Jul 102013
 

About twenty minutes later, Vance, Lonnie, and I walked onto the stage. We received applause immediately. Maybe they expected me to sing another Elvis tune, perhaps one of his recent ones – “Good Rockin’ Tonight” or “You’re a Heartbreaker.”

It’s hard to explain what happened next, as it felt more like a dream than a real-life experience. About thirty seconds after we began playing the song, people in the audience started talking. There were some teachers sitting in the front row, and they too began to talk among themselves. I was confused about what was going on until a man, somebody’s father I supposed, called out, “That’s negro devil music!”

I saw my father and uncle stand up and glare at the guy.

A classmate sitting somewhat close to my family added, “Hey Eddie, you a Negro lover?”

Frankie called out, “Shut your trap, Gary!”

I nodded to the guys to continue playing; we just had to get through another minute. Then Gary answered his own question, “Yep, I’d say you are!”

Uncle Vernie got up from his chair again. My mother pulled on his shirt to keep him down, but it didn’t make a difference. “You little twerp! How ‘bout a knuckle sandwich?”

The audience’s chatter grew louder. More boys called out similar remarks, and then there were just boos. I didn’t hear Vance on the drums anymore, but Lonnie continued playing with confidence.

I don’t know where Principal Aldean was during this whole time, but he rushed to the side of the stage, glared at me, and signaled cut with a quick motion of his index finger across his throat.

I nodded and finished abruptly. The audience was shrouded in silence at that point. Out of the corner of my eye, I heard Vance get up from his stool and rush to the back. I stared out to some of the faces that had cheered me on minutes before, and received looks of disappointment in return. I couldn’t make eye contact with my parents, but I did see Uncle Vernie walk out. I guessed he didn’t want to get in trouble with Gary’s dad for threatening his son with a knuckle sandwich.

Lonnie waited for me and walked behind me, both of us carrying our guitars. The group of acrobats that was to perform next looked away as we walked by. Lonnie patted me on the back and said, “Sorry, Eddie.”

We were supposed to go back to our seats if we weren’t going to perform again, but I couldn’t face my schoolmates. We remained backstage, which was just a hallway leading to two small offices. We sat on the floor at the far end.

I considered Vance a close friend, and yet, Lonnie was the one who came through for me. I didn’t say anything though, because I was still in shock. And since Vance only played the drums to help me, I couldn’t blame him for not sticking it out.

“Sorry I chickened out before. I just got scared or something,” he finally said.

“It’s fine. It was stupid of me to think we could do something original.”

“We did a great job and they just can’t appreciate anything other than hillbilly music. Plus, they think they’ll go to hell if they actually like race music,” Lonnie said.

Mr. Shelby soon announced the end of the performances and said the prizes would be awarded in about five minutes. He came backstage and found us. He had a concerned look on his face.

Jun 192013
 

My parents, Uncle Vernie, and I arrived half an hour before the show began. They sat in the fourth row, next to Frankie and his parents, and behind the performers and some teachers.

I hadn’t been nervous until I saw the auditorium filling up with students and their parents. I went to the bathroom too calm my nerves. I imagined Elvis there watching me try to act like him. He’d probably think it was funny, and say something like, “Do I look that silly on stage?”

I was the third to go on stage, and immediately, the audience must’ve recognized whom I was trying to impersonate, because they clapped even before I began to perform. And as soon as I started to sing, some girls started chanting, “Elvis, Elvis, Elvis!”

It wasn’t easy to squeeze any official Elvis-gyrations into the performance, because it was already hard enough to play guitar and sing at the same time. The most I could muster up was some foot tapping in the middle of the song while I was performing the riffs, and then again when I sang, “Ah, dara, dee, deedeetee, dee, dee, deetee, dee, deetee, I need your lovin’.’” I received more applause after that mouthful.

That inspired me to add an extra round of strumming and a few more riffs at the end for effect, which got me more chants of “Elvis, Elvis, Elvis!”

My family, Frankie, and many girls stood up, and applauded and cheered when I was done. I bowed and walked backstage in total euphoria!

Jun 052013
 
Please, let’s forget the past, the future looks bright ahead. Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true.

April 1955

During my first lessons with Carl Ray, we focused on the basics – blues chords and strums, and prepared for my school’s talent show. Aside from our Saturday lessons, Carl Ray would lend me records to listen to at home, and that helped me get a feel for the music I wanted to learn.

The Humes High School Annual Minstrel show was slated for April 7th. Our music teacher, Mr. Shelby, was organizing the show and said we could perform solo and as part of a group.

I planned to do a solo performance of Elvis’s “That’s All Right,” a slower version though, since I was going to play rhythm guitar, along with the fancy riffs Scotty Moore had taught me, and sing too.

I practiced that performance until it was perfect, and I even skipped a haircut a couple of weeks earlier, to my mother’s dismay. I needed some extra hair to grease up, so I’d look even more like Elvis.

For the group performance, two schoolmates were going to play with me on a song I composed with Carl Ray’s help. I’d play lead guitar, my friend Vance would play drums, and a twelfth-grader named Lonnie Graham was going to play rhythm guitar. Vance was only mildly interested in the drums, but he seemed like he had a knack for them, and he didn’t mind helping me out.

I named the song “Paxton Boogie.” It was inspired by and bore similarities to the rhythm in Muddy Water’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” I wrote some simple lyrics to go with the mostly-instrumental composition.

The guys and I practiced after school for a week and felt we had a good chance at placing in the top three at the show.

May 172013
 
Beale Street

Beale Street

I received the phone call I’d been waiting for. Joe Cuoghi, the owner of Poplar Tunes music store, had some good news for me.

“Eddie, my partner talked to a gentleman who plays at one of the clubs on Beale.”

“Really?”

“Yes. John says this man is willing to meet you.”

“Maybe he was surprised that I’m a white boy who wants to learn the blues.”

“You may be right. Anyway, he’ll be at the Purple Diamond on Beale this Saturday, and if you’re there around six before the crowds arrive, he’ll talk with you then. His name is Carl Ray Johnson.” He said the man’s name slowly.

“Ok. Let me write that down.” I scribbled 6, Sat., Purple Diamond and the man’s name in my composition notebook. “Thanks for arranging this, Mr. Cuoghi.”

“My pleasure, Eddie. Good luck and hope to see you at the store soon.”

My dad and I went to the club on Saturday night. I took my guitar with me to show Carl Ray. We approached the bartender and asked him to direct us to him.

“Hey, Carl Ray! Some guys here to see you!”

A Negro gentleman, around sixty, looked in our direction. “Give me a few minutes, guys,” he said to two other men who were also standing by the stage.

My dad and I walked closer to the end of the bar to meet him. Carl Ray was wearing a dark brown suit, a brown tie, and a bright yellow shirt. The handkerchief in his suit pocket was an even brighter yellow. He smiled widely as he walked over to us.

“Mr. Johnson, I’m Edward Paxton and this is my son Eddie.” My father shook his hand.

“Eddie, huh?”

“Yes, sir.” I extended my hand to him but he didn’t take it.

“You got another name? Like a real guitarist’s name?”

I was surprised by that question. “Well, sir, my family calls me Junior.”

“Junior? Yeah, that’s better.” He shook my hand firmly.  “Nice to meet you, Junior… What was it again?”

“Paxton.”

“Junior Paxton.” He rubbed his hands together and then straightened out his tie. “Getting better.” That’s when I noticed the thick gold ring with a large aqua gem on his right pinky finger. He reclined on the table next to us. “This here, your instrument?”

“Yes, sir. I practice a lot. But I wanna work with a professional.”

“That’s right, Mr. Johnson. I think my boy is good, but you know, he needs guidance.”

“Well, well, Junior Paxton, what have you got for me? Are you as good as your daddy says you are?”

I grabbed a chair from the table and sat down. Mr. Johnson straightened up and stood next to my father.

“First thing, you need a place to put your foot. You know, for balance.” He tapped on the bar and said, “Hey, Don, you got some phone books over there?”

“Sure do.” He bent down and placed two phone books on the counter.

Carl Ray grabbed them. “Here, put your left foot on these,” Carl Ray commanded.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Second rule. Don’t call me sir. We ain’t in no army. Call me…” He smiled widely. “Mr. Johnson.”

“OK, Mr. Johnson.” This guy was making me sweat.

“Ah, kid, I’m just foolin’ you.” He smiled that bright smile again. “If we’re gonna work together, we gotta be on the same level, you know. Call me Mr. Carl Ray.

“OK. Mr. Carl Ray. Sir.”

“Real funny, Mr. Junior Paxton, Sir.” He patted me on the back, and said, “Now let’s see what you’re made of.”

I took a deep breath and played my heart out. I strummed, and picked, and played the few blues riffs I knew.  I played for a little over one minute, the longest minute of my life so far. When I was done, some men at the bar clapped.

“Well, well, it looks like you got yourself some fans already.”

“I told them my father would buy them a beer if they clapped for me,” I teased.

Carl smiled. “Well, beer or no beer, you deserve some applause.”

I sighed with relief. The men clapped again, and this time, my dad joined in.

“You’re a little sloppy, here and there, probably your nerves, but nothing ol’ Carl Ray can’t help you with.”

“So, you’ll be my teacher?”

“Yeah, why not? You seem like a good kid. But I’m warning you, I’m gonna work you hard.”

“I kinda got that feeling. But I’m ready.”

“All right, rule number…” He scratched his head. “What number was I on?”

“That would be three. Foot and don’t call you sir,” I said as I counted on my fingers.

“Good, good. I was testing you. Well, this one’s the real number one.” He punctuated the second one with his ringed pinky. “You gotta practice every day.”

“Of course.”

“Now, don’t go skipping your schoolwork or nothin’. I don’t want you catching heat from your folks. But playing guitar is an art; you gotta work hard at it.”

“I know that, and I’m grateful for the chance.” I stood up and shook his hand.

“Now, I’m gonna talk money with the big Mr. Paxton here, and you…” he pointed at me with his gemmed finger. “Come back here next Saturday, five sharp. You know, before you go cruisin’ for chicks.”

“I’ll be here.”

“I’m gonna work you for about forty-five minutes or until your fingers bleed.” He finished the sentence with his big smile.

“I look forward to it, Mr. Carl Ray. Thank you and see you in one week. Sharp.” I pointed my pinky finger at him.

“You’re gonna need a fancy ring, you know.”

“I guess I’ll have to earn it, Mr. Carl Ray Sir.”

“I like you, Junior Paxton. I like you a lot.”

I grabbed my guitar and left with a smile almost as big as Carl Ray’s.

Blues City Cafe

Blues City Cafe

Dyers Burgers on Beale Street, fried since 1912.

Dyer’s Burgers on Beale Street, fried since 1912.

Find out more about this classic burger joint: http://www.dyersonbeale.com

Original Photography by Margarita R. Kurtz, 2013.
May 022013
 

 

Radio and plant at Sun Studio reception area.

Radio and plant at Sun Studio reception area.

“Come meet the fellas.” Elvis led me into the studio. “Guys, this is Junior. He’s a fan of blues music and a guitar player.”

“Welcome to Sun,” said a brown-haired gentleman wearing a light gray suit with a dark blue tie and a matching handkerchief in his suit pocket.

“This is the boss man. Mr. Sam Phillips,” Elvis said.

“Good to meet you, young man,” Mr. Phillips said as he shook my hand.

“I’m Bill Black. I play bass. And this is Scotty Moore, the best guitar player in town.”

I shook their hands and said, “Great to meet you.”

Scotty was sitting on a piano bench tuning his electric Gibson guitar, one that was much fancier than mine. There were other instruments besides the piano in the room: three more guitars, a drum set, and what I guessed to be Bill’s large stand-up bass. The microphone I had seen last time was still standing in the middle of the room.

“Excuse me, Mr. Moore, I just wanna say I love your playing on ‘That’s All Right’.” You know, the middle part.”

“You mean this?” He played the pum, pa-rum, pa, rum part three times in a row.

“Yes, exactly,” I said.

Then, he must’ve read my eyes, which were saying, please show me how to do that.

“I’ll slow it down for you. Grab one of them guitars.”

“Here you go,” said Elvis as handed me one of the guitars leaning against the wall.

Scotty moved over so I could put my leg on the bench. We played that part together and then he continued playing a little more as I watched carefully.

Two of many guitars on display at Sun Studio. Several donated by famous musicians.

I was in heaven until Miss Marion came in and said, “Excuse me, Eddie. Vernie is here for you.”

I had forgotten about Uncle Vernie this whole time. “I have to go, but I appreciate you showing me this.”

“My pleasure. Good luck!” said Scotty.

“I’ll walk you out,” Elvis said.

“Goodbye, good meeting you all.” I said as I waved back to the men.

Vernie was waiting for me in the office and immediately extended his hand to Elvis. “Hi there, Elvis. Good to see you again. We seen your picture in the paper and heard you on the radio. You’re a real good singer.”

“Thank you, thank you very much for the nice compliment.”

“Sorry I took so long. I was looking at the studio,” I said.

“That’s fine. Just came in to get a peek myself.”

“Well, Elvis, it was great to see you. I had a super time,” I said.

Elvis turned to Marion, who was sitting at her desk. “Miss Marion, have you got the camera handy?”

“Yes, I do, right here in my desk.”

“Come on, you and me, Junior.” Elvis put his arm on my shoulder and we smiled for the camera.

“I gotta get back to the guys, but it was special to see you again.”

“Same here. See you ‘round,” I said.

Elvis waved and walked backed into the studio.

“Eddie, be sure to come by in about three weeks to pick up the photo. I should have this roll finished and developed by then.”

“I sure will, Miss Marion.”

Pepsi Cola vending machine on display at Sun.

 

Original Photography by Margarita R. Kurtz, 2013.
Apr 252013
 

BW-Sun alternate entrance

The following Tuesday, I finished work at the same time as Uncle Vernie so we were going to head home together. I thought I’d take a chance at finding Elvis at the studio since Miss Marion hadn’t been sure about the time.

“Hey, can we pass by the studio over here?”

“But you don’t have your guitar with you.”

“Not to record. Just wanna ask a question.”

“Oh, OK. I’ll wait for you outside and have a smoke.”

I walked in and Miss Marion, who was watering her plants, turned when she heard the door. She placed the water can on her desk and came toward me.

“Hi there,” she said.

“Hello, Miss Marion. You remember me?”

“Yes, I do. But sorry, the studio isn’t available right now. I wish you would’ve called so you wouldn’t waste a trip over here.”

“Oh, no, I’m not ready to record yet. Remember, I said I might stop by …”

“Oh, yes.  Well, you’re in luck. Elvis is here.”

“That’s great. I would like to say hey if I’m not interrupting.”

“I’m sure that would be fine. We’re still waiting on another musician. I’ll go get him for you.” She walked to the door and then looked back at me. “Sorry, your name again?”

“Eddie.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Well, actually…tell him it’s Junior from Wonder Bread. He’ll know.”

“Whatever you say.” She smiled and walked into the studio area. I stepped closer to the window and saw Elvis from behind and three other men standing around. He turned around when Marion came close to him, and I saw him laugh after she told him I was there. I walked toward the door to meet him.

“Junior, what a surprise!” Elvis shook my hand and patted me on the back.

“Glad I caught you here. I’ve been listening to you on the radio. I’m excited for you.”

“Thanks. That’s right; we saw each other before all this craziness.”

“I bet you’re very busy these days, getting famous and all.”

Elvis blushed. “Oh, I’m just having a good time.”

“You’re a good singer. Me and my folks went to see your first concert back in July.”

“That’s real nice of you to say. So, what’d you think of the show?”

“I thought you were great. But older folks were shocked to see you and your pants go wild.”

“Boy, Junior, I was so nervous.” He wiped his forehead as if  in relief that the nerve-racking first performance was over.  “I couldn’t even stand on my own two feet. I tell ya, my insides were shakin’… like… like a leaf on a tree.”

“Leaf on a tree, huh? Hadn’t heard that before. Maybe you should write a song and use that line.”

“Not a bad idea. But I’ll make it about a girl and not my nerves.”

“Well, keep up your shakin’ because the chicks sure loved it.”

“Maybe I should take some dance lessons,” he said this as if he was actually considering it.  “You know, so I’m not all shook up every time I’m on stage.”

This guy sure had a wild energy, even off the stage; he just couldn’t keep still. He kept on switching his footing and adjusting his shirt.

Elvis signaled to the window leading to the studio. “We’re gonna be working on a few songs tonight. You’ll hear them on the radio soon, I hope.”

“I’m sure I will.”

“Don’t know what they are yet, but these cats are professionals and I’m awfully lucky to be working with them.” He passed his fingers through his slicked back hair. Then he wiped his hand on his black baggy pants. “Boy, my hair’s got a mind of its own. I have to start buying the good stuff.”

“That’s why I keep mine short, otherwise it’ll be …”

“Like mine?”

We both laughed.

“Exactly. Maybe I’ll start growing sideburns instead,” I teased.

“Copy cat,” said Elvis as he gave me a fake punch on my shoulder. “Still playing guitar?”

“Yep. I actually got a new one, a semi-acoustic.”

“That’s great! Keep it up. Stick to your dream, you know.”

Miss Marion came back into the office and finished tending to her plants.

“Well, I don’t want to interrupt your work. I just wanted to say hey.”

“That’s all right, Junior.” Elvis stood next to me and put his left arm over my shoulder. “Hey, Miss Marion, what do you think? Cousins or brothers?”

“I’d say brothers.”

 

Orignal Photgraphy by Margarita R. Kurtz, 2013.
Apr 212013
 

Elvis began an eight-week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with “All Shook Up.” It went on to be the biggest selling single of 1957, selling over two million copies.

In 1964, “Good Luck Charm” spent two weeks at No.1 on the US singles chart. It was Presley’s fifth US No.1 of the 60’s. “Good Luck Charm” was also a No.1 hit in the UK .