ELVIS 1948 (1-12) - 1949 (1-12)

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"The coloured folks", asserted Elvis Presley, "been singing it and playing it just like I'm doin' now, man, for more years than I know. They played it like that in the shanties and in their juke joints and nobody paid it no mind 'til I goosed it up. I got it from them". "Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel all old Arthur felt, I'd be a music man like nobody ever saw". "Yep, some of the music is lowdown. There are low-down people and high-up people, but all of them get the kind of feeling that rock and roll music tells about". "When I sang hymns back home with my Mom and Pop I stood still and I looked like you feel when you sing a hymn. When I sing rock and roll, my eyes won't stay open and my legs won't stand still. I don't care what they say, it ain't nasty.

- Elvis Presley, Charlotte Observer 1956


John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" and Muddy Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied" were recorded. The longplaying record (LP) is introduced.

Seeking an entree into the music business, Dewey Phillips got a job hawking recorded at W.T. Grant's, five-and-dime near, a department store near the Gayoso Hotel at Gayoso and Main Street in downtown Memphis, where WHBQ radio was then located. His job description was counter clerk, but Dewey Phillips as usual defied description. Dewey immediately began blasting rhythm and blues through loudspeakers onto Main Street, then plugged a microphone onto the record player and started blasting himself. He soon had the hottest record department in the 500-store chain and had become his own brand of disc jockey. All he needed was a radio station.


On this day, the Louisiana Hayride first went on the air. The Saturday night show was initiated by Henry Clay and Dean Upson, who belonged to the management of the radio station KWKH in Shreveport. From 1948, the program was broadcast weekly. The reception was initially limited to Louisiana and the surrounding states. From 1954, a 30-minute excerpt was transferred overseas via the AFN network. And over the CBS network the show reached entire North-America.

Horace Logan played an important role in the development of the most influential radio show in the country. Horace Logan’s career in radio began when he was 16 years old and won a contest as an announcer for KWKH. After his military service, he opened a gun shop, but was persuaded to come back to the radio. Along with Station Manager Henry Clay and the commercial Director, Dan Upson, he set out to establish the single Jamboree, which was a serious rival to Nashville's famous Grand Ole Opry. The name "Louisiana Hayride" was chosen because it suggested and also localized country music. Logan was the author of the slogan "Elvis has left the building".

The Louisiana Hayride is one of the most popular country music radio shows in the United States. Since 1948 it is transferred from the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana, and was surpassed in the 1950s only by the "Grand Ole Opry" in popularity. The epithet of Hayrides is "Cradle Of The Stars" because the show was known for many musicians as a springboard to a career and for his musical innovation.

The Municipal Auditorium was a modern building with good acoustics, a capacity of 3800 seats and much larger than the Grand Ole Opry's Ryman Auditorium. It had a large balcony that curved around on either side of the stage, and giving the room a natural echo. The balustrade was decorated all around with a small wrap of velvet, and the main room had folding chairs that could be taken up for dances and basketball exhibitions. Behind the stage were spacious dressing rooms and a large, common dressing room on the second floor were set up as a meeting place for artists. Admission to the Hayride cost 60 cents for adults and 30 cents for children.

The Hayride-audience was a noisy and enthusiastic crowd, the balconies packed to the rafters. There were various colleges and universities around Shreveport and also the Barksdale Air Force Base. From there, the young people came - just like the fans of the enthusiastic East Texas music scene. Microphones placed in the middle of the audience took on the enthusiasm of the crowd for the radio transmission.

Hayride impresario Horace Logan gave the performances a dramatic touch when he took the stage with a fancy, wide-margined cowboy hat and six guns. The emcee Ray Bartlett spiced his appearances with somersaults and back flips.


One of the first stars was Hank Williams and Kitty Wells. But other stars like Faron Young, Slim Whitman, Web Pierce, Jim Reeves, The Carlisle's, David Houston, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley were among those who made their debut on the Hayride. Elvis Presley was a member of the ensemble for 18 months after he had failed at the Grand Ole Opry.

The Louisiana Hayride was mostly in the shadow of the Grand Ole Opry. "The Cradle Of The Stars" - as the Hayride was called - was especially emerging talent as a springboard, but offered also established musicians who the strict regime of the Grand Ole Opry did not want to undergo, opportunity to gigs.

After the leaving of Elvis Presley, the show experienced a gradual decline. Only temporarily tape recordings of old shows were played. The station KWKH-retired and in 1969 the shipments were definitively set. David Kent took over the naming rights in 1975 and revived the Hayride 1973-1987 again. The show was performed in a different building with a reduced array of stars on. From 1984 the show was transferred additionally on television. Three years later they moved back to the Municipal Auditorium. The successes of the times from 1948 to 1960 could no longer be tied and the show was stopped again. There were plans to restore the Municipal Auditorium and be held the Louisiana Hayride there again. Meanwhile, the restoration was carried out successfully under new owners.

The current owner of the Louisiana Hayride is Maggie and Alton Warwick, which not only revived the Municipal Auditorium and its surroundings, but also the Hayride with its tradition of voice and supporter of local and regional talent. In many respects the Louisiana Hayride supplanted the Grand Ole Opry in two ways. Both programs were focus on country music and oriented with its 50,000 watt signals on the same area. At the Louisiana Hayride new artists and new musical innovations were welcome - in a way which never pulled the strictly traditional Grand Ole Opry into consideration. While the Opry very rarely, if ever, an artist who had taken no hit, did occur, the Hayride did the opposite and let aspiring performers, so that they could find an audience. And while at the Opry electric guitars were banned, it was welcome on the Hayride - an instrument that helped to transform the "hillbilly music" to the new hybrid form of music was the rock and roll.


After possibly two years in the Service, bluesman Howlin' Wolf returned to farming in Mississippi but started playing in West Memphis, Arkansas around 1948. He probably continued to work on the farm for a while at least because people recall seeing him show up for radio station work in his farm overalls. At that time, West Memphis had longer drinking hours than Memphis, more gambling joints and a city administration willing to turn a blind eye. On Friday and Saturday nights, school buses brought sharecroppers in from the surrounding Delta country. The Wolf and his small group plied their craft as the country folk boozed, whored and gambled away their meagre earnings. Pat Hare, who later played guitar with James Cotton and Muddy Waters, recalled that his first paying job was working with Howlin' Wolf in a West Memphis whorehouse in 1948 or 1949.


Jack Clement signed up for a four year stint in the U.S. Marines. The Marine base where Clement was stationed was just outside Washington, D.C., and here late in 1948 he was first exposed to bluegrass music. "That was when I fell in love with the five-string banjo", he recalls, "and I just had to get one and practise on it straight away".

Soon, he was proficient enough to play duets with Roy Clark, now a country superstar but then a resident artist at a Washington club called "The Famous". On Saturday nights, he would travel down to Maryland with Scotty Stoneman's band. Scotty was the mainstay of the popular Stonemans. He played fiddle, with mandolin, banjo and bass support from Jack Clement, Buzz Busby and Jimmy Stoneman. The group was completed by Ralph Jones on dobro and Clement recalls Jones being one of the finest oldtime country musicians he ever knew.

(Above) Looking north on North Gloster Street, Tupelo, Mississippi on September 1, 1948. This was Highway 45 and 78. The hill at the top is where Gloster and McCullough cross today. This is the same road the Presley family traveled when they left Tupelo for Memphis in 1948. Tom's Peanuts is in the same spot today.


The Presley's loaded their green 1939 Plymouth coupe and left Tupelo for good. Elvis Presley, thirteen years old, puzzled by the sudden departure, nonetheless accepted the change. The imperative behind the Presley's move to Memphis was actually made somewhat more smooth by the same factor that really caused it, however: the moonshine whiskey business. "We were broke, man. We just left overnight. Things had to be better", Elvis Presley on poverty. The majority of moonshiners were in it for strictly personal consumption, and the local authorities usually turned blind eye in that case. But their sight suddenly improved if you attempted to turn it into a business, like Vernon Presley.

Tupelo had a mayor and a prosecutor, but the sheriff ran things and was free to make certain decisions. He decided to give Vernon Presley a choice, either go back to jail for several months or leave Tupelo for good. He told Vernon he was a disgrace to the town, just the rest of his relations. He told Vernon to get the hell out and never come back. If he does come back, the sheriff promised to put Vernon in jail without a second thought, so what choice there got?

After moving to Memphis, via Highway 78, Elvis Presley returned frequently to visit his many close friends and relatives in Tupelo. John Grower, manager of Tupelo's Lyric Theater, later recalled that Elvis Presley participated in the theater's Saturday morning talent shows. One song that Elvis Presley reportedly performed was Hank Williams' 1949 hit, "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It". By 1949, the Presley's were residents of Memphis, where Elvis' musical education would soon move into high gear. Elvis Presley strummed his guitar and watched the landscape change from rural to urban the closer they got to their destination. Cotton fields gave way to industrial smokestacks spewing bad-smelling fumes, and the road became crowded with cars. Elvis felt his heart sink as the crowded city came into view, the life he had known was over forever. (Howard DeWitt says in his book they left September 12, 1948, Peter Guralnick argues for November 6 and that Elvis knew ahead of time).


The Presley's made their permanent move to Memphis in the weekend on September 12, 1948. Elvis' initial school enrolent the eighth-grade, was at Christine School, an Catholic institution on Third Street. Vernon Presley later recalls that shortly after walking Elvis to school on his first day, the boy reappeared at home "so nervous he was bug-eyed". The Presley's waited nearly two months to send Elvis to Humes High School, apparently in order to make sure they got settled first, because Memphis school system records indicate that Elvis' first class was November 8, 1948.

Their determination to see Elvis Presley educated was for Vernon and Gladys Presley one shared passion, and it had set them apart from most of other sharecroppers who thought kids only needed to know the basics of readin' writin', and rythmetic before going to work in the fields full time. Vernon sat with Elvis through the whole registration process, then left when classes were about to start. No sooner had he returned home than Elvis returned home, too.


Vernon and Gladys Presley had debated their future. It was difficult for Vernon Presley to find work, and they had moved from one small house to another for more than a decade. Although Vernon Presley made small sums of money selling moonshine whiskey, it was just not adequate - by itself - to support the family. Having had at least some success working in Memphis during World War II, Vernon Presley ultimately came to view it as the promised land.

As the Presley's drove into Memphis in 1948, there were also indications of a social and economic renaissance. The black and white stores and the local cress' had lunch counters open to blacks, and there were signs of progress in employment, education, and entertainment. Blacks were key consumers in Memphis, and it was just good business to appeal to their needs. The Memphis Commercial Appeal covered black events with dignity and grace, and there was little evidence of media discrimination.

The newly arrived Presley's were initially unaware of the full scope of Memphis' musical underpinnings - Beale Street, rockabilly, WDIA radio. It was natural for them to gravitate to the part of Memphis that locals called "Little Mississippi", which was filled with people who had migrated from small northern Mississippi towns. It was also not long afterwards that Elvis Presley discovered Beale Street and WDIA radio.

The year 1948 also marked the radio debut of Dewey Phillips, whose radio style virtually defied categorization. He was a white disc jockey from rural Tennessee who later hosted the show "Red Hot and Blue".

During this same time period, Colonel Tom Parker has become one of the top managers in the country music field, with his sole client, Eddy Arnold, enjoying five number-one hits in 1948 alone. Parker persuades Arnold at this point to quit the Grand Ole Opry for more lucrative show-business opportunities, including - in the next year - television exposure, a Las Vegas booking, and motion pictures. Parker himself receives an honorary colonel's commission in October from Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis, a noted country singer in his own right, and henceforth will employ the title, first as a kind of joke, later as if it were his legitimate due.


Having no specific destination, Vernon Presley drove to downtown Memphis. In the heart of the city, prosperity and enthusiasm surrounded them. Every other car they passed was shiny and new. Clean, shoplined streets were filled. Unlike, sharecroppers who trudge their way through life, these city folk walked with a spring in their step. Even breathing was easier, the air free of choking dust. As he watched the purposeful movement and felt the energy, the pain in Elvis Presley's chest temporarily eased. Maybe his mother was right. Maybe Memphis was a promised land of opportunity.

After on a lunch of cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes, Vernon Presley set out to find his family a place to live. At first they were awestruck at the stylish house nestled on neatly manicured streets; the thought of living in such splendor made them dizzy. But their high hopes were rudely snatched away by harsh financial realities. The neighborhoods that most appealed to them were way beyond their means and out of reach. By nightfall, they were fighting crushing discouragement, and a shroud of despair settled on Elvis Presley. The neighborhood had a rough, city feel to it and wasn't a safe place to walk around alone at night.

On this early morning, the Presley family resumed their search and with each passing hour, the weary family moved on to increasingly dingier neighborhoods until they finally found an apartment, they newly arrived Presley's rented a room in a boarding house located at 370 Washington Avenue, and Vernon Presley quickly walked down to one of the seven beer bars on nearby Poplar Avenue, along with Gladys' brothers, Johnny and Travis Smith. The Smiths had also moved their families - along with Grandma Minnie Mae Presley - to Memphis, and were working at Precision Tool Company on Kansas Street in South Memphis, where Gladys' brothers Travis and Johnny are working, while looking for better housing. The Presleys also joined the First Assembly of God church at 1085 McLemore Avenue. In October of 1948, Gladys began working as a seamstress for Fashion Curtains. While this improved the family's finances, the work was hard and stressed Gladys physically and emotionally.

Elvis Presley spent the next days in a daze, hoping the empty feeling would stop hurting. Nothing put him at ease. While it was true their new apartment was nicer than the shacks they'd lived in before, it didn't feel like a home. In Tupelo, Elvis Presley had always been able to escape outdoors and feel free in the open flatland, or clear his head with the sweet, heavy smell of a summer night. Now, instead of a front yard, there was a concrete sidewalk and a busy street clouded by exhaust fumes and the acrid discharge of nearby factories. No more lying on the grass watching the sun set over lazy farmland, they were surrounded by the ugliness of city industry. But, the musically Sun of Memphis, waiting for him.

370 WASHINGTON STREET - A Humes High School registration document records this as the address the Presley's lived prior to moving to Poplar Avenue. It is unclear how long or under what circumstances the family stayed here, than lived at Poplar Avenue, but it may have been only during the summer of 1949 while they waited for an apartment to vacate at Lauderdale Courts. The building was demolished some years ago. The little apartment on Washington Street, for $11 a week, was dark and depressing, with small, dirty windows that barely opened wide enough to let the air in.

There was a communal bathroom on their floor that they would share with several families. "I don' wanna live here, let's go home. I don' like it here", said Elvis. "I don' wanna get settled here, I wanna go home", he begged to his mother.


Elvis Presley started attending for a number of weeks to (in 1920 built as Market Street School) the Christine School on 264 Third Street. The school was re-named for a beloved teacher-principal and was closed and demolished in 1964. A few months later, in February 1949, Vernon found full-time employment at the United Paint Company. It was back-breaking work, loading and unloading cases of paint, but Vernon was determined to keep it to prove he could support his family. Shortly thereafter he applied for public housing assistance.

No history of education in Memphis would be complete without a reference to the old Market Street School (Christine School). In 1870, a lot was purchased at the north west corner of Market Street and Third Street and the first "real school" in Memphis was erected at a cost of $80,000. The 3-store brick building opened in 1872. On the first floor were 4 classrooms for the elementary grades. Part of the second floor was used for the secondary grades. The third floor was for lecture halls and exhibition space. The basement was for the 4 furnaces and storage. From the opening date, the teachers and principals of this historic school read like a Who's Who of Memphis education.

In 1877, the newly created Memphis High School, consisting of the combined Male High School and Female High School, joined the high school section of the Market Street School and moved to the top floor of the Market Street School building. During this same year, the Market Street School name was changed to Smith School in honor of the first principal. The Memphis High School would stay at this location until 1892. Because there were now two schools with different names, in the same building at Market and Third, and because the newspapers frequently referred to both schools as "The High School" or "The Market Street School", it's really difficult to sort out the complete, early history of either school. To add to this confusion, at one time there were 4 other schools on Market Street - also referred to as "The Market Street School". In addition, even though the Smith School was the new name for Market Street School in 1877, the Memphis directories continued to list it as Market Street School until 1883. Additional confusion resulted even from the graduates of Memphis High School at this time. Because their school is located in the Market Street building, they often listed their high school (Memphis High School) as "The Market Street School". During the period 1877-92, the two names were almost interchangeable. By 1884 the Memphis High School had grown so rapidly that more space was desperately needed. To accommodate them, the Smith School on the lower floors moved across the street to the north east corner of Market and Third. When the Memphis High School moved to new quarters in 1892 (and was renamed Leath High School), the Smith School moved back to their old Market Street School building. In 1920 the Market Street School (now Smith School) name was changed a second time to Christine School for a beloved teacher-principal. Throughout all these name changes, newspapers and others continued to refer to the school as "the old Market Street School". The school was closed and demolished in 1964.


Elvis also attended Pentecostal gospel services at the Reverend J.J. Denson's Poplar Street Mission, located at 552 Poplar Avenue. His sons Jimmy and Jesse Lee were among young Elvis' closest friends. Jim Denson, who claims to have first seen Elvis Presley late in 1947 - again, when the family had not yet moved to Memphis. Elvis was immediately attracted to Jim, the older Denson brother. He was not only a Golden Gloves boxer but a fisticuffs legend around the Lauderdale Courts. Jesse Lee Denson, a talented country musician with a pop style, was eager to teach others his guitar licks, and Elvis Presley was one of his earliest students. The Denson brothers recall Elvis as a shy boy who was often reticent to mix with the other kids, something that may have been due partially to the Presley's perpetual housing problems. "He showed up, he had a little itty-bitty, Gene Autry-type guitar that he really couldn't play. He couldn't press the strings down on it they was set to high, so I let him practise on mine - I had a little Martin. I just tried to show him basic chords. I would take his fingers and place them, say, 'You're pressing the wrong strings with the wrong fingers', trying to straighten him out. He couldn't really complete a song for a long time, couldn't move his fingers and go with the flow of the music, but once I straightened him out he started to learn to do it right", recalled Jesse Lee Denson.

LEE ''JESSE JAMES'' DENSON – is a guy who was there when the rockabilly and rock and roll avalanche started and who made some cracking good records, classic in fact. His patch crissed crossed with many of those whose music is so revered by all of us to this very day. Born Jesse Lee Denson on August 25, 1932 in Rienzi, Mississippi, he was the eighth (out of a total of ten) from the loins of Jesse James Denson and his wife. During the depression years, life was not easy in the little Mississippi town and so in December 1932 the Denson family took their car and headed for the nearest big city, Memphis. Just before they reached the old Mississippi bridge the engine of their car, a Buick "Peace Arrow", failed.

It was so cold that the mighty Mississippi River had frozen over, something which has not occurred again, and so Jesse Lee´s mother picked him up and carried him whilst dad gathered up the two 2 year old twins and the family walked into Memphis. Lee almost died that day in his mother's arms due to the intense cold. The Densons' finally settled in a housing project at Lauderdale Courts in Memphis.

Lee, as he became known, always had his own way of doing things that landed him in trouble several times. For instance, he ran away from home (for the first time) at the age of nine. Hanging around in the streets turned him into a pretty sharp fighter with the end result that he entered a Golden Globe amateur boxing contest in 1952. The same happened to two of his school buddies with whom he knocked around with, namely Johnny and Dorsey Burnette. As a bantam weight boxer, Lee sang songs with his guitar before starting Golden Glove bouts in the arenas of Memphis.

Lee remembers: ''When my brother, Jim and me got out of the backdoor to go to Humes High School one day, we saw Gladys and this young skinny guy who was taller than her. It was Elvis. We had not met him before but knew Gladys as she was around the mission and the house quite often. But the strange thing to see was that Elvis had his head on his mothers shoulder while walking hand in hand to the school.

A couple of days later my mother said to me in the kitchen "Jesse Lee Gladys has begged me if you would show Elvis how to play the guitar". I said "Mama, I'm not teaching that little chicken nothing, he's so fragile and so afraid of everything''.

''If I would start to teach him how to sing and play, the other kids would tease me. It´s hard enough already, but after that I would be in a fight every day". My Mother did not accept that and looked right into my eyes and told me: "Whatsoever you do, Jesse Lee, to these the least of my brothers that you will do on to me, and that's exactly what Jesus said". That really got me and I replied "Okay mama send him over". That afternoon I started teaching Elvis. He was 13 years old and he was slow, but he was better than most people thought. That's how it begun. We then got to his place, or in the basement to practice because there was a nice echo there. We lived there for about four years with the Presleys'. This building still stands, but the neighbourhood has deteriorated''.

Over the next two or three years Lee gave Elvis, who was about two years younger, informal guitar lessons. He also introduced him to some of his friends, like the Burnettes and brother Jimmy, but Elvis does not seem to have made a lasting impression on these guys at that time. Lee later liked what Elvis recorded but said: "I know by my heart that Bill Haley & The Comets started that all and to me he was the King. Elvis had all the breaks in the world because of his manager (Colonel Tom Parker)."

''I got into music when I was really small. My father played guitar in his mission but couldn't tune the guitar which I could do already at the age of 6. That's when it started for me. I thought it´s better to sing and play than to get into more trouble as some of my friends out on the streets did. In my early days, I was country. I liked to sing smooth like Eddy Arnold''. In 1953 Lee moved to Key West, Florida where he worked as a bellboy during the days. However at nights, he was singing in local clubs, eventually ending up in a bar called Sloppy Joe's which was a regular hang out for Ernest Hemingway. While living on the Florida Keys, Lee married and the couple had a son, Jesse James Denson, in 1955.

As the Florida islands only had limited openings for a young eager musician, he often went out on tours all over the USA. In mid 1956 he saw his old school buddies Johnny and Dorsey Burnette on the television show The Ted Mack Amateur Hour, which they won three times, plus securing a national tour with the programme as well as a recording contract with Coral Records. Lee thought that he could easily replicate this and called the brothers for advice with the end result that he moved to New York where he stayed for eight months. He also gained an appearance on The Ted Mack Amateur Hour where he came out the clear winner. Brother Jimmy was with him by now and it was he who took over promotion. Jimmy contacted people at RCA and got them to watch Lee on the show. Eventually Lee gained a recording contract with the Vik label, which was an RCA subsidiary company, and so he started searching for new material to record.

Whilst on tour on in California he met Ray Stanley who had connections with Eddie Cochran and his manager Jerry Capehart. On April 4, 1956 Jerry Capehart went to the Goldstar Studio to cut a demo of a song called "Heart Of A Fool" with The Cochran Brothers, Eddie and Hank. While Jerry Capehart handles the vocal, instrumentally Eddie gives one of his finest performances on record by providing devastating rockabilly guitar accompaniment. By the time they met up with Lee, Jerry, Eddie and Hank had not done anything with the song and so they gave their new buddy the chance to take the song to New York for his upcoming session.

On December 12, 1956 Lee went into the RCA's New York studio to cut his first four songs. He was accompanied by in the studio by top session men such as Panama Francis and Sam "The Man" Taylor. The output was "Heart Of A Fool" coupled with Lee´s own composition "The Pied Piper" which was the plug side. VIK´s press office issued the following release: This rugged, earthy singer with a rough-and-ready beat has a style which he calls a "tremolo yodel", adapted to the rhythm so popular today. He tells of the "Pied Piper" who charms all the "chicks" with his songs. Lee´s serenading rings out strong and true.

The RCA distributor arranged for three appearances by Lee on Dick Clark's Philadelphia based regional "Bandstand" television show - it did not become "American Bandstand" until August 1957 when the show went national. However this promotion failed to make the record a hit. Two other songs recorded at the same session, "Love Twister" and "It Took Too Long", remained unissued. Lee returned to California in May 1957 and rekindled his connections with Eddie Cochran and Ray Stanley. Whilst Lee stayed with his wife and son, Jerry Capehart got Jimmy an apartment on the third floor at 8608 Holloway Drive and which just happened to be next door to another of his then protégées, singers and composers Johnny Burnette and his brother Dorsey. Also living in the same apartment at the time was another Jerry Capehart artist, John Ashley, the movie actor and singer. Ashley frequently called upon Jimmy Denson's services to get the "mean-assed Dorsey Burnette" off of his back as Jimmy knew how to handle Dorsey from their earlier boxing days back in Memphis. The same building also housed other then young hopefuls such as actor (and occasional singer) Vince Edwards who later became famous as television's "Ben Casey". Eddie Cochran often dropped by, using the place as a hang out to party and generally chill out.

Ray Stanley believed in the talents of Lee and duly arranged a session for him at the Goldstar Studio on Santa Monica Boulevard. As Lee usually played solo or utlised the services of local bands such as The 3 Hearts, he did not carry regular musicians which meant he did not have a band to record with. Accordingly, Ray arranged some of his musician friends to play on the session. Eddie Cochran was on lead guitar along with Eddie's bass player Connie "Guybo" Smith and Jerry Capehart who banged away on some cardboard boxes to fill in for the drums. It took the group an hour, at a cost of $10 plus $2 for the tape, to record the songs. One was the ballad "Climb Love Mountain" with another being "New Shoes", a Ray Stanley rockin' composition which was laid down in a style not dissimilar to that of Gene Vincent. There have been rumours that two more songs were recorded at the session but confirmation has stubbornly failed to materialise. Lee took the two aforementioned songs back to New York for his next release on Vik Records in July 1957. Again, the second release failed to chart with the result that Vik did not renew Lee's contract. Denson decided to return to California but on route he dropped in to Memphis to visit his parents. This stop over has lead to further rumours that he recorded several acoustic demos for Lester Bihari ´s Meteor label but Lee cannot recall this happening. Being ever restless, Lee and brother Jimmy moved on back to Los Angeles where he secured a recording contract with Kent Records in February 1958. The first session for his new label was on March 3rd 1958 and produced the two self composed numbers "High School Hop" and "Devil Doll". With Jimmy handling the promotion, Lee obtained plenty of local bookings and magazine write-ups. Whilst Jimmy was not a musician, he was a capable composer with the result that he and Lee started to write songs together.

Come the time for the next Kent recording session, Lee recognised his brother's help and ability by recording some of the songs that they had co-written. Also sensing that a name change might help the next record release, the bothers pooled their Christian names together and came up (yes you have guessed it) Jesse James. This release was the legendary slab of blasting rock 'n' roll "The South's Gonna Rise Again" coupled with 'Red Hot Rockin' Blues" which was released as Kent 314. The top side was composed by the two brothers from memories of what they had learn at school. (If only we had such history lessons in Europe to be able to create such sparkling rock 'n' roll). This cult favourite has been reissued several times since the first release, both legally and illegally. The reason for its popularity is not hard to determine, it is classic rock 'n' roll music. Actually when these tracks were laid down, it was a split session with singer Artie Wilson and boy the musicians such as Earl Palmer (who played on many hit recordings by the likes of Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bobby Day and Ritchie Valens) were cooking that day. Wilson's release from this session "Jerry Jerry" and "That's My Baby" (Kent 313) were two Larry Williams styled pounders, again first rate rock 'n' roll. Some of the songs cut by Denson as Jesse James have not been released as they were basically only demo recordings.

In late 1959, Denson pacted with Merri Records and laid down four songs. Two of the titles, "A Tree In The Meadow" and "Twang" were issued in 1960. The first mentioned of these songs became a significant hit several years ago. The other two songs from this session, with an updated sound, were released two years later.

Coming from a very religious family, Lee always kept his faith with God and so it was a natural thing for him to write gospel music. In 1960 he wrote an English version of Avai Maria titled "Miracle Of The Rosary". Denson attempted to get publishers interested in the song but as it was of a religious nature, enthusiasm was not forthcoming.. When Lee heard that Elvis was in Hollywood to film a movie, he visited with him at his Bel Air residence. Knowing that Elvis had retained his passion for gospel music, Denson was determined that Presley should hear this composition. At the house, Denson was warmly welcomed and had the opportunity to perform the song to Elvis and his Memphis Mafia. Lee remembered: ''After I finished this little girl stand up and said "It´s the most gorgeous song I ever heard in my life" and it was Priscilla''.

This was the last time Lee saw Elvis in person. He later received a telephone call from one of Presley's sidekicks who inquired about the publishing for the song. The guy was told that the rights had been assigned to Dorsey Burnette's publishing company. Dorsey later sold his catalogue to Acuff-Rose and where it still resides. Seemingly, nothing was happening with Elvis on the song and so Denson recorded a version for the Enterprise label in the sixties.

This is the same Enterprise label for which Detroit rocker Jamie Coe recorded for and is not the same as the Stax subsidiary. Unfortunately from a commercial viewpoint, this release was stillborn.

One of the other artists on the Merri label was Lee's old buddy, Dorsey Burnette who by this time had decided to go into the record production side of the business. Dorsey teamed up with Ricky Nelson´s bass player Joe Osborne and together the pair launched started the Magic Lamp label.

Brother Johnny Burnette had one release on the label in 1964 before he was accidentally killed in a boating accident. Joe Osborne run the label and produced several artists including Lee who was signed as a result of his connections with the Burnettes. Two country oriented songs "Sixteen States" and "Mississippi Bridge" were issued but the label did not have a good distribution and so rather quickly it went belly up. Incidentally the backing vocals on these recordings were by Richard and Karen Carpenter who of course went on to secure international success as The Carpenters. A little known fact is that the very first release by The Carpenters was on Magic Lamp Records.

Lee finally tired of the west coast scene and returned to Memphis in 1972 whereupon he signed with Stax Records. One evening that year, Lee got a call from his old school mate Red West who was then based in Nashville. Lee remembers the telephone conversation vividly: 'I have not heard from Red in quite a while. He told me to sit down which I did and he started telling me that day Elvis has recorded my song "The Miracle Of The Rosary" that day. I was glad he told me to sit down. I couldn't believe it after all those years. The version by Elvis has been on several of his albums and I still get royalties from airplay and records. I have been very fortunate and this money helped me doing what I wanted to do.' In recent times, the song has been included on Presley's "Amazing Grace" album and it is still selling to this very day.

Lee has, in subsequent years, recorded and produced four religious albums for his own Eternal Rainbow label and still writes poems in an attempt to show people a way out of the darkness of life. The last release was "God Bless America Again". All of these albums used large orchestras and, indeed, one of them had no less than sixty-three violinists on the recordings. Another personal favourite of Lee's is children's songs and he has been working on the "Legend Of The Snowprince" for many years now. He still maintains his close relationship with brother James "Jimmy" Denson and the two are involved on several projects together.

Jesse Lee Denson remains proud of his rockin' days and when he was close to some of the finest musicians of that era but is also looking forward to the future. Lee: "God took care of me. He helped me to do some of the things I wanted to do. I'm a happy man going from 1968 to 1969".

Lee Jesse James Denson died on November 6, 2007 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Above: (1) - A young Elvis Presley posing on his Firestone Pilot Classic bicycle in front of the S&S Drug Store in 1949 on Poplar Avenue in Memphis. (2) - Looking east down Poplar Avenue at High Street in Memphis around 1955. The distinctive twin gable home on the right shows up in the background of the first photo. (1)(3) - Then and now photo showing the spot where Elvis Presley posed for the snapshot in 1949. (4) - S&S Drug Store building today(2015) at 548 Poplar Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. This was Elvis’ neighborhood for almost a year before moving to Lauderdale Courts in the fall of 1949.


A few weeks after they arrived in Memphis, they moved from 370 Washington Avenue (now demolished) into a small, one-room apartment located at 572 Poplar Avenue. The family lived there until September 20, 1949. The $35-a-month rent for the small apartment in the large, multi-storied building was within Vernon's budget, and there were a number of other important reasons for renting it. The ground-floor efficiency was only a brisk walk from Beale Street, and it was close to the growing downtown business section. The once luxurious house, though, was in a sad state of disrepair, and the owner neglected to maintain it. The Presley family had to share a bathroom with other tenants. It was a depressing home in a neighborhood that reeked of white poverty. Elvis Presley never forgot the toilets, the stench from the kitchen facilities, or the degrading appearance of the makeshift rooms. The sixteen-unit building, which was owned by Clifton and Mallie Johnson, had previously been a large single-family house. To alleviate the pressures surrounding the sudden move to Memphis, the Presley's joined the First Assembly of God church located at 1084 McLemore Street at the South Main section. They found people much like themselves there - a group of recently displaced, rural Southern migrants attempting to cope with the rigors of big city life.

In January 2014, Vanity Fair magazine published an article showing a photo of Elvis Presley presumably taken in downtown Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1947. The article traces the origin of the photo to a woman who was walking into a drugstore to drop off some film that had one exposure left on the roll. According to the story, she noticed a young Elvis on his bike and asked him to pose, snapping her last frame of him. The woman later gave the photo to Presley family friend Janelle McComb of Tupelo, who passed along the photo and the story of how she obtained it to Elvis fan and memorabilia collector Wade Jones shortly before her death.

The story behind the photo may have been correct, but the city was wrong.

The Presleys moved to Memphis in November 1948 and lived at 370 Washington before moving just around the corner to a large rooming house at 572 Poplar Avenue (below) in June 1949. They briefly lived there until September, when they moved to Lauderdale Courts. Elvis' grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley, continued living at the Poplar address, according to the 1950 Memphis City Directory.

The 1950 directory also shows the S&S Drug Store, Lando Marossi restaurant and Milo’s liquor store that appear in the Vanity Fair photo. John Sampietro, whose father operated the S&S Drug Store at the corner of Poplar and High Street, remembered his father talking about how a young Elvis would come into the store to play pinball.

Milo Solomito operated the liquor store just across the street from the drug store and his son, Milo Jr., identified the store in the photo as the one his father ran for many years. To the right of the liquor store was the Marossi restaurant, which was also located across the street from the drug store before moving to a nearby location in 1954, according to Jerry Marossi.

- Posted by Elvis Presley's Graceland on October 12, 2015

572 POPLAR AVENUE - This is one of the many apartments for the Presley's in Memphis. Living in this sixteen room boarding house, and sharing a bathroom and kitchen with fifteen other families, was difficult for the family. Times were hard. Minnie May Presley was living with the family, and Elvis Presley had to begin at a new school. The Presley's lived in a ground level apartment in this once-grand mansion. The lack of privacy was bad enough, but it was the filth that was most unbearable. Cockroaches were so plentiful they boldly climbed the walls, even in daylight.

Plaster was knocked loose in place, exposing gaping holes and ancient lathe work, and aside from the ornate but neglected woodwork, little remained of the once fine house. Given the condition of the house when the Presley's lived there, it is not surprising that the property was eventually razed.

The site is now a vacant lot. A neighbouring house that survived until the early 1990s has been mistakenly identified as the house where the Presley's lived; however, the city directories last listed the 572 Poplar Avenue address in 1970.

While this vacant lot, nestled among pawn shops and tenements, is all that remains of Elvis Presley's first year in Memphis, the site still speaks loudly of the trials of his childhood and the wonder of his rise to stardom.

FIRST ASSEMBLY OF GOD CHURCH - The Presley's would attend the First Assembly Of God Church located at 1084 East McLemore Avenue, about two blocks east of the later built Stax Records studio in Memphis, where Elvis Presley later would sometimes record.

Elvis Presley attended Sunday School, as did Cecil Blackwood, the younger brother of R.W. Blackwood of the Blackwood Brothers gospel group. Elvis Presley's girlfriend Dixie Locke Emmons also attended services there, and works as a secretary.

The Assembly of God in Memphis had started out in a tent and later moved to a storefront location on South Third and finally into a church on McLemore in 1948. In the early 1950s Pastor James E. Hamill, a well-educated, fire-and-brimstone preacher who denounced movies and dancing from the pulpit and encouraged ecstatic demonstrations of faith in his church, had been minister for ten years. It was at this church that Dixie Locke first saw Elvis Presley. James Blackwood, leader of the Blackwood Brothers recalls: "Elvis' love of gospel music is wellchronicled. When Elvis was living in Lauderdale Courts and we had those big gospel conventions at the Ellis Auditorium, I would take Elvis backstage with me and he would visit with all the groups and the singers. One time I didn't see him and he went to the front door to try to get backstage with us. The people at the door didn't know who he was, so he had to buy a ticket. Later, when I learned about this, I wrote him a letter and enclosed a check, I think it was for $1.25, and sent it to him to refund his money. I knew he didn't have much money in those days. I have heard they still have that letter and check down at Graceland.

Elvis and Cecil Blackwood were in the Sunday School class at First Assembly of God Church. Cecil, young James Hamill and a couple of others had a gospel group, the Songfellows. Elvis would sing a lot in rehearsal with them. One of the guys was set to leave and Elvis was all set to take his place, but the guy changed his mind, so Elvis just kept patiently waiting. Then, when Cecil left to join the Blackwood Brothers, Elvis wanted to take his place. He auditioned for the group, but it was about that time Sun Records called him in to start recording. I have seen stories that said Elvis tried out for the Songfellows and the Blackwood Brothers and didn't make it. That's just not the way it happened.

Even after Elvis got his break at Sun Records, he continued his deep love of gospel music. He still continued to come to the gospel conventions, at least in his early days at Sun, and when Bob Neal was his manager, we would introduce him and he would come on stage and sing a couple of gospel songs. We and The Statesmen, featured Jake Hess, would sing harmony behind him.

Then, after Colonel Tom Parker took over, he put a stop to Elvis' singing on stage. Still he would come, but we could only introduce him. Once, in 1955, still during the Neal days, we were both booked on July 4 at DeLeon, Texas, where each year they had a country gospel sing. It was Elvis and us. He drove in his Cadillac and we were there in our bus. He stayed with us all day in our bus and when we went on stage, he announced he was not going to sing anything but gospel, and that is what he did.

He was referring to the airplane crash in 1954 when my brother, R.W., and others were killed. He was dating Dixie Locke at the time and he told me when he heard the news of the airplane crash, he and Dixie drove to a park along the river, probably Riverside Park, one of Elvis' favourites, and they cried for a long time".

Eventually Elvis Presley stopped attending because he did not want his fame to disrupt the services, but he would remain close to the congregation and especially the Blackwood. When Gladys Presley died, the family called Reverend Hamill to preach at her funeral Although Elvis Presley voraciously read books on a number of religious and philosophical topics in his later years, he never forgot his roots in the Assembly of God Church. In 1962, the First Assembly of God Church moved to 255 North Highland Street. Today Dixie Locke Emmons is the church secretary. The church building is now occupied by the Alpha Church Congregation Of The Temples Of The Living God.


Gladys Presley and her sister-in-law, Lorene Presley, found work as seamstresses with Fashion Curtain Company. Located at 284 Monroe Avenue, it was tough work sewing small curtains from early in the morning till six o'clock at night. Soon the long hours began to tell, and she deteriorated physically and


The Presley family was in need for money and Vernon Presley takes out a loan for $200, to be repaid in twenty weekly installment of $10 each.


Radio station WDIA made broadcasting history, when its financially strapped owners, figuring they had little to lose, made the groundbreaking decision to hire Memphis' first black radio announcer; teacher, author, black community leader Nat D. Williams. But breaking the broadcasting color line didn't mean that radio became integrated. Instead, as had happened with the successful local black newspaper the Tristate Defender, William's success inspired WDIA's white owners to turn it into the nation's first allblack- staffed radio station. With a license that limited broadcasting to daylight hours - a common restriction for smaller stations - WDIA radio played blues, swing, gospel, pop, and the latest in rhythm and blues.

WDIA RADIO - is the first radio station in America that was programmed entirely by African-Americans for African-Americans. It empowered a huge segment of the population that was, until the late 1940s, largely unrecognized. WDIA's monumental achievement was all the more extraordinary as it occurred during a time of institutionalized racism.

When WDIA became Memphis, Tennessee’s sixth station in June 1947, radio was still America's primary medium for entertainment and news. There were barely 30 television stations yet established in the country. Most all programming was geared toward the nation's white audience. Women were rarely on air, except as characters in dramas, and with very few exceptions - such as Jack Cooper in Chicago and Sonny Boy Williamson in Helena, Arkansas - blacks were not on the air. Even ''Amos and Andy'' a ''Negro'' comedy show, was performed by whites.

Initially, WDIA broadcast country and western music, classical, light pop - like the other stations in town. But the listening audience didn't need another station like the rest, and WDIA was a failing enterprise. In a final act of desperation before closing, station owners John Pepper and Bert Ferguson hired local high school teacher and nationally syndicated columnist Nathaniel Dowd Williams, an African-American, to host a show. Though Memphis' population was 40% African-American, no major media addressed them in the late 1940s. When Nat D.'s ''Tan Town Jamboree'' first aired on October 25, 1948, the response was overwhelmingly positive - except for the requisite bomb threats by the threatened white segregationists. WDIA bought some blues records, and a loyal listener-ship quickly grew.

Nat D. Williams was a prominent figure on Beale Street, and he brought the street to the station. Rufus Thomas, who co-hosted the Palace Theater Amateur Night with Nat, began hosting the 15-minute Sepia Swing Club and soon had a 2-hour nighttime show called ''Hoot and Holler''. B. B. King, who'd begun making his name at the Amateur Night, knocked on the station's door one day in 1949 and impressed station personnel with his audition. B. B. went on the air promoting Pepticon, the station's cure-all, and his career as a recording artist, and as a product spokesperson, took off. He recorded his first single in the station’s studio during off hours.

Station owner John Pepper learned in early 1949 that WDIA, with partial black programming, had become the number 2 station in the city. By the Fall of 1949, WDIA was programmed entirely for an African-American audience. A. C. ''Moohah'' Williams, a biology teacher at Manassas High School, became the station's first full-time African-American employee when he was hired as promotions consultant. A. C., in addition to hosting shows and generally running things, instituted the Teen Town Singers, a choral group that was as much about camaraderie, discipline, and leadership as it was about singing. Among the early Teen-Towners were STAX ''Queen of Soul'' Carla Thomas and long time station personality Mark Stansbury. Oscar winner Isaac Hayes was a regular on the station's Big Star Talent Show, and the former president of MLGW Herman Morris played on one of several station sponsored little league baseball teams.

The station’s public face was African-American, but the offices were a model for integration. In addition to the white owners, other whites were integral behind the scenes. David James Mattis was the program director. A former member of the Army Air Forces during World War II, he ran a tight ship, insisting on a professionalism that allowed the on-air personnel’s looseness to seem easy. He also established the Duke record label, which recorded much of the early talent that came through station; he later sold Duke to Don Robey in Houston. Chris Spindel facilitated programming, helping to organize shows like “Brown America Speaks,” which gave a political voice to the station.

The station’s first female African-American disc jockey was Willa Monroe, a society belle who hosted a program for homemakers. The advice program, for the lovelorn and mentally torn, was hosted by the matronly-voiced Aunt Carrie. The first gospel disc jockey was Reverend Dwight ''Gatemouth'' Moore, a former blues singer. ''My program was called ''Prayer Time'', Moore recollected, ''and my phone would ring and I've had white people to say, 'What is happening on that radio station? My maid is tearing up the house'''!

Such calls proved to the station that they were penetrating the black market. Advertisers, unaccustomed to reaching African-American shoppers, had to be coaxed, but the response was strong enough that those who bought ads quickly renewed. Society was still so segregated that WDIA had to alert their advertisers that they’d be getting visits from black shoppers - lots and lots of black shoppers.

With novice disc jockeys breaking all the broadcast rules - there were no dulcet toned jocks on WDIA, and very little restraint on the effusive personalities - the station assumed the mantle of top ranked in the city. It stayed there so solidly that other stations soon fought to be number 2 - because everyone knew the number 1 spot was taken. Martha Jean ''The Queen'' Steinberg became Princess Premium Stuff. Ernest Brazzell gave crop advice and Robert Thomas became a disc jockey named ''Honeyboy'' after he won a city-wide amateur competition. Among other notable personalities were Maurice "Hot Rod" Hulbert, Theo "Bless My Bones" Wade, and Ford Nelson, who remains an active gospel disc jockey on WDIA in 2003.

The station had been broadcasting with 250 watts at 730 on the AM dial, and in June 1954 they got permission to increase to 50,000 watts, which entailed a move to 1070 on the dial. With that strong signal beaming from Memphis down into the Mississippi Delta’s dense African-American population (the signal reached from the bootheel of Missouri to the Gulf coast), WDIA was able to reach 10% of the total African-American population in the United States. A boast like that brought a lot of advertising power, including many national clients.

WDIA hadn't set out to be the Goodwill Station, but community involvement was a natural outgrowth of its position in the city. Walking down the street in black neighborhoods, people could hear a song uninterrupted as WDIA emanated from each household. Early in the station's history, a woman came running into the offices saying she’d lost her child. She asked that the station announce a description; the child was found, and soon WDIA was making all sorts of community announcements: missing persons, church events, even lost false teeth. The program ''Workers Wanted'' announced job openings; ''Call For Action'' put people in touch with agencies to solve problems. WDIA was like a community bulletin board. They sponsored a talent show, put on a spelling bee at Tri State Fair (where they bought the championship hog), and on summer nights they set up a movie projector in different low-income housing projects, bringing free entertainment to the kids.

With all this talent and energy, and the connections with the record labels, it was also natural for WDIA to put on a show. Around Christmastime, the Goodwill Revue brought in the best gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, and soul performers in the nation; the disc jockeys put on entertaining skits and many also performed. The Goodwill Revues were enormously successful (and spawned the Starlite Revue in the summer). None of the monies raised by these WDIA events went to the station's operating budget - it all went toward charitable causes. WDIA gave money and food to needy families, bought busses which transported disabled black children to school, set up the Goodwill Home for Black Children, and established a Little League for black children that grew to over 100 teams for 2000 kids.

WDIA's impact was enormous, not just in Memphis but in the whole USA. Radio stations from other cities sent representatives to study how WDIA worked, returning to establish African-American stations in their own cities. WDIA began to call itself ''the Mother Station of Negroes''. In Memphis, the second black station, WLOK, opened in 1954. WDIA was sold by its original owners in 1957, but for decades after that, its spirit has thrived. WDIA celebrated a people who’d known only insult, earning a prominent place in the history of American race relations - and entertainment. In May of 2013, WDIA will be inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame.

© - Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame


Elvis Presley switched from Christine School to Humes High School, located at 659 North Mananas Street, Memphis, Tennessee, a combination junior and senior High School. His first year at Humes, he is present 165 days, absent fifteen, and never tardy. He receives an A in language; B's in spelling, history, and phys ed; and C's in arithmetic, music, and science. Elvis Presley attended Humes High School until he graduated in June 3, 1953. Many students and teachers remember Elvis Presley strolling through the halls at Humes lugging his guitar.

HUMES HIGH SCHOOL (L.C. HUMES HIGH SCHOOL) – All-white, 1,700-student Memphis High School, located in a three-story red brick building at 659 North Manassas Street, which Elvis attended from late November 1948, until June 1953, when he graduated, while Thomas C. Brindley served as the principal. In 1950, when he was fifteen, Elvis worked in the library at Humes. Singer Johnny Burnette was also a student there. Elvis graduated from Humes High (Over on the other side of Memphis, Booker T. Jones and Maurice White, future drummer for Ramsey Lewis and leader of Earth, Wind and Fire, respectively, were classmates in the same grade school.

Booker T. would later attend Booker T. Washington High, where his father taught myth and science. Both Johnny Ace and Rufus Thomas had also previously attended Booker T. Washington High, on June 3, 1953, in Class 202.

The ceremonies were held at Ellis Auditorium, located at 225 North Main Street. George Klein, Principal T.C. Brindley, and Memphis Superintendent of Schools Ernest C. Ball were speakers. The school, which was named for Laurence Carl Humes, a past president of the Memphis Board of Education (1918-1925), is presently used as a Humes Junior High, but back then it served grades seven through twelve. The school had previously been named the North Side High School. Humes High fielded the Tigers football team, which Elvis attempted to join. He went out for a few practices, but quit because the coach, Rube Boyce Jr., gave him a hard time about his hair. On April 9, 1953, Elvis performed at the school's annual Minstrel Show. He had been encouraged by teacher Mildred Scrivener. Singing John Lair's "Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Of Me", he got the loudest applause from the student audience, which allowed him to sing an encore, his version of Teresa Brewer's "Till I Waltz Again With You". (Some sources indicate the encore was "Old Shep"). The school program, which also featured Red West playing trumpet, misspelled Elvis' name as Elvis Prestly. In 1955 Elvis would give a benefit show at Humes High. In January 1973 the L.C. Humes High School Marching Band played "Happy Birthday To You" in front of Graceland in honour of Elvis' thirty-eight birthday.

Humes today looks much as it did in the 1950s. In fact, it looks like most large brick school buildings of its era. The auditorium where Elvis Presley performed has been renamed in his honour. Now, as then, the hallways are filled with only black students who have hope in the future. During Elvis Presley Memorial Week, held every August to mark the anniversary of his death, pupils take visitors on guided tours of the school, relating stories of Elvis Presley and classmates, Red and Sonny West.

After Elvis Presley became famous, he did not forget that moment at the variety show and the teacher who encouraged him. He returned twice to be a guest star on the show. Both shows sold out, raising money for the school. Miss Scrivener recalled the story of Elvis Presley's return to Memphis in 1956, days before performing at the Tupelo Fair. Rather than act the movie star, Elvis chose to spend his time with students at Humes High School, bringing along actor Nick Adams. Together they talked to students in a class and answered their questions.

At the end Elvis Presley went to his old homeroom and sat down at his old desk. During one of his visits to Humes High School, Elvis gave a teacher a television set to be used in the classroom. Then he gave the ROTC department nine hundred dollars to buy new uniforms for a drill team.


Richard "Tuff" Green, Phineas Newborn, and Ben Branch were injured in a band bus crash outside Memphis that killed three members of the band. Green quit touring after that, while Phineas senior, with his two sons quickly coming on of age, decided to form a family band. Calvin played guitar, and the brilliant but tragically unstable Phineas junior played piano. In the early fifties, the Newborn family band was one of the hottest acts on the Memphis club scene. Along with their regular gigs on Beale Street and in West Memphis, the Newborn family band helped B.B. King make his first recordings in the studios of WDIA radio, and the band make many early Sun Records recordings.

In Tupelo purchases the former home of Pvt. John Allen at corner of Madison and Jefferson streets and converts it to use as the county's first freestanding library.


Vernon Presley gives Elvis a paperback book of cartoons by George Price with the inscription: "May your birthday be sprinkled through 'n through with joy and love and good times too. Daddy". The book traveled with him to Germany in 1958 and was left behind in his rented house at 14 Goethestrasse.


Vernon Presley found full-time employment at the United Paint Company, located at 446 Concord Avenue in North Memphis, just a few blocks away from the rooming house on Poplar Avenue. It was a tough job requiring him to handle hundreds of cases of paint each day. Vernon Presley's job was the hardest he'd ever had, but he kept it to prove that he could work full-time. One person referred to the United Paint Company as a place for "mule work". It required an extraordinary amount of physical stamina, and the working conditions were primitive.

For the week of April 29, 1949, Vernon is paid $37.62 for forty-five hours's work. On the same day he pays an $11.28 bill at Williams Grocery, 116 Poplar Avenue in Memphis. Vernon Presley's income was $2,000 a year. According to Elaine Dundy, in her book "Elvis And Gladys", Vernon went to work there as early as 1949 and received a $10-a-week raise in 1951, enough to get him and his family kicked out of the Lauderdale Courts.

UNITED PAINT COMPANY - Located at 446 Concord Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, Vernon Presley hopped from job to job. That may have been in Tupelo, but not in Memphis where he held onto his job at United Paint Company for five years. Vernon was hired at the company on February 19, 1949. Though the job was mundane - packing paint cans into cardboard boxes - the company's location was appealing since it was within walking distance of the boarding house on Poplar Avenue. United Paint only paid a beginning wage of eighty-three cents an hour.

The site of the United Paint Company factory is nearly impossible of find because so many of the streets have changed. Concord Street is now North Parkway. Danny Thomas Boulevard and Interstate 40 have drastically changed the neighborhoods in this part of Memphis. Going back to the 1950s addresses, there are two listings for the United Paint Company factory, one at 446 Concord Avenue and one at 345 Jackson Avenue, depending on whether you look in the phone book or in the city directory. Concord and Jackson Avenues were parallel to each other so most likely these two addresses were part of the same complex facing two different streets. Today there is no recognizable part of the complex.


Vernon Presley pay with overtime comes to $51.88, and the next day he pays his $12.11 bill at Williams Grocery.

JUNE 1949

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 FRIDAY

As a follow-up to Vernon's application for public housing, Jane Richardson, a home service adviser for the Memphis Housing Authority, visits Gladys Presley and Elvis in the Presley family's rented room at 572 Poplar while Vernon is at work. She notes that they share a bathroom with the other residents and cook on a hot plate. They pay $9.50 a week in rent. Miss Richardson's report indicates that their application has merit and that they could use housing, preferably near Mr. Presley's work. The son, she notes, is a ''nice boy'', and bot Mrs. Presley and the boy seem ''very nice and deserving''. Vernon salary is listed as $40.38 per week at 85 cents per hours.


Eddie Hill started his session for Decca Records in Nashville, Tennessee, which was held at the same time as Bob Price's session.


According to Jane Richardson, Elvis Presley and his family moved into Apartment 328 of the Lauderdale Courts, a public housing project located at 185 Winchester Street. Interestingly, Guralnick says this move occurred first on September 20, after Elvis had already started his freshman year at Humes High.

All in all, it was a happy move: the apartment was not only much cleaner than the one on Poplar Street, but it had a living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a private bathroom. Rent was $35 a month; low enough that Vernon could easily meet it. The day after the Presley's moved into the Lauderdale Courts, the telephone company installed a desk phone in the front room. Their telephone number was 37-4185.

Elvis Presley quickly memorized the telephone number and urged everyone that he knew to call him. The Presleys lived in the Courts for three and a half years.

Soon after the move, however, Vernon's mother and Elvis' grandmother, Minnie Mae Hood, came to live with the Presleys, having been granted a divorce from her husband Jessie D. in 1947. This caused over-crowding in the apartment, leaving Vernon and Gladys with no privacy and creating tensions within the family. Mrs. Presley was more popular than Mr. Presley in the Courts; everyone spoke of her warmth and liveliness. Still, the Presleys kept mostly to themselves. They were like a family set apart, almost sealed off from the people around them. And the absolute focus on Elvis, their only child, sometimes led even family members to feel like outsiders.

Once in Memphis, young teenage Elvis underwent a number of transformations. At his old First Assembly of God church in Tupelo, people were not allowed to see movies or to dance (although it's clear Elvis did both). In Memphis, Elvis rejected these notions. Years later he remarked "I don't like a church where you can't enjoy small pleasures''. He began to pursue his true passion: music. Beale Street in Memphis was the place to hear it all, and Elvis did.

Early on, he was impressed by the guitar and piano accompaniments of the blues acts he heard, because they packed such power. As a teenager, Elvis witnessed such blues greats as B.B King and Arthur Cruddup. In addition to the blues, Memphis was a major center for hillbilly and country music, as well as early rock and roll ("Rocket 88", considered to be the first rock and roll song, was recorded and released by Sam Phillip's Sun Studio in 1951), all of which would combine in the 1950's into the kind of music known as rockabilly. Elvis listened to a lot of this emerging music on the numerous Memphis radio stations, including WHBQ, the home of Dewey Phillips' infamous "Red, Hot, and Blue" radio show.

The scene in Memphis reflected other new aspects of the music business as well, specifically the rise in small local record labels. Sun Studios, which made Elvis famous, was only one of many such studios. These studios allowed many performers to cut records who, without access to the great labels of the period such as RCA, Decca, or Capitol, normally would have been unable to do so.

The summer after his freshman year, Vernon bought Elvis a push lawn mower, which Elvis used to solicit jobs at $4 per yard. He and his friends also sold fruit discarded by supermarkets in order to earn money. Elvis loved to work. But he also did the things other teenagers did, including playing football, going to movies, and eating shakes and hamburgers. Elvis quickly discovered the Suzore #2 movie theater, which was near the Courts. The Suzore featured Saturday afternoon bargain matinees at which Elvis, a long-time lover of movies, became a regular. Tony Curtis was one of the screen stars Elvis actively emulated- his senior photo features Elvis with a home permanent, meant to imitate Curtis' curly black hair.


Sam Phillips signed the lease on a small storefront property at the junction of Union and Marshall Avenues, near the heart of downtown Memphis. The rent at 706 Union Avenue was $150 a month. He installed his recording and transcription equipment with the help of a two-year loan from Buck Turner, a regular performer on radio station WREC. Working with the slogan "We Record Anything-Anywhere- Anytime", Sam Phillips opened the doors of the Memphis Recording Service in January 1950. Becky Phillips took a photo of her husband standing outside the studio and pasted it into the scrapbook with her caption, "A Man's Dream Fulfilled-What Next?".

When Sam Phillips opened his Memphis Recording Service in 1950, he was literally taking a chance on a new area of business in Memphis. There just had not been any successful attempts to set up a commercial recording venture. There were no record labels currently operating in Memphis. Even a company called Royal Recording, set up in 1948 to record private functions and the like, had folded during 1949. "It was because of the closure of the Royal Studio downtown that my bosses at WREC radio warned me against trying to start my own recording business", Sam Phillips recalled.

Despite the legendary reputation the city now has for its recorded music, Sam Phillips could have stood in his new studio and looked back over the short history of recorded sound seeing no local expertise upon which to draw other than radio. The local radio engineers sometimes recorded music or advertising material onto disc for subsequent radio broadcast. Occasionally radio studios would be used by an out of town recording company. Other then this, and the booth in a local store where you could record a message for your own private use, there were no recording facilities in Memphis.

Major national recording companies had occasionally made recordings in Memphis "on location" as part of a field trip to find regional music forms, but there had been no concerted effort to document or market Memphis music, be it popular, jazz, blues, gospel or hillbilly. In other regional centers, it sometimes occurred to local furniture stores to make recordings to sell in their shop along with the phonographs. Bullet Records of Nashville and Trumpet of Jackson, Mississippi started in this way, but there appears not to have been a Memphis equivalent of these ventures. Similarly, there had been little interest shown by local radio engineers or record distributors as sometimes occurred elsewhere. There were large record pressing and distribution 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 eastern independents.

Sam Phillips was a radio man. At heart, he still is. It was through his friend and contacts at radio station WREC in Memphis that he acquired sufficient equipment to set up his studio in the first place. He bought his first recording machines from WREC's country disc jockey Buck Turner.


Apprehensively, but aware of his success at Grant's the station gave Dewey Phillips a shot at hostling, and in less than a year the show grew from 15 minutes to an hour; then two; then three. Broadcasting from the magazine level (i.e. mezzanine) of the Chisca Hotel, his signature was a manic, machine-gun style of speaking that made few concessions to proper English. "Deegaw", he would yelp, and no one cared what it meant. If the jocks at WDIA radio talked over records to disguise lewd lyrics, Dewey Phillips did it just because it was fun.

LATE 1949

Colonel Tom Parker's variety shows (All-Star Shows) in the late 1940s. He used a covered wagon on his letterhead. Parker was still using the All-Star Shows name during the 1960s and 1970s.


Leadbelly appears in France, becoming the first country bluesman to perform in Europe.


(Above) The edition of the Memphis Housing Appeal, the Housing Authority's newspaper, lists the Presleys as one of seventeen new families who have recently moved into the Lauderdale Courts.

Quietly, without going out of his way to call attention to himself, Elvis Presley starts to make new friends, playing guitar with a group of older boys under the leafty trees of Market Mall, the path that bisects the neatly kept housing development. 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.

Photo above: In 1935, Memphis became the second city in the nation to establish a Federal Housing Authority. The first project was to build two housing projects: Dixie Homes for blacks - and (construction circa 1937) Lauderdale Courts (above) for whites. Lauderdale Courts was Colonial Revival in style with brick exteriors and porches covered by metal roofs. It became famous because Elvis Presley and his parents lived at 185 Winchester Street and occupied apartment 328 from 1949 to 1953 (below). The complex closed in 2000 but was renovated and reopened in 2004 as Uptown Square.


Elvis Presley first met Billie Wardlaw Mooneyham at Lauderdale Courts. "One day someone knocked on my door. I went to the door, and there was Elvis", recalled Billie Wardlaw, "I could see he was holding something, it looked like some kind of package, behind his back. I knew his name was Elvis because I had talked to him from my window. We were standing there in the doorway talking and finally he took this package from behind his back and said, 'Here, I brought you something'. I opened the package and it was a pair of blue jeans. The first pair of blue jeans I ever had.

And Elvis said, 'Now you can come down and play with us. Now you have some clothes to wear'. So I started going down and playing and talking with the gang. I guess it was early that December that one day Elvis again knocked on my door. Again he had something for me. He handed me a bock of cherries. He must have paid fifty cents for them. And he told me, 'These are for your Christmas. You can't eat them until then'. After that, we started walking to school together. All of us walked together to school in those days because it saved us a dime. I asked him once to teach me how to play the guitar, so he would bring his guitar up and show me where to put my fingers. When I was working at Britling, lot of times when my mother and I would walk home, Elvis would be outside picking his guitar in the dark. His mother and dad would be sitting out there on quilts listening. We knew he could sing, but I don't think he ever thought he was good as a singer. He was really embarrassed a lot about his singing. Once my mother told him, 'Elvis, you sing so good you ought to be singing on radio'", says Billie Wardlaw.

"Elvis was different from all the other kids in those days", says Billie, "that was probably his trait, but he was never like anybody else. He was all the time combing his hair, but that wasn't because he was in love with it so much as it was long. If his hair fell all the way down, it could reach his chin, so he was always combing it to keep it from falling down across his face. He had real straight hair".

"After we broke up, one of his cousins came home from the military and wanted to take me out with him to get something to eat. We were in the Presley's apartment at the time. I said, 'Elvis, why don't you come along, too? You can go with Mary Elizabeth, my friend'. He didn't put up a fuss. He said, 'OK,' and we drove over to Leonard's to get something to eat. When they took out order, I said, 'I want a milk shake and a big hunk of ice cream'. Then I turned to Elvis and said, '...and Elvis, you can pay for this'. Elvis exploded. He said, 'goddam it, Billie, you know I ain't ever got no money!'. He got out of the car and he and his cousin began arguing. We tried quite a few times to get him back in that car, but he wouldn't get back in, so we drove off and left him there at Leonard's. The next day he told me four girls in a convertible came along and they gave him a ride home. I didn't believe it when he told me, but looking at how his life turned out, maybe it did happen the way he told it".

Billie continued, "And then his first record came out and soon he was famous. He came to Memphis to play a concert at the Ellis Auditorium and I went. After the concert, Elvis Presley gave me an autographed picture. On it he had written, 'To Billie, My Little Ex-'. The only time I saw him after that was one day I was riding a bus home from Britling. I looked out the window and there was Elvis driving alongside in a convertible. I stuck my head out the window and yelled, 'Elvis! Elvis!'. He looked up and was he surprised seeing me. He yelled at me to get off that bus, that he would drive me home, so I got off and got in the convertible with him and he drove me home. And during that drive, Elvis told me, 'Billie, I have changed. I am not like I used to be'. I could see that.

What with him now becoming famous and the women at Britling knowing I had dated Elvis before, they started joking with me that I had made a mistake, that I should have stayed with him, adding, 'Look what you would have now'. But Elvis never had anything when I dated him. He was as poor as I was. Had I ended up staying with him and marrying him, who knows? He may have never had anything". "Even today, sometimes I will think about him and I really get mad at him and I say to myself, 'Elvis, you were just a year older than me. You don't have to be dead".


Gladys Presley worked part-time at the coffee urn at Britling Cafeteria, located at 74 Union Avenue, downtown Memphis.

BRITLING CAFETERIA - was a chain of cafeteria-style restaurants, which originated in Memphis during the 1920's. The company was owned by John H. Holcomb of Birmingham and a Memphis partner. About 1930 the partners split but they agreed the Britling name be continued. Britling cafeterias were local institutions. Their motto was: Good food is good Health. Sunday afternoon lunch at Britling was a tradition. One of the downtown Memphis locations is noteworthy for one of it's former employees was Gladys Presley, mother of Elvis. Britling fell into decline in the 1970's as fast food restaurants became more popular, and they were never as successful in moving to the suburbs. The Britling on Madison opened in 1921, the Britling on 74 Union Avenue opened in 1938 and featured murals by prominent Memphis artist, Burton Callicott. This building was demolished along with the next door Loew's Palace Theater for a parking garage.

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