Elvis Presley

  • Born in 1935 in Tupelo Mississippi. Died in 1977, cause of death unknown, thought to be a heart attack.
  • Elvis got his first guitar for his eleventh birthday. He had wished for a rifle or a bike. He took lessons from his uncles and the pastor at his church. He said that he’d never sing in public, as he was too shy. He was a big fan of Mississippi Slim’s radio show on WELO in Tupelo. Slim’s younger brother was a classmate of Presley’s, which got him into the station. Slim liked Presley, and had him perform twice on air when he was 12.
  • The family moved to Memphis in 1948. Presley began to stand out as a junior in high school because of his long sideburns and greased hair. He competed in his high school talent show, performing Till I Waltz With You Again.” He loved to go to Beale Street, the heart of the blues scene in Memphis, and listen to music. He studied the blues, country and gospel music of the day. By graduation from high school, he knew that his future was in music.
  • In August 1953, he walked into the offices of Sun Records to make his first recording, a two-sided acetate recording of My Happiness and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin. He paid to make the recording. In January the next year, he cut a second acetate, but nothing came of it. Soon afterwards, he auditioned for a vocal quartet and a band, but was turned down because “he couldn’t sing.”
  • Sam Phillips, the boss at Sun Records, remembered Elvis, and had been looking for a white artist who could have “a Negro sound.” In the summer of 1954, he set up Presley with 2 studio musicians to cut some songs. Nothing worked until late in the evening, when Elvis took his guitar and sang the blues song That’s All Right, jumping around and acting like a fool.  The backup musicians started acting the same way. Phillips liked what he heard, and had the demo played on the local Memphis radio station. Listeners began to call in, asking about the singer and whether he was a black man. Based on this, Phillips had another song recorded by the trio, the bluegrass song Blue Moon of Kentucky. A single was pressed with these songs.
  • Two weeks later, the trio played publicly for the first time, and soon after, they played a larger venue with Slim Whitman headlining the show. Elvis’ nervousness and his response to the rhythm of the music caused his legs to gyrate. Of course, this became one of his signature moves.
  • The trio began to travel to shows, and Sun Records began to record their music. Elvis had become a regional star. His style was a blend of R&B, jazz and country – it became known as Rockabilly. He was noticed by Colonel Tom Parker, a popular promoter in the country music business. Soon, Parker managed Elvis entire career. By November 1955, RCA bought out his Sun Records contract. Elvis was only 20 years old.
  • In early 1956, he made his first recordings with RCA – Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes, and I Forgot to Remember to Forget. In March, his first album – Elvis Presley – was released. It became the first Rock & Roll album to top the Billboard chart, which it did for 10 weeks.
  • After a show in LaCrosse Wisconsin, a letter from the local Catholic newspaper was sent to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, warning that “…Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States.”
  • He was booked to perform on TV shows hosted by Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan. His first performance on The Ed Sullivan show had 60 million viewers – 82.6% of the national TV audience. He performed Love Me Tender, which was soon to be released as a single – this led to an advance order of 1 million copies of the record. His third performance on the show was shot from the waist up, for fear of the censors.
  • Presley had 12 #1 singles in the 50s, and 6 #1 singles in the 60s. RCA claims that Presley is the biggest selling artist of all time, with over 1.5 billion records sold worldwide. 27 of his singles sold at least 1 million copies. He was in 33 films, and 3 TV concert specials. Many of his albums in the 60s were soundtrack albums from his films. The “comeback” TV specials in 1968 and 1973 were major events – the estimated viewership worldwide for the 1973 show from Hawaii was between 1 and 1.5 billion viewers.
  • He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He only won 3 Grammy awards, and 2 were in the Gospel category. The third was a lifetime achievement award, received after his death.
  • His home in Memphis – Graceland – is the second most visited home in the U.S., behind the White House. He always ranks high on the list of the highest paid dead celebrities – in 2016, he ranked fourth, with income of $27 million.
  • Marksmusicmania is not the best place to learn everything about Elvis. There are hundreds of books written about him. I’ve not even scratched the surface, and this already one of my longest posts. When I was young, I didn’t appreciate him. Over time, I’ve learned to be in awe of “The King of Rock & Roll.” His style is infectious – you hear a song by him, and you immediately know it is him. I love the debate of “Who is better – early Elvis or late Elvis?” Both are amazing – I slightly favor Elvis in his later years. At my daughter’s wedding reception, the Father-Daughter dance was an Elvis song – Teddy Bear, which we first danced to when she was 6 years old. He truly is an icon that overshadows all other icons from the last century. Hard to pick a video to link to – I’ll go with the later Elvis, his 1969 #1 hit (his final #1), Suspicious Mind.

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