ELVIS SUN 1955 (12)
December 1, 1955 to December 31, 1955 

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Dick Stuart takes over from Bill Strength as morning disc jockey on KWEM radio, West Memphis, Arkansas. Stuart is later to manage Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash head a Sun package tour of Texas. On December 28, they join George Jones for a show in Texarkana, Texas.

"The Signifying Monkey" (SUN 228) by Smokey Joe Baugh is released at about this time.


In New York, Elvis Presley and Tom Parker meet with RCA executives, including president Larry Kanaga and publicity director Anne Fulchino. Steve Sholes was there to welcome them. With him was RCA promotion man Chick Crumpacker, who had met Elvis several times earlier in the year. Some photo shot's by photographer William ''Popsie'' Randolph had been arrangement and pictures of Elvis and the Colonel, Elvis and Steve Sholes, and Elvis and fellow artist Eddy Arnold, who happens to be in New York for a recording session, are taken in RCA's 24th Street studio, along with posed action shots that will be used on the back of Elvis' first album.


Les than two weeks after acquiring Elvis from Sun Records, RCA Victor re-released the first of the singles came as part of the contract, Sun 223, "Mystery Train"/"I Forgot To Remember To Forget" (RCA Victor 20/47-6357).

47-6357-A If Elvis Presley (or anyone) ever made a better two sided record than this, it has yet to be found. On ''Mystery Train'', all you have is quintessential rockabilly: a confident, virile vocal, stacatto reverb lead guitar, audible rhythmic guitar strumming by Elvis, and driving percussive bass. If anyone ever asks you what a slap bass sounds like, just play them this record. There is not much room for improvement here. Even the abortive fadeout, during which Elvis's ''wooooo'' disintegrates into unselfconscious laughter, seems part of the magic. The distance between this track and Little Junior Parker's original (Sun 192) is immense, from the telling lyrical change (Parker's ''It's gonna do it again'' is transformed by Presley into ''It never will again'') to the tempo change from a sluggish freight to a runaway locomotive.

Scotty Moore was the guitarist who backed Elvis during his earliest, and best) years, both on stage and on record. He contributed more than his share of memorable guitar moments to the music of his era. In 1964, Billy Sherrill arranged that Scotty record an album of instrumentals called ''The Guitar That Changed The World''.

''Mystery Train'' provides one of Scotty's most notable outings. In part, its effectiveness comes from his brand new custom-made Ecgosonic amplifier, an amp that could add a little echo to the sound of the guitar. The filled-out sound coming out of that amp helped energize his performance and the entire record. Where Little Junior's record was a subdued blues, Elvis's record is an unstoppable train at full throttle. The distinctive figure that Scotty plays behind it is a dramatic revision of what Floyd Murphy had played behind Junior Parker. It caught on as a signature riff; Al Caseay recreated it behind Sanford Clark's record of ''Lonesome For A Letter''. Scotty's solo is not complicated but has a perfect contour - starting mid-high and rising to an apex before descending so that the guitar line returns smoothly to its place under the return of Elvis's vocal. Simple but elegant.

47-6357-B The flipside, ''I Forgot To Remember To Forget'', is no less powerful in its own right. For once, Sam Phillips commissioned a first rate piece of original material for his new star. Again, everything works here to perfection: the lyric, the melody, Presley's sexy crooning, Scotty Moore's memorable solo. Perhaps the strongest element is Johnny Bernero's drumming which, more than anything else, defines this recording. Shifting effortlessly from his trademark shuffle to a heavy backbeat during the guitar solo, Bernero elevates this record to greatness.

Finally, Sam Phillips had his dream: a two-sided masterpiece by his great white hope, and with both sides owned by his publishing company, Phillips was ready to do battle. This single, Presley's last for Sun, eventually became his first number 1 country hit.

Johnny Bernero didn't play drums on many Sun records. He was older than most Sun musicians and did not come from a rock and roll tradition. But, my god, the man could play. When Sam Phillips called him in to beef up the sound of this July 1955 session (which turned out to be Elvis's last Sun session), it was an inspired choice. Elvis, Scotty and Bill did not usually need a drummer, as the flipside of Sun 223 plainly showed. But when you added a tasty and minimal accompanist like Bernero, it all came to life.

What Bernero does on this clever country balled is make explicit the rhythm that drives the record. Bill Black's slap bass was capable of carrying the band but the addition of an actual drum kit left him and everyone freer to play around the beat. Sam Phillips didn't love drummers and found them a challenge to record in his small storefront studio. You can hear his ambivalence on many of the blues records and on early recordings of the Perkins Brothers Band. Does ''Blue Suede Shoes;; have a drummer? If so, does the drummer really contribute anything to the record? Surprisingly, the answer are Yes and No. Early on, Sam did not even mike drummers directly, allowed the drums just to bleed through other microphones on the floor.

Yet on ''I Forgot To Remember To Forget'', dating from the same era as ''Blue Suede Shoes'', the drums are both prominent and crisply recorded. And what a contribution Mernero makes! The vocal portions of the song are performed against a shuffle beat played on drum and cymbal. This is distinctive because ringing cymbals were not typically part of the Sun sound. And when Scotty steps forward to play his solo - that wonderful guitar solo - Bernero shifts to a 2/4 backbeat. The whole sound changes. And just when you've started to get comfortable with the solid backbeat, it's Elvis's turn to sing and the shuffle beat starts again. Maybe Scotty and Bill could have handled that shift on their own, but it wouldn't have come across this clearly. This record did need a drummer and it couldn't have found a better one.


Elvis Presley and the band played Atlanta's Sports Arena. Just who might have been among his opening act, there is nothing known. He was reportedly paid $300 for this performance. The Sports Arena could hold upwards of 3,000 tickets holders, but a lack of advertising resulted in poor attendance and the gate was said to have been only $285.

According to Jeanie and Warren Clark, ''Grandmother, Mrs. Oldham, owned a restaurant in Prichard. She had approached him (October 26 in Prichard, Alabama) and told him that she owned a restaurant, and if he would come in there when he was passing through, she would give him a free meal. Sure enough, six weeks late he came in there, but Mrs. Oldham wasn't there at the time. He had a cheesburger, a coke, and a piece of apple pie. He wrote her a letter, autographed a picture, and left it for her. The letter said, 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. E.P'''.


Elvis' signing with RCA Victor made the front page of Billboard in an article entitled "Double Deals Hurl Presley Into Stardom". RCA Victor also ran a full page ad in the magazine touting Elvis as "The Most Talked About New Personality In The Last Ten Years". Billboard also reported that Colonel Tom Parker had recently signed to represent Elvis for personal appearances. The Billboard issue reads: "Elvis Presley, one of the most sought-after warblers this year, signed two big-time contracts as a recording artist, writer and publisher.

RCA Victor beat out the diskery competition and signed the 19-year-old to a three years-plus options contract. Besides which, Hill and Range inked him to a long-time exclusive writing pact and at the same time set up a separate publishing firm, Elvis Presley Music Incorporated, which will operate within the H&R fold... Alto Sun has sold Presley primarily as a country and western artist, Victor plans to push his platters in all three fields - pop, rhythm and blues, and country and western. However, RCA Victor's specialty singles chief, Steve Sholes (who will record Presley), plans to cut the warbler with the same backing - electric guitar, bass fiddle, drums and Presley himself on rhythm guitar - featured on his previous Sun waxings".

DECEMBER 3, 1955

Elvis Presley appeared as part of the stage show for WBAM radio's annual "Talent Search Of The Deep South" at the State Coliseum in Montgomery, Alabama. Also on the bill were Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, Johnnie and Jack, Fred Wamble, Jack Turner, Buddy Hawk, and Eddie Hill of the Grand Ole Opry who was the show's master of ceremonies. Over 15,000 attended this final night of the talent competition. Fifty contestants were competing for prize money totalling $1,750.

Dan Brennan of WBAM recalled that around 1955 he'd had to introduced Elvis on stage: ''I got in front of the microphone and said, 'And now, folks, presenting a new sensation who think will make it big. Folks, Elvis Presley'! and I flung out my arms and hit him right in the teeth'!

Tom Parker secured four dates in Indianapolis and a second ''special show'' for Philip Morris, this time in Louisville, Kentucky. It was basically set-up and waiting time.


Elvis Presley, billed as "a county and bop singer", was scheduled to join Hank Snow for a four-day run at the Lyric Theater in Indianapolis, Indiana. According to a later report in the Indianapolis Times (August 8, 1956), Snow was detained by a winter storm. When he failed to make the first date, Elvis Presley carried on tire just the supporting acts, comedian Rod Brasfield and Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. For the four-day engagement, Elvis Presley was paid a total of $750.

It was only a couple of hours before showtime, on a Saturday afternoon in the fall of 1955, when promoter Dick Blake discovered his featured attraction, Hank Snow, ''the Singing Ranger'', was snowbound in New Jersey and would not be able to make his scheduled appearance. The location was the old Lyric Theatre in downtown Indianapolis, where country music shows were commonplace in those days. Blake would have to move one of his other acts into closing spot.

He had to choose between the Carter Family, a long established Grand Ole Opry ensemble, and an obscure singer named Elvis Presley. He selected Presley.

According to guitarist Tommy Flint, ''The crowd didn't know exactly how to react. They were hoping to see Hank Snow, and instead out comes this guy who began mumbling into the microphone, and when he sings, he starts twitching, squirming, and shaking like he is having some sort of seizure. But he had a pretty good voice, and he did a good job of pleasing the crowd even though they didn't know who he was''.

Promoter Dick Blake says, ''They were at the Lyric for four days, and the crowd doubled on the second day and continued to increase for the four days Presley was there, some of the people came back to see Elvis three or four times''.

Tommy Flint says, ''When I met Elvis, he shook hands with me, and he had one of those little gadgets strapped to his hand that kind of gives you a shock. I jumped three feet into the air when we shook hands. He thought it was a lot funnier than I did. He also pulled the chair out from underneath one of the Nashville musicians as he was sitting down. The guy fell back on the floor, and when he got up, he was mad, started yelling at Elvis, who apologized to the guy''.

Tom Diskin reported to Colonel Tom Parker from Indianapolis, ''Dear Colonel. Enclosed is a statement for the engagement here, the figures speak for themselves. Presley seems to be building each night, by that I mean the major part of the audience seems to be young kids. He's been co-operative in taking suggestions, but he need plenty of seasoning as far as pacing his act. The kids get hopped up over him, and that is what counts. The record dealer and I talked tonight, and he's all for Presley. At first he was skeptical, but now he knows different. Also, the disc jockey here called to say he had gotten lots of requests since playing his record. haven't seen Hank. He didn't make the RCA tour of the plant (RCA operated a pressing plant in Indianapolis for many years), though Presley and Anita did. They took pictures. Also the guys are supposed to get pictures of the Marquee. I'll also bring the blowups with me. Haven't had much conversation with Hank, but I'm going down there now. Blake has been scarce today. Give my best to Marie, and see you both in a few days''.

RCA's Chick Crumpacker had attended the same RCA convention in New Jersey that delayed Hank Snow's arrival in Indianapolis, but by taking the train he had escaped the snowstorm. Crumpacker had suffered the wrath of Colonel Parker the year before on an RCA country caravan tour, but as they walked back through the snow to their hotel, all seemed forgotten. They saw how Elvis had improved as a showman. Although there was still some fine-tuning to do, the future looked bright, and the Colonel concluded: 'We'll do great things together''.

The Williams Morris Agency of New York, which was already involved in negotiations with Colonel Tom Parker, sent out Lou Mindling from Chicago to take a look at Elvis Presley. Mindling's positive report to the head office soon led to Elvis Presley signed with the powerful Williams Morris Agency, which would negotiate future bookings.


Elvis Presley closed out his brief "tour" as part of the Hank Snow aggregation at the Rialto Theater in Louisville, Kentucky. However, if a fan was looking through the local newspaper, they would never know it. There were no advertisements for this show in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

A close inspection of the ads for the Rialto Theater gives no hint that there would be anything presented this evening other than the two scheduled films, "Tarantula!" and "Running Wild". Luckily, a photograph exists showing the marquee of the Rialto Theater announcing "Philips Morris Employee's Night - Hank Snow All Star Jamboree - Elvis Presley - Duke of Paducah - Bill and Scotty and Don".

(The final name is undoubtedly a reference to D.J. Fontana whose first name is Dominic, not Don). Clearly seen in the photograph are huge posters and banners for "Tarantula" and a smaller sandwich board for "Running Wild". Finally, this photograph is part of the Lin Caufield Collection of the University of Louisville. It is dated December 8, 1955. In all likelihood, this was a private performance just for Philip Morris workers - sort of an early Christmas present form the company.

The only review of this show came from Elvis Presley, himself. In an interview before another Louisville concert nearly a year later, he compared the crush of fans at that time with those in 1955. "A year ago", he said, "I did a show for the employees of a cigarette firm here, but there wasn't too much mobbing then".


Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash playing at the High School Auditorium in Swifton, Arkansas in the afternoon.

"They put their speakers on folding chairs on the gym floor", recalls Mary Lou Campbell. "Elvis arrived in his pink Cadillac. The gym was jumping; packed with maybe three hundred people there.

As he began singing, we girls moved out or our seats and went right down on the gym floor. He just mesmerized us. We just knew he was something special the minute he started singing.

There was just something about his personality, his talent. He had charisma". As had happened in Bono, Arkansas, the Swifton senior class officers had driven over too see Elvis Presley at the C&R Club in Trumann, Arkansas and invited him to play the high school gig to raise funds for their senior trip. "Elvis helped pay our way to New Orleans by doing the high school concert", said Mary Lou Campbell.

"We all fell in love with him right there on that gym floor. After the show, I had my picture taken with him and I carried that picture with me all through college", she said.

After that gig, Elvis Presley went to Bob Kings's B&I Club where he joined Sonny Burgess on stage. Elvis entertained a full house of 250 people with the customary three forty-five-minutes sets, backed by Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and drummer D.J. Fontana. Sonny Burgess feels certain that this show was in the early winter of 1955. Bob King's nightclub sits about four miles north of Swifton, Arkansas, at U.S. Highway 67, played country music there over the years. It's one of the few nightclubs in northern Arkansas that hasn't succumbed to a fire. Elvis Presley was scheduled to play one show, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., but he played until 12:30 a.m. with only one intermission.

According to Sonny Burgess, ''While Elvis was on break at Bob King's, he went over and sat at a table with these high school kids. He was only 19 (sic) you know, so he sat down and talked to them, and they loved him for that. That night, Elvis offered Kern Kennedy, my pianist, a job playing piano. He didn't have a piano player, just D.J., Scotty, and Bill at that point. He also wanted our sax player, a guy named Punky Caldwell that played sax and clarinet. And boy, he could wrap up! But he weighed about 400 pound, and he didn't want to travel. So both Kern and Punky turned Elvis down, as far as a job, it wasn't that big a job back then''

After going through his Sun Records repertoire and a few predictable covers like, Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock", the Platters' "Only You", Elvis Presley announced, "I've got this brand new song and it's gonna be my first hit", then according to Bob King, launched into as-yet-unrecorded "Heartbreak Hotel".

"I had seen him over in Bono and I had gone down to see him at the Silver Moon", said Bob King. "I called Bob Neal and I booked Elvis for December 9, 1955, for the Swifton High School and for my club and guaranteed him four hundred and fifty dollars. I didn't sweat it too bad. We charged two dollars at the club and I gave them the door. We seated a hundred and fifty, but there must have been two hundred there, including standing room".

"We served beer legally, but people bringing whisky in brown bags, we made them keep that under the table. Everything north of Swifton was dry then, so there were a bunch of clubs - perhaps as many as eight - right around here", said King.

"The place was crowded. The women's room was just off the left of the stage and a lot of girls had to go there a lot of times, to get a closer look at Elvis. Johnny Cash and his wife came to the club with Elvis. Elvis told me if I'd pay Johnny ten dollars, he'd get up and play a song. I gave him twenty dollars and he sang three songs".

Elvis Presley introduced a new song he had just learned, "Heartbreak Hotel" and said he would soon be playing that song on national television. This might have been the first place he ever sang that song in public audience.

"When he finished that night, he had to be rushed out the back door to his car and he was being chased by a bunch of screaming women. He hopped in his car and left", said King. The club, now called the King Of Clubs, opened September 21, 1951, and a young performer named Harold Jenkins and his Rock Houses band played there while Jenkins was recorded at Sun Records. On the club's twenty-fifth anniversary, Jenkins packet the house for a return engagement. By then he was better known as Conway Twitty.


Elvis Presley first song folio was published by Hill and Range Publishing Company. The original issue containing the following song sheets: "Rag Mop", "I Almost Lost My Mind", "Cryin' Heart Blues", and "I Need You So". The folio was re-published in the spring of 1956, and the above titles were changed for "Blue Suede Shoes", Mystery Train", "I Was The One", and "Heartbreak Hotel".

The original folio sold for one dollar and the re-issue sold for a dollar and twenty-five cents. In addition, several of the photos inside the folio were changed in 1956.

DECEMBER 10, 1955

Elvis Presley played the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport. Barbara Pittman from Memphis, who was a new Sun Record artist, was The Wilbourn Brothers, the special guest. "One night I was sitting with the Wilbourn Brothers when Elvis was on stage. Soon as he finished his set, he came down and told them I was his girlfriend and told them, 'I want you to stay away from my girlfriend'.

I told him, 'Elvis, it ain't no big thing'. He held his hand about six inches apart and said, 'It's this big!'. That embarrassed me so much I had to get up and go on the ladies room", said Barbara Pittman.

According to JoAnne Phillips, ''We (JoAnne and her cousin Melba) and two other girls were standing there, when the young man selling pictures went in and told Elvis we were out there. Shortly after, Elvis came out.

The other two girls were closer to the door, so he stopped and talked to them first. I took a picture of him leaning against the wall. When he got to Melba and me, I asked if we could have our picture taken with him. He said, 'sure' but he wanted to get his coat. It was pink like his trousers. I asked him to autograph my record center. He took it and looked at me, grinned and said, 'What's the matter? Don't you like my records'? I nearly died. The more I stammered trying to explain, the more he laughed. He was thoroughly enjoying teasing me''.

''Melba took my camera and said she would take my picture first with Elvis. He walked over and put his arm around me, and then all of a sudden he pulled me around and up against him and put his other arm around me. I completely stopped breathing; he was holding me so tight. On stage, he loved to pause between songs long enough that everyone would start shouting the song they wanted to hear. That night, everyone was shouting and I was yelling ''Money Honey''. He looked down at me and grinned, and I said 'please'. And he started singing it. I was thrilled to death''.

BARBARA PITTMAN (See: 1956-1 Session) - In 1954, Barbara Pittman's mother brought her to the Eagle's Nest where she sang at intermissions. She also sang with the Snearly Ranch Boys at the Cotton Club in West Memphis, Arkansas. Legend has it that Elvis Presley recommended Barbara to Sleepy-Eyed John Lepley at the Eagle's Nest and he signed her after an audition. She also dated Elvis Presley for a time, and went on to record for Sun Records.

Stan Kesler's tune "Playing For Keeps" was the demo song she used when auditioning for Sam Phillips at Sun. The song had been written for Elvis Presley, and Barbara performed it in a Presley vein. She was one of the most talented female country-rockabilly singers in Memphis.

"I walked into Sam Phillips recording studio when I was only 12 years old. After expressing my interest to sing with the receptionist, I was discouraged and told my voice wasn't good enough and that maybe I should learn to be a secretary or something. Well that broke my heart and I went home and cried for two days. If there was ever one thing that made me want to sing it was that disappointment at the Phillips studios. So I went out and learned how to sing. While doing this I went on the road with the famous Lash LaRue for a 1 year travelling tour. This took me to California, but I was eager to come back home and did so that next year. The one place to work those days was at the Cotton Club in West Memphis, Arkansas. "Everybody I think one way or another whether Elvis Presley realized it or not, was around because Elvis Presley was! It's the truth, and indirectly I would have never gotten into the music industry without him. I got my first singing job because of Elvis. He was working at a club called the Eagles Nest then, and his manager, by the way most people think his first manager was Bob Neal nut it wasn't, his first manager was a guy called "Sleepy Eyed John" a local disc jockey. Anyhow he was auditioning singers and I was currently working as a carhop when Elvis Presley got me that audition. Well, I got the job. It was only $5.00 a night but it was worth it. So you see if it hadn't been for Elvis I wouldn't have been at Sum, I never would have recorded at 706 Union".

"I knew Elvis Presley when I was around 10 years old. His mother and mine used to have Stanley parties. I used to go over there and just hang around. I guess I was madly in love with Elvis Presley the first time I met him. yea, when Elvis used to wear those wild clothes, long side burns and all, you know. But in those days Elvis wasn't very popular with people. You know he looked like a rebellious young guy who liked to get into fights. So anyhow, he'd stay home and sit around the house during these Stanley parties and we'd play games and talk, we've always stayed friends. Well anyhow, while I was gone a year with Lash LaRue we didn't talk or see each other, and when I came back I'd grown up a bit! I remember Elvis saying, Hey, hey, hey, Well, well, well!!! What ever happened to that little girl I once knew? So we started dating and kept on dating till he went in the service. Elvis' mother was a beautiful person and a great mother and I'll always remember her that way. One thing that people should know about Elvis' mother is that she was just like anybody else's mother. She was a beautiful lady. She was a beautiful young woman then and just like any other beautiful young woman then, she'd listen to the radio. She'd be listening to her favorite songs on the radio sipping on a can of beer and dancing all over the kitchen floor. Gladys Presley was a hell raisin, fun lovin, life livin', beautiful lady, 'she was!

"We sang a lot together in the studio", said Pittman. "A lot of gospel. Sam recorded a lot of that stuff. I don't know where those tapes are today. Anyhow, while knowing Elvis he talked me into doing a demo for him, a tune that Stan Kesler wrote, "Playing For Keeps".

"Well, I did it in Elvis' key and style and Elvis bought it. Of course Elvis and I were dating then and we knew each other real good so he took this dub over to Sam Phillips. Well Sam listened to it and said my Lord who the heck is that? He liked what he heard. Just think and I was told only a year earlier that I didn't have enough talent to sing. Guess I did a good job of learning, he', I've always been met to be a singer you know? Yea, Elvis and I hung around a lot together. And just like anybody else we had a bunch of people we always hung around with. One funny thing I remember; Elvis would sometimes drive around in an old two tone Plymouth, his father's car. We called it the Push-mo-bile. Cause that's the only way it would run, if you stood behind it and pushed it!

Anyway, when we were all together we'd go to a place called Kay's Drive-In, sort of the Arnolds of Happy Days! We were all eating cheese burgers or something, by the way, whew, could Elvis eat. I mean no one left anything on the table when Elvis was around, cause it would have been gone before you knew it! Elvis was always flirting with all the girls, I mean he could have been Miss America sitting right next to him and he'd still be sayin' "Hey Chick" 'You know... Anyhow he goes over to these girls and says "I'm Elvis Presley", well this one girl says Yea, if you are, how come you're driving that old car. Elvis said, Oh that car, well that's my weekday car, you should see my weekend car. It happened to be Saturday night. Elvis was great, always trying to be funny. Speaking of funny. I remember a mina bird that Elvis had. It was a cute bird and Elvis taught it how to talk. The darn thing would say whole phrases. Now Mrs. Presley loved to nibble on left overs in the refrigerator late at night. And Elvis didn't want Gladys to gain weight so he trained this bird to say, (everytime Gladys would open the refrigerator at night) "Gladys get out of there and turn off the light!". Can you imagine that?, said Barbara Pittman.

"Between recording sessions, we would go next door to Taylor's Restaurant and sit in a booth and have a hamburger and a Coke. One day we were in there and three truck drivers were there. Each of them was twice as big as Elvis and there were three of them. One of them looked over at Elvis and said, 'Hey, boy, why don't you go get your hair cut?'. Elvis' temper flared. I told him to swallow his pride. I told him, 'Elvis, they'll kill you'. He sat there, fuming. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore. He went over to the guy and challenged him to go outside".

"That's when the guy just started laughing and said, 'Aw, we were just jokin' you, boy. We know who you are'. And with that, he got up, went over to the jukebox, put a nickel in and punched up an Elvis Record".

"We'd go there mostly during session breaks", said Pittman. "Take a beer break, a hamburger break. Everybody loved Mrs. Taylor's hamburgers. If she was getting ready to close for the night, and we had another of those thirteen-hour sessions going next door, we would go over there and take out a bunch of hamburgers. That was back in the days when they made big hamburgers and a lot of big names came in there to gulp 'em down", said Pittman


Elvis Presley perform Nettleton and Jonesboro, Alabama. "The first time Elvis had come to Nettleton, my sister went without me", said Diana Noah. "I told her, 'I'm not going to see that hood'. After that, I began to learn more about him and when he came back, we went to the gym and sat on the floor right on the front row. And later we saw him at the Jonesboro YMCA. It was there he announced to us he would be appearing soon on the Ed Sullivan show".

"After that, every time we saw a Cadillac going through town, we thought it was Elvis Presley and we would run out and look, but it wasn't". Later that night, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins performed at a concert in Helena, Arkansas.


Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash appeared at the National Guard Armory in Amory, Mississippi. Carl Perkins remembers the Amory concert well. This would be the last time Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash appeared on the same billing as each was achieving stardom along similar, yet separate, paths.

Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley had driven to Amory together from a concert the night before in Helena, Arkansas. En route, they were discussing music and both mentioned how much they liked singing the song, "Only You", made popular by the Platters.

During on the Amory stage, someone in the audience shouted, "Only You, Carl". You got it, hoss" Carl snapped back, and sang his version of the song. Perkins had the house jumping and they weren't ready for him to leave the stage when the time came. Backstage, Perkins found Elvis sitting, head in hands, shutting out the world. "You feelin' okey?" he asked Elvis. "Aw, ain't no need in me goin' on", Elvis replied. "They're ready for you. What'd you do Only You for''?

Challenged, Perkins snapped, "Cause I wanted to. 'Cause I can sing it. There's two reasons. You want another one?". "Well, go on out there and do it", Perkins commanded. "Hell, the Platters are singing' it somewhere tonight". "I ain't that big a damn fool", Elvis said. "I ain't goon' out there and sing something you done sung. You done tore 'em all to pieces''.

''I might as well go on to the car". Bobby Sitter and a partner had seen this interplay. Sitter made a five dollar bet, that despite the audience's reaction to Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley would come out the crowd winner at the end.

"Walking toward the stage, Elvis asked me what we had been talking about", said Ritter. "I told him about the bet". When Elvis Presley walked on, the crowd was still shouting "We want Carl! We want Carl!". Elvis, said Ritter, seemed to become overly motivated. "He went wild. He sang, he was all over that stage. He was down on his knees. He was attacking that guitar. And it wasn't long before he had 'em eatin' outta his hands".

When Elvis re-entered the backstage area, Elvis winked at Ritter and said, "Go get your five dollars!".

According to Gene Simmons, ''Elvis usually did these Little Richard and Chuck Berry things, and Carl went out and did them first. Carl was more popular as he had played some more shows down this area. As Carl walked off the show down to the dressing room, and sang one of the Little Richard songs, or something, that Elvis had planned to sing, Elvis was pacing the floor and said, 'This damned Perkins boy better....'''.

Jim Buffington says, ''In May of 1955, I was a student at Keegan Public Institute in Memphis, in the radio and TV production class. From March till May, one of my classmates was Johnny Cash. I graduated and got a job on June 1 at radio station WMPA in Aberdeen, Mississippi, 35 miles south of Tupelo. One of the announcers at this radio station, Charles Boren, assisted with promoting some shows on the air where Elvis and Cash and the other hopefuls were participating. (There was no newspaper advertisement for the show. Instead, local promoter Charles Boren promoted it on the radio, and even drove around town in his station wagon, announcing to the roof). Charlie Boren was a promoter; he had one or two movie theaters. Boren was the reason the show came to Amory''.

''The Armory is a large building. The floor is the size of a basketball court. There were wooden bleachers going up the side. They had folding chairs on the floor. As December approached, one of the other announcers, Bobby Ritter, in November, came in with a bunch of photos and said that Elvis and cash were gonna be at a show at the Armory.

I went there to speak with John, and Bobby Ritter came over and asked me if I wanted to meet Elvis and some of the others that were going to be on the show that night. We were going down the steps to the dressing room, and we saw Elvis looking up as we came down''

''I noticed that his hair was sandy brown, not as black as in the photos, and that he couldn't stand still. He was very nice. He had a sport coat on, an opened up shirt underneath, he was not wearing a tie. I had gotten a sport coat last Christmas from my parents. It was charcoal. It had a pattern of pink horizontal and vertical lines. Hey saw that coat of mine, and started talking about it, and he tried to talk me into selling it to him on the spot''.

''We had a rather solid bill that night'', says Buffington, ''Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Gene Simmons. Bobby and Gene were good friends, and I knew Gene already from the radio station when Bobby had him on the program. I remember Elvis Presley performing that night, and the electricity that he generated with those movements of his, a natural way of moving, and exciting to watch. But the real hit that night was Carl Perkins with ''Blue Suede Shoes'', and he received a lot more applause than did Elvis''.


Harry Kalcheim is furious when he learns that Colonel Parker has booked Elvis for four consecutive weeks in January on CBS's Saturday-night variety show, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey's Stage Show, through another agent, Steve Yates.

As a follow-up to the Stage Show booking, CBS requests a list of Elvis' songs, from which a selection will be made with input from the show's producer at the dress rehearsal. Elvis is to be paid $1,250 for each appearance, with an option for two more weeks at $1,500 each.


Elvis Presley and the band appear at Catholic Club, 123 Columbia Street in Helena, Arkansas. The newspaper ad boasted a ll five hundred tickets for this show with Carl Perkins are sold two days in advance, but another 500 would be available at the door. Carl Perkins didn't do ''Only You'' that night, uncomfortable that Elvis had taken the Amory incident so hard.

After the show, Elvis asked Carl and his band if they wanted to stop and eat, but Carl excused himself with the long drive home to Jackson. After exchanging a few niceties, Carl and his band went on their way. Elvis, his girlfriend, and his parents stayed to eat.

According to Evelyn, usher at the concert, ''We were two couples who went out to eat with Elvis at Papa Nick's''. Everybody but Evelyn had steaks.

After dinner, the group dragged Cherry Street in Elvis' convertible, and then went down to the slab field where they sat and talked about Elvis' mother and religion. ''I remember Elvis hanging from a tree by his feet. We were just a bunch of kids having a good time''.

Jim Rose says, ''The thing that makes this performance stand out was Elvis' antics after the concert. For some reason, we all ended upon Cherry Street, the main street in helena that runs adjacent to the Mississippi River levy, and Elvis showed up, parked his car, which I recall being an older model Cadillac, stopped the car, got out, and came over to talk us. Before it was over with, we were all in a line led by Elvis leapfrogging the parking meters on Cherry Street. That night, Elvis was just one of us, and no one, probably including Elvis, had any idea of what lay ahead for him, but he made several lifelong fans that night''.


Elvis Presley perform at the Municipal Auditorium in Sweetwater, Texas. Showtime 8 p.m. Tickets advance on sale at Harp Music Co., the Sweetwater Music Shop, the Skyline Cafe, and Haney Drug Store in Roscoe.

The Colonel responds unrepentantly to Harry Kalcheim, reprimanding him for failing to work hard enough to get Elvis on television. He lectures the agent that it is not enough just to send out letters and sit and wait for a reply. An agent must pitch his artist "full force." If he himself were simply to depend on people calling him back, the Colonel concludes, "I would have to start selling candy apples again. Nuff said''.


CBS-TV and Jackie Gleason announced that Elvis Presley had been signed to appear on "Stage Show" on four consecutive Saturday nights, starting January 8, 1956, NBC-TV had also been in the bidding for Elvis' first national TV appearance.

Elvis Presley performed on the "Louisiana Hayride" in Shreveport, Louisiana. This special show, which also featured Wayne Raney, was a benefit for the local YMCA and originated from Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport.

This special show helped Elvis Presley out of his contract with the "Louisiana Hayride", which was to run another six months. That night, Elvis performing his Sun hits along with cover versions of "I Got A Woman", Shake, Rattle And Roll", "Money Honey", "Tutti Frutti", ''Only You'', and "Sixteen Tons".

The Colonel sends Bob Neal the Stage Show contract for Elvis to sign, pointing out that there must be no "ad libs or gestures" on the show other than those the producer recommends.


"Cry, Cry, Cry" was still doing good business, and Sam Phillips held off releasing for Johnny Cash's new single until December. A few weeks earlier, Phillips had acquired a little venture capital from RCA, and he pumped it behind Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. He placed an advertisement in the trade papers touting "handsome and young" Johnny Cash.


One night a year, the wrestlers would stage a benefit show, dividing the proceeds between the two newspapers charities - the Memphis Press-Scimitar's Goodfellows, which annually gave out toys and new clothes to the underprivileged children of Memphis; and the Commercial Appeal's Basket Fund, which gave basket of groceries to needy Memphians.

At 8:00 p.m. in Memphis, Elvis Presley made what may have been the most unusual appearance of his career. The show was held at Ellis Auditorium to benefit the Memphis Press-Scimitar's Goodfellows Fund and the Commercial-Appeal's American Legion Basket Fund. Elvis Presley and the Blue Moon Boys, along with Slim Rhodes and his Mountainaires and other musical artists, provided the singing introduction for an "all-star wrestling program". Rhodes opened with a thirty-minute set.

He was followed by the Dixie Dolls, four tap dancers, who preceded 15-year old Jo Haynes, who twirled her baton to a pre-recorded jazz number. The master of ceremonies was Trent Wood of WCMT, a radio station owned by the Commercial-Appeal. The benefit received preevent coverage in both the Commercial-Appeal and the Press Scimitar. It is not clear whether all the music was presented before the first wrestling bout, or whether Rhodes performed first with Dixie Doll and Miss Haynes appearing between the three matches, and the "whole shebang" wrapped up by Elvis Presley's show. The event was promoted by Les Wolfe. Believe it or not, this was the seventh annual occurrence of Wolfe's "Christmas charity wrestlingmusical show".

When Jo Haynes come on, they had to put some plywood on the canvas mat so she could perform properly. Elvis spotted the youngster backstage, struck up a conversation, then asked her out for a date. She said she would have to get her mother's permission before she could accept.

"I had just done a show with Bill Haley and the Comets", said Haynes. "I had danced to "Rock Around The Clock" and "Shake, Rattle And Roll". I was appearing on the Top Ten Dance Party with Wink Martindale on WHBQ-TV. When it came my time to go into that ring, I danced to "Steam Heat", twirling a baton, and at the end of my dance I set the baton on fire and tossed it into the air, catching it as it came down. That was really something then".

Elvis Presley had asked her to accompany him to Jim's Steak House, or to a movie, after the benefit, but she was cool to the idea, for one "because I was going to a slumber party after the show, the reason he kept his collar turned up was because he had pimples all over his neck. I was sixteen at the time and this was important", said Haynes.

When Elvis Presley came on, Jo Haynes pointed to him in the ring and told her mother this was the boy who had asked her out on a date. "I told her right away she couldn't go", said mama Haynes. "the boy had pimples on his face". As if the pimples weren't bad enough, as Elvis performed, he awkwardly told a couple of off-colour jokes, prompting Mrs. Haynes to tell her daughter, "Don't you listen to that". One who remembers that night well is Benjamin Armour, a retired Air Force sergeant. "I was being transferred from Korea to South Carolina", said Armour. "Stopped off in Memphis en route to Donaldson Air Force Base. My father-in-law was a big wrestling fan and so I went there with him. We sat on the front row of the balcony, sort of leaning over the rail. After all the wrestling was finished, Elvis Presley got in that ring. He had that guitar with the hand-tooled leather 'Elvis' on it".

"Elvis was the best performer that evening. He really had the crowd with him. He banged on that guitar to hard he broke every string on it. Then he laid it down in the ring and kept right on going", said Armour.

The both Haynes and Armour would cross Elvis' area in later years. Jo Haynes would open a dance school in the Whitehaven area, just south of Graceland. One of her students was a young girl named Priscilla Beaullieu, then a teenager living in the mansion with Elvis Presley after having met him during his Army tour in Germany. "I had a pink '59 Ford Thunderbird convertible with a black top", said Haynes. "After Priscilla began taken lessons from me, Elvis wanted to buy my car and give it to her. I told him, 'Elvis, you've got a driveway filled with cars up at Graceland'".

"Priscilla studied under Haynes almost a year. The dance instructor remembers her in those days as "very shy", but she natural rhythm. She never wanted to be out front on the stage. We would say in those days if ever we had children, we would want them to play together. By the time she had Lisa Marie and I had Joe, we had gone our separate ways".

After South Carolina, Benjamin Armour found himself in Germany. His youngest daughter went to a military school in Wiesbaden where she was in the same class as Priscilla.

During his Christmas vacation, Elvis Presley made an appearance at the Humes High School holiday benefit show. He, along with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, played before a large audience at the Auditorium. Backing them was the Humes Dance Band. No exact date for this show is known. Money raised by the show was donated to the school discretionary funds, according to Mrs. Scrivener, who was Elvis' homeroom teacher when he was a senior. Elvis Presley was not advertised to appear on the Louisiana Hayride show on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1955.

Article in the Memphis Press-Scimitar with the headliner said:
PRESLEY SINGS ON MAT CARD Country Star Set For Monday Night

Promoter Les Wolfe today announced that Elvis Presley, outstanding young Memphis country and western singer, will appear on next Monday nighs all-benefit, all-star wrestling program at Ellis Auditorium. The arrangements for Presley's appearance were made by Bob Neal, his personnel manager from WMPS.

In addition to Presley, Wolfe has arranged for the appearance of Slim Rhodes and his Mountaineers, who will play for the card from 8 p.m. until the first bout. Wolfe is arranging other standouts arts. He'll have three grappling bouts, including a tag team go, with everyone donating services. All proceeds go to the Goodfellow's Fund of The Press-Simitar and the Commercial Appeal Christmas Basket Fund.

Wolfe reports a brisk sale of tickets. He's taking reservations at 33-7448, while Sid Markus is taking orders at Broadway 6-3563. Wolfe plans to open the box office at Florsheim's, Main and Madison, a day early, starting on Saturday.


Elvis Presley was signed to four appearances on Jackie Gleason's CBS-TV program "Stage Show" (starring swing-era veterans Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey), starting in January 1956, with an option for two more.


Sam Phillips owned the publishing rights to Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes", although the song was represented by Hill and Range as part of the Presley deal. This meant that every record company who pushed a version onto the market owed Sam Phillips two cents for every copy sold. The success of "Blue Suede Shoes" also enabled Sam Phillips to assemble the nucleus of his foreign deals which saw Sun product go to Decca/London for most of the world and to Quality Records and subsequently London Records in Canada.

The reel of tape, the bottles of bourbon and the night's work that Sam Phillips invested in "Blue Suede Shoes" on December evening paid a dividend more handsome than anything he dared dream as he locked up the studio and walked to his car that night. The record business is a lottery and Phillips had hit the jackpot. More than that, he was a success on his own terms. He had recorded music that no-one else believed in. He recorded it his way. He released it on his own label. And he reaped the colossal rewards.

Carl Perkins too had been vindicated. However, for Perkins the struggle was just beginning. Although he wrote songs that were, in some respects, better than "Blue Suede Shoes", he could never recapture the commerciality of the muse that came to him at 3 o'clock on the morning when he went downstairs and scratched his anthem on a potato bag.


At RCA, sales manager John Burgess could see the fruits of the hard work of his staff. The newest single ''Mystery Train''/''I Forgot To Remember To Forget'' (RCA Victor 20/47-6357) was now selling 3,700 per day, and, to keep the momentum going, in-store promotional material was being made available.

RCA Victor re-released the remaining four singles acquired from Sun Records in November: "That's All Right"/"Blue Moon Of Kentucky" (RCA Victor 20/47-6380), "Good Rockin' Tonight"/"I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine" (RCA Victor 20/47-6381), "Milkcow Blues Boogie"/"You're A Heartbreaker" (RCA Victor 20//47-6382), and "Baby Let's Play House"/"I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone" (RCA Victor 20//47-6383).


Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley performed at the Jonesboro's YMCA, Arkansas. "Johnny took us backstage", said Nancy Zimmer. "I had never heard of Elvis Presley in my life before that night. Elvis tripped over me back there and I told him, 'Don't touch me'. Later, just before he was going on, he ran up to me and hugged me. And wow! He had it! He just did it to you! I got an autographed picture of him and the next day at school all the girls were wanting to know who this greasy-haired guy was. Six months later, they were all wanting my autographed picture!".

"When we went to the YMCA that night, he was totally unknown to me. We didn't even know about all the screaming and crying that was going on at his concerts".


Meanwhile, Steve Sholes at RCA had to ready himself to record his newest artist. There was enough criticism and jealousy within the label to develop a fear of failure. After all, they spent a fortune, and Steve definitely felt the heat. The inclusion of Hill and Range in the deal meant that the Aberbachs would control at least one side of each Elvis single. Sholes had an obligation to make sure that this happened, but it also helped provide repertoire for his new artist.

Steve Sholes sends Elvis demonstration records of ten songs to his home on 1414 Getwell, he would like him to consider for his first RCA recording session, scheduled for January in Nashville. Elvis will eventually record two, "I'm Counting on You" and "I Was the One," both ballads.

STEVE SHOLES - born as Stephen Henry Sholes on February 12, 1911 was one of the most influential producers in postwar music; he was responsible not only for the birth of the Nashville Sound, but also for signing Chet Atkins and Elvis Presley to RCA. Sholes was born in Washington, D.C., but his family moved to New Jersey in the 1920s, and it was while attending high school in 1929 that he first took a part-time job in sales with RCA Victor Records.

After college, in 1935 he returned to RCA, joining the jazz artists and repertory department. During World War II, while serving in the army, he was responsible for producing "V-Discs", records made for distribution specifically to servicemen overseas as part of the war effort by Fats Waller.

In 1945, upon his release from the military, Sholes returned to RCA and became manager of the company's country and western and rhythm and blues, Artist and Repertoire. Among his first signings were the Sons of the Pioneers, who became the linchpin of the company's burgeoning country & western line-up. In 1949, Sholes signed guitarist Chet Atkins to the label to provide RCA with a competitor to Merle Travis on Capitol. He ended up getting far more than a guitar virtuoso, Atkins proved to be a master arranger and producer as well. Although country groups like the Pioneers hit hard times in the early 1950s, country music was undergoing a boom, and Sholes was prepared to expand the company's roster. He brought such artists as Elton Britt, Eddie Arnold, the Browns, Homer & Jethro, Hank Snow, Hank Locklin, Jim Reeves, Pee Wee King, and Elvis Presley to RCA. By the end of the 1950s, RCA was a country music powerhouse, with one of the strongest rosters in the business, much of it Sholes' doing.

In 1957, Sholes promoted Chet Atkins to production manager in Nashville, and he became one of the most successful producers in the history of country music. In the 1960s, RCA became the home to such artists as Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, and Waylon Jennings, even as its best 1950s artists continued to fare well in the marketplace. This was the decade that the so-called "Nashville Sound" nurtured by Sholes and Atkins came into its own as the dominant commercial force in country music, and RCA was the label that best exemplified that sound. Sholes was also a key player in organizing and raising money for the Country Music Hall of Fame, which opened in 1967. By that time, Sholes was nearing the uppermost echelon of RCA management, having been promoted to Vice President in charge of Pop Artists and Repertory that same year. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967, the year that it opened. Steve Sholes died on April 11, 1968 of a heart attack in Nashville at the age of 57.


Bob Neal wrote that Elvis Presley was on vacation this week. However, Elvis bought an airline ticket to an unidentified place on December 27, and Scotty Moore bought gas in Camden, Arkansas, the following day and drove on to Shrevepoort. Elvis was definitely back in Memphis on the 29th, if he went away at all. It's possible that there was a show somewhere in West Arkansas on December 27.


Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash played a date in Texarkana supporting George Jones, who was riding his first hit, "Why Baby Why". "None of us had ever been that far away before", Carl Perkins remembers. "It was the big break. I met Johnny Cash in West Memphis and we had to go 350 miles. I spent most of the time in John's car and we wrote songs together. The next day we were in Tyler, Texas, and the promoter promised us a hundred dollars each. Up to then, our biggest pay had been in Parsons, Arkansas, when Bob Neal stood at the door with a cigar box and charged everyone who came in a dollar unless they were under twelve. We split the take and got eighteen dollars for every guy".

LATE 1955

Elvis Presley performed in Parkin, Arkansas. This show is remembered by Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. The venue may have been the back of a flatbed truck. Perkins has said that he wrote "Blue Suede Shoes" here, which would place the gig about December. Nothing specific could be unearthed.


Elvis Presley was featured in an article in Country Song Roundup's winter issue. The article was titled "Rockin' To Stardom". In the same issue, Elvis was ranked ninth in a list of the top country artists in the nation. Country And Western Jamboree magazine, a trade publication, reported that Elvis Presley had received 250,000 votes in a reader's poll for "New Star Of The Year".


Local residents remember a show at the B&B Club in Gobler between Christmas and New Years. Appearing with Elvis Presley was Johnny Cash, and they were paid $400 plus 60% of the door. Elvis Presley purchased a Chevrolet from C.E. Sinks, a Kennett auto dealer, and the car was delivered to the B&B for Elvis Presley to take back to Memphis, presumably as a Christmas gift. Jimmy Haggett, a country singer/musician who was spinning records on KBOA radio in Kennett at this time recalls that he played with Elvis Presley at the B&B Club on at least two occasions.


Johnny Cash's musician Marshall Grant, was convinced that they would see better times. "On a lot of early shows we were openers", he told David Booth, "but I could see the momentum already there. Johnny Cash was becoming popular with that little different sound we had. His big gigantic voice was cutting through something fierce. You could see it grow day by day".

As 1955 ended, Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two were still holding down day jobs. In fact, the only colour television set Johnny Cash would ever sell was to Marion Keisker at Sun. Whitin the next few weeks, though, Johnny Cash would sell his last domestic appliance. In December 1955, Johnny Cash played a guest shot on the Louisiana Hayride.

Elvis Presley flew to Shreveport for the Hayride show on New Year's Eve.


Elvis Presley performed on the New Years Eve edition of the Louisiana Hayride broadcast from Shreveport. The special guest tonight was Johnny Cash and Ferlin Husky. Reportedly, Elvis Presley sang three new songs: "Heartbreak Hotel", a new one that he picked up at the disc jockey convention in Nashville the previous November, "Blue Suede Shoes", a song that Carl Perkins had just recorded for Sun Records, and "Peace In The Valley", one of his favorite hymns.


When RCA acquired Elvis Presley's contract, they also bought all of the recordings Sam Phillips had made with Elvis. However, when Sam Phillips handed over the 15 or 16 tapes to RCA, it was obvious that they didn't represent all of the sessions Sam had recorded on Elvis. Sam had sometimes re-used session reels for other sessions, if he thought nothing worth preserving was on the tapes. This was the case with one of the tapes from the session that produced the master of ''I Don't care If The Sun Don't Shine''.

The master was later recovered by John and Shelby Singleton on one of the tapes they received when they bought Sun Records from Sam Phillips. The recording only survived over the original Elvis session didn't last as long as the Elvis session. What is a bit more surprising, is the fact that RCA never got the masters to titles ''Blue Moon Of Kentucky'', You're A Heartbreaker'', and ''Milkcow Blues Boogie''.

When re-released by RCA, the company used Sun records to dub from. As Steve Sholes prepared the re-leases of the Sun singles and the first LP, he made new compilation tapes of all the tracks he wanted to use, adjusting the sound as he saw fit. In 1959, RCA cleaned up their vault in Indianapolis, and in the process, dumped the majority of the Sun tapes.

Apart from the production master for the single ''I Forgot To Remember To Forget''/''Mystery Train'', RCA has no masters, and only a handful of tapes from the original transaction survived: Tape 5 (or 6), 8, 11, 13, and 15 (See list).

Sunrise A Conclusion

If Elvis Presley had never made another record after his last Sun session in the fall of 1955, there seems little question that his music would have achieved much the same mythic status as Robert Johnson's blues. The body of his work at Sun is so transcendent, so fresh, and so original that even today you can scarcely listen to it in relation to anything nut itself. Like all great art its sources may be obvious, but its overall impact defies explanation.

Just how Elvis Presley came to create this music suggests certain mysteries of its own. Some time in the summer of 1953, shortly after graduating high school at the age of eighteen, he showed up at the one legitimate recording studio in town and announced that he wanted to make a record. There was nothing particularly surprising in this request. The Memphis Recording Service, which doubled as the home of the fledgling Sun label, took as its motto ''We Record Anything – Anywhere – Anytime'', offering as one of its service the opportunity for some to just walk in off the street and pay four dollars to make an acetate dub of his own voice. The label, on the other hand, like the studio under the one-man direction of 31-year-old Sam Phillips, was dedicated to blues recording exclusively and had up to this time released records solely by African-American performers.

It was a Saturday, and the young man fidgeted incessantly as he waited in the tiny outer office, partitioned off by a thin wall from the almost equally tiny studio and crowded with other walk-ins. Phillips' office manager, Marion Keisker, a leading Memphis radio personality, interrupted her work only because she felt sorry for the boy. They made small talk while he waited his turn, and he was drawn out by her kindly manner, but Marion was puzzled by his seeming mix of boldness and abject self-effacement and she always remembered his answers to her questions. ''What kind of singer are you''? She asked. ''I sing all kinds''. ''Who do you sound like''? Said Marion. ''I don't sound like nobody''. It was obvious to Keisker that he was trying to recommend himself to her attention in some way beyond the usual, but she was baffled for the moment as to what could be his motive. In later years he would always say that he went in to make a record for his mother, or simply to hear the sound of his own voice – but it became plain to Marion Keisker and Sam Phillips over the succeeding weeks and months that what the boy really wanted was to make a commercial record.

What was it exactly that could have led so cripplingly shy and limited a musician to conceive of so bold a plan when none of the peers from whom he took his musical cues seems even to have contemplated such a visit? Up until this time Elvis Presley had confined his music-making almost entirely to private occasions, with his appearance on the Humes high annual talent show, just four months earlier, the first time that many of his classmates even became aware that he sang. He was well known, however, to the residents of Lauderdale Courts, the housing project where he had lived with his family until January of that year, as one of the group of boys who played their guitars on the leafy, tree-shaded mall between the two-and three story residences – but by no means one of the more talented ones. Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, Johnny Black, above all Jesse Lee Denson, a Golden Gloves boxer who had created a sensation the previous year by performing Hank Snow's ''Golden Rocket'' between bouts, were the musicians that everyone remembered. If anyone recalled Elvis Presley, it was for appearance – his long, greasy hair and the outlandish outfits that he wore. Music may have been his deepest passion since being given his first guitar as a small child in Tupelo and singing, with other schoolchildren, in the children's, or even of the extent of his talents, until he walked in the door of Sun. Why should he alone have made the journey?

The answer may lie in a story that had just appeared in the Memphis Press-Scimitar on July 15, 1953, about a new group making records at Sun. The Prisonaires were the group. They had begun their career inside the walls of the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville, and when they first came to Sam Phillips' attention, the studio proprietor, according to the Press-Scimitar, ''was skeptical – until he heard the tape''. At that point he was sold. And so on June 1, 1953, ''the five singing prisoners'', accompanied by an armed guard and a trusty, were transported to 706 Union Avenue to make their first record for Sun. ''They worked from 10:30 a.m. To 8:30 p.m., until the records were cut just right to suit painstaking Mr. Phillips''.

''Just Walkin' In The Rain'' came out at almost the same time as the Press-Scimitar story. The song went on to become something of a hit, as reporter Clark Porteous had predicted, it nowhere near as big a hit as it was for pop singer, Johnnie Ray years later. It was the song that put Sun Records on the map, though, and, very likely, the item that captured the attention of Elvis Presley as he read about the studio, the label, and the ''painstaking Mr. Phillips'', who had staked his reputation on a recording by an unknown singer and a song whose plaintive notes Elvis could hear reverberating both in his imagination and on the air. Nor was he the sort to be put off, as many of his contemporaries might have been, by Sun's status as a blues and ''race'' label – in fact, that may just have added to the allure for someone not only open to the sound of black music but equally open to a democratic dream based on a sense of his own exclusion.

He showed up in any case not long after the article appeared and presented himself to Marion Keisker with a difference she would always remember, cradling his battered, beat-up child's guitar in his arms. From the first quavering notes of the first song he sang, it was obvious that his mumbled self-description was true – while it might not be difficult to detect his influences, he didn't sound like anyone else. There was a quality of almost unutterable plaintiveness in his version of ''My Happiness'', a 1948 pop hit for Jon and Sandra Steele that he had sung over and over in the Courts, a sentimental ballad that couldn't have been further from anyone's imagining of rock and roll. There is more than a hint of the pure tenor of Bill Kenny of the Ink Spots – but mostly the almost keening solo voice conveys a note of yearning that alternates with a crooning fullness of tone and a sharp nasality that fails to sustain its possessor's intent. The guitar, Elvis later said, ''sounded like somebody beating on a bucket lid'', and there is, of course, the added factor of nervousness which cannot be fully assessed – and yet there is a strange sense of calm, an almost unsettling stillness in the midst of great drama, the kind of poise that comes as both a surprise and a revelation.

When he finished with the first song, he embarked almost immediately upon a second, ''That's When Your Heartaches Begin'', a smooth pop ballad that the Ink Spots had originally cut in 1941, with a deep spoken part for their baritone singer, Hoppy Jones. Here Elvis was not so successful in his rendition, running out of time, or inspiration, and simply declaring, ''That's the end'' at the abrupt conclusion of the song. When it was all over, he sat in the outer lobby while Marion Keisker typed out the copy on the blank sides of a Prisonaires label (''Softly And Tenderly'', Sun 189). The singer's names was typed underneath the title on each side, and he hung around for a while hoping in vain that something might happen. After he left, Marion Keisker made a note of his name, which she misspelled and then editorialized beside it: ''Good ballad singer. Hold''.

He stopped by the office all through the fall, trying to put himself in the way of discovery, and when that failed, he returned in January to cut another acetate, without even the excuse of surprising his mother by the sound of his voice. His selection this time consisted of a 2953 pop hit by Joni James, ''I'll Never Stand In Your Way'', and a Jimmy Wakely country tune, ''It Wouldn't Be The Same Without You''. This time, however, his lack of confidence betrayed him, and he sounds more forced, less self-assured than he did the first time he entered the studio. There is still that same feeling of aching tenderness, though, that same sense that he is reaching down deep within and summoning up feelings not necessarily related to the lyrics and far more ''naked'' than those of the ''heart'' singers like Eddy Arnold, and the smooth pop crooners like Dean Martin, Perry Como, and Bing Crosby, that he so much admired. Perhaps in the end he couldn't help being different, an outside observer might have been led to conclude. But if he had once again passed through the Sun doorway with the idea, if not of stardom, at the very least of being asked back – once again he was doomed to be disappointed. Because, just as the last time, there was no follow-up on anyone's part but his own. When he went to work delivering supplies for Crown Electric in the spring, Marion Keisker grew used to seeing his truck regularly pass by, and having its driver stop from time to time to ask if she knew of a band was looking for a singer.

Finally, on June 26, almost a year after he had first appeared at the studio, he got the call he had been waiting for. Sam Phillips, transfixed by an acetate he had picked up on his last Nashville trip by a singer whom he was subsequently unable to locate or identity, came up with the idea of trying out ''the kid with the sideburns''. The song was a plaintive lament called ''Without You'', sung in a quavering voice that sounded like a cross between the Ink Spots and a sentimental Irish tenor, and white it was undeniably amateurish, there was something about it – perhaps its very amateurishness, or else just its quality of yearning – that put him in mind of the boy. When Marion Keisker called, as Elvis recounted the story in later years. ''She said, 'Can you be here by three''? I was there by the time she hung up the phone''.

They worked on the number all afternoon. When it became obvious that the boy was not going to get it right, Phillips had him run down other songs he could barely provide the faltering accompaniment. ''I guess I must have sat there at least three hours'', Elvis told Press-Scimitar reporter Bob Johnson in 1956. ''I sang everything I knew, pop stuff, spirituals, just a few words of (anything) I remembered''.

When it was over, he was exhausted, but he felt strangely elated, too. ''I was an overnight sensation'', he always told interviewers in later years. ''A year after they heard me the first time. They called me back''! Everyone caught the boyish modesty, but they may have overlooked the understandable pride. Sam Phillips had called him back – his perseverance had paid off. And while nothing was said about what would happen next, there was little now in Elvis' mind that something would.

Exactly one week later, it did. This time he got a call from Scotty Moore, a 22-year-old guitarist who had himself made his Sun Records debut with his group, the Starlite Wranglers, just one month earlier, but who had bigger plans than simply playing in a hillbilly band. When Sam Phillips started telling him about this young singer who had something different about him, Scotty began pestering Phillips for the singer's name. On Saturday, July 3, Scotty phoned the Presley home, and, identifying himself as a scout for Sun, asked Elvis if he would like to audition – ''and he said guessed so''. The next day they got together at Scotty's house, with Scotty's neighbor, Wranglers' bass player, Bill Black, stopping by for a few minutes to check him out. The following day, Monday, July 5, 1954, the three of them went into the studio for what was intended to be nothing more that a rehearsal session.

At first nothing seemed to go right. The first few songs they tried were all ballads, various touchingly revealing takes of ''I Love You Because'' are all that is left of this part of the session, and the musicians seemed to be casting about for a direction, trying out snatches of one song, then another, without ever really hitting on, or even knowing, what it was they were looking for. But Sam Phillips was nothing if not patient, and if he was discouraged, he showed no sign of it, even as Elvis clearly sensed his chances slipping away. Then, during a break, as the musicians were sipping on Cokes, ''all of a sudden'', said Scotty, ''Elvis just started singing this song and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass and he started acting the fool too, too, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open, and he stuck his head out and said, 'What are you doing'? And we said, 'We don't know'. 'Well, back up', he said, 'try to find a place to start, and do it again'''.

The song was ''That's All Right'', an old blues by Arthur Crudup, and nothing could have surprised Sam Phillips more than that this boy should know, let alone perform with such uninhibited freshness and zeal, the music for which Sam had crusaded all these years. But if it was a direction he could not have anticipated, it was one that he now wholeheartedly embraced, as he had the trio run through their new number over and over, until they finally got it right, with Elvis gaining confidence on each try. In the next few nights, they hit upon an almost equally startling transformation of Bill Monroe's bluegrass waltz, ''Blue Moon Of Kentucky'', which evolved from a slow, bluest lament to a high-spirited declaration of self-discovery in 4/4 time. We thought it was exciting'', said Scotty of the manner in which, almost unwittingly, they had turned the music upside down, ''but what was it? It was just so completely different. But it just really flipped Sam – he felt it really had something. We just sort of shook our heads and said, 'Well, that's fine, but good God, they'll run us out of town''.

That, in a way, was the story of Elvis Presley's recordings at Sun: not just art as inspired accident (and it's hard to know what can better describe the origins of all art) but the peeling away of layers, psychological and musical, the uncovering of depths which, if not hitherto unsuspected, had hitherto lain unplumbed. As he had already done with the blues singers for whom he had built his studio (Howlin' Wolf, Little Junior Parker, Ike Turner, B.B. King), and as he would with each of the rockabilly artists (Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis) who followed, Sam Phillips saw it as his mission to ''open up an area of freedom within the artist himself, to help him to express what he believed his message to be''. With Elvis Presley he was astonished to discover an individual with a musical curiosity as omnivorous as his own (''It seemed like he had a photographic memory for every damn song he ever heart, and he had the most intuitive ability to hear out that curiosity, to encourage that area of creative difference, to stifle not even the smallest element of exploration.

For Elvis it was like stumbling upon the unlocking key. All of a sudden everything that he had been listening to all his life – blues and gospel, hillbilly, semi-classical, and pop – could coalesce into a single sound, and the astonishing thing was that his experience served not just for himself but for a generation. In Houston, Arkansan Sleepy LaBeef heard Elvis' first Sun sides and recognized their gospel roots, heard Brother Claude Ely and Sister Rossetta Tharpe just beneath the secular veil. Carl Perkins picked up on it in nearby Jackson, Tennessee, while Jerry Lee Lewis heard the same melding of blues, country, and western swing that he had been groping for in the honky tonks around Ferriday, Louisiana. There was no question that the sound was in the air, but at the same time there was equally little question that it crystallized in the freshness, innocence, and invention that Elvis Presley brought to the music. Bill Haley and his Comets may have established the potential for a commercial trend (his ''Rock Around The Clock'' was on the charts for the first time when Elvis cut his first Sun single), but Elvis Presley laid the groundwork for a musical revolution.

In part it was the simplicity of the music, in part it was the sound, but most of all it was the feel. For Elvis Presley, as much as for Sam Phillips, it was the accidental, the unexpected, the unique that mattered, each placed his full faith in the spontaneity of the moment. And that is exactly how Elvis Presley's records were made. Listed to ''Good Rockin' Tonight'', ''Mystery Train'', ''Milkcow Blues Boogie'' – each is based on a classic source, each in a way is intended as a kind of homage. And yet each continues to surprise. The laugh with which ''Mystery Train'' trails off, the bubbling enthusiasm of ''Baby Let's Play House'', the sheer, uninhibited ardor of ''Trying To Get To You'' – this is the gold that Elvis and Sam Phillips were mining for, this is the hard-won inspiration that finally emerged from each sessions.

At the same time, if you want to look behind the scenes at the kind of creative experimentation that went into the sessions, Elvis' live sides from this period are almost equally illumination. No recording has yet surfaced of Elvis' early live performance of Martha Carson's gospel rouser, ''Satisfied'', or of his attempt at the same song in the Sun studio. But various examples exist of his and the band's first stabs at such rhythm and blues classics as the Clovers' ''Fool, Fool, Fool'', Big Joe Turner's ''Shake, Rattle And Roll'', Lavern Baker's 'Tweedlee Dee'', Otis Williams and the Charms' ''Hearts of Stone'', and Chuck Berry's ''Maybellene'' and their presence on the Sunrise set, along with previously unreleased versions of Elvis' own ''I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine'' and ''I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone'', further expand our sense of the group's capabilities – and of their limitations, when they stop somewhere short of the finish line. Most of all, though they confirm the impression of pure, vaulting ambition, the sense of almost joyful release that the studio sides proclaim; they convey the same intimation of a deeper emotion underlying even the most ephemeral of the Sun sides, an emotion that comes across whatever the tempo, whatever the genre, mistakes and all.

It's hard so say what creates such a sense of high-tension drama in the midst of such assured ease, the conviction that all is right with the world while at the same time an assault is being mounted on every complacent assumption of the culture, social, racial, and not least, musical. Whether or not this improbable balance could have been maintained is open to question, but even before Elvis ended his stay at Sun, by the summer of 1955 you can already hear it changing, with the last full session that Elvis would have with anyone other than himself as his principal producer (in 1969 Chips Moman would oversee some of his greatest post-Sun sides, but only take responsibility for about half the session). It is arguably, his greatest moment in the Sun studio, with ''Mystery Train'' defining that peculiar combination of soaring high spirits and casual insouciance that characterized every one of the released sides. It was ''I Forgot To Remember To Forget'', though, that was the hit, the second song to which Sam Phillips added drums and the first that he had to use his considerable powers of persuasion to get Elvis to perform (''I thought it was something we needed at that point to show a little more diversification''). The resulting treatment of a composition that Elvis at first considered too conventionally country was far from conventional, and the last song of the day, ''Trying To Get To You'' with its suggestive combination of the secular and the spiritual, only points to a direction yet to be explored. With his final song at Sun, ''When It Rains, It Really Pours'', never finished because the session was broken off due to the imminent sale of his contract to RCA, Elvis is back on familiar ground: once again, we hear him confidently singing the blues, though this time, seemingly, with far more knowingness than the innocent nineteen-year-old of just one year earlier could ever have assumed.

This abrupt ending, little more than the inevitable intrusion of business that all popular art invites, leads to the kind of what's ifs that are by by-product of both art and commerce – and no more profitably pursued in either. The fact is that when Elvis Presley first came to Sun, he was an inspired amateur; by the time he left, on November 21, 1955, ''I Forgot To Remember To Forget'' was on the national country and western charts, where it remained for thirty-nine weeks and became his first number 1 national hit. The music that he would make at RCA would clearly reflect the lessons that he had learned at Sun and result almost immediately in such calculated triumphs of craft and feeling as ''Heartbreak Hotel'', ''Hound Dog'', ''Don't Be Cruel'' and ''All Shook Up''. He fashioned these songs with the same patience, dedication, and spontaneity that he had poured into his earlier work, but the Sun sides would be forever set aside, perhaps simply by the very innocence of their invention. They were, as Sam Phillips often said in describing Elvis himself, impudent, playful, they almost dare the listener to smile. The music that Elvis created, as Phillips said of another of his favorite artists, Howlin' Wolf, existed on its own terms only, an unmapped territory ''where the soul of man never dies''.

- Liner notes by Peter Guralnick, November 1998


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For Elvis Presley's Biography see > The Sun Biographies <
Elvis Presley's Sun recordings can be heard on the playlist from 706 Union Avenue Sessions on > YouTube <