A Tribute To Elvis
August 16 will be the anniversary of Elvis Presley's untimely
death and nobody deserves more recognition on The 60s Official Site than Elvis Presley so I am allowing a complete
page and tribute to the "King of Rock 'n Roll."
My mother and my favorite performer of all time was Elvis
Presley. Who can deny what this legend has accomplished. Elvis Presely was born in the humblest of
circumstances, to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn, leaving Elvis to grow
up as an only child. He and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1948, and Elvis graduated from Humes High School there in 1953.
Initial influences came through his family's attendance at the
Assembly of God, a Pentecostal Holiness church. Rolling Stone wrote: "Gospel pervaded Elvis' character and was a
defining and enduring influence all of his days." During breaks at recording sessions or after concerts, Presley
often joined in private with others for informal gospel music sessions.
The young Presley frequently listened to local radio; his first
musical hero was family friend Mississippi Slim, a hillbilly singer with a radio show on Tupelo’s WELO. Presley
performed occasionally on Slim’s Saturday morning show, Singin’ and Pickin’ Hillbilly. "He was crazy about music...
That’s all he talked about," recalls his sixth grade friend, James Ausborn, Slim’s younger brother. Before he was a
teenager, music was already Presley’s "consuming passion." J. R. Snow, son of 1940s country superstar Hank Snow,
recalls that even as a young man Presley knew all of Hank Snow’s songs, "even the most obscure".In Memphis, Presley
went to record stores that had jukeboxes and listening booths, playing old records and new releases for hours. He
was an audience member at the all-night black and white "gospel sings" downtown. Memphis Symphony Orchestra
concerts at Overton Park were another Presley favorite, along with the Metropolitan Opera. His small record
collection included Mario Lanza and Dean Martin. Presley later said, "I just loved music. Music period."
Memphis had a strong tradition of blues music and Presley went to
blues as well as hillbilly venues. Many of his future recordings were inspired by local African American composers
and recording artists, including Arthur Crudup, Rufus Thomas and B.B. King. King says that he "knew Elvis before he
was popular. He used to come around and be around us a lot ... on Beale Street."
Presley "was an untrained musician who played entirely by ear. 'I
don't read music,' he confessed, 'but I know what I like.' ... Because he was not a songwriter, Presley would
rarely have material prepared for recording sessions..." When later, as a young singer, he "ventured into the
recording studio he was heavily influenced by the songs he had heard on the jukebox and radio."
On July 18, 1953, Presley went to Sun Records' Memphis Recording
Service to record "My Happiness" with "That's When Your Heartaches Begin", supposedly a present for his mother.
During his initial introduction at Sun Records, assistant Marion Keisker asked him who he sounded like. Presley
replied: "I don't sound like nobody." On January 4, 1954, he cut a second acetate. Sun Records boss Sam Phillips
was on the lookout for someone who could deliver a blend of black blues and boogie-woogie music; he thought it
would be very popular among white people. When Phillips acquired a demo recording of "Without Love (There Is
Nothing)" and was unable to identify the vocalist, Keisker reminded him about the young truck driver. She called
him on June 26, 1954. Presley was not able to do justice to the song (though he would record it years later).
Phillips would later recall that "Elvis was probably as nervous as anybody, black or white, that I had seen in
front of a microphone." Despite this, Phillips invited local musicians Winfield "Scotty" Moore and Bill Black to
audition Presley. Though they were not overly impressed, a studio session was planned.
During a recording break, Presley began "acting the fool" first
with Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)". Phillips got them all to restart and began taping. This was the
sound he had been looking for. The group recorded other songs, including Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky".
Upon finishing the recording session, according to Scotty Moore, Bill Black remarked, "Damn. Get that on the radio
and they'll run us out of town".
"That's All Right" was aired on July 8, 1954, by DJ Dewey
Phillips. Listeners to the show began jamming the phone lines, eager to find out who the singer was.The DJ
mispronounced Presley's apparently unusual name as "Elton Preston.") The interest was such that Phillips played the
demo fourteen times. During an interview on the show, Phillips asked Presley what high school he attended—to
clarify Presley's color for listeners who assumed he must be black. After its release, both sides of "That's All
Right"/"Blue Moon of Kentucky" began to chart across the South.
Moore and Black began playing regularly with Presley. They gave a
few performances in July 1954 to promote the Sun single at the Bon Air, a rowdy music club where the band was not
well-received. On July 30 the trio, billed as The Blue Moon Boys, made their first paid appearance at the Overton
Park Shell, with Slim Whitman headlining. A nervous Presley's legs were said to have shaken uncontrollably during
this show: his wide-legged pants emphasized his leg movements, apparently causing females in the audience to go
"crazy". Scotty Moore claims it was just the natural way he moved and had nothing to do with "nerves." Presley
consciously incorporated similar movements into future shows.
DJ and promoter Bob Neal became the trio's manager (replacing
Scotty Moore). Moore and Black left their band, the Starlight Wranglers and, from August through October 1954,
appeared with Presley at The Eagle's Nest. Presley debuted at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on October 2; Hank
Snow introduced Presley on stage. He performed "Blue Moon of Kentucky" but received only a polite response.
Afterwards, the singer was allegedly told by the Opry's Jim Denny: "Boy, you’d better keep driving that truck.",
though others deny it was Denny. Country music promoter and manager Tillman Franks booked Presley for the Louisiana
Hayride on October 16. Before Franks saw Presley, he referred to him as "that new black singer with the funny
name". During Presley's first set, the reaction was muted; for the second, Franks advised Presley to "Let it all
go!" As house drummer D.J. Fontana (who had worked in strip clubs) complemented Presley's movements with accented
beats and Bill Black engaged in his usual stage antics, the crowd was more responsive.
According to one source, "Audiences had never before heard such
music... or seen anyone who performed like Presley either. The shy, polite, mumbling boy gained self-confidence
with every appearance... People watching the show were astounded and shocked, both by the ferocity of his
performance, and the crowd’s reaction to it... Roy Orbison saw Presley for the first time in Odessa, Texas: 'His
energy was incredible, his instinct was just amazing... I just didn’t know what to make of it. There was just no
reference point in the culture to compare it.'" Sam Phillips said Presley "put every ounce of emotion ... into
every song, almost as if he was incapable of holding back."
By August 1955, Sun Studios had released ten sides credited to
"Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill", all typical of the developing Presley style. That style proved hard to
categorize; he was billed or labeled in the media as "The King of Western Bop", "The Hillbilly Cat" and "The
Memphis Flash". He was also dubbed "Elvis the Pelvis" which Presley disliked, calling it "one of the most childish
expressions I ever heard."
On August 15, 1955, "Colonel" Tom Parker became Presley's manager,
signing him to a one year contract plus renewals. Several record labels had shown interest in signing Presley and,
by the end of October 1955, three major labels had made offers up to $25,000. On November 21, 1955, Parker and
Phillips negotiated a deal with RCA Victor Records to acquire Presley's Sun contract for an unprecedented $40,000,
$5,000 of which was a bonus for the singer for back royalties owed to him by Sun Records (Presley, at 20, was
officially still a minor, so his father had to sign the contract). By December 1955, RCA had begun to heavily
promote its newest star, and by the month's end had re-released all of his Sun recordings.
To increase the singer's exposure, Parker finally brought Presley
to television (In March 1955, Presley had failed an audition for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts). He booked six
Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show appearances (CBS), beginning January 28, 1956, when Presley was introduced by Cleveland
DJ Bill Randle. Parker also obtained a lucrative two-show deal with Milton Berle (NBC).
On January 10, Presley made his first recordings for RCA in
Nashville, Tennessee. The session produced "Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One" which was released on January 27. The
public reaction to "Heartbreak Hotel" prompted RCA to release it as a single in its own right (February 11). By
April it had hit number one in the U.S., selling in excess of one million copies. On March 23, RCA Victor released
Elvis Presley, his first album. Like the Sun recordings, the majority of the tracks were country songs.
On April 1, Presley launched his acting career with a screen-test
for Paramount Pictures. His first motion-picture, Love Me Tender, was released on November 21 .Presley appeared on
The Milton Berle Show from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego on April 3. His performance was cheered by a
live audience of appreciative sailors and their dates. A few days after this appearance, a flight taking Presley's
band to Nashville for a recording session left all three badly shaken (the plane lost an engine and almost went
down over Texas). After more hectic touring, Presley returned to The Milton Berle Show on June 5 and performed
"Hound Dog" (without his guitar). Singing it uptempo, he then began a slower version. His exaggerated,
straight-legged shuffle around the microphone stand stirred the audience—as did his vigorous leg shaking and hip
thrusts in time to the beat. Presley's "gyrations" created a storm of controversy—even eclipsing the 'communist
threat' headlines prevalent at the time. The press described his performance as "vulgar" and "obscene". Presley was
obliged to explain himself on the local New York City TV show Hy Gardner Calling: "Rock and roll music, if you like
it, and you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I have to move around. I can't stand
still. I've tried it, and I can't do it."
From April 23, Presley was scheduled to perform four weeks at the
New Frontier Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip—billed this time as "the Atomic Powered Singer" (Since Nevada
was the home of the U.S.'s atomic weapons testing, Parker thought the name would be catchy). His shows were so
badly received by critics and the conservative guests, that Colonel Parker cut short the engagement from four weeks
to two. D.J. Fontana said, "I don't think the people there were ready for Elvis..... We tried everything we knew.
Usually Elvis could get them on his side. It didn't work that time". While in Vegas, Presley saw Freddie Bell and
the Bellboys live, and liked their version of Leiber and Stoller's "Hound Dog". By May 16, he had added the song to
his own act.
The Berle shows drew such huge ratings that Steve Allen (NBC), not
a fan of rock and roll, booked him for one appearance in New York on July 1. Allen wanted "to do a show the whole
family can watch" and introduced a "new Elvis" in white bow tie and black tails. Presley sang "Hound Dog" for less
than a minute to a Basset Hound in a top hat. According to one author, "Allen thought Presley was talentless and
absurd... [he] set things up so that Presley would show his contrition..." The day after (July 2), the single
"Hound Dog" was recorded and Scotty Moore said they were "all angry about their treatment the previous night".
(Presley often referred to the Allen show as the most ridiculous performance of his career.) A few days later,
Presley made a "triumphant" outdoor appearance in Memphis at which he announced: "You know, those people in New
York are not gonna change me none. I'm gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight."
Country vocalists The Jordanaires accompanied Presley on The Steve
Allen Show and their first recording session together produced "Any Way You Want Me", "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound
Dog". The Jordanaires would work with the singer through the 1960s.
Though Presley had been unhappy, Allen's show had, for the first
time, beaten The Ed Sullivan
Show in the ratings, causing a critical Sullivan (CBS) to book
Presley for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000.
Presley's first Ed Sullivan appearance (September 9, 1956) was
seen by some 55–60 million viewers. "Compared to moments on the Dorsey shows and on the Berle show, it was ice
cream." On the third Sullivan show, Presley sang only slow paced ballads and a gospel song. The fact that
Presley was only shown from the waist up and "stepped out in the outlandish costume of a pasha, if not a harem
girl" during this last broadcast has led to claims that Sullivan had "censored" or even "buried" the singer, or
that Colonel Parker had orchestrated the episode to generate publicity. In spite of any misgivings about the
controversial nature of his performing style (see 'Sex symbol'), Sullivan declared at the end of the third
appearance that Presley was "a real decent, fine boy" and that they had never had "a pleasanter experience" on the
On December 4, Presley dropped into Sun Records where Carl Perkins
and Jerry Lee Lewis were recording. Sam Phillips made sure the session of the three performing was recorded; the
results would later appear on a bootlegged recording titled The Million Dollar Quartet in 1977 (Johnny Cash is
often thought to have performed with the trio, but he was only present briefly at Phillips' instigation for a photo
opportunity). RCA would eventually iron out legal difficulties and release an authorized version a few years
On December 29, Billboard revealed that Presley had placed more
songs in the Top 100 than any other artist since chart records began. This news was followed by a front page report
in the Wall Street Journal on December 31, that suggested Presley merchandise had grossed more than $22 million in
By 1956, he was an international sensation. With a sound and style
that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred and challenged the social and racial barriers of
the time, he ushered in a whole new era of American music and popular culture.
He starred in 33 successful films, made history with his
television appearances and specials, and knew great acclaim through his many, often record-breaking, live concert
performances on tour and in Las Vegas. Globally, he has sold over one billion records, more than any other artist.
His American sales have earned him gold, platinum or multi-platinum awards for 150 different albums and singles,
far more than any other artist. Among his many awards and accolades were 14 Grammy nominations (3 wins) from the
National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which he received at age
36, and his being named One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation for 1970 by the United States Jaycees.
Without any of the special privileges his celebrity status might have afforded him, he honorably served his country
in the U.S. Army.
His talent, good looks, sensuality, charisma, and good humor
endeared him to millions, as did the humility and human kindness he demonstrated throughout his life. Known the
world over by his first name, he is regarded as one of the most important figures of twentieth century popular
culture. Elvis died at his Memphis home, Graceland, on August 16, 1977.
It is so hard for me to accept the fact he now has been gone for
over 30 years but his music will always be played and he will always be remembered as a great
entertainer. Elvis' music will remain solid gold as was his heart.