ever reach a hundred pounds
until I was pregnant the first time". Calling herself a tomboy during those years, she wasn't happy unless
she was mixing and mingling in sports with her brother, Farley Guy, and his three best friends, Buzzy
Forbess, Paul Dougher and the boy who lived below them in the Courts, Elvis Presley. "The first time
Elvis' voice was ever recorded was on my fourteenth birthday (September 24, 1950). My older sister
operated a cafeteria over on North Second and that night we had a birthday party there. For my birthday,
Elvis Presley made up a song and that night he sang it. They had a tape recorder there and recorded the
song. I really liked that song, not just because it was my birthday, but because it was a good song", said
Doris Guy Wallace. Mysteriously, she said, the tape recorded song, which today would surely be worth a
million dollars to any serious Elvis collector has disappeared. Today the mother of three and the
grandmother of seven, Doris Guy Wallace lives in central Arkansas.
The Gilt-Edge label is re-launched with a different distribution set-up from 4-Star. Slim Rhodes is among
the first releases.
Influential Memphis disc jockey and singer/musician, Eddie Hill, leaves WMPS and crosses town to
WMC radio. His "High Noon Roundup" show influences many young country artists, including Johnny
Cash, and includes Harmonica Frank in the regular cast.
UNKNOWN DATE NOVEMBER 1950
Arthur Groom, the Loew's Theater manager located at 152 South Main Street, hired Elvis Presley
to work as a part-time usher. The $12.75 that Elvis Presley made each week further supplemented the
family income. For almost a year, Elvis Presley worked five hours a night, seven days a week at Loew's
Theater. After work, he would walk down to the Grit-Iron Cafe to meet Ronald Smith and Curtis Lee
Alderson. The restaurant, located across the street from the Peabody Hotel, on Union Avenue, was an allnight
hangout. His job at Loew's Theater ended when a concession candy-counter girl named Sue, not
only flirted openly with Elvis Presley but let him eat all the candy he wanted. Another usher told the boss
that Elvis Presley was eating free candy, a fight broke out, and Elvis Presley punched the boy in the nose.
Arthur Groom fired both boys, but Elvis Presley soon became an usher at the Malco Theater on South
There had been crushes before, but they'd been confined to stolen glances and wishful thinking. Sue's
blonde hair and sparkling green eyes consumed Elvis' thoughts and ignited his fantasies - not to mention
paralyzed him with fear. Most of them are shy and awkward at that age, but Elvis took it to new heights.
He was poor, living in the projects, and embarrassed about it. Plus, he considered his awkward body and
face ugly and assumed any girl thought him homely. But Sue stirred his dormant sexuality to such a
degree that he went out of his way to introduce himself and talk to her. Unfortunately, their potential
romance met an untimely demise after Elvis was fired for the fighting Elvis said to Earl Greenwood: "I
heard 'em tellin' Sue that nobody liked me 'cause I was weird and lived with coloreds. He only said that
'cause he wanted to take her out and was jealous 'cause she was talkin' to me so much. I didn't mean to hit
'em, but he made me mad. I did it 'fore I knew what I was doin". "What about Sue", asked Earl
Greenwood. "Aw, I'll never see her 'gain".
"We worked as ushers together at the Loew's State theater down of South Main", recalled Luther Nall.
"We double dated a lot. I was never a member of Elvis' "band", but we played together a lot in the
neighborhood at night. Many times we had what we called a "hootennanny", where everyone would join
in the music. He sang in some of the variety shows at school".
Elvis liked the money from Loew's, but the hours were taking their toll. His grades began falling, and his
teachers complained that he was sleeping through class, so he reluctantly quit. While working at Loew's
Theater, Elvis Presley dated Betty McMahan. She lived in a third-floor apartment at the Lauderdale
Courts, and they frequently went to the Suzore II Theater, a second-run house, on 279 North Main. She
continually pressured Elvis Presley to take her to the St. Mary's Dances. Consequently, they spent many
afternoons at the bargain matinees in the Suzore II. Elvis Presley liked to strum his guitar at home and
play it at parties. His second girlfriend, Billie Wardlow, remembers that Elvis Presley loved to sing
Eddy Arnold's "Won't You Tell Me Molly Darling". Betty McMahan died in 1986.
Arthur Groom Lowe's state theatre Manager with Elvis Presley pictured at the WMCT radio and TV fund raising
event in Memphis on October 1, 1957. >
LOEW'S STATE THEATER
- Memphis movie theater located at 152 South Main Street, where, in
1950, Elvis Presley worked as an usher at $12.75 a week, at the theater on two separate occasions,
beginning in November 1950. A sophomore in high school at the time, Elvis would arrive home after 5:00
to 10:00 on school nights. After a few months, his mother asked him to quit because his grades were
slipping. When school let out the following summer, Elvis was hired again.
On December 4, 1956, on the day of the Million Dollar Quartet at Sun Records, the movie "Love Me
Tender" was being shown at Loew's State Theater.
On October 17, 1957 Elvis Presley allowed his third MGM movie, "Jailhouse Rock", to premiere in that
same theater. Arthur Groom, still the manager, had a good sense of humour about this incredible change
of fortune. Three weeks before the premier, Arthur posed with Elvis and an usher's uniform - presumably
the same uniform that Elvis Presley had worn - and told his story for the newspapers. Elvis was welcome
to return to his job anytime, Groom said. With a grin Elvis replied, "Sir, I don't believe I'm ready to go
back to my old job yet". Even Mrs. Groom could not resist teasing her husband. "Well, all I can say,
Arthur Groom, is that you'll work a long while before we own a car as tremendous as that one Elvis has
out there", she chided.
Loew's State Theater, 152 South Main Street, Memphis, Tennessee. >
Built in 1920 for founder and manager Arthur Groom, no expense was spared in its construction, and it
was designed as an opulent retreat from everyday life. One could enter the ornate lobby - decorated with
grand columns, gold plating, and chandeliers - and experience a grandeur normally reserved for the upper
class. In the 1930s, the theater became one of the first air-conditioned buildings in Memphis.
comedian Freddie Prize was himself an usher at New York City's Loew's State Theater (it no longer
exists). Other celebrities who have been employed as ushers: Frances Farmer, Carol Burnett (who was
fired), Sylvester Stallone (who was fired),
Linda Evans, and Johnny Carson. The theater was demolished some years ago. This neglected part of
downtown is now being transformed into the Peabody Place office and shopping development.
Downtown Memphis. From Union Avenue, turn south on the South Main Street Pedestrian Mall. The
Loew's State Theater was located between Gayoso Avenue and Peabody Place.
"Elvis allowed his third movie, Jailhouse Rock, to premiere in that same theatre. Arthur Groom, still the
manager, had a good sense of humor about this incredible change of fortune. Three weeks before the
premiere, he posed with Elvis and an usher's uniform-presumably the same uniform that Elvis had wornand
told his story for the newspapers. Elvis was welcome to return to his job anytime, Groom said. In
fact, he joked that he would especially like for Elvis to usher at the premiere. With a grin Elvis
replied,"Sir, I don't believe I'm ready to go back to my old job yet." Even Mrs. Groom could not resist
teasing her husband. "Well, all I can say, Arthur Groom, is that you'll work a long while before we own a
car as tremendous as that one Elvis has out there," she chided.
Micki Groom Creamer said, ''My Dad was the manager of the Loew's State from 1949 till the mid 1960s, not too sure. As many may know, my Dad did fire Elvis Presley when he was an usher scuffling with another usher in the early 1950s, but eventually hired him back. Truly amazing... a kid is an usher and about 5 years later, he is coming back to see himself up on the screen. That was quite a night. My Dad held a private screening for Elvis, his parents, and friends visiting from Hollywood, Nick Adams, and of course the Groom family was there in full force! I was a candy girl at the Loew's State during my high school years and met my future husband who was an usher at Loew's Palace''.
Odd Fellows Hall, north west corner of Main Street and Court Square, Memphis. >
In the Lauderdale Courts, Elvis Presley with Evan "Buzzy" Forbess and Buzzy remembers
that Elvis Presley, persuaded to sing for his tenth-grade class Christmas party, purposely forgot his guitar.
During his sophomore year at Humes High, Elvis Presley discovered the Odd Fellows Hall.
assortment of country and gospel artists performed there, and Elvis Presley learned a great deal about
their music. He was initially hired to clear tables at the hall, but always managed to stay for the first
musical set. It was at the Odd Fellows Hall that Elvis Presley first saw his future bass player Bill Black,
"Many times we would invite Elvis and some of our other friends to go up there and shoot pool with us.
We spent a lot of time there, also, planning entertainment and dances for young people. The Rainbow
Girls also had their meetings there and we did a lot of things together, the Odd Fellows and the Rainbow
Girls. We never needed any money for entertainment there", recall Buzzy Forbess.
ODD FELLOWS HALL
- Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a society, founded in 1859, with lodges
throughout the world. The Memphis Odd Fellow Fraternal Order was organized in 1843. Elvis Presley
belonged to an Odd Fellows group while attending L.C. Humes High School. The Odd Fellows had
meeting rooms on the third and fourth floors of the Columbia Mutual Tower building on North West
corner Main Street and Court Avenue. They had a pool table and Elvis Presley, Buzzy Forbess, and Paul
Dougher spent a lot of time up there shooting pool.
"We were conforming to the dances of the time", Buzzy Forbess said. "The bop was big, and slow dances.
Elvis, of course, had his own movements. At parties he was always playing and singing, so we learned to
dance before he did".
Although Elvis Presley never joined the Odd Fellows, he often accompanied his friends when they hung
out at the Odd Fellows Hall, shooting pool and occasionally playing ping-pong. The Odd Fellows
sponsored various charities, and Elvis Presley sometimes went with them on these charity outings. Elvis
played for patients at Kennedy Veterans Hospital located on 1030 Jefferson Avenue, and the Home for
Incurables during trips with the Odd Fellows. The Odd Fellows no longer maintain a club room at this
building, now called The Lincoln American Tower.
KENNEDY VETERANS HOSPITAL
- Today named as Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Located on 1030 Jefferson Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. Total staff of 1,874 and a total of 349 licensed
beds. The V.A. Medical Center provides medical care for veterans living in western Tennessee, northern
Mississippi, and eastern Arkansas, and serves this region as a referral center for spinal-cord injure and
prosthetic treatment. Other medical specialties include a hospital-based home-care unit, a rehabilitation
center, and a training center for health professionals in geriatrics. The hospital offers the only
comprehensive geriatrics evaluation unit in Memphis. The V.A. Medical Center was a winner of a Greater
Memphis Award for Quality in 1997.
Libya is granted its independence, followed by twenty other new African nations over the next ten years -
a spur to black self determination in the United States.
Dot Records founded in 1951, Randy Wood had run the operation out of his home. A smiling, auburnhaired,
easygoing young man, Randy Wood was an excellent businessman with a clear grasp of the record
industry. Like many small record label magnates, he realized that black music was crossing over into the
mainstream pop record buying market. In conversations with his artists, Randy Wood contended that
white musicians could better sell black music. In January and February 1969, Randy Wood played piano
on Elvis' Memphis sessions at American Sound Studios on Danny Thomas Boulevard.
JANUARY 5, 1951 FRIDAY
In Jackson, Mississippi, Lillian McMurray and Johnny Vincent's Trumpet label was also recording many
of the same artists that Sam Phillips employed, Lillian McMurray had supervised Sonny Boy Williamson
(Alex Miller), initial recordings, launching her Trumpet label from a furniture store and record shop in
Jackson. Not only was the music similar to that recorded by Sam Phillips, but the Trumpet label had great
success in Southern markets. As he scouted for new artists, Sam Phillips visited McMurray and they
talked at length about his legal and records problems. She told Sam Phillips that her own troubles came
from a lack of money and the inability to judge all types of music. It was McMurray who ultimately
convinced Sam Phillips to bring a partner into his record business, advice that sent Phillips to Nashville to
JANUARY 8, 1951 MONDAY
Elvis Presley took and passed the written and road tests for a Tennessee driver's license on his uncle
Travis' 1940 Buick. Elvis Presley loved to sit for hours parked at a local hamburger stand in the
ostentatious fifty-dollar green 1941 Lincoln. "My daddy was something wonderful to me", Elvis says four
years later of his father's purchase. With his collar up and his shoulder jammed against the car door, Elvis
Presley was the epitome of the angry young rebel, a pose not uncommon to many youths in the 1950s. "I
helped Elvis Presley push that green car around Memphis", Ronald Smith remarked. "Elvis loved that
car". A well-known Sun Records session musician", Marcus Van Story, also remembered "Elvis sitting in
the front seat looking unhappy. That dammed car never ran right, but he pushed it all over Memphis".
UNKNOWN DATE 1951
The lure of black music became increasingly important in Elvis Presley's life, and he wandering around
the section at Beale Street looking at the sights and listening to the music. Whenever possible, he listened
to Memphis' radio station, WDIA at 2074 Union Avenue in Memphis. One of Elvis Presley's early
musical favourites was B.B. King, who had started out on WDIA radio singing commercials for Pepicon,
a health tonic. It was during the 1951 Christmas season that Elvis Presley first heard King's records
"Three O'Clock Blues". As a result, B.B. King became the "Pepticon Boy". The word spread to Humes
High and South Side High Schools about a cat playing guitar down on Beale Street. Ronald Smith was
one of the first to recognize the power of B.B. King's guitar work, and he alerted Elvis Presley to the new
sound. "Elvis loved B.B. King", Smith remarked, "he couldn't get enough of his blues vocals". B.B. King
took over a prestigious radio show, the "Sepia Swing Club" and played records by local musicians as well
as national acts. King's show was rivalled by the musical sophistication of Nat D. Williams, "Tan Town
Jamboree". The latter program attracted as large a white audience as a black one. The music played during
the "Tan Town Jamboree" helped Elvis Presley to select records to buy. Soon, he was acquainted with the
music of Fats Waller, Ivory Joe Hunter, Roy Brown, Louis Jordan, and T-Bone Walker.
UNKNOWN DATE 1949-1951
Elvis Presley often slipped quietly into the black ghetto to listen to music. He was intrigued by the
language and mannerisms of the black Memphis subculture and, as there were no blacks at Humes High,
Elvis Presley made friends with them during pickup football games. In a time of personal and musical
growth for Elvis Presley, his experiences with blacks were educational ones. This time, Elvis Presley met
blues singer Furry Lewis in the Beale Street area. "My older brother went to school with him", recalled
singer Barbara Pittman, "and he and some of the other boys used to hide behind buildings and throw
things at him, rotten fruit and stuff, because he was different".
It was not long before many country bluesmen migrated from western Tennessee, north-central
Mississippi, and the Delta in search of new performing venues in Memphis. Although segregation was
still prevalent, when the sun went down, white and black musicians played side by side in the small clubs.
Memphis' famed entertainment district, Beale Street, featured fledgling blues artists like B.B. King,
Howlin' Wolf, Walter Horton, Joe Hill Louis, Little Milton, Lowell Fulson, Rosco Gordon, Johnny
London, Handy Jackson, Willie Nix, Rufus Thomas, D.A. Hunt, Big Memphis Marainey, Jimmy DeBerry,
Little Junior's Blue Flames, Bukka White, and Furry Lewis.
Before too long, these artists made records that found their way into Elvis Presley's life. It was therefore
no accident that performers like Elvis Presley copied the frenetic vocal style of local black blues artists,
characterized by rough vocals with an energetic personal flair. There were other influences from black
musicians. The guitar and piano accompaniments of many black blues acts could provide the rhythm and
power of what seemed like a whole orchestra. Early commercial recordings of Memphis blues artists of
the time often feature two-guitar teams. Yet, these were just two-piece backup bands, usually augmented
by the singer's guitar. It was just this blend of blues, hillbilly, and rockabilly music that later made Elvis
Presley so popular, and it was precisely this type of music that dominated the city when the Presley's
"Memphis Bounce" (Gilt-Edge 5026) by Slim Rhodes is released and reviewed in Billboard. It is the
second of four discs to be culled from the two Sam Phillips' sessions.
As the bands and singers on Beale Street began making records, it was natural for everyone to get the idea
that they ought to record their own music. The growth of small local record labels provided the
opportunity for many of the performers. Memphis musicians all wanted the same thing - a hit record.
When there was a success, as occurred in 1951 when Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm hit the charts
with Jackie Brenston singing lead on "Rocket 88", everyone's enthusiasm was renewed. This song, with
the musical revolution on Beale Street as a backdrop, helped bring rock and roll to life. Memphis was not
only the cradle of this new black music, it was the central focus of an emerging white style.
UNKNOWN DATE MAY 1951
Elvis Presley attended Humes High School Wide Carnival to raise funds and each home room was
responsible for putting on its own carnival. It would cost five cents to get into each home room.
"We had concession stands in the school cafeteria and Coach Boyce and I, along with Stan Cooper, would
operate them", recalled Coach Malcolm Phillips. "The cafeteria was filled with people. It was located just
below the school auditorium. About 9 p.m., everybody seemed to fade out of the cafeteria, headed for the
variety show upstairs. It wasn't long before we heard sounds like "be bop a lula" coming from upstairs. I
looked at Rube Boyce and asked; 'What's that?'. 'I don't know', he said. 'You count the money', I told
Coach Boyce. 'I'm going up there to see who's making all that noise'.
I climbed up the fire escape and entered the auditorium at the end of the stage. There was Red West
playing trumpet, Elvis playing guitar, and maybe two or three others in their band. Elvis was a sight,
believe me. His knees were a-knockin', he was singing and wiggling and wobbling all over the place. I
went back to the cafeteria and told Rube Boyce, "coach, that's Elvis and a couple of others up there
singing'. And he said, 'They will never amount to anything'. But the people were packed in that
auditorium. They were sitting in the windows even, and when Elvis got through singing, they were
yelling 'Encore, encore!'. And he just kept singing. He must have sung every song he knew that night".
Precision Tool Corporation,
1132 Kansas Street, Memphis, early 1950s. >
JUNE 3, 1951 SUNDAY
Elvis Presley walked over to the 1132 Kansas Avenue to take a look at the building. He then went home
and called Whitehall 8-1652, and asked if they were hiring.
A day later, on June 3, 1951, Elvis Presley
filled out an employment application and was hired to work from 7:00 a.m. to 3:20 p.m at Precision Tool
Corporation, located at 1132 Kansas Avenue, across McLemore Avenue.
The Precision Tool Company manufactured ordnance shells for the U.S. Army. Working on the assembly
line was exacting work, and every shell was checked by government inspectors. Elvis Presley earned $27
a week. The employment application was a simple one; sixteen-year-old Elvis Presley put down that he
was eighteen. When one of his fellow workers mentioned that Elvis Presley was going to be a junior at
Humes High, Elvis Presley promptly fired. He was told to turn in his bag, number 78; a prized possession,
he instead told Precision Tool that he had lost it. Elvis Presley gave the badge to Ronald Smith. Although
Precision Tool were impressed with Elvis' work, the company demanded that its employees be eighteen
It was also a dangerous job. One woman was hurt in 1959 when a bomb simulator she was working on
exploded. At the end of that same year, the entire building was lost when another bomb exploded and set
off the ammunition in a chain reaction. The factory was rebuilt, along with its sister company, Dixie
Chemical, but in 1963 another blast injured fifteen workers. Six years later, Gene's Smith brother, Robert,
was killed when he slipped and fell into a vat of boiling chemicals. Precision Toll was housed in the
building now occupied by Vinkers Distribution and Transfer Company at the northeast corner of Kansas
Street and McLemore Avenue.
Elvis Presley listening to Daddy-O-Dewey on 56 WHBQ radio station, he have heard Rosco Gordon's
"Booted", Muddy Waters "She Moves Me", "Lonesome Christmas" by Lowell Fulson, and Elmore James'
"Dust My Broom". After joining the ROTC unit at Humes High School. "We were in the same ROTC
unit", said George Klein. "I didn't like ROTC, but Elvis did. He took two years. I just took one year. I
think that was one of the things that helped him when he went into the real army. He knew about
marching and he could take that riffle apart. They teach you that in ROTC in high school. They teach you
some of the really basic stuff - how to wear the uniform, how to polish the brass, how to tie the tie - little
things you should know if you ever do go in the army...", announced George Klein. "Elvis had two years
of ROTC. He didn't clown around about it because he was serious about it. He liked that uniform and
being a part of a group and stuff like that. He also knew how to march. There is a technique of how to
march and if you don't know, you can really look silly. He knew how to do some of the basic army things
and I think that really helped him when he got into real army. People probably said well here comes a
rock and roll singer who doesn't know how to do anything and he probably really surprised a lot of
people", said Klein.
- In addition to the land-grant institutions, some of the older state universities and schools began to
offer military instruction after the Reserve Officers Training Corps Acts, formed on October 21, 1916 and
1920 extended ROTC to other than military institutes and land-grant colleges. ROTC programs continued
to be maintained on southern civilian college campuses as well. In the 1980s support for military
education has increased nationwide, but the South remains the region most committed to it. Elvis Presley
was a member of ROTC (two-year course) while a sophomore at Humes High School. In later years Elvis
Presley bought new uniforms for the school's ROTC drill team.
JUNE 18, 1951 MONDAY
Sam Phillips involvement with B.B. King ended after a session on this date. After that point Saul Bihari
from RPM/Modern Records came to Memphis and recorded King on a portable Magnecord at the YMCA
or Tuff Green's house.
JUNE 21, 1951 THURSDAY
The first commercial passenger plane, a Southern Airways flight, lands in Tupelo.
Elvis Presley saw the Richard Thorpe movie "The Great Caruso" starring Mario Lanza at Loew State
Theater in Memphis, a half-dozen times.
Sam Phillips see his first country music recordings issued on Chess. Harmonica Frank's "Swamp
Root"/"Goin' Away Walkin'" (Chess 1475 A) is announced in Billboard on August 4. Only two weeks
later, Billboard carries the announcement of "Swamp Root"/"Step It Up And Go" (also Chess 1475 A).
The switch was perhaps made because Big Jeff and the Radio Playboys had successfully released "Step It
Up And Go" on the Dot label and Chess hoped to sell their version in competition. Alternatively, the very
bluesy "Goin' Away Walkin'" may not have been well received by country disc jockey’s.
Pee Wee Brad Suggs, guitarist with the Slim Rhodes Band but currently in the Army, records for 4-Star
while on furlough from Ford Ord.
UNKNOWN DATE AUGUST 1951
One of the earliest gospel concerts that Elvis Presley attended was held in August 1951. Just before
starting his junior year at Humes High, Elvis Presley went to an all-night gospel concert at Ellis
Auditorium, located at 225 North Main Street in Memphis.
He was mesmerized by the style that gospel
singers employed to reach their audience; the singers used a personal plea, and he loved its impact. That
night, Elvis Presley saw here the Blackwood Brother for the first time perform, and for the next three
years he listened to records by the Blackwood's and their younger counterparts, the Songfellows. The
Blackwoods were also featured in a weekly radio show broadcast from the Peabody Hotel on Union
Avenue. It was J.D. Sumner who first noticed Elvis Presley hanging around Ellis Auditorium in 1951-
1952, and he spent a great deal of time answering young Elvis' questions about gospel music. Elvis
Presley here first learned to play piano on the Kanabe piano, he later bought the center a new piano and
had this instrument moved to Graceland.
The stars of these events included the Blackwoods, the Harmoneers (from Knoxville), and the Crusaders
(from Birmingham) Bobby Strickland, the lead singer with the Crusaders (formerly of the Statesmen),
especially impressed Elvis Presley. Other members of the quartet recall young Elvis Presley bringing his
guitar backstage and asking Bobby to listen to him sing and play. (Tragically, Strickland was killed in a
car accident in September 1953).
"I first met Elvis when he was a kid in Memphis living in the projects", recall J.D. Sumner. "In fact, I
used to sneak him in the back of Ellis Auditorium so he could see our show. Elvis really dug bass singers.
His favourites were Big Chief Jim Werherington of the Statesmen and me. I think if he had had a choice,
he would have been a base singer".
ELLIS AUDITORIUM / COOK CONVENTION CENTER - All-night gospel sings were held at Ellis
Auditorium, located at 225 North Main Street at Exchange Street, only a few blocks from Lauderdale
Courts. Elvis Presley attended these events as often as he could to raise his voice with the others to praise
the Lord. Here Elvis Presley learned to play the piano between sets and backstage.
The gospel singers
who performed at these events dressed the part, with flamboyant costumes designed to inspire weary
worshippers. Elvis Presley took note of their style, imitating it as soon and as much as he could afford to.
In June 3, 1953, Elvis Presley attended his high school graduation ceremony here, and becoming the first
in his family to complete high school.
Ellis had two golden eras. It was used by Victor Records and other "field" recording units in the 1920s
and 1930s to record such luminaries as Memphis Minnie, Tommy Johnson, Furry Lewis, Sleepy John
Estes, and Frank Stokes. During the 1940s and 1950s, WDIA radio packed the auditorium for their annual
On May 15, 1956, Elvis Presley performed on the stage during the Memphis Cotton Carnival. Elvis
shared top billing with Hank Snow, but the crowd obviously came to see Elvis Presley. In an
unprecedented move, both sides of the auditorium were opened, forcing Elvis Presley to play to audience
at both his front and back. Uncomfortable with this arrangement, Elvis spent most of his time standing
sideway or turning to face both audiences.
On December 22, 1956, Elvis Presley attended the "WDIA Goodwill Review" at Ellis Auditorium.
WDIA, a Memphis rhythm and blues radio station, advertised itself as "America's Only 50,000-Watt
Negro Radio Station". A few earliers WDIA's program director, David James, told disc jockey not to play
Elvis' music, since WDIA was a black station. In a bold move against both the station's wishes and
society's standard, Rufus Thomas played Elvis' music. Thomas liked Elvis' sound regardless of his racial
background. Artists performing at The Goodwill Review included Little Junior Parker, Earl Malone, B.B.
King, and Bobby Bland. Elvis Presley did not perform, but he was welcomed to the stage for a walk-on
appearance, in addition to appearing in publicity photos. The audience, consisting primarily of black
people, applauded Elvis Presley, the young girls screaming wildly.
On February 25, 1961, marked Elvis Presley's return to this stage, and his first appearance in Memphis
after returning from the army. The occasion was a benefit for local charities. The two shows raised
$51,607, which was donated to thirty-seven Memphis organizations and the Elvis Presley Youth
Center in Tupelo.
Throughout the 1960s, the Blackwood Brothers sponsored a gospel convention in the city, the highlight of
which was the presentation of the prestigious Dove Award to a gospel quartet. Elvis Presley quietly
attended these events; his fame so distracted the crowd that he would silently enter after the ceremonies
began and leave before they ended.
In 1971, Elvis Presley was presented his dearest honour at the auditorium when he was awarded a trophy
for being named one of the "Ten Outstanding Young Men of America" by the Jaycees. Elvis Presley's
connection to Ellis Auditorium was renewed because the Elvis Reunion Concert was held there for years.
The concert, which was a tribute to Elvis' love of sacred music, was held annually during Elvis Week in
August every year. Many of the performers Elvis worked with sang a variety of his hits and favorite
gospel songs at the show. The headliner for the shows was J.D. Sumner, who was once a member of the
Blackwood Brothers and later sang as a background vocalist with Elvis Presley as a member of the
The original brick building is still impressive in size. A modern structure has been added at the entry way,
providing a shelter for patrons. In 1997 the city of Memphis plans to demolish Ellis Auditorium and
replace it with a more ultra-modern state-of-the-art performer arts center. Ellis Auditorium, part of the
Cook Convention Center, was at the southwest corner of Exchange Avenue and North Main Street. See it
while you can, because it is slated for demolition, making way for a new performing-arts center.
STATESMEN QUARTET - Gospel group founded in 1948 by Hovie Lister, with Jake Hess as the lead
singer. The Statesmen, who recorded for RCA Victor Records, were made up of Hovie Lister (piano);
Tommy Thompson (bass), Ed Hill (baritone); R.D. Rozell (tenor); and Budd Bunton (lead). At Elvis
Presleys funeral in 1977 the Statesmen sang "Sweet Spirit" and "Known Only To Him". Hovie Lister
played piano for Kathy Westmoreland when she sang "Heavenly Father".
ALL-DAY / ALL-NIGHT SINGINGS - All-day singing has long been one of the most cherished social
institutions of the rural South. The terms has been applied to a wide rage of musical affairs and even has
its counterpart in the all-night singings of modern gospel quartet music, but it is most closely associated
with the shape-note singing convention.
Singing conventions are events that feature the performance of shape-note music, of both the four-shape
and seven-shape varieties. The four-shape conventions have always been the more conservative in that
they adhere to the use of one songbook, usually the venerable Sacred Harp, first published by Benjamin F.
White in 1844, and they tend to resist newer songs and innovative styles of performing them (they instead
preserve the Fasola style of singing). In short, the four-shape people try to remain faithful to the music
and, in some respects, the way of life of their ancestors. The seven-shape conventions, which are by far
the most numerous of these events, were originally marked by their acceptance of the do-ro-mi system of
singing, and they have generally been receptive to innovations in songs and singing style. The singers at
such conventions sing not from one book but from a wide variety of paperback shape-note hymnals
generally published twice a year by such companies as Vaughan, Winsett, and Stamps-Baxter. The song
repertoire therefore includes both the older, familiar religious material and the newest songs "hot off the
press". Although everyone in attendance is encouraged to sing, performances are also made by soloists,
duets and trios, and often by visiting professional quartets. People clearly attend these conventions not
merely to sing but also to be entertained.
Whatever the style of singing, the singing conventions meet regularly throughout the rural and small-town
South, often on a monthly basis in the case of the seven-shape singers, but much more infrequently in the
case of the Fasola people. Singers gather at a church or at the county courthouse, renew old
acquaintances, sing for several hours under the guidance of experienced song leaders, and then sit down
at long tables for a sumptuous feast of fried chicken, ham, potato salad, assorted pastries, and other
delectables brought by the guests and participants. The practice of combining food and religious music
long ago gave rise to the term "all-day singing with dinner on the grounds", which describes one of the
most common events in the rural South.
J.D. SUMNER - (1924-1998) Bass singer, born John Daniel Sumner on November 19, 1924, in Lakeland,
Florida, as son of John and Leila Sumner. Begin working as a truckdriver, Sumner became in later years,
a great gospelsinger, started in the Sunny South Quartet from 1945 through 1949. From 1948 through
1954, Sumner was a member of the Sunshine Boys Quartet, and in 1954 through 1965, he was a member
of the famous Blackwood Brothers Quartet.
Nicknamed as "Jim Dandy", who had been a friend of Elvis Presley since Elvis was sixteen years old.
Sumner would often let Elvis Presley in through the back door so that he could attend the gospel
group concerts in Memphis in the early 1950s. Sumner has sung with the Sunshine Boys and, from 1954
to 1965, with the Blackwood Brothers. His vocal group, the Stamps, started in 1965, backed Elvis Presley
in many recording sessions and concerts from 1972 to 1977. Elvis gave Sumner a new white Lincoln
automobile in October 1976, a $4,000 silver watch, and a $40,000 diamond ring.
Deep voice, the six-foot-five-inch-tall entertainer often sang along with Elvis Presley on "Why Me Lord"
and "Help Me" in concert. In 1977 J.D. Sumner recorded the tribute record (Elvis Has Left The Building"
(OQA 461), and with the Stamps recorded two tribute albums, "Elvis' Favorite Gospel Songs" (OQA 362)
in 1977 and "Memories Of Our Friend" (Blue Mark 373) in 1978.
In 1971 J.D. Sumner wrote his autobiography, Gospel Music In My Life. Three days for his birthday, on
November 16, 1998, John Daniel Sumner died at a stroke while he was asleep in a small hotel in Myrtle
Beach, South Carolina, of the age of 73. After Elvis death, J.D. Sumner perform on many appearances for
the Elvis Presley Estate each year, for the Elvis Presley Tribute Week in Memphis, Tennessee.
On his funeral on November 19, 1998, his family and his musical friends included, James Burton, Glen
Hardin, Charlie Hodge, Joe Guercio, Donnie Sumner, James Blackwood, Jake Hess, Hovie Lister, Ed
Enoch, and Tony Brown, attended the funeral.
UNKNOWN DATE AUGUST 1951
Elvis Presley tries out for the football team the Tigers, but is cut by the coach when he won't trim his
ducktail and sideburns. When Elvis went to sign up during the week of school, the coach was standing
nearby and called Elvis Presley over. After saying hello and finding out Elvis' name, the coach gave him a
long look. "If you want to even try out for the team, son, that hair's gotta go". "How come?", Elvis voice
was unsteady. "Its a school rule. Athletes have to keep their hair short. Promotes cleanliness. "But my hair
is clean". "Rules are rules. If you don't get it cut, you won't be able to try out. I'm sorry". Several other
boys heard this exchange, and when Elvis turned around, he could see the smirks on their faces. "One of
'em offered to cut my hair for me if I wanna play so bad",Elvis told later. With football out of the
question, Elvis switched his attention to other activities. Elvis Presley to hang around local blues joints on
Beale Street in Memphis.
Elvis Presley enters his junior year at Humes High School. He receives C's and is reported tardy three
times. During this year at school, friends and teachers notice a change in Elvis, as he begins to gain selfconfidence,
attempts to grow sideburns, and grooms his hair meticulously (some would say obsessively)
with Rose Oil hair tonic and Vaseline. His clothes, too, become more flamboyant, and without calling
attention to himself in any other way, he becomes a kind of visual focal point. His attempt to join the
football team practices at Humes High School, would seem to have been thwarted by his appearance, his
size, and his mother's opposition.
UNKNOWN DATE NOVEMBER 1951
Gladys Presley Begins work as a nurse's aide at St. Joseph's Hospital, located at 264 Jackson Street near
1-40, at a salary of $4 a day, six days a week. She has worked at Britlings Cafeteria downtown in the
past, but this is the best job she has ever had, and she is very proud of it. St. Joseph was just a couple of
blocks from the Lauderdale Courts.
St. Joseph Hospital 1940s >
ST. JOSEPH'S HOSPITAL
- Located at 264 Jackson Street 1-40, Memphis, Tennessee. (Now vacant on
220 Overton Avenue. Phone 901-577-2700. Today, a total staff of 800, and a total of 410 licensed beds.
St. Joseph Hospital is a full-service hospital, specializing in geriatrics, rehabilitation, mental health, and
occupational health, and offers a state-of-the-art cardiology services unit.
St. Joseph, which is owned by
Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation, also provides a 24-hour health and information hotline staffed
by registered nurses; the number is 901-577-3000. The hospital's geriatric program offers a transportation
service for needy elderly and disabled patients to and from the hospital for appointments, and it recently
opened its Geriatric Specialty Clinic, where seniors can receive various health screenings and nutritional
counselling. In addition the hospital has opened a new primary-care center for seniors called Med-Wise,
located at Poplar and Evergreen Avenues.
Gladys Presley worked at St. Joseph's from 1951 to 1952 as a nurse's aide. Her earnings helped the family
financially, and the job offered Gladys' a distinct sense of accomplishment as Gladys was an excellent
aide. Co-workers encouraged Gladys to pursue a nursing career, but she chose not do.
Gladys Presley always tried to shelter Elvis Presley, so it distressed her when he began working at MARL
Metal Company in 1952, while he was still attending high school. She thought his school work was more
important. "It got so hard on him, he was so beat all the time, we made him quit and I went to work at St.
Joseph's Hospital", she told an interviewer four years later.
Neither job suited her as well as her position at St. Joseph's Hospital, where she found her niche. She was
a natural caregiver, and her patients adored her gentle manner. However, the job was too tenuous for
Gladys, and she could only handle the work for a couple of years. Her health was never robust, and the
long hours on her feet took their toll.
Mrs. Bramlett, who lived on Alabama Street and whose sons, John and Charlie, played football with Elvis
Presley, remembers that Elvis would meet his mother at the hospital at the end of her shift and drive her
home. One day as they were leaving the hospital, Gladys told Elvis that she had seen a patient arrive in a
pink Cadillac, and it was the most beautiful car she had ever seen. Elvis Presley never forgot that
conversation, nor the way her eyes lit up when she talked about that car.
The old portion of St. Joseph's Hospital stands, albeit dwarfed by a modern hospital structure. Givenio's
St. Joseph's proximity to Lauderdale Courts, one can easily imagine Gladys walking to work via Third
Street. At the hospital, in addition to her regular work, Gladys helped patients and their families get
through rough times. A walk through the old section of St. Joseph's inspires a wonderful sense of the
goodness in humanity to which Gladys contributed throughout her lifetime. St. Joseph's Hospital is at the
end of the street. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is located behind and to the right of St. Joseph's.
Elvis has his arm around his friend Farley Guy at Lauderdale Courts, Memphis, circa 1952. Farley lived in the same Lauderdale Courts building as Elvis, right over him on the second floor. >
B.B. King's version of Lowell Fulson's "Three O'Clock Blues" tops Billboard's Rhythm and Blues chart
for five weeks; later this same year, Little Walter's "Juke" reaches number one. Ralph Ellison recorded
Apart from the church, the strongest musical influence in Elvis Presley's early life came from his
companion at Lauderdale Courts. This was a public-assistance housing project that the Presley's called
home from May 1949 to January 1953. Among Elvis' friends who occupied the Courts or lived nearby
were Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, Paul Burlison, Jesse Lee Denson, Bill and Johnny Black, and Marcus
Van Story. All of these young men would have professional careers in music of varying degrees.
Elvis Presley and his companions frequently gathered in the courtyard area or a nearby park to sing and
entertain themselves. They also rehearsed at the Girls' Club and the Canteen, also called the recreation
hall, at Lauderdale Courts. Johnny Black recalls that the boys would perform for the firemen at the station
next to Suzore II Theatre at 279 North Mean Street and for customers at a corner gas station.
The Denson family connection passing offers another intriguing glimpse into Presley's early years. Jesse
Lee Denson's parents ran the Poplar Street Mission, where, according to Denson's brother Jimmy Lee, the
Presley's obtained most of their household possessions. Jesse Lee was a gregarious kid, which, by all
accounts, Elvis was not; he appears to have taught Elvis Presley some rudiments of the guitar and brought
him to the basement jam sessions and Girls' Club gigs at Lauderdale Courts. Jimmy Lee remembers
Presley as a wallflower, in awe of bad-ass kids like Jesse Lee and Dorsey Burnette, who had served time
together at state reform school in Nashville.
Jimmy Lee Denson's portrait of Elvis Presley is that of an incorrigibly wimpy and terminally withdrawn
kid for whom complete sentences were a problem. That may be, but its clear that a transformation began
to occur at some point in 1953 or early 1954 - a transformation that Denson wouldn't have witnessed, as
he left town to sell automobiles in Houston in 1953. Jesse Lee remained in Memphis and eventually
recorded for VIK, the RCA subsidiary, in 1957, apparently without Presley's intercession.
After his four year stint at the U.S. Marines, Jack Clement returned briefly to Memphis. Soon, he was off
to Wheeling, West Virginia with Buzz Busby doing, "a bluegrass comedy duet thing", kind a like Homer
and Jethro. Also at that time Jack Clement played in Baltimore and Boston and he made his first record.
"This was in 1953. We had been playing a radio show in Baltimore when Aubrey Mayhew, who managed
Hawkshaw Hawkins, asked us to do a show on his WCOP "Hayloft Jamboree" in Boston. While we were
doing that James Daliano was the owner but he let Aubrey run the label. We recorded my first two
published songs, "I Can't Say Nothing At All" and "I Think I'll Write A Song". They were by Buzz and
Jack, and we did them in the style of Webb Pierce''.
Jim Bulleit, owner of the Bullet label in Nashville between 1945 and 1949, returns to Nashville after
working as a promoter for KWKH radio, the Louisiana Hayride, and as promoter of a country music
jamboree in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Bulleit becomes involved in setting up distribution for Sun
Records in the spring of 1952, along with his own Delta and J-B labels.
All the labels in Memphis concentrated on blues music. There were also some gospel recordings. The
Spirit of Memphis Quartet recorded for King Records on location at the Masonic Temple in Memphis in
1952. Earlier the Reverend W.H. Brewster had recorded in 1950 for Gotham on titles which may have
been made at WDIA radio or another Memphis location. WDIA radio would have been the most likely
place for the recording of black music in 1949, and in fact the first two records made by B.B. King were
recorded at WDIA radio for Nashville's Bullet label
Pancho's West Memphis, site of the Plantation Inn, 3600 East Broadway Street, West Memphis, Arkansas (left).
Morris Berger, founder of the Plantation Inn, enjoys a dance with his wife Clemmye (right). >
Elvis Presley see the Newborn family band with Calvin Newborn and Phineas Newborn Jr. at such
local nightspots as the Flamingo Room at Hernando and Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, and the
Plantation Inn in West Memphis, Arkansas.
"He got rhythm from my dad, he got boogie-woogie from my
brother and he got his poise from me", assert Calvin Newborn. Of course there are dozens of musicians
around Memphis who'll tell you just how much Elvis Presley got from them, but Calvin has a point. Back
then, the youngest Newborn was a wild man, famed for a stage act that included leaping into the air in
midsolo, a routine that earned him the nickname "Legs".
– Across the Mississippi Bridge in West Memphis, in the parking lot of Pancho's
Mexican restaurant, is the site where the Plantation Inn Nite Club once stood. While there's no marker,
plaque or sign noting that fact, the impact of the club, the music it hosted and the musicians it fostered,
can still be felt decades after its demise.
Today, a group of West Memphis civic and cultural interests, the city's Blues and Rhythm Society, Public
Library, Convention and Visitor's Bureau, and the Crittenden Arts Council, kicks off a two-day event
celebrating the rich legacy of the Plantation Inn.
The festivities begin this morning at Southland Park Gaming & Camp; Racing with an educational
symposium about the club. The panel includes ethnomusicologist Dr. David Evans; critic Robert Gordon;
folk art specialist Dr. Mike Luster; musicians Wayne Jackson, Calvin Newborn and Willie Mitchell;
former club bouncer Raymond Vega; and Brenda Berger O'Brien, daughter of PI founder Morris Berger. A
dance concert will follow tonight, featuring trumpeter Jackson and an all-star PI Blues Band. A free
amateur blues contest will be Saturday at Worthington Park.
"This event is part of a long-term project to really establish West Memphis' connection to the region's
music, which is pretty considerable," says Janine Earney, executive director of the Crittenden Arts
Council. "A lot of time we're just a footnote to Memphis, but many of the musicians lived and worked
here, and what happened in our clubs had a profound influence."
The Plantation Inn had a long and varied history. Once an actual plantation house, later it was a gambling
hall, and then a roadhouse. Morris Berger launched it as the Plantation Inn in 1942, and it soon became
the hottest destination in an area boasting a thriving nightlife.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, West Memphis provided a lax legal environment that spawned a variety
of musical venues, like the Cotton Club and Danny's. While those clubs catered mostly to country music,
the Plantation Inn opened its stages to a host of great black acts: from the Newborn Family, father Phineas
and sons Calvin and Phineas Jr., to bandleaders like Ben Branch, Gene "Bowlegs" Miller and Willie
Mitchell. Although it survived an early-1960s crackdown on local clubs, the Plantation Inn closed its
doors in 1964, but not before playing a key role in shaping Memphis music.
Long before his trumpet would anchor the Memphis Horns and punctuate inimitable hits for the Stax
label, the West Memphis-raised Wayne Jackson got his education in Southland Park Gaming & Camp at
the Plantation Inn. "When I was a kid I always heard about the Plantation Inn," says Jackson. "It was one
of those places the adults went. They had linen tablecloths, good steaks and good music. Then as time
went by, and we became teenagers we would go and sit around and listen to the bands and the singing.
They'd serve us a beer and look the other way. We thought we were big time. But we got to hear what was
being played and fall in love with the music."
"There were times where I couldn't get in," recalls veteran musician/producer Jim Dickinson. "Like if I
didn't have a phony I.D. or something. So many a night I just went over there and got drunk in the parking
lot, stayed in my car listening to the music, because you could hear it from outside."
Author Robert Gordon, who devoted a chapter to the Plantation Inn in his 1995 book "It Came From
Memphis," notes that the club provided a whole generation of white musicians, often underage, with their
first serious dose of black music.
"Kids could get into clubs more easily across the river, and the exposure to bands like Willie Mitchell's or
Phineas Newborn's group, or the many others who came and went was crucial," says Gordon. "It provided
those kids with a kind of primer for Southland Park Gaming & Camp: for the rhythms and the repertoires
and the unusual horn arrangements."
"Of course some of those same bands also played Memphis clubs, it was just much harder to get into to
see them," adds Gordon. "Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn (of Booker T. & the MGs) tell a story about
going to the Flamingo Club on Beale Street and standing in the stairwell and listening to the music. But,
because they were kids and were white, they couldn't get in beyond that. But in West Memphis you could
practically get on the stage."
Beyond just witnessing the groups, the sights and sounds of what went on at the Plantation Inn had a
visceral impact on those who would come to help define Memphis music throughout the 1960s and
"A lot of people say the origins of the 'Memphis Sound' began at the Plantation Inn, and I think there's a
lot of truth to that," says Jackson. "We did get a lot of the ideas from those bands. We dressed up and
shined our shoes and did steps, we got that idea from the Four Kings, who were Willie Mitchell's band.
We just learned about rhythm and blues and what you had to do to make people dance. So at Stax, we
always played with that intention."
To Dickinson, it was Plantation Inn bandleader Ben Branch and his group the Largos who provided a key
inspiration. "They were the single most significant influence on what became the Memphis sound. All of
what became soul music was derivative of what Ben Branch and Largos were doing," says Dickinson.
"But overall, the PI itself developed a kind of sound. That had more to do with the same musicians in
different groups coming and going. It was sort of what continued happening in the recording studios in
Memphis later on, how the same group of musicians developed a kind of interplay and a style''.
As part of the tribute event, Jackson will be playing in a band led by Marvell Thomas, a Plantation Inn
veteran who was a member of "Bowlegs" Miller's group as a teen, that will include local notables like
guitarist Skip Pitts and saxman Jim Spake, among others.
The Plantation Inn Blues Band will be performing a set of standards from the club's heyday. "We'll be
doing stuff from the 1940s through the 1960s. Songs like ''Tennessee Waltz'', ''Missouri Waltz'', which
were favorites of the Berger family'', says Jackson. "And songs by Bowlegs Miller like ''One More Time'',
Willie Mitchell's ''20-75'', and a whole bunch of other things from the era''.
As the Crittenden Arts Council's Janine Earney notes, the Plantation Inn event is just the first step in a
larger effort to highlight West Memphis' contributions to the region's musical history and heritage. "It's
important that document our history because it's very valuable. B.B. King lived and worked here, as did
Sonny Boy Williamson, and Howlin' Wolf. So there's a really rich wonderful musical tradition in West
Memphis, and the Plantation Inn is a very big part of that''.
CALVIN AND PHINEAS NEWBORN JR.
- Born and rased in Memphis, Tennessee, his father Phineas
Newborn Sr. was one of the most in-demand drummers on Beale Street, playing in most of the top bands.
In 1949, Newborn Sr. formed with his sons, Calvin on guitar, and Phineas Jr. on piano, his own band. A
few earlier the young Newborns made their debut on Beale at the street's legendary amateur contest at the
Palace Theater. Calvin says the Newborn family band had a particularly strong influence on a young
white musician who often came by to see the group on local nightspots in Memphis.
In the early 1950s, Calvin and his family band helped B.B King make his first recordings in the studios of
WDIA, and the family band appeared on many early Sun Records recordings. Phineas junior continued
playing his behind off. it was, in fact, that portion of his anatomy that caused him to alter the
pronunciation of his first name. Phineas senior preferred the rather unorthodox "Fine-us", even spelling it
phonetically on the familyband's equipment. But Calvin recalls that in high school groups of girls would
follow his elder brother down the halls.
In the early 1950s, the Newborn family band was one of the hottest acts on the Memphis club scene.
Calvin's wild guitar playing and even wilder showmanship, and Phineas senior's rocksolid rhythm.
Phineas junior didn't want to just to play blues for a living and jazz after hours. A couple of years after the
early B.B. King sessions, the pianist, like so many Memphis jazzmen, left for the jazz capital of New
York. Blessed with dazzling technique, an unerring sense of swing, and deep blues feeling, Newborn
formed his own trio in 1955. He earned rave reviews for a 1956 appearance at New York's Club Basin
In 1958, he teamed with bassist-composer Charles Mingus to provide the music for jazz-loving filmmaker
John Cassavetes "Shadows". A year later the pianist travelled to Europe with Jazz from Carnegie Hall
As always in the music business, talent alone wasn't enough to guarantee commercial success, and
Newborn's genius proved too fragile. Problems with drugs and alcohol exacerbated his already delicate
emotional make-up, and the pianist was occasionally committed to mental hospitals during the sixties and
seventies. In 1989, Newborn, weakened by drug and alcohol abuse, died of heart problems at fifty-seven.
Gladys Presley is forced to quit her job at St. Joseph's Hospital because, with her salary figured in, the
family is earning too much money to qualify for public housing. Vernon explain to the Housing Authority
that he has hurt his back and been out of work for a while and that the family is "trying to pay ourselves
out of debt. Bills are pressing and don't want to be sued". As a result, The Presleys are permitted to sign a
new lease at $43 per month.
Chess and the Biharis resolved their conflict in an agreement by which Chess kept Howlin' Wolf and the
Biharis kept Roscoe Gordon from Sun Records. Chess released their second Wolf single immediately
after the deal was struck. Nevertheless, both Wolf and Roscoe would have to wait a number of years to
recapture their initial success.
"The first time I saw Howlin' Wolf", says Jim Dickinson on June 1990 in Hernando, Mississippi, "I was
still too young to know any better. It was the early 1950s. I was with my father at a warehouse in West
Memphis, Arkansas. My father and the warehouse manager were counting cartons of clothes pins. Over
the hum of the big band built into the wall I could hear what sounded like jungle drums. I followed the
pounding up wooden stairs to an office. Painted on the glass door was a lightning bolt and red letters
KWEM RADIO. The door was open. Four negro men in unbleached work clothes were playing music.
One man - bigger than the others - was growling words I could not understand into a silver microphone.
I watched until my father found me. The music stuck in my head and wouldn't go away. I found it later on
the radio. KWEM - 1070 WDIA "The Black Spot On Your Dial" - WLOK 1340 with Hunky Dory -
Dewey Phillips Red Hot And Blue on 56 WHBQ radio.
I had an older friend with a 78rpm copy of Wolf's "I Love My Baby". I listened to it over and over. Then
one day in Ruben Cherry's "Home Of The Blues" record shop on Beale Street, I saw the grey album cover
with the drawing of a lone wolf howling to the moon. I took it to the check-out counter, and Ruben said,
'Boy, you got the blues there'.
"I was hooked. In 1958 my high school combo was playing versions of "Evil" and "Killing Floor" to our
white teenaged Memphis audience. By the mid-1960s the Rolling Stones were playing Howlin' Wolf
songs to the world.
I have heard Sam Phillips say that his discovery of Wolf was more significant than his discovery of Elvis
Presley. The Only artist to share the surreal darkness of Robert Johnson, Wolf brings out his band an
ensemble counterpoint unlike anything else in the blues. His voice seems to hang in the air, and make the
room rumble with echo. His singing is so powerful that between the vocal lines the compressor-limiter
through which the mono recordings were made sucks the sound of the drum and the French harp up into
the hole in the audio mix. Notes blend together and merge into melody lines that are not being 'played' by
any one instrument. Wolf is not bound by the three-chord blues pattern, and often seems to crass the bar
lines of western music. He is a Primitive-Modernist, using chants and modal harmonies of the dark
ritualist past brought up from mother Africa and slavery through electric amplifiers.
Like the unsolvable mystery of 'smokestack lightning', Howlin' Wolf contribution to the blues goes
beyond musical phrases. The 'idea' of Howlin' Wolf makes blues history somehow deeper and richer.
Bloody but unbowed, Chester Burnett is forever frozen in the time - space of these first recordings made
by Sam Phillips. Howlin' Wolf sings out his frustrations, never surrendering to the hopeless situation of
existence. The same giant pulled a plow like a man-mule in the Mississippi Delta, and lived to ride a
on-stage at the Newport Folk Festival.
He toured the world playing the blues, and would sit in his hotel room in his boxer shorts and do-rag, and
imitate Senator Everett Dirkson. His life is a legend. His legacy is a treasure as unique as the man
himself. Share his vision of love, sex, death, and man's predicament in the Universe. Heed the call of the
Wolf, the haunted cry of an animal alone in the night. And that music, loved Elvis Presley".
Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner leave Sun Records for Chess Records in Chicago. Sam Phillips need to
find new talent ever pressing, he turned to a precocious young piano player named Rosco Gordon.
Eddie Hill leaves Memphis to work for WSM radio in Nashville, Tennessee.
Sam Phillips borrowed some money from Nashville record magnate Jim Bulleit to begin his Sun Records
operation. Sam learned a great deal from Bulleit. Bulleit's company provided another model for Sun
Records. Sam Phillips reasoned he could duplicate its success in Memphis.
"I thought I could maybe make a go of a company that just recorded rhythm and blues numbers", Phillips
Elvis Presley returns to work at Loew's State Theater but is fired five weeks later after an altercation with
another usher. Loew's State became notable for being the place where Elvis Presley got his first job, in
1948, as an usher and later being fired, and then re-instated. The auditorium was built into an older
warehouse which actually fronted Second Street. Second Street wasn't a suitable address for such a
prestigious theater so Loew's acquired a single storefront on Main Street which aligned with the
warehouse/auditorium on 2nd. Unfortunately, there was an alley between the two buildings which the
City of Memphis would not allow Loew's to close off. The solution? The storefront was gutted and turned
into a lovely half-block-long lobby which ended in a single grand stairway. This stairway rose to a level
high enough to allow a bridge over the alley and entered the auditorium at balcony level. When the LS
was not at peak capacity, the sign on the stairs said "downstairs closed" instead of the usual "balcony
closed" so familiar to those going to the movies in the 1960's.
The State had a vaudeville stage and pit. The hall was never renovated during its life and so retained all
it's Thomas Lamb "Loew's Adam" decor to the end. The first organ in the Loew's State was a Moller. It
was replaced by a Wurlitzer in the mid-1920's. The 2 big Loew's theaters in downtown Memphis were
under construction at the same time.
One of the places Elvis and his friends visited was the The Blues Shop, or sometimes called Charlies, a record store. Customers could take a record from the inventory and listen to the music on phonograph players inside the store.
It was at 281 North Main according to the 1954 Memphis telephone directory. Storefront right next of the Suzore II is the apparent location for this store. >
Elvis Presley started hanging out at The Blues Shop, referred to as "Charlie's", a little records store, which
was at next to the Suzore II on 286 North Main Street across the firehouse. It had a jukebox and a little
soda fountain and even sold "dirty" Red Foxx comedy records under the table.
The owner Charlie
Hazelgrove, never kicked anyone out; the store was a hangout for youngmen who were passionate about
the music. "One time we were hanging around Charlie's", recalled Johnny Black, "and Elvis said to me,
'Johnny, someday I'm going to be driving Cadillacs. It's so weird to think about - we're talking about an
era when we probably couldn't have gotten the money together for a Coke between us".
"In 1954, I was in Charlie's Record Shop and Elvis Presley came in and asked to borrow a dollar-fifty",
said Barbara Pittman. "I asked him what he needed the money for. He said, 'I'm broke. I need the money
for a movie'. I was earning money babysitting at the time. I coughed up my life savings - that buck-fifty -
and gave it to him. I thought maybe he was going to take me with him to that movie. But he went off
without me. Spent fifty cents each getting himself and Dixie Locke into the movie and spent a quarter
each for a bag of popcorn". "And he never paid me back the dollar-fifty! In 1978 they brought me to an
Elvis convention in Chicago to relate my memories of being with Elvis and they paid me fifteen hundred
dollars. I finally got my money back!".
1952 Humes High School Yearbook >
This paperback "The 1952 Senior Herald" from Humes High School in Memphis, Tennessee,
belonged to Frances Grear, as noted on the first page in blue ink. This was Elvis' junior year and he
is pictured twice: first in a group photograph of the Company B Second Platoon ROTC, near the
center in the second row in uniform, and then again on page 57 in the back row of the second year
speech group photo. Elvis has signed and inscribed above the platoon photograph in blue ink, "Best
of everything to a very likable girl Elvis''.
Notations and inscriptions from various friends and
classmates appear throughout the yearbook. The yearbook is being sold with a letter from Frances
Hunter which reads in part, "It's still hard to believe the very quiet and polite young man in my
Speech and Drama Class became the King of Rock And Roll. He did not sing at school until the
senior year I'm told. The only time I heard him sing in those early years was in our Speech And
Drama Class. Miss Lochrie brought in a machine that made these 45 plastic records. She allowed us
to sing, play an instrument or perform a drama piece and she recorded it''.
Elvis Presley with his cousin Gene Smith at Loew's State photo booth, Memphis, circa 1951. >
According to his cousin Gene Smith, Elvis Presley particularly enjoyed the choir at the Centenary African
Methodist Episcopal Church at 878 Mississippi Boulevard in Memphis, and the two after sat in on
Sunday morning services. It is difficult to imagine the two boys only white faces in the otherwise allblack
congregation, yet they were always welcomed.
Out of courtesy Elvis Presley and Gene Smith sat in the balcony, as blacks were required to do when they
visited white churches and social events.
"Elvis would be swept up by the singing", Gene said, "and
although he couldn't sing alone with the choir down on the ground floor because we had to be respectful
and keep quiet, he continually wanted us to go there on Sundays so we could sit and listen to the hymns
being sung and partake of the spiritual power of that particular gospel group". The Bible Days Revival
Church now occupies this building.
Elvis Presley showing up backstage at the monthly gospel concerts at Ellis Auditorium on North Mean
Street. These shows were produced by the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, a local institution with a national
following. The Blackwood family belonged to the same church as the Presley's, and Elvis Presley knew
several members quite well. During these visits, he met performers who would play an important part in
his professional life. J.D. Sumner, who would sing bass behind Elvis in the 1970s, was with the Sunshine
Boys at this time. Sumner remembers assisting Elvis in getting backstage. G.L. Coffey, building
superintendent at the Auditorium, recalls that Elvis Presley would walk on stage after the show and sing
over the public address system to the empty Auditorium.
Along with the gospel concerts, Elvis Presley was a frequent visitor to the East Trigg Baptist Church
located at 1189 East Trigg Avenue in Memphis. Here, Reverend W. Herbert Brewster was supported by
one of the finest black gospel choirs in the South. The lead vocalist with the choir was Queen Cee
Anderson. According to elders at the church, while Elvis Presley was in High School he often sang as a
member of the East Trigg congregation. "Those white boys used to get out sometimes", Brewster recalled.
"They were emotional and they got out on the road sometimes... The Happy Goodman Brothers, I wrote
for them too, and several other white groups. They took the songs and didn't do much changing. Elvis
Presley came out here, a truck driver, and now he is the greater thing". Elvis Presley never recorded any
of Brewster's songs, he did absorb a good many of the other songs he heard at East Trigg and over the
REVEREND HERBERT W. BREWSTER
- Pastor of the East Trigg Baptist Church in Memphis,
Tennessee. An important composer and contemporary of Thomas A. Dorsey, Brewster composed scores
of gospel songs beginning in the early 1930s.
Many of his compositions were written specifically for his
choir of the Brewster Singers with his famed soloist, Queen C. Anderson, but two of his songs, "Move On
Up A Little Higher" by Mahalia Jackson, and "Surely, God Is Able", gained wider popularity. He also
wrote Clara Ward's "How I Got Over".
East Trigg Baptist Church, 1189 East Trigg Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. >
"My music has never been to make money", Brewster would say. A gospel song was simply a sermon set
to music, he felt, and a good sermon has the power to influence. Harper Brewster knew that the challenge
of any minister is to get people attention. "It's a funny thing", Reverend Brewster once said, "So many
people will listen to a song when they won't listen to a sermon". Once when he was criticized by a group
of ministers for putting "all that jubilation" into his services, Reverend Brewster said, "You want to catch
fish, you got to fish with the kind of bait they'll come to. If singing a song too slow rocks them to sleep,
pick it up". He was thrilled that so many people would come to his church to hear his music. Brewster
recalled, "There'd be as many white faces - and sometimes more - than black faces at evening services.
Elvis Presley was just a casual boy who came for the singing".
Reverend Harper Brewster used the power of music to fill the thirty-two pews of his small church. His
radio show on WDIA radio, called "Old Camp Meeting Of The Air", was one of the first gospel shows on
radio, and through it he was introduced to a white audience who eventually came to the church to hear his
powerfully delivered message. He had the gift of "whooping" - the ability to tell a story in a melodious
style. His sermons were lyrical and dramatically delivered in his rich, mellifluent voice. And the music,
well, everyone came to hear the music.
EAST TRIGG BAPTIST CHURCH
- Located at 1189 East Trigg Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, Reverend
Harper Brewster had a favorite saying, "When grace is in, race is out". The doors of his black church in
South Memphis were open to everyone, and the number of white visitors who sat in his congregation
during the years before desegregation were testimony to his ministerial gift. One of those visitors was
Today East Trigg Baptist Church is still active, although the congregation is now predominately black.
After the turmoil surrounding Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination in Memphis in 1968, many white
people avoided places that they considered to be predominantly black, such as the East Trigg
GUY L. COFFEY
- Was concessions manager at the Ellis Auditorium. About an hour before a show, he
would open the doors on Poplar Avenue, on the south side of the building, and look out over a sea of allwhite
faces boys from Humes High, South Side and Tech High schools, all wanting a chance to make a
dollar or two in commissions so they could buy school lunches the next day, the following week.
"I had gone to Humes", said Coffey, "so I knew what this meant to them. I knew they needed the money.
So, in selecting, I always leaned toward the Humes kids. They were good kids. Elvis Presley would show
up for the Monday night wrestling matches, for the gospel sings, for the country music gigs. He stuck
mostly to selling Cokes. On a good night, he could earn three or for dollars. And while the money was
needed, equally important to Elvis was the opportunity to be around performers. Sometimes, after a night
event had ended and the Humes kids had settled up, financially, Elvis would go up on stage and play to
imaginary crowds, bowing to their applause", said Coffey.
"I would have to tell him, 'Come on now, Elvis, we have to close the place up'. And he would say 'Yes,
sir', and we would walk silently out of the building", said Coffey.
- Perhaps the most popular group in southern gospel music history, the
Blackwood Brothers parleyed their rural Mississippi sharecropping background into a million-dollar
For many fans in both the South and the mid-West, the Blackwoods defined the
singing quartet style that is the backbone of classic southern gospel music and engineered many of the
musical and promotional innovations that permitted gospel singers to professionalize their music.
were among the first to issue their own phonograph records, to break from the songbook publishers that
had dominated gospel music for the first four decades of the century, to begin their own radio
transcription service, to consciously seek out and adapt new or original songs, to travel by air, and to
adapt harmonics and accompaniment appealing to a nationwide popular audience.
The original quartet was formed in 1934 at Ackerman, Mississippi, by three brothers, Roy, Doly, and
James, sons of a Delta sharecropper and his wife who sang casually in church; the fourth member was
Roy's young son, R.W. By 1937 the group found itself broadcasting on radio at Jackson, Mississippi,
doing not only gospel but pop and country tunes, and after April 1939 they performed on a 50,000-watt
station, KWKH, recently opened in Shreveport, Louisiana. Here they began an affiliation with the
songbook publisher V.O. Stamps, who provided them with a car, contracts, a stipend, and a piano player,
thus casting them into the format of "four man and a piano" that had become characteristic of earlier
gospel quartets. In 1940 Stamps sent them to Shenandoah, Iowa, where they began a decade's stay at
KMA that saw them develop their unique style and build a huge following in the mid-West.
At Shenandoah the quartet began to experiment with modern harmonies (built on sixth and ninth chords),
developing their precise enunciation and diction and borrowing verve, dynamics, and solo breaks from
pop and black gospel music. In 1946 they began to make records, first on the White Church label and then
on their own Blackwood label, recording some 49 singles between 1946 and 1951. A move back from
Shenandoah, Iowa to an office on Jefferson Avenue in Memphis in August 1950 put them in the center of
the then-burgeoning gospel movement, where both black and white groups vied for air time and for places
at "all-night sings", popularized by promoter Wally Fowler in 1948 and 1949, in Ellis Auditorium at
North Mean Street in Memphis.
With their broadcasting base at WMPS radio, the Blackwoods - now with only two of the original four
still singing - became one of the first postwar gospel groups to sign with a major label when they began
recording for RCA Victor on January 4 1952. Hit records and a win on the nationally broadcast Arthur
Godfrey Talent Scouts show in 1954 followed. Memphis Mayor Frank Tobey issued a proclamation
designating the date as Blackwood Brothers Quartet Day for the "great credit" the group brought to the
city, but barely two weeks after the Godfrey show two members of the group, R.W. and bass singer Bill
Lyles, were killed in a plane crash. On July 2, 1954, Governor Frank Goad Clement gave the eulogy at the
Within a month the Blackwoods had recovered and regrouped and were back on the concert circuit;
another Blackwood, Cecil, the brother of R.W., stepped in, as did bass singer Jerry D. Sumner, who was
to play an important role in the group's sound throughout the 1950s. A string of national television
appearances and successful record albums followed in the mid-1950s, and the group's promotional
activities reached new heights through their founding of the National Quartet Convention in 1957 and of a
new all-gospel record company, Skylite, in 1960 as well as through the purchase of several of the old
gospel songbook companies, which had fallen on hard times. From 1967 to 1977 the group won
numerous Grammy awards and as late as the mid-1970s still featured James Blackwood, his son Jimmy,
and his nephew Cecil.
The Blackwood Brothers discography is voluminous. In addition to hundreds of singles, it includes at
least 58 long-play albums on RCA Victor from 1956 to 1973 and at least 42 albums on the Skylite label
from 1961 to 1981; probably 20 albums exist on various other labels. Songs the Blackwoods have been
most associated with include "Have You Talked To The Man Upstairs" (their first RCA hit and the
winning song on the Godfrey show), "Swing Down Chariot", "My Journey To The Sky", "Paradise
Island", "In Times Like These", "Looking For A City", and "The Old Country Church".
The influence of the Blackwood Brothers was perhaps at its strongest during Elvis Presley's later
performances. When Elvis began touring again in the 1970s, Elvis had gospel singers accompany him on
vocals. The first male quartet Elvis Presley employment was The Imperials, which included Terry
Blackwood, a son of Doyle. In 1972, Elvis Presley hired J.D. Sumner and The Stamps Quartet to perform
In times of their greatest need, the Presley family called upon the Blackwood family. Elvis Presley paid
for their flight back to Memphis so they could sing at his mother's funeral. Less than Twenty years later,
Vernon Presley asked James Blackwood (who then sang with the Masters Five) to sing at Elvis' funeral.
Today the Blackwood family continues to sing gospel music around the country. Only James Blackwood
remains from the original family quartet.
Elvis Presley and (probably) Betty McMahan, posed at Lauderdale Courts, Memphis, where he and his family lived from 1949 to 1953. >
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER 1952
There was one club, from owner-entrepreneur Andrew "Sunbeam" Mitchell, the Hippodrome, located on
500 Beale Street, that catered to young white kids. "If you looked like you wouldn't make trouble, they let
you in", Ronald Smith recalled.
"We loved to go there and watch the black musicians", Elvis' friend
Kenneth Herman remembered. It was at the Hippodrome that Elvis Presley continued to develop his
musical style during 1952. Performances at the club also inspired Elvis Presley, Ronald Smith, and
Kenneth Herman to talk about making a record.
In sum, the atmosphere in Memphis was a very special one. On street corners, country bluesmen played
for tips. In Handy Park, jug bands vied with informal groups that played the blues and popular songs for
the crowd's attention. The theaters along Beale Street featured vaudeville blues singers such as Bessie
Smith, Memphis Minnie, and Ma Rainey. Young musicians like Memphis Slim and Sunnyland Slim, who
drifted in as supporting musicians, wound up as local celebrities. The Memphis blues scene soon took on
a professional quality. When Elvis Presley began frequenting Beale Street in the early 1950s, it was in the
midst of a revolution.
Elvis Presley frequent attended at the Blackwood Brother' Record Shop and Offices, located at 186
Jefferson Avenue in Memphis. The shop at Jefferson provided office space for their various enterprises
and a retail outlet for their recordings. Doyle Blackwood stopped performing with the group to manage
this shop. It was open for business in the early 1950s, so it is likely that Elvis Presley did visit the site.
BLACKWOOD BROTHER' RECORD SHOP AND OFFICES
- During the 1950s, an office and shop
located at 186 Jefferson Avenue served as the headquarters for the Blackwood Brothers, a gospel quartet
that had a profound effect on Elvis Presley. In 1960, the Blackwood moved their shop to 209 North
Lauderdale Street, just around the corner from Poplar Tunes. This shop had room for their own recording
studio and coincided with the creation of Skylite Records, their record label.
The Blackwood Brother's Record Shop and Offices were located on the northwest corner of the
intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Third Street. The building has been replaced by the One Memphis
Place Office Tower. The Blackwood Brother's Shop at 209 North Lauderdale Street is still visible. From
Poplar Avenue, turn left on Lauderdale Street. The shop is on the west side, just south of Exchange Street
and Lauderdale Courts.
UNKNOWN DATE MAY 1952
Elvis Presley, shopped at Lansky Brothers, a Memphis men clothing store, officially named Lansky's
Clothing Emporium, located at 126-128 Beale Street, established in 1949 by Bernard and Guy Lansky as
an Army surplus store.
Lanky's specialized in loud clothing, i.e. yellow suits, pink sport coats, and white
shoes. The store catered mainly to black patrons, including Rufus Thomas and Junior Parker. Later, Elvis
Presley bought clothing from Lanky's for many years.
Bernard Joseph Lansky (left) and Guy Garrett Lansky (right) with Elvis Presley in an undated photograph taken in 1956 at Lansky Brothers at 126 Beale Street, Memphis. >
Many of the Sun recording artists - Sonny
Burgess, Billy Lee Riley, Charlie Feathers, Roy Orbison, Bill Justis, and brothers Johnny and Dorsey
Burnette - also bought their clothes at Lanky's. Elvis Presley's favorite colours where pink and black.
Lanky Brothers provided the suits for both Elvis' and Vernon Presley's pallbearers at each one's funeral.
Among other things, the Lansky brothers owned their own Memphis record label for a while, Peak
Records. In 1956 Elvis Presley traded Bernard Lansky his Messerschmidt automobile for new clothing.
"He came down and looked through the windows before he had any money, we knew him strictly by
face", recalled Guy Lansky. "He was working at the theater at that time, holes in his shoes and socks, real
shabbily dressed, but he stood out, his hair, sure, but it was his... what I'm trying to say, it was his, you
know, manners. He was just a very nice person".
Lansky Brothers Clothing Store and Mississippi River Cafe, Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, 1950s. >
LANSKY BROTHERS UNIFORM SHOP/MISSISSIPPI RIVER CAFE/BLUE LIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO (THAN NAMED ELVIS PRESLEY'S MEMPHIS CAFE) NOW A NEW LOCATION NAMED HARD ROCK CAFE
- Before 1890. Located at 126-128/130 Beale Street, tel, 901/525-3655, across Second Avenue, Lansky's Clothing Emporium outfitted the best of Memphis' musicians, including Rufus Thomas, Junior Parker, Sonny Burgess, Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Rufus Thomas, and others.
In 1946 Samuel Lansky bought and opened a shop for his two sons, Bernard and Guy, at 126 Beale Street, originally a store which sold leftover Army supplies from World War II, Bernard took advantage of the elevating Beale Street music scene and looked to provide clothing for the typical characters of Beale who wanted to dress dapper.
Elvis Presley first shopped at Lansky's in May 1952, when he was still in high school. Many items from his "loud" wardrobe were purchased at Lansky's. He continued to shop here throughout his life. Upon Elvis' death, Lansky's supplied his pallbearers with suits. Lansky gave Rufus Thomas free suits for advertising his store. When Rufus appeared on the stage of the Handy Theater, he opened his coat and shouted, "Ain't I'm clean? You know who makes me clean?". The audience screamed back, "Lansky Brothers!". Although this building currently has a single address, 130 Beale Street, it originally consisted of three separate stores. Between 1900 and World war II, 126-128 Beale Street contained secondhand clothing, furniture, restaurant, and shoe repair businesses. Beginning as a uniform store in 1946.
The building which housed Lansky's has undergone numerous changes. When Elvis Presley had his first publicity photo taken, the Blue Light Studio was part of the Lansky building. In 1942 the Blue Light Photography Studio entrance was located at the corner of 130 Beale Street and Second Street. In January 1956, just before Elvis Presley first television appearance on Stage Show, he had a professional portrait made there. It was not his first portrait, if you count the unflattering photograph taken by a Memphis Press-Scimitar photographer just before his appearance at the opening of the Lamar- Airways Shopping Center. Elvis Presley trusted the Blue Light Studio because he had passed by the shop and looked at the pictures on display for years. On this particular day, Mrs. Margaret Sutton took Elvis' photograph.
In the early 1960s, it became part of Lansky Brothers Big and Tall Men's Shop. The fate of the Lansky building is uncertain, eventually it may reopen as a book and record shop in music history as the Center for Southern Folklore (Phone 901-525-3655, Fax 901-525-3945. Documents the people and traditions of the South with films and exhibits plus Memphis music, books, arts, and crafts. Beale Street and Delta Region tours also offered. Distinctive gift-shop. Memphis musicians perform in an engaging smoke-free performance space. Coffee bar. Admission is free. Contributions of $2 for adults and $1 for seniors suggested. Inquire for charges for guide tours). Although it deals with all aspects of Southern culture, this museum provides the best in-depth background to Delta blues and rockabilly in Memphis. Special exhibitions change regularly, and the walls are always covered with archive photos, obscure record sleeves, and average biographies. Opened in 1989 and run on a nonprofit basis, the center also contains a gift shop selling books about blues, plus compact disc compilations of various regional musical styles. There's also a small performance space where septuagenarian blues pianist Mose Vinson, once a janitor at Sun Records, plays every Friday and Saturday while enthusiastically explaining the basics of his boogiewoogie style.
Blue Light Studio,
Beale Street across Second Street, Memphis, Tennessee. >
Prior to World War II, the building was used mostly as a restaurant. Thomas Pappas operated one from
around 1919 to 1940, usually under the workingsma's trademark, Joe's Lunch Room. In the summer of 1997 the new venue will called Elvis Presley's Memphis will open inside the renovated Lansky building.
This club will be the first of several teemed nightclubs conceived by Elvis Presley Enterprises Entertainment in the world. It will be a two-story restaurant and bar with seating for about 300 people, and it will have a performance stage and small retail area, plus a wine cellar. Live musical entertainment will be the key of the atmosphere, along with a first rate menu from southern food will be served and top quality service.
Mainstream blues, rock and roll and gospel will be a part of the musical mix, but the
emphasis will be on classic and current rock and roll, performed by known and up-and-coming bands. Of course, Elvis Presley recordings and memorabilia on display, and specially produced Elvis videos will have a constant presence.
The Blue Light Studio survived the decline of downtown Memphis. In the 1970s when Beale Street was
abandoned, the studio simply moved a few blocks away to 145 South Main Street. In 1994 the Blue Light Studio moved again to 115 Union Avenue. Today one can still walk in to have a portrait taken, and one can still see the portraits of Elvis Presley. The site of Lansky's at 126 Beale Street is now occupied by Elvis Presley's Memphis nightclub and restaurant.
The original location was on the northwest corner of Beale Street and Second street. Today the Blue Light Studio is on Union Avenue between Main Street and Second Street, west of the Peabody Hotel. Lansky Brothers today located on 149 Union Avenue, in the lobby of the luxurious Peabody Hotel, only a waddle away from the famous Peabody ducks.
Elvis Presley, here with Bernard Lansky, shoping for shirts and suits at Lansky menswear story, Beale Street, Memphis, June 14, 1956. >
A note from Bernard Lansky's Clothier to the King reads: "Remember the excitement of the fifties?
America was breaking away from the wholesome boy-next-door look in favor of ducktails, turned-up collars and bopping to sings like "That's All Right", Mystery Train" and "Blue Moon Of Kentucky".
was an era that changed the face of America - the world. Haven't you ever wanted to turn back the clock?
Be cool again? Here's your chance. I've just created this limited collection of clothes for the young at
heart, those who would like to go back to the freedom of the fifties when everybody, but everybody, was
be-bopping to this evil music called rock and roll".
In 1999 Bernard J. Lansky said, "I looked up one day and saw this young man looking at the display in the window of our menswear store on Beale Street in Memphis. I had seen him before. I knew enough about him to know he worked as an usher at Loew's State theater on Main Street, just around the corner. I didn't know his name. But, I get ahead of the story of how Lansky's became known as Clothier to the King".
Actually, as my brother and I started out just after coming home from the Army in World War Two, we sold military surplus goods. The war was over. People were looking for inexpensive clothes. They could come into our shop and drop down fifty cents and walk out of there with a cap or something. For a dollar ninety-five, they could get a fatigue shirt or fatigue pants. All of this is a far cry from the reputation we were to build within the next decade on Beale Street".
"When the surplus era began phasing out, we switched to high-fashion menswear and all the merchants up and down Beale, and around the corner on Main Street, were looking at us with raised eyebrows. High fashion? On Beale? Are you crazy or something?".
"But we had seen a void in the Memphis market. Practically everyone was selling the same plain old things everyone else was selling. No one was selling really high fashion clothes. I mean, we carried nothing but the finest. That's what the kids of the late forties, early fifties wanted. And we gave it to them".
"Now, back to that young man eyeballing the haberdashery in our window. I walked outside to greet him and told him, 'Come on in and let me show you around'. He said, 'I don't have any money. But when I get rich, I'm going to buy you out'. I had no idea what his name was, but I told him, 'Do me a favor, will you? Just buy from me. I don't want you buying me out'".
"And that's how Elvis Presley began shopping at Lansky's and via our connection with Elvis and a flood of other well-known artists, that's how we earned the reputation of Clothier to the King. Elvis started out buying things in a pink and black combination. After his early records on the Sun label began making him a local hero, all the kids were swarming down to Lansky's on Beale because they wanted pink and black, just like Elvis wore".
"We had everything they wanted. Black pants with pink shirts with big high collars; the row collars with the big sleeve; with three button sleeves; and with big sleeve cuffs. Something different. They were looking for something different, and we gave it to them".
"We knew what this young man should be wearing when he went on stage, on television, things like that. We knew he should be wearing something different from what other entertainers were wearing. So we started him out with big shirts, peg pants, half-boots of patent leather. He would also come into the store and buy fly clothes. This was with the rolled up collars".
"He would watch TV and see those gangsters wearing those big hats - we called them Dobbs hats. I think we sold them for twenty-five, thirty dollars. They would cost a hundred and a half today. Elvis would call and say, 'Mr. Lansky, send me over a half-dozen of them hats. And send some over for the other guys, too'. So everybody in the group - they later became known as the Memphis Mafie - got a hat".
"Elvis was a dynamite young man. What he did for us... well, he was a great public relations man for us. Anybody asking him where he got his clothes, he would answer, 'I got them from Lansky's on Beale. Once he hit it really big, he came in more often and, no, he never bought me out. Every time he dropped by he wanted something different. We outfitted him for his appearances on the Louisiana Hayride. We outfitted him for the Ed Sullivan and Dorsey Brothers shows on TV. Knowing he was going on the Sullivan show, I sold him a coat with a velour collar. That was a real shock, that and his pegged pants and patent leather half-boots". "And despite how tremendously big he became - you know RCA/BMG has named him Artist Of The Century - he was the nicest ever want to Meet. It was always, 'Yes, sir, Mister Lansky'. And I would tell him, 'Mister Lansky is my father. I'm Bernard'. And that never changed. And when he came in on a shopping spree, if you happened to be in the store when he was there and you wanted something you liked, he'd buy it. He didn't care who it was or what it was. He bought it for them".
"We sold to quite a few well-known entertainers: B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Rufus Thomas, Bobbie Blue Bland, Charlie Rich. For years Rufus would go on stage and show off his clothes and say, 'Ain't I clean? Lansky's. Rufus introduced Walking The Dog and Do The Funky Chicken to the world. When we went to the markets, we were always on the lookout for something different for Elvis, because Elvis would put them on and walk out on the streets and he was going to be our advertising, our billboard". "People would ask, 'Elvis, where are you buying your clothes'? And he would say 'Lansky's. We did a lot of mail order sales because of him. He was a real sharp dresser. Real neat. His clothes looked great on him. He was clean as Ajax. I mean, really nice. We would get new merchandise in and we would load it into a truck and I would have my son drive it out to Graceland for Elvis to look at. When the truck came back, it was empty. Elvis had taken all of it".
"I still remember his size. At that time it was a 42 coat with a 32 waist, a size 10 1/2 boot. He wore a medium shirt - 15 1/2 by 34 shirt. We knew what Elvis concerts were like, filled with screaming women. When he first started throwing scarves into the audience, those were scarves we got for Elvis. When Elvis came into the shop, I would treat him like a baby. Put clothes on him. Stand him in front of a mirror. Marked his clothes (for alterations). And I would say, 'Elvis, this is what you want, right here. This is what I've got for you'. And he would start laughing, and then buy it".
"He walked into the sore one day and said, 'Come look what I've got'. Outside, he showed me a German Messerschmidt car, saying it had been given to him by RCA Victor, his record label then. I said, 'Elvis, that's a nice one. When you get tired of it, I want it. That's mine. He laughed. And thirty days later he gave me the car. I still have it". "And I still have all those wonderful memories of when Elvis was a Number One customer and a Number One walking billboard for Lansky's, which soon became known as the Clothier to the King".
In 1981, Bernard Lansky bought out his brother, and he and his son Hal Lansky opened a bigand-tall
l business. It grew to 11 Lansky Big and Tall stores and Hercules stores in the Mid- South. In 1994, they sold for a nice profit.
In 2001, Lansky's established a new line of clothing entitled "Clothier To The King," which provides reproductions of clothing that Elvis actually wore combined with new 1950s-inspired clothing. Lansky Brothers has since moved its location from Beale Street to Memphis' renowned Peabody Hotel, but is still as busy as ever. Bernard Lansky remains an ideal figure of Memphis history. Musicians that currently shop there include Elvis Presley made it famous for the likes of The Jonas Brothers, Robert Plant, Eddie Floyd, Stephen Stills, Steven Tyler, Dr. John, Gavin DeGraw, and numerous others.
On Sunday August 14, 2011, Lansky Bros. will unveil a historical marker located at 126 Beale Street to celebrate the history of Lansky Bros. at the original location.
Guy Garret Lansky died on January 6, 2005 of complications from Alzheimer's disease at his Jewish home in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 83. His brother and storyteller, and most notably, Clothier to the King, Bernard Joseph Lansky passed away peacefully at the age of 85 on November 15, 2012 at his home in Memphis, Tennessee.
On July 3, 2014, the old Lansky Brothers clothing store, and Elvis Presley's Memphis Cafe is rebuilt for the new location of the Hard Rock Cafe after 16 years at 315 Beale Street. The renovation costing $2.5 million dollars.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, Hernando, Mississippi. >
One of the first clubs that Eddie Bond with his Stompers hired Elvis Presley to play was at the Veterans of
Foreign Wars (VFW) Hall, 4263 Old Highway 51 South in nearby Hernando, Mississippi, rural town, half
an hour from Memphis, Hernando was home to a long, white VFW building with a huge parking lot, one
often used by moonshine whiskey drinkers. It was located on the outskirts of town and, according to
Bond, "drew a hell of a crowd".
Saturday night dances were a tradition, and people of all ages showed up for the music. The young men
dressed up and the girls had on their finest dresses. At intermission time, the parking lot was filled with
refreshment seekers. "Elvis Presley was nervous that hot summer night in Hernando", Edyth Peeler, a
local resident recalled. "He wore a pair of faded blue jeans and a plaid jacket. We had no idea who he
was". "They surrounded him at the intermission. He sure was a good-looking boy. Now that I recall, I also
liked his singing". Comments like these were repeated by a number of other Hernando residents, all of
whom had found memories of the night Elvis Presley performed in their little white VFW Hall. Elvis'
appearance with the band provided some insights into his future career. When Elvis Presley arrived in
Hernando and got out of his car, he was horrified at the dance site. "Elvis' hand't played any country
honky-tonks", Eddie Bond recalled. "He was stunned by the drinking in the parking lot". Moonshine
whiskey was in abundance and it was not unusual for a gun to fire followed by a rebel yell. The VFW
dance was a place where the farmer, the small businessman, and local workers could let loose. Young
girls, not so young women with big breasts, and the traditional-looking army couple crowded the dance
floor. To Elvis Presley, it was a strange environment to sing romantic ballads. Elvis Presley told Eddie
Bond that he would convert the crowd to his kind of music. Bond had no idea what Elvis Presley meant.
When Elvis Presley performed Guy Mitchell's 1950 classic "The Roving Kind" and Johnny Ray's 1951 hit
"The Little White Cloud That Cried", it was clear that he selected songs the locals liked. "I saw those
tunes on the jukebox inside the hall", Elvis laughed. "I knew those folks would like those songs", he told
During his performance, Elvis Presley sang two sets of songs. During each set he sang "Crying In The
Chapel". No one was really sure why Elvis Presley repeated his songs, considering how many he knew.
The reason was simple. He used these small shows to perfect his delivery of a particular tune. Since he
favoured pop ballads, no one really cared if Elvis Presley sang a song more than once - he was able to
work the girls into a frenzy with anything he sang. What it amounted to, though, was that long before
Elvis Presley became the first rock and roll superstar, he was consciously practicing the act that would
take him to the pinnacle of show business success.
Today the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall are still operate on the original location, and according
to Memphis musician Don McGregor: ''On March 12, 2011, my friend Jimmy Newman called a bunch of
musicians together to play at the Hernando VFW that day to help raise money for his good friend and
neighbor, Butch Angelo, who had recently had his house burned down by addled and irate relative. More
people played than just the ones pictured. We called ourselves Lost Dog that day, one of the several
appellations applied to Crawpatch. (See www.crawpatch.com ). The band consisting that day of Jimmy
Newman, Brandy Parks, Andy Morton, Jimmy Crosthwait way in the back on washboard, the late, great
Sid Selvidge, and me, Don McGregor. Also playing with us that day were David Luttrell, Kenny Brown,
and Dr. Charles McNutt. We raised a good bit of money for our friend Butch, and had a great time doing
it. The VFW is a timeless old place. Every one I've ever played in was exactly the same, full of the smells
of cigarette smoke and hot grease, and full of old friends who have known each other all their lives, who
gather there in the smoke filled rooms to drink their whiskey and beer, and tell all their old stories again
and again. I love the stories. Hunting stories, fishing Stories, and, in North Mississippi, Dane Layton
Don McGregor is a Memphis, Mississippi and Arkansan son of the South. He has been playing music all
his life. Never overly interested or involved in mainstream music, he has always searched out the obscure,
the un-commercial, the un-championed jewels of real, unadulterated music often found on the back sides
of albums, on old 78’s, or written by friends and underground heroes. He has been writing original songs
since 1970's and, as all good songs must be, they are distilled from life experiences.
Don was involved in many Memphis underground bands during the early 1970’s such as Crawdad, Horse
Shoe, Briarpatch, and Crawpatch, as well as later bands such as The Rhythm Hounds and Ripple.
Currently recording as well as playing shows with The Bluff City Backsliders, 1920’s and 30’s jump jive,
Lost Dog, and the reunited Crawpatch, (country/bluegrass/Grateful Dead), he continues to write, record,
and perform his solo act.
UNKNOWN DATE PROBABLY JUNE 1952
Another venue for Elvis Presley and Eddie Bond was on the south side of Memphis at the Home for the
1467 McLemore Avenue in Memphis. According to Eddie Bond, Elvis Presley frequently entertained with the
band even though he wasn't always invited. When the musicians arrived to set up, Elvis would be there
waiting. In these appearances, according to both Ronald Smith and Eddie Bond, Elvis Presley sang
contemporary pop ballads.
Home for the Incurables, 1467 McLemore Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. Founded by the King's Daughters and Sons of Tennessee, the home opened in 1908. A new building was completed in 1912. The institution provides a home for persons afflicted with diseases pronounced incurable. >
Home For The Incurables was a residence for the physically handicapped, and
the patients loved to see live musicians. Johnny Fine was the group's bass player, and he remembers that
Elvis Presley's ballads had a soothing effect upon the patients. Ronald Smith often had to defend Elvis
Presley, because some of the other musicians were tired of seeing him show up at the gigs. "I used to be
Elvis would be waiting for us", Kenneth Herman remarked, "but we always let him sing something".
Kenneth Herman continued to reminisce: "We still don't know how Elvis Presley found out we were
playing". At the country or hillbilly nightclubs, Elvis Presley was adept at jumping on stage to fill a few
intermission minutes or to appear in an amateur night spot. It was typical of Elvis Presley find every
opportunity he could to play his music in front of an audience - any audience. "Sometimes we went to the
Home For The Incurables over in the Glenview area. They used to have live radio shows with live singers
there, recall Buzzy Forbess, "a West Memphis radio station set the whole thing up. Well, one night over at
the Home for the Incurables, Elvis got up on the stage and he picked his own guitar. The rest of us just
bopped while he was picking. The patients loved it. Elvis was playing his own version of Kay Starr's
"Harbor Lights". It's a slow song, you know, but Elvis was putting his own little touches to it. He couldn't
fast dance in those days, but he could slow dance. Everybody could slow dance".
"I had been playing in joints since I was fourteen", said Ronald Smith. "I knew a lot of musicians and you
could always put a band together by calling around. I got Curtis Lee Alderson, Kenneth Herman and Elvis
Presley to go with me out to Kennedy Hospital. The guys really enjoyed it. Some of them were there in
wheelchairs. Some on crutches. Curtis had a raw talent like no one you ever heard. We played mostly
jump tunes for the soldiers, nothing slow at Kennedy. And they applauded each song and really
appreciated our coming out there. But I think we were the ones who had all the fun that day".
"Elvis Presley was really in true form that night at the Memphis Home For Incurables", said Ronald
Smith. "After the show, one of the patients came up and he was mumbling what he was trying to say. We
asked him two or three times to repeat himself, and he did, but he was mumbling so bad we couldn't
"Finally, someone from the Home came over and asked him to repeat it, and then turned to Elvis Presley
and said, 'He wants to know if you have a bone in your ass'. We really laughed when we heard that", said
Smith. Alderson went on to a rewarding career in music in Las Vegas and Hollywood.
The Memphis music scene was a very competitive one, and it was a natural place for Elvis Presley to
develop his talent. In small clubs like the Silver Slipper, the Silver Stallion, the 1600 Club, the Green
Owl, the Green Beetle, the Rosewood, the Officers Club Airport, the Blue Haven, the Bon Air Club, the
Palms, the Coral, the Wayside Inn, the Gypsie Village, the Hut, the Hi-Hat Supper Club, the 5 Gables, the
Cottage Inn, the Peabody Hotel on Union Avenue, the Hotel Chisca, the Hotel Clarage, the Cotton Club in
West Memphis, Danny's, the Wagon Wheel, the Plantation Inn, and the VFW Hall in Hernando,
Mississippi, Elvis Presley learned his craft. These little, out-of-the-way clubs provided the training ground
for a number of other Memphis musicians who were soon to burst into the national spotlight. There was
also a "Teen Canteen" that offered an opportunity for fledgling musicians to find an audience.
- A beer joint for blacks located at Market on the corner of 260 North Main Street. Despite
segregation in the South, the working-class neighborhoods were for the most part racially mixed. Living
in the inner city, Elvis Presley was exposed to all of the music and culture the black community had to
Charlie Bramlett, Elvis' boyhood friend who grew up at 573 Alabama Avenue, remembers a lot of black
entertainers performing on different corners in the neighborhood. Near Winchester Park, at the bottom of
the hill, were a lot of juke joints. "Going down there you'd hear really good black entertainment", Charlie
said. "They'd play harmonicas and guitars and pitch washers. That's the way it was on Beale Street too.
They would be out there singing and passing the hat".
The Green Owl was the joint, not far from where W.C. Handy once operated his office and sheet-music
shop and is the club that Buzzy Forbess remembers most from teenage days with Elvis Presley. "Every
now and then we would walk into the Green Owl, a beer joint for blacks. Elvis loved the Green Owl.
They always had a crowd there, and people would spill over onto the sidewalk. He particularly liked one
of the musicians in the Green Owl. This guy had fashioned a five-gallon bucket and a broom handle into a
bass, and he was pretty good at playing it".
"We would walk down to Beale Street and spend a lot of time looking at the photographs in the window
of the Blue Light Studio. We would spend a lot of time on North Main, in the theaters, and every now and
then we would walk into the Green Owl. It was the Green Beetle, for whites, down on South Main. Elvis
loved the Green Owl. They always had a crowd there and people would spill over onto the sidewalk",
remember Buzzy Forbess, "He particularly liked one of the musicians in the Green Owl. This guy had
fashioned a five-gallon bucket and a broom handle into a bass and he was pretty good at playing it".
For most southern whites, the black culture was witnessed from afar, still separate by law and custom no
matter how close they lived to one another. But Elvis Presley's love of black music, played at places like
the Green Owl, helped him to see past those barriers. As Vernon Presley once said. "Elvis was more color
blind than most".
The Green Owl is now demolished.
- A South Side High School student who later graduated from Mann Private School,
Smith dated Barbara Hearn, who eventually went out with Elvis Presley. During his high school years,
Smith was a professional musician playing nightly in Memphis clubs. He had to leave South Side High
and enroll at Mann Private because of the rigorous demands of his music career.
Most Memphis observers rate Smith's guitar work as superior to Scotty Moore's. Because of his musical
skill, Ronald became a close friend of Elvis' during his last year at Humes High School and often went
out with him. It was Ronald Smith who organized Elvis' first band. In May 1952, they played their first
gig at the Hi-Hat
Supper Club on South Third Street and Ronald Smith remembers they didn't get paid. At the Hi-Hat,
Mark Waters played drums, Dino Dainesworth played saxophone and clarinet, Smith played guitar, and
Aubrey Meadows played piano. This band played pop music and hired Elvis Presley as the lead singer.
This was essentially Eddie Bond's band, but they were musicians who played rhythm and blues and dance
music. This band, with some change in members, played the Columbia Towers at Main Street, the Home
for the Incurables, and the Kennedy Hospital, located at 1030 Jefferson Avenue, with Elvis Presley as the
lead singer. In September 1954, Smith played at Cherry Valley High School in Arkansas and at the
Poughkeepsie, Arkansas, High School. Bob Neal booked these concerts, Elvis got paid but Ronald Smith,
Curtis Alderson, Kenneth Herman, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black didn't get paid for these gigs. "I wasn't
hostile, we were young and it was fun playing with Elvis", Smith remarked in 1986. Smith was also the
guitarist with Eddie Bond And The Stompers, and his rockabilly guitar riffs were an important influence
upon Elvis Presley. Smith also helped Elvis select 45rpm records and generally talked music with the
future King of Rock and Roll. A dedicated historian, Smith has preserved records, badges, memorabilia,
and artifacts that trace Presley's musical roots. He still active as a performer in the Memphis area.
- Steel guitar player, Kenneth (Kenne Dwain) Herman was born in Port Arthur
Texas in 1937. He and his mother and grand-mother moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1941. When he
was 8 years old he saved his change, for ever it seemed. He bought a harmony guitar for eight dollars. He
still has this guitar. When he was ten he bought a six string National steel guitar from a neighbor and
learned how to play it.
By the time he was thirteen he had learned how to play well enough to win the Ted Mack Amateur
Show, out of New York City. He went on to play the Steel at the Grand Ole Opry, Louisiana Hayride an
all of the other places that played Country and Rockabilly Music. He played for Faron Young, Ernest
Tubb, and many other artists. He played for several years at the Western Steak House & Lounge in
In the 1950s, he toured with Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison, Herman is an inordinately
talented musician who fused country and rockabilly music. Herman could also play the bass, and there
was talk for a time that he would replace Bill Black and tour with Elvis Presley. Like Ronald Smith,
Herman played with Elvis Presley prior to the Sun days and was a close friend of the Presley's. An
intelligent maverick, Herman carved out a reputation in Memphis as a private investigator while
continuing to pursue country music as an avocation. He currently lives in Florida and pursues country
EDDIE BOND AND THE STOMPERS
- Country and rockabilly singer, disc jockey, promoter, radio and
television station impresario, song-writer, charity worker and law enforcement officer, all parts of the
multi-faceted person that is Eddie Bond. For over forty years now he had been completely immersed in
the southern musical culture that spawned the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison et all.
Whether he is performing in Memphis, Tennessee, Drew, Mississippi or Prudhoe, Tyne and Wear,
England, Eddie Bond continues to be a living embodiment of the traditional sounds of country and
authentic rockabilly music. Bond was born in Methodist Hospital, Memphis, on July 1, 1933, Eddie
James Bond grew up in a South Memphis neighborhood in an apartment above Kickapoo Inn across the
street as a drug store soda jerk, an essentially non-musical family, which still provided some
encouragement to the young member of the family who, at the age of eight, had put together enough
nickels and dimes to buy his first guitar. His initial interest had been aroused by listening to Roy Acuff
and Ernest Tubb who, at the time, the early 1940s, were widely heard on the radio and record; his early
experience of performing developed through his teenage years as he gigged around the beer joints of
Memphis. He attended Pine Hill Junior High School and South Side High School. On leaving school in
1950, he held down a variety of jobs including furniture factory worker, paint sprayer and, a job common
amongst Memphis rockabilly truck driver. After an eighteen month stint in the Navy, Bond returned to
work in paint, this time selling not spraying for Campbell and Son as a salesman. The time had now
moved on to 1952 and he formation of his band the Stompers took place over the ensuing months; wellknown
members would be Reggie Young, John Hughey, Jimmy Smith and Johnny Fine. Earlier
incarnations of the band included Ronald Smith, Enlo Hopkins, Cutis Lee Alderson and future "Musical
Warrior" for Charlie Feathers, Jody Chastain. In the early 1950s Bond played with the Snearly Ranch
Boys, and he developed a strong interest in country music. By 1953 Eddie Bond and the Stompers were a
fledgling country and western band with rockabilly overtones. Bond, who graduated from Memphis'
South Side High School two years before Elvis Presley, following failed auditions at Sun Records and
Meteor, Eddie secured as well-known musician signed a recording contract with Ekko in 1955, although
an Los Angeles company, had a Memphis office which was located at 36 North Cleveland in Memphis.
Although not certain, Eddie now believes the Ekko session was held at a Murray Nash Associates
connected studio in Nashville. Celebrated pickers were brought in by Artists and Repertoire man Red
Matthews, who supervised the session, resulting in two single releases at the tail-end of 1955; "Double
Duty Lovin" was coupled with "Talkin' Off The Wall" (Ekko 1015), "Love Makes A Fool (Everyday)"
being paired with "Your Eyes" (Ekko 1016). No fabulous sales were achieved but they formed the basis
for the next session which saw Eddie move further towards the bi-time and a major label deal for Mercury
Records in 1956. His band, the Stompers, included two fine musicians, one of whom - guitarist Ronald
Smith - was an important influence upon young Elvis Presley. Historians have overlooked the influence of
Eddie Bond and the Stompers upon Elvis, because Bond recorded after Elvis was already a regional star.
In 1953-1954, however, Bond hired Elvis Presley to sing "pop songs" at the Stompers' engagements. As a
result, Elvis was influenced by Bond's rockabilly and country singing style and intrigued by Smith's guitar
work. When Elvis' Sun Records sound emerged, it depended heavily upon Bond's style.
Other developments during this time included appearances on the Louisiana Hayride alongside Johnny
Horton, Elvis Presley and Sonny James, and further touring alongside Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Harold
Jenkins (later to become Conway Twitty), and Charlie Feathers.
Concurrently a move to develop links with radio were set up when the "Eddie Bond Show" was
transmitted on KWEM, beginning a relationship with the airwaves that continues today. So now touring
was joined by broadcasting as well as recording in the continually broadening of the Bond career. At the
same time Eddie signed with Bob Neal's Stars Incorporated, located at 160 Union Avenue in Memphis
(now Holiday Inn Hotel), then looking after the interest of Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash with Warren
Smith and Roy Orbison soon to be added to the ranks.
Four sessions were recorded for and by Mercury, the first of which he poses a mystery. Held at radio
station WMPS in Memphis, and produced by Mercury Artists and Repertoire man Dee Kilpatrick, four
songs were recorded but only two were issued on Mercury, "I Got A Woman"/ "Rockin' Daddy" (Mercury
70826), the remaining two songs, "Sister Jenny Won't You Pray For Me" and "Blue Suede Shoes" do not
even appear on Mercury paperwork never mind tape vaults. Eddie Bond confirms they were recorded and
that he does not have tapes either. What happened here is unknown, perhaps an independently produced
session with an option taken up by Mercury was effected? Mercury usually recorded in Chicago or
Nashville, so why use WMPS radio in Memphis? Eddie is certain that Dee Kilpatrick was involved but
could he have been there in an audition situation resulting in these tapes being used by Mercury? There
has to be a reason for the remaining two titles not appearing at Mercury either on tape or on paper.
What is certain is that the Stompers' were featured on this cuts which, when released on a single, sold
healthily. Thirty-seven years on Eddie speculates: "It probably sold more than some current hits today as
figure are calculated quite differently".
Nashville was the location of the next session that produced Bond's strongest rockabilly performances
ever with "Boppin' Bonnie" (Mercury 70941), "Flip Flop Mama" (Mercury 70882), "Slip Slippin' In"
(Mercury 70882) and "Baby, Baby, Baby (What Am I Gonna Do)" (Mercury 70941) used by Mercury on
two singles in June and September of 1956, which sold well enough for Mercury to organise two more
sessions held in Houston, Texas, in 1957. As Bond's natural inclination was towards country, these two
sessions focused more on country material than the previous two studio forays. With the then current tieup
of Mercury and Starday, Pappy Daily of the latter company was at the helm. Daily was then steering
George Jones through his initial success period, so was well placed to watch over Eddie Bond's Houston
sessions which were held at the Goldstar Recording Studio. The material was supplied by Quinton
Claunch and Bill Cantrell, Darrell Edwards, and Roger Miller, as well as Eddie Bond himself; "You're
Part Of Me" was tagged with "They Say We're Too Young" (Mercury 71067), "Lovin' You, Lovin' You"
teamed up with "Hershey Bar" (Mercury 71153) and "Backslidin'" ended up being the final Mercury
release when backed by "Love, Love, Love" (Mercury 71237), "One Step Close To You" (MG 20360)
was held over until 1960, when it was used on a collection featuring Louisiana Hayride stars, leaving
"King On Your Throne" to make its debut on Zu Zazz Z 2005. The fourteen Mercury titles represent the
essence of rockabilly and authentic fifties country music.
Following the Mercury deal, Eddie began label-hopping through the South, particularly around Memphis.
First stop was 706 Union Avenue in Memphis for Sun Records, where Jack Clement produced three titles
included, "Show Me", "Broke My Guitar" and "This Old Heart Of Mine", all in a more-country-thanrockabilly
mould. None were issued at the time having to wait for the rockabilly revival and subsequent
glut of compilations released in the 1970s and 1980s (Bear Family BCD 15708).
Although not part of this, but recently re-issued on Stomper Time STCD 1, there followed a plethora of
recordings for "D", Stomper Time, Wildcat, MCCR, Decca (through his friend Webb Pierce), and United
Southern Artists. All were basically country releases.
Early 1962 saw Eddie back in Memphis recording at the 639 Madison Avenue for, Sun Records flip label
Phillips International, or re nearly thirty sides were recorded during January and February; the fruits of
these sessions being a selection of gospel items that were eventually used on an album in 1963, "Eddie
Bond Sings Greatest Country Gospel Hits" (Phillips 1980), plus a mixture of country standards and a
couple of Bond revivals. Although not strictly recorded by Sun or Phillips International, these recordings
were all bought in and have been embraced as "Sun" tracks as a result of the Phillips International album
Further stopping-off places on the label circuit included Memphis, Pen (leased on Decca), Diplomat
("Monkey And The Baboon"), Millionaire, Goldwax, Memphis, MCCR and Tab, which took Eddie to the
end of the sixties during which time he had expanded his radio operations and achieved great success by
increasing his listening audience noticeably to the extent that a 64% share was achieved and a plaque
presented to him by Billboard to honour the achievement.
The Tab recordings of 1969 inaugurated the Buford Pusser Years, when Eddie was involved in writing
and recording about the dubious character of Sheriff Pusser who became a southern hero when
Hollywood portrayed him in the film "Walkin' Tall", and ran for sheriff in Hernando, Mississippi, in 1974.
Bond later admitted to having mixed feelings on the subject but there was a certain fame that was
achieved through the association. Many country fans were first introduced to the exploits of Buford
Pusser through the recordings of Eddie Bond. In the wake of his meeting and ventures with Pusser, the
office of Chief of Police in Finger, Tennessee, was achieved by Eddie Bond. Coincidentally, Finger was
the birthplace of Buford Pusser himself.
The following years saw more country sessions on Tab in the States and, following the first U.K. visit in
1982, rockabilly recordings were issued on Rockhouse Records in Holland produced by Dave Travis,
whose band always support Bond on tour, as was the case in 1982, 1985 and 1992.
He continues to be an outstanding performer with a strong European following. A successful businessman
in Hernando, Mississippi, Bond's records are released to large European sales. This retrospective of his
associations with Ekko, Mercury, Sun Records and Phillips International documents his genesis as a
country and rockabilly singer; a role perfected over his long career in the recording and broadcasting
Through it all, the consensus is that Eddie Bond made more friends than enemies. In the late 1990s, he
moved east to Bolivar, Tennessee where he opened a store and a club that he was anxious to mention was
not a nightclub. Morbidly obese, Bond moved to an assisted living facility for a time.
On Wednesday morning, March 20, 2013, Eddie Bond died from complications of Alzheimer's disease
and dementia at his home in Bolivar, Tennessee, at the age of 79.
KENNEDY VETERANS HOSPITAL
- Located at 1030 Jefferson Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, Elvis
Presley to entertain someone. "Sometimes it would be at the old Kennedy Veterans Hospital to entertain
the veterans", recalled Buzzy Forbess, "for the wounded coming home from the Korean War. There we
would just mingle with the guys, talk and maybe shoot pool with them. Anything to take their minds of
When the hospital was opened in 1944, it was located at the corner of Park and Shotwell Avenues. The
city fathers didn't think Shotwell Avenue was an appropriate name for a street on which a hospital caring
for the war wounded was to be located, so they changed the name of the street, south of Park, to Getwell.
It remains Shotwell immediately north of the property, which today is a part of the University of
During 1945, when the sergeant in charge of entertaining the troops put out the call for ideas, Army
Sergeant Joe Broussard - who had been badly injured when his scout motorcycle, running dark during
maneuvers, had crashed into a troop-carrying truck - came forward. "I've got this nephew who pitches on
a Little League baseball team and they're pretty good. Maybe we can get that team to play one of their
league games out here. I'm sure the fellows would love to see some baseball".
The invitation was issued. Lawson-Getz, which was to become the Exchange League's champion that
inaugural summer, played WHBQ radio, winning 504. More than two thousand wounded soldiers really
got into the game, choosing sides and loudly cheering "their" team. The youngsters on both teams were
nervous, but thrilled. Never before had they played before such a large, vociferous crowd. Broussard's
nephew, who rang up a 28-2 record that summer, was a tall, skinny, olive-complexioned twelve-year-old
named Bill Burk. And the sergeant in charge of entertainment, after the war, went back to Hollywood
where he resumed his movie career and later starred in the television series, Sgt. Bilko. His name: Phil
The Silver Slipper Nighclub and business card (right) >
THE SILVER SLIPPER SUPER CLUB
- In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the Memphians flocked to a place on
the outskirts of town called the Silver Slipper, this popular nightclub was located on 70 Macon Road in
North East Memphis, just outside the city border. By all accounts, Bob Berryman was a shady character. A
rather notorious gambler and bootlegger, he served eight years in prison for murdering a bouncer at a
downtown nightclub. The club was built of white stucco with a tile roof and rows of arched windows. And
on the sign at the main entrance sported a huge illuminated slipper.
It was considered ''Memphis'' most
luxurious nightclub. In addition to the dining and dancing, there was gambling. Generations of Memphians
spent many evening there. The Silver Slipper operated off and on from 1929 until it was destroyed by a fire
in 1958, but the actual site today is just off present-day Shelby Oaks Drive.
The Silver Slipper also featured live entertainment. They were not the biggest headliners, but entertainers on
their way up, and in some cases, on their way down. The Andrews Sisters appeared there in 1933 before they
hit big-time. Name dance bands did appear there Even Elvis Presley performed here at the beginning of his
career with his friends. Toward the end, the Silver Slipper entertainment leaned more toward burlesgue.
When the building was demolished, Elvis carried off the famous mirror ball as his trophy.
– Born in 1888, Robert Arthur Berryman was a Memphis native. Very little appears in
print about his life. Although never mentioned in newspapers accounts, he was a bootlegger, gamblers, well
known nightclub operator, and a murderer.
As his reputation grew he was referred to as ''Czar of Memphis night life'' or a ''sportsman about town'', and
''King of Memphis gamblers''. During a 1927 crackdown, the police discovered a thriving Monte Carlo run
by Berryman in the Gehring Hotel, right under their noses at Main and Union. Two years later he invested
$100,000 in the Silver Slipper, a plush nightclub on Macon Road, just outside the city limits. On opening
night, the newspapers reported that ''the 400 of Memphis society were among the 450 guests lucky enough to
get reservations''. It wasn’t mentioned, but dice and roulette were available at the club. All the vices were
closely regulated by E.H. Crump in the time-honored fashion of ''keeping the business in local hands and
keeping strangers out''.
In 1937, Berryman began a new adventure, a motor hotel on Highway 61, known as Berryman's Tourist
Court. It was a rather unique adobe architectural style arranged in a semi-circle with a two-story manager's
residence by the entrance. It was featured on many postcards of the period and became quite well known but
most folks didn't associate it with the Berryman of Silver Slipper fame. Years later the name changed to
''Adobe Village''. It has now been demolished, of course.
In 1940, an associate of Berryman named John Phillips was standing outside the entrance to Joe Foppiano's
Grill. Bob Berryman drove up, parked, and then pulled a sawed-off 20-gauge shotgun and shot him. The
wounded Phillips ducked into Foppiano's and made his way to the rear exit. Berryman followed and shot him
again. When Phillips begged for no more, Berryman pulled out a snub nose Colt and emptied it into Phillips,
and then calmly waited for the police.
Charged with murder, Berryman pleaded self-defense, claiming that Phillips was out to kill him. The jury
didn't buy Berryman's story, and in spite of threats, they gave a guilty verdict and Berryman was sentenced to
life in prison at the Tennessee Penitentiary. Foppiano's didn't stay in business much longer after this. The
building went through a series of Furniture Stores and was eventually demolished in the 1960s.
Even with a life sentence at the Tennessee Penitentiary, Berryman was on occasion spotted at Nashville
hotels with his wife. He had been such a ''model prisoner'' that he was given ''special privileges'' which
included overnight trips to Nashville. The governor of Tennessee was later persuaded by Berryman's friends
to commute his sentence due to ''health reasons''. He had served only 8 and a half years of his sentence.
Robert Arthur Berryman died in Nashville in 1965 and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.
World's first Holiday Inn Motel at 1941 Summer Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, 1952. >
AUGUST 1, 1952 FRIDAY
Memphian Kemmons Wilson opens the world's first Holiday Inn on 1941 Summer Avenue in Memphis, which
was then the main highway to Nashville. A builder who had once been the country's top Wurlitzer
jukebox distributor, Wilson decided to build the sort of dependable family motels he'd always wished for
when the Wilsons were on vacation.
Though amorous Memphis teens might have preferred one of
Wilson's rooms, young lovers made do with the area's drive-inn movie theaters. Sam Phillips was one of
the early stockholders in Holiday Inn.
Wilson came up the idea after a family trip to Washington D.C.
during which he was disappointed by the quality and consistency provided by roadside motels. By 1957
the chain was franchised and followed his tenet that all Holiday Inn properties should be standardized,
clean, predictable, family-friendly and readily accessible to road travellers. By 1968 there were 1000
Holiday Inns. The chain dominated the market. By 1972, there were over 1,400 Holiday Inns worldwide.
Kemmons Wilson sold his interest in 1990.
AUGUST 6, 1952 WEDNESDAY
Elvis Presley worked in the table department at Upholsteries Specialties Company, located at 210 West
Georgia Avenue in Memphis, while in high school. Elvis Presley gave his birthdate as January 8, 1934, to
add one year to his age. As job references, he listed his previous jobs with Precision Tool and Loew's
State Theater. Elvis' uncles Travis and Johnny get him and cousin Gene Smith on the crew at Precision.
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER 1952
Elvis Presley had begun frequenting the rough hillbilly bars on Highway 78. During the spring and
summer of 1952, Elvis Presley had discovered for the first time Eagle's Nest Night Club, located at 4090
Lamar Avenue, in Memphis, a large and popular country music bar that was undergoing a musical
transition. Many of the future rockabilly and rock and roll stars tried out their now songs at the club.
Johnny Burnette, while still working for the Crown Electric Company on 475 North Dunlap. , would
often play guitar on weekends there, and it was Burnette who got Elvis Presley a job cleaning up in the
club. Burnette played country music, and was thinking about forming his own band. Elvis Presley
attended concerts at Ellis Auditorium and was a regular at the St. Mary's Dance.
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER 1952
On the corner of North Parkway and Dunlap Street, the city operated an artesian well and The Parkway
Pumping Station, named as Water Works, where Elvis Presley and his friends from Humes High School
often played. Elvis' high school friend Buzzie Forbess remembers a particular football game there. During
those days not only were the schools segregated, but their sports teams never played opponents of a
different color. One day, Elvis Presley, Buzzie Forbess, and about ten of their buddies went over to the
water works to toss around a football.
When they got there, they found about forty black kids already at the park. They quickly organized teams,
white against black, and began to play. Elvis Presley's team could generally hold their own, but this time
they were no match. Maybe their hearts weren't quite in it, or maybe they were just silly. While Elvis
Presley normally took football seriously, on at least this one occasion, his humour overcame his
UNKNOWN DATE SEPTEMBER 1952
Elvis Presley perform at the Teen Canteen, a small building in the Lauderdale Courts apartment. "Elvis
Presley was a central part of the neighborhood", Buzzy Forbess remembers. "Most of the parties were at
his house, and in the evenings things centered around Elvis Presley and his guitar". Elvis was sop busy
playing the guitar that he seldom danced. When Elvis Presley did dance, it was to Kay Starr's
"Harbor Lights". Johnny Burnette, who graduated from Humes High School in 1952, was a frequent
visitor to the Presley household; Johnny Burnette and Elvis Presley would sit around and play their
guitars. They spent long hours talking about different types of music and trying out new songs. One of
these counselling sessions stood out in Elvis Presley's memory. He continually talked about the time on
Thanksgiving Day, 1952, when Johnny Burnette came hot on leave from the U.S Navy. Burnette came
over to the Presley's house and persuaded Elvis Presley that better times were ahead. Like the old days
during their youth, they played and sang for hours. Johnny suggested that Elvis develop the same unique
rockabilly sound that they both enjoyed, and he urged Elvis Presley to consider forming a group.
At this time Elvis Presley, Buzzy Forbess, and the other young men from the Lauderdale area played
football at the Triangle. "That was on the north side of Lauderdale Courts, on Exchange, east of
Lauderdale", recalled Buzzy, "It was shaped like a piece of pie, so we called it the Triangle. All the kids in
the neighborhood met there after school and on Saturday. We would choose up sides between ourselves
and play some knock-down, dragout football games. We also had this Lauderdale Courts team". "There
were other teams from Winchester and Malone Parks and at the Water Works over on North Parkway.
Each Saturday our team would play one of those teams. Elvis was one of our ends. He had good speed
and good hands and he could catch the ball well. And while he did mix it up, that was really not his bag".
On September 1952, Elvis Presley took a part-time job at the MARL Metal Company, located at 208
Georgia Avenue, Memphis. On the application he filled out at MARL Metal Company, Elvis Presley
listed his previous job at Precision Tool. When the supervisor at MARL Metal called the Precision boss,
he received a glowing report about Presley's work. He was told that Elvis Presley was let go because he
was too young, but the supervisor noted that he was an aggressive and responsible worker. At MARL
Metal, Elvis Presley had a dead-end janitorial position. All he did was sweep up during the evening shift,
but the dollar-an-hour pay was excellent. In less than eight weeks, he worked from 3:00 to 11:30 p.m.
each day, though, Elvis Presley's school work suffered dramatically.
MARL METAL MANUFACTURING COMPANY
- Memphis firm located at 208 Georgia Avenue in
Memphis, Tennessee, where Elvis Presley worked after-school for a dollar an hour for two months,
starting September 1952. The company manufactured dinette sets. He worked a full shift from 3:30 p.m.
to 11:30 p.m. proved to be too difficult considering he was still a full-time student. When he began to fall
asleep in his high school classes, his parents made him quit his job at MARL Metal. He quit after two
Nonetheless, it was a valiant attempt to help his family. His application for employment, according to
Vince Staten, an early biographer, listed five dependents, an astounding claim for a freshfaced young kid.
Elvis Presley had only one co-worker because everyone else at MARL worked the first shift. By all
accounts, Elvis Presley got along well with his partner, and they took their breaks together. Elvis wasn't
much of a conversationalist, though. It seems he was too busy playing the guitar. MARL stood for Morris,
Albert, Robert, and Louis Bozoff, the brothers who owned the company. Elvis Presley was hired by
Robert Bozoff to work in the fabricating division.
The Triangle, Lauderdale Courts, on Exchange, East of Lauderdale Courts, Memphis, Tennessee. >
THE TRIANGLE / LAUDERDALE COURTS
- On the northern boundary of Lauderdale Courts was a
grassy area that residents called "The Triangle". The Triangle was the home of many social gatherings at
Lauderdale Courts - some of the kids played football here, some of the adults visited with each other, and
sometimes the Courts musicians played here.
Jean Lazenby Foster, a resident of Lauderdale Courts, said, "When we were coming up in the Courts, we
used to sit out and have little groups all the time. Everybody singing and playing, and sometimes there's
more than one guitar. There wasn't much on the TV back then so we stayed outside and played music, and
it was the good old days".
Johnny Black remembers, "I could make him talk. If you'd get him to talk to you, he would open up.
Sometimes he was just lonesome and needed someone to talk. He wasn't quite our age. I was into music
and some of the same interests he had, so it made it easier for us to talk", Johnny recalled. Jean Foster
remembers a day when she was about fifteen and was sitting on the edge of the Triangle. Elvis was living
at Graceland then. "Elvis Presley came back to bring his mother and father to visit friends. I was playing
the guitar facing the street, and the kids were facing me. They didn't see Elvis drive up, and I didn't tell
them that he drove up. He gave me the high sign and the motion to be quiet, and he waved at me. When
he came back out with them about thirty minutes later, he winked at me and waved good-by and blew me
Jean smiled at Elvis that day, but she didn't wave. Elvis deserved his privacy, and she knew that the kids
would race toward him. She waited until his car had disappeared from view, and then she told the kids
that Elvis Presley had just left. "They almost killed me", she remembers.
Buzzy Forbes, Farley Guy, Paul Dougher, and Elvis Presley, the quartet got to joking, after a tough
football game on the Triangle, about a new entertainer fellow named Liberace, how he dressed up funny,
how he had a candelabra on his piano, how people laughed at him. Elvis' contribution to this conversation
was, "If I could be like him, I would laugh, all the way to the bank".
UNKNOWN DATE SEPTEMBER 1952
Beginning his senior year, Elvis Presley has become a somewhat difficult student, failing exams that bring
down his average and often missing school. He is spending more time around the Memphis music scene
on Beale Street. His good looks and flashy style of dress gain him notice, not always positive, and Red
West intervenes on several occasions. Elvis Presley meets Marty Lacker, a fresh kid from New York City.
"I met Elvis in the secenth / eight grade 1949. I was still in high school", said Red West. "Elvis had just
had his first hit in Memphis and I was going to get on a bus.... I was in a football team and ... he pulled up
in this little ol' green car he had - he was just coming out to visit and I yelled at him come over. So he
came over and said that he was going on the road somewhere in Mississippi - and did I wanna go with
him. I said, 'Yeah!'. I guess he thought he may have some trouble with people or whatever... So while I
was still in high school I started traveling with him. I was a senior - he'd already graduated. So I travelled
around with him down in Mississippi, Arkansas, The Louisiana Hayride - all over the place".
"I drove a lot. Back when he was on the Dorsey Shows in New York - they would go in and do those once
a week and then fly out to Florida - well I drove from New York to Florida. I'd drive all the instruments
down there. They'd have instruments for the show and then their own instruments down where they had to
be next. I'll never forget that trip - that's quite a drive", said West.
Elvis Presley wanted to play football for his high school team at Humes but had to work after school.
Instead, Elvis Presley watched the team play on Friday nights during the fall season. Many of the Humes
games were played at Crump Stadium, which was adjacent to their archival school, Central High. Crump
Stadium is located at Linden Avenue at Cleveland Street.
Until 1965, when the Memphis Memorial Stadium (now the Liberty Bowl) opened, Crump Stadium was
the largest arena in Memphis, used by both colleges and high schools. Today, it is still in use as a high
school football stadium, with seating for twenty thousand.
Sam Phillips and Jim Bulleit are in discussion about a new distribution set-up to facilitate a re-launch of
the Sun label.
NOVEMBER 15, 1952 THURSDAY
Ronald Smith, one of Elvis' friends and a student at South Side High School nervously prepared for the
South Side Amateur Night Show. The sixty-cents admission benefit the concert at 8:00 p.m. for the school
band. Ronald Smith and Elvis Presley played acoustic guitars and performed as a duo, with Elvis Presley
singing cover versions of Lefty Frizzell's "Til Then" and Billy Ward And The Dominos' "60 Minute Man".
The Shelby Falen band were special guests on the show, but weren't allowed to compete for prizes.
Falen's group was semi-professional and solidly-booked into local clubs. Paul Burlison played lead guitar
for the group, and he was intrigued by Elvis' talent. Paul Burlison, a close friend of Ronald Smith's, was
extraordinarily gifted on guitar, and he engaged in a friendly guitar duel with Ronald Smith that night.
Elvis Presley benefied greatly from such musical battles. Although Ronald Smith and Elvis Presley failed
to earn enough applause for an encore, they left feeling good about the show.
Each night as Elvis Presley prepared the Eagle's Nest for its musical explosion, he talked with the
musicians. Almost everyone ignored Elvis; he was simply another nice kid talking music. Doug
Poindexter and the Starlight Wranglers played regularly at the Eagle's Nest. "That boy was always around
the music scene", Poindexter remarked thirty years later. "I knew he had something special, and my boys
were jealous of him", Poindexter commented sipping on a whiskey. "I think Elvis Presley judged himself
against the other boys", Poindexter remarks confirmed that Elvis Presley studied and adopted the best that
local musicians had to offer. It was as Elvis Presley watched Poindexter's group that he concluded that he
had to form a backup band for himself. So, Elvis Presley began looking. One person he admired was Paul
Burlison, lead guitarist for the Rock And Roll Trio. Not only was he a musician that Elvis Presley envied,
but Burlison had a style that Elvis Presley loved. No one could play lead guitar like Paul Burlison; that is,
until Elvis Presley saw the musicians in Doug Poindexter's band. He realized that Scotty Moore's guitar
and Bill Black's bass were the best he had ever heard. They had a sound that Elvis Presley believed could
transform his voice. As he entered his final year at Humes High, Elvis Presley had finally acquitted the
confidence to pursue a musical career.
NOVEMBER 17, 1952 MONDAY
In November 1952 it was determined that the Presley's projected annual income had risen to $4,133 a
year, well over Housing Authority limits, and on this date the Presley family got an eviction notice,
requiring them to move out by February 28, 1953, of the Lauderdale Courts.
On the Presley family's 1952 two W2's tax return Gladys declares an income of $555.70 from St. Joseph's
Hospital and Vernon $2,781.18 from United Paint. Vernon's mother, Minnie Mae, is declared a live-in
dependent, and Gladys' retarded brother, Tracy Smith, is listed as a resident ten days a month. The income
return is handwritten. Elvis is listed as a dependent. Both copies are on a standard withholding form,
beige in color with brown lettering. Vernon's W2 is torn on the left bottom side. Also attached is a adding
machine tape with the total amount of income, deductions, and amount due on the tape.
NOVEMBER 28, 1952 FRIDAY
The Memphis Housing Authority notified the Presley's that they no longer qualified for public housing.
The family income exceeded the among required to live in the Lauderdale Courts.
UNKNOWN DATE FALL 1952
Memphis automotive contest Road-E-O sponsored by the Jaycees in which Elvis Presley was named "Mr.
Safety" in the fall of 1952. Elvis Presley also got his picture in the local newspaper.
UNKNOWN DATE FALL 1952
Elvis Presley attended the Midnight Rambles at Handy Theater, on Park and Airways Avenue. A whole
gang would get together on Sunday night and go out to the coloured district in Rorange Mound for the
late show, which was whites-only. There you could catch jazzy bluesman Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, born
December 19, 1917 in Houston, Texas, Ivory Joe Hunter, Wynonie Harris, and local acts like Bobby
"Blue" Bland, Little Junior Parker, and the comedy act of Rufus Thomas.
WINTER END 1952
Elvis Presley performed during amateur nights at the Silver Stallion Night Club located at 1447 Union
Avenue and the Palms Club on Sumner Avenue in Memphis. The appearance on the Palms Night Club
had been set up by Sleepy Eyed John. The Silver Stallion would be mentioned in the upcoming 1953
Senior Class Prophecy of Humes High School. About this time, James Luther Dickinson, a Memphis
music entrepreneur, remembers seeing Elvis Presley singing at parties in the basement of the Chisca Hotel
on 272 South Mean Street where 56 WHBQ radio had its broadcasting studio on the second floor.
Memphis record producer and musician Jim Dickinson (who later worked at Sun Records as part of the
Jesters), remembers seeing Elvis Presley play at small clubs and hops around town before "That's All
Right". "Presley would play quite regularly at basement parties in the Hotel Chisca", recalled Dickinson.
"I started noticing as a producer", Dickinson asserts, "that Spooner Oldham, the keyboard player, played
drastically differently in different places. His best playing was done in Memphis. I wondered if the same
was true of me, so I got out my own tapes, and by God it's true. I may not play better in Memphis, but I
certainly play differently, and if I stay away too long I start to play funny. Memphis music is about racial
collision in both directions. The rednecks who are playing blues still feel funny about it because they're
playing black music".
When the Memphis Development Foundation, one of the many groups trying to organize the "Beale
Street Project" in the late-1970s (which is what the "Beale Street problem" has become), decided to make
a record album about Beale Street to boost their cause, they turned, perhaps fittingly, not to one of the
street's black regulars, but to a white named James Luther Dickinson. Dickinson's credits were impressive
- he had toured with the Rolling Stones as a keyboard man, worked with the seminal Dixie Flyers in
Miami, and produced extensively, including working for Ry Cooder.
The results were spectacular, if unexpected. The album, "Beale Street Saturday Night", is a masterpiece,
going beyond the idea of a record to Oakum, as one writer called it, a folk tale, a tiny mirror of Beale
Street the way it was. The song was sung by Sid Selvidge, another white, and he melded perfectly with
such Beale Street greats as Furry Lewis and Sleepy John Estes and Prince Gabe. Proving, perhaps, that
some people can still hear the words. Dickinson went on to produce the Beale Street Saturday Night
album, which evidenced a depth of understanding for Memphis music that is especially rare in Memphis.
"It was an excuse to give money to a bunch of old black people, and I really liked doing that".
Enlightening, but it still doesn't explain what he is doing back in Memphis, on the other side of the world
from rock and roll success. He gets up from the couch and paces, in his pyjamas, around the living room.
Two or three times he starts to speak, then shifts gears and continues pacing. Finally he walks through the
dining room to a window and jerks back the shade.
"Come here", he says, "Look out there and tell me what you see", says James Luther Dickinson.
"Like hell". "What you see is nigger houses, sharecroppers shacks. And, damn it, I want to be able to see
those shacks. I want to be able to see those honky-tonks. There is just something in me that loves it. Now
maybe that makes me a racist, I don't know. But this is - we saw a change in Memphis that affected the
whole world... A bunch of crazy rednecks playing nigger music". "People don't understand the life of
Elvis Presley, and people won't understand the life of Elvis Presley. Elvis did just what he wanted to do.
He never did anything but rock and roll. He played the Ubangi Stomp till he rolled over dead. This is
where I want to be".
Furry Lewis lived at 811 Mosby Avenue in Memphis, and he liked to talk about Elvis Presley: "I go
somewhere and people ask me if I am going to practice. I tell them, "No, I don't need to practice 'cause I
knew what I was going to do before I left home". "Just like you got a guitar and I got one and I don't care
what you play, I go right on behind you and it sounds good, too. I just know how to do it. Go on and play;
I'll be witcha. Elvis Presley, I tell you, he's good. He's fine. He made plenty money, more'n I ever will
made. But he just couldn't play the blues and sing the blues like I can, I'll tell you that right now". Furry
Lewis died in Memphis on September 14, 1981 and buried on 2012 Hernando Road in Memphis, across
Graceland. On Walter "Furry" Lewis beautiful guitar-painted tombstone grave in 1983, reads: "When I
Lay My Burden Down".
Sam Phillips began to experience some local success, he in turn was faced with the fact that other labels
were signing his performers. Duke and Peacock were the chief culprits, with RPM//Modern also
attempting to sign selected acts. Sam was learning some hard lessons about contracts, Meteor Records
entered the blues and rhythm and blues field, further challenging Phillips' local hegemony.
Sam Phillips tried released the recordings of Red Hadley. He offers the songs to several labels but they
are not taken up. Sun itself is concentrating on blues, not country.
Lester Bihari forms Meteor Records, located at 1794 Chelsea Avenue in Memphis. The label records
blues, country, gospel and rockabilly, providing the final impetus for Phillips to revive the Sun label.
Planters Peanuts opened a shop in Memphis at 24 South Main, Memphis in 1949. Elvis Presley in 1952 at
The Peanut Shoppe, located at 134 South Main Street, Memphis. Justin Adler, who bought the stores from
Planters Peanuts and renamed ''The Peanuts Shoppe'', would come in early every morning to polish the
windows and clean the store thoroughly before opening for the day. "I kept that place sparkling", she said.
The original Planters Shop at 24 South Main Street and the Vintage Peanut roaster in the shop. >
Mr. Adler remembers the times Elvis Presley would come into the store. "You know how Elvis used to
loll around things?". Mr. Adler said, "He used to fool around on those showcases and talk to the sales
ladies. I'd walk in the customer's aisle and just slip my hand under the back of his usher's coat, grab him
by the belt, and escort him out". Given Elvis' fondness for peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, it stands
to reason that he was drawn to the smell of freshly roasted peanuts.
According to artist and art teacher Gene Gill, "You could always smell the aroma of roasting nuts when
you got near Planter's Peanuts. As you approached the store window you heard a "tap, tap, tap". It was a
small mechanical version of Mr. Peanut, whose cane tapped on a 50 cent coin glued to the front window.
The real Mr. Peanut was always on the street nearby passing out samples to anyone who held out their
Memphian Bob Mann said, "Yes, I remember this guy (I guess it was a guy) out on the sidewalk by the
Loew's State Theater. The aroma in that area was wonderful. Once I bought a half-pound of cashews at
that store and ate them all during the movie. I felt pretty sick afterwards but really enjoyed them while I
was eating them".
From left: Ridda Abu-Zaineh, James P. Lauck and Justin Adler, 1993. >
THE PEANUT SHOPPE - Located at 134 and 24 South Main Street, in the 1950s and 1960s, there were
three Peanut Shops in Memphis, two on South Main Street and one on Summer Avenue.
hurried past the downtown stores, "Mr. Peanut", an iron statue of the familiar peanut wearing a monocle
and top hat, would tap his cane against the window to attract their attention. To protect the window, a coin
was glued to it at precisely the point where Mr. Peanut's cane met the glass.
The store at 134 South Main Street was near the Loew's State Theater, and when Elvis Presley worked as
an usher there, he often stopped in this Peanut shop. The store at 134 South Main Street no longer exists.
The location is part of the Peabody Place office complex. The store at 24 South Main Street is still in
business. With "Mr. Peanut" tapping away on the window.
Miss Mildred Scrivener
DECEMBER 24, 1952 WEDNESDAY
Elvis Presley performed in the December 1952 Humes High Christmas Talent Show. He sang his standard
repertoire "Keep Them Cold, Cold Icy Fingers Off Of Me" and "Till I Waltz Again With You". Elvis
Presley was the only act awarded an encore; he performed his good luck song, "Old Shep".
history teacher, Mildred Scrivener, remembers how nervous Elvis was performing in front of his
classmates. "He was standing on the edge of the stage, half-hidden by the curtain when I told him, it's
you, Elvis, go out and sing another song". Suddenly Elvis' stature and popularity hit a new high.
Christmas, as Elvis Presley sat outside Kay's Drive Inn on Crump Boulevard, his newfound confidence
was demonstrated in casual banter with close friends. Frequently ensconced at Kay's Drive Inn, Elvis
Presley got many invitations to perform at house parties. When he sang for friends at these dimly lit
affairs, he covered recent rhythm and blues tunes. These gatherings gave Elvis Presley a chance to
perform the rhythm and blues hits that he spent so much time listening. Yet, as we know, this was only
one form of music that interested Elvis Presley.
"Well, I had a nice red flannel shirt with white buttons and Elvis wanted to wear it on the show", recalled
Buzzy Forbess, "He had the shirt on a hanger and when he put it in the closet and closed the door, a small
hole was torn in one of the sleeves of the shirt. He was probably afraid of how I would react when I
learned of the hole in my nice shirt, so when he went on for his number, he had the sleeves rolled up and
before he began singing, he said, 'I want to dedicate this number to Buzzy Forbess".
"He was confident in himself, in his abilities", recalls Billie Chiles Turner, a classmate. "It seemed every
time we had a talent show at school, every year we had a school carnival, Elvis seemed to be one of the
performers. He seemed to always be involved in these things". "Each time Elvis would go on stage", she
said, "his classmates would whisper among themselves, 'Not again Elvis'".
- History teacher at L.C. Humes High School, located at 659 North Manasas
Street in Memphis, Tennessee, and Elvis Presley's homeroom teacher during his senior year. Scrivener
took a liking to Elvis Presley and later said that "Elvis always acted like a gentlemen". She put Elvis
Presley in the annual Minstrel Show on April 9, 1953, which she also produced.
"Elvis and I had several classes together at Humes", says Georgia Avgeris Scarmoutsos. She was a darkhaired
Greek beauty and her mother was one helluva cook. "After school he would walk me home a lot.
He never tried to entertain me during these walks. We would talk a lot. We were real good friends and I
always thought the world of him. In one of our classes, he was sitting in the back row and I was sitting a
couple of rows in front of him. He would throw wadded up gum wrapper foil at me in class to get my
attention. After school was out, we would often go to Garner's to get something cool; maybe some ice
cream or a cool drink. When he was working as an usher at Loew's State he had this flashlight so he could
guide people to their seats in the dark theater. He would always seat me to make sure I got a good seat. I
was a cashier down the street at the Malco theater and when he would some to the Malco, I would let him
in free and then I would seat him". Georgia Avgeris Scarmoutsos still lives in Memphis.
Bare chested Elvis Presley at back door of his Lauderdale Courts apartment, summer 1952. >
UNKNOWN DATE 1952 OR 1953
Elvis Presley perform at Red Coach Night Club and the country music show originating
from the Quachita Valley Jamboree in Monroe, Louisiana, 300 miles south of Memphis,
according to Richard Wilcox in Lucy de Barbin's book "Are You Lonesome Tonight". Elvis
Presley unsuccessfully attempted to get onto the show.
Billie Jean Jones Williams, former
wife of country singer Hank Williams and of country singer Johnny Horton recalled that in
1953 Elvis Presley visited Louisiana, where she remembers giving Elvis money.
Using demo tapes intended for the Chess label, Sam Phillips planned his next record release.
Meteor Records had released Elmore James "I Believe", and both the record and artist were
successful. Sam Phillips realized that the best blues musicians would flock to Meteor if he
didn't move quickly.
Reflecting on his new record company years later, Phillips remarked: "I don't know what
made me take that very brave step which, from a strictly business standpoint, I'm not sure
anyone in their right mind would have taken".
UNKNOWN DATE 1953
In addition to hanging out at Lansky Brother's (see below) clothing store on Beale Street, Elvis Presley after wandered into
Henry's Record Shop on Beale. Robert Henry, a Memphis businessman had promoted every
conceivable show business venture. As a result, Henry's Record Shop was a place where
black musicians congregated, and therefore a focal point for Elvis Presley. Robert Henry
was a close friend of W.C. Handy and Dewey Phillips. Henry passed away in 1978.
Robert Henry in front of his Pool Hall on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, October 7, 1963. >
"That boy listened to out music, and took it to the bank", Jimmy McCracklin remarked. "He
loved my music, and I couldn't wait to get back to Beale Street. I remember the white boys
coming into some of the black clubs", McCracklin reminisced.
Jimmy McCracklin 1950 >
- In the 1953-1954 period Jimmy McCracklin was a talented blues performer who
had not yet had a major hit. Working in Texas, McCracklin toured Mississippi and worked in the local
Memphis clubs. His music was played on blues and rhythm and blues radio stations in the South. A prolific
songwriter and a dynamic showman, McCracklin played on Beale Street and toured the South in 1954-1955
when Elvis Presley was beginning his career.
Although they never performed together, Elvis Presley had an
affinity for Jimmy McCracklin hard-driving blues. When "The Walk" became a major hit for McCracklin in
the late 1950s, Elvis Presley added the record to his collection. Musician Kenneth Herman
remembers McCracklin's records playing at Graceland.
A good example of how self-produced records could hit the charts is evident from the career of Jimmy
McCracklin. Every song that McCracklin had on the rhythm and blues charts in the 1950s was written,
arranged, and produced by him. The record company simply pressed the master and released the song.
McCracklin was typical of the artists who gravitated to Memphis, Chicago, and Los Angeles to find a record
Eventually, McCracklin's single "The Walk", on Checker Records, a Chess subsidiary, established his
musical career. Like many fledgling songwriters and performers in 1953, Jimmy McCracklin spent time on
Beale Street. "You couldn't help but be influenced by those cats", McCracklin remarked about B.B. King,
Bobby "Blue" Bland, and Johnny Ace. "I took the records I was producing and went from one company to
the next; it worked", McCracklin concluded.
Elvis Presley was much like McCracklin, in that he, too, hoped to make a record that would garner a
recording contract. "I was always trying for that crossover sound", McCracklin noted. "Elvis got it and all
our money, too!". Jimmy McCracklin, who recorded for Imperial, Checker, and Crown among others,
remarked: "Imperial Records presented me with a $70,000 bill when I left them. I was paid fifty dollars a
week, and told I was lucky to have a record contract".
Fortunately, Jimmy McCracklin, retained the copyright to his songs, and he has continued to collect
royalties from those he recorded for these labels. From time to time - JMC, ArtTone, and Oak City. To this
day, however, Jimmy McCracklin is bitter about the way he was treated. "The white man took the money
and the black man got nothing. The black man who did what the white man wanted continued to record",
McCracklin concluded. Blacks who didn't how the mark, it was clear, were simply passed over by the
McCracklin continued to tour and produce new albums in the 1980s and 1990s. Bob Dylan has cited
McCracklin as a favorite. He played at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1973, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1984
2007. He was given a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1990, and the Living Legend
and Hall of Fame award at the Bay Area Black Music Awards, in 2007. McCracklin continued to write,
record, and perform into the 21st century. Jimmy McCracklin died in San Pablo, California, in the San
Francisco Bay Area, on December 20, 2012, after a long illness, at the aged of 91.
T. Tommy and ''Mama'' Lil Thompson at Western Steak House and Lounge, 1298 Madison Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee (above). >
Western Steakhouse Band with Kenneth Herman on steel guitar (below). >
UNKNOWN DATE 1953
Elvis Presley frequently at 81 Club, located at 81 North Second Street, Memphis, Tennessee.
The reason was that Elvis Presley known restaurant owner, Lil Thompson. "Elvis would come
in and sat, 'Mama Lil, if I play the guitar for you would you give me a quarter?'", Lil recalled.
And she would always reply, "No, but I'll cook you a cheeseburger".
After stardom, she proudly remembered Elvis' an evening years later at her Western
Steakhouse and Lounge at 1298 Madison Avenue. Near closing time, Elvis' friend George
Klein called if Elvis could eat at the restaurant. "Give us an hour to get there", George
said. About an hour later, Elvis' group of about twenty friends and girlfriends arrived.
waited tables and her husband Tommy cooked. The party stayed for a couple of hours,
enjoying the food and each other's company. When Elvis finally got up to leave, he asked
Tommy how much he owed them. "Son, you don't owe us anything", Tommy replied.
Shortly after the party left, Elvis called. "Look in the back of the telephone directory", he
said cryptically. Lil found five hundred dollars hidden there. "I really loved Elvis", Lil said
recently. "I've buried a son and a husband, but the saddest thing of my life was losing Elvis.
When that hearse drove out of the gates of Graceland, it liked to killed me, it was so sad". In the late 1990, the
Western Steakhouse and Lounge is demolished..
THE TRUE COMPLETE STORY OF MARK HANKS
''Hello, my name is Elvis, and I'll be your server this evening."
Presley-impersonator Joe Kent is working the crowd at the Western Steakhouse and Lounge. It's a frequent
Saturday-night gig for him, and he knows that line always delivers the laughs. The Western provides a
modest setting for Kent's act; no stage, no band, just a narrow corner of the restaurant, a karaoke machine,
and enough "sizzlin' steer and beer", as a sign on the wall behind him reads, to clog the arteries of a major
Still, for Kent and other Elvis disciples the world over, the Western is hallowed ground. There was a time
when the King himself frequented this establishment. He never served a steak, but he ate plenty of them.
For nearly 40 years, the Western has been one of Memphis' most cherished country-music landmarks. In the
1960s and 1970s, it was a safe house for some of the genre's biggest names, where not just Elvis but Johnny
Cash, Webb Pierce, Charlie Pride, and a host of others would come to escape their celebrity and enjoy a
tender steak, or a stiff drink.
These days, the Western still packs 'em in, but restaurant proprietors T. Tommy and "Mama" Lil Thomsen are
"getting on up in age'', as she puts it. Lil used to juggle cooking, waitressing, and cleaning duties at the
Western, but she admits, "I do good just to take care of T. Tommy now. He requires more attention than I'm
able to give him, and I don't like that. It's just time that both of us retire''.
Lil and T. Tommy are all too aware of this city's penchant for neglecting (or, in many cases, destroying) its
musical landmarks. So they've come up with a way to absolve themselves of the Western and ensure that it
continues on well into the new millennium. They're holding a contest. For a token fee of $100, anyone who
cares to can submit an essay explaining why he or she would be an ideal heir to the Western Steakhouse
legacy. The best essay will be chosen and the keys to the building will be turned over to the lucky winner.
Here's the specifics. The contest is open to anyone of legal majority. Essays are to be no more than 250
words, and are due on or before April 25, 1997. Lil, T. Tommy, and other senior members of the Western
Steakhouse staff will read all the essays and choose the 25 best entries. They will then turn those entries over
to former Memphis mayor Wyeth Chandler and Millington businessman Babe Howard, the finalist judges
who will choose a winner and two runners-up from the pool of 25. The names of these three entrants will be
announced in May. The contest winner (or subsequent runner(s) up) must take possession of the Western
Steakhouse within 30 days of notification. The transfer of property will include the restaurant and the
apartment units located above it in the same building. The business and property is completely debt-free, and
no taxes or mortgages will be levied against the new owner. Again, what a bargain! An official list of contest
rules and instructions can be obtained from the Western Steakhouse, 1298 Madison Avenue.
Of course, the contest winner will acquire more than a building. He or she will inherit a family of employees
and customers that spans generations, a rich historical legacy, and a coffer of really cool stuff. "We'll walk
outta here (leaving the restaurant) the way you see it'', Lil promises. "I'm leavin' everything behind, except
for Elvis' guitar and that (autographed) picture of him hangin' above the jukebox''.
The "everything" of which Lil speaks is no mere bric-a-brac. The decor at the Western has taken 40 years to
accumulate. As much as the friendly service or the famous clientele, it's what gives the place its character.
Longtime Western employee Shirley Evans boasts, "It's like a mini-museum in here", an ever-expanding
exhibit where the spectacle of celebrity and the eccentricities of the everyday intersect.
Amid the hundreds of autographed publicity photos and framed newspaper clippings, there are some
wonderfully strange items, each one of them the figurehead for some legendary tale. Above the doorway,
there's a (presumably dormant) hornets' nest the size of a beach ball. A few feet over, a urinal hangs from the
ceiling. Move to the next wall and you'll find an enlarged photo of Lil standing in the Western with her horse
Diamond (she brought it in one day as a promotion for a show they were putting on), followed by a
succession of taxidermied deer heads. At the bar, a metal armadillo made from old car bumpers sits atop a
display case filled with racks of raw steaks. Adorning the back wall of the restaurant, there's a cowboy-motif
mural painted by another loyal Western Steakhouse patron, professional wrestler and Andy Kaufman's archnemesis,
And then, there's the most popular seat in the house, Elvis' favorite booth. Lil recalls that "he'd come in here
with his entourage, bodyguards and everything, after closin' time. He'd always wear sunshades and some
kinda big ol' hat. He'd sit back there in his booth, with his back to the rest (of the restaurant)''. And when
Elvis asked for the usual? "The 16-ounce rib-eye, that was his favorite''.
Lil continues, "Now we never charged him (for his meals). That was just something special we'd do, you
know, for Elvis. So, one night he ate his steak and then he said to T. Tommy, ''How much do I owe you?''. T.
Tommy said, ''Elvis, you know you don't owe me a damn thing''. Elvis went on home and 20 minutes later
the phone rings. T. Tommy picked it up and it was Elvis on the line. He said, ''Tell Mama Lil to go back and
look in the telephone book''. ''I didn't think anything about it at the time, but finally I got around to lookin' in
the phone book. He'd left me $500''.
If you're inclined to listen, Lil can spin Elvis anecdotes like that one for hours. As she sits folding the redand-
white checkered bibs that come with every steak, she recalls another night when the Western held an
Elvis look-alike talent show, a forerunner to the Elvis impersonator contests that have proliferated since the
King's demise. "Elvis came in, and entered the contest, sort-of in disguise. I guess the disguise worked 'cause
he came in third place''.
A sign now hangs above Elvis' booth commemorating its place in carnivorous history (in the men's bathroom
stall there's another sign that reads, "This was Elvis' second-favorite booth"). The seat cushions in the booth
have lost some of their springs, and they've been rendered lumpy and uncomfortable from all the ass-traffic
over the years. But Elvis' booth is still the Western's signature attraction, with reservations sometimes booked
solid for days in advance.
Trying to take in all the sights and stories at the Western, to say nothing of taking possession of them, is
enough to make your head spin. But Lil and Shirley plan to stay on for a little while after the contest to help
acclimate the new owner. Shirley explains, "Everything in here, including the customers, has been here for
many, many years. We'd like to introduce (the new owner) to all of them''.
"Everybody has their own ideas (about how to run the restaurant)'', says Lil, "but I'd like the new owner to
keep it like it is, and I'd like 'em to keep Elvis in mind. I'll keep an eye on 'em, because I'll (still) probably
come down here and eat a lot''. Lil has spent a lifetime in this business, and by her own admission, "That's
about all I know to do''.
Lil and T. Tommy opened the Western Steakhouse in 1958, and they both brought plenty of experience to the
venture. "I been in this business since I was 18 years old, honey'', says Lil. "The first place I ever worked at
was an open-air beer garden. When I was 19 years old I started drivin' a big long Cadillac. Everybody
thought I was hustlin''. They couldn't understand why this little country gal from Ripley, Tennessee, was
drivin' such a nice car. I was workin' seven days a week, that's why. I was makin' about $125 a night, and that
was a lot of money in those days. These people that owned the beer garden, they just kinda took me under
their wing, like I took Shirley. They was like my mom and dad. I really had a good life with them."
With a taste for this good life, and a strong work ethic to match, Lil opened her own club in 1952. The 81
Club was located at 81 North Second Street, and played host to the burgeoning country and rockabilly music
of the day. "Elvis used to come in the 81 Club all the time, too'', says Lil. "Back then he was just a little ol'
boy, just a bug in a rug''.
The 81 club was also where Lil first met T. Tommy. After a stint in the Navy, T. Tommy turned his eye to the
music business, and by the early 1950s, he had become one of the city's key country-concert promoters. He
would often book shows at the 81 Club, and soon enough he struck up a relationship with his future bride.
"He was a great P.R. Man'', recalls Lil. "He just knew everybody, and he charmed me right away''.
Lil and T. Tommy have shared a charmed life together ever since, and it's not easy for them to let go of their
life's work. Lil confides, "I don't know how I'm gonna handle it when it gets time to go. It isn't a day goes by
I don't have a good cry about it. But we gotta go and let somebody else enjoy the restaurant. I hope they
enjoy it as much as I have''.
As she escorts me to the door, Lil stops to show me one last thing. It's a photo of her that was taken around
the time the Western opened. Wearing a tasseled silk shirt and Stetson hat, she looks like the consummate
honky-tonk angel. Lil sighs and then laughs a little. "Time changes everything, don't it?" she asks.
Everything but the Western Steakhouse and Lounge, ma'am''.
Copyright, Memphis Flyer Website Magazine, 2012
Sun Records is re-launched with three blues discs. Sam Phillips now ceases to record music
for license to other labels and concentrates on developing Sun Records.
JANUARY 1, 1953 THURSDAY
After dragged down by drinking, drugs, illness, and divorce, Hank Williams career was as
chaotic as it was successful; by the end, he was banned from the Grand Ole Opry for his sins,
In Knoxville, Tennessee, he dies in his car on New Year's Day, only twenty-nine years old.
Williams was being chauffeured to a gig in Canton, Ohio. En route he hell unconscious and
was taken to Knoxville's Andrew Johnson Hotel. A doctor was called, and although Williams
had been drinking, two shots of morphine were administered. Hotel porters carried him back
to the car at around 11 p.m., by the time he reached Oak Hill, West Virginia, it was clear
that country's top performer was not sleeping but dead. Country buffs still argue over
whether or not Hank was already deceased by the time the car pulled into Knoxville. The
hotel has since been converted into offices, housing the local education bored, a TV station,
and other businesses.
Thousands of mourners attended Williams' funeral held at the City Auditorium and buried
at Oakwood Cemetery Annex, 1305 Upper Wetumpka Road,
Birmingham, Alabama. Williams lies under an impressive white marble headstone etched
with notes from "Your Cheatin' Heart". Among the country stars paying tribute were the
straight-laced Roy Acuff, who performed the singer's evangelical "I Saw The Light". A statue
of Hank Williams is in Lister Hall Plaza on North Perry Street.
HIRAM HANK WILLIAMS
- (1923-1953) Country singer. Widely acclaimed as country music's
greatest singer and composer, Hiram Hank Williams was born at Olive Hill, near Georgiana,
Alabama, on September 17, 1923, the son of a sawmill and railroad worker.
introduced to music in the Baptist church, where he was faithfully taken by his mother, and,
according to popular legend, learned both songs and guitar chords from a black street singer
in Georgiana, Rufus Payne ("Teetot").
Williams' evolution as a professional performer and composer began at the age of 14 when
he won a talent show in a Montgomery theater singing "WPA Blues" winning fifteen dollars.
He obtained his first radio job in the same year, 1937, at WSFA in Montgomery.
World War II - that crucible that integrated country music's disparate regional styles and
ultimately nationalized it - came, Williams worked in the Mobile shipyards and sang
regularly in the honky-tonks of south Alabama. By the time the war ended Williams had
compiled eight hard years of performing experience and had built a style that reflected
the composite musical influences of his youth: gospel, blues, and old-time country.
Professionally, he acknowledged a dept to the Texas honky-tonk singer Ernest Tubb and to
the Tennessee mountain singer Roy Acuff, whose styles Williams fused in a way that
reflected a similar synthesis in the larger country field during the war and immediate
Williams' ascendance to fame began shortly after the war when he became associated with
Fred Rose, the famous Nashville songwriter and publisher. Rose encouraged Williams'
natural songwriting abilities and published his songs; he helped him obtain recording
contracts with Sterling and MGM Records; he persuaded Molly O'Day, one of the greatest
singers of the time, to record some of Williams' compositions; and he helped him get a
position on KWKH's Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport. The Hayride, which was then second
only to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville as a successful country radio show, was the vehicle
that launched Hank Williams on the road to performing fame.
With his country band called the Drifting Cowboys, Williams played a major role in making
country music a national phenomenon. On June 11, 1949, Hank Williams made his debut
at the Grand Ole Opry, singing an old pop tune, "Lovesick Blues" over and over again at the
audience's request, which featured the yodelling he had learned from another Alabama
singer, Rex Griffin. Williams soon moved as regular to the Grand Ole Opry, where he
became the most popular country singer since Jimmie Rodgers. In the brief span from
1949 to 1953 Williams dominated the country charts with songs that are still considered
classics of country music.
With a remarkably expressive voice that moved with equal facility from the strident
yodelling of "Long Gone Lonesome Blues" to the gentle lyricism of "I Just Told Mama
Goodbye", Williams communicated with his listeners in a fashion that has only rarely been
equalled by other country singers. The word "sincerity" has no doubt been over-used in
describing the styles of country musicians, but in the case of Williams it means simply that
he as a singer convincingly articulated in songs a feeling that he and his listeners shared.
On January 1, 1953, Williams' chauffeur, Charles Carr, found him dead in the backseat of
his Cadillac. Williams' second wife, Billie Jean, would also be married to singer Johnny
Horton when Horton died in a car accident in 1960. In 1961 Hank Williams was elected to
the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.
Some of Williams' compositions include: "Cold, Cold Heart"; "Hey, Good Lookin'"; "Half As
Much"; "Jambalaya"; "Move It Over"; "Your Cheatin' Heart"; and "I'm So Lonesome I Could
Cry" are classics. Elvis Presley recorded "Your Cheatin' Heart" in 1958. His release of "I'm
So Lonesome I Could Cry" is from the Elvis Aloha From Hawaii concert in 1973. A
photograph of Hank Williams can be seen in Elvis Presley's 1957 movie Jailhouse Rock.
As a songwriter - not as a singer- Williams played a most important role in breaking down
the fragile barriers between country and pop music. Williams' singing was quintessentially
rural, and his own records never "crossed over" into the lucrative pop market. His songs,
though, moved into the larger sphere of American popular music and from there, perhaps,
into the permanent consciousness of the American people. Like no earlier country writer's
works, Hank's songs appeared with great frequency in the repertoires of such pop
musicians as Tony Bennett, Frankie Lane, and Mitch Miller. For good or ill, this
popularization in pop music continues.
Commercial and professional success did not bring peace of mind to the Alabama country
boy. A chronic back ailment, a troubled marriage, and a subsequent divorce and
remarriage accentuated a penchant for alcohol that he had acquired when only a small
boy. After being fired by the Grand Ole Opry for drunkenness and erratic behaviour, he
returned to the scene of his first triumphs - the Louisiana Hayride. His legacy lives on in
his songs and in the scores of singers, including his immensely talented son, Hank, Jr., who
still bear his influence.
JANUARY 6, 1953 TUESDAY
Eddie Cantor send a 10 1/2x7 1/4 inches letter to Colonel Tom Parker, and is signed by the
singer: "How nice to receive your very gracious letter. And those Eddy Arnold string ties! I'm
liable to be the best dressed old man in show business". Eddie Cantor, one of the most
beloved American vaudeville entertainers, became a Hollywood star in the thirties. He
received an Academy Award in 1956 for distinguished service to the film industry.
JANUARY 7, 1953 WEDNESDAY
The Presley's moved into a small house at 698 Saffarans Avenue (398 Cypress Street). It was a small apartment
house in which - for $52-a-month rent - they secured two downstairs rooms. It was easy to
understand why the living situation at 698 Saffarans Avenue depressed Elvis Presley. In
theory, 698 Saffarans Avenue was a step from Lauderdale Courts public housing because the
rent was higher and the Presley's no longer had to go through the ritual of qualifying for lowincome
housing. The Saffarans Avenue apartment was disastrous. It was a small unit
desperately in need of paint, new plumbing, and adequate lighting. There were other
reasons for Elvis' unhappiness with his new surrounding. each morning he arose and
complained about the squalid sanitary conditions. The common bathroom was down the hall,
and Elvis Presley found it cold and dirty. The water was never hot and the bathtub was
always filled with hair. His experiences at this apartment created an aversion to bathing, and
Elvis Presley showered only when absolutely necessary. He cultivated the habit of
purchasing large bottles of Aqua Velva after-shave, and splashed the lotion all over his body.
The result was a disconcerting smell, a cross between body odour and lilacs.
Elvis Presley lived at this adress from January 7, 1953 until April 1953 at 698 Saffarans Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. This adress is now a vacant lot. >
698 SAFFARANS AVENUE
- The Presley family lived at this address from January 7, 1953 until April
1953. They had been evicted from Lauderdale Courts on the basis of income. The Saffarans
Avenue location was a step down in quality from Lauderdale Courts. In spite of their higher
income, they were unable to rent a suitable apartment without a federal subsidy. Within
four months, however, the Presley's would move back to the Lauderdale Courts
The Presley's apartment at 698 Saffarans Avenue was only a stepping stone for the family.
This address was erroneously reported as 398 Cypress Avenue. The real address wasn't
uncovered until 1991, when Joe Haertel, discovered the discrepancy and the true location
of the Presley's 1953 apartment - a feat even the wire services considered newsworthy.
The apartment was ten dollars a month more than the one they had left at Lauderdale
Courts, and much smaller. Still they must have been pleased by the location. Saffarans
Avenue runs north and south adjacent to what was then Humes High School. The
apartment, which has since been torn down, was directly across the street from Elvis
Presley's school. How did the true address surface after all these years? This was the
address listed on Elvis' draft card. He turned eighteen and registered for the draft while
living in this apartment.
The building where the family lived no longer exists, but nearby buildings reflect the style
of 698 Saffarans, and you can still get a sense of the low-income character of the now
black neighbourhood. The address is now a vacant lot.
Elvis Presley (Third row in the middle) Reserve Officer Training Corps (R.O.T.C.), Humes High School, 1952/1953.
JANUARY 19, 1953 MONDAY
Elvis Presley is register for the selective service. Under the draft system, young men of good health were expected to be available from age 18, to serve in the military for two years of active duty and then four years in the reserves.
The double-sided card stock "Selective Service" number is 40-86-35-16 and was signed by Elvis Presley and Crace F. Martony in blue ink. Card issued to Elvis Aron Presley at 698 Saffarans in Memphis, Tennessee. Lists birthdate of Jan. 8, 1935 and birthplace of Tupelo, Miss.
Back of the card lists personal information: brown hair, green eyes, height of 5"11" and weight of 150. Selective Service number ''40-86-35-16''. The card is 2 1/2x3 3.4 inches.
Elvis Presley filled out this Selective Service card about a week after his 18th birthday.
Then a senior at Memphis' Humes High School. Elvis, by then a major star, was called for
his pre-induction physical on January 4, 1957, in order to determine his status for the
draft. On December 19, 1957, Elvis now 22 years old, was notified that he'd been inducted
into the Army. The next day, after picking up his draft notice in person, Elvis stopped by
Sun Records and talked to reporters, calling his impending Army service a "duty I've got to
fill and I'm going to do it".
On Christmas Eve 1957 Elvis wrote to the Memphis Draft Board
requesting a deferment in order to finish filming his latest film for Paramount, "King
Creole". Elvis asks for the deferment so that "these folks will not lose so much money, with
all they have done so far".
Two days later the Draft Board granted Elvis a deferment until
March 20, 1958 and was taken to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas for processing and then sent to
Fort Hood in Texas. Elvis shipped out to Germany in September 1958. The Army had
considered putting Elvis in its "Special Services" division to take advantage of his celebrity,
but both the Colonel and Elvis insisted that he receive no special treatment, and Elvis'
Army stint was relatively conventional.
UNKNOWN DATE JANUARY 1953
Elvis Presley was hanging around with a group of local truckdrivers. Their big trucks, long
hair, sideburns, and free lifestyle intrigued him. Although his own sideburns had been long
for some time, his hair greasy, and his collar turned up, it was in the early months of 1953
that he accentuated these affectations into a distinctive personal style. By January 1953,
Elvis Presley was a mature, eighteen-year-old High School student.
JANUARY 24, 1953 SATURDAY
Rockabilly singer Carl Perkins married Valda Crider from Corinth, Mississippi. They moved to
a government housing project in Jackson, Tennessee as he started appearing. However,
Valda encouraged Carl to work on his music and try for a career in entertainment. Her
support has nourished Perkins through a long career as a musician and through many bouts
with the bottle and self doubt. In fact, it was Val who heard later a record on the radio that
would after the course of Perkins' career.
UNKNOWN DATE EARLY 1953
Elvis Presley perform on a gig at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Charlie
Thornton thinks he may well have been the first one to paid Elvis Presley to perform.
Thornton can't pinpoint the exact date, but he's fairly certain it came in the early of 1953.
Thornton was in a bind. A student at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Thornton
booked bands for college fraternities and sonorities, as well as for high school parties. Toni
Roderick telephoned Charlie Thornton to tell him the band booked for her high school party
had suddenly cancelled, Thornton had mere hours to find a substitute.
"I called Rufus Thomas at WDIA radio in Memphis, but he couldn't come and he couldn't
find anyone for me", said Thornton. "Gerald Parsons, a freshman fullback at ASU, heard of
my plight and he told me he had a friend at Humes High School in Memphis who played
music, but not very good. I asked him to contact his friend. I hired him on the telephone
for seventy-five dollars. The next night, Elvis Presley showed up with two others to play
the high school gig in Jonesboro. I went to hear him. I always wanted to hear the bands I
hired, to see how good they were and if I wanted to book them again".
"I remember he was different looking. He had that greasy hair. Elvis played really bad that
night! He played mostly gospel songs - at a high school party! At intermission, he and Toni
came over to me. Elvis apologized for his selections. He told me he wanted to come back
over and play for Toni again, this time for free. I said I would never book him again - even
for free! I think this was the first time Elvis Presley ever got paid for a gig".
Thornton said Elvis Presley returned to Jonesboro a couple of times, but not to sing. He
took Tony out on dates. After the show there Elvis Presley, Charlie Thornton and Toni
Roderick went to the Fortune's Jungle Gardens (the world's first drive-in) and Elvis bought
a round of beer. When the bill arrived, Elvis Presley said, "Boys, you've gotta buy the beer.
Charlie Thornton became assistant athletic director to the legendary Bear Bryant at the
University of Alabama and visited Elvis twice when he played standing-room-only concerts
at Tuscaloosa. Still later, Thornton was general manager of the professional Memphis
Southmen football team.
Elvis' senior homeroom teacher, Miss Mildred Scrivener specifically remembered Elvis
Presley bringing his guitar to a class picnic at Overton Park Shell where he entertained his
classmates. Elvis Presley performed at two appearance for the East Trigg Baptist Church
Choir, located at 1189 Trigg Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. Pastor W. Herbert Brewster.
Earl Peterson, later to record for Sun Records, joins WFYC radio in Alma, Michigan. He also
starts the Nuggett record label with Mrs. Pearle Lewis (his mother).
UNKNOWN DATE EARLY 1953
Elvis Presley would visit Gene Smith at the Hall's Grocery located at 1588 Mississippi
Boulevard, nearly every afternoon after school. They would wander to the back of the store,
to the dairy bar, and sip Purple Cows, a float made from grape soda and vanilla ice cream.
Gene ended up working full time for Hall's Grocery, delivering groceries by bicycle. In many
families such a difference in circumstance could have driven the two boys father apart.
As Gene Smith entered the work force, Elvis Presley didn't want his cousin to feel alone.
He would listen to Gene talk about his hopes for simply finding a better job someday. In
turn, Elvis would talk about his aspirations, how he wanted a career in music and was
anxious to begin working as a gospel singer or musician.
Elvis Presley shows his Lincoln Zephyr 1942 on front of his house at 462 Alabama Street, Memphis, Tennessee. >
UNKNOWN DATE MARCH 1953
Vernon Presley bought his son the 1942 light green Lincoln Zephyr for $450. This postbirthday
pre-graduation present was a catalyst to Elvis Presley's musical education, and was
one of the reasons Elvis Presley spent so much time around Beale Street.
Elvis Presley loved
to drive around the Peabody Hotel and circle the nearby Suzore II Theater.
It was a frivolous
time for Elvis Presley, and his confidence grew as his social popularity soared. "We pushed
that car around Memphis as much as we drove it", Ronald Smith remembered. "We had a
good time with that car and Elvis Presley was just one of the fellows".
"He need the car. Elvis saw the street late, with the signs glowing, and to this day it holds a
spell over him... Sometimes with his friends, sometimes alone, Elvis would head for Main
Street, where the windows, the bustle of moving traffic, the hurrying crowd gave him
something to watch and wonder about", recalled Bob Johnson, writer of the Memphis Press-
Scimitar in 1956.
"Very few students had cars in those days", recalled insider at Lauderdale Courts, Luther
Nall. "One day Elvis and I went down to an old junk car lot and he found an old two-door
green Lincoln. The guy wanted thirty-five dollars for it. Elvis didn't have thirty-five dollars.
So he got the money from his dad and he paid notes on it until he paid it out. We drove
around a lot in that old car. One night we drove down to Tupelo. I was scared to death on
that trip. The tires on that car were so thin you could read a newspaper through them. I
didn't think we were going to make it down there and back. But he wanted to show me
where he was born. We saw that, drank a Coke and came back to Memphis".
UNKNOWN DATE MARCH 1953
The Presley's rented the bottom floor of a large house at 462 Alabama Avenue. Elvis Presley
liked the location because it was near Lauderdale Courts. Vernon Presley paid fifty dollars a
month for the apartment, and the Presley's installed a telephone, and Johnny Burnette
often dropped by Elvis' house to listen to blues or rockabilly songs. For a year and a half,
Elvis Presley lived with his family in the Alabama Street apartment. It was here that Elvis
Presley plotted his earliest career moves. The two-story brick building was comfortable, and
Elvis Presley spent hours practising his music in the living room. Across the street, at 465
Alabama Street, lived Mrs. Ruth Black, the mother of bassist Bill and his brother Johnny
462 ALABAMA AVENUE
- Near the Lauderdale Courts complex, the two-store Victorian brick
building on Alabama Avenue with a sweeping front porch, was home to the Presley's from
April 1953, until late 1954. There were just two apartments in the house.
The family paid
$50,00 a month to rent a small apartment, fifteen dollars more than at Lauderdale Courts,
payable to Mrs. Dubrovner, whose husband had been a kosher butcher and who lived down
the street herself, and both Mrs. Dubrovner and the Presley's upstairs neighbours, Rabbi
Alfred Fruchter and his wife, Jeanette, showed a considerable amount of kindness, and
financial consideration, toward the new tenants.
462 Alabama Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee (photo circa 1952). ^
Vernon and Gladys occupied the only bedroom. Minnie Mae slept on a cot in the dining
room. Elvis Presley took the couch each night. Mrs. Fruchter later told an interviewer,
"They never had much. There wasn't even a decent chair to sit down in. About all they had
was this cheap little radio". Mrs. Fruchter remembered Saturday afternoons when Elvis
Presley and Vernon would polish Elvis' ten-year-old Lincoln. Others recalled seeing Elvis
Presley walk down the street with his guitar, his hair spilling over the collar of his pink
Mrs. Anna Mae Bradley, who lived a block away on High Street, also recalled the Presley's
time at this address. Once, she was sitting on her front porch when Elvis Presley stopped to
visit with his guitar. He sat down next to her on the porch swing and began to play. "It seems
like a hundred years ago now", she said.
The Presley family was living here when Elvis Presley made his first recording at Memphis
Recording Service, during the summer of 1953 and when he got his first call from Marion
Keisker phoning for Sam Phillips in 1954. The building was demolished some years ago to
make way for a freeway on-ramp.
MARCH 26, 1953 THURSDAY
Elvis Presley visits the Tennessee State Employment Security office, listing his address as
462 Alabama Street, where the family has moved to an apartment in a large Victorian home
at a rent of $50 a month.
Elvis fills out the application carefully in pencil, nothing under "leisure time activities":
"Sings, playing ball, working on car, going to movies" and indicating that he would like to
work as a machinist. At the end of the application form, the interviewer notes that his
appearance as a "rather flashily dressed "playboy" type (is) denied by fact has worked hard
past three summers, wants a job dealing with people".
Elvis Presley, Jeanette Fruchter, and David Fruchter at front of 462 Alabama Street in Memphis. >
DAVID ''ALF'' AND JEANETTE FRUCHTER
- Jewish family who lived upstairs at 464 Alabama
Street at the time the Presley's lived in the lower unit at 462 Alabama Avenue. Fruchter was
a rabbi for the Congregation Beth El-Emeth. The Fruchters were good friends of the
Presley's, and Elvis Presley sometimes used their telephone.
Supposedly, it was the
Fruchters' telephone number that Marion Keisker wrote down after Elvis Presley recorded
"My Happiness"/"That's When Your Heartaches Begin" in the summer of 1953. However, the
Presley's did have a telephone at the time so that story seems unlike. Elvis Presley was said
to have borrowed the Fruchters' phonograph to play his first Sun recordings. Friends of Elvis
Presley, however, recall that Elvis Presley did have a phonograph.
Elvis Presley with his cousin Gene Smith (left) sits beside the young David and Debbie Fruchter,
Rabbi Alfred Fruchter children. (Photo courtesy of Harold Fruchter) >
APRIL 4, 1953 SATURDAY
Don Robey's injunction against Sun Records also set some kind of speed record. What our gang lost in royalties, they gained in wisdom. The letter reads:
I have been advised by Mr. Harry Fox, Agent and Trustee for Lion Publishing Company of
Houston, Texas, that license were issued to you authorizing the use of our composition
"Hound Dog", your identical copy, being "Bear Cat", but to date, the licence have not been
Please be advised that first, you should have contacted the owner prior to the release of
the record, as release of the composition leaves you liable for 5 cents to 8 cents per
record royalty for the intrusion upon the rights of others.
I advised Mr. Harry Fox to license you for the statutory 2 cents per record royalty, allowing
you to continue with pressing the record, the same as all of the Companies who were
properly licensed prior to the release of their own versions of our composition.
This is to also inform that unless contracts are signed and in the office of Mr. Harris Fox by
Wednesday, April 8th, 1953, I will be forced to take immediate steps with Court Actions,
plus apply charges for full 5 cents to 8 cents per record royalty.
Both Billboard and Cash Box questioned how such quick release was arranged on our
material, so is everyone else questioning how the record was released so soon.
I, do hope that this will not cause any unfriendly relations, but, please remember, I have
to pay, when I intrude upon the rights of others, and certainly must protect my own rights.
Very truly yours
LION PUBLISHING COMPANY
Don D. Robey
APRIL 6, 1953 MONDAY
For the second time Elvis Presley visit to the Tennessee State Employment office states that
he has reevaluated his professional ambitions and wants to operate "big lathes".
APRIL 9, 1953 THURSDAY
"Elvis Prestley, guitarist", as he was mistakenly listed in the program, was 16th on a bill of 22
acts in the Annual Minstrel Show put on by Humes High School to raise money for various
school projects. On the 8:00 p.m. revue he reportedly sang "Cold Icy Fingers", which appears
to have been the same song remembered by Ms. Elsie Marmann. Due to the enthusiastic
response following his performance, Elvis was allowed the program's only encore and he
sang "Til I Waltz Again With You". There were an estimated 1500 students, faculty and
parents in attendance that night.
"I wasn't popular in school, I wasn't dating anybody there. I failed music - only thing I ever
failed. And then they entered me in this talent show, and I came out and did my "Till I
Waltz Again With You" by Teresa Brewer, and when I came onstage I heard people kind of
rumbling and whispering and so forth, 'cause nobody knew I even sang. It was amazing how
popular I became after that. Then I went on through high school and I graduated", recalled
UNKNOWN DATE MAY 1953
Later one night at the Cotton Club in West Memphis, Arkansas, Elvis Presley met bluessinger
Mae Glover. He also with her at many clubs at Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee.
Big Memphis MayRainey >
LILLIE MAE HARDISON GLOVER
- Also called Big Mama Blues, and May Rainey Two, was born in
1906 into a family dominated by her father, a pastor. His strict disciplinarian-ism backfired
when she ran away from home at the age of fourteen (with a local lad named Tom Simpson)
to join a travelling carnival where she won prizes for her singing and dancing.
began in 1919 and continued through the golden age of the classic women blues singers, her
path crossing at one time or another with Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Ethel Waters, Sara Martin,
and Ma Rainey. She appearing on the same show with Ma for two weeks at the old Frolic
Theater in Birmingham.
She returned to her family briefly before taking off again, this time with Jim Hayden, and
travelled throughout the South as a singer and comedienne with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels,
she also travelled with the Bronze Mannequins, the Vampin' Baby Show, the Georgia
Minstrels, Harlem in Havana, and others. She was with Nina Benson's Medicine Show when
she first visited Memphis and Beale Street in 1928; and from then on, even though she was
backwards and forwards on the road, Memphis was her home base. After her marriage to
Willie Glover, a cook in a Memphis restaurant, her on-stage appearances were at night
spots around Memphis and occasionally at the Midnight Rambles, the risque revue staged
weekly for white audience at the Palace Theater. Lillie Mae Clover also performed
frequently in the Palace's amateur shows, and sing in many of the clubs in the Beale area,
Citizens Club, Manhattan Club, Coca-Cola Club, Hotel Improvement Club.
"It was always a piano in the back of the joints, and drums. The boys would play and I'd sing,
and we'd just call ourselves balling. Especially on Thursday, which is cook's ball day, when
the cooks got paid. The boys would be on the stem for the cooks on Thursday because they
knowed the cooks was going to get off and spend their money".
Among other Big Mama singing and drinking with on Beale in various areas were Memphis
Slim (Peter Chatman, blues pianist) and none other than Bessie Smith. "I had met Bessie on
the road, and when she came to Memphis to play the Palace, she'd stop to see me".
By the 1950s Beale Street had slowed down so much that Big Mama found herself playing
more and more for white audience. It was at a white night spot, the Cotton Club in West
Memphis, Arkansas, she and Elvis Presley first met, that Mama spent seven years
performing, the longest booking of her life. Being at the Cotton Club was something like
old times for her; the brawling in this hangout for roughneck whites was as prevalent as it
had been in the dives on Beale Street. On April 19, 1953, Big Memphis Ma Rainey recorded
for Sun Records "Call Me Anything, But Call Me"/"Baby, No!" (SUN 184). At times she sang
with other bands, even a white hillbilly group. She sang their country and rock and roll.
Whenever she sang them, the blues were always special to her.
Big Mama Glover died at her apartment in Memphis, in the same building were Elvis
Presley lived in the Lauderdale Courts on March 27, 1985.
Ronald Smith >
MAY 23, 1953 SATURDAY
Ronald Smith was at it again. With virtually no notice, he booked "his band", including Elvis
Presley, to play a private party at Lodge Banquet, downtown Memphis' Columbia Mutual
Towers on Main Street, just north of Court Square. This Saturday night engagement took
place during the Annual Cotton Festival in Memphis.
One of Ronald's friends Mary Scott, had suggested that her dad hire a teenage band to play
at the Columbia Mutual Towers. Ronald Smith and Elvis Presley joined with Ray and James
Damon Secton to play in the activity room at the twelve-story Columbia Mutual Towers
building. The dance was an adult affair, and the band stuck primarily to country and pop
tunes. Elvis Presley was delighted with his job.
"I called Raymond and Damon Sexton. They were both singers", said Smith. "I got Johnny
Fine on bass. Then Mary Scott, who had told me about this gig, mentioned Elvis Presley. I
called him and told him we would each be making three or four dollars for the night and if
he wanted, he could join us up there. When Elvis Presley showed up, Raymond and Damon
and Fine huddled on the corner outside the building. They said they didn't want to go on if
Elvis were going to be on stage also. So, just Elvis and I ended up performing".
"Lee Adkins was playing in the regular band at the Odd Fellows Hall on Main Street, which was up on the
second floor, and we were to playing during that band's intermissions". "I wasn't scared at
all. I had been playing at KWEM radio with Scotty Moore and Bill Black even before Elvis
met them. Anyway, just the two of us went on. There wasn't anything Elvis couldn't sing
bluegrass, country, gospel. He was nervous that night, but years later he learned to turn
that nervousness into a positive and let it work for him. He was so nervous he kept
dropping his guitar pick and one time he said, 'I'm just going to leave it there', and kept on
picking and singing".
"I think he was nervous because he wanted to be accepted. He sang Marty Robbins, he
sang "Crying In The Chapel, "Money Honey", "Tryin' To Get To You". We sang the
intermissions and, man, they were long intermissions", said Ronald Smith.
Business card of the Hi-Hat Club, Memphis, Tennessee. >
It was also about this time, as discussed earlier, that Elvis Presley began showing up
regularly at the
Hi-Hat Supper Club, located at South Third Street, (Highway 61) Memphis, Tennessee, to watch Eddie Bond and
The importance of the influence of the band that Eddie Bond put together for
the Hi-Hat should be further emphasized.
In addition to Ronald Smith on guitar, it included
drummer Mark Waters, and piano player Aubrey Meadows, Dixie Locke frequently come with
Elvis Presley to the Hi-Hat Supper Club.
After adding Ace Cannon on saxophone to give the
combo a pop sound, he brought in Elvis Presley as the vocalist.
"I was singing at the Hi-Hat Club down on South Third", Eddie Bond recalls. "I was a country
and western singer. I couldn't sing pop worth a toot. Still can't. Ronald Smith knew Elvis,
knew he could sing pop, and Ronald suggested I hire Elvis to sing the pop songs with our
band. I had known Elvis before when he sang over at the Home for Incurables. My daddy
sold paint to the Home. I had met Elvis over there, knew he could sing anything".
"So, I asked Elvis if he wanted to sing pop with Eddie Bond and the Stompers down at the
Hi-Hat and he jumped at the chance. He came down and began singing with us. He sang
three or four weeks with us". "Sitting right in front of the bandstand were a man and two
women. We called them the Board of Directors. One of them owned the club. After they
heard Elvis and saw Elvis, they came to me and said, 'If you don't get rid of that greasyhaired
redneck, we will get rid you of you''!
"I was making $1500 a week at the time. Not long out of high school. That was big money in those days. I wasn’t about to give that up. What else could I do?", said Bond. "So I fired Elvis!. Not long after that, Elvis recorded "That's All Right", the record took off, Elvis took off, headed toward becoming a legend!".
"The owner of the club came to me then and said, 'We might let him back if he wants to come back". "I went to Elvis and gave him the offer. He kind of laughed. Said, sure, he would come back to the Hi-Hat, but it would cost them $2500 a week!".
Elvis friend's Kenneth Herman (left) and Ronald Smith, 1953 ^
Not long after Elvis' first hit record with Sun Records, Eddie Bond joined the Sun label, together with Johnny cash, Carl Perkins and Warren Smith. "When my record came out", said Bond. "Bob Neal asked us to tour with Elvis Presley and we did until Bob sold Elvis' contract to Tom Parker", Bond said.
When Ronald Smith and Elvis Presley attended the Memphis Cotton Carnival and played for Mary Scott's dad at the Columbia Mutual Towers, Barbara Hearn came along for fun. During this appearance, Elvis Presley talked to Barbara and Ronald about the Memphis music scene. He was aware of Sam Phillips' Sun Records label. When Phillips' second group of records was released in March 1953, Elvis Presley went to the House of Records and found and bought the recordings.
A South Side coat, wanting to go to the Odd Fellows gig, but not being allowed to go "uptown" alone, called one of Barbara Hearn classmates to see if she would like to go alone. "They're going to have this new hillbilly singer there. I think you'd like him. So please go with me". "What's this new singer's name?" asked her friend. "Elvis Presley". "What's an Elvis?" Barbara Hearn asked, then decided to go alone with her eager friend.
- Born in 1938 in Memphis, Tennessee. Girlfriend of Elvis Presley during his high
school days. They both attended the First Assembly of God Church at 1885 McLemore
Avenue in Memphis. Locke first met Elvis Presley at the Hi-Hat Supper Club in Memphis and
at the Rainbow Rollerdrome in the winter of 1953 and dated him steadily until late 1955. The
two went to the Southside High School prom together, double-dating with Gene Smith and
his date, Betty. Locke became president of the first Elvis Presley fanclub. The popular
photograph of Elvis' prom night is actually Dixie's prom in 1954.
Some believe that Elvis Presley wanted to marry Dixie, but before he could, she decided
to break off their relationship with Elvis because he was on the road too often.
married, becoming Mrs. Dixie Emmons. Locke was loosely portrayed by Melody Anderson as
a girl named Bonnie in the 1979 TV movie Elvis. Today Dixie Locke Emmons is the church
secretary of the Alpha Congregation of the Temples of the Living God on 1084 East
McLemore Avenue in Memphis.
- Born in Memphis, Barbara Hearn became close friends with Elvis Presley from 1956
to 1957. In fact, such close friends that she was referred to as a “frequent companion of Elvis Presley.”
Referred to so often, she used to joke that no matter what wonderful things she might accomplish in life,
“frequent companion of Elvis Presley” would probably figure prominently in her obituary.
Hearn played a bit part in the 1957 movie "Loving You". While at Elvis Presley's house on 1034 Audubon
Drive in Memphis, Hearn got the opportunity to hear the acetate for "Any Way You Want Me" before RCA
released the song.
After attending the University of Memphis, she moved to Washington in 1961 to work in the office of
Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver. It was there that she met her lawyer husband Jim who had begun working
in the U.S. government.
In 2006, Holly Tree Manor became a Bed & Breakfast as so many Elvis fans over the years have expressed
an interest in meeting Barbara. To accommodate them, she and her husband decided recently to abandon
their plans for a leisurely, laid back retirement to open their home to Elvis fans worldwide.
Now, after raising their three children, five grandchildren and traveling the world with Jim's job as a CIA
agent, Barbara and Jim are looking forward to meeting Elvis fans, getting to know them, and reminiscing
about her Elvis years.
Ronald Smith himself performing at Ellis Auditorium, Memphis, March 9, 1952. >
It was also Eddie Bond who tried to persuade Elvis Presley to play at Red's Place on Highway
61, Frayser, Tennessee. Red's was a bucket-of-blood-type night club saloon that drew the
worst local rednecks. Most bands were afraid to play to his crowd because of the nightly
A sign at the door warned people not to urinate inside the club, and a bouncer
checked patrons for weapons as they entered. The police came in every hour, looked
around, and checked the bathrooms for troublemakers. People who ignored the club's signs
were the least of its problems; the club was plagued by fistfights, knifings, and an occasional
Paul Burlison, lead guitarist with Johnny Burnette Rock And Roll Trio, remembers
the band having to fight its way off stage because a small coterie of roughnecks didn't like
the way that they played a Bob Wills song. It was into this environment that Eddie Bond tried
to coax Elvis Presley, who refused to be coaxed. It was not only too rough, but few people
listened to the music. "Can't play that place", Elvis Presley told Ronald Smith. "They'll tear
my head off". Smith laughed, but Eddie Bond persisted. Elvis Presley instead persuaded Bond
that he should sit in with the Stompers at the Hi-Hat, and he'd think about playing Red's.
Frightened by the "ambience" at Red's Place, Elvis Presley never did.
An important part of Elvis Presley's show business education during the summer of 1953 resulted from
discussions with musicians who cut their own records. The proliferation of small records labels, the rise of vanity
recording studios, hobbyists operating in garages, and the hustling businessmen who promoted this product led to
a boom in homemade records. Everyone thought that they could produce a hit record. No one was more
confident of his ability to cut his own records than Charlie Feathers.
Rockabilly legend Charlie Feathers ^
While he was growing up in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Feathers remembered how ''the cottonpatch blues'' used to
inspire him. This was the music played by black field workers, and it became the most important influence upon
his unique country-rockabilly style.
''When you take the blues out of country or rockabilly'', Feathers remarked,
''you ain't got no more country music''. With Stan Kesler, Feathers wrote ''I Forgot To Remember To Forget'', and
he became a Memphis musical legend. Long before Elvis Presley appeared in local clubs or recorded for Sun
Records, Feathers was performing a rockabilly type of music very similar to that heard on Elvis' Sun recordings.
Sam Phillips discovered Feathers' talent and hired him as a studio musician, house songwriter, and musical
arranger. Not only was Feathers present at Elvis' recording sessions, but Memphis musicians spoke constantly of
Feathers' contribution to Elvis' music. Stan Kesler, Marcus Van Story, Ronald Smith, Paul Burlison, Kenneth
Herman, and Doug Poindexter were around the Sun studio in 1953 and 1954 and remembers Fathers.
In March 1955, when Charlie Feathers recorded his first Sun single, ''I've Been Deceived'', his music was rockabilly. There is no doubt that he influenced Elvis, because Feathers was an open, somewhat naive, man who readily shared his musical ideas. For years, the critics have scoffed at Feathers' claim that he influenced Elvis. Yet, every important musician who hung out at Sun Records or recorded with Sam Phillips speaks of Feathers' contribution. Elvis listened and watched and used the best of Charlie Feathers' material. In most of his songs, Elvis was a singer who copied other styles, and Feathers was one of Elvis' earliest influences. Since Feathers talked about cutting his own records, it was only natural for Elvis to do the same. Feathers does not appear to be an important influence upon Elvis only because his reputation has never been more than that of an obscure legend. To some, Feathers is a legend in his own mind. To others, he is a legitimate rockabilly pioneer. After interviewing a number of Memphis musicians, it is clear that Feathers is a seminal figure in the Sun Elvis story. ''It's not that Elvis copies Charlie Feathers'', Ronald Smith remarked, ''but he sure did build on Feathers' music''.
Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, circa 1952. >
UNKNOWN DATE MAY 1953
Elvis Presley performed at the Silver Stallion Night Club, located at 1447 Union Avenue,
Memphis. This change was noticeable as early as March 1953, when Elvis Presley began
spending more time hanging out in the Beale Street clubs. The blues that Elvis Presley heard
in these bars was transformed into a new sound.
In honky tonk bars like the Silver Stallion
Club, it was possible for young Elvis Presley to perform blues-tinged tunes with a rockabilly
flair. The Silver Stallion paid off the beat cop to let underage people into the bar, and they
held amateur shows each week.
The amateur nights at the Silver Stallion were ones that
Elvis Presley loved, because they provided some of his strangest moments as a neophyte
performer. One night, the owner of this club decided to bring in some show horses to do
tricks on the dance floor. Much to Elvis' horror, he was to follow the horse show with an
acoustic guitar set. Not only was Elvis Presley unsure how the crowd would react to a singer
following the horses, his nose told him there had been an accident on the floor. The crowd
roared as Elvis Presley came on holding his nose. He laughed and the crowd cheered him.
This incident was so well known in Memphis that there was even an oblique reference to it
in the Humes High School year book.
Elvis Presley with classmate Rosemary Baracco with Humes High senior picnic at Maywood Beach, a water park located in Olive Branch, Mississippi, just across the Mississippi state line from Memphis, Tennessee.
Maywood Beach and Park was opened by Maurice and May Woodson on July 4, 1931. The Woodsons were Memphians who were looking for a change of pace from city life.
Maurice Woodson was a cotton linter and president of Woodson Brothers, Inc., a company that he owned with his brothers Edward and R. Peyton Woodson. Some time in the late 1920s Maurice was told by his doctor that he must give up his business for his health’s sake.
Soon after the couple purchased 400 acres (1.6 km2) of land in DeSoto County, Mississippi.
On the property was a clear, spring fed lake. With the help of a mule team they dug the lake out and lined the bottom with several hundred tons of white sand imported from Deston, Florida. Then, tapping down into a natural artesian water basin below the ground, they filled it with cold, clear water which eventually fed into two other lakes on the property.
Lake Shahkoka, as it was called, after a Chickasaw Indian who once lived on the land, soon had picnic tables, barbecue pits, pavilions, a bowling alley, and a mini golf course, as well as playgrounds, a snack bar, and tearoom at the Maywood swimming pool. (It had been renamed after Mrs. Woodson.) These amenities were added as the Woodson's sold getaway homes around their property.
The pool was a great success; Memphians came from opening day in May to its close in September. It became a surrogate beach for Memphians longing for the ocean and hosted TV commercials for Memphis-based Coppertone, publicity photos for beauty queens, weddings, baptisms, church picnics, parachutists, class reunions, and corporate gatherings. There was a pavilion on site which was a popular dance arena from the 1930s on, and Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and a host of others played there early in their careers.
For more than half a century, Maywood remained largely unchanged. It was marketed as a "Swimming Beach"; it was not called a "Water Park" until some radio ads started calling it that in the 1990s. Water slides were added over the years, but the clear lake remained spring-fed and was clear enough to see your feet while standing in five feet of water.
The unexpected news that Maywood was closing came from current owner Hugh Armistead. He blamed higher insurance costs as he explained in the Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal. The lake and surrounding property were turned into a private residential development. The park closed in July 2003. The closest similar, spring-fed water park is Willow Springs Water Park, roughly three hours away by automobile.
MAY 26, 1953 TUESDAY
According to several sources, Elvis Presley may have hitch-hiked from Memphis to
Meridian, Mississippi. He supposedly made this journey so he could participate in the First
Annual Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Celebration, honouring the "father" of modern country
music. The celebration commemorating the singing brakeman's musical feats was not yet a
highly commercial event. Although Rodger's untimely death of tuberculosis at age thirtysix
established his musical legacy, nevertheless, many of meridian's citizens were unhappy
about the celebration. As a result, there was a mixed community reaction when Rodger's
Mississippi friends organized the weekend feat. The Meridian Star advertised a talent
contest open only to local Mississippi performers. The musical talent contest was an
attempt to showcase local artists and popularize Jimmie Rodger's music. Unwittingly, the
contest promoters attracted many fledgling rockabilly singers like Elvis Presley, performers
who were young men dreaming of fame and fortune, and who, like Elvis Presley, weren't
necessarily local Mississippi performers any longer.
Lamar Hotel, 5th Street, Meridian, Mississippi, 1950s. >
MAY 26, 1953 TUESDAY
Elvis Presley was only a week away from High School graduation, but the Jimmie Rodgers talent contest occupied all his thoughts. When Elvis Presley arrived in the sleepy Mississippi town, Elvis went immediately to the Lamar Hotel. It was in this hotel that Jimmie Rodgers was treated by his Meridian physician, Dr. Inman Cooper. To local citizens, the hotel symbolized Rodgers' tragic end.
Consequently, it was selected as the site of the amateur
singing contest. This magnificent old Southern hotel had a spacious ballroom, an open
garden sitting area, and a sumptuous dining room. The crowd milling around the Lamar
consisted largely of country music purists. Red, white, and blue bunting covering the stage
of the hotel, an idea proposed by the Meridian Star, mirrored a patriotic theme that pleased
The contest rules were strict ones; each performer was to be given a maximum
of four minutes to perform his song. The audience ended up being shocked by some of the
entrants, which included a bunch of young kids singing uptempo rockabilly songs that,
according to one observer, violated all the hallowed traditions of country music. Clearly,
although the rockabilly revolution was on its way - with Elvis Presley was in the vanguard of
the movement - it would be an uphill battle.
© - 706 UNION AVENUE SESSIONS - ©
LIVE APPEARANCE FOR ELVIS PRESLEY
LAMAR HOTEL, 5TH STREET, DOWTOWN, MERIDIAN, MISSISSIPPI
LIVE APPEARANCE: MAY 26, 1953 TUESDAY
"We performed together on May 26 in Meridian at the Jimmie Rodgers Celebration. That was my birthday", said Martha Ann Barhanovich, one of the young singers on the musical contest.
01 - "OLD SHEP" – B.M.I.
Composer: - Clyde "Red" Foley-Willis Arthur
Red Foley and Willis Arthur wrote "Old Shep" in 1933. The song was about Foley's
19-year-old German Shepherd dog, "Hoover", who had been poisoned.
it wasn't until 1940 that Foley recorded his song.
Publisher: - L. Writh Music Limited.
Recorded: - Unknown - Elvis Presley Performance - May 26, 1953
02 - ''UNKNOWN''
Name (Or. No. Of Instruments)
Elvis Presley - Vocal and Acoustic Rhythm Guitar (Martin Dreadnought 18)
Before performed, Elvis Presley, like many of the contestants, wandered around Meridian. He walked to the small city park and looked curiously at a 1904 Baldwin locomotive with eight wheels. The locomotive was painted red and protected from the public by a fence. Next to the locomotive, a statue of Jimmie Rodgers occupied a conspicuous spot. A small plaque praised Rodgers' contribution to country music.
During the day's celebration, a unique event occurred when Bill Bruner, a local musician who had recorded for Okeh Records, donated a guitar that Jimmie Rodgers had given to him. During a 1929 country music show in Meridian, Rodgers was too sick to perform, and Bill Bruner took his place. After the show Rodgers showed his appreciation to Bruner by giving him the guitar. It was one of Bruner's prized possessions, and he decided to pass it on to a deserving country musician. On May 26, 1953, Bruner presented the guitar to Hank Snow's son, Jimmie Rodgers Snow. As Elvis Presley viewed the ceremony, he had no idea that the next two years he would be touring with Hank Snow and his manager Colonel Tom Parker.
As Elvis Presley waited to go on stage, he nervously paced around behind the contestant's area. What song should he sing? What type of vocal presence should he cultivate? There was always one song that Elvis Presley felt safe performing: "Old Shep". But was this song right for the Jimmie Rodgers celebration? Elvis Presley had sung "Old Shep" many times at home, and to conquer his shaky nerves he decided to perform it in Meridian. Elvis Presley finished second in the contest and won a new guitar. The Meridian Star didn't publish a list of contestants nor the prizes awarded, and Elvis' performance generally escaped public notice, but the new guitar was prize enough. With summer approaching, Elvis Presley planned to continue performing at amateur night in local Memphis clubs, so a new guitar was a nice bonus.
When Elvis Presley left the Jimmie Rodgers festival, Elvis had taken his first serious step toward a professional music career. His performing style was still largely country, but Elvis Presley was responding to the signs of musical change. The clubs that he frequented in Memphis, northern Mississippi, and West Memphis, Arkansas, were vibrant with rockabilly sounds.
A thorough search of the Meridian Star turned up no mention of an amateur hour as part of the festivities in 1953. The affair began on the evening of May 25 with a banquet as the Railroad Trainmen's Lodge No. 373.
On Tuesday, May 26, a full day of activities included a train ride to the Jimmie Rodgers memorial park where a monument was dedicated, a banquet sponsored by the Jaycess, and entertainment at Meridian Junior College Stadium. Billboard's review of the festivities (June 6, 1953) does not mention any amateur contest. The confusion may come from the fact that during the May 26 singing program, one of Jimmie Rodgers' original guitars was presented to seventeen-year old Jimmie Rodgers Snow.
© - 706 UNION AVENUE SESSIONS - ©
CLYDE JULIAN "RED" FOLEY
- (1910-1968) One of the founding fathers of country music, he
was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967. Born in Bluelick, Kentucky, on June
17, 1910, Red Foley was a veteran of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1935, country singer Red Foley
composed with Willia Arthus the song "Old Shep", but Arthur never mentioned on Elvis
In 1955 he moved to network television with "Ozark Jubilee", a show that he hosted. It
was on his program in 1956 that Elvis Presley and Charlie Hodge, lead singer of the Foggy
River Boys, first together.
One of Foley's daughters, Shirley Lee, is married to Pat Boone
and is the mother of singer Debby Boone, Foley's granddaughter.
Elvis Presley recorded a number of songs that Red Foley had previously recorded: "Shake A
Hand" (Decca 28839), "Peace In The Valley" (Decca 14573), "Old Shep" (Decca 46052), "I
Believe" (Decca 28694), "It Is No Secret" (Decca 14566), and "Just Call Me Lonesome"
(Decca 29626). Elvis Presley is believed to have recorded two other Foley songs at Sun
Records: "Tennessee Saturday Night" (Decca 46136) and "Blue Guitar" (Decca 29626). Elvis
Presley sang Foley's "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" (Decca 14505) at Eddie Fadal's house in
Waco, Texas, 1958.
There is a photo of Red Foley in Vince Everett's cell in the 1957 movie "Jailhouse Rock". In
the 1975 movie "Nashville", Henry Gibson portrayed Haven Hamilton, a character loosely
based on Red Foley.
Clyde Julian "Red" Foley died on September 19, 1968 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
JAMES CHARLES "JIMMIE" RODGERS
- (1897-1933) Generally acknowledged as "The Father of
Country Music", James Charles "Jimmie" Rodgers, who was born September 8, 1897 in Pine
Springs, Lauderdale County, Mississippi, was a major influence on the emerging "hillbilly"
recording industry almost from the time of his first records in November 1927 when he first
introduced of his Blue Yodels (the still-popular 'T for Texas').
His father was Aaron Rodgers, a
railroad foreman and his mother was Eliza Bozeman, and he was one of 3 children.
moved to Scooba, Mississippi, then to Meridian, Mississippi as child and raised in and around
the railroad yards learning songs and learned the instruments from the railroad workers in
his youth, won an amateur contest in the local theater in Meridian, Mississippi in 1911.
Then he toured briefly with the passing medicine show and worked outside the music (as
section hand on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad) from 1911 into 1912, continued working outside
the music on various railroad jobs through the Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas area in 1913
into 1923 and toured briefly with Billy Terrel's Comedians in 1923.
Jimmie Rodgers married Stella Kelly from 1917 to 1919 (1 child), and after divorce he
married Cecil Williamson 1920 to 1933 (2 children), Jimmy is influenced by Blind Lemon
Jefferson and influenced artists to John Arnold, Frank Floyd, Merle Haggard, John Hurt,
Kenneth Threadgill and Ernest Tubb, and, of course, Elvis Presley.
Although Rodgers initially conceived of himself in broader terms, singing Tin Pan Alley hits
and popular standards, his intrinsic musical talent was deeply rooted in the rural southern
environment out of which he came, as seen in the titles of many of his songs: "My Carolina
Sunshine Girl", "My Little Old Home Down In New Orleans", "Dear Old Sunny South By The
Sea", "Mississippi River Blues", "Peach Pickin' Time Down In Georgia", "Memphis Yodel", "In
The Hills Of Tennessee", the original "Blue Yodel" ("T For Texas"), and others.
In adapting the black country blues of his native South to the nascent patterns of
commercial hillbilly music of the day, Rodgers created a unique new form - the famous
"blue yodel" - which led the way to further innovations in style and subject matter and
exerted a lasting influence on country music as both art form and industry. Through the
force of his magnetic personality and showmanship, Rodgers almost single-handedly
established the role of the singing star, influencing such later performers as Gene Autry,
Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Elvis Presley, George Jones, and Willie Nelson.
Rodgers frequently entertained for friends, social groups, and gatherings in Meridian,
Mississippi through the 1920s, and continued outside the music in 1924 into 1927.
Stricken by tuberculosis in 1924, he left the rails soon after to pursue his childhood dream
of becoming a professional entertainer. Retired from railroad work he settled in Asheville,
North Carolina to work outside the music with frequent work at the local parties and
dances in the area from 1927, appeared on the WWNC-radio in Asheville in 1927, he
formed the Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers for working at the Kiwanis carnival in Johnson
City, Tennessee in 1927.
After several years of hard knocks and failure, he gained an audition and first recorded on
August 4, 1927 with Ralph Peer, an independent producer who had set up a temporary
recording studio in Bristol, Tennessee, for the Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA
Victor) in Camden, New Jersey. There, on August 4, 1927, Rodgers made his first
recordings. Working on occasional theater and club dates in Washington D.C. in 1927-
1928, appeared on the Monday Night Feature on WTFF-radio in Washington D.C in 1928,
and toured with the Loew's vaudeville circuit on working at theaters through the South
and Southeast in 1928, recorded for the Victor label in Camden New Jersey and Atlanta,
Georgia in 1928; toured with Paul English Players on working theaters dates in 1929,
recorded for the Victor label in New York City and New Orleans, Louisiana, in Dallas, Texas
and Atlanta, Georgia in 1929.
Within a year he reached national popularity and received billings as "The Singing
Brakeman" and "America's Blue Yodeler", appeared in the film The Singing Brakeman in
1929, and worked at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, Texas in 1929, toured Keith-
Orpheum-Interstate circuit on working theater dates through the South in 1929.
In 1929 he built a home in the resort town of Kerrville, Texas, and moved there in an
effort to restore his failing health. The onset of the Depression and increasing illness
further slowed the progress of his career, but throughout the early 1930s he continued to
record and perform with touring stage shows. He toured with Swain's Hollywood Follies on
working theaters trough the South in 1930, recorded for the Victor label in Hollywood,
California in 1930, and settled in San Antonio, Texas, toured with Will Rogers on working
charity shows through Texas and Oklahoma in 1931, worked on the Leslie E Kell Shows in
Houston and Dallas, Texas in 1931, recorded for the Victor label in San Antonio, Texas and
Louisville, Kentucky in 1931 into 1932.
Jimmie Rodgers worked with Robert Nighthawk in Jackson, Mississippi in 1931 and appeared
on his own show on KMAC-radio in San Antonio, Texas in 1932, and briefly toured with J.
Doug Morgen Show in 1932 and recorded at last for Victor label in New York City in 1933.
By the time of his death of pulmonary tuberculosis in New York City at 35 on May 26,
1933, he had recorded 110 titles, representing a diverse repertoire that included almost
every type of song now identified with country music: love ballads, honky-tonk tunes,
railroad and hobo songs, cowboy songs, novelty numbers, and the series of 13 blue yodels.
A statue was erected in Meridian, Mississippi in 1953. On November 3, 1961 Rodgers
became the first performer elected to Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame,
immortalized as "the man who started it all". He won American Music Conference National
Music Award in 1976 and a US commemorative postage stamp was issued in his honour in
Jimmie Rodgers is buried at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Meridian, Mississippi. Although
generally neglected by historians of the blues, his adherence to the twelve-bar,
threephrase form helped promote and sustain this as the most common blues vehicle and
made country music say, "Blues, How Do You Do?". T he accuracy and authenticity of his
blues singing stand as an instructive early memorial - on records - to the interaction of
white and black that has so profoundly enriched western music in the cities and the
heartlands of America. Rodgers' efforts crystallized the white blues form and insured its
future in country music.
- Located at 127 Madison Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, this was a hall
that Marcus Van Story played in, bringing his brand of rockabilly and blues music to Memphis'
Elvis Presley played at the Institute in 1953 and 1954 and this venue was
instrumental in allowing Elvis Presley's talent to develop.
UNKNOWN DATE MAY 1953 FRIDAY
Marcus Van Story, one of the young musicians from Lauderdale Courts, recalls playing with
Elvis Presley at the Goodwyn Institute, located at 127 Madison Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee,
a local music hall where amateurs were encouraged to perform and led by Ray Sexton. According to Van Story, he
and Elvis Presley sang country songs here on several occasions.
On Friday night, Van Story's
band performed at a local hall. Sam Phillips had first heard Van Story at the Institute, and
quickly hired him as a studio musician. "Elvis would wander in and we would do mostly
country songs", Van Story remembered. "He had a real way with the crowd".
Elvis Presley also ventured to West Memphis to sit in with Charlie Feather's band. They appeared on
the West Memphis Jamboree, a show hosted by Uncle Richard (Dick Steward) that was broadcast over
KWEM on Saturday nights. In a dingy back-room record shop on Beale Street in 1953, Elvis Presley
listened to Franklin McCormick's vocal on "Are You Lonesome Tonight". McCormick, a Chicago radio
announcer, was the lead singer for the Blue Barron's Orchestra in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and
his vocal stylings were similar to those Elvis Presley used in his own ballads. Elvis listened to McCormick's song, and his own version of ''Are You Lonesome Tonight'' ended up a virtual copy.
MARCUS VAN STORY
- Relatively obscure, yet seminally important figure in the Sun Records
story. Born in Corinth, Mississippi on May 3, 1920 as a young man, Van Story was heavily
influenced by black musicians.
When he heard Deford Bailey's harmonica on the "Grand Ole
Opry", Van Story was surprised to find that Bailey was black, and he began the eagerly learn
from local black artists. As a result Van Story became a multi-talented artist who could play
In the early 1950s, van Story played with the Snearly Ranch Boys, and he
toured with Warren Smith. Van Story's singing style was one that used a blues harmonica,
and he often sang "Milkcow Blues" and Arthur Crudup's "My Baby Left Me".
In 1953-1955, Elvis Presley performed with Marcus Van Story on a number of occasions
and they were friends from 1953 to 1955. Although he raised a family and worked a day
job, Van Story's vocal performances and musical skill had an enormous impact upon the
young Elvis Presley. The significance of Marcus van Story is that he helped Elvis Presley to
pace his early shows. At the Goodwin Institute, located at 127 Madison Avenue, Memphis,
Tennessee, where Van Story had a regular show, he taught Elvis Presley to calm down and
work the audience. Another important aspect of Van Story's influence is that he taught
Elvis Presley to wait for the instrumental break in a song and then give the musicians a
change to finish their licks. "I think Elvis learned a lot from the shows in Memphis", Van
Story remarked in 1986.
Marcus Van Story is one of the original musicians who crafted the rockabilly sound that made Sun
Records in Memphis famous, Van Story was known as the ''Slap Bass King'' for his prowess on the
upright bass. He toured with Memphis musicians and recorded at Sun Records during the era when
Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and other artists were redefining American music. "He
was a character'', said Barbara Pittman, who recorded at Sun from 1956-1960. "He played percussion
bass, he popped those strings''.
Van Story had toured and recorded with the Sun Rhythm Section, a group of six veteran musicians who had worked with Elvis and others. The ensemble's most recent album was ''Old Time Rock 'N Roll''. He was one of the original rockabillies'', said his son, Eddie Van Story of Nesbit, Mississippi. "People came from all over the world to interview him''. Van Story's longest association during the classic era of the late 1950s and early 1960s was with Warren Smith, a Sun rockabilly star who never achieved the fame of Presley or Perkins. Smith was best known for such wild rock songs as ''Ubangi Stomp'' and ''Miss Froggie'', the story of a woman "shaped just like a frog" who enjoyed "drinking muddy water and sleeping in a hollow log''. On the road with Smith, Van Story would sometimes black out a tooth and paint freckles on his face to add an element of hillbilly humor to the act.
Van Story first became involved in music at the local church. He moved to Memphis in 1946. He began playing in local clubs, and made the acquaintance of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. Van Story added harmonica and backup vocals to some records, as well as playing bass. He recorded his only solo album in 1977, ''Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-Oh-Dee - Memphis Wildcat Marcus Van Story''. The album was released by Barrelhouse Records of Chicago. In recent years, Sun Rhythm Section tours took Van Story all over the world, especially Europe. The other members of the group were D.J. Fontana, guitarists Paul Burlison and Sonny Burgess, guitarist and bass player Stan Kesler, and pianist Smoochy Smith. Van Story worked as a welder when not recording or on tour. For more than 14 years, he worked at ''Sweet's Trailer Hitch & 4-Wheel Drive'' shop on Summer Avenue in Memphis. He was an Army veteran and a member of Bethel Baptist Church.
On Friday April 24, 1992, Marcus Van Story died at Methodist Hospital in Memphis of a heart attack at the age of 71.
UNKNOWN DATE MAY 1953
Elvis Presley with Regis Wilson Vaughn, a fourteen-year-old freshman at Holy Name School,
o the senior prom, which was held at the Continental Ballroom in the Peabody Hotel.
never told Regis about the talent show at high school, he never talked about becoming a
singer, "he talked about finding a job so that he could afford to buy a house for his mother",
recalled Regis Vaughn.
High School prom date of Elvis Presley (right) and Regis Wilson Vaughan (left) posing during prom at Peabody Hotel from Humes High School, Memphis, May 1953. >
Regis Wilson Vaughn lived in Lauderdale Courts for six years before moving to nearby
Merriweather Street. When they dated for three months during the spring of Elvis' senior
year, she was fourteen and Elvis was eighteen.
Just three years later, many a teenage girl
would swoon over the idea of going to the prom with Elvis, but its doubtful anyone would
have imagined it just as it happened.
Elvis Presley rented a blue tuxedo and a shine blue Chevrolet for the prom. When he
picket up Regis at her house, he pinned a pink corsage on her. "It's hard to believe, but he
did not know how to dance", Regis remembers. After the prom, he took her to a drive-in
restaurant on Lamar Avenue where some of his friends said they would meet them. "We
waited and waited, but his friends never showed up". "At fourteen you can't really be in
love with someone, but I liked him a lot", Regis said. They dated until she moved to Florida
that May. When Elvis Presley performed in Miami in 1956, she went to the show and tried
to get backstage, but the security guard didn't believe her when she said she knew Elvis
Presley. "I knew him at a time when his life was simple and he was sweet. I'd just have to
say it was a special time", Regis said.
Regis Wilson Vaughan with Elvis Presley and other friends to the senior prom, which was held at the Continental Ballroom in the Peabody Hotel, May 1953. Elvis Presley rented a blue tuxedo and a shine blue Chevrolet for the prom. >
THE REAL STORY OF REGIS WILSON VAUGHN
She wore a new pink dress, a hairdo she got free at the beauty school and shoes she`d saved from Easter. He
rented a dark blue tuxedo and a new Chevy with money he'd made ushering at the theater. He wore blue
suede shoes. His own.
It was prom night for the Class of `53 at Humes High School in Memphis, Tennessee. Pompadoured and
sideburned, Elvis, the only real Elvis, future King of Rock And Roll, came to her door and pinned a pink
carnation corsage onto Regis Wilson, future housewife of Herb the Drag Bucket Salesman.
There's a picture in a fan magazine to prove it. Of him, it says: ''The star-to-be wearing a tuxedo for the first
time …''. About her it says: ''Gladys Presley provided this snapshot ... but could not remember the young
Her name now is Regis Vaughn. Has been for 32 years, since she married Herb who now is a national
contract sales manager for Bassett Bedding. She's got three daughters and a lovely home in Fort Lauderdale
Regis, the unknown young lady on the star-to-be's arm, is happy and alive. Elvis, no offense, isn`t. But when
he was both, when who you took to your senior prom really meant something, Elvis took Regis. He was 18.
She was 14. It was a big deal. It got bigger.
''I don't go around telling people the story that much'', Regis says, ''because it's like they say 'Yeah, sure''.
Yeah, sure, Regis. And he probably danced you into the Memphis moonlight and loved you tender.
Here`s some news you'll like, boys: Elvis, who mothers would fear, who said more with a 2-second curled lip
than the rest of us will say in a lifetime, was a dud as prom dates go. ''It`s hard to believe, but he did not
know how to dance'', Regis says. ''And I loved to dance, but I said, 'That's all right. So we sat the whole
Elvis sat the whole evening at his senior prom.
And Regis sat the whole evening beside him. Because Regis had a crush on Elvis. Had one since she used to
watch him in the playground of the housing project where they each lived. And since the day he gave her a
ride home from a birthday party a few years later.
But he was 18 and she was 14, which is not like being, say, 28 and 24. And isn't that just a little, uh, unusual?
''I've read where Priscilla was 14 when he met her. And by that time he was in his 20s'', Regis says. ''So I
don`t know. Maybe...''.
Maybe Elvis was looking for someone to replace the girl he took to his senior prom because that girl left
him. Moved to Florida. Faded out of his life like a black and white promenade photo. Gone. As if he`d never
sat beside her in the front-porch glider, parted his handsome and formidable lips and sung right into her
barely teen-aged face: ''Evening shadows make me blue; when each weary day is through; how I long to be
with you, my happiness...''.
Maybe Regis Wilson broke Elvis Presley's heart. Fact is, we know Elvis kept his picture from the senior
prom; Regis lost hers in the move to Florida. And just maybe it`s no coincidence that ''My Happiness'' ended
up on a 45 from a boy in Memphis.
Maybe Elvis needed you, Regis Wilson Vaughn. Maybe Herb does, too. But darn it, Elvis didn`t have many
friends. Not even on prom night.
''There was supposed to be a party at a drive-in on Lamar Street after the prom'', Regis says. ''Some of his
friends were going to meet us there, so we drove there and waited and waited, but his friends never showed
So on his senior prom night, what should have been the biggest night of his life, Elvis didn`t dance with his
date, didn`t party because his friends stood him up. The future King, our King, ended his date by midnight,
then drove off in his rented car and rented tux.
We don`t know what he did next. So let's believe that Elvis went to Beale Street in his blue suede shoes and
danced like a man whose sideburns weren`t all that made him different.
There was trouble in the Wilson house and her parent' divorce led to Regis moving here. She had been seeing
Elvis for about six months when she left.
Their first date had been to a gospel singing, and Elvis sort of embarrassed her when he tried to hit the high
notes along with the quartets. She says that he used to talk about the future, about having a job and buying a
house for mama.
And here's how Elvis talked to the girl he took to his senior prom: ''He said to me 'You look pretty when I
look you right in the face, but if you turn sideways, you don't have a good profile'', says Regis. ''It`s funny I
should even remember that''.
Then Regis left to become the girl whose name Gladys Presley couldn't remember and Elvis went on to
''At 14, you can`t really be in love with someone'', Regis says, ''but I liked him a lot. I didn`t want to say
goodbye, I just wanted to leave it at that point''.
When Elvis played Miami in 1956, she went to the theater and tried to get backstage. ''But I know Elvis'', she
told the security guard. ''Sure you do'', said the guard.
She gets back to Memphis for funerals. She didn`t go to its biggest one. She thinks all of that is a shame.
''What happened to him later in life was tragic'', Regis says. ''I knew him at a time when his life was simple,
and he was sweet. I'd just have to say it was a special time''.
Regis kept her prom dress, but not because it was the one she wore to go out with Elvis. That's why she
keeps it now, but back then she kept it because she used it again when she was a junior at Fort Lauderdale
High. When she started to school there, her new friends asked her if she had a boyfriend. ''Well, I had one
back in Memphis'', Regis told them. ''His name was Elvis''.
James E. Hamill >
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER 1953
While listening to Charley's records during his senior year at Humes High, Elvis Presley talked at length to
Ronald Smith about his hopes for a music career, Elvis' early thoughts about show business were also
articulated to the son of the First Assembly of God paster, James E. Hamill. By the summer of 1953, as Elvis
Presley walked down to the First Assembly of God church at 1085 McLemore Avenue, he considered his
"Elvis Presley wanted to be a gospel singer", Ronald Smith remarked. "He liked pop and
hillbilly music, but it made him uneasy. He was a religious young man with a feeling for the church".
Humes High School classmate memory of Elvis by Juanita Richardson-Mitchell. ''Since Elvis lived near by, I
did see him quite a bit, but we weren’t close friends. We were in the same homeroom and had a class
together in the 12th grade. I remember one funny story. We were invited to a weiner roast at Mattie’s house. I
rode with Elvis and his friends because they didn’t know where she lived. When we arrived, Mattie’s dad
was "supervising" the festivities. When Elvis got out of the car and started, well, being his usual nutty self by
taking off a silly floppy hat and slapping it against his leg and dancing around to the music, Mattie‘s dad was
not terribly amused. He was sure that Elvis was drunk. We convinced "Dad" that Elvis wasn’t under the
influence; he was just "normally" that way!
After Elvis became well known, I saw him in Lowenstein’s Department Store located at 27 South Main
Street. I didn’t want to bother him ( I figured that enough people were doing that already) so I walked on by.
Then I heard him say "What! Aren’t you speaking these days''? I turned and said "Sure, I just figured you
wouldn’t want to be spoken to''! He laughed and said "My friends will always be my friends''. We had a nice
chat, right there in the middle of the store. It was nice to catch up''.
REVEREND JAMES E. HAMILL - Pastor of the First Assembly of God Church at 1085
McLemore Avenue in Memphis, which the Presley's attended. In the fall of 1953 Reverend
James E. Hamill held an audition at the church to form a gospel quartet. Elvis Presley
auditioned and after he sang, Hamill told him, "Give it up". Reverend Hamill gave the
eulogy at Gladys Presley's funeral in August 1958.
Trade token for the Cotton Club, West Memphis, Arkansas. >
DATE SUMMER 1953
Elvis Presley discovered the music at Grady Loftin's Cotton Club, Broadway Street, in West
Memphis, Arkansas. This was one of the most popular spots in the area for musicians to play
Johnny Burnette often accompanied Elvis Presley, and they were greatly
influenced by the blues and rockabilly sounds that local musicians employed in
extemporaneous jam sessions. Paul Burlison remembers going in the back door of the Cotton
Club to talk to Howlin' Wolf. "We all loved the Wolf's music, it had something special to it".
Also on the Cotton Club, Elvis Presley watched Harmonica Frank play a small harmonica.
"Harmonica Frank could put that thing in his mouth and play it like a violin", Marcus Van
Story noted. "No one could play blues licks better than Harmonica Frank", Ronald Smith
added. "Elvis Presley was in awe of his talent".
One such incident involved with Clyde Leoppard, whose band performed at the Cotton
Club in West Memphis, Arkansas. Leoppard's earliest band, the Snearly Ranch Boys, were
Around the same time at Elvis' first private recording session at the Sun
studio, Leoppard informed Presley that he couldn't sing anymore during intermissions at
the Cotton Club. "I can sing as well as anyone in your band", Elvis remarked. "Forget it,
kid", Leoppard replied.
From left: Stan Kesler, (steel guitar); Buddy Holobaugh, (guitar); Clyde Leoppard, (drums); Bill Taylor, (trumpet); Smokey Joe Baugh (piano); Barbara Pittman, (vocals). >
Marcus Van Story couldn't figure out the reason for this exchange
between Elvis Presley and Clyde Leoppard. Of course, it didn't help that the young girls
hung around the bandstand when Elvis Presley played.
It was obvious that there was
something about Elvis Presley that irritated Leoppard. As it turned out, Leoppard had
complained for months to Charlie Feathers that Elvis Presley was doing his best to get into
the band, and that he thought Elvis was a brash kid who needed more experience before
he would ever play for him.
In 1960, the Cotton Club in West Memphis was closed after an under-age girl who had
visited the club was murdered nearby.
Page of the
The Herald, the Humes High yearbook 1953. >
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER 1953
One night during the summer of 1953, as Elvis Presley sat in the back of Flamingo, a Beale
Street Night Club, a young, black piano player, Billy "The Kid" Emerson, approached him, and
they spent some time talking about the local music scene. During this visits with Elvis
Presley at the Flamingo, Emerson played a number of Big Joe Turner songs.
they talked, Emerson told Elvis the story of a song he had written while listening to Turner.
The tune was entitled "When It Rains, It Really Pours", and it had a powerful impact upon
Elvis Presley. "That song", Emerson remarked to Colin Escott, "was nearly a monster seller. I
wanted Elvis to cut it".
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER JUNE 1953
Elvis Presley with some friends stopped by Meteor Recording Studio, located on 1794
Chelsea Avenue in Memphis, for an private recording. Meteor Records was owned and
operated by the brothers Lester and Jules Bihari, and during the short visit, Jules Bihari
reference Elvis Presley and his friends to Sam Phillips' Memphis Recording Service, located
on 706 Union Avenue, for make your private records.
JUNE 1, 1953 MONDAY
Jim Bulleit, owner of Bullet Records in Nashville, drove five singing prisoners at the
Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville to Memphis. The Prisonaires arrived at 706 Union
Avenue to make their first record for Sun Records (SUN 186). It is very likely, the item about
the session in an article on June 2, 1953 from reporter Clark Porteous, that captured the
attention of Elvis Presley.
At 10:30 a.m., they grouped themselves around a microphone at the Sun Records studio,
at the junction of Union and Marshall Avenues in Memphis. The guard and the trusty went
next door to Taylor's Restaurant, and the group tried to get a recording balance for Sun
Records' owner Sam Phillips. They sang in the sweet close harmony style for which Phillips
had little affection, so he called over to local bottling and vending don, Drew Canale, and
asked if his houseboy, Joe Hill Louis, could come down and sit in on guitar. Louis' music
was at the polar opposite extreme of black music: raw, unsophisticated and bluesy. "You
guys are good", said Louis to Bragg, "but you've got to stick together". Bragg replied that,
with three of the group in for 99 years, there was not much change of doing otherwise.
© - 706 UNION AVENUE SESSIONS - ©
STUDIO SESSION FOR THE PRISONAIRES
AT THE MEMPHIS RECORDING SERVICE FOR SUN RECORDS 1953
SUN STUDIO, 706 UNION AVENUE, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
PRESTO 6-N LATHE WITH PRESTO 1D CUTTING HEAD
3 AMPEX 350 C (54L-220) TAPE RECORDERS
THE TAPE DELAY ECHO (SLAPBACK)
CONNECT TO FIVE INPUT RCA MONAURAL MIXING CONSOLE 76-D
WITH MULTI-SELECTOR SWITCH (SERIAL NUMBER 1011)
SUN SESSION: JUNE 1, 1953 MONDAY
SESSION HOURS: 10:30 A.M. TO 8:30 P.M.
PRODUCER AND RECORDING ENGINEER - SAM C. PHILLIPS
Johnny Bragg, the lead singer of the Prisonaires, suggests that Elvis Presley's face was a familiar sight at Sun as early as June 1953. Bragg clearly recalled that Elvis Presley was present during the all-day session on June 1, 1953 that resulted in "Just Walkin' In The Rain".
"I was having problems phrasing some of the words", said Bragg. "Sam was ready to give up on it, and here come this guy out of nowhere, wearing raggedy blue jeans. He said, "I believe I can help him pronounce the words". Sam got mad. He said, "Didn't I tell you to stay outta here? These men are prisoners. We're likely to be sued". I said, "If he thinks he can help me phrase this thing, give him a chance". I was getting disgusted because Sam didn't like "Just Walkin' In The Rain", and I knew it could amount to something. Eventually, Sam said, "Ok, let him try", so we took a break, and Elvis Presley worked with me on my diction. He didn't know too much about what he was doing, but he worked with me on it, and when we went back, we got it the first cut". According to Bragg, that visitor, was Elvis Presley. If so, it means he was hanging around the Sun studio a year before his first record was cut, which invites a minor re-write of history. Bragg may have telescoped the time frame, confusing the first Prisonaires session with a later one; certainly, there is no mention of Presley in his article. Still, its fairly clear that Elvis Presley met Bragg at some point in 1953 or early 1954 when the
Prisonaires were recording for Sun. The last Prisonaires session logged at Sun was in February 1954, although they returned for another unlogged session, when Sam Phillips recorded them over outtakes of Elvis Presley's reeltape "Good Rockin' Tonight". Elvis Presley remembered Johnny Bragg and went to the Tennessee State Penitentiary in 1960 to visit him - "He has known Bragg from back when he was starting out", said the accompanying report.
01 - "JUST WALKIN' IN THE RAIN" – B.M.I. - 2:45
Composer: - Robert Riley-Johnny Bragg-Buddy Killen
Publisher: - Hi-Lo Music Incorporated - Wortham Music - Golden West Melodies
Matrix number: - U 76
Recorded: - June 1, 1953
Released: - July 8, 1953
First appearance: - Sun Records (S) 78rpm standard single SUN 186-A mono
JUST WALKIN' IN THE RAIN / BABY PLEASE
Reissued: - 1990 Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 15523 mono
THE PRISONAIRES - JUST WALKIN' IN THE RAIN
This is, perhaps even primitive, vocal harmony record with minimal instrumental support, which is precisely what five guys sitting around a prison cell should sound like. So much for "Just Walkin' In The rain", which went on to become a minor standard after Johnnie Ray cut it three years later.
Joe Hill Louis hard edge brought considerable counterpoint to the relatively smooth harmonies of "Baby Please". Sam Phillips wasn't at his best in trying to produce the Prisonaires, and, surprisingly, he saw "Baby Please" as the top side.
They worked on two songs until 8:30 p.m. Louis gave a hard, bluesy edge to one of the songs, "Baby Please" - for which he was paid $10.00, but the group persuaded Phillips to make Louis sit out the other song, "Just Walking In The Rain". Sam Phillips saw potential in "Baby Please", but Johnny Bragg and the other group members knew that "Just Walking In The Rain" held something special. They didn't want its poignancy destroyed by Louis' rough-hewn guitar licks.
02 - "BABY PLEASE" – B.M.I. - 2:25
Composer: - Robert Riley
Publisher: - Hi-Lo Music Incorporated - Wortham Music - Golden West Melodies
Matrix number: - U 75
Recorded: - June 1, 1953
Released: - July 8, 1953
First appearance: - Sun Records (S) 78rpm standard single SUN 186 mono
BABY PLEASE/ JUST WALKIN' IN THE RAIN
Reissued: - 1990 Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 15523 mono
THE PRISONAIRES - JUST WALKIN' IN THE RAIN
Most of an interview with Johnny Bragg was reported on June 2, 1953 by Clark Porteous in the "Memphis Commercial Appeal". Porteous made no mention of another visitor to the session.
Name (Or. No. Of Instruments)
Johnny Bragg - Lead Tenor Vocal, has been in prison since he was 16,
thinks he is 27 now. Under sentence he cannot be paroled.
John E. Drue - Lead Tenor Vocal, 29 years-old, doubles as master of
His regular job is chauffeur for the prison's warde.
William Steward - Baritone Vocal and Guitar, for eight other children
in family despite his confinement,
30-years-old, has become photographer,
movie projectionist and musician singer being imprisoned at the age of 17.
Marcell Sanders - Bass Vocal, 29-years-old, had brief formal voice training.
He will pass up parole to remain with quintet.
Ed Thurman - Tenor Vocal, 36-years-old, he once attended college,
prison Bible study group.
Joe Hill Louis - Electric Guitar
Probably Elvis Presley - Acoustic Rhythm Guitar
© - 706 UNION AVENUE SESSIONS - ©
- Johnny Bragg, 27-years-old from Nashville, was the lead singer in the
Prisonaires. Other members of the group are, John Drue, 29 years-old from Lebanon, lead
tenor vocal; Marcel Sanders, 29-years-old from Chattanooga, bass vocal; 30-year-old Williams
Steward, baritone vocal and guitar who has been imprisoned since he was 17 years old, got
to crying, his mother was crying; and Edward Thurman, 36-years-old from Nashville, tenor
The Prisonaires at the Tennessee State Penitentiary broadcast for local black station WSOK
in Nashville, Tennessee. >
The group was made up of inmates from the Tennessee State Penitentiary. They wrote
and recorded for Sun Records. According to prison records, Johnny Bragg was a badass kid,
born in Nashville, Tennessee on January 18, 1926, and jailed on May 8, 1943 on six counts
According to Bragg, he was born on May, 1929 (the earlier date is his brother's birth
date, which he used because the City had no trace of his own birth), and the prison term
was the result of a frame-up and terrible misunderstanding. "My troubles started when I was
twelve years old", said Bragg cagily. "My friend was dating my girlfriend, we got to fighting,
and she said I tried to rape her. While they had me, they put all these unsolved cases on me,
told the peoples I was the one. Later some of them said they was wrong, and wanted to clear
their consciences before they died. A lady goes to my church, and she shakes her head and
says, 'We sure did you wrong, John'".
Once inside, Bragg joined a gospel group with Ed Thurman, William Steward, Clarence
Moore and another whom Bragg recalls only as 'Sam'. They subsequently argued, and Bragg
formed another group called the Prisonaires. He later brought in 36 year-old Thurman (99
years for murder) as manager, and 30 year-old Steward (99 years for murder) as music
director. Guitarist Steward had a convict since his seventeenth birthday. They were joined
in the early 1950s by John Drue (3 years for larceny), and Marcel Sanders (1 to 5 years for
involuntary manslaughter). Incidentally, it appears as though Steward was not the same
William Steward who recorded country blues for Sun. The William "Talking Boy" Steward
tapes were recorded in 1951, and Bragg recalls that William Steward never played country
It is unclear how the Prisonaires came to be heard outside the prison walls. A
contemporary report stated that Joe Calloway of WSIX, Nashville, was at the prison for a
newscast, heard the group and arranged for them to have a regular show on WSIX, and on
the local black station, WSOK. Calloway's approach came as a wind of change was blowing
through the prison. Previously known as 'Swafford's Graveyard' after the previous warden,
the jail was now being managed by James Edwards, a friend of Governor Frank Clement,
who wanted to prepare the inmates for their return to society.
According to Johnny Bragg, he had already made contact with the outside world - in
particular with hillbilly singers, who would come to the penitentiary to buy songs. "Word
go around there was a nigger who could write any kind of songs", said Bragg. "Hank
Williams come out there, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Little Jimmie Dickens... they all come".
Among the songs that Bragg claims to have sold was "Your Cheatin' Heart", and it is at least
possible that Williams bought the genesis of the song from Bragg, as he bought other songs
that he made uniquely his own. One of those who came to the prison looking for
copyrights was Red Wortham, owner of Wortham Music.
Johnny Bragg says that Wortham came to buy songs from him; according to the
'Commercial Appeal' report, Wortham came to the prison to check out a hillbilly songwriter
(possible Clarence "Two Hats" McKeel who later wrote songs for Hugh X. Lewis and others,
and helped write the lead-sheet for "Just Walking In The Rain"), but was asked to listen to
Not regarding himself a judge of rhythm and blues acts, Wortham sent a tape of the
Prisonaires made at WSIX to his cousin, Jim Bulleit. By that point, Bulleit had a long career
in the Nashville music business - as a partner in Bullet Records, as manager of his own
labels, and representative of others. Early in 1953 he bought himself a minority holding in
Sun Records, and one of his first moves was to forward Wortham's tape to Sam Phillips
with the recommendation that the group be signed. That tape is probably the one that
contains earlier versions of "Just Walking In The Rain" and "Baby Please", together with the
Louis Jordan tune "That Chick's Too Young To Fry". The songs were tapes over a WSIX radio
show, "Youth On Parade", starring Pat Boone.
Johnny Bragg recalled that he had written "Just Walking In The Rain" (SUN 186) in
conjunction with Robert Riley, an inmate who couldn't sing. They were walking to the prison
laundry, when Bragg said, "Here we are walking in the rain. I wonder what the little girls are
doing?". Riley said it sounded like a good song title, and they quickly worked up the song.
Bulleit evidently persuaded Phillips to record the group, while Wortham retained the
music publishing rights. Sam Phillips released "Just Walking In The Rain" on July 8, 1953.
On July 28, Jud Phillips went to Nashville to meet Bulleit and the Prisonaires. Jud had
joined Sun a few months earlier, and was learning the fine art of record promotion and
distribution. "They boys (Prisonaires) are getting from 10 to 25 letters a day from all over
the country", wrote Jud. "They plan to bring all of them to you when they come over. They
make me think of a bunch of baby birds. They are fine boys all of them. I get great joy out
of helping people like that... I know you do too".
Phillips also got great joy from watching the orders roll in. Ebony magazine reported that
"Just Walkin' In The Rain" sold almost a quarter of a million copies, and heaped praise on
the Sun label. If Sam Phillips was able to press 50,000 of this song he was lucky, but the
publicity was important to Sun.
The Prisonaires' lead singer, Johnny Bragg, told a number of reporters that Elvis Presley
helped with the lyrics to "Just Walkin' In The Rain". Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins, in
Good Rockin' Tonight, published in 1991, report Braggs' claim that Elvis Presley was in the
studio when the Prisonaires recorded "Just Walkin' In The Rain". It is unlikely that Elvis
Presley was hanging around Sun Records during the Prisonaires recording sessions. "It was
hard to keep Elvis Presley from the studio", Marcus Van Story remembered. "He loved the
Prisonaires gospel sound". Despite this, Bragg's claim remains unsubstantiated. "I don't
remember Elvis watching the Prisonaires record", Ronald Smith commented. The
Prisonaires were nevertheless an important influence upon both Elvis Presley and Sam
Phillips. Elvis Presley was mesmerized by Bragg's vocals, and Sam Phillips was intrigued by
the crossover sound the Prisonaires produced.
The group making personal appearances on day passes throughout the state, and - with
considerable complication - outside the state. They were held up by Warden Edwards
and Governor Clement as shining examples of rehabilitation. "The hopes of tomorrow
rather than the mistakes of yesterday", gushed Clement, who brought the group to the
governor's mansion, and bought William Steward a new guitar. His enthusiasm earned him
the unissued paean "What About Frank Clement (A Mighty, Mighty Man)", which had "Parole
- Please" written all over it.
Sam Phillips found it impossible to continue the Prisonaires' success, however. As the
follow-up record to "Just Walkin' In The Rain" Phillips selected "Softly And Tenderly" (SUN
189). Billboard reviewed this release enthusiastically, but it failed to sell in large numbers.
Sun Records then released two more pop Prisonaires records before the group faded into
obscurity. There remain a number of unreleased Prisonaires recording, years later,
released by Bear Family Records in Germany.
Around early 1955, the group started breaking up. Drue and Sanders were released,
followed by Steward and Thurman. Surprisingly, Thurman's release excited some
controversy in the local press, "The people of Tennessee can only hope that the killers still
behind bars are non singers", said the editorial in the Nashville Tennessean on April 29,
1955. Bragg re-formed the Prisonaires as the Marigolds with a new set of faces including
Hal Hebb (Bobby Hebb's brother).
Unknown to Bragg, though, events were taking place that would help to secure his future
once he got outside. In May 1954, Joe Johnson (later president of Challence Records, then
working for Gene Autry's publishing company, Golden West Melodies) arranged for Autry to
acquire the copyright of "Just Walking In The Rain" from Red Wortham, shortly after, Autry
recorded a dismal version for Columbia, but Don Law, Columbia's head of country Artist
and Repertoire, saw something in the song, and when he was in New York he ran into
Mitch Miller who was scouting songs for a Johnny Ray session. Ray recorded "Just Walking
In The Rain" on June 29, 1956 in his usual petulant style, and it provide to be his
commercial rebirth after a year or two in the wilderness.
Johnny Bragg claims to have had a premonition of Ray's recording, but he had no
premonition of the vast amount of money it would bring him. "The first cheque was for
$1400", recalls Bragg, "and I told the warden to go ahead and put the cheque in the
commissary so I could buy some candy and so on. I thought the amount was $14.00! The next
cheque was for $7500". Johnny Bragg received and invitation to the Annual BMI Awards
dinner in New York for December 3, 1956. The invitation specified that he could bring a
guest, who - had he gone - would probably have been an armed guard.
By this point, Johnny Bragg was far less keen to sell compositions. He successfully pitched
a few of his songs, including "Don't Bug Me Baby", recorded by Milton Allen for RCA in 1957
(and reissued on Bear Family BFX 15357). Ernie Young, owner of Ernie's record Mart and
Excello/Nashboro Records, signed the Marigolds and they cut four singles, including "Two
Stranger", first recorded by the Prisonaires at Sun. At roughly the same time, another
unissued Prisonaires song, "Don't Say Tomorrow" was cut by the Hollyhocks on Nasco
Records. Detail hounds may care to note that the Marigolds also cut an unreleased version
of the song.
Johnny Bragg was finally released from prison in 1959, and he started recording for Decca
Records in Nashville and writing for Tree Music. However, he was back behind bars again
the following year for robbery and attempted murder, charges that Bragg asserts were setup.
"A man whose name I can't say, said 'If that Bible totin' governor turns that nigger
loose, I'll get him back inside even if I have to frame him", said Bragg darkly. "They charged
me on three counts and finally got me on a charge of stealing $2.50 - and I had all kinds of
money. It was pitiful". UPI reported that Johnny Bragg had indeed been indicted on
charges of stealing $2.50, but that he had done so at gunpoint, whereupon two other
white women identified him as the man who had tried to attack them. One of the charges
finally stuck, and Johnny Bragg went back inside in May 1960.
A few months later, the Elvis Presley connection had its final postscript. Bragg was visited by
Elvis Presley, who had just returned from West-Germany. "He asked repeatedly", said Bragg,
"Did I need a lawyer, was there anything he could do for me". Needing help so bad he could
taste it, Bragg nevertheless declined. "They said if I didn't take the case to the Supreme
Court, they'd get me out in nine months", asserted Brag, "but I didn't get out in nine months,
and that messed me up a little bit".
An article in the local press in Nashville reads:
ELVIS VISITS PRISON. En route home to
Memphis after Wednesday's visit to the State Legislature, singer-actor Elvis Presley
stopped for approximately 45 minutes at the State Prison.
He toured the various
workshops, dining hall, and death-house, and talked briefly with song-writer Johnny
Bragg, who is doing time for a parole violation. "It was Elvis' idea to drive by the
penitentiary", one of his traveling companions - buddy-guard - said. "He has known Bragg
from back when he was starting out as an entertainer; scrounging for a living".
Upon his re-release seven years later, Johnny Bragg formed Elbejay Records in partnership
with Raymond Ligon and Cyril Jackson, and recorded three singles for them. By his
account, he forgave Red Wortham for cheating the Prisonaires out of publishing royalties
on "Just Walking In The Rain", and brought him in as Artist and Repertoire manager at
Johnny Bragg's troubles didn't end upon his re-release, though. He was returned to prison
for shoplifting, and released on parole (for the third time) following the death of his wife,
leaving him a single parent. With his faith and his health still more-or-less, intact, though,
he has done better than the other members of the Prisonaires. They all died in varying
degrees of poverty or distress. The saddest case was that of William Steward who died of
alcohol poisoning in a cheap motel room in Florida. Only Robert Riley manager to eke a
more-or-less successful career in the music business. Before his death he became a
contracted writer at Three Music and cranked out country-soul songs for Nashville-based
labels such as Dial, Todd and Sound Stage Seven.
The Prisonaires gained their moment of fame as a novelty act, but, as his music proves
convincingly, their work transcends more novelty appeal. Johnny Bragg had a stilling lead
tenor that ranks alongside that of his idol, Bill Kenny of the Inkspots. The music they cut
for Sun Records was quite unlike anything else on the label - sophisticated and urbane,
largely lacking the raw edge that Sam Phillips cherished. Certainly, there were some
performances that missed the mark, but there's also "Just Walking In The Rain", a classic
by any criterion.
There is fierce pride in Johnny Bragg - evident in the way he spits out the world
"Penitentiary". There is also darkness within him, which he laid aside to produce some
hauntingly beautiful music.
JUNE 3, 1953 WEDNESDAY
Elvis' L.C. Humes High School commencement, a joyous moment for the Presley family
finally arrived. On that muggy Wednesday night, Elvis Presley anxiously entered the spacious
Ellis Auditorium's South Hall for the graduation ceremony.
In his subdued black tie and new
white shirt, Elvis Presley felt awkward as he walked into the hall with his classmates. As the
Class 202 members of the Humes class of 1953 marched forward to accept their diplomas,
there was an uncomfortable feeling in Elvis' stomach.