Banner at Graceland…Memphis, TN 2015

Here is the first of a probable series of short pieces offering you snippets of information and confidently presented checklists for those readers who have current collections of Elvis tunes and want to update the ‘50s section.

          Elvis Presley, dead or alive, still has us dancing in the streets. In the 1950s, Elvis was very much alive and, some say he still is. It certainly seems like it in Memphis. When we are celebrating his birthday in January or mourning his alleged demise in steamy August, Memphis is very much an Elvis kind of town, with toe-tapping Elvis music blaring from doorways, loudspeakers and cell phones. At those times, there are thousands of Elvis worshippers and impersonators sharing themselves with us residents and with each other. It would be difficult to recognize Elvis if, indeed, he was strolling down the street with Colonel Parker doing good deeds and, like the rest of us, looking his age (which would be close to the same as mine).

 2.Memphis residents

Memphis Residents visiting Graceland, 2015

          One time, not realizing how an Elvis Day could clog downtown Memphis, I found myself walking along Beale Street. ‘Lo and behold, right there wedged among the rest of us was a shirtless man with a much larger than life Elvis face tattooed right on his rather nice shaved chest. It is not likely that it was Elvis himself redundantly defacing his chest with his own face. I do not know this for sure because while I stood there suppressing a drool, he kept walking and, before I could do any closer research and perhaps get a quote from him or a shirtless interview to share – maybe with pictures – he was gone from me and I haven’t seen him since. However, while a shirtless Elvis impersonator story could be very interesting here, it is not happening just yet.

          I’ll be taking you on a tour of Early Elvis, mostly in the 1950s and, for you dedicated Elvis fans, giving you a fairly good checklist of the tunes and albums that you have in your own collection, or that you may want to rush out and buy so you can pretend you had them all along.

3.It's Good to be King

 “It’s Good to be The King” Art Opening at LRoss Gallery, www.LRossGallery.com  Aug 7, 2015

           To help you sound like a real Elvis fan, even if you are just getting started, I am going to give you lists of songs that you can mention when you find yourself among seasoned Elvis experts and it is your turn to talk. Believe me, if you ever come to Memphis, that is going to happen to you and you are going to thank me. So go ahead and print out this list and subsequent lists of songs and put them in your pocket. Then, when you are feeling Elvis-impaired at a Memphis gathering, you can excuse yourself and review the tune titles in the restroom.

          Elvis Aaron Presley had a phenomenal rise to fame. In less than two years he went from truck driver to singing sensation. Not bad for a Memphis boy born in a two-room farm house outside the little northeast Mississippi town of Tupelo. He was born January 8, 1935 and transplanted to the low-rent district of north Memphis in 1948 when he was an adolescent.

          Four dollars is what it cost to produce Elvis’ first record. It was a birthday present for his mother, Gladys. He paid for it out of the forty dollars a week paycheck he was getting for driving a truck – his first job out of high school. He paid Sun Records for two home recordings: “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.”

4.blue suede shoes

Photograph of Mixed Media piece,”Blue Suede Shoes”by Megan Hurdle at L Ross Gallery, www.LRossGallery.com

          Sam Phillips of Sun Records said that something about Elvis “stuck in the mind” of his office manager, Marian Keisker, and a year later she talked him into calling Elvis to come back and record something for them. That first attempt, a recording of a song called “Without Love” did not click with Phillips. It did not have the aboriginal sound of what Phillips referred to as the singer with the white face and black voice.

          The first official Elvis song release was “That’s All Right, Mama.” It was a mildly shocking, stormy, creatively daring (for the time) sound. On the flip side was “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Both sides of the record became hits – an unusual accomplishment in the record business.

          The second sensation was thrown to an eager, growing group of Elvis fans and record grabbers. It was “Good Rockin’ Tonight” with an old favorite with a new sound on the back: “I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine.” What followed grew exponentially. Here is a start:

1953 (Elvis recordings for his mother)

“My Happiness” and “That’s when Your Heartaches Begin”

1954: (Elvis Sun Records releases)

“Without Love” (not released at the time)

“That’s All Right, Mama” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky”

“Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine”

1955 (Elvis Sun Records releases)

“Milkcow Blues Boogie” and “You’re a Heartbreaker”

“I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” and “Baby, Let’s Play House”

“Mystery Train” and “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”

1955 (RCA Victor releases)

“Mystery Train” and “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”

“That’s All Right, Mama” and Blue Moon of Kentucky”

“Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine”

“Milkcow Blues Boogie” and “You’re a Heartbreaker”

“I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” and “Baby Let’s Play House”


“Blue Suede Shoes” Elvis with Carl Perkins

1956-1960 (more coming soon in “It’s About Early Elvis, Part II)

5.Buying a piece of Elvis

Selling a piece of Elvis at Graceland, Aug 6, 2015

                 Elvis business picked up and fan clubs increased in 1955 when Sam Phillips at Sun Records sold Elvis to RCA Victor. The rest is history and some lists of tunes that we will throw out to you in “It’s About Early Elvis, Part II.” After the 1950s, Elvis Presley had an unprecedented musical and personal journey until his sudden death at the age of forty-two. Many of his ardent fans were not even born in 1977.

          Just look at the thousands of people from nine to ninety years old, from all over the world, moving around town during Elvis Week in Memphis.

 6.George signing

George Klein signing recently purchased guitar for Mr. Israel at Graceland, Aug 6, 2015

          One Elvis fan and close friend, George “GK” Klein, showed up at Graceland signing a guitar for one of his own fans (see picture). GK was born in Memphis exactly nine months after Elvis was born in Tupelo. They met at Humes High School in Memphis and remained close friends from then until now. Thirty-eight years after Elvis’ death, Klein still celebrates his late good friend weekly on Elvis Radio, Sirius XM channel 19, and on WLFP FM. Talk about dedication.

That Elvis has still got it!

(These bits and pieces are offered to you with thanks to the late Paul McLeod, of Holly Springs, Mississippi. Paul was kind enough, back about 1980, to introduce me to his wife and his son Elvis and to give me a tour of his home. His home then was a shrine to the late Elvis Presley. There were piles of records, newspapers, books, magazines, artifacts. The furnishing and decorations in the house copied, as best as they could, the furnishings and decorations at Graceland, including Elvis’ bedroom which, at Graceland, is not always open to the public. Some of the information offered here came from Paul and his collection. Also, I offer thanks to a newspaper that no longer is in business: The Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Some bits are from an article in their November 11, 1957 edition.)

 Elvis Week 2015, Memphis, TennesseeFriday, August 7 – Sunday, August 16


Mona Sides Smith is a regular contributor to Porchscene. With sardonic humor, she shares her tongue-in-cheek views on a variety of topics.

Photos: Deborah Fagan Carpenter, shot at Graceland on August 6, 2015,  Gallery shots taken at L Ross Gallery, www.LRossGallery.com at her opening “It’s Good to be The King” on August 7, 2015, Show on view through August 29, 2015.

Header image: photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.pixaby.com on Google Images https://www.google.com/search?site, Graceland.


4 thoughts on “IT’S ABOUT EARLY ELVIS, PART I Mona Sides-Smith

  1. Gary Wright

    Great story. I hope you continue the series. There are a lot of us who just can’t get enough info about the King.

    1. Thanks, Gary. The plan is for me to continue through several more of the amazing early years of his career. The story lives on and on.

  2. Rachel Farmer

    So. Did you ever get that shirtless interview? Great story, Mona. I look forward to the next in the series

    1. Oh, Rachel, I never got that shirtless interview but I look for him around every corner. Finding Mr. Shirtless Elvis Face may be my real reason for writing this series. Perhaps he will at least send me an autographed picture of his shirtless self to share with you.

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