Monday, 23 May 2011

Thats Alright Mama.

Elvis Presley… Early Times….

The brilliantly shocking vision of Elvis Presley on stage around 1955 might confuse or maybe even appear humorous to some folks nowadays. Dressed in Cat clothes with a heavily greased ducktail, arrogantly stood behind the mike with his petulant expression, sneering as he mumbles something in fluent Hillbilly, he swaggers back and strums on his rhythm guitar as he slowly starts to sing ‘ooooh…Baby…Baby…Baby….Oooh….Baby…Baby…Baby….B…B…B…Baby…Baby…Baby…W-e-l-l…Come Back Baby….I Wanna Play House With You…’.

Elvis Aaron Presley was brought into this world on January 8th 1935 under the humblest of circumstances, in a 2 room house in Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis was a twin but his brother, Jessie Garon was stillborn however Elvis thrived.. He was born during hard times, his daddy was one Vernon Elvis Presley who sometimes hoed cotton for a living and his mom was one Gladys Love who worked as a sewing machine operator but quickly their lives revolved around the new child, Elvis. He had been born into a close knit and church going family, a desperately poor, working class family with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins living close by but Elvis was closest to his Mama. The family attended The Assembly of God Church where Gospel music began to influence Elvis along with the Country Music he heard on the radio and the Bluesmen who were neighbours, all this music mixed together in his young head.
His daddy went from job to job and tangled with the law at times and in June of 1938 Vernon was put in jail, charged with forgery.
In 1941, aged 10, Elvis attended Lawhon Elementary School where a teacher discovered that Elvis could sing and entered him in a talent contest.

This contest was the Mississippi-Alabama Fair were Elvis stood behind a microphone and he sung Red Foley's Old Shep. WELO radio broadcast this contest in which Elvis won $5.00 in fair ride tickets as the 5th winning contestant. Elvis was a shy and awkward kid but he could sing good. In 1946 Elvis got his first guitar at a cost of $12. 95 from The Tupelo Hardware Store as his mom and dad could not afford a bicycle

In 1948 the Presley family moved to Memphis,Tennessee. The family quickly relocated to Lauderdale Courts which were public housing developments very close to the famous Beale Street with Sun Studios only 1mile away. The young Elvis practiced and practiced on his guitar in the basement of this housing development home.

By 1952 Elvis had began to stand out from his class mates with long, truck driver style sideburns, he grew his hair long and styled it with Rose Oil and Vaseline and he began to wear flashy clothes. He would wander up to 146 Beale Street which was Lansky Brothers clothiers and buy the coolest of threads. Lansky Brothers originally sold left over army surplus but now it took full advantage of Beale Streets ever growing music scene. Beale Street was a ‘real’ black street and Lansky Bros also sold the loudest and most stylish of clothes. Why Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, B B King and Duke Ellington all bought clothes from Lansky Brothers. Bernard Lansky noticed this white kid with a pompadour keep looking in the window of the store but this kid never came in. One day Bernard spoke to this 17 year old kid, who at that time had no money but later Lansky Brothers became Clothier to the King, that kid. Elvis wore pink pegged slacks, a pink and black flecked sport coat with a black shirt and a pink rayon tie which could all be bought from Lansky Brothers. Elvis Presley definitely stood out from his class mates in a good natured misfit way.

After his studying at Humes High School had done he worked at The Precision Tool Company and later he drove a truck for The Crown Electric Company but in the hot summer of 1953 things took a turn……

The Hillbilly Cat.

Elvis walked into the Sun Studios and recorded his first acetates at a cost of $4. 2 songs were recorded That’s When Your Heartaches Begin and My Happiness which were popular ballads at that time. Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun along with his assistant Marion Keisker listened to these tracks, they heard flair and talent in these recordings and Elvis was called back into studio in June of 54 to cover for some ballad singer but things didn’t work out. Then in July Elvis was called back in and teamed up with local musicians, Bill Black on stand up bass and on guitar Scotty Moore, just to see what happened.

Nothing happened at first so they took a break and Elvis, Scotty and Bill began to fool around with Arthur Big Boy Cradup’s song That’s All Right Mama and this fooling sounded kinda good. Sam Phillips liked it and he quickly planned to release it as a 45 but it needed a B side. The Bluegrass song by Bill Monroe called Blue Moon Of Kentucky fitted the bill. That’s All Right Mama was released in July of 1954 and at first Sam Phillips found it hard to sell a recording of music with no apparent name., music by a white guy that was originally a Rhythm ‘n’ Blues recording, a Negro musc!

He played it to DJ, Dewey Phillips of the Red Hot and Blue radio show and Dewey flipped! Dewey was knocked out by That’s All Right Mama, he eagerly played it on his radio show and 47 listeners phoned in to ask about this recording, by a Negro guy! That’s All Right Mama was only a local hit and it did not make the national charts, but this historical recording which consisted of a boogie bass line with Hillbilly vocals was Rockabilly in construction and sound. Rockabilly had been evolving since after the Second-World-War from Country-Boogie music and That’s All Right Mama was the finished article, pure and unadulterated Rockabilly.

Elvis, Scotty and Bill began to perform together playing at clubs and small shows locally and throughout the Southern States. In October of that year they appeared at the Grand Ole Opry but they still recorded at Sun too. These recordings included; Baby Let’s Play House, I’m Left Your Right She’s Gone, Good Rockin’ Tonight, I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine, Mystery Train, I Forgot To Remember To Forget and more.

They appeared at the Louisiana Hayride and this show lead to regular appearances. Elvis met Colonel Tom Parker for the first time at the Hayride, the Colonel managed various acts who appeared on the show. Elvis, Scotty and Bill relentlessly toured by themselves and on package tours with Country music stars such as Hank Snow as drummer DJ Fontana joined and added back-beat to the sound behind Elvis. There was loud outrage from some folks at the shows Elvis performed at, outrage at his openly sexual moves but the teenagers dug him and……the girls dug him most of all!

There was no stopping the career of Elvis Presley and in November of 1955 RCA bought his contract from Sam Phillips at a cost of only $35.000.

To call Elvis Presley a one off is an understatement; no one will ever walk this earth as cool as Elvis ….even the idea of Elvis is too phenomenal to be true, but its true!


  1. So much good music is rooted in black culture, at least here in America. Thanks to open minded people (largely the jews) who made their way to places like Harlem to listen to the black musicians play.

    Adopting their style of music, the whites brought "colored" music to the mainstream and helped break down color barriers. Music brought diverse people together.

  2. Hey.
    I love old black music and am totally interested in black American culture back in the 30s, 40s and 50s. I’m mad about the Harlem Renaissance.