Jan 272014
 

1956: Elvis Presley’s single, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ was recorded just two days after Elvis’s 21st birthday and released on January 27th by RCA Records, who had just purchased his contract from Sun Records for the then astronomical sum of $35,000.

The song sold 300,000 copies in its first week and would eventually sell over a million, becoming Elvis’s first Gold record. Elvis has had 150 different albums and singles that have been certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

In 1995 “Heartbreak Hotel” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2004 Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”  Also in 2004, it was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”

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.

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 182013
 

Because of Elvis’s local success that summer, he was a frequent guest on the “Louisiana Hayride,” a live Saturday night country music radio show on KWKH. I didn’t hear his first performance, but my mother did, and a couple weeks later, he was on again and was going to be performing on there every week for a year. According to the host, this show broadcasted on almost two hundred stations in about twenty states, so I thought that would sure help Elvis become more popular outside the Memphis area.

I hadn’t run into Elvis in a while, so one afternoon after I finished my shift at Wonder Bread, I rode over to the Memphis Recording Studio. I walked in to ask if Elvis had been working on any new songs.

There was a woman sitting behind a wooden desk with a typewriter and a small black fan on it. She was on the phone and signaled to the chair in front of her desk. I sat down and looked around. There were three metal cabinets behind her; some plants were hanging down and there was a small black radio on top of one of them. To the left of the desk, there was a wide window, but from my spot, I couldn’t see what was on the other side. The nameplate on the desk read: Marion Keisker. She had blondish curly hair, almost to her shoulders, and was wearing a dark blue dress with a light brown sweater.

 

Reception Desk at Sun Studio.

“How can I help you, young man?”

I stood up. “Hello, ma’am. I’m Eddie.”

“I’m Marion.” She pointed to her nameplate and smiled.

“Nice to meet you, Miss Marion. Uh, I was wondering if the singer Elvis Presley has recorded any new songs. I’ve met him a few times, so I was just curious.”

“Interesting that you mention Elvis. While I was on the phone just now, I noticed you have quite a resemblance to him.  You’re younger, yes, but you have similar features.”

“Yeah, I’ve been hearing that lately, including from him. I like his singing and know he records here, so…”

“That’s why you’re here.”

“That’s right, Miss Marion.”

She took out a notebook from her desk drawer and scanned through some pages. “Well, I’m glad to hear you’re a fan. He’s a wonderful young man, unique in his style. As a matter of fact, I have him on the calendar for early next week. You see, he’s been on the radio show…”

“Louisiana Hayride,” I interrupted.

“Yes, exactly. And we’re thinking, I mean the producer here, wants him to get some new songs out there.”

“Glad to hear that.”

She looked me up and down, and continued, “You seem like a nice young man and as long as you don’t show up here with a herd of screaming girls, I can tell you the day.”

She waited for me to promise not to come with a fan club. “No I wouldn’t do that, Miss Marion. It would just be me, promise.”

She pointed at the day in her calendar and smiled at me. “Not sure about the time yet, haven’t confirmed all the guys, so… can’t say for sure.”

“I understand.”

I looked through the window next to her desk and could see drum cymbals right by the wall closest to us, a big microphone in the middle of the room, and in the far back, there was another window.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Well, yes. I was wondering how this recording thing works. I mean for a regular person like me.”

“It’s simple.” She stood up from her desk and pointed to the window next to her. “For three dollars and fifty cents, we will record you singing there in the studio.”

“I’ll be playing guitar and maybe singing.”

“Wonderful. So when we’re done taping, you’ll get an acetate recording of it to play at home.” She smiled and added, “And to show off to your family and friends, of course.”

“That sounds good. I still have to practice more before I do that.”

“Let me give you the number here so you can call me when you’re ready and we can make an appointment.”

She wrote the phone number and I put the paper in my pocket.

“Thank you, Miss Marion. You’ve been very helpful.”

I excitedly rode back home to start thinking about the tune I’d like to record.

ABMK_microphone2

Inside Sun Studio

Mar 282013
 

55 years ago, Elvis shed his locks after being sworn into milatary service. Off with the sideburns! Along with this haircut came a huge paycut!

Watch it here: Elvis Army Haircut

Upon Elvis’s release from the army, he immediatley returned to acting and filmed G.I. BluesG.I. Blues is a musical comedy costaring the talented Juliet Prowse.  The movie was filmed at Paramount Pictures studio with some pre-production footage on location in Germany before Presley got out of the army.  The film reached #2 on the Variety weekly national box office chart and won the Laurel Award (runner-up prize) in the category of Top Musical of 1960.

Here he is performing the title track: “G.I. Blues

Watch all the musical performances from the film, including the hit “Wooden Heart