Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Loving Elvis

My cousin, Johnnie, loved Elvis Presley. Her adoration for him started brewing in 1954 after Sun Records released the songs "I Love You Because," "That's Alright (Mama)," and "Blue Moon." It went to a whole new level on March 3, 1956 when his new record label, RCA, released “Heartbreak Hotel.” As the song raced up the Billboard Top 100 singles chart, out came his RCA debut album. It contained songs like “Blue Suede Shoes" and “Blue Moon.” The magazine announced, “A Red Hot Star is Born on RCA Victor Records!”

At the beginning of 1956, Elvis, having just recently signed with RCA Records, was still just a regional sensation, best known in the South. By the end of the year, he would become the labels best-selling artist.

So, what was the phenomenon surrounding Elvis in 1956? Some might say it was his landmark and controversial national TV appearances on Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Milton Berle. Others might say it was his new songs (all certified gold) "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel" and "Love Me Tender," which had received more than a million advance orders after Elvis performed it on Sullivan on Sept. 9th.

For Presley's female fans, the phenomenon surrounding Elvis was based largely on something else: his deep, rich and incredibly sexy voice, his thick hair and his dreamy eyes, all combined with the way he performed on stage. It was a sentiment echoed by girl fans all across America and around the world...and even here at home.

On Nov. 25, 1956, just ten days after the movie release, Elvis appeared for two shows at the Louisville, Kentucky armory (see photo). With him was his backup band - Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on upright bass and DJ Fontana on drums, and his backup singers, The Jordanaires. The afternoon matinee drew a sellout crowd of 8,500 people. The evening show at 8pm, with more of an adult crowd in attendance, and slightly more sedate, drew just under that. Elvis, though, was livelier. He wore a satiny gold jacket that evening.

Four members of my family hired taxi cab driver Earl Pierce to take them to Louisville that morning. On the way, whenever an Elvis song came on the radio Earl said the girls would scream and carry on. It was the same reaction anytime they saw a picture of Elvis on a billboard. That afternoon in Louisville, Johnnie and her sisters, Betty and Fay, their cousin, (and my aunt) Patsy, and a friend, Neta, attended a viewing of Elvis' first movie, "Love Me Tender," at the Rialto Theater. That evening, at the armory, they saw the future king of Rock and Roll.

The following week, our local newspaper ran a story about the girls seeing Elvis in concert. He had sang all of his hits, they said. His rendition of "Peace in the Valley" even seemed to 'win over' some of the skeptical adults at the evening show. "It was the most thrilling show of our lives. We will never forget it as long as we live," they reported to the newspaper. The girls took photos of Elvis on stage that evening. Some were of him standing beside his Cadillac. They would remain Elvis fans the rest of their lives, the biggest by far being Johnnie Means. A visit to her home easily told you that.

I will spend my whole life through
Loving you, loving you
Winter, summer, springtime too
Loving you, loving you
Makes no difference
Where I go or what I do
You know that I'll always be loving you


Elvis Presley at the Louisville Armory


(For Johnnie Mack)

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