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Presley, Elvis Aaron (8th January 1935-16th August 1977)

He was a singer-songwriter and actor, later often referred to as “The King”, born as the survivor of identical twins in Tupelo, Mississippi, in a house with just two rooms that was built by his father.  His father was a truck driver and sharecropper, his mother was a sewing machinist and his brother’s name was Jesse Garon. Constantly living “just above the poverty line” they lost their home after his father was jailed for check forgery, and the children at school would constantly bully him after this, which added to his stuttering.

Singing from a very young age though, he entered a singing contest when he was ten and sang “Old Shep” while standing on a chair to reach the microphone and won second prize. When he was 11 he was bought a guitar, instead of the rifle he had really wanted, and this would start him out on a musical career that no-one would ever have imagined.  When he was 13 the family moved to a public housing development in Memphis, Tennessee, where he would play with a five-piece band made up of other tenants and practice in the basement.

He would also sing in cafes and bars and even in the local fire station according to Johhny Burnette, who was also a resident in the same housing scheme.  He worked after school to assist with the income and at the same time bought himself clothes from the famous Beale Street and grew sideburns and was constantly mocked for it.

In 1952 he would be applauded more than any other performer in the Annual Minstrel Show of his school’s ROTC, but rather than moving straight into music when he left school he took on jobs such as truck driving.

Influenced by every kind of music imaginable from country, blues, soul and gospel to orchestral and opera, he knew all of Hank Snow’s songs before he was a teenager and was also a big fan of Dean Martin and Mario Lanza.  In July 1953 he went to the Sun Recording Company, now Sun Records, and recorded his first demo for the price of $3.98.  It was “My Happiness” and “That’s When the Heartaches Begin” and he gave it to his mother as a belated present for her birthday.  He didn’t go back there until the January of 1954, when he would record another demo and after that he auditioned for two groups, but both declined to use him.

Sam Phillips called him back to Sun Records though and asked Bill Black and Winfield “Scotty” Moore to audition him.  They were not overly enthused by him but agreed to him doing a studio session and during that session in July 1954 Elvis was having a muck about during a break and began singing “That’s All Right (Mama)” and then Black and Moore joined him and the sound Sam Philips was looking for emerged and they recorded the song there and then along with several others.  The demo was taken to WHBQ in Memphis and a week later “That’s All Right (Mama)” became the first recording by Elvis heard on radio.  A week after that, Sun Records was deluged with 6000 advanced orders for the single which had “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the B-Side, and that would actually become the more popular song out of the two.

This was the beginning of a professional recording and performing career and Bill Black and Scotty Moore gave up their positions in another band so they could accompany him.  Still in July of that year they were performing as The Blue Moon Boys as a support band before Slim Whitman and this was when Elvis accidentally began his individual “style” that would later make him be banned on camera from the waist down by Ed Sullivan.  Basically he was so nervous about the show that his legs shook so much that they made his trousers shake and sent the girls in the crowd into a frenzy.  He later made sure that he used this leg trembling to his advantage and adapted it and added it to all of his appearances.

He would soon appear at the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, where Hank Snow introduced him and apparently someone is supposed to have said “Boy, you’d better keep driving that truck”.  He would once again join his hero Hank Snow under contract to the Hank Snow Attractions and their manager Colonel Tom Parker would also become Elvis’ from then on.

In 1955 he was signed to RCA Victor from Sun Records for $35,000 which was unprecedented at the time and in 1956 he made his first TV appearances on the Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show.  In 1957 RCA released his first single with them, “Heartbreak Hotel” and within weeks it had jumped to No. 1 on the charts and sold a million copies.  That same year he would also release his first album “Elvis Presley”.

In April of 1956 he began an affair with Las Vegas that would last his lifetime but this initial two-week booking where he was billed as the “Atomic Powered Singer” was not well received at all.  Here though, he would see “Hound Dog” be performed and decided to take it into his own act and eventually it would be yet another No. 1 single for him.  When performing the song on The Steve Allen Show, The Jordinaires accompanied him and they would soon be recording with him and accompanying him one many of his future songs right until the end of the 1960s.

Such was his popularity at this time that he was signed up by Hollywood and he released the film Love Me Tender.  This would later be followed by many others, making a total of 33, including Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Kissin’ Cousins and Blue Hawaii.  In 1957 he bought his mansion Graceland to afford him more privacy from the huge army of fans that were soaking up all of his hits such as “Teddy Bear”, “Don’t Be Cruel” and  ” All Shook Up”.  Also in 1957 he was drafted into the army and was posted to Germany where he declined receiving any special treatment and also where he would become proficient in karate and was suspected of starting to take amphetamines after having being introduced to them by a sergeant.  He would be honourably discharged after the death of his mother in 1960.

In 1967 he would marry Priscilla Beaulieu after having met her when she was 14 in Germany.  The marriage would produce their daughter Lisa-Marie but sadly ended in divorce in 1973. During the 60s he would continue to churn out memorable hits and movies such as GI Blues and “It’s Now Or Never” and after some deemed that his career was slowing down he began appearing in Las Vegas in 1969.  These appearances were constantly sold-out, as were his ensuing national tours.

He met with the President Richard Nixon in 1970 and it is claimed that he said that “The Beatles had come to this country, made their money, then gone back to England where they fomented anti-American feeling” and also is supposed to have said he would “infiltrate hippy groups”.  It is reported that Nixon was “uncertain and bemused”.  The acclaimed documentary Elvis: That’s The Way It Is was made in 1970 and he continued touring to as much acclaim as ever.

In 1972 he had his last US Top 10 hit with “Burning Love” and after divorcing in 1973 he was seen to take a downward turn where he took large amounts of prescription drugs, became obese and isolated himself from the outside world.  However, obviously still having what it took, he was awarded a Grammy Award for “How Great Thou Art” in 1974 and continued to tour and release records.  His interest waned in the studio though and his final stage appearances saw him covered in make-up and wearing white suits covered with diamante.

In 1976 and 1977 there were shows that he couldn’t even get out of bed for and they lasted no more than an hour if he did manage to appear.  He was also becoming paranoid about all kinds of things including people, events and germs, and would hide himself away in his room.  He made his last appearance on stage in Indianapolis on 26th June 1977 and was set to start a new tour on the 17th August.  However, on the 16th August his fiancee, Ginger Alden, discovered him lying on the floor in his bathroom and he was pronounced dead at 3:30pm that day in the Baptist Memorial Hospital at the young age of 42.  It is thought it was from a possible overdose of prescription drugs and heart attack, although this has been questioned on several occasions.

No matter what we think of Elvis, and the fact that he was accused of being a threat to young women’s moral well-being, called a “savage” by a Florida judge, accused of his music being “deplorable and a rancid smelling aphrodisiac” by Frank Sinatra and accused of inciting juvenile delinquency and being “overtly racist”, he was a force to be reckoned with throughout the world with everyone knowing his name and the legacy of songs, movies and awards he left behind him proves him to have been more than just a “hillbilly cat” or a something and nothing.

Mike Berry Recordings
Don’t Be Cruel (Otis Blackwell/Elvis Presley)