- MEMPHIS FROM 1928 THROUGH 1950 -
For detailed photographs see this link:
Booker T. Washington White
John Avery Lomax
Overton Park Shell
Goodman Building (Crawdad's)
Parchman Penitentiary, Parchman, Mississippi
One Munite Dairy Lunch (Willie Mitchell's Blues Club)
New Daisy Theater
Tri-State Bank (Charles E. Carpenter Law Offices)
Antonio Maceo Walker
Poplar Tunes Record Shop
Pape's Men's Shop (Police Station)
Walter ''Furry'' Lewis
Nathaniel Dowd Williams
The Vogue Shop (B.B. King's Gift Shop)
Simon Cohen and Sons (Memphis Music Records)
Home Of The Blues Record Shop
JANUARY 8, 1928
Luther Perkins was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of a Baptist preacher. He grew up in
Como, Mississippi, and taught himself to play rhythm guitar. His creative simple, sparsely
embellished, rhythmic use of Fender Esquire and Jazzmaster guitars is credited for creating
Johnny Cash's ''boom-chicka-boom'' style. Perkins started his career in 1953 as a mechanic at
Automobile Sales Company in Memphis. He specialized in electrical systems and radio
repairs. Roy Cash, Sr., older brother of Johnny Cash, was service manager at the dealership.
At the time, the younger Cash was stationed in Germany with the US Air Force. At
Automobile Sales, Perkins met co-workers Marshall Grant and A.W. ''Red'' Kernodle. Grant,
Kernodle and Perkins began bringing their guitars to work, and would play together when
repair business was slow.
When Johnny Cash moved to Memphis after returning from Germany in 1954, Roy Cash
introduced him to Grant, Kernodle and Perkins. The four began to get together in the
evenings at Perkins' or Grant's home and play songs. It was during this time that they
decided to form a band, with Grant acquiring a string bass, Kernodle a six-string steel guitar,
and Perkins buying a somewhat-abused Fender Esquire electric guitar from the O.K. Houck
Piano Co. in Memphis. The guitar had been modified by a previous owner, and the volume
and tone controls were dysfunctional.
Since he could not control the volume of the single-pickup instrument, Perkins began the
practice of muting the three bass strings (E, A and D) with the heel of his right hand, much in
the style of Merle Travis, and scratching a rhythm pattern (as heard on Sun Records
recordings prior to 1958). This pattern developed into a more defined, varying 1/8-8/5/8-8
picking (with random syncopation) on later Sun recordings and for the rest of Perkins’
In late 1954, when Cash got an audition with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records, he
brought Perkins, Grant and Kernodle along to back him instrumentally. The experience made
Kernodle nervous, and he ended up leaving before the session was over, with Perkins and
Grant providing the instrumentation.
Perkins, as a member of the Tennessee Two (later, the Tennessee Three, with the addition of
drummer W.S. "Fluke" Holland), toured with Cash and appeared on most of his recordings.
He was well known for his laconic, focused demeanor on stage. He was often the target of
jokes by Cash, who would make comments such as "Luther's been dead for years, but he just
doesn't know it".
Perkins was married twice. He and his first wife, Bertie, separated while they were living in
southern California in 1959. Perkins had three daughters from this marriage: Linda, Vicki
and Claudia. He later married Margie Higgins; they had one daughter, Kathy. Margie Perkins
Beaver still appears at Johnny Cash reunion events.
His hobbies were knitting, fishing and guitar. Examples of his knitting are on display at the
Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.
He was a close friend of singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson. At the time of his death, he was
planning to open his own music publishing company and give Kristofferson his first break.
Perkins’ younger brother, Thomas, was a successful rock ‘n’ roll singer in the 1950s and
1960s, under the name of Thomas Wayne.
In his autobiography, Johnny Cash wrote that Perkins was mildly addicted to amphetamines.
They started taking drugs together in the late 1950s. Perkin's nickname was "L.M", the
initials of his first and second name "Luther Monroe". Singer-guitarist Carl Perkins, who was
also a member of Cash's touring show, was not related to Luther Perkins.
During the early morning of August 3, 1968, Perkins returned from fishing on Old Hickory
Lake to his newly-constructed home on Riverwood Drive in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He
apparently went to sleep in the living room while holding a lit cigarette. His daughter awoke
around 6:00 am to find the living room in flames and Perkins collapsed near the door. An
emergency crew rushed Perkins to Vanderbilt University Hospital, where he was kept in
intensive care until finally succumbing on Monday, August 5, 1968.
His grave is near the graves of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash at Hendersonville Memorial
Park in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Luther Perkins was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of
Fame. Perkins and Marshall Grant, as The Tennessee Two, were inducted into the Musicians
Hall of Fame.
In 1980, Perkins' daughters from his first marriage filed suit against Johnny Cash for
embezzling funds that were to have provided retirement income for Perkins. This lawsuit
was filed coincidentally with actions taken by the other founding Tennessee Three member,
Marshall Grant, against Cash for wrongfully firing Grant and embezzlement of Grant's
retirement funds. Both lawsuits were eventually settled out-of-court. (See Johnny Cash
Georgia born Tampa Red records "It's Tight Like That". This song is considered a predecessor
to urban blues and spurned numerous imitators of the song and the style.
JUNE 14, 1929
Mississippi born Charlie Patton records 14 songs for Paramount Records in Richmond,
Indiana. Charlie Patton would influence countless blues guitarists and musicians, including
Son House and Robert Johnson.
The American Record Corporation (ARC) started with the merger of three NY companies:
Cameo, Pathe, and Plaza. The different labels issued from this group include: Banner (1921),
Domino (1924), Jewel (1926), Oriole (1923), Romeo and Perfect. They also shared with
Emerson and Grey Gull (Broadway, paramount and Puritan).
The 78 rpm record is introduced.
Charlie Patton's "Pony Blues" and "High Water Everywhere - Parts I and II" were recorded.
The stock market crashes, plunging the country into the Great Depression.
Bessie Smith appears on Broadway in "Pansy".
Victor's Ralph Peer and representatives from Okeh and Vocalion Records made repeated trips
to Memphis in the years before the Depression. In general, they recorded black music
although country styles were increasingly represented. Few of the artists would see their
careers resurrected after the Depression but one of the survivors would be Reece Fleming.
He recorded for Victor, ARC and Decca as part of a duet with Respers Townsend. In the post
war years he would re-appear at Sun Records in the company of Malcolm Yelvington.
Memphis Municipal Airport opens on Winchester Avenue.
Thomas A. Parker was born Andreas ("Dries") Cornelis van Kuijk in Breda, Holland, entering
the U.S.A. illegally this year and then enlisting in the U.S. Army. Parker was stationed in
Hawaii for roughly two years before mustering out and briefly joining the Johnny J. Jones
and Royal American carnivals, then marrying and settling down in Tampa, where the carnival
people wintered and where he drifted into show business.
Blind Lemon Jefferson dies in Chicago. Both his music and his success had a tremendous
impact blues musicians across the Southern United States.
Nation of Islam founded in Detroit.
The Memphis Jug Band had recorded more than sixty songs for Victor. The group's success
made Memphis the jug band capital, spawning such groups as Gus Gannon's Jug Stompers,
Jed Davenport's Beale Street Jug Band, Memphis Minnie's Jug Band, and even the Memphis
Jug Band offshoot group, the Memphis Sheiks, which featured the MJB's Will Shade, Charlie
Burse, Jab Jones and occasional MJB mandolinist Vol Stevens.
Great Memphis bluesmen Booker T. Washington "Bukka" White, a slide guitarist whose
guttural vocals and intense, driving slide guitar, recorded first in a recording session in
Memphis that produced "The Panama Limited", a song that showcased White's trademark
slide-guitar train imitation. The depression and the end of Memphis field recordings delayed
his next record until 1937.
American Record Corporation was bought by Consolidated Film Industries (CFI) who also
purchased from Warner Brothers the Brunswick, Vocalion and Melotone labels in 1931. The
Brunswick division of ARC purchased Columbia and Okeh in 1934. This division was
purchased by Columbia Broadcasting System in 1938 and became Columbia Recording
Eli Oberstein founded the Crown label in New York City. Victor, who employed Oberstein,
manufactured the records. The Varsity and Gem labels were partnered with Crown.
The left rallies behind "the Scottsboro Boys", nine young black men indicted for raping two
white women aboard a freight train passing through Scottsboro, Alabama.
Memphis salutes King Cotton with the first Cotton Carnival celebration. Even in the depths of
the depression, the Memphis blues thrived on Beale Street. Peter "Memphis Slim" Chatman
recalled in an interview in Arnold Shaw's book about the early independent rhythm and
blues labels, Honkers and Shouters, that the Midway Cafe on Fourth Street and Beale Street
was the most jumping club on the street when he began playing there in 1931, "The Midway
Adolph Rickenbacker invents the electric guitar. Known as the Frying Pan, it was a lap-steel
guitar with an electromagnetic pickup, created by Adolph Rickenbacker and George
Beauchamp, in which a current passed through a coil of wire wrapped around a magnet. This
created a field that amplified the strings' vibrations.
The Gramophone Co. (HMV) and the Columbia Graphophone Co. combined to form Electrical
and Musical Industries (EMI). Alan Dower Blumlein (EMI) was granted a patent for a stereo
recording technique that provided the basis for present day techniques.
Edison died aged 84.
MARCH 29, 1931 SUNDAY
Lieutenant George Lee (American Legion) and W.C. Handy ride down Beale Street in Lee's
black LaSalle at the head of a two-mile procession of fraternal orders, marching clubs, vocal
societies, and uniformed bands. The Knights of Pythias, the Negro Masons, the Tribes of
Canaan, the chauffeurs and berbers clubs march to the "Beale Street Blues" before a crowd
of ten thousand people.
SEPTEMBER 14, 1931
Future Sun artist Tommy Blake born as Thomas Lavan Givens in Dallas, Texas. He never
knew his father, and couldn't do right in his mother's eyes. Samantha said that he was
jailed for statury rape in his teens, although this is unconfirmed.
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON WHITE
- (November 12, 1909 - February 26, 1977), better known as
Bukka White, was an American Delta blues guitarist and singer. "Bukka" was not a nickname,
but a phonetic misspelling of White's given name Booker, by his second (1937) record label
Born between Aberdeen and Houston in Mississippi, White was the second cousin of B.B.
King. White himself is remembered as a player of National steel guitars. He also played, but
was less adept at, the piano.
White started his career playing the fiddle at square dances. He claims to have met Charlie
Patton early on, although some doubt has been cast upon this. Regardless, Patton was a large
influence on White.
White typically played slide guitar, in an open tuning. He was one of the
few, along with Skip James, to use a crossnote tuning in E minor, which he may have
learned, as James did, from Henry Stuckey.
He first recorded for the Victor Records label in 1930. His recordings for Victor, like those of
many other bluesmen, fluctuated between country blues and gospel numbers. Victor
published his photograph in 1930. His gospel songs were done in the style of Blind Willie
Johnson, with a female singer accentuating the last phrase of each line.
Nine years later, while serving time for assault, he recorded for folklorist John Lomax. The
few songs he recorded around this time became his most well-known: "Shake 'Em On Down,"
and "Po' Boy''. Bob Dylan covered his song "Fixin' To Die Blues", which aided a "rediscovery"
of White in 1963 by guitarist John Fahey and ED Denson, which propelled him onto the folk
revival scene of the 1960s. White had recorded the song simply because his other songs had
not particularly impressed the Victor record producer. It was a studio composition of which
White had thought little until it re-emerged thirty years later.
White was at one time managed by the experienced blues manager, Arne Brogger. Fahey and
Denson found White easily enough: Fahey wrote a letter to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer),
c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi''. Fahey had assumed, given White's song,
"Aberdeen, Mississippi", that White still lived there, or nearby. The postcard was forwarded
to Memphis, Tennessee, where White worked in a tank factory. Fahey and Denson soon
travelled to meet White, and White and Fahey remained friends through the remainder of
White's life. He recorded a new album for Denson and Fahey's Takoma Records, whilst
Denson became his manager. White was, later in life, also friends with fellow musician, Furry
Lewis. The two recorded, mostly in Lewis' Memphis apartment, an album together, Furry
Lewis, Bukka White & Friends: Party! At Home.
One of his most famous songs, "Parchman Farm Blues", about the Mississippi State
Penitentiary (also known as Parchman Farm) in Sunflower County, Mississippi, was released
on Harry Smith's fourth volume of the Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume 4. The song
was covered by The Traits, aka Roy Head and the Traits with Johnny Winter in the late
1960s. His 1937 version of the oft-recorded song, "Shake 'Em On Down'', is considered
definitive, and became a hit while White was serving time in Parchman.
White died in February 26, 1977 from cancer, at the age of 67, in Memphis, Tennessee. In
1990 he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame (along with Blind Blake and
Lonnie Johnson). On November 21, 2011, The Recording Academy announced that "Fixin' To
Die Blues" was to be added to its 2012 list of Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipients.
The Cash family moved to this site as one of 600 families chosen to relocate as part
of the Dyess colony. Johnny Cash's formative years were spent here-picking cotton in
the fields with his family, singing hymns with his mother, surviving the 1937 flood,
and mourning the death of his older brother. Cash began playing guitar and writing
songs early in his life and in high school performed on a local radio station. Many of
the themes in Cash's music can be traced back to his life in Dyess, including "Five
Feet And Rising" inspired by the 1937 flood. After Cash left to join the Air Force, he
returned to Dyess only once, in 1969 while filming a documentary.
The Johnny Cash Boyhood Home has been occupied by the owner for the past thirty years. Though
alterations to the exterior and interior have been
xtensive, the level of integrity is sufficient for its
association with such a notable figure. While the house continues to be occupied, there is little risk of
damage from the elements. However, regular maintenance and insensitive alterations have resulted in
the loss of some of the historic fabric. The property owner has offered the property for sale, but at
prohibitive cost. Like the Dyess Colony Administration Building, great opportunity exists for restoring
the house to its historical context and capitalizing on its heritage tourism draw to contribute to the
economic development of northeast Arkansas.
FEBRUARY 26, 1932
Johnny Cash is born in the remote rural settlement of Kingsland, Arkansas to Ray Cash and
Carry Cloveree there are Southern Baptist cotton farmers. His birthplace is almost directly
across the Mississippi from Lake County, Tennessee, where Carl Perkins is born six weeks
later. (See Johnny Cash sessions).
APRIL 9, 1932 SATURDAY
Although Carl Perkins is closely associated with his current hometown, Jackson, Tennessee,
he was born in the far northwest corner of the state close to the banks of the Mississippi. His
birth certificate gives his parents names as Fonie ''Buck'' Perkins and Louise Brandly. Their
second, child is born on this day, was christened Carl Lee Perkins. The mis-spelling of the
family name suggests that the literacy of the government employees was barely a notch
higher then those arrivals in, and exits from, the world they were cataloging. It was the
height of the Depression and Buck Perkins was a sharecropper without a market. The family
lived in a three room shack and then in a one room storehouse.
AUGUST 23, 1932
Future Sun recording artist Jack Earls is born in Woodbury, Tennessee, a rural community
about 50 miles southeast of Nashville. It was, and still is to some extent, Uncle Macon (1870-
1952) territory. In fact, the famous Dixie Dewdrop, banjo picker, singer, veteran of
vaudeville and arguably the first country music star of the WSM Barn Dance (later known as
Grand Ole Opry) was a neighbor of the Earls household and a welcome visitor during Jack's
SEPTEMBER 8, 1932
Virginia Hensley, who will later be called Patsy Cline, is born in Winchester, Virginia. She will
become the most influential female country artist of all time.
Charlie Rich is born in Forrest City, Arkansas and d espite his affinity for the blues, it could
be sheer fantasy to claim that Charlie Rich grew up dirt poor in the rural South, scuffling for
next meal or a warm bed to sleep in. Such tales of rural poverty may not be far removed
from the lives of Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley, but they bear little similarity to Rich's
His family soon moved to Crawfordsville and then Colt, and it was on a farm near Colt that
Charlie Rich grew up. He will be the first to tell you that his family never had to scrape: ''I've
never lived in poverty except when I was very young during the Depression, and most
country folks were poor then. From the age of seven things were all right''.
Rich's early interest in music was nurtured by contact with C.J. Allen, a black tenant farmer
on the Rich family's land. Unlike many bluesmen in the area, Allen made his music on the
piano, rather than a guitar. It may be hard to overestimate the importance of this music on
Charlie's development. Guitars were also present during Rich's formative years - both on the
radio and in the music played by his family. The Rich family was very religious, and singing
the Lord's praises was an important part of their lives.
Charlie Rich's wife Margaret Ann recalls later, ''Charlie played some guitar when he was
younger. It was actually his first instrument. He used to listen to his mother and father sing.
They did music in their church, harmonizing with two other people, backet by a guitar. That
music had a deep emotional effect on Charlie. He used to listen to it and then go into his
room and cry. He and his sister did some singing with the guitar when Charlie was in high
school as well''.
Louisiana born Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, is recorded by John and Alan
Lomax at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Leadbelly, not exclusively a blues artist,
introduced the blues to a wider audience. He was the first folk blues artist to present his
music in concert to white audiences outside the South.
The first New Deal legislation, including Federal Emergency Relief Association and Public
Blacks, traditionally Republican voters, switch parties by the hundreds of thousands before
the end of the decade.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is formed to create a network of dams to control
floods, prevent soil erosion, and provide affordable electricity in the rural South. Prohibition
Wurlitzer begins to manufacture coin-operated jukeboxes.
Fred Rose, who will later revolutionize the country music business, briefly works for WSM as
During the pre-War era, a few Memphis country artists who were missed by the field trips
nevertheless appear on records. One is Ramblin "Red" Lowery who arrives in Memphis in
1933 from Kentucky. Able to perform well in the then-popular style of Jimmie Rodgers,
Lowery recorded several titles for Vocalion in New York in January 1934, including "Ramblin'
Red's Memphis Yodel", numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4. Apart from the few recording sessions
mentioned above, the main reflection of commercial country music in Memphis in the 1920s,
1930s and 1940s comes via the local radio stations.
Police and government agents storms a house in south Memphis and capture gangster
Machine Gun Kelly, the most wanted man in America.
Victor launched its discount Bluebird label (B-5000 “Old Familiar Tunes” Country Series).
The initial price was 25 cents but rose to 35 cents in a year. Bluebird promptly tried to
corner the market of popular stars from the 1920s and recorded many of the stars before
the Depression. Eli Oberstein, was one of the A & R men that directed the Bluebird label
JOHN AVERY LOMAX
- (1867-1948) Folksong collector, born in Goodman, Mississippi, on
September 23, 1867, John Avery Lomax was one of five sons of James Avery Lomax, a
farmer, and Susan Frances (Cooper) Lomax, both natives of Georgia. Although they always
worked their own land, Lomax described his family as belonging to the "upper crust of the
po' white trash".
In 1869 they moved to a farm on the Bosque River near Meridian, Texas.
From his country childhood Lomax acquired a love for and appreciation of the rural folklore
he later captured on record. He absorbed the popular hymns he heard at the Methodist
camp meetings his family attended.
In 1895, at 28, he entered the University of Texas, where he took courses with feverish
enthusiasm and received his B.A. degree in two years. From 1897 to 1903, Lomax served the
university simultaneously as registrar, secretary to the president, and steward of men's
dormitories, for $75 a month. Subsequently, he became instructor and then associate
professor of English at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (1903-1910). Meanwhile, he
doggedly pursued graduate studies despite financial constraints. He received the M.A. in
literature in 1906 from the University of Texas and an M.A. in English from Havard the
Since childhood, Lomax had been writing down the cowboys songs he heard. His English
professors at Texas had scorned such frontier literature as unworthy, but at Harvard, Barrett
Wendell and George Lyman Kittredge strongly encouraged Lomax to continue his collecting.
After his return to Texas, Lomax secured three successive fellowship that enabled him to
travel through the cattle country with a notebook and a primitive recording machine.
Around campfires and in saloon back rooms he persuaded cowboys to sing their songs.
Among his findings were the well-known "Git Along Little Dogies" and "Home On The Range",
the latter sung to him in San Antonio by a black saloonkeeper who had been a trail cook. The
result was Lomax's first published collection, Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads
(1910), which he dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt, a firm supporter of his efforts. The book
is a landmark in the study of American folklore.
Later in 1932, with a contract from the Macmillan Company for a book of American folksongs
and with support from the Library of Congress and the American Council of Learned
Societies, he set out on the first of a series of collecting trips that were to occupy the rest of
He concentrated on recording songs of the southern black - blues, spirituals, and
work chants. Often accompanied by his son, Alan, he visited remote rural black
communities, lumbercamps, and penitentiaries, where blacks were isolated and where
singing softened the pain of prison life.
The quality and number of the songs he recorded for
the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song - more than 10,000 in all - reflect
Lomax's unusual skill as a fieldworker. In the Arkansas Penitentiary he came upon two
important songs, "Rock Island Line" and "John Henry", the rhythmic ballad of a "steel drivin'
Lomax's two collections, American Ballads and Folk Songs (1934) and Our Singing Country
(1941), opened an entirely new area of American folk music to the public and were largely
responsible for the folksong movement that developed in New York City and spread
throughout the country. One of Lomax's discoveries was an influential figure in that
movement: Huddie Ledbetter, nicknamed "Leadbelly" because of his deep bass voice. Lomax
and his son found Leadbelly in a Louisiana penitentiary in 1933, arranged for his freedom,
brought him to Greenwich Village in New York, and published Negro Folk Songs as Sung by
Lead Belly (1936).
John Avery Lomax died on January 26, 1948 at the age of 80 of a cerebral haemorrhage
while visiting in Greenville, Mississippi, and was buried in Austin, Texas.
FEBRYARY 1, 1933
Orbie Lee Orbison, (died in 1985) marries Roy Orbison's mother Nadine Schultz (died in
MAY 6, 1933
Jimmie Rodgers dies of tuberculosis in New York City.
JULY 1, 1933
Eddie James Bond is born in Methodist Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up in 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, Tennessee.
OCTOBER 5, 1933
Billy Riley is born in Pocohontas, Arkansas and was a product of Irish and Cherokee ancestry.
When he was a growing up as a kid, he lived on a plantation with mostly back people on it.
Every Saturday and every Sunday he could usually find a little group of dudes under the
trees and playing the blues. A white guy, Tommy Hamblin, who came from a family of string
musicians, learned Billy how to play the blues. By that time Billy had already mastered the
harmonica, an instrument that his father had taught him.
Formation of Southern Tenant Farmers Union in Arkansas, a historically overlooked alliance
between blacks and poor whites that can be seen as a forerunner to the civil right
movement of the 1960s.
Vance Library opens in Memphis the city's first public library for blacks.
Memphians vote to join the Tennessee Valley Authority system; TVA power becomes available
"Rock And Roll" song sung by the Boswell Sisters in the 1934 movie "Transatlantic Merry-Go-
"Rock And Roll" (Brunswick 7302) was the first song to be given that title.
Black writer, George Washington Lee, published his important history of the street and the
role it played in black life, Beale Street: Where The Blues Began. In one of its most famous
passages, he described Beale as "owned largely by the Jews, policed by the whites and
enjoyed by the Negroes". But he forgot the Italians, who ran many of the street's most
popular saloons, and later, its theaters.
BASF manufactured 50,000 metres of magnetic recording tape for use by AEG for large scale
Bob Wills and his Playboys become Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, the most famous of the
era's western swing bands.
In 1934, Rufus Thomas's entertainment career was interrupted when he went to Nashville to
attend college at Tennessee State, probably at the urging of Nat Williams. It didn't work out
because Rufus was soon homesick. He told: ''I didn't stay there because from the start I was
troubled. I'd never been that far away from Memphis, and I went back home in 1935. Then I
started working all around the city as a tap dancer and I would do some scat singing and
comic songs like Louis Armstrong or Fats Waller. I would do everything there was to do really,
whatever came under the name of entertainment''.
Charlie Patton dies near Holly Ridge, Mississippi. He is considered by some to be the most
influential blues musician on his contemporaries. Directly influencing Son House, Robert
Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Bukka White, Big Joe Williams, Furry Lewis and Tommy Johnson, to
name a few.
When the Tennessee Valley Authority opened, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Tupelo.
There was a great deal of celebrating. The TVA brought electricity to East Tupelo, and
residents were the only ones in the city to have electrical lines built in their neighbourhood.
NOVEMBER 4, 1934
The first country band, The Swift Jewel Cowboys first broadcast on Memphis radio station
WMC; a couple of years later they could be found on the city's other major outlet, WREC
radio. But even the Swift Jewel Cowboys seem to have caught that versatile "Memphis
thing". Despite their cowboy garb, the band soon had as much swing as western in their
sound, with the addition of jazzman Farris "Lefty" Ingram on clarinet, sax, and fiddle, and
David "Pee Wee" Wamble on cornet.
Wamble, who was part of the band by 1938, had played in regional dance and jazz bands,
working such nightspots as the Wishbone Club in Memphis. The band proved important to
two well-known Memphis-bred musicians, harmonica player Jimmy Riddle, later gained fame
performing on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville with Roy Acuff, and saxophone player Bill
Justis, who was the group's mascot. Justis would later become one of Memphis' more
successful home-grown musicians as an Artist and Repertoire man with Sun Records and also
made a huge hit under his own name with the instrumental "Raunchy". In 1958, Justis left
Memphis for Nashville, where he had a successful career recording and scouting talent for
Though the Swift Jewel Cowboys continued their careers until 1942, the 1939 sides were to
be the last commercial country recordings made in Memphis until Sam Phillips opened his
Memphis Recording Service in 1950.
Memphis transforms unstable bluffs and a riverfront dumping ground into Riverside Drive,
called "the most expensive highway in the world" when it opens.
AEG-Telefunken gave the first public demonstration of the Magnetophon tape recorder at the
It was in 1935 that Rufus Thomas first appeared in the Amateur Night shows at the Palace
Theater on Beale Street with Nat Williams, developing the comedy routines they had started
as part of the school Ballets. Rufus also worked there with Johnny Dowdie as a dance team
that had also started in the Ballets. "We were dancing up and down steps, doing wings and all
that fancy stuff, but it was mostly flash'', Rufus told Louis Cantor. The following year Rufus
and Johnny joined a touring show known as the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, traveling from May to
October all through Mississippi, Arkansas, and parts of Louisiana. The Rabbit Foot Company
was a long running minstrel and variety troupe that toured as a tent show between the
1900s and the 1940s. It was originally owned and managed by Pat Chappelle, a black
performer, when the company had a brass band and traveled in its own private railroad car.
The company was purchased by white carnival owner, F.S. Wolcott, (later celebrated in a
song by the Band) who was in control when Rufus and Johnny were with the company. Rufus
remembered: "The show would open with the band. Then there was the chorus line, and the
comic would come right behind that. Then maybe a singer the chorus line, the tap dancers
and the comic''.
JANUARY 8, 1935 TUESDAY
Elvis Presley is born in the Bible Belt, small hilltop community at 310 Old Saltillo Road, East
Tupelo, Mississippi (Now 306 Elvis Presley Drive), on January 8 at about 4:30 a.m. Elvis'
weight 5 pounds, the same as that of singer Hank Williams Sr. Not only is it a bitterly cold
night, but the northeastern corner of Mississippi is covered with a sheet of freezing sleet. He
would live here, and in Tupelo proper, until late September 1948. Vernon Presley built this
home in 1934 with the help of Vester, his brother, and J.D. his father.
borrowed $180 from local landowner Orville Bean for supplies to construct the small wood
frame house. The house belongs to the shotgun style, so-called because, in theory, a bullet
shot through the front door would exit through the back door and not hit a thing. The house,
just 450 feet square, was raised off the ground by river rocks to keep it above water level
during the spring floods. At one time, a barn and an outhouse, built by Vernon Presley, stood
in back of the house. Chickens and a cow ran around in the yard that Gladys Presley swept
Tupelo was the first town to benefit from the Tennessee Valley Authority's rural
electrification program, and East Tupelo was wired for electricity in 1934. However, the
Presley's, like most of the people in their part of town, could not afford electricity, and
therefore lived by oil lamps. Most people in East Tupelo, including the Presley's and the
Smiths, were sharecroppers. Sharecroppers worked fields for white plantation owners (in
the Presley's case, for Orville Bean) and received a share of the crops' profits, a successor to
the slavery system.
Though the Presley's were very poor, and Vernon Presley had a difficult time holding a job,
he did have skill as a carpenter. The home he built for his wife and pending family was solid.
In the front half of this two room house, Jesse Garon and Elvis Aron are born on the chilly
morning of January 8, 1935. The birth of Elvis is shrouded in mystery. It is questionable
exactly who witness the birth, and the accounts are so varied we will probably never know.
Gladys, Vernon, and Doctor William Robert Hunt are certainly there, and it likely that Minnie
Mae, the midwife, Edna Robinson, and possibly some friends also attend. Additionally, there
are two distinctly different stories regarding the birth order of the twins.
One has it that Jesse Garon arrives first, around 4:00 in the morning. Much to everyone's
dismay, Jesse Garon was stillborn. About half an hour later, at 4:35, Elvis Aron arrives, alive
and healthy. The birth certificate filled out by Dr. William Robert Hunt verifies this version of
the story. However, Elvis' paternal uncle, Vester Presley, claims that Elvis Presley is born
first, alive and healthy, Jesse Garon coming half an hour later. Annie Presley, a close friend
and relative of Gladys, supports this version of the story, noting that Dr. William Robert Hunt
was relatively inexperienced, and did not realize Gladys was pregnant with twins. She claims
he did not prepare Gladys, or himself, to deliver another baby.
Whatever the birth order, the shadow of death present at Elvis' birth and the loss felt by
both Gladys and Elvis are never forgotten. Throughout his life, Elvis Presley remains
psychically in tune with Jesse Garon. We can only imagine how deeply Elvis sensed this loss.
George Gershwin's folk opera "Porgy And Bess" is staged in New York.
- Bible Belt is a term coined by H. L. Mencken in the 1920s to describe areas of
the nation dominated by belief in the literal authenticity of the Bible and accompanying
puritanical mores. He did not give the term a specific location, but he did associate it with
rural areas of Midwest, and, especially, the "Baptist back-waters of the South". He used the
term as one of derision, referring, for example, to "the Bible and Hookworm Belt" and calling
Jackson, Mississippi, "the heart of the Bible and Lynching Belt".
The term has been used by scholars as well. In mapping the geographical range of the
Churches of Christ, Edwin Gaustad commented that the denomination's influence
represented "perhaps more a Bible Belt than any other region can offer".
A 1952 survey by
John L. Thomas in Religion and the American People (1963) concluded that, based on the
prevalence of Bible reading, the Bible Belt was primarily in the West South Central, East
South Central, and South Atlantic census areas. Cultural geographer James R. Shortridge
analyzed 1971 denominational membership figures and mapped a Bible Belt region of
"conservative churches" extending in influence from the Atlantic Seaboard through Texas
and eastern New Mexico, its northern boundary was the upper state lines of Virginia,
Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma, extending into southern Illinois. "Jackson, Mississippi,
could perhaps be called the "buckle" of the Bible Belt, but Oklahoma City is definitely
marginal, and Kansas is not in it", he wrote. Stephen W. Tweedie's study, "Viewing the Bible
Belt", analyzed the viewership of evangelical, fundamentalist religious television
programming, and concluded that "the Baptist South certainly is a major part of this Bible
belt, but areas of strength also include parts of the Methodist domination Midwest as well as
portions of the predominantly Lutheran Dakotas". These modern studies seem, then, to
confirm Mencken's use of the term, although now it is used proudly by those in the Bible belt
to describe their commitments.
Bible Belt is a particularly useful term to describe the importance of the Scriptures in the
South. When Hazel Motes in Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood left his hometown of Eastrod,
Tennessee, he took with him only a black Bible and a pair of glasses belonging to his mother.
At his little country school, he "had learned to read and write but that it was wiser not to:
the Bible was the only book he read". He was perhaps typical of many southern true
believers. On the early frontier and in rural areas throughout southern history, the Bible has
been a main source of reading material and intellectual stimulation. Preachers took it as
their only text for preaching. Politicians used a campaign language spiced with references to
biblical stories and quotes to illustrate their political points, and two favorite southern
pastimes - storytelling and conversation - were often filled with biblical references. Writers
such as O'Connor and Faulkner used biblical symbols and motifs, artists painted biblical
heroes and heroines in their works, and quilters even stitched the stories as themes for
their works. Historian Kenneth T. Bailey noted of the South in 1900 that "few Southerners
doubted the literal authenticity of the Scriptures or the ever-presence of God in many
affairs", and sociologist John Shelton Reed's studies of southern attitudes in contemporary
times suggest the Bible Belt is still literally that.
SEPTEMBER 29, 1935
Jerry Lee Lewis born in Ferriday, Louisiana, Jerry Lee displayed musical talent from a young
age. After his parents mortgaged their farm to buy him a Stark upright piano, he developed
his style by watching the boogie-woogie playing of his older cousin Carl McVoy, and listening
to the sounds of the black artists who performed at a local juke joint named Haney’s Big
House, owned by his uncle Lee Calhoun.
When Jerry Lee’s mother enrolled him in the Texasbased
Southwest Bible Institute, so that he could dedicate his talents to the Lord, the
flamboyantly dexterous yet uncontrollable kid was immediately expelled for ripping his way
through a boogie-woogie rendition of ‘My God Is Real’, and thereafter he plied his trade in
clubs around Ferriday, as well as in Natchez, Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee.
John and Alan Lomax's "Negro Folk Songs as performed by Leadbelly". The pianist Teddy
Wilson integrates Benny Goodman's trio. Count Basie's "Jones-Smith Incorporated" session
with Lester Young.
Billboard puts out its first record sales chart in 1936.
BASF engineers, using a Magnetophon, recorded Mozart's Symphony No.39 with the London
Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. The first tape recording of a full
symphony orchestra, it still exists and is of surprisingly good quality.
FEBRUARY 8, 1936
Future Sun recording artist, Tracy Pendarvis is born in Cross City, Florida. Technically, Florida
is part of the South but it had few original musical traditions upon which Tracy could draw.
Tracy's mother owned every record that yodellin' Jimmie Rodgers made and the clear channel
allotted to WSM brought the Grand Ole Opry. Tracy and a guitarist, Johnny Gibson, started
their careers playing in squaredance bands for 3 dollar a night.
APRIL 15, 1936
Frank Frost is born on a small cotton farm in Auvergne, Arkansas, was one of the foremost
American delta blues harmonica players of his generation. He is the second of seven
children of T.R. and Dorthula Frost. Frank Otis Frost learned to play piano at church as a
young boy. Frank, in the search to find his place in the world, left home to get a glimpse of
the 'big world' around him and try to get ideas as to what it took to get into the music
business. His love for music was natural and automatic and his ability with the guitar,
piano and harp was seemingly born in him.
Mississippi born Robert Johnson's records his first record "Cross Roads Blues" in San Antonio,
OVERTON PARK SHELL
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Overton Park is one of the first of several large parks in Memphis
designed by landscape architect George Kessler that featured a picturesque landscape
design, largely derived from the design traditions of New York City's Central Park. The
planning began in 1901 and the design was completed in early 1902, and initial development
of the drives, open areas, lakes, and pavilions were completed by August. Today the park
includes the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Memphis Zoo, a 9-hole golf course, and the
Memphis College of Art.
In 1933 and 1934 Ralph Dunbar produced two summer seasons of light opera and theater on
a dirt stage at the foot of a natural bowl shaped slope in the Park and then advocated the
construction of a permanent amphitheater on the site. In 1936 the Overton Park Orchestra
Shell is constructed for $11,935 by the Work Progress Administration (WPA) and the City of
Memphis. The facility has enough wooden benches for 4,000 people and is dominated by the
reinforced concrete orchestra shell patterned after the acoustical designs of similar shells in
New York, Chicago, and St. Louis. Dedication ceremonies on September 13 are attended by
6,000 as the newly formed Memphis Symphony Orchestra performs. The dedication program
calls the Shell "A pledge to the future of music in Memphis".
Shortly after recording their first record and Elvis signed a contract with Scotty as his
manager, Elvis appeared as a special guest with the Starlite Wranglers on July 17th at their
gig at the Bon Air club on Summer Avenue, a bar on the outer rim of the city limits in eastern
Memphis. When they performed the two songs they had recorded, all of the Wranglers had
to leave the stage except Scotty and Bill since they were the only ones on the recording.
Their performance was not received well and did not sit well with the rest of the band since
the crowd was a hard drinking traditional Country and Western crowd and they didn't care
for Elvis' look or music.
After that night the they knew the Starlite Wranglers were finished
as a group and Scotty and Bill gave their full attention to Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys. Sam
Phillips then asked WMPS Memphis disc jockey Bob Neal to book Elvis on his Country Music
Jamboree at the Overton Shell that featured Slim Whitman and Billy Walker as the
headliners. It would be their first professional public performance as a band. The ad in the
Memphis Press Scimitar misspelled Elvis's name "Ellis".
Advertised as a Hillbilly Hoedown, appearing in addition to Slim Whitman and Billy Walker
were "Sugarfoot Collins, "Sonny" Harvelle, Tinker Fry and "Curly Harris. The show began at
8:00 on the night of July, 30, 1954, and they started with "That's All Right” Elvis was so
nervous he stood up on the balls of his feet and shook his leg in time with the music, a move
he sometimes used in the studio. To his shock and horror the young girls in the audience
went crazy, yelling and applauding. Scotty said, "We didn't know what was going on when all
those people started screaming and hollering." Next they did "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and
when Elvis got offstage he asked why people were yelling at him. Someone told him it was
because he was shaking his leg, which with the baggy pleated pants created a wild gyrating
effect in time with the music. Later in the show they returned and did the same two
numbers along with "I'll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin)", a new song they had been working
The following year they returned to the Shell for the second and last time for Bob Neal's
eighth annual Country Music Jamboree. The show also included Webb Pierce, Sonny James,
Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson and some 22 other country music and comedy performers.
They drew a crowd of over 4000.
Memphis Press Scimitar on August 6, 1955 reported that the Shell was jammed with an
overflow audience for the show and that several hundred were turned away.
Local amateur photographer Robert Dye who photographed Elvis at the Shell on August 5,
1955, recalled one performer loaning him his guitar after Elvis couldn't find his in time to go
on and was pretty agitated after Elvis returned it with two strings broken.
Homes on the west and east side of Overton Park were leveled in the 1960s to make way for
the construction of Interstate 40, but instead of going through, the interstate abruptly
stopped before reaching the area after numerous lawsuits succeeded in halting construction.
The shell would eventually host several large name rock acts that included the Allman
Brothers, The Grateful Dead and Neil Diamond.
In 1974 the fence was removed and the Shell
resumed a schedule of free performances, thus ending the controversy over rock concerts.
In 1982 at the request of the National Council of Christians and Jews, the Shell was renamed
the Raoul Wallenberg Shell after Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat responsible for saving
thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps. In 1985, the stage of the Shell remained dark for
the first season since its construction. Many Memphians thought the dormant and somewhat
dilapidated amphitheater was doomed to be displaced by a parking lot.
Late in 1985, volunteers began repairs to the facility at no cost to the city. A petition drive
was begun, weekly meetings were held and the "Save Our Shell" committee was born. Save
Our Shell Inc. provided entertainment there through 2003 with 54 performances for 63,000
people in 2002 and 63 performances for 75,000 people in 2003.
Years later a Christian and Jewish themed mural was painted on one of the rear outside side
walls at the shell that depicted Elvis and subjects from the lyrics of one of the gospel songs
he recorded, "Peace In The Valley". One or more organizations apparently protested about
the religious aspects of the mural and most of it was painted over.
In October of 2004 the city once again closed the 68 year old shell citing code violations and
liability concerns. An engineering study found that the shell needed about $550,000.00
worth of repairs and improvements. It said this historic venue has decayed to the point that
it is now a liability for the city.
In January of 2007 it was announced that the city had partnered with the Mortimer Levitt
Foundation and a group of Memphians to revive the Shell. The Foundation, created in 1963
to support the arts across the U.S., has a history of helping restore amphitheaters, such as
the Gold Shell in Memorial Park in the city of Pasadena, CA. That venue, built in 1930 and
restored with a $250,000 grant from the foundation is now called the Levitt Pavilion for the
In February The Memphis Business journal reported that renovations will cost approximately
$1 million and construction is scheduled to begin in June with the first performances in
Spring 2008. The Memphis City Council approved capital funding of $500,000 to be matched
by the Mortimer Levitt Foundation and the Friends for the Levitt Pavilion Memphis. The
Friends will raise an additional $1.75 million to operate the Shell for the first five years and
intend to produce 50 free concerts there a year. Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects will design
the renovation and is looking to make it environmentally friendly and sustainable, according
to a release. "The renovations include replacing the two wings on each side of the stage and
replacing the old benches with lawn seating and a few new benches for the elderly and
handicapped," Lee Askew said.
APRIL 23, 1936
Roy Kelton Orbison was born at 3:30 pm, in Vernon, Texas. Nadine, his mother, was a nurse.
Orbie Lee, his father, a worker. Roy was their second child. For his sixth birthday, Roy asked
for a harmonica, but fortunately his daddy gave him a guitar. Orbie Lee is generally credited
with teaching Roy to play guitar. However, he also learned from Charlie Orbison, Orbie Lee's
brother, and Kenneth Schultz, brother of Nadine's. Together with Clois Russell, Orbie Lee's
neighbor and workmate, they would often play and sing. The first song Roy ever played was
the classic "You Are My Sunshine". He learned very quickly, so that way he could stay up late
with the grown-ups and sing. (See Roy Orbison sessions).
NOVEMBER 16, 1936
Future Sun recording artist Jimmy Harrell was born in a Hillsboro community outside Forest,
Bukka White recorded "Shake 'Em On Down" in Memphis and became a sizable hit, but a
shooting landed him in Mississippi's notorious Parchman prison farm.
Count Basie' releases "One O'Clock Jump", a cross of swing and rhythm and blues.
For a time in 1937, Rufus Thomas was back in Nashville, working with Johnny Dowdie at
Kyles night club. Apart from the dance duo, Rufus also earned money by waiting tables for
white diners. ''I was what you'd call a singing waiter", he said, also describing both the
potential and the problems in this role: "During that time the white fellow was quite
boastful, if he was out with his woman... but he'd pay well, At the end of the night. I had the
money, and that what I was working for so you ask yourself who's the fool?".
SEPTEMBER 25, 1937
Having finished her Beale Street performance for the Broadway Rastus show, the revue was
due to open the following afternoon with a Sunday matinee in Darling, Mississippi. Later than
spend the night in Memphis and race to Darling the next day, Bessie Smith, energized after
the evening's performance, had her driver, Richard Morgan, take her to Clarksdale as soon as
the curtain fell. Driving down old Highway 61 a few miles north of Clarksdale, the car
carrying the blues legend sideswiped a truck stopped at the side of the road. Bessie had
been riding with her elbow jutting out the Packard's open window. Her right arm was torn off
in the crash.
Bessie Smith was brought to G.T. Thomas Hospital located at 615 Sunflower Avenue, in
Clarksdale, Mississippi and bled to death during the delay as a result of injuries sustained in
the automobile accident. Blues folklore holds that it was a whites only establishment and
turned away her ambulance - Edward Albee even wrote a play about it. According to
biographer Chris Albertson's investigation, after crashing into the truck, which was
reportedly delivering Sunday editions of the Commercial Appeal to Clarksdale, Bessie Smith
was attended by Memphis physician Hugh Smith, who came upon the scene on his way to a
fishing holiday. After an ambulance arrived, she was taken directly to the "colored" hospital;
after all; this was 1937 in Mississippi; what local ambulance driver would take Bessie Smith
to a white-only hospital?
In 1944 the hospital was converted into a Riverside Hotel (named as "The Home Of The
Blues"). Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) and Ike Turner later stayed - Turner wrote
"Rocket 88" here - and their names can still be seen in the register. John F. Kennedy, Jr.
stayed here on a blues-landmarks trip around the Delta.
The Farm Security Administration is founded by the federal government to extend lowinterest
loans to farm workers to help them start their own family-size farms.
Experiments were being carried out on the problems of multi track optical and magnetic
recording onto 35mm film stock.
GOODMAN BUILDING (CRAWDAD'S)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1938 was built. Located at 151-155 Beale Street,
Memphis, Tennessee, an original, two nineteenth-century three-story building stood at this
location. Around 1938 three single-story structure replaced them. These buildings contained
such businesses as Ray's Smart Shoes (151 Beale Street). Paul's Fashion Shop (153 Beale
Street), and the Little Hot House, a restaurant (155 Beale Street). Abe Goodman, Jr., the
owner and probably builder, was the son of Abe Goodman, a well-known Memphis
businessman, banker, real estate developer, and civic leader.
JANUARY 4, 1938
Two bonds are filed in the Tupelo local court. Vernon Presley's dad, Jessie, bails out Travis
Smith. Lerther Gable's bond is put up by two friends. Vernon is released from Parchman
Farm, after serving about two and a half years of his three-year sentence. It is a crushing
blow, his own father delivering the ultimate insult. To Vernon, Jessie makes him look like a
LEE COUNTY JAIL
- Facility where Vernon and Vester Presley were incarcerated after they
were convicted of check forgery in 1937. The brothers were than transferred to Parchman
Penitentiary for a three-year term, but only served nine months.
MAY 24, 1938
Vernon Presley, Lether Gable, and Travis Smith are tried before Judge Thomas J. Johnston,
who is known as a hanging judge. The long period in jail prompt Vernon to plead guilty.
Gable and Smith also pleaded guilty. Judge Johnston then orders each defendant to serve a
term of three years in the state penitentiary.
This means only one thing - Parchman Farm. It is the meanest, nastiest prison in Mississippi's
Delta. Not only is it racially mixed, but Parchman is a backbreaking work camp. For six days
each week the men toiled for ten to twelve hours under the hot Delta sun.
They wear blue-and-white-striped pyjamas, and guards stand by with menacing shotguns. A
man's dignity is constantly at stake, and living conditions are primitive. The guards keep
"Black Annie", an eight-foot leather belt, close at hand, and Vernon Presley had to constantly
watch his back. Inmates sometimes work on private farms, so Vernon Presley is often faced
with plantation owners who remind him of his nemesis, Orville Bean. The debasing and
dehumanizing atmosphere at Parchman Farm ultimately make Vernon to change
PARCHMAN PENITENTIARY, PARCHMAN, MISSISSIPPI
- Located at Highway 49
West, South of Clarksdale, Mississippi, the intervention of convict lease stalemated the
penitentiary movement in the postbellum South. Because convicts, most of whom were
black, were leased, southern states stopped maintaining existing prisons, and penitentiaries
became 'mere shells of buildings, depositories for the old, the sick and the most dangerous'.
The state of Mississippi outlawed convict lease (though not the equally infamous chain gang)
by constitutional amendment in 1890 and sought institutional alternatives for using convict
labour that would not jeopardize the interests of free labour.
Legislators authorized the
purchase of several tracts of land on which penal farms were erected to provide convicts
with ' healthful agricultural labour' and the state with significant profit.
The largest of these farms was established at the turn of the century on some 13,000 acres
purchased from a Sunflower County planter, James Parchman. When folksong collector John
A. Lomax visited Parchman in the 1930s, more than 2,000 inmates tilled 17,000 acres of rich
Delta land, channelling large sums into the state treasure. Lomax found his blues and ballad
recording hindered by the length of convict work days and noted that part of the farm's
profit came from the 'economies' practised: labour from 4:00 a.m. until dark and a total lack
of mechanization. The penal cotton plantation had been temporary home to such Mississippi
bluesmen as Booker T. Washington "Bukka" White, Son House, and Sonny Boy Williamson II.
In 1968 a regional prison report outlined conditions at Parchman and penitentiaries in
Arkansas and Louisiana, concluding the "the three states put together could not out of
presently available funds and facilities provide the components of one prison which would
meet minimum national standards". Parchman's brutality and corruption were not unique.
Angola in Louisiana was also infamous, but by the 1960s Parchman had become legendary.
Beatings were routinely administered for infractions ranging from failure to address an
officer properly to attempted escape. Inmates employed as armed guards - 170 out of a total
force of 210 guards as late as 1968 - abused and often killed fellow prisoners.
In 1971 documented instances of brutality against several hundred incarcerated civil rights
workers led to sweeping changes. Within three years, the trusty system was abolished;
inadequate, segregated facilities were abandoned; and vocational training was implemented.
Today most of Parchman's 21,000 acres of cotton land are leased to local farmers, and many
of its 12,000 prisoners participate in external rehabilitation programmes. A stadium, a new
$3 million hospital, and apartments for family and conjugal visiting are maintained.
Traditional black and white uniforms have been replaced denim trousers and work shirts.
Still, the aura of fear and the reality of punishment remain. Said B.B. King of his childhood
visit to his uncle, a fellow bluesman and former Parchman inmate Bukka White: "After that...
I knew I wanted to stay far away from the place". Bukka White wrote "Parchman Farm Blues"
while serving here for manslaughter. If he'd been around seven years later, Bukka White
could have nodded at the father of the infant king of rock and roll in the exercise yard -
Vernon Presley and his brother-in-law, Travis Smith, both spent nine months (June 1, 1938,
to February 6, 1939) of a three-year at Parchman for forgery. Vernon and Travis were
transferred there from the Lee County Jail.
Although Mose Allison, arguably the only well-known white Delta blues singer, sang the line
"I'm sitting down here on Parchman Farm, ain't never done no man no harm", he was never
an inmate of Mississippi's largest prison. A number of other bluesmen did end up doing a
stretch here, however. Son House, the sizzling singer who was a protege of Charley Patton's
and a teacher of Robert Johnson's, shot a man at a party near Lyon in 1928 and served 18
months of a 15-year sentence. In 1992 Fat Possum Records came here to record bluessinging
inmate David Malone.
Then in 1938 Rufus Thomas was lured back to the tent shows, this time with a company
called Royal American Shows that advertised itself as the ''Most Beautiful Show On Earth''. It
was basically a type of carnival, known as a Midway, owned by Carl Sedlmayr and the Velare
Brothers, touring State fairs and festivals across Minnesota, Oklahoma. Kansas, Arkansas,
Mississippi, Louisiana and western Canada. It seems that Rufus just worked in the Southern
states closest to home. He confirmed to Peter Guralnick, "It was an all-white show, but Leon
Claxton had the black part and they called it 'Harlem In Havana. It was a tent show under a
big tent, that was the time when they had an aisle right down the centre and blacks sat on
one side, whites on the other'. At twelve o clock wed have a parade you understand, to bring
the people to let the people know. It was a different town every day and at night you stayed
in people's homes because there were no hotels at all for blacks at that time. Then in the
morning you catch the bus and you're off to another town''. He added: ''I wouldn't have
traded the world for that foundation. Even with all the racism, all the hold backs, all those
things, it was still quite likeable, people were having fun. We didn't make a lot of money but
we had a damn good time''.
First "Spirituals to Swing" concert at New York's Carnegie Hall, featuring Big Bill Broonzy,
among others. Benny Goodman's Carnegie Hall concert.
Pete Johnson and Joe Turner cut their first boogie records in Kansas City.
Boom of boogie woogie in Chicago.
Telefunken helps develop magnetic tape for use with tape recorders.
John Hammond stages the "Spirituals To Swing" concert in New York City to highlight black
musical styles. The stars of the show are the duo of singer Big Joe Turner and pianist Pete
Johnson who kick off a national "boogie woogie" craze.
Saxophonist Louis Jordan leaves Chick Webb's band to form the Tympany Five, a slimmed
down group that begins the rhythm & blues revolution and might well mark the beginnings of
what we know as Rock And Roll.
AUGUST 16, 1938
Robert Johnson dies near Greenwood, Mississippi at the age of 26. The cause of his death is
widely disputed, but it is believed that he was murdered by a jealous husband who poisoned
Robert's whiskey. Some consider Robert Johnson the most influential of early blues
musicians and his direct influence is still felt today.
Charlie Christian joins Benny Goodman.
Dane Stinit was born on a farm near Owensboro, Kentucky.
Leo Mintz founds a record store in Cleveland, the "Record Rendezvous", specializing in black
music. 2 years later he will convince DJ Alan Freed to start playing those records on the air
which launches the rock and roll era.
Art Satherly brings a Vocalion team to Memphis. In June and July that year Satherly recorded
22 songs by the Swift Jewel Cowboys and six by Gene Steele. Born Lloyd Bob in 1908, he
acquired the name Gene Steele by the time he first appeared on radio station WMC in
Memphis in 1937. Steele remains a WMC radio regular until 1959. Known as the Singing
salesman on WMC radio, Steele recorded in a bluesy semi-western swing style for Vocalion on
songs like "Ride 'Em Cowboy" and "Just A Little Of The Blues". Later, in the early 1950s,
Steele appears to have also recorded for Sam Phillips on unissued titles which included
"Alimony Blues" and "Daisy Bread Boogie". When he retires from music Steele turns to dog
racing in West Memphis and apparently does very well in his new line of business until his
death in 1984.
Sam Phillips on his way to a religious revival in Dallas, he sees Memphis and Beale Street for
the first time; it leaves a lasting impression on the teenager.
Charlie Burse of the Memphis Jug Band recorded with a jazzier combo as the Memphis
Mudcats, with sax, piano, and string bass in place of the old homemade instruments. Perhaps
Burse was just trying to go legit. In a business where respect was hard to come by, the line
dividing the musicians on the street and those who played the theaters and honky-tonks was
a rigid one.
OCTOBER 14, 1939
Founded this date, B.M.I. (Broadcast Music Incorporated) one of two major music publishing
unions. The other music publishing union is A.S.C.A.P. (American Society of Composers,
Authors and Publishers), which was founded in 1914 by copyright attorney Nathan Burkan.
After Elvis Presley's death, it was discovered that he had been deprived of a great deal of
money because he had never registered with B.M.I. As a result, he never collected royalties
on the songs on which he was listed as co-composer. Ironically, it was the popularity of rock
and roll that built B.M.I. into such a successful union.
Richard Wright's "Native Son".
A breakdown in contract negotiations between radio broadcasters and the American Society
of Composers and Publishers results in a nine-month blackout of ASCAP-licensed songseventually
leading to the formation of Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), a rival licensing
agency far more hospitable to blues and country music.
During the 1940s, radio station WMPS develops into the top country music programmer in
Memphis. The station moved heavily into a country format in 1939 but the tenure of Smilin'
Eddie Hill at the station between 1947 and 1950 will give new impetus to the station. Hill's
show quickly became the leading country becomes program in the region. Hill and his band
are supported by other top acts including the Louvin Brothers, the Carlisles, Dan Snyder and
the Loden Family. Disc jockey Bob Neal becomes the top country disc jockey in the Memphis
Just as a few Memphis-based artists were able to record in the 1930s by travelling to major
label studios, in the 1940s some of Memphis' top radio acts appear on record. Again, though,
they have to sign with labels from outside the immediate area to achieve this. The Delmore
Brothers are contracted to King Records of Cincinnati at the time when they are appearing
on Memphis radio in the late 1940s. Similarly, Freddie Burns, based in Memphis, appears on
Star Talent out of Dallas. Curley Williams, writer of "Half As Much" and other songs for Hank
Williams (no relation) uses Memphis as a radio and touring base but recorded for Columbia
out of Nashville. Eddie Hill is the leading light on Memphis country radio, but his records
appear in the 1940s on Apollo Records of New York and on Decca and then in the 1950s on
Mercury out of their Nashville office. Decca had a distribution office in Memphis (from 1938
to 1952). Other labels with offices in Memphis include Capitol (from 1946 to 1955) and King
(1952 to 1956). Mostly these offices are for distribution and promotional staff and have no
connection with the recording side of the business, but it could be that there is some
scouting of Memphis talent through these offices.
Bukka White are released from Mississippi's Parchman prison farm, and recorded a dozen
sides for Vocalion Records that, along with being some of the last recorded prewar Delta
blues, are true classics of the style.
The first Grand Ole Opry tent show (still featuring a black-face comedy team) tours the
JUNE 17, 1940
Future Sun recordings artist Alton Lott was born in a Hillsboro community outside Forest,
Back in Memphis by 1940, Rufus Thomas developed a different vaudeville comedy and dance
show with another partner, Robert Counts, who was known as Bones'. Rufus and Bones
played at the Cotton Club in West Memphis, the Brown Derby club, and particularly the Elks
Club at 401 Beale. Rufus was still dancing but he was increasingly developing as a comedian,
emcee and even a singer. He said, ''It was hard. I was working on stage before there were
microphones; you really had to have some kind of a voice''.
He told John Floyd that he took up singing on the back of song writing. ''I was working in a
comedy team at the Elks Club on Beale. There was a blues singer there by the name of
Georgia Dickerson. and I used to write blues for her every week, and she'd sing them. But
she left town and that left space in the show, so I thought I'm going to try to take up that
space. That's all there was to it. I sang a song by Lonnie Johnson called ''Jelly Roll Baker''.
Then I learned other songs and I did a few love songs like ''For Sentimental Reasons'' and I
even did ''Stardust''. But my voice then was beginning to turn and I couldn't sing anything
sweet with all that gravel in it''.
It was apparently at the Harlem Theater on Florida Street that Rufus first sang something
sweet to a girl named Cornelius Lorene Wilson, whom he married in November 1940. The
Reverend C. L. Franklin, father of Aretha Franklin, conducted the ceremony and it marked
the start of a more stable phase of life for Rufus, and the end of his vaudeville days. He took
a job at the American Finishing Company, a textiles firm, and he maintained a day job there
alongside all his entertainment roles until 1963. He operated the boiler plant among other
things, and on a slow day would use the rhythms the boiler pipes sometimes generated to
help develop ideas for songs.
The new Thomas family lived in the Foote Homes Housing Project in Memphis, where Rufus
soon had fatherly duties to add to his life. His son Marvell was born in 1942, his daughter
Carla in 1943 and youngest daughter Vaneese in 1959.
Nevertheless, Rufus continued to ply his trade as an entertainer, working not only at the
Harlem Theater but at the, Hyde Park Theater in north Memphis near Chelsea Avenue, the
Savo Theater on North Thomas, and the Handy Theater on Park Avenue.
On Wednesday nights, Rufus was the emcee at the Palace Theater on Beale Street. This was
amateur night, where he had graduated from being a dancer to becoming also a comic foil
for the emcee, Nat Williams, to now add to his roles that of the emcee himself. He kept the
comedy, and was always sharply dressed, continuing the theme he had started in school, and
developing catchphrases like ''Ain't I'm clean?" or "Oh I feel so unnecessary".
He described to Peter Guralnick the shape of the show and the scale of the talent. "First
they had the movies and then the amateur, which was the bottom hour, and then it was back
to the movies. I reached back and got a friend of mine, his name was Robert Counts, they
called him Bones, and we were together for eleven consecutive years at the Palace Theater
every Wednesday night. We were making five dollars a night and you had the Al Jackson
band and they were only making 25 dollars and they had a big band too. The show was only a
nickel then, but the place was packed''.
He told Beale Street historians Margaret McKee and Fred Chisenhall: ''At that time we had
contestants come up to perform, and then after everybody performed they'd all come back
on stage and the audience would applaud for first prize. They used to have $5, $3, and $2
but they cut that out and later everybody who came up on stage would get a dollar. B. B.
King used to come with holes in his shoes, his guitar all patched up, just to get that dollar''.
Guitarist Calvin Newborn has recalled being presented with five dollars by Rufus on Palace
amateur night for playing a piano duet with his brother, Phineas on ''Hey Bop A Re Bop''.
In 1950, Rufus left the Palace because he couldn't get the money he felt he was entitled to
for his emcee role and comedy dance routines. Four decades later it still pained him to
explain to Peter Guralnick: "I wanted more, but I couldn't get Bones to go ask for it with me.
So the man got with Bones and asked him if he would work with someone else, and I got
However, Rufus was soon running a Saturday midnight amateur show at the Handy Theater.
He was by now a well-known name in black Memphis, and he was fast becoming associated
with the good time Saturday nights for which Beale Street was famous. He said, "Beale Street
was the black man's haven. They'd come into town and forget all their worries and woes''.
Rufus's daughter, Carla Thomas, had clear memories of those days. She told 'Soul And Jazz
Record' in 1974: "Growing up in Memphis in the early 1950s held much excitement for me
because of my musical environment. Even though I was a young girl at the time, no one
could outdo me when I did the Hambone. Bo Diddley came to Memphis often and he laughed
about it. My father had everyone in the Foote Homes project doing that routine. My father
has been a hard worker all his life. Many times he worked three and four jobs to support our
family, traveling with different musicians to parts of Arkansas and Mississippi or wherever
they could get a job, along with working in a textile mill and later as a disc jockey. My
brother and myself would be anxiously waiting for him to come home to give us accounts of
his travels. He told us how country folks loved the blues, drank the booze, and we learned a
lot about life from daddy''.
Carla had a clear picture of Rufus's work closer to home, too: "I was at the Palace Theater
often because my mother always took my brother and me to see daddy who was usually the
emcee. Daddy danced so well that he eventually got barred from competition: that's how he
got to be emcee. I laughed until I cried at the jokes he shared with his team partner Bones,
of Rufus and Bones. It seemed to me then that to be associated with Beale Street was to be
associated with creativity, strength and pride. That's why many blacks, especially on the
weekends, would congregate up and down Beale Street to feel the pulse of life it had to
It's easy to overplay the extent to which Beale was buzzing. In August 1950, ''Ebony''
magazine ran a feature about 'The New Beale Street''', emphasizing the rise of black owned
business and the real or hoped for gentrification of the street. ''Beale is but a ghost of the
boisterious, blustering thorefare of yesterday, ''Ebony'', reported. ''It's sweet men and easy
riders are gone; its gambling dens and nite spots are shut down. A new Beale Street is arising
as a symbol of the new, enterprising, forward looking Southern Negro of today, looking
forward to the day when Negro business will dominate the street''. It reported, ''by midnite
these days the street is virtually deserted in contrast to the old days when the nite spots
operated all night''.
In December, on the same theme, 'Billboard' reported a speech at Booker T. Washington High
School by W. C. Handy, 77-year-old bandleader and composer of the ''Beale Street Blues'' and
''Memphis Blues''. Handy thought, "In the days when I was here, everything in the Negro
community centers around three or four blocks on Beale. There were theaters, drug stores
and saloons. Everybody put on his best to be seen on Beale: it was a promenade. Now there
are many Negro communities in the city and Beale has lost its charms. (It has) the character
of an avenue of commerce, filled pawnshops, cheap cafes and second-hand stores where the
tourist can find no lure''. Handy felt the same thing had happened in New York on Lenox
Avenue and in Harlem, Handy, who had him created a successful business in the North, felt
that "a certain race pride has gone by the boards. To many Negroes are trying to live white,
and it's not good''. There may have been a generations element in this because, to the
Thomas family, the,scene was still buzzing, and Rufus was as integral part of it.
For people like Rufus Thomas, and Nat Williams, the pride was still very much there, too,
and I started to take other forms as well, not least through the efforts of radio WDIA, the
first station to cater to black America in the South.
ONE MINUTE DAIRY LUNCH (WILLIE MITCHELL'S RHYTHM AND BLUES BLUB)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1941 is
constructed. Located at 326-328 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, this building, probably
built by Paul Zerilla and Joe Maceri at the same time as the New Daisy Theater, took the
place of an older two-story building constructed in the 1880s. Its occupants were mostly
grocers, barbers, and restaurant and saloon proprietors, until 1921, when the One Minuted
moved in. The restaurant remained open until 1953.
The One Minute, a popular rendezvous, specialized in footlong hot dogs, chili dogs, and root
beer. In the 1930s the cafe sold 3600 hot dogs per day. Andrew Chaplin, the drummer who
worked in "Hulbert's Lo-Down Houns" in 1930, begged the leader to change the orchestra's
name because he got tired of being ribbed every time he coma into the One Minute for a hot
dog. In the late 1950s, Jeff's "On Beale" Hot Pit Bar-B-Q opened. Some claimed it sold the
best in town.
NEW DAISY THEATER
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1941 is constructed. Located at 330 Beale Street, Memphis,
Tennessee, Paul Zerilla and Joe Maceri built the New Daisy to replace two other theaters at
this location. The reasoning behind trading one for two is not clear, since the older theaters
taken together were much larger and only twenty to thirty years old. In the trade-off, the
One Munite Dairy Lunch next door got a new building, while a much smaller structure was
built to partially fill in the alleyway to the east of the theater. This latter building, initially
occupied by Kane's Big Dipper Ice Cream Store, became the Harlem House in 1950, a
restaurant chain which had outlets all over the downtown area
The New Daisy showed films
and occasionally had live music. Its architecture has an art deco flair, highlighted by a lattice
pattern of brick work and elongated vents above the marquee.
The U.S. enters World War II. Within months, the federal government starts work on the
Naval Air Station at Millington, Defense Depot, and Kennedy General (later Veterans) Hospital
Leopold Stokowski, who since 1917 had shown an interest in musical techniques to improve
recorded performance, conducted the recording sessions for the soundtrack of the Walt
Disney film Fantasia. The result was a technical and artistic triumph.
The Grand Ole Opry sends a tour abroad to take country music to World War II servicemen.
UNKNOWN DATE 1941
Alan Lomax recorded McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, for the Library
of Congress on Stovall's plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi.
First jet aircraft designed.
Alex Rice Miller, aka Sonny Boy Williamson II, begins performing live on the radio KFFA's in
Helena, Arkansas. ''The King Biscuit Hour'' was fairly popular and made Sonny Boy a Delta
A threatened march on Washington DC, results in federal legislation forbidding racial
discrimination in defense industries.
DECEMBER 7, 1941
The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and direct American involvement in World War II began.
The Great Depression and the first month of American participation in World War II were
important watersheds for the many family's.
The Library of Congress recorded two black string bands from Middle Tennessee in Memphis.
The duo of fiddler Frank Patterson and singer-banjoist Nathan Frazier, and a trio consisting
of fiddler John Lusk, banjoist Murph Gribble, and guitarist Albert York. Lusk's grandfather
had been a slave fiddlers in New Orleans who no doubt had played many of the same tunes
that had stolen the Norwegian Ole Bull's thunder more than a century earlier.
Dewey Phillips moved to Memphis from the West Tennessee town of Adamsville.
The family of Luther Perkins came back to Memphis 1942. Luther Sr. worked at Firestone.
Luther Jr. (L.M. or ''Ellum'' as he was known) held down a variety of jobs.
UNKNOWN DATE 1942
Lionel Hampton's "Flying Home".
Billboard magazine debuts the Harlem Hit Parade to chart the top singles in the "race" field,
a precursor to rhythm and blues.
Illinois Jacquet kicks off the tenor sax as a primary rhythm and blues instrument with his
wild solo on Lionel Hampton's "Flying Home".
The onset of World War II results in limited record production, particularly non-pop records,
slowing the growth of rhythm & blues music until war's end in 1945.
The American Federation of Musicians calls for a ban on recording in a dispute over royalties;
the "strike" lasts until 1944. The Swift Jewel Cowboys had originated in Texas, working on
radio for the Swift Company, manufacturers of Jewel Salad Oil. Frank Collins, manager of the
Swift Jewel Cowboys who had originated Jewel Salad Oil, moved to Memphis this year,
guitarist Slim Hall, they let be played over radio station WMC until 1936 and then over radio
WREC until 1942. One member of the group, cornetist Pee Wee Wamble, is still resident in
Memphis. The Cowboys were a jazzy western swing outfit whose best tunes included "Chuck
Wagon Swing" and "Memphis Oomph". After the band left Memphis, Pee Wee Wamble
continued to play in Memphis and he recorded in the 1940s as a member of Freddie Burns'
Los Angeles bluesman T-Bone Walker incorporates jazz chords into the blues guitar with "I
Got A Break Baby".
Herman Lubinsky and Savoy Records begin operations in Newark, New Jersey, focusing on
recording black artists.
The Orbison family moved to Forth Worth sometime in 1942. In Forth Worth, they found
employment in the munitions and aircraft factories that had been expanded due to America's
entry into World War II. But due to epidemic polio in 1944, Roy and his elder brother Grady
were sent back to live with their maternal grandmother, a divorcee, in Vernon. Roy Orbison
wrote his first song "A Vow of Love", in front of his grandmother's house the same year.
RCA Victor presented the first ever Gold Disc to Glenn Miller for the million selling
Fred Rose and the singer Roy Acuff form the Nashville-based country music publishing
company Acuff-Rose, helping to permanently re-center of the country music business in
APRIL 23, 1942
Roy Orbison gets his first guitar for his 6th birthday
UNKNOWN DATE 1943
Duke Ellington's "Black, Brown And Beige".
King Records is founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, by Syd Nathan to record hillbilly. In 1946 they
begin recording rhythm and blues, becoming one of the most prominent independent labels
of the next decade as a result.
Sam Phillips marries Rebecca 'Becky' Burns.
Muddy Waters boards a train from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Chicago, Illinois. This trip is
symbolically viewed as the first step in rural country blues' transformation into urban blues.
Louis Jordan's "G.I. Jive" reaches top of the pop charts.
A "Jazz at the Philharmonic" concert in Los Angeles, featuring Nat Cole, Les Paul and Illinois
Jacquet, among others, yields the first commercially released "live" concert recordings.
Jacquet's squealing tenor saxophone solo on "The Blues" helps to plant the seeds for rhythm
The mechanical cotton picker is introduced; 20 years later, only 5% of the Delta's cotton
crop will be hand-picked.
Johnny Cash's brother Jack is nearly cut in half by a table saw and dies after a week of
suffering. Cash later says that he felt guilt because he had gone fishing that day.
The year's first issue of Billboard magazine introduces a "folk" chart that mixes country, jazz,
Memphis begins construction of the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge, which opens in 1949 across
the Mississippi River; its still in use today.
Les Paul invents "echo delay", "multi-tracking" and many other studio techniques.
Johnny Otis assembles a combo for "Harlem Nocturne" that is basically a shrunk-down
version of the big-bands of swing.
Jules Bihari founds Modern Records in Los Angeles, specializing in black music and is one of
the most successful and groundbreaking labels in the country.
The immediate post-war release of research facilities to peaceful purposes gave tremendous
impetus to sound quality improvement. The frequency spectrum covered by recording
increased dramatically. During the war years background music came of age. By decreasing
fatigue and raising morale, it contributed significantly to wartime productivity. Some
estimates found it increased output by as much as 25%. This revelation had an enormous
impact on the history and development of recorded sound.
"The Honeydripper" by Joe Liggins is number 1 on the black music charts for a record 18
weeks. The sexually suggestive term is an early indicator for the new direction of rhythm
and blues music.
Cecil Gant's "I Wonder" becomes the first massive rhythm and blues hit to be significantly
covered for other markets.
Lew Chudd forms Imperial Records and the following year Art Rupe forms Specialty Records,
both in Los Angeles, to record rhythm & blues. Each label will also make significant
recordings of New Orleans rhythm and blues over the next decade and a half.
Charlie Parker's "Koko" and "Now's The Time".
Radio station WMC in Memphis developed into the second most important country station. Its
stars included Gene Steele, Bob McKnight and his Ranch Boys with vocalist Freddie Burns,
Curley Williams' Georgia Peachpickers, Curley Fox, Harmonica Frank and, in 1945 and 1946,
the Delmore Brothers with Wayne Raney and Lonnie Gosson. Alton Delmore has recalled
Memphis as "the best place we ever worked". The Brothers had an early morning show on
WMC radio during the heyday of their King Records career in the wake of hits like "Hillbilly
Boogie". The longest running country program in Memphis was also on WMC radio. This was
the Slim Rhodes show which ran from 1944 into the early 1960s and later expanded into TV.
Sam Phillips moves to Memphis and himself worked as a country disc jockey for radio station
WREC in Memphis in June 1945. He was the host of he "Songs Of The West" program, where
he was known as "Pardner". Sam's brother Jud was also on WREC radio as a member of the
Jollyboys vocal quartet. Phillips following radio jobs in Alabama at WLAY, Muscle Shoals and WMSL, Decatur, and in Nashville at WLAC. At WREC he works as an announcer, disc jockey, and recording engineer until mid-1951.
APRIL 1, 1945
At the age of 9, Roy Orbison entered and won a contest on KVWC in Vernon, Texas, and this
led to his own radio show singing the same songs every Saturday. Roy played the guitar
himself for his radio show. Each week he had to learn new songs to perform, and so his gift
as a legendary guitar player started right here. The station didn't even have a microphone
low enough for him because he was so young, and Roy had to stand on a little footstool to
reach the mic.
After radio stints in Muscle Shoals and Decatur, Alabama, and Nashville, Sam Phillips joins
Memphis's WREC-AM radio as an engineer.
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs join Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, beginning the band's most
famous incarnation and marking the coming of age of the bluegrass style Monroe pioneered.
OCTOBER 30, 1945
Sam Phillips' son Knox is born on in Memphis, Tennessee.
Halfway through his thirteen year, Billy Riley and his family left the plantation in Arkansas
and headed southeast to Tupelo, Mississippi bringing their tent with them. Riley's father was
working as a painter but after a year with work at a premium the family pulled up roots
again and headed back to Arkansas - this time to Osceola. While in Tupelo though, Riley had
made his first public appearance, performing live on radio station WELO.
Billboard begins charting the sale of records in the "Negro" market, employing the heading,
"Harlem Hit Parade." The weekly listing is eventually renamed "Race Records''.
Muddy Waters cuts the first records of Chicago's electric blues.
Carl Hogan plays a powerful guitar riff on Louis Jordan's "Ain't That Just Like A Woman".
Specialty Records is founded by Art Rupe in Los Angeles to specialize in black popular music.
Louis Jordan launches "jump blues" (rhythm and blues) with "Choo Choo 'Boogie".
Shortly after the end of World War II, Carl Perkins' father Buck Perkins moved his family to
Bemis, Tennessee, where his brother worked in the cotton mills. Buck was refused a job in
the mills because of his deteriorating lungs and the Perkins family went back to
sharecropping, although this time they had a house with electricity and a refrigerator.
Perkins soon found a use for the electricity when he bought a cheap Harmony guitar and
plugged it in.
Robert E. "Buster" Williams and Clarence Camp launched a record distributorship, located at 680
Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, called Music Sales. The major labels largely
controlled their own distribution, but small distributors handled the indies. Music Sales
distributed most of the rhythm and blues labels, such as Atlantic and Chess, and later
records for Sun Records. Music Sales moves to bigger premises at 1117 Union Avenue. It wil become Sun's principal distributor.
SEPTEMBER 1, 1946
A medicine show came to town and Roy Orbison entered the talent contest singing "Mountain
Dew" and "Jole Blon", and tied for first place with a 15-year-old kid. The total prize was $15,
so he got $7.50 and gave his buddy half of that for carrying his guitar.
When the War was over, the family re-united in Vernon and soon moved out west to Wink,
Texas, in late 1946.
SEPTEMBER 6, 1946
Mississippi born Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup records "That's All Right" for Blue Bird records in
Billboard described the facilities for black bands in the mid-south: "As a rule, Southern club
operators are hostile toward labour and are kept in their best cooperative spirits when the
word "Union" is not spoken aloud in their presence. They regard the AFM as a force of
banditry. Negro bands often have to choose between vermin-infested hotels or the band bus.
All of this in addition to filthy cafes, poor or no valet service, long jumps on tar-gravelled
roads, crippled pianos and buzzing PA system make the South the least attractive hinterland
(See: Historic Memphis)
- better known as Lansky's, is a famous men's clothier located in Memphis, Tennessee. It
has gained worldwide recognition for being the choice location to buy clothes for music celebrities including the
complete Memhis blues scene, Sun artists such as Roy Orbison, Sonny Burgess, Johnny Cash, Warren Smith, and
Elvis Presley and many many more.
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
After a few years of business, Lansky Bros. already had an impressive list of customers, including Count
Basie, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, and B.B. King.
At the start of 1952, Bernard noticed a young white man who would continuously walk past his window and look
inside, but never actually went to buy anything. Eventually, Bernard went to invite the man in. It was a seventeenyear-
old Elvis Presley, who worked at the local Loew's Theatre. According to Bernard, Elvis told him that he was
going to buy him out when he got enough money. Lansky responded: "Elvis, don't buy me, buy from me''! Once
Elvis became an international superstar, Lansky Brothers still provided much of his attire, including his outfit for
his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. "I put Elvis in his first suit, and I put him in his last'',
In 1981, Bernard Lansky bought out his brother, and he and his son Hal Lansky opened a big-and-tall 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.
On November 15, 2012, storyteller, and most notably, Clothier to the King, Bernard Joseph Lansky passed away
peacefully at his home in Memphis at the age of 85.
DECEMBER 16, 1946
TRI-STATE BANK (CHARLES E. CARPENTER LAW OFFICES)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1907, still in operation at the
corner of Beale and Main, opened in this building located at 386 Beale Street. This was the
third blackowned bank in the city. The first, the Solvent Saving Bank and Trust Company,
started out in a building east of and next to 386 Beale Street in 1906. In 1914 it moved to
386 and then, in 1925, to 197 Beale on the corner of Beale and Third. Its failure, after a
merger in 1927.
On the second floor of 386 Beale were the offices of the Pace and Handy Music Company,
one of the first such enterprises in the United States owned by African-Americans. It opened
in 1913 and remained there until 1918, when both Harry Pace and W.C. Handy moved to
ANTONIO MACEO WALKER
- was an African American businessman and president of Universal
Life Insurance Company and Tri-State Bank, both in Memphis, Tennessee. Walker was born on
June 7, 1909 in Indianola, Mississippi to Joseph and Lela Walker. His father, Joseph Edison
Walker, founded Universal Life Insurance, and also was a medical doctor and entrepreneur.
Antonio Walker grew up in Memphis where he attended LeMoyne High School. He graduated
from Fisk University in 1930 with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He then
attended graduate school at New York University where he earned his Master’s in Business
Administration in 1932. In 1935 he earned a second Master’s degree in Actuarial Science
from the University of Michigan.
While in college, Walker worked as an insurance agent for
his father’s company, Universal Life Insurance. After graduate school, Walker worked for
Universal Life Insurance in the audit department, and was elected to the board of directors
in 1935 at the age of 26.
In 1938 Walker married Harriette Ish and the couple had three children: Lily Patricia,
Antonio Maceo, Jr., and Harriette Lucille Walker. After the death of his first wife, Harriette,
he married Charlesteen Miles.
In 1946 Walker and his father, Joseph Edison Walker, co-founded the Tri-State Bank of
Memphis. They established the Tri-State Bank primarily to help African American businesses
receive loans since in many instances these enterprises were refused loans by white owned
Memphis banks. In 1952 Walker succeeded his father as President of Universal Life
Insurance. After his father’s death in 1958, he also became the President of Tri-State Bank.
Walker continued to serve as President of Universal Life Insurance until 1983, when he gave
control of the company to his daughter, Patricia Walker Shaw. However, she died two years
later, and Walker resumed his position as President of the company. He finally retired from
the business world in 1990, resigning as the President of Universal Life Insurance and Tri-
Antonio Maceo Walker died on June 8, 1994 in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 85.
The brothers, Charlie and Ira Louvin, arrived from Knoxville to Memphis, and the duo honed
their plaintive vocal harmonies working three radio shows a day in Memphis, and booking
appearances throughout the region. Charlie Louvin has recalled that in the city of Memphis
where black entertainment reigned, even for much of the white audience, country music
was a tough sell. The Louvins wound up working in the Memphis Post Office, but the
postmaster gave the brothers such a hard time about missing work to play music that in 1954
the Louvins moved on, first to Birmingham, then to Nashville a year later.
Roy Brown writes and cuts "Good Rockin' Tonight" in Texas.
Chess Records is founded in Chicago by two Polish-born Jews, Leonard and Phil Chess to
promote blues and later rhythm and blues.
Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson founds Atlantic Records in New York to promote black
music at the border between jazz, rhythm and blues and pop. It will become the biggest
rhythm and blues label in history.
The Ravens introduce a new form of harmony singing featuring bass vocalist Jimmy Ricks out
front with tenor Maithe Marshall floating on top of the melody. Their radical reworking of
"Old Man River" is the prototype for the new style of rhythm and blues group singing on the
"Open The Door Richard" becomes the smash of the year with five different artists hitting
the Top Three on the rhythm and blues charts with a version, including its writer Dusty
Fletcher. The comical song about a drunk trying to get into his apartment while his
roommate is there with a woman signal a loosening of sexual mores, which become an
rhythm and blues hallmark.
WDIA RADIO opened as the sixth station in town, and one of the least important. At first, it
purveyed classical, popular and hillbilly music, alongside the news. Bert Ferguson, who coowned
the station with John Pepper, knew that Nat Williams was a communicator, someone
who could inform as well as entertain. With low ratings, WDIA figured that through Nat they
could try to gain listeners among the black community, which made up nearly half the local
population. Williams started in October 1948 with a show called 'Tan Town Jamboree' and he
quickly got a very positive response. Within a few years, WDIA moved to an all-black format
and was being promoted as the 'Mother Station Of The Negro'. Besides Williams, WDIA
recruited other local personalities from the schools and theaters of Memphis, including
Gatemouth Moore, Maurice Hulbert, Theo Wade, Willa Monroe, Martha Jean Steinberg,
Robert Thomas, Ford Nelson, A. C. 'Moohah' Williams - and, in September 1950, Rufus
POPLAR TUNES RECORD SHOP
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Elvis Presley used to hanging out at Poplar Tunes, located at
308 Poplar Avenue, when he was in high school. The store was founded by Joe Cuoghi and
John Novarese. Poplar Tunes was opened in 1947, just a few years before Elvis Presley
recorded his first song.
Poplar Tunes has come to symbolize the very best in Memphis music.
B.B. King came into the store on his own one evening and played his guitar. Cuoghi liked King
so much that he called a friend of his who worked at a radio station, supposedly giving B.B.
King his first real break.
Under the name of Hi Records, a record company they operated besides Poplar Tunes,
Novarese and Cuoghi jump-started the careers of a number of local and regional entertainers
including Al Greene, Ace Cannon, and Ann Peebles. They also found time to increase the size
and scope of Poplar Tunes. After Joe Cuoghi died in 1970, John Novarese was joined by
Frank Berretta. The company now has more than 100 employees and seven locations
including one in Collierville and another in Horn Lake; three are company-owned, and four
are leased. While the Memphis downtown store has quite a bit of walk-in traffic, its main
thrust is on the wholesale market. This Polar Tunes is a standard record store with a unique
history. Located a few blocks from Lauderdale Courts, this one store brick building looks just
it did now over forty years ago. In 1953 Elvis Presley was buying records here, and in 1954
Elvis' own records sold like wildfire at Poplar Tunes, the first record store to sell Elvis
Dewey Phillips used to stop by the store on the way to his afternoon radio show, and he
often came by after the show when the store was closed. After hours, Cuoghi and his other
music-business friends would sit around spinning records and filling each other in on the
latest industry gossip.
Whether Elvis Presley knew of Cuoghi's influence when he first started hanging around the
record store is debatable. Located a short walk from Lauderdale Courts, Elvis Presley spent
so much time in the store that Choughi came to know him as a shy, polite kid. Years later
Cuoghi remembered a very young Elvis Presley coming into the store just to see if his
records were selling. Whenever a young girl came in to ask for one of the records, Elvis
would start to grin, but he would never come forward. Cuoghi would tell the girl, "Elvis
Presley? Why that's him right over there". After the girl left, Elvis would to say, "Mr. Cuoghi,
don't do that. It embarrasses me".
Today you can still purchase Elvis' music at Poplar Tunes, and many of the other voices which
have emerged from Memphis. The walls at Poplar Tunes are lined with uncommon photos of
Elvis Presley. "He was in here all the time", says Mary Anne Linder, who's worked in the store
since 1955. "He was working at Crown Electric when Dewey Phillips first started playing his
record, and he would come in on his lunch break to see if people were buying it. In those
days Poplar Tunes was known as "one-stop shop" where jukebox owners would line up
outside the on Monday morning to buy the latest 45s. It was also a favorite hangout for local
teenagers. The two groups would stand elbow to elbow at the counter listening to records on
turntables, trying to decide which ones to buy".
"Because Elvis was so shy", says Linder, "he usually hid behind the Coke machine. After
they'd leave", she fondly recalls, "he'd come up to me and ask, 'Did anybody buy my record".
"Long before Elvis met Colonel Parker", says Joe Scola, "it was Joe Cuoghi who convinced the
late Bob Neal - who at the time owned a Pop Tunes outlet near the old Warner Theater on
South Main - to manage the young singer's career. Joe said he'd buy Neal out if he would
manage Elvis", recalls Scola, now advertising director for Poplar Tunes. "Joe took a real
interest in Elvis from the start, but you never hear much about that any more. We do a lot of
wholesaling to mom and pop operations that don't have connections with the big national
distributors", says Scola. "Right now we've got about 330 customers. Although the larger
chains continue to garner a sizable share of the retail record market locally", says Joe Scola,
"Poplar Tunes has remained a viable competitor. Lots of record companies have come and
gone", he points out, "but we're still here. We're a Memphis institution".
In 2011 without any fanfare, hope for a miracle, or opportunity for a last-minute reprieve,
the Nashville-based Music City Record Distributors unceremoniously pulled the plug on
Memphis' final two Pop Tunes locations including the first Pop Tunes, located at 308 Poplar
Avenue., which was opened by Joe Cuoghi and John Novarese in the late 1940s as a retail
record store, a jukebox supplier, and a wholesale operation. Someone died, even Elvis
PAPE'S MEN'S SHOP (POLICE STATION)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1947 was built. Located at 159-161 Beale Street,
Memphis, Tennessee, in 1943 Sigfried Pape bought the nineteenth century three-story
building which originally stood at this location, razed it, and built the current structure.
Pape's Men's Shop, the only occupant through the 1960s, sold high quality clothes. The store
had an arrangement with the American Finishing Company, a finisher of cotton materials.
When one of their employees had an outstanding account with Pape's, the company
garnisheed his wages to pay the bill.
Ernest C. Withers broke the Memphis police force's color line, becoming one of the city's
first nine black policemen and part of the first black Memphis patrol car team. It was no
revolution: Black police officers still weren't allowed to arrest white lawbreakers; they could
only detain them until a white officer arrived. But it was a start, and it was very good news
for Memphis blacks. With black officers patrolling Beale Street, there was less potential for
In his off-hours, Officer Withers was a photographer, a hobby he'd picked up in high school
when he took some snapshots of a visiting Mrs. Joe Louis. He took his hobby with him into
the army and the South Pacific, where he made a tidy side income photographing his fellow th
is for them to send the folks back home.
Business was so good, he says, that his superior officers accused him of running a
whorehouse. Nothing else, they reasoned, could draw such big crowds of Gis.
To the day, Ernest C. Withers is rarely seen without a camera; for the past fifty years he has
documented black Memphis, from the Negro Baseball League's Memphis Red Sox to church
functions, lodges, and social organizations. He traveled with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during
his public life, and his photographic documentation of the Beale Street scene in the second
half of ninety century is among our richest testaments to its vitality.
In 2007 Withers died from the complications of a stroke in his hometown of Memphis.
Withers and his wife Dorothy had eight children together.
The oil industry had developed a multi purpose thermo plastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC),
suitable for making recording tape and gramophone records with very low surface noise. The
flow characteristics of PVC made possible the pressing of microgroove long playing records
developed by a CBS team headed by Dr Peter Goldmark. Edison had released Long Playing
Discs with a duration of twenty minutes per side as early as 1926 but they could not be fairly
compared with the CBS microgroove LP.
John Lee Hooker records ''Boogie Chillen'' for Modern Records, a single, which topped the
rhythm and blues charts in 1949.
Muddy Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied" were recorded.
Seeking an entrée 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.
Detroit rhythm and blues saxophonist Wild Bill Moore releases "We're Gonna Rock We're
Columbia introduces the 12-inch 331/3 RPM long-playing vinyl record.
Homer Dudley invents the Vocoder (Voice Operated recorder).
Memphis' radio station WDIA hires Nat Williams, the first black disc jockey.
The magazine Billboard introduces charts for "hillbilly" and "race" records.
The term "rhythm and blues" is coined by young Billboard reporter and future Atlantic
Records producer Jerry Wexler. It will replace the negative "race records" chart a year later
which signifies the new shift in black music.
The Orioles, led by Sonny Til, become the first of the young black vocal groups to appeal to a
teenage audience, scoring a number 1 rhythm and blues hit with their debut, "It's Too Soon
To Know", the first rock ballad.
Wynonie Harris's version of "Good Rockin' Tonight" tops the rhythm and blues charts and
gives rise to the popularization of that word in connotation with the music.
The raciness in rhythm and blues becomes prevalent with such artists and songs as Julia
Lee's "King Size Papa" and Bull Moose Jackson's "I Want A Bowlegged Woman" which further
connect this music to a young, wild audience bent on moving away from past styles.
Columbia launched the vinyl 12-inch 33-1/3 rpm album.
Charlie Feathers left home to work as a pipeliner from Cairo, Illinois, all the way down to
Texas, playing juke joints as he went. Eventually he fetched up in Memphis sometime in
1950 and promptly got married.
Atlantic Records is formed. The label has shown a flair for assessing performing styles and
audience tastes that has been unmatched in the post-World War II era of popular music.
Signing a succession of performers from various sources and with various styles, Atlantic's
mid-1950s rosters included Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Clyde McPhatter, Ray
Charles, Chuck Willis, Ivory Joe Hunter, The Cardinals, The Clovers, The Drifters, The
Coasters, and Bobby Darin. With these performers the company's share of the r & b market
grew from three Top Ten records in 1950 to seventeen (out of eighty-one) in 1956. Though
no longer an independent, Atlantic continues to thrive as part of the WEA family.
SEPTEMBER 9, 1948
Sam Phillips' son Jerry is born in Memphis, Tennessee.
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER 1948
After possibly two years in the Service, bluesman Howlin' Wolf (Chester Arthur Burnett)
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 (very
young James Cotton and Little Junior Parker), 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.
Howlin" Wolfs band spotted broadcast
over station KWM, where Sonny Boy Williamson II, had a spot. (See Howlin' Wolf sessions)
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
Radio advertising revenue plummets with the advent of television. In the greater Memphis market, WDIA and KWEM are especially hard hit. KWEM opts for a ''Pay to Pay'' format. Any artist who can find a $25 sponsor can get a fifteen-minute show. Among those appearing on the station are Howlin' Wolf, Joe Hill Louis, Ike Turner, Matt Murphy, Elmore James, Pat Hare, Willie Steele, Hubert Sumlin, The 3 Aces (Willie Nix, Willie Love, Willie Joe Jenkins), Calvin Newborn, Phineas Newborn, James Cotton, and Junior Parker.
In 1948 Billy Riley tried to enlist in the armed services. Only 15 years of age, he was
rejected. By 1949 the Riley family had moved back to Pocohontas although his sister stayed
in Osceola. Riley tried again to enlist and with his sister signing the necessary papers
attesting that he was 18 (Riley had no birth certificate), he became an employee of Uncle
For Riley, the Army was just a way out of grinding rural poverty although he eventually saw
some benefits: ''While I was in the service I got more interested in music because I won some
talent shows at the service club''. Playing in these talent shows, singing hard country music
along the lines defined by Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Thompson, Riley first
performed in a full band context. He was even offered a position in Special Service but
surprisingly turned it down due to stage fright. During his hitch in the service, Riley made
his first private recordings including the Hank Williams weeper ''My Son Calls Another Man
It is unclear exactly how long Billy Riley spent in the service. He recalled to Bill Millar that
he returned to civilian life and then re-enlisted for three years. In any event, Riley
probably found himself back in civilian duds around 1953 or 1954.
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.
Fats Domino cuts "The Fat Man'', a new kind of boogie.
Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues" reaches the top of the country charts.
Scatman Crothers cuts "I Want To Rock And Roll" (1949), with Wild Bill Moore on saxophone.
Todd Storz of the KOWH radio station starts the Top 40 radio program.
The Billboard chart for "race" records becomes the chart for "rhythm and blues" records.
Aristocrat changes its name to Chess Records.
(Delta blues, Chicago blues, boogie).
The first demonstration of the transistor by Shockley, Brittain and Bardeen caused a
revolution in recording equipment design and performance parameters, and was to have the
same effect on domestic equipment. With the release by RCA of the first 7 inch diameter, 45
rpm microgroove discs, a short lived and good tempered battle to establish a new standard,
10 inch (or 12 inch) diameter records at 33.33 rpm or 7 inch (or larger) diameter records at
45rpm, commenced. In the event, both existed happily side by side each serving a particular
MGM releases Hank Williams's "Lovesick Blues''.
The saxophone becomes the centerpiece sound of rhythm and blues and is used for its
suggestiveness and its ability to incite a crowd into a frenzy as evidenced by Big Jay
McNeely's smash "The Deacon's Hop" and the slowed down sultriness of Paul Williams
The electric guitar takes hold with the blues recordings of T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker
and Muddy Waters and will soon become a centerpiece in rhythm and blues.
Atlantic Records starts its run as rhythm and blues's biggest label with Stick McGee's "Drinkin
The Orioles continue their dominance of the market with 8 Top Ten hits during the year and
frequently cause riots at their performances.
A failing white Memphis' radio station WDIA hires Nat Williams, the first black disc jockey and
changes its format to rhythm and blues which promptly turns the station's fortunes around.
They also hire future singing stars B.B. King and Rufus Thomas as DJs.
Louis Jordan's massive hit "Saturday Night Fish Fry" marks the end of the jump blues
dominance of the 40's, while Jimmy Preston's raucous "Rock The Joint" points towards a new
horizon of rock and roll for the 1950's.
Roy Orbison forms his first high school band, the Wink Westerners, which included James
Morrow on mandolin, Charles Evans on bass, Richard West on piano, and Billy Pat Ellis
borrowed the high school drum kit. They appeared on KERB Radio in Kermit, Texas, and the
character of their music can be judged by their name and the Roy Rogers bandanas toed
jauntily around their necks.
MARCH 31, 1949
RCA Victor introduces the 45rpm record which is easier to produce, smaller and cheaper
than the delicate 78's, which makes it more practical for younger audiences who will soon
become music's primary customer. RCA Victor also offered a small inexpensive record player
for $12.95 to play the new size and speed.
Granville "Sticks" McGhee's "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" is Atlantic Records' first national
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 Whiteman.
JUNE 17, 1949
Billboard, without any editorial comment, begins employing the term "rhythm and blues" in
reference to the black charts.
B.B. King's first recording, "Miss Martha King", is released on Bullet Records, the single was
recorded in WDIA studio, the Memphis radio station where King has a daily radio show.
Eddie Hill started his session for Decca Records in Nashville, Tennessee, which was held at
the same time as Bob Price's session.
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.
Leadbelly appears in France, becoming the first country bluesman to perform in Europe.
Back in the United States, Leadbelly died in New York City.
UNKNOWN DATE SUMMER 1949
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
"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, northcentral
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 frenenic 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
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
"Del Dean... these guys were a little ahead of us in high school", said Red West. "And me
being an athlete, I looked up to these guys. Del Dean was a tough, rouch guy from a place
called Lamar Terrace - that's a housing project over in another part of Memphis. We all lived
in different housing projects. I lived in Hurt, Elvis lived in Lauderdale Courts... These guys
were good athletes - football players and boxers. Larry Bell and his brother, they went to
Humes and they were my idols in junior high school. Then later in 1963, they came to us and
told us they had a football team and they wondred if Elvis would sponsor them. So he
sponsored the team, and then we started playing too. They were some of the best times we
ever had", says Red West.
WALTER "FURRY" LEWIS
- Born in Greenwood, Leflore County, Mississippi on March 6, 1893.
His parents, Victoria Jackson and Walter "Furry" Lewis were farmers. "Furry" was his
childhood pet name, and Lewis learned music on homemade guitar at about 6 years of age.
Lewis was six years old when he came to Memphis and stayed there ever since. He went to
the Carnes Avenue School in Memphis, and he didn't get any higher than the fifth grade.
Lewis was seventeen years old when he left school, Lewis help by his mother, he quit work,
riding a bicycle and carrying drugs and worked in a drugstore. At the age of twelve, when he
first started playing guitar, he strolled the streets with his guitar for nickels and dimes,
played at parties for his neighbours and jived with the jug bands for bigger to-dos from circa
He ran away from home to follow Jim Jackson in passing medicine shows circa 1906-1908
and returned to Memphis to work with W.C. Handy Orchestra, or single, in the local yavers,
speakeasies, dance halls, house parties, streets, suppers, picnics, frolics, fish fries, dances
or occasional passing tent, medicine shows through the area circa 1908-1916. He frequently
hoboed through the South working as an itinerant singer, guitarist and suffered loss of leg in
a train accident in 1916. He returned to Memphis to form a group with Jim Jackson, Will
Shade, Gus Cannon working Pee Wee's, Big Grundy's, Cham Field, BB Anderson's and others
and occasional street work to circa 1916 into 1920s.
Most prized, and most repeated, he played with W.C. Handy, but he never had a regular job
with Handy. When W.C. Handy went to New York, Furry Lewis was on the road with medicine
shows, more as a comedian than as a musician. He was with Dr. Benson's doctor show, selling
Jack Rabbit medicine, pills and such as that, corn medicine, too.
In the 1920s Furry came off the road and took a steady job, cleaning the streets of Memphis.
Earlier, Lewis had a succession of jobs, others more substantial like being cook's helper on
the excursion boats or running the 'whisky train' (hauling cases of whisky from the riverboats
to a roadhouse on Beale Street).
Furry Lewis played as hard as he worked. He lived around the corner from Beale Street and,
always carrying his guitar, became one of street's most familiar fixtures, playing in honkytonks,
in Beale Street Park, for Amateur Nights at the Palace Theater. He was called upon to
play at Memphis' fashionable homes, at picnics, barbecues, and political rallies.
Furry Lewis toured with Doctor Willie Lewis' Medicine Show working through the Arkansas
and Mississippi area circa 1920s. He frequently worked with Memphis Minnie, with Blind
Lemon Jefferson, with Texas Alexander and others, working on riverboats, juke joints dives
through the south into the 1920s. and worked mostly outside the music field with
occasionally house parties in the Memphis area between 1923 to 1966.
He occasionally worked with Will Shade's Memphis Jug Band in Church Park (W.C. Handy
Park), on Beale Street, dances, parties in Memphis with some touring in the late 1920s. In
1927, Lewis recorded for the Vocalion label in New York City; recorded for the Victor label
in Memphis in 1928; recorded for Vocalion label in Memphis in 1929 and in 1959 for the
Folkway label in Memphis.
In 1961, Furry Lewis recorded for the Prestige-Bluesville label in Memphis and he appeared
in the documentary film "The Blues" in 1963. Worked at the Bitter Lemon Coffeehouse in
Memphis circa 1963; played on the Chicago Folk Festival in 1964 and recorded for the
Rounder label in Memphis in 1963. Worked for the Memphis Blues Festival in Memphis during
1966-1969 (a portion of a 1968 concert has been released on the Sire-Blue Horizon label)
and toured with the Alabama State Troupers rockroad show on working concert dates in the
In 1968, Lewis worked at the Preservation Hall in New Orleans and recorded for
Biograph/Matchbox labels in Memphis; recorded with Bukka White for the Asp label in
Memphis in 1968; worked at Electric Circus in New York City in 1969; recorded with Bukka
White and others for Adelphi label in Memphis in 1969.
In 1970, Lewis worked at the Cafe A-Go-Go in New York City and at the Berkeley Blues
Festival at the University of California in Berkeley, California in 1970; at the Beloit College in
Beloit, Wisconsin in 1970; appeared on the "Homewood Show" on PBS-TV station in 1970;
worked for the Washington Blues Festival at the Howard University in Washington D.C. in
1970; and appeared in the film "Roots Of American Music: Country and Urban Music" in 1971
and he worked at the Caslight Club in New York City in 1971 (a portion has been released on
the Ampex label); appeared on the River City Blues Festival, Ellis Auditorium in Memphis in
1973-73 (a portion of the 1973 concert was heard on VOA-radio); worked at the Long Beach
Civic Auditorium in Long Beach, California in 1971 (a portion has been released on the
Elektra label); appeared at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California in 1971 (a
portion has been released on Elektra label) and appeared at the University of Chicago in
In 1972, Walter Lewis appeared at the Delta Blues Festival at the University of Arkansas in
Fayettevilly, Arkansas, and appeared in the French film "Blues Under The Skin" in 1972 and
appeared in a short film "Thinking Out Loud" in 1972; toured with the Memphis Blues
Caravan and working on college circuit across the United States in 1972 to 1976; recorded
with Don Nix for the famous Stax label in Memphis in circa 1974; appeared on the Johnny
Carson's Tonight show on NBC-TV in 1974. He worked for a salute show to W.C. Handy in
Henderson, Kentucky in 1974; appeared at the Hotel Pontchartrain in Detroit, Michigan in
1974; at the Peanut's Club in Memphis in 1974; appeared in the film "WW and The Dixie
Dancekings" in 1975; worked at the Jubilee Jazz Hall in Memphis in 1975, film clips were
shown on "Omnibus Show" The Friendly Invasion) on BBC-TV in London, England in 1975. He
also worked on the Cornell Folk Festival in Ithaca, New York in 1975.
Walter "Furry" Lewis worked with the Memphis Blues Caravan in the Performing Arts Center
in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1976 and appeared on the Mac Davis Show for NBC-TV in 1977.
He appeared on "Good Mornin' Blues" for PBS-TV in 1978. In 1980, Lewis worked occasionally
on festivals into the 1980 and he also appeared in the film "This Is Elvis". Walter "Furry"
Lewis was made Honourary Colonel of the State of Tennessee in 1973. Lewis was influenced
by Blind Joe and he influenced Dave Van Ronk. Furry's expressiveness and subtlety have an
almost intimate feeling. He is in many ways one of the most personal blues singers.
individuality lies in his unconventional use of the guitar as a percussive instrument and as a
supplementary vocal line. His style is highly anecdotal and emotionally charged, brimming
with tales of hard times. Furry Lewis died of lung cancer in Memphis on September 14,
1981. He is buried at the Hollywood Mt. Carmel Cemetery at 2012 Hernando Road in
Memphis, Tennessee. Lewis marker says, "When I Lay My Burden Down".
- On June 7, 1947, WDIA radio station started as a pop and country station in
Memphis, located at 2074 Union Avenue, and changed to a black music format the following
year. The station was used by David James Mattis to record Bobby "Blue" Bland, Rosco
Gordon, Junior Parker, and Johnny Ace for the Duke label, had a minuscule output of 250
watts. Even though it remained under white management by John R. Pepper and Bert
Ferguson, WDIA - and to a lesser extent KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansas, and WLOK, also in
Memphis - gave daily exposure to the artists and their competitors. Their principal medium
was the fifteen-minute sponsored live show, a format that spawned B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf,
and many more.
The following year, however, Bert Ferguson shrewdly recognized that blacks were being
ignored by local radio. He approached black businessmen with an idea for a black-oriented
musical format, and they agreed to advertise. When Nat D. Williams, a local black high
school history teacher, was hired, the station began its transition into a major blues force. A
50,000 watt transmitter turned it into one of the pre-eminent radio stations in the South.
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. After Rufus Thomas also went to work as
a disc jockey, and 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 black-oriented 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 the country.
NATHANIEL DOWD WILLIAMS
- The most important ally of all, the man who loved Beale Street
most. Williams claimed, Elvis Presley, whose roots were nurtured in Beale's rich and fertile
music area. Born in Memphis in the Beale Street area, Williams saw himself as a boy, looking
on wide-eyed as his mother performed her shake dances on the Palace Theater.
Nat D. was
an history teacher, newspaper columnist, master of ceremonies at the Palace Amateur
Nights, disc jockey, and about-to-be-retired Beale Streeter. He was a Beale Streeter by
upbringing and by inclination.
Nat D. Williams began the first black newscasts, started having short segments on black
history, and used the basic titles of respect in referring to everyone.
Nat D. and Robert
Henry introduced Elvis Presley to many of Beale Street entertainers in the early 1950s. Nat
D. spoke warmly of the young white entertainer who badgered him into giving him a chance
to perform along with black contestants on the amateur shows at the Palace Theater on
Nathaniel Dowd Williams, hampered by a stroke, retired, and died on October 27, 1983, in
Memphis, Tennessee. Beale Street at the time was on the brink of a rebirth spawned by
ABOUT ELVIS PRESLEY
- Nathaniel Dowd Williams spoke warmly of the young white
entertainer who badgered him into giving him a chance to perform along with black
contestants on the amateur shows at the Palace Theater. "We had a lot of fun with him. Elvis
Presley on Beale Street when he first started was a favourite man. When they saw him
coming out, the audience always gave him as much recognition as they gave any black
musician. He had a way of singing the blues that was distinctive. He could sing 'em not
necessarily like a Negro, but he didn't sing 'em altogether like a typical white musician. He
had something that certain humanness about him that Negroes like to put in their songs. So
when he had a show down there at the Palace, everybody got ready for something good.
Yeah. They were crazy about Presley. We had a boast that if you made it on Beale Street,
you can make it anywhere. And Elvis Presley made it on Beale Street".
Nathaniel Dowd Williams raised some pointed questions in his December 22, 1956, column in
the Pittsburgh Courier about Presley's hero status on Beale. "Maybe it's the Indogo Avenue's
blase blues sophistication, native ignorance of the important, or just pur-dee meanness, but
ordinarily nobody generally excites Beale Streeters enough to cause them to cue up to buy
tickets or crash lines for autographs... But Elvis Presley has 'em talking. And they ain't
talking about his art. Beale Street's more or less miffed at Elvis. And many of the brethlen in
black, brown and beige are plump flustered by the man. You see, something happened the
other night that the average Beale Streeter doesn't altogether dig nor appreciate.
It was like this: Memphis' famed radio station WDIA staged it's annual goodwill revue for the
benefit of needy Negro children. Naturally everybody for miles around was invited... along
with scads of topflight Negro entertainers like B.B. King, the Moonglows, the Magnificent,
Ray Charles, the Five Blind Boys and various others.
Well, more than 9,000 head of God's chillun showed up... along with Elvis Presley. Now, why
Elvis came and how he got in the middle of such a concentrated Kodachrome crowd, one
may never know. But he was there. He tried to stay backstage. But somebody spotted him,
and asked him to come out and take a bow. Well, he did. And that did it. A thousand black,
brown and beige teen-age girls in the audience blended their alto and soprano voices in one
wild crescendo of sound that rent the rafters... and took off like scalded cats in the
direction of Elvis.
It took some time and several white cops to quell the melee and protect Elvis. The teen-age
charge left Beale Streeters wondering" "How come culled girls would take on so over a
Memphis white boy... when they hardly let out a squeak over B.B. King, a Memphis culled
boy?". "Both the boys have made names for themselves. And some folk feel that Elvis might
just barely have borrowed something from B.B. But further, Beale Streeters are wondering if
these teen-age girls' demonstration over Presley doesn't reflect a basic integration in
attitude and aspiration which has been festering in the minds of most of your folks'
womenfolk all along", recalled Williams.
OCTOBER 1, 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 centres, 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 organizations 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
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
- Countrystar Slim Rhodes' competitor on radio station WREC was Buck Turner
with his Buckaroos. Turner, from French Camp, Mississippi was probably not the same Buck
Turner who recorded out of Dallas in the 1930s and had a minor success with "Sing Blues",
although Turner's story has never been properly investigated. He died sometime in the early
1970s without having been interviewed. Details of his Buckaroos are also scant, but the
group included Curt Gilmer on guitar whose cousin Will Gilmer recorded before the war the
Leake County Revelers. Before Buck Turner's days at WREC radio, during the 1930s and
1940s, Ramblin' Red Lowery and the Swift Jewel Cowboys had appeared regularly on the
OCTOBER 15, 1949
The Memphis Housing Appeal, the Housing Authority's newspaper, lists the Presleys as one of
seventeen new families who have recently moved into the 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. He 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.
OCTOBER 23, 1949
Dewey Phillips goes on-air at WHBQ. Initially his ''Red, Hot & Blue'' show airs from 10:15-11:00, but quickly grows to 9:00-midnight. Because WDIA goes off-air at sundown, WHBQ believes it can capture some of that station's audience.
Professor Longhair and his New Orleans Boys recorded the anthem "Mardi Grass In New
Orleans" at J&M Studios.
NOVEMBER 21, 1949
Joe Hill Louis records a session in Nashville for Columbia Records.
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 Memphis.
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 musicians.
Two people share primary responsibility for the development of the electric guitar: Leo
Fender and Les Paul. Fender started building guitars and amplifiers in the forties. In 1950,
he introduced the first solid-body electric guitar, the Broadcaster, later renamed the
Telecaster. In 1952, the Gibson guitar Corporation brought out the Les Paul, named after its
designer, a successful musician and inventor. in 1953, Leo Fender launched the Stratocaster,
considered a sexier, more futuristic version of the Telecaster.
THE VOGUE SHOP, (B.B. KING'S GIFT SHOP)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1950s, was built. Located at 147 Beale Street,
the top two floors of the original structure, built before 1890, were removed in the 1950s.
Jacob Rudner operated his dry goods store at this location from 1906 until 1925. Other
occupants were Lester's Women's Clothing (1937-1951) and, beginning in 1952, The Vogue
Shop, a women's clothing store owned by Irvin Lansky.
SIMON COHEN AND SONS (MEMPHIS MUSIC RECORDS, TAPES AND SOUVENIRS)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- before 1890,
dry goods shop was built. Located at 149 Beale Street, Simon Cohen bought this building to
house his dry goods store which stayed in operation from the early 1920s through the late
1940s. Prior to this period, it was the original location of Schwab's. In the 1960s Art Hutkin's
hardware store became its sole occupant. At various times rooms were rented for residents
and professional offices. The building has a nineteenth-century flavor with its attic vents,
slightly arched brick supports above the windows, and cast-iron support columns.
HOME OF THE BLUES RECORD SHOP
- Ruben Cherry's record store, located at 107 Beale
Street (now occupied by the Elvis Presley statue) across from South Main Street in Memphis
where, in the early 1950s Elvis Presley bought many 78rpm records by rhythm and blues
There was scarcely a musician in town who didn't know the Home Of The Blues
Record Shop. The shop's proprietor, Ruben Cherry,didn't load the racks with new releases or
dump his inventory when an artist's stardom began to fall. Instead he tried to carry one of
everything, figuring that every record had a buyer somewhere.
It was an archives of sorts, and part of a Memphis musician's education was gleaned from
standing in front of the old wooden bins flipping through records. At the same time, it was
like a giant song factory, because every song there had the potential of becoming a hit.
Copyright and ownership were ill- defined in those days, and any musician looking for a song
to cut might start with an older record.
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
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.
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