Monday, May 2, 2011

Elvis Presley

Young Elvis

Elvis changed popular music. There is no doubt about that. He was the biggest phenom since Frankie Sinatra. He had charisma, looks, talent, showmanship, bravado, youth, ambition and drive. 

As we see from our present day television series, "American Idol" those same qualities can be found in any number of people. But Elvis caught a break. His early backing came from three smart ( I didn't say wise) men. All by the name of Phillips.

Elvis in an early performance

Sam Phillips owned Sun Records. He recognized the talent in the young Elvis. He created the recording opportunity. He discovered the young rocker.

Dewey Phillips was a popular Memphis disc jockey. He was an early rock and roll advocate. Dewey's show Red, Hot and Blue was a cutting edge bluesy hit. The white kids loved it, their parents didn't. He liked the Elvis sound and started pushing the records. 

Early Elvis Presley 

Speaking of pushing that's why there is a third Phillips. Sam's brother Jud was the promo man for the label. He saw to it all the dj's and record stores new about the new sound.  It was said Jud was a promotional guru. 

Louisiana Hay Ride ? Maybe. Elvis in action.

Without these three men, each a fragile genius in his own right, there might never have been an iconic Elvis. Rock and Roll would have happened without Elvis. Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and several others were already playing their versions. But Elvis gave rock and rolI a face. I will always believe Elvis left his best music behind when he left that little yellow label and those three early believers. 

Don't forget the hair, Elvis was different

Movie star Elvis

     Info on Elvis         

My home town was approximately one hundred and twenty five miles from Memphis. It was a dry county. We had no "legal" juke joints or honky tonks, no live music clubs for the cotton circuit. A couple of times a year the town threw big festivals. They were the White River Water Carnival and the Poultry Festival. Medium sized to big name bands were booked for the events. 
Adoring fans galore

Elvis was booked as an opening act or some sort of second stringer the year before he hit it big. I think that was 1954 but it could have been 53. He was received poorly. I was told, his trashy jokes were not appreciated. Looking back I wonder if I misunderstood and it was really his offending "movements" that caused a problem.

Elvis touring via car

Within a year or two I saw Gene Vincent at the local movie house. At eleven I remember being more interested in tight sweaters and poodle skirts than the rocker on stage. 

My first awareness of Elvis and maybe music itself came in the third grade. I was walking home from school one afternoon when a pretty ten year old asked me what I thought about Elvis. I told her I thought he was great. The truth was I had heard of him but really didn't had not paid enough attention to have an opinion.

 Elvis the Pelvis, hip action..

But what is important here is the fact that a ten year old girl who hardly watched the news or listened to popular music knew all about Elvis. I would say that was a testament to the power of fifties a.m. radio. WHBQ and Dewey Phillips blasted rockabilly all the way into the Ozarks.

I grew older. I heard other musicians. I bought my first 45. It was Carl Perkin's "Matchbox". When Elvis changed to reach a broader market, I left him. Carl and others stayed true to Rockabilly. Later, I would leave them for other sounds.

The Presley Family with baby Elvis

As Elvis went to Pop others moved over into top 40 rock. Some like Cash, Roy and Conway saw their futures in country music. The rockabilly pioneers set new standards where ever they went. Doo Wop, Motown, soul, R & B all began to evolve. We went with them because they were new and honest. 

Elvis or his agent, the mysterious Colonel Parker, not a colonel nor a Parker, did not come off the same way. The whole movie star thing hurt his credibility with me. The Hawaii, Las Vegas, Hollywood thing did not go over well with the rocker fans. 

Gradually we started to move away from the king. Later he would appear to be more glitz than talent. Then drug use rendered him irrelevant.

Those eyes...he had those eyes !

I don't want to say Elvis wasn't great, he was. He helped move the world into Rock and Roll. He made other people's songs his own. He sold more copies of "Blue Suede Shoes" than Carl Perkins.

Early Elvis album cover. He had the "look".

Elvis was a great singer. He had a voice that would do whatever he wanted. Few others have had that ability. He had the guts to let his body sell his song. 

He stuck with his instincts against immense public pressure.

Again, early Elvis will always be one of my favorites. He was a damned good rocker and pioneer. I will always appreciate his foresight and abilities. His love of blues, gospel and hillbilly brought it all together.

Elvis put everything he had into his early performances

I just wish he had stuck with Phillips and left the Colonel alone. I think he would have evolved more naturally and his fan base would have followed him through the process. We will never know where that path could have taken him. Without the movie star lifestyle and drugs his future was unlimited. The man had so much talent and charisma...... From a brilliant burst to darkness. It saddens me to this day. Elvis, What a talent! What a waste !

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