“I know I’d go from rags to riches”
Lyrics from Rags to Riches (1971)
Elvis continues to have hopes that one day his musical talents will shine through. But January 4th, 1954, Elvis drives his Crown Electric truck up to Memphis Recording Services and this is when his life begins to change. He ends up recording Casual Love Affair and I’ll Never Stand Alone. Sam Phillips is in the studio and is impressed with Elvis and puts him on file. Marion Keisker is also there, and Sam tells her Elvis needs a lot of work. Elvis meets and begins dating Dixie Locke in February 1954. The relationship is serious enough that many had thought Elvis and Dixie would have gotten married.
June 26, 1954, Elvis gets a phone call from Sam Phillips to fill in on a demo session. They ask Elvis to record Without You. Though Sam does not get the sound he was looking for, he and Marion still have a feeling about Elvis. Sam decides to contact Scotty Moore to have him work with Elvis. Elvis, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black meet at Sun Studios on July 5th. They got there in the morning to record multiple songs. Nerves get the best of Elvis and the session seems to be unsuccessful. Sam gives them a break and Scotty tells Elvis to loosen up and be himself. Trying to take Scotty’s advice, Elvis picks up a guitar and begins singing That’s All Right (Mama) by Arthur Crudup. Scotty and Bill pick up the beat and join in. Phillips hears the music and knows he made the right choice calling Elvis in.
That’s All Right (Mama)
Sam Phillips gets in contact with his friend Dewey Phillips (not related), who happens to be a local DJ. Sam gives Dewey a disc of That’s All Right (Mama) and Blue Moon of Kentucky. Dewey plays them on his Red, Hot, and Blue radio show and the response is incredible. He ends up playing it 14 times. Frantically, Dewey gets a hold of Elvis’s parents who find Elvis in a local movie theater and take him to be interviewed by Dewey on air. Elvis was nervous and explained to Dewey, “I don’t know nothin’ about bein’ interviewed” to which Dewey responded, “Just don’t say nothin’ dirty”. Two days later, Elvis signs his first management contract with Scotty Moore. July 19th, Sun Studios released That’s All Right (Mama).
Blue Moon Of Kentucky
Elvis beings touring local clubs in Memphis and then heads to Texas. Elvis, Bill, and Scotty play small clubs and local radio shows while That’s All Right (Mama) continues to climb the charts. September 4, 1954, Elvis is booked at the Grand Ole Opry. Elvis wears a tomato colored suit and performs on a Hank Snow segment. The show was a disaster and many suggested Elvis go back to driving a truck. When they go back to the studio, spirits are low and the day is unproductive. Finally, late in the evening, Elvis completes Just Because. Scotty suggested they also try Good Rockin’ Tonight along with I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine. This would be the next big hit.
Good Rockin’ Tonight is released September 25th, and the boys are traveling and continuing to play local clubs. October 16th, Elvis makes his first appearance on the Louisiana Hayride. It was live broadcasted over the radio. Though it was a great way to get the sound on the radio, it did not pay enough for the boys to return to Memphis. They stayed in Texas and played local clubs until they made enough money to return home. Elvis’s songs were doing so well on the Billboard charts, that the Louisiana Hayride had Elvis sign a one-year contract to appear once a week.
Good Rockin’ Tonight
Though the pay was not great, the continuous travel forces Elvis to quit Crow Electric. He finds enough money to buy himself a Cadillac for traveling purposes. (The iconic pink Cadillac). The three men continue to travel. Scotty is having a difficult time booking Elvis and playing gigs but continues to work hard at both. Singer Marty Robbins released That’s All Right (Mama) for Columbia Records and becomes the first cover of an Elvis song by another artist. Finally, in December of 1954, Elvis becomes a headliner on Louisiana Hayride.
January 1st, 1956, Elvis signs with a Memphis DJ and manager, Bob Neal. He asks for a 15% commission on all gigs in order for Neal to take full control over Elvis’s career. This same time, DJ Fontana joins the band as a drummer. The band, consisting of the four young men, would be called The Blue Moon Boys. They play New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. March 15th, Elvis buys out his contract on the Louisiana Hayride in order to have more freedom but manages to still make appearances.
The band continues to travel in the month of April and Elvis begins to attract the attention of Tom Parker who happens to be Hank Snow’s manager. During a show in Jacksonville, fans mob the stage after Elvis says, “Girls I’ll see you backstage”. The fans ripped up his clothing and wrote messages in lipstick all over him. (But let me be honest, I would have mobbed the stage too.) During this time, Colonel Tom Parker is advising Bob Neal on Elvis’s career and direction. The Colonel is getting larger venues and better connections than Neal could offer.
Baby, Let’s Play House
Elvis appeared in his first magazine in June of 1955. By this time, he had enough money to move himself and his parents into their very own home in Memphis. At another concert in Jacksonville on July 29th, Elvis was mobbed yet again and spends the night at a local hospital. August 15th, 1955, Elvis signs a contract with Colonel Tom Parker but only to last for one-year. Bob Neal stays on with Elvis as an advisor and Elvis pays him the 15% out of his pocket. On way to a gig with Johnny Cash, Elvis was in a car accident. There is damage to his Cadillac, but no injuries occurred. They managed to make the gig on time.
The Elvis Presley Jamboree tour begins on October 11th in Texas. Elvis was the first headliner and included on the bill were Johnny Cash, Jimmy Newman, and Wanda Jackson. The opening act for The Elvis Presley Jamboree was a duo called “Buddy and Bob”. The Buddy of this duo being Buddy Holly. Years later, Buddy Holly said, “Without Elvis, none of us would have ever made it”. Quite true when he happened to be his opening act.
I Forgot To Remember To Forget
Sam Phillips was struggling and Colonel Tom Parker worked out a deal to sell Elvis’s contract in order to raise cash. By the end of October, three major labels made offers up to $25,000. RCA made an offer in early November of $35,000 plus a $5,000 bonus to Elvis for back royalties owed by Sun Studios. November 20th, Elvis signs a three-year contract with RCA containing a renewal option as well. During the deal, the Colonel makes another deal to set up a separate entity called Elvis Presley Music, Inc. that will handle all of Elvis’s songs and royalties. December 17th, CBS announces that Elvis will be appearing on Jackie Gleason’s Stage Show making four appearances starting in January.
This was only the beginning of Elvis’s career. Once Colonel Tom Parker started managing Elvis things really start to change, regardless of how the relationship changed in the future. Being a truck driver was a thing of the past. Elvis was setting the stage for entertainers to follow and created a new sound that inspired many of our greatest entertainers of all time.