While Bone Daddy was growing up in West Texas during the 1950’s…..which was a place that was founded by ranch barons and wildcatters….and was influenced by cowboys and country music for the better part of a hundred years….when all of a sudden around 1954, that’s when a “heartthrob of the highest order” hit the music scene with a new genre of sound called “rock n roll”….and within “a blink of an eye” became the hottest thing to ever hit the market….while stealing the hearts of every young girl….as almost immediately, Elvis Presley and the new musical style became most appealing to teenagers in because it gave them their own special identity and voice. Also, teens were strongly attracted to the good looks and sexual appeal of the artists and the music they played. As Bone Daddy puts it….“this was a time when all the boy’s hair styles changed from crew cuts and flat tops to swooped-back hair and duck tails with sideburns” ….which all led to the “Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll generation” of the 1960’s….and by the time this whole movement began to get its legs….Elvis was already The King…..so, dedicating this story to him is simply a necessary part of the history of that era.
Music – 1935 To 1977 – Special – Elvis Presley: “The Unauthorized Biography”
Elvis Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977), also known simply as Elvis, was an American singer, musician and actor….who is regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century…..and is often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “the King”…..whose striking good looks and Southern drawl….along with his energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style….which was combined with a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines during a transformative era in race relations, led him to both great success and initial controversy.
Music – 1971 – Animated Video – Elvis Presley – “(You’re The) Devil In Disguise”
Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi….and relocated to Memphis, Tennessee with his family when he was 13 years old. His music career began there in 1954, recording at Sun Records with producer Sam Phillips….who wanted to bring the sound of African-American music to a wider audience…. as Presley on rhythm acoustic guitar….and accompanied by lead guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black….were the pioneers of rockabilly….which was an uptempo back-beat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues. In 1955, drummer D. J. Fontana joined the group to complete the lineup of Presley’s classic quartet….when RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker….who would manage Pressley for more than two decades. Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel”, was released in January 1956….and became a # 1 hit in the United States…..and with a series of successful network television appearances and chart-topping records….that is when Elvis Presley became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll.
Music – 1956 – Elvis Presley – “Heartbreak Hotel”
In November 1956, Presley made his film debut in Love Me Tender…..and then was drafted into military service in 1958….after which he relaunched his recording career two years later with some of his most commercially successful work. He held few concerts, however, and guided by Parker, proceeded to devote much of the 1960’s to making Hollywood films and soundtrack albums…..while most of them were critically derided….but still very successful at the box office. In 1968, following a seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in the acclaimed television comeback special Elvis….which led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of highly profitable tours. In 1973, Presley gave the first concert by a solo artist to be broadcast around the world, Aloha from Hawaii. Years of prescription drug abuse severely compromised his health, and he died suddenly in 1977 at his Graceland estate at the age of 42.
Music – 1956 – Elvis Presley – “Love Me Tender”
With his rise from poverty to significant fame, Presley’s success seemed to epitomize the American Dream. He is the best-selling solo music artist of all time….while being commercially successful in many genres….which included pop, country, R&B, adult contemporary and gospel….while he won three Grammy Awards….received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36…..and has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame. Presley holds several records in the music industry….with the most RIAA certified gold and platinum albums….the most albums charted on the Billboard 200….and the most # 1 albums by a solo artist on the UK Albums Chart….along with the most # 1 singles by any act on the UK Singles Chart. In 2018, Presley was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Donald Trump.
Music – 1968 – Elvis Presley – “Baby, What You Want Me To Do”
Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Vernon Elvis and Gladys Love Presley in a two-room shotgun house that his father built for the occasion. Elvis’s identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, was delivered 35 minutes before him, stillborn….as Presley became close to both parents and formed an especially close bond with his mother. The family attended an Assembly of God church….where he found his initial musical inspiration.
Music – 1975 – Elvis Presley – “Haleluia”
In September 1941, Presley entered first grade at East Tupelo Consolidated, where his teachers regarded him as “average”. He was encouraged to enter a singing contest after impressing his schoolteacher with a rendition of Red Foley’s country song “Old Shep” during morning prayers. The contest, held at the Mississippi–Alabama Fair and Dairy Show on October 3, 1945, was his first public performance…..when the ten-year-old Presley was dressed as a cowboy….who stood on a chair to reach the microphone….and sang “Old Shep”….as he recalled placing fifth. A few months later, Presley received his first guitar for his birthday….and over the following year, he received basic guitar lessons from two of his uncles and the new pastor at the family’s church….as Presley recalled, “I took the guitar, and I watched people, and I learned to play a little bit. But I would never sing in public. I was very shy about it.” In September 1946, Presley entered a new school, Milam, for 6th grade….where he was regarded as a loner. The following year, he began bringing his guitar to school on a daily basis…..and played and sang during lunchtime….who was often teased as a “trashy” kid who played hillbilly music. By then, the family was living in a largely black neighborhood….as Presley was a devotee of Mississippi Slim’s show on the Tupelo radio station WELO…..when he was described as “crazy about music” by Slim’s younger brother….who was one of Presley’s classmates and often took him into the station. Slim supplemented Presley’s guitar instruction by demonstrating chord techniques…..and when his protégé was twelve years old, Slim scheduled him for two on-air performances….but Presley was overcome by stage fright the first time….but succeeded in performing the following week.
Music – 1955 – Elvis Presley – “Old Shep”
In November 1948, the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee…..when after residing for nearly a year in rooming houses, they were granted a two-bedroom apartment in the public housing complex known as the Lauderdale Courts. Enrolled at L. C. Humes High School, Presley received only a C in music in eighth grade…..when his music teacher told him that he had no aptitude for singing….so, he brought in his guitar the next day and sang a recent hit, “Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Me”, to prove otherwise. A classmate later recalled that the teacher “agreed that Elvis was right when he said that she didn’t appreciate his kind of singing”…..when he was usually too shy to perform openly….and was occasionally bullied by classmates who viewed him as a “mama’s boy”. In 1950, he began practicing guitar regularly under the tutelage of Lee Denson….who was a neighbor two and a half years his senior….when they and three other boys, including two future rockabilly pioneers, brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, formed a loose musical collective that played frequently around the Courts. During his junior year, Presley began to stand out more among his classmates….which was largely because of his appearance…..when he grew his sideburns and styled his hair with rose oil and Vaseline. In his free time, he would head down to Beale Street, the heart of Memphis’s thriving blues scene, and gaze longingly at the wild, flashy clothes in the windows of Lansky Brothers…..and by his senior year, he was wearing those clothes….then while overcoming his reticence about performing outside the Lauderdale Courts….that is when he competed in Humes’ Annual Minstrel Show in April 1953…..while singing and playing guitar, he opened with “Till I Waltz Again with You”….which was a recent hit for Teresa Brewer…..of which Presley recalled that this particular performance did much for his reputation saying “I wasn’t popular in school … I failed music—only thing I ever failed. And then they entered me in this talent show…..when I came onstage I heard people kind of rumbling and whispering and so forth….cuz nobody knew I even sang. It was amazing how popular I became in school after that.”
Music – 1953 To 1956 – Special – Elvis Presley: “A Boy From Tupelo” – The Sun Records Years
Presley, who received no formal music training and could not read music, studied and played by ear….who also frequented record stores that provided jukeboxes and listening booths to customers. He knew all of Hank Snow’s songs….and he loved records by other country singers such as Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Ted Daffan, Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmie Davis and Bob Wills. The Southern gospel singer Jake Hess, one of his favorite performers, was a significant influence on his ballad-singing style. He was a regular audience member at the monthly All-Night Singings downtown….where many of the white gospel groups that performed reflected the influence of African-American spiritual music. He adored the music of black gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe….and like some of his peers, he attended blues venues in the segregated South on nights designated for exclusively white audiences. He certainly listened to the regional radio stations, such as WDIA-AM, that played “race records” spirituals, blues and the modern back-beat-heavy sound of rhythm and blues. Many of his future recordings were inspired by local African-American musicians such as Arthur Crudup and Rufus Thomas. B.B. King recalled that he had known Presley before he was popular when they both used to frequent Beale Street. By the time he graduated from high school in June 1953, Presley had already singled out music as his future.
Music – 1955 – Channel 1 Productions – Elvis Presley – Earliest Known Footage Of The King From Magnolia, TX
In August 1953, Presley checked into the offices of Sun Records….where he aimed to pay for a few minutes of studio time to record a two-sided acetate disc of “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”. He later claimed that he intended the record as a birthday gift for his mother….when he was asked by receptionist Marion Keisker what kind of singer he was….to which Presley responded, “I sing all kinds.”….and when she pressed him on who he sounded like, he repeatedly answered, “I don’t sound like nobody.” After he recorded, Sun boss Sam Phillips asked Keisker to note down the young man’s name, which she did along with her own commentary: “Good ballad singer. Hold.” In January 1954, Presley cut a second acetate at Sun Records with “I’ll Never Stand in Your Way” and “It Wouldn’t Be the Same Without You”….but again nothing came of it…..then not long after that, he failed an audition for a local vocal quartet, the Songfellows….after which he explained to his father, “They told me I couldn’t sing.” Songfellow Jim Hamill later claimed that he was turned down because he did not demonstrate an ear for harmony at the time. In April, Presley began working for the Crown Electric company as a truck driver…..when his friend Ronnie Smith, after playing a few local gigs with him, suggested he contact Eddie Bond, leader of Smith’s professional band….which had an opening for a vocalist….but Bond rejected him after a tryout….while advising Presley to stick to truck driving “because you’re never going to make it as a singer”.
Music – 1956 – Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show – Elvis Presley: Live In Concert
Phillips, meanwhile, was always on the lookout for someone who could bring to a broader audience the sound of the black musicians on whom Sun focused…..as Keisker reported, “Over and over I remember Sam saying, ‘If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.'” In June, he acquired a demo recording by Jimmy Sweeney of a ballad, “Without You”, that he thought might suit the teenage singer….as Presley came by the studio but was unable to do it justice….so, despite this, Phillips asked Presley to sing as many numbers as he knew….and was sufficiently affected by what he heard to invite two local musicians, guitarist Winfield “Scotty” Moore and upright bass player Bill Black, to work something up with Presley for a recording session. The session held the evening of July 5, proved entirely unfruitful until late in the night…..as they were about to abort and go home, Presley took his guitar and launched into a 1946 blues number, Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right”…..and as Moore recalled, “All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open … 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.'” Phillips quickly began taping; this was the sound he had been looking for….and three days later, popular Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played “That’s All Right” on his Red, Hot, and Blue show. Listeners began phoning in, eager to find out who the singer was. The interest was such that Phillips played the record repeatedly during the remaining two hours of his show…..when while interviewing Presley on-air, Phillips asked him what high school he attended to clarify his color for the many callers who had assumed that he was black. During the next few days, the trio recorded a bluegrass number, Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, again in a distinctive style and employing a jury rigged echo effect that Sam Phillips dubbed “slapback”…..when a single was pressed with “That’s All Right” on the A-side and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the reverse.
Music – 1956 – Elvis Presley – “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”
The trio played publicly for the first time on July 17 at the Bon Air club ….with Presley still sporting his child-size guitar….then at the end of the month, they appeared at the Overton Park Shell, with Slim Whitman headlining…..when a combination of his strong response to rhythm and nervousness at playing before a large crowd led Presley to shake his legs as he performed….as his wide-cut pants emphasized his movements, causing young women in the audience to start screaming…..to which Moore recalled, “During the instrumental parts, he would back off from the mike and be playing and shaking, and the crowd would just go wild”….as Black, a natural showman, whooped and rode his bass, hitting double licks that Presley would later remember as “really a wild sound, like a jungle drum or something”. Soon after, Moore and Black left their old band, the Starlite Wranglers, to play with Presley regularly…..and DJ/promoter Bob Neal became the trio’s manager….and from August through October, they played frequently at the Eagle’s Nest club….and returned to Sun Studio for more recording sessions….as Presley quickly grew more confident on stage. According to Moore, “His movement was a natural thing, but he was also very conscious of what got a reaction. He’d do something one time and then he would expand on it real quick.” Presley made what would be his only appearance on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry stage on October 2….after a polite audience response, Opry manager Jim Denny told Phillips that his singer was “not bad” but did not suit the program.
Music – 1955 to 1977 – Special – Elvis Presley: “From Sun Records To RCA”
In November 1954, Presley performed on Louisiana Hayride—the Opry‘s chief, and more adventurous, rival….as the Shreveport-based show was broadcast to 198 radio stations in 28 states….when Presley had another attack of nerves during the first set…..which drew a muted reaction….then a more composed and energetic second set inspired an enthusiastic response. House drummer D. J. Fontana brought a new element, complementing Presley’s movements with accented beats that he had mastered playing in strip clubs….and soon after the show, the Hayride engaged Presley for a year’s worth of Saturday-night appearances…..when he traded in his old guitar for $8….and seeing it promptly dispatched to the garbage….and that is when he purchased a Martin instrument for $175, and his trio began playing in new locales, including Houston, Texas and Texarkana, Arkansas. Many fledgling performers, like Minnie Pearl, Johnny Horton, and Johnny Cash, sang the praises of Louisiana Hayride sponsor, Southern Maid Donuts, including Elvis Presley…..who developed a lifelong love of doughnuts….and he even made his singular product endorsement commercial for the doughnut company….which was never released….while recording a radio jingle, “in exchange for a box of hot glazed doughnuts.”
Music – 1973 – Elvis And His Dance – “A Big Ole Hunk Of Love” + “Cindy, Cindy”
Elvis made his first television appearance on the KSLA-TV television broadcast of Louisiana Hayride. Soon after, he failed an audition for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts on the CBS television network. By early 1955, Presley’s regular Hayride appearances, constant touring and well-received record releases had made him a regional star from Tennessee to West Texas. In January, Neal signed a formal management contract with Presley and brought him to the attention of Colonel Tom Parker….whom he considered the best promoter in the music business….as Parker, who claimed to be from West Virginia….but was actually Dutch….had acquired an honorary colonel’s commission from country singer turned Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis. Having successfully managed top country star Eddy Arnold, Parker was working with the new # 1 country singer, Hank Snow….with whome Parker booked Presley on Snow’s February tour. When the tour reached Odessa, Texas, a 19-year-old Roy Orbison saw Presley for the first time and commented “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.” By August, Sun had released ten sides credited to “Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill”…..when on the latest recordings, the trio were joined by a drummer…..and some of the songs, like “That’s All Right”, were in what one Memphis journalist described as the “R&B idiom of negro field jazz”….while others, like “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, were “more in the country field”, “but there was a curious blending of the two different musics in both”…..as this blend of styles made it difficult for Presley’s music to find radio airplay….and according to Neal, many country-music disc jockeys would not play it because he sounded too much like a black artist….while none of the rhythm-and-blues stations would touch him because “he sounded too much like a hillbilly.” The blend came to be known as rockabilly…..and at the time, Presley was variously billed as “The King of Western Bop”, “The Hillbilly Cat” and “The Memphis Flash”.
Interview – 1956 – President Of Elvis Fan Club Kay Wheeler’s Interview With His Mom Gladys Presley
Music – 1912 To 1958 – Elvis Presley And His Mother Gladys ~ “The Most Important Woman In His Life”
Presley renewed Neal’s management contract in August 1955, simultaneously appointing Parker as his special adviser. The group maintained an extensive touring schedule throughout the second half of the year. Neal recalled, “It was almost frightening, the reaction that came to Elvis from the teenaged boys. So many of them, through some sort of jealousy, would practically hate him. There were occasions in some towns in Texas when we’d have to be sure to have a police guard because somebody’d always try to take a crack at him. They’d get a gang and try to waylay him or something.” I remember Bone Daddy talking about this very thing….as he recalls that most of his friends were “fighting mad” as a result of the incredible amount of adoration that the young girls in West Texas had for Elvis. It was during this time that the trio became a quartet when Hayride drummer Fontana joined as a full member. In mid-October, they played a few shows in support of Bill Haley….whose “Rock Around the Clock” track had been a # 1 hit the previous year…..as Haley observed that Presley had a natural feel for rhythm….and advised him to sing fewer ballads.
Music – 1935 To 1977 – Special – Elvis Presley : “I Don’t Sound Like Nobody”
At the Country Disc Jockey Convention in early November, Presley was voted the year’s most promising male artist….as several record companies had by now shown interest in signing him….and that is when three major labels made offers of up to $25,000….while Parker and Phillips struck a deal with RCA Victor on November 21 to acquire Presley’s Sun contract for an unprecedented $40,000….and since Presley, at 20, was still a minor (the legal voting age was 21 at that time, and all children were considered minors until their 21st birthday)….so his father signed the contract. Parker arranged with the owners of Hill & Range Publishing, Jean and Julian Aberbach, to create two entities, Elvis Presley Music and Gladys Music, to handle all the new material recorded by Presley…..and songwriters were obliged to forgo one-third of their customary royalties in exchange for having him perform their compositions. By December, RCA had begun to heavily promote its new singer….and before month’s end had reissued many of his Sun recordings.
Comedy – 1956 – Steve Allen Show Comedy Skit – “Range Roundup” – With Elvis Presley + Imogene Coca + Andy Griffin
On January 10, 1956, Presley made his first recordings for RCA in Nashville. Extending Presley’s by-now customary backup of Moore, Black, Fontana, and Hayride pianist Floyd Cramer….who had been performing at live club dates with Presley….along with RCA enlisted guitarist Chet Atkins and three background singers….which included Gordon Stoker of the popular Jordanaires quartet, to fill in the sound….when the session produced the moody, unusual “Heartbreak Hotel”, released as a single on January 27th….. then Parker brought Presley to national television by booking him on CBS’s Stage Show for six appearances over two months…..as this program, produced in New York, was hosted on alternate weeks by big band leaders and brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. After his first appearance, on January 28, Presley stayed in town to record at RCA’s New York studio….as these sessions yielded eight songs….which included a cover of Carl Perkins’ rockabilly anthem “Blue Suede Shoes”. In February, Presley’s “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”….which was initially a Sun recording released the previous August….when it reached the top of the Billboard country chart…. after which Neal’s contract was terminated…..and on March 2nd, Parker became Presley’s manager.
Music – 1955 – Elvis Presley – “I Forgot To Remember To Forget”
RCA released Presley’s self-titled debut album on March 23….which included five previously unreleased Sun recordings….with its seven recently recorded tracks that were of a broad variety….in which there were two country songs and a bouncy pop tune….while the others would centrally define the evolving sound of rock and roll featuring “Blue Suede Shoes”….which was “an improvement over Perkins’ in almost every way” according to critic Robert Hilburn….plus three R&B numbers that had been part of Presley’s stage repertoire for some time with covers of Little Richard, Ray Charles and The Drifters. As described by Hilburn, these “were the most revealing of all. Unlike many white artists … who watered down the gritty edges of the original R&B versions of songs in the 1950’s, Presley reshaped them. He not only injected the tunes with his own vocal character but also made guitar, not piano, the lead instrument in all three cases.” It became the first rock and roll album to top the Billboard chart….and a position it held for 10 weeks. While Presley was not an innovative guitarist like Moore or contemporary African-American rockers Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, cultural historian Gilbert B. Rodman argued that the album’s cover image “of Elvis having the time of his life on stage with a guitar in his hands played a crucial role in positioning the guitar … as the instrument that best captured the style and spirit of this new music.”
Music – 1957 – Elvis Presley Live In Concert – “Blue Suede Shoes” + “Long Tall Sally” + “Hound Dog”
On April 3, Presley made the first of two appearances on NBC’s Milton Berle Show…..as his performance, on the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego, California prompted cheers and screams from an audience of sailors and their dates…..then a few days later, a flight taking Presley and his band to Nashville for a recording session left all three badly shaken….when an engine died and the plane almost went down over Arkansas. Twelve weeks after its original release, “Heartbreak Hotel” became Presley’s first # 1 pop hit. In late April, Presley began a two-week residency at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas….but the shows were poorly received by the conservative, middle-aged hotel guests…..which sounded like “cat gut running through their ears….and was like a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party”, wrote a critic for Newsweek…..but amid his Vegas tenure, Presley, who had serious acting ambitions, signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures…..then he began a tour of the Midwest in mid-May…. while taking in 15 cities in as many days. He had attended several shows by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys in Vegas….and was struck by their cover of “Hound Dog”….which had been a hit in 1953 for blues singer Big Mama Thornton…..and it became the new closing number of his act. After a show in La Crosse, Wisconsin, an urgent message on the letterhead of the local Catholic diocese’s newspaper was sent to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover….as it warned that “Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States. … [His] actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth. … After the show, more than 1,000 teenagers tried to gang into Presley’s room at the auditorium. … Indications of the harm Presley did just in La Crosse were the two high school girls … whose abdomen and thigh had Presley’s autograph.”
Music – 1956 – The Milton Berle Show – Elvis Presley – “Shake Rattle & Roll” + “Heartbreak Hotel” + “Blue Suede Shoes”
The second Milton Berle Show appearance came on June 5 at NBC’s Hollywood studio, amid another hectic tour. Berle persuaded Presley to leave his guitar backstage, advising, “Let ’em see you, son.” During the performance, Presley abruptly halted an uptempo rendition of “Hound Dog” with a wave of his arm….and launched into a slow, grinding version accentuated with energetic, exaggerated body movements….as Presley’s gyrations created a storm of controversy….to which many TV critics were outraged….as evidenced by Jack Gould of The New York Times when he wrote, “Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability. … His phrasing, if it can be called that, consists of the stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub. … His one specialty is an accented movement of the body … primarily identified with the repertoire of the blond bombshells of the burlesque runway.”….while Ben Gross of the New York Daily News opined that popular music “has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley. … Elvis, who rotates his pelvis … gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos”…..and that is when Ed Sullivan…..whose own variety show was the nation’s most popular….declared him “unfit for family viewing”….and to Presley’s displeasure, he soon found himself being referred to as “Elvis the Pelvis”….which he called “one of the most childish expressions I ever heard, comin’ from an adult.”
Music – 1956 – The Milton Berle Show – 2nd Appearance – Elvis Presley – “Hound Dog”
The Berle shows drew such high ratings that Presley was booked for a July 1 appearance on NBC’s Steve Allen Show in New York….as Allen was no fan of rock and roll and introduced a “new Elvis” in a white bow tie and black tails. Presley sang “Hound Dog” for less than a minute to a basset hound wearing a top hat and bow tie…..as described by television historian Jake Austen, “Allen thought Presley was talentless and absurd … [he] set things up so that Presley would show his contrition”…..when Allen later wrote that he found Presley’s “strange, gangly, country-boy charisma, his hard-to-define cuteness, and his charming eccentricity intriguing”…..and simply worked him into the customary “comedy fabric” of his program. Just before the final rehearsal for the show, Presley told a reporter, “I’m holding down on this show. I don’t want to do anything to make people dislike me. I think TV is important so I’m going to go along, but I won’t be able to give the kind of show I do in a personal appearance.” Presley would refer back to the Allen show as the most ridiculous performance of his career. Later that night, he appeared on Hy Gardner Calling, a popular local TV show….when pressed on whether he had learned anything from the criticism to which he was being subjected, Presley responded, “No, I haven’t, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. … I don’t see how any type of music would have any bad influence on people when it’s only music. … I mean, how would rock ‘n’ roll music make anyone rebel against their parents?”
Music – 1956 – Steve Allen Show – Elvis Presley – “Hound Dog”
The next day, Presley recorded “Hound Dog”, along with “Any Way You Want Me” and “Don’t Be Cruel”. The Jordanaires sang harmony, as they had on The Steve Allen Show….after whuch they would work with Presley throughout the 1960’s. A few days later, Presley made an outdoor concert 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.”…..then in August, a judge in Jacksonville, Florida, ordered Presley to tame his act….and throughout the following performance, he largely kept still, except for wiggling his little finger suggestively in mockery of the order. The single pairing “Don’t Be Cruel” with “Hound Dog” ruled the top of the charts for 11 weeks….which was a mark that would not be surpassed for 36 years. Recording sessions for Presley’s 2nd album took place in Hollywood during the first week of September….as Leiber and Stoller, the writers of “Hound Dog”, contributed “Love Me”.
Music – 1956 – The Ed Sullivan Show – Elvis Presley – “Love Me”
Allen’s show with Presley had, for the first time, beaten CBS’s Ed Sullivan Show in the ratings….so, Sullivan, despite his June pronouncement, booked Presley for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000…..when the first, on September 9, 1956, was seen by approximately 60 million viewers…. which was a record 82.6 percent of the television audience…..when actor Charles Laughton hosted the show while filling in while Sullivan….who was recovering from a car accident. Presley appeared in two segments that night from CBS Television City in Los Angeles…..and according to Elvis legend, Presley was shot only from the waist up. Watching clips of the Allen and Berle shows with his producer, Sullivan had opined that Presley “got some kind of device hanging down below the crotch of his pants—so when he moves his legs back and forth you can see the outline of his cock. … I think it’s a Coke bottle….We just can’t have this on a Sunday night. This is a family show!”….then Sullivan publicly told TV Guide, “As for his gyrations, the whole thing can be controlled with camera shots.” In fact, Presley was shown head-to-toe in the first and second shows….and though the camerawork was relatively discreet during his debut, with leg-concealing closeups when he danced, the studio audience reacted in customary style: screaming…..then Presley’s performance of his forthcoming single, the ballad “Love Me Tender”, prompted a record-shattering million advance orders. More than any other single event, it was this first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that made Presley a national celebrity of barely precedented proportions.
Music – 1956 – The Ed Sullivan Show – Elvis Presley – “Don’t Be Cruel”
Accompanying Presley’s rise to fame, a cultural shift was taking place that he both helped inspire and came to symbolize….while igniting the “biggest pop craze since Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra….as Presley brought rock’n’roll into the mainstream of popular culture” wrote historian Marty Jezer saying “As Presley set the artistic pace, other artists followed. … Presley, more than anyone else, gave the young a belief in themselves as a distinct and somehow unified generation—the first in America ever to feel the power of an integrated youth culture.”
Music – 1972 – Special – Elvis Presley Live In Concert In Greensboro NC
The audience response at Presley’s live shows became increasingly fevered….as Moore recalled…“H’d start out, ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog’ and they’d just go to pieces. They’s always react the same way. There’d be a riot every time.” At the two concerts he performed in September at the Mississippi / Alabama Fair and Dairy Show….that’s when 50 National Guardsmen were added to the police security to ensure that the crowd would not cause a ruckus. His 2nd album was released in October and quickly rose to # 1 on the billboard. The album included “Old Shep”….which he sang at the talent show in 1945….and which now marked the 1st time he played piano on an RCA session. According to Gurainick, one can hear “in the haulting chords and the somewhat stumbling rhythm both the unmistakable emotion and the equally unmistakable valuing of emotion over technique.” When assessing the musical and cultural impact of Presley’s recordings from “That’s All Right” through Elvis, rock critic Dave Marsh wrote that “these records, more than any others, contain the seeds of what rock n roll was, has been and most likely what it may become in the future.”
Music – 1954 To 1957 – Special – Elvis Presley: “People’s Reaction When Meeting Elvis For The First Time”
Presley returned to the Sullivan show at its main studio in New York, hosted this time by its namesake, on October 28….when after the performance, crowds in Nashville and St. Louis burned him in effigy. His first motion picture, Love Me Tender, was released on November 21st. Though he was not top-billed, the film’s original title The Reno Brothers was changed to capitalize on his latest # 1 record….as “Love Me Tender” had hit the top of the charts earlier that month. To further take advantage of Presley’s popularity, four musical numbers were added to what was originally a straight acting role…..as the film was panned by critics…..but did very well at the box office. Presley would receive top billing on every subsequent film he made.
Music – 1964 – Elvis Presley – “Funny How Time Slips Away”
On December 4, Presley dropped into Sun Records where Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were recording….and had an impromptu jam session….along with Johnny Cash….and albeit Phillips no longer had the right to release any Presley material….he made sure that the session was captured on tape….and the results….although none were officially released for 25 years…..became known as the “Million Dollar Quartet” recordings. The year ended with a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal reporting that Presley merchandise had brought in $22 million on top of his record sales….and Billboard‘s declaration that he had placed more songs in the top 100 than any other artist since records were first charted. In his first full year at RCA, one of the music industry’s largest companies, Presley had accounted for over 50 percent of the label’s singles sales.
Music – 1956 – The Million Dollar Quartet – Carl Perkins + Johnny Cash + Jerry Lee Lewis + Elvis Presley – “I Shall Not Be Moved”
Music – 1956 – The Million Dollar Quartet – Carl Perkins + Johnny Cash + Jerry Lee Lewis + Elvis Presley – Entire Session At Sun Records
Presley made his 3rd and final Ed Sullivan Show appearance on January 6, 1957….and on this occasion indeed was shot only down to the waist….as some commentators have claimed that Parker orchestrated an appearance of censorship to generate publicity. In any event, as critic Greil Marcus described of Presley that “he did not tie himself down….while leaving behind the bland clothes he had worn on the first two shows….and he stepped out in the outlandish costume of a pasha, if not a harem girl. From the make-up over his eyes, the hair falling in his face, the overwhelmingly sexual cast of his mouth, he was playing Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik, with all stops out.” To close, displaying his range and defying Sullivan’s wishes, Presley sang a gentle black spiritual, “Peace in the Valley”. At the end of the show, Sullivan declared Presley “a real decent, fine boy”. Two days later, the Memphis draft board announced that Presley would be classified 1-A and would probably be drafted sometime that year.
Music -1957 – The Ed Sullivan Show – Elvis Presley – “Hound Dog” + “Don’t Be Cruel” + “I Love You Too Much” + “My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again” + “Peace In The Valley”
Each of the three Presley singles released in the first half of 1957 went to # 1 “Too Much”, “All Shook Up”, and “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”. Already an international star, he was attracting fans even where his music was not officially released. Under the headline “Presley Records a Craze in Soviet”, The New York Times reported that pressings of his music on discarded X-ray plates were commanding high prices in Leningrad. Between film shoots and recording sessions, 22-year old Presley also found time to purchase an 18-room mansion Graceland on March 19, 1957 for the amount of $102,500. The mansion, which was about 9 miles (14 km) south of downtown Memphis, was for himself and his parents. Leading up to the purchase, Elvis recorded Loving You….which was the soundtrack to his 2nd film that was released in July. It was Presley’s 3rd straight number-one album…..as the title track was written by Leiber and Stoller…..who were then retained to write four of the six songs recorded at the sessions for his next film Jailhouse Rock….as the songwriting team effectively produced the Jailhouse sessions….while developing a close working relationship with Presley….who came to regard them as his “good-luck charm”. “He was fast,” said Leiber. “Any demo you gave him he knew by heart in ten minutes.”….as the title track was yet another # 1 hit….as well as the Jailhouse Rock EP.
Music – 1958 – Elvis Presley – “Jailhouse Rock”
Music – 1960 – Frank Sinatra TV Special – Elvis Presley – “Fame & Fortune” + “Stuck On You” + Sinatra / Presley Duet “Love Me Tender / Witchcraft”
Leiber and Stoller were again in the studio for the recording of Elvis’ Christmas Album…..and towards the end of the session, they wrote a song on the spot at Presley’s request by the name “Santa Claus Is Back in Town”….as it was an innuendo-laden blues song…..when the holiday release stretched Presley’s string of # 1 albums to four….while becoming the best-selling Christmas album ever in the United States….with eventual sales of over 20 million worldwide…..then after these sessions, Moore and Black resigned due to the fact that they were drawing only modest weekly salaries….while they weren’t sharing in any of Presley’s massive financial success….and though they were brought back on a per diem basis a few weeks later….as it was clear that they had not been part of Presley’s inner circle for some time. On December 20, Presley received his draft notice. He was granted a deferment to finish the forthcoming movie King Creole….in which $350,000 had already been invested by Paramount and producer Hal Wallis….then a couple of weeks into the new year, “Don’t Be Cruel”, another Leiber and Stoller tune, became Presley’s 10th # 1 seller…..as it had been a mere 21 months since “Heartbreak Hotel” had brought him to the top for the 1st time. Recording sessions for the King Creole soundtrack were held in Hollywood in mid-January 1958….as Leiber and Stoller provided three songs….and were again on hand….but it would be the last time they and Presley worked closely together. As Stoller recalled, Presley’s manager and entourage sought to wall him off….saying “He was removed. … They kept him separate.” A brief soundtrack session on February 11 marked another ending….as it was the final occasion on which Black was to perform with Presley.
Music – 1958 – Movie Clip From “King Creole” – Elvis Presley Sings “Trouble”
Music – 1958 – Movie Clip From “King Creole” – Elvis Presley Sings “King Creole”
Music – 1958 – Movie Clip From “King Creole” – Elvis Presley Sings “Crawfish”
Music – 1958 – Movie Clip From “King Creole” – Elvis Presley Sings “Dixieland Rock”
Music – 1958 – Movie Clip From “King Creole” – Elvis Presley Sings “As Long As I Have You”
On March 24, 1958, Presley was drafted into the U.S. Army as a private at Fort Chaffee, near Fort Smith, Arkansas…..and his arrival was a major media event….when hundreds of people descended on Presley as he stepped from the bus….as photographers then accompanied him into the fort. Presley announced that he was looking forward to his military stint, saying that he did not want to be treated any differently from anyone else while stating that “The Army can do anything it wants with me.”…..as Presley commenced basic training at Fort Hood, Texas….when during a two-week leave in early June, he recorded five songs in Nashville. In early August, his mother was diagnosed with hepatitis….and her condition rapidly worsening…..so, Presley was granted emergency leave to visit her….and arrived in Memphis on August 12. Two days later, she died of heart failure at the age of 46. Presley was devastated and never the same….as their relationship had remained extremely close….for even into his adulthood, they would use baby talk with each other and Presley would address her with pet names. After training, Presley joined the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany, on October 1st….and while on maneuvers, Presley was introduced to amphetamines by a sergeant….when he became “practically evangelical about their benefits”, not only for energy but for “strength” and weight loss as well….and many of his friends in the outfit joined him in indulging. The Army also introduced Presley to karate….which he studied seriously while training with Jürgen Seydel…..as it became a lifelong interest….which he later included in his live performances. Fellow soldiers have attested to Presley’s wish to be seen as an able, ordinary soldier, despite his fame….and to his generosity….as he donated his Army pay to charity….while purchasing TV sets for the base…. and bought an extra set of fatigues for everyone in his outfit.
Music -1958 – Special – Army PFC Elvis Presley Ships Off To Germany – With The “GI Blues”
While in Friedberg, Presley met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu….with whom he would eventually marry after a seven-and-a-half-year courtship. In her autobiography, Priscilla said that Presley was concerned that his 24-month spell as a GI would ruin his career. In Special Services, he would have been able to give musical performances and remain in touch with the public….but Parker had convinced him that to gain popular respect, he should serve his country as a regular soldier….as media reports echoed Presley’s concerns about his career….but RCA producer Steve Sholes and Freddy Bienstock of Hill and Range had carefully prepared for his two-year hiatus. Armed with a substantial amount of unreleased material, they kept up a regular stream of successful releases…..when between his induction and discharge, Presley had ten top 40 hits….which included “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck”, the best-selling “Hard Headed Woman” and “One Night” in 1958….and “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I” and the # 1 hit “A Big Hunk o’ Love” in 1959…..while RCA also generated four albums compiling old material during this period….with the most successful being Elvis’ Golden Records in 1958…. which hit # 3 on the LP chart.
Music & Interview – 1960 – Special – Elvis Presley: Post Army Interview
Presley returned to the United States on March 2, 1960…..and was honorably discharged three days later with the rank of sergeant. The train that carried him from New Jersey to Tennessee was mobbed all the way…..as Presley was called upon to appear at scheduled stops to please his fans. On the night of March 20, he entered RCA’s Nashville studio to cut tracks for a new album along with a single, “Stuck on You”….which was rushed into release and swiftly became a # 1 hit. Another Nashville session two weeks later yielded a pair of his best-selling singles, the ballads “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”….along with the rest of Elvis Is Back!….as the album features several songs described by Greil Marcus as full of Chicago blues “menace, driven by Presley’s own super-miked acoustic guitar, brilliant playing by Scotty Moore, and demonic sax work from Boots Randolph. Elvis’ singing wasn’t sexy, it was pornographic.” As a whole, the record “conjured up the vision of a performer who could be all things”….and according to music historian John Robertson saying it was “a flirtatious teenage idol with a heart of gold; a tempestuous, dangerous lover; a gutbucket blues singer; a sophisticated nightclub entertainer; [a] raucous rocker”….which was released only days after recording was complete….and reached # 2 on the album chart.
Music – 1960 – Elvis Presley – “It’s Now Or Never”
Presley returned to television on May 12 as a guest on The Frank Sinatra Timex Special….which was ironic for both stars, given Sinatra’s earlier excoriation of rock and roll. Also known as Welcome Home Elvis, the show had been taped in late March….as the only time all year Presley performed in front of an audience….when Parker secured an unheard-of $125,000 fee for eight minutes of singing….as the broadcast drew an enormous viewership.
Music – 1960 – Frank Sinatra TV Special – Elvis Presley: “Stuck On You”
G.I. Blues, the soundtrack to Presley’s first film since his return, was a # 1 album in October. His first LP of sacred material, His Hand in Mine, followed two months later…..which reached # 13 on the U.S. pop chart….and # 3 in the UK….which were remarkable figures for a gospel album. In February 1961, Presley performed two shows for a benefit event in Memphis on behalf of 24 local charities….when during a luncheon preceding the event, RCA presented him with a plaque certifying worldwide sales of over 75 million records. A 12-hour Nashville session in mid-March yielded nearly all of Presley’s next studio album, Something for Everybody. As described by John Robertson, it exemplifies the Nashville sound, the restrained, cosmopolitan style that would define country music in the 1960’s….which was presaging much of what was to come from Presley himself over the next half-decade….as the album is largely “a pleasant, unthreatening pastiche of the music that had once been Elvis’ birthright”….and would be his 6th # 1 LP. Another benefit concert, raising money for a Pearl Harbor memorial, was staged on March 25, in Hawaii…..as it would become Presley’s last public performance for seven years.
Music – 1960 – Movie Clip From “G I Blues” – Elvis Presley Sings “G I Blues” + “Frankfort Special” + “Shopping Around”
Parker had by now pushed Presley into a heavy film making schedule, focused on formulaic, modestly budgeted musical comedies. Presley, at first, insisted on pursuing higher roles….but when two films in a more dramatic vein Flaming Star in 1960 and Wild in the Country in 1961 were less commercially successful….that’s when he reverted to the old formula. Among the 27 films he made during the 1960’s, there were a few further exceptions. His films were almost universally panned….as critic Andrew Caine dismissed them as a “pantheon of bad taste”. Nonetheless, they were virtually all profitable….as Hal Wallis, who produced nine of them, declared, “A Presley picture is the only sure thing in Hollywood.”
Special – 1956 To 1977 – Stories By Ed Bonja Official Elvis Presley Photographer – “Elvis, The Colonel & Me”
Of Presley’s films in the 1960’s, 15 were accompanied by soundtrack albums and another 5 by soundtrack EPs. The films’ rapid production and release schedules of which he frequently starred in three a year, really affected his music. According to Jerry Leiber, the soundtrack formula was already evident before Presley left for the Army with “three ballads, one medium-tempo [number], one up-tempo, and one break blues boogie”….and as the decade wore on, the quality of the soundtrack songs grew “progressively worse”. Julie Parrish, who appeared in Paradise, Hawaiian Style in 1966, says that he disliked many of the songs chosen for his films. The Jordanaires’ Gordon Stoker describes how Presley would retreat from the studio microphone: “The material was so bad that he felt like he couldn’t sing it.” Most of the film albums featured a song or two from respected writers such as the team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman…..but by and large, according to biographer Jerry Hopkins, the numbers seemed to be “written on order by men who never really understood Elvis or rock and roll”. Regardless of the songs’ quality, it has been argued that Presley generally sang them well, with commitment….but critic Dave Marsh heard the opposite saing “Presley isn’t trying, probably the wisest course in the face of material like ‘No Room to Rumba in a Sports Car’ and ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’.”
Music – 2002 – TV Documentary Narrated By Lisa Tarbuck – “There Is Only One Elvis”
In the first half of the decade, three of Presley’s soundtrack albums were ranked # 1 on the pop charts….and a few of his most popular songs came from his films, such as “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in 1961….and “Return to Sender” in 1962….as well as “Viva Las Vegas”…..which was the title track to the 1964 film was a minor hit as a B-side…..and became truly popular only later…..but, as with artistic merit, the commercial returns steadily diminished. During a five-year span from 1964 through 1968, Presley had only one top-ten hits….with “Crying in the Chapel” in 1965….which was a gospel number recorded back in 1960. As for non-film albums, between the June 1962 release of Pot Luck and the November 1968 release of the soundtrack to the television special that signaled his comeback…..when only one LP of new material by Presley was issued with the gospel album How Great Thou Art (1967)….which won him his first Grammy Award for Best Sacred Performance. As Marsh described, Presley was “arguably the greatest white gospel singer of his time [and] really the last rock & roll artist to make gospel as vital a component of his musical personality as his secular songs”.
Music – 1965 – Elvis Presley – “Crying In The Chapel”
Music – 1967 – Elvis Presley – “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
Shortly before Christmas 1966, more than seven years since they first met, Presley proposed to Priscilla Beaulieu….and they were married on May 1, 1967, in a brief ceremony in their suite at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. The flow of formulaic films and assembly-line soundtracks rolled on….for it was not until October 1967, when the Clambake soundtrack LP registered record low sales for a new Presley album, that RCA executives recognized a problem. “By then, of course, the damage had been done”, as historians Connie Kirchberg and Marc Hendrickx put it. “Elvis was viewed as a joke by serious music lovers and a has-been to all but his most loyal fans.”
Music – 1967- Movie Clip From “Clambake” – Elvis Presley Sings “Clambake”
Presley’s only child, Lisa Marie, was born on February 1, 1968, during a period when he had grown deeply unhappy with his career. Of the eight Presley singles released between January 1967 and May 1968, only two charted in the top 40, and none higher than number 28. His forthcoming soundtrack album, Speedway, would rank at number 82 on the Billboard chart. Parker had already shifted his plans to television, where Presley had not appeared since the Sinatra Timex show in 1960. He maneuvered a deal with NBC that committed the network to both finance a theatrical feature and broadcast a Christmas special. Recorded in late June in Burbank, California, the special, simply called Elvis, aired on December 3, 1968….which was later known as the ’68 Comeback Special….as the show featured lavishly staged studio productions as well as songs performed with a band in front of a small audience….as it was Presley’s first live performances since 1961. The live segments saw Presley dressed in tight black leather, singing and playing guitar in an uninhibited style reminiscent of his early rock and roll days. Director and co-producer Steve Binder had worked hard to produce a show that was far from the hour of Christmas songs Parker had originally planned. The show, NBC’s highest-rated that season, captured 42 percent of the total viewing audience. Jon Landau of Eye magazine remarked, “There is something magical about watching a man who has lost himself find his way back home. He sang with the kind of power people no longer expect of rock ‘n’ roll singers. He moved his body with a lack of pretension and effort that must have made Jim Morrison green with envy.” Dave Marsh calls the performance one of “emotional grandeur and historical resonance”.
Music – 1968 – Elvis Presley Comeback Special – “Guitar Man” + “Let Yourself Go” + “Big Boss Man” + “Little Egypt” + “Trouble”
Music – 1968 – Elvis Presley Comeback Special – “Heartbreak Hotel”
Music – 1968 – Elvis Presley Comeback Special – “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”
Music – 1968 – Elvis Presley Comeback Special – “Blue Christmas”
By January 1969, the single “If I Can Dream”, written for the special, reached # 12….as the soundtrack album rose into the top ten…..when according to friend Jerry Schilling, the special reminded Presley of what “he had not been able to do for years, being able to choose the people; being able to choose what songs and not being told what had to be on the soundtrack. … He was out of prison, man.” Binder said of Presley’s reaction, “I played Elvis the 60-minute show, and he told me in the screening room, ‘Steve, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I give you my word I will never sing a song I don’t believe in.'”
Music – 1968 – Elvis Presley Comeback Special – “If I Can Dream”
Buoyed by the experience of the Comeback Special, Presley engaged in a prolific series of recording sessions at American Sound Studio…..which led to the acclaimed From Elvis in Memphis…..which was released in June 1969…. and was his first secular, non-soundtrack album from a dedicated period in the studio in eight years. As described by Dave Marsh, it is “a masterpiece in which Presley immediately catches up with pop music trends that had seemed to pass him by during the movie years. He sings country songs, soul songs and rockers with real conviction, a stunning achievement.” The album featured the hit single “In the Ghetto”, issued in April, which reached # 3 on the pop chart….as Presley’s first non-gospel top ten hit since “Bossa Nova Baby” in 1963. Further hit singles were culled from the American Sound sessions: “Suspicious Minds”, “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “Kentucky Rain”.
Music – 1969 – Elvis Presley – “Don’t Cry Daddy” – With Family Pictures
Presley was keen to resume regular live performing….and following the success of the Comeback Special is when offers came in from around the world….when the London Palladium offered Parker $28,000 for a one-week engagement….as he responded, “That’s fine for me, now how much can you get for Elvis?” In May, the brand new International Hotel in Las Vegas, boasting the largest showroom in the city, announced that it had booked Presley….as he was scheduled to perform 57 shows over four weeks beginning July 31….but Moore, Fontana, and the Jordanaires declined to participate….while being afraid of losing the lucrative session work they had in Nashville….so Elvis assembled new, top-notch accompaniment, led by guitarist James Burton and including two gospel groups, The Imperials and Sweet Inspirations….while costume designer Bill Belew, responsible for the intense leather styling of the Comeback Special, created a new stage look for Presley, inspired by Presley’s passion for karate. Nonetheless, he was nervous….as his only previous Las Vegas engagement, in 1956, had been dismal….when Parker, who intended to make Presley’s return the show business event of the year, oversaw a major promotional push. For his part, hotel owner Kirk Kerkorian arranged to send his own plane to New York to fly in rock journalists for the debut performance.
Music – 1969 – Las Vegas International Hotel – Elvis Presley Live On Stage
Presley took to the stage without introduction. The audience of 2,200, including many celebrities, gave him a standing ovation before he sang a note and another after his performance….while a third followed his encore, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”….a song that would be his closing number for much of the 1970’s….when at a press conference after the show as a journalist referred to him as “The King”….to which Presley gestured toward Fats Domino, who was taking in the scene….and said “No, that’s the real king of rock and roll.” The next day, Parker’s negotiations with the hotel resulted in a five-year contract for Presley to play each February and August, at an annual salary of $1 million…..to which Newsweek commented, “There are several unbelievable things about Elvis, but the most incredible is his staying power in a world where meteoric careers fade like shooting stars.” Rolling Stone called Presley “supernatural, his own resurrection.” In November, Presley’s final non-concert film, Change of Habit, opened. The double album From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis came out the same month….as the first LP consisted of live performances from the International, the second of more cuts from the American Sound sessions….when “Suspicious Minds” reached the top of the charts as Presley’s first U.S. pop # 1 in over seven years, and his last.
Music – 1961 – Movie Clip From “Blue Hawaii” – Elvis Presley – “Can’t Help Falling In Love”
Presley returned to the International early in 1970 for the first of the year’s two-month-long engagements, performing two shows a night….as the recordings from these shows were issued on the album On Stage. In late February, Presley performed six attendance-record–breaking shows at the Houston Astrodome….when in April, the single “The Wonder of You” was issued a # 1 hit in the UK….while topping it topped the U.S. adult contemporary chart as well….as Bone Daddy attended the 3rd of the six Astrodome concerts….with one of his heartthrobs that prior to this concert he was unable to “bed down”….but as BD puts it…“The King got her so worked up, that she would have ridden any hoss in the stable that night”…. and for this, BD says he simply bowed to The King.”
Music – 1970 – Elvis Presley Live At The Houston Astordome – “The Wonder Of You”
MGM filmed rehearsal and concert footage at the International during August for the documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is…..when Presley was performing in a jumpsuit….which would become a trademark of his live act. During this engagement, he was threatened with murder unless $50,000 was paid….as Presley had been the target of many threats since the 1950’s….and often without his knowledge. The FBI took the threat seriously and security was stepped up for the next two shows….and that is when Elvis went onstage with a Derringer in his right boot and a .45 pistol in his waistband….but the concerts succeeded without any incidents. The album, That’s the Way It Is, produced to accompany the documentary and featuring both studio and live recordings, marked a stylistic shift….as music historian John Robertson noted, “The authority of Presley’s singing helped disguise the fact that the album stepped decisively away from the American-roots inspiration of the Memphis sessions towards a more middle-of-the-road sound. With country put on the back burner, and soul and R&B left in Memphis, what was left was very classy, very clean white pop—perfect for the Las Vegas crowd, but a definite retrograde step for Elvis.” After the end of his International engagement on September 7, Presley embarked on a week-long concert tour largely of the South….which was his first since 1958. Another week-long tour, of the West Coast, followed in November.
Music – 1974 – Elvis Presley – “Why Me Lord”
On December 21, 1970, Presley engineered a meeting with President Richard Nixon at the White House….where he expressed his patriotism and explained how he believed he could reach out to the hippies to help combat the drug culture he and the president abhorred…..when he asked Nixon for a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge, to add to similar items he had begun collecting and to signify official sanction of his patriotic efforts. Nixon, who apparently found the encounter awkward, expressed a belief that Presley could send a positive message to young people….and that it was, therefore, important that he “retain his credibility”. Presley told Nixon that The Beatles, whose songs he regularly performed in concert during the era, exemplified what he saw as a trend of anti-Americanism. Presley and his friends previously had a four-hour get-together with The Beatles at his home in Bel Air, California in August 1965. On hearing reports of the meeting, Paul McCartney later said that he “felt a bit betrayed. … The great joke was that we were taking [illegal] drugs, and look what happened to him”, a reference to Presley’s early death, linked to prescription drug abuse.
Music – 1972 – Elvis Presley Live In San Antonio – “Suspicious Minds” + “Can’t Help Falling In Love” + “For The Good Times”
The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce named Presley one of its annual Ten Most Outstanding Young Men of the Nation on January 16, 1971….when not long afterward, the City of Memphis named the stretch of Highway 51 South on which Graceland is located “Elvis Presley Boulevard”. The same year, Presley became the first rock and roll singer to be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award (then known as the Bing Crosby Award) by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Grammy Award organization. Three new, non-film Presley studio albums were released in 1971….which were as many as had come out over the previous eight years. Best received by critics was Elvis Country, a concept record that focused on genre standards. The biggest seller was Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, “the truest statement of all”, according to Greil Marcus. “In the midst of ten painfully genteel Christmas songs, every one sung with appalling sincerity and humility, one could find Elvis tom-catting his way through six blazing minutes of ‘Merry Christmas Baby,’ a raunchy old Charles Brown blues. … If [Presley’s] sin was his lifelessness, it was his sinfulness that brought him to life”.
Music – 1971 – Live In Concert – Elvis Presley – “Polk Salad Annie” + “Little Sister” + “Get Back” + “What Now My Love”
MGM again filmed Presley in April 1972, this time for Elvis on Tour….which went on to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Documentary Film that year. His gospel album He Touched Me, released that month, would earn him his 2nd competitive Grammy Award for Best Inspirational Performance. A 14-date tour commenced with an unprecedented four consecutive sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden….as the evening concert on July 10 was recorded and issued in an LP form a week later with Elvis: As Recorded at Madison Square Garden….which became one of Presley’s biggest-selling albums….when after the tour, the single “Burning Love” was released….which was Presley’s last top ten hit on the U.S. pop chart. “The most exciting single Elvis has made since ‘All Shook Up’,” wrote rock critic Robert Christgau. “Who else could make ‘It’s coming closer, the flames are now licking my body’ sound like an assignation with James Brown’s backup band?” Presley came up with his outfit’s eagle motif, as “something that would say ‘America’ to the world”.
Music – 1972 – Elvis Presley – “He Touched Me”
In January 1973, Presley performed two benefit concerts for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund in connection with a groundbreaking TV special, Aloha from Hawaii…..which would be the 1st concert by a solo artist to be aired globally….while the 1st show served as a practice run and backup should technical problems affect the live broadcast two days later. On January 14, Aloha from Hawaii aired live via satellite to prime-time audiences in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand….as well as to U.S. servicemen based across Southeast Asia. In Japan, where it capped a nationwide Elvis Presley Week, it smashed viewing records. The next night, it was simulcast to 28 European countries….and in April an extended version finally aired in the U.S…..where it won a 57 percent share of the TV audience. Over time, Parker’s claim that it was seen by one billion or more people would be broadly accepted….but that figure appeared to have been sheer invention. Presley’s stage costume became the most recognized example of the elaborate concert garb with which his latter-day persona became closely associated. As described by Bobbie Ann Mason, “At the end of the show, when he spreads out his American Eagle cape, with the full stretched wings of the eagle studded on the back, he becomes a god figure.” The accompanying double album, released in February, went to # 1 and eventually sold over 5 million copies in the United States…. as it proved to be Presley’s last U.S. # 1 pop album during his lifetime.
Music – 1973 – Elvis Presley Live in Honolulu Full Concert – “Aloha From Hawaii” – The Ultimate Experience
Elvis and Pricilla got divorced on October 9, 1973….and by then, his health was in major and serious decline….as twice during the year, he overdosed on barbiturates….while spending three days in a coma in his hotel suite after the first incident….then towards the end of 1973, he was hospitalized, semi-comatose from the effects of a pethidine addiction. According to his primary care physician, Dr. George C. Nichopoulos, Presley “felt that by getting drugs from a doctor, he wasn’t the common everyday junkie getting something off the street”. Since his comeback, he had staged more live shows with each passing year….and 1973 saw 168 concerts….which was his busiest schedule ever….and despite his failing health, in 1974, he undertook another intensive touring schedule. Presley’s condition declined precipitously in September….as keyboardist Tony Brown remembered Presley’s arrival at a University of Maryland concert saying, “He fell out of the limousine, to his knees. People jumped to help, and he pushed them away like, ‘Don’t help me.’ He walked on stage and held onto the mic for the first thirty minutes like it was a post. Everybody’s looking at each other like, ‘Is the tour gonna happen’?” Guitarist John Wilkinson recalled, “He was all gut. He was slurring. He was so fucked up. … It was obvious he was drugged. It was obvious there was something terribly wrong with his body. It was so bad the words to the songs were barely intelligible. … I remember crying. He could barely get through the introductions.” Wilkinson recounted that a few nights later in Detroit, “I watched him in his dressing room, just draped over a chair, unable to move. So often I thought, ‘Boss, why don’t you just cancel this tour and take a year off …?’ I mentioned something once in a guarded moment. He patted me on the back and said, ‘It’ll be all right. Don’t you worry about it.'” Presley continued to play to sellout crowds. Cultural critic Marjorie Garber wrote that he was now widely seen as a garish pop crooner: “In effect, he had become Liberace. Even his fans were now middle-aged matrons and blue-haired grandmothers.”
Music – 1973 – Las Vegas International Show – Story Of The Night 4 Men Got On Stage To Attack Elvis
On July 13, 1976, Elvis’ dad Vernon had become deeply involved in his son’s financial affairs….when he fired “Memphis Mafia” bodyguards Red West (Presley’s friend since the 1950’s), Sonny West and David Hebler, citing the need to “cut back on expenses”. Presley was in Palm Springs at the time, and some suggested that he was too cowardly to face the three himself….while another associate of Presley’s, John O’Grady, argued that the bodyguards were dropped because their rough treatment of fans had prompted too many lawsuits…..however, Presley’s stepbrother, David Stanley, claimed that the bodyguards were fired because they were becoming more outspoken about Presley’s drug dependency.
Music – 1976 – Elvis Presley Live In Concert In Birmingham, Alabama
RCA, which had enjoyed a steady stream of product from Presley for over a decade, grew anxious as his interest in spending time in the studio waned. After a December 1973 session that produced 18 songs….which was enough for almost two albums….and he did not enter the studio in 1974. Parker sold RCA yet another concert record, Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis…. which recorded on March 20th and included a version of “How Great Thou Art”….which would win Presley his 3rd and final competitive Grammy Award….as all three of his competitive Grammy wins, out of 14 total nominations, were for gospel recordings. Presley returned to the studio in Hollywood in March 1975, but Parker’s attempts to arrange another session toward the end of the year were unsuccessful. In 1976, RCA sent a mobile studio to Graceland that made possible two full-scale recording sessions at Presley’s home. Even in that comfortable context, the recording process became a struggle for him. Despite concerns from his label and manager, between July 1973 and October 1976 Presley recorded virtually the entire contents of six albums….and although he was no longer a major presence on the pop charts, five of those albums entered the top five of the country chart….as three went to # 1 with Promised Land in 1975….From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee in 1976….and Moody Blue in 1977. Similarly, his singles in this era did not prove to be major pop hits….but he remained a significant force in the country and adult contemporary markets…..as eight studio singles from this period released during his lifetime were top ten hits on one or both charts…with four in 1974 alone….and “My Boy” was a # 1 adult contemporary hit in 1975….while “Moody Blue” topped the country chart and reached the 2nd spot on the adult contemporary chart in 1976. Perhaps his most critically acclaimed recording of the era came that year, with what Greil Marcus described as his “apocalyptic attack” on the soul classic “Hurt”. “If he felt the way he sounded”, Dave Marsh wrote of Presley’s performance, “the wonder isn’t that he had only a year left to live but that he managed to survive that long.”
Music – 1977 – Live In Concert – Elvis Presley – “Hurt”
Journalist Tony Scherman wrote that by early 1977, “Presley had become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self. Hugely overweight, his mind dulled by the pharmacopia he daily ingested, he was barely able to pull himself through his abbreviated concerts.” In Alexandria, Louisiana, he was on stage for less than an hour….and “was impossible to understand”…. then on March 31, Presley failed to perform in Baton Rouge….as he was unable to get out of his hotel bed….when a total of four shows had to be canceled and rescheduled. Despite the accelerating deterioration of his health, he stuck to most touring commitments….and according to Guralnick, fans “were becoming increasingly voluble about their disappointment, but it all seemed to go right past Presley, whose world was now confined almost entirely to his room and his spiritualism books.” A cousin, Billy Smith, recalled how Presley would sit in his room and chat for hours….while sometimes recounting favorite Monty Python sketches….along with his own past escapades….but more often gripped by paranoid obsessions that reminded Smith of Howard Hughes.
Music – 1975 – Elvis Presley Live In Las Vegas – “All Shook Up” + “Little Sister/Get Back Medley + “I Was The One” + “Love Me” + “Are You Lonesome Tonight”
“Way Down” was Presley’s last single recorded during his career….and was released on June 6th….when in that month, CBS filmed two concerts for a TV special, Elvis in Concert….which was to be aired in October…..when in the first which was shot in Omaha on June 19th….that’s when Presley’s voice as Guralnick writes, “is almost unrecognizable, a small, childlike instrument in which he talks more than sings most of the songs, casts about uncertainly for the melody in others, and is virtually unable to articulate or project”. Two days later, in Rapid City, South Dakota, “he looked healthier, seemed to have lost a little weight, and sounded better, too”, though, by the conclusion of the performance, his face was “framed in a helmet of blue-black hair from which sweat sheets down over pale, swollen cheeks”. His final concert was held in Indianapolis at Market Square Arena, on June 26.
Music – 2012 – Elvis Presley Remix With ZZ Top + Phil Collins – “Way Down”
The book Elvis: What Happened?, co-written by the three bodyguards fired the previous year, was published on August 1….and was the first exposé to detail Presley’s years of drug misuse. He was devastated by the book and tried unsuccessfully to halt its release by offering money to the publishers. By this point, he suffered from multiple ailments including glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage and an enlarged colon….with each being magnified and possibly caused by drug abuse. On the evening of Tuesday, August 16, 1977, Presley was scheduled to fly out of Memphis to begin another tour. That afternoon, Ginger Alden discovered him in an unresponsive state on a bathroom floor….and according to her eyewitness account, “Elvis looked as if his entire body had completely frozen in a seated position while using the toilet and then had fallen forward, in that fixed position, directly in front of it. … It was clear that, from the time whatever hit him to the moment he had landed on the floor, Elvis hadn’t moved.” Attempts to revive him failed….as The King had died on a porcelain throne…. and his death was officially pronounced the next day at 3:30 p.m. at the Baptist Memorial Hospital.
Music – 1963 – Frank Sinatra & Elvis Presley Duet – “Love Me Tender”
President Jimmy Carter issued a statement that credited Presley with having “permanently changed the face of American popular culture”. Thousands of people gathered outside Graceland to view the open casket. One of Presley’s cousins, Billy Mann, accepted $18,000 to secretly photograph the corpse; the picture appeared on the cover of the National Enquirer‘s biggest-selling issue ever. Alden struck a $105,000 deal with the Enquirer for her story, but settled for less when she broke her exclusivity agreement. Presley left her nothing in his will. Presley’s funeral was held at Graceland on Thursday, August 18th….as some 80,000 people lined the processional route to Forest Hill Cemetery where Presley was buried next to his mother. Within a few weeks, “Way Down” topped the country and UK pop charts….then following an attempt to steal Presley’s body in late August, the remains of both Presley and his mother were reburied in Graceland’s Meditation Garden on October 2nd.
Music – 1972 – Live In Concert – Elvis Presley – “Release Me”
Between 1977 and 1981, six of Presley’s posthumously released singles were top-ten country hits. Graceland was opened to the public in 1982. Attracting over half a million visitors annually, it became the second most-visited home in the United States, after the White House. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
Music – 1972 – Live At Graceland Party – Elvis Presley – “Imagine”
Presley has been inducted into five music halls of fame….the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986….the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998….the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001…..the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2007….and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012….also, in 1984, he received the W. C. Handy Award from the Blues Foundation and the Academy of Country Music’s first Golden Hat Award….and in 1987, he received the American Music Awards’ Award of Merit.
Music – 1960 – Movie Clip From “Flaming Star” – Elvis Presley Sings “Flaming Star”
In 2005, Forbes named Presley the top-earning deceased celebrity for the fifth straight year, with a gross income of $45 million…. then he placed 2nd in 2006….while returning to the top spot the next two years….and ranked 4th in 2009. The following year, he was ranked 2nd….with his highest annual income ever of $60 million….which was spurred by the celebration of his 75th birthday….along with the launch of Cirque du Soleil’s Viva Elvis show in Las Vegas. In November 2010, Viva Elvis: The Album was released, setting his voice to newly recorded instrumental tracks. As of mid-2011, there were an estimated 15,000 licensed Presley products….and he was again the 2nd-highest-earning deceased celebrity….and six years later, he ranked 4th with earnings of $35 million….which was up $8 million from 2016 due in part to the opening of a new entertainment complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis….and hotel, The Guest House at Graceland.
Music – 1957 – Movie Clip From “Jailhouse Rock” – Elvis Presley Sings “Young And Beautiful”
Since 1977, there have been numerous alleged sightings of Presley….with a long-standing conspiracy theory among some fans is that he faked his death ….as adherents cite alleged discrepancies in the death certificate, reports of a wax dummy in his original coffin and accounts of Presley planning a diversion so he could retire in peace. An unusually large number of fans have domestic shrines devoted to Presley and journey to sites with which he is connected, however faintly. Every August 16, the anniversary of his death, thousands of people gather outside Graceland and celebrate his memory with a candlelight ritual. “With Elvis, it is not just his music that has survived death”, writes Ted Harrison. “He himself has been raised, like a medieval saint, to a figure of cultic status. It is as if he has been canonized by acclamation.”
Music – 1961 – Elvis Presley – “Soldier Boy”
Presley’s earliest musical influence came from gospel. His mother recalled that from the age of two, at the Assembly of God church in Tupelo attended by the family, “he would slide down off my lap, run into the aisle and scramble up to the platform. There he would stand looking at the choir and trying to sing with them.” In Memphis, Presley frequently attended all-night gospel singings at the Ellis Auditorium…..where groups such as the Statesmen Quartet led the music in a style that, Guralnick suggests, sowed the seeds of Presley’s future stage act saying “The Statesmen were an electric combination … featuring some of the most thrillingly emotive singing and daringly unconventional showmanship in the entertainment world … dressed in suits that might have come out of the window of Lansky’s. … Bass singer Jim Wetherington, known universally as the Big Chief,,,,who maintained a steady bottom, ceaselessly jiggling first his left leg, then his right, with the material of the pants leg ballooning out and shimmering….as he went about as far as you could go in gospel music….as the women would jump up, just like they do for the pop shows…..and preachers frequently objected to the lewd movements…..but audiences reacted with screams and swoons.”
Music – 1971 – Elvis Presley Gospel Live – “Help Me”
As a teenager, Presley’s musical interests were wide-ranging…..and he was deeply informed about both white and African-American musical idioms… and although he never had any formal training, he had a remarkable memory….and his musical knowledge was already considerable by the time he made his first professional recordings aged 19 in 1954. When Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller met him two years later, they were astonished at his encyclopedic understanding of the blues, and, as Stoller put it, “He certainly knew a lot more than we did about country music and gospel music.” At a press conference the following year, he proudly declared, “I know practically every religious song that’s ever been written.”