- POPLAR TUNES RECORD SHOP -

Pop Tunes played an important role in many Memphis blues musicians, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and many others. This original building was located east of the later 308 Poplar Avenue location.

 

On October 16, 1956, Elvis Presley and Dewey Phillips make a visit to Joe Cuoghi at the Poplar Tunes Record Shop at Poplar Avenue in Memphis. After the visit, the two had dinner with Barbara Hearn at the State Cafe. Here broke Elvis his two dental inserts >

POPLAR TUNES RECORD SHOP - 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 symboliz e 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 Presley's music.

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".

Mary Ann Linder has sold records to many Memphians during her 38 years at Pop Tunes, including Elvis Presley. Right she receives a hug from Dewey Phillips, the Memphis disc jockey credited as the first to play Elvis's records >

 

Today (1992), 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 Presley...!

 

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