Born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935 Elvis Aaron Presley began his career in Memphis, Tennessee and was on a fast track to become the King of Rock n Roll. He is considered one of the most significant figures of the 20th century.
He had a 149 songs to appear on Billboard’s Hot 100 Pop Chart in America. Our mom has been a life-long fan of Elvis and even got to see him perform in Las Vegas one of the 1st nights he was there in 1969. He was a special artist to our mom in ways that only fans of the 1950’s - 70’s could understand, so we dedicate this episode to you mom….
In celebration of Sun Records (the first record company Elvis ever recorded with) hitting their 70th birthday this year, we are doing a Sun Records giveaway!
THE PRIZE includes:
- one test pressing vinyl (picked at random)
- one official Sun 70th vinyl (one of our four curated compilations)
- one Sun t-shirt
Follow us @SteelMagnoliasPodcast to enter to win!
"Elvis Word for Word" - https://amzn.to/3RBzuLD
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Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935, Elvis Aaron Presley began his career in Memphis, Tennessee, and was on a fast track to become the King of rock and roll. He is considered one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. He had 149 songs appear on the Billboard Top 100 pop chart. Our mom has been a lifelong fan of Elvis, and even got to see him perform in Las Vegas one of the first nights he was there in 1969. He was a special artist to our mom in ways that only fans of the 50s to 70s could understand. So we dedicate this episode to you, mom.
I'm Lainie. And I'm Laura Beth. And we are Steel Magnolias, the strength of steel with the grace of a magnolia.
We are here to have uplifting conversations about life in the South and we've got plenty of room at our table, so pull up a chair.
We sold out on our very first day of ticket sales for our first ever live podcast recording event! I can't even believe it. I can't believe it, but I can believe it. I'm just thrilled. I'm so excited. So many of you guys are coming and we just can't wait. It's gonna be so great. October 30, We get to see so many of your faces. And we have a fun giveaway today. Yes, totally separate from that. So, keep listening to this episode for details at the very end for our Sun records giveaway.
Okay, so back to that intro 149 on the Billboard 100- 149. Yes. Unbelievable. And 114 of those were top 40 and 40 of those were in the top 10 and 18 of those were number one. Wow. That's incredible. His number one singles spent a total of 80 weeks at number one. You could probably even guess some of these, but Heartbreak Hotel, Don’t be cruel, Hound Dog, Love Me Tender, All shook Up, Jailhouse rock and Let me be your teddy bear. Our mom loved that one. Well, she loved all of the above. Anything he sung, she loved it. Let's face it, when he was in his prime- I'm sorry, Is there anybody better looking? Not many.
And you're you're saying in prime, That would be? 1957! I was gonna say 57-64. I don't know. Kind of guessing in there. Yeah. And in that military uniform when he was in the army. That comes to mind. Okay, well anyhow.
We're just giving a picture to what the teenage girls experienced in those years. I can't imagine the charisma that came off of that stage. Especially when people didn't shake the way he did. Yeah, like that was like scandalous.
Well, but let's talk just about the shake just for a second. It was nerves. He was young you guys some of it was he moved it into part of his routine. But the initial jitters, he
was a very shy person. They weren't real people don't realize that either.
Yeah, yeah, he had the passion. But then in terms of the onstage presence, because he had never even really performed publicly. I read the he'd been a part of a variety show in high school. So that put him on stage a little bit, but even then, I bet he wasn't on there by himself or as the main focal point so true. So it wasn't until that appearance in the Memphis Shell that we visited. Yes that that was considered the first ever public Yeah, sir. Yeah, whatever. Well, let's go even further back. So if people are big Elvis fans, they already know this but if you're not or you know you're younger, he was a twin. I think people forget this. I forget it.
And his twin brother was stillborn. So yeah, but I thought it was interesting. His parents decided to spell his name Elvis and his middle name Aron. Oh, I didn't know that. And that was so it would match the twin brothers named Jesse Garon. So they wanted them to be have middle names that were rhyming okay. And looked similar. But Elvis actually preferred The biblical spelling of the name, Aaron and sometime in the year before his death, he decided to legally change his name.
Oh, maybe that's why I haven't known that, because I have seen on his grave that it is Aaron.
Let's go back to some growing up days. Well, I found a really cool article on History Channel. So Elvis was born on January 8,1935 in the two room house, his parents two room house in Tupelo. Wow. East Tupelo, Mississippi. And like I said, the twin brother was stillborn. So he was buried in just a little unmarked grave, you know, right down the road. But Elvis spoke of his twin throughout his life. Even though he grew up as an only child in the very poor family. His father, Vernon worked a series of odd jobs, and in 1938, he was sentenced to three years in prison for forging a $4 check. He spent less than a year behind bars. And anyway, the Presley's in 1948 moved from Tupelo to Memphis in search of better opportunities. And boy, was that a good move to get Elvis where he needed to be. He attended Humes High School, where he failed a music class. Oh my gosh. He was considered quiet and an outsider. I've never heard that he failed a music class. Wow.
He graduated in 1953 becoming the first member of the immediate family to earn a high school diploma. Wow. And after graduation, he worked at a machinist shop and drove a truck before launching his music career with the July 1954 recording of That's All Right.
Okay, so yeah, so let's talk about influences. You've you've painted the picture that he really didn't come from a musical family. He came from a very poor family that were sound like probably very hard workers that tried to just make ends meet. But do you remember when we visited the National Museum for African American music here in Nashville? Yes, they had a section in all different genres of music that showed you, it was so cool. It was so cool. The technology in the museum is unreal. But it showed you you could you know, touch the person in that genres name. And it would it would show you who they were influenced by who their peers were, and who they went on to influence. Yes. I mean, that is some cool technology. It was like a web. You could just keep touching people who influence who who was appear to who. So when you think about Elvis, he was influenced by pop and country music of the time. The gospel music he heard in church the all night gospel music he heard in, like in tent revival settings, the black r&b that he absorbed in Memphis on Beale Street and in different bars and places where music was being made. That's quite a melting pot, for sure. And you know what's interesting? He actually had hits in different realms like that. I mean, he had country and gospel. Yeah, and, you know, lots of different genres. He wasn't just pop. Yeah, I think most people think of him as pop. I thought it was interesting that the only he's had 14 I believe it was Grammy nominations. Okay, but only three wins and they were all gospel. Yes, yes. I thought that was really interesting. Yeah, it is interesting. So yeah. So when you think about influences, he's got a huge melting pot that then when you also think of peers. I mean, he had some good ones. He had Jerry Lee Lewis, he had Little Richard, he had BB King, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash like, again, are the people that are his peers. And then if you want to even go on to say, Who did he influence? The world- Every musician in some way, shape or form.
So I'm continually amazed when you're in sightseeing places, you know, where there's lots of tourist, how many Asians there are? Like literally just because there are so many in our world. Sure. Like, in America, it might not be a huge percentage, but with the worldwide population. Yes, so there's so many Asians at Graceland.
Well, let me talk on worldwide reach just for a second. Okay. So if you got to see the Elvis movie that came out this year in 2022, then you got to sort of see or be reminded that Elvis didn't leave the United States for touring. He wanted to, well it was that whole stinker manager. I’ll get to him in just a second. So if you haven't seen Elvis the movie is locally here. It's still in theaters. I don't know where you live, but it could even be still in the theaters where you're the closest to you. So check that out. It's a must see, but it's it's a biographical musical drama by Baz Luhrmann. And it focuses mostly on this complex, dysfunctional relationship between Elvis and his manager, who's played by Tom Hanks, Colonel Tom Parker. Tom Hanks. I mean, can he do any wrong? I know but I am not used to seeing him as a bad guy though.
I'd never really thought about, you know, the worldwide reach that Elvis had minus never been a worldwide touring artist. You might say that Germany probably heard him sing on their soil since he was stationed there from October 1958 to March 1960. He was serving as a soldier in the US Army there. And I read he was prohibited from actually performing during service. Okay. I don't know if that's still a rule today. But you know, he found some time to sing for others informally, right? Because he was music making at the time. Yeah. So I think, you know, maybe it's a stretch to think of him being, you know, a performer over there in Germany. Maybe not though. The town of Freedberg near Frankfurt, where Elvis served has an Elvis Square. They have three traffic lights featuring the king image as the crosswalk sign like a green silhouette of Elvis shaking his hips. I'm gonna hold up a sign. So like imagine this you know, sort of pose of the hips shot out that's the green go and then it goes red and he stops and goes back to the mic. That is adorable. So that's been installed and in nearby, I don't really know how to say this…maybe Bad Nauheim, where he actually lived while in Germany, you can attend the annual European Elvis Festival and see a bronze statue of him 45 years after his death, European fans are still maybe even worldwide, fans are still making a pilgrimage to pay respects even though it's not where he died even. It's just the only real place that he set foot outside the US where they care any given time. And so it's kind of their only place to pay or have a pilgrimage location. That's actually where he met Priscilla. Yeah, while he was serving. She was only 14 at the time, but I think it was about seven years later. They ended up getting married. But it's estimated that 40% of Elvis Presley records have been sold outside the United States. I saw that too. Unbelievable.
So you mentioned the Colonel Tom Parker.
He is a stifled him. But here's what's so interesting. Not in the opinion of 1956 Elvis because I read an interview. There's this great book, I'll put a mention of it in our show notes. It's called Elvis Word for Word, what he said exactly how he said it. Okay. It's interviews and look at that smile. Word for word interviews. I love this because you can't take it out of context, you know, context and write a story and it's
just word for word. So yeah, but that's a pretty young Elvis. He was born.
I know. I know. Yeah. Yeah. So manipulated. He was being this 1956 question. He was asked about what kind of advice Tom Parker, Colonel Tom Parker gives him. An Elvis response, everything. In other words, he's the one guy that really gave me my break. In other words, I don't think I don't know for sure. I don't think I ever I've ever been very, I would have ever been very big. If it wasn't for him. He's a very smart man. So he is 21 at that time, right? Yes, that is so perplexing. That he had it in him because he was Elvis was special.
He was so special. I mean, I remember when we did our tour of Sun Records. And they were talking about that Sam Phillips was away and the Secretary and co owner was so like, covered in chills just by his presence and she went ahead and let him record. Yeah.
So let me tell that story because that was really interesting.It really stood out to me that she knew he was special right when he came in the door.
Yes. So this was interesting. So Elvis was a mama's boy. For sure. He very much cared about his mom's opinion of things. Almost maybe a little unhealthyish, soul tie maybe. But that is a whole other story.
Okay, so yeah, in 1953. So he's, what18 years old? Elvis walks into the Memphis recording service. That's what it was called. It's home of Sun Records in Memphis. And he records the song, My Happiness. Okay, everybody thinks it was. That's all right. That was the first real record. That was the first so the first actual time he set foot in Sun Records as the Memphis recording service. He goes into record My Happiness, because he wants to make a gift for his mom. Yes, he just wanted to have something you get to leave with a record to show her to give her have him singing. It's like the version of you know, customizing anything today. I mean, it's just like so special to give your mom something with the you made or your name on it. So, as you mentioned, Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, he was not in the studio that day. And Presley was helped by Phillips assistant, Marion Keisker. So Presley goes in he sings the ballads My Happiness, which was the A side if you're familiar with vinyl this is all ringing a bell. And then the B-side was a song called, That's When your Heartache Begins. After the record was cut, the assistant wrote Presley's name and phone number down and jotted a note that said he was a good ballad singer. So for $4 Elvis leaves with the 78 rpm record, meant as a gift for his mother, Gladys. And actually, as the story goes, he stopped at a friend's house to listen to that record, and he left it there. So that was one version I heard.
It was kept in a safe and auctioned off in 2015. That's not too long ago for $300,000 Oh, my Gosh. Okay, but let's jump back into son records for a minute. So in 1954, a year later, is when he began his singing career with the legendary Sun Records label in Memphis. So you had mentioned that it was that assistant that was like, hey, this guy's good, like we should have him in. And so Sam Phillips calls Elvis into the studio to try singing a song. Sam hopes to put on a record the song, Without You, is the title and Elvis actually didn't sing it to Sam Phillips satisfaction level to begin with. So long story short, Elvis gets teamed up with some local musicians, Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on bass. And that later became his band that he toured with and that he was on the Louisiana Hayride with which was the live Saturday night country music show, originating in Shreveport, Louisiana. And he became a part of that show and was kind of locked into a contract there. It was good exposure for him so great on the front end of things, but then kind of started limiting him because He couldn't really get very far away from Shreveport to do other shows. Right? So he stayed on a regional Louisiana and Texas in terms of in person visits, but I mean, that record was being played everywhere. And that record being, That's All Right, which he was the song that I think everyone thinks was his first ever song. It technically was it was his first hit so well. And another thing is that I thought was interesting was Elvis recorded more than 600 songs, but he did not write any of them.
Oh, that is interesting. Well, I think it's always interesting, you know, the naysayers on the front end because you know, they're all come back to claim you later. Right. That's so true. But I don't know if a lot of people have heard that his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry did not go did not go well. The Grand Ole Opry would have been considered a competitor to that Louisiana hayride show because they're both kind of in person, or they're both radio focused. The Grand Ole Opry was carried by 190 stations in 13 states and so at this much, much bigger, yeah, but it's still you know, I guess they still considered the Louisiana hayride a competitor. Anyway, so yeah, he he did not do well, and I can't remember if I put down I feel like somebody told him like not to, like your day job or back to the electric company or something. I think that's something was said to him. That was yeah, like you Yeah, don't don't come back. So I think it's also interesting, but we'll move off of son records here in a minute. But Sam Phillips did go on just a year later to sell the Elvis contract. So in late 1965, his recording contract was sold to RCA that was negotiated by Colonel Parker. The sale included. Elvis’s five Sun singles and his unreleased Sun material. The price of the sale was $40,000. That was unprecedented at the time. That sounds so low to me, though, like I'm sure it was high, then. Yeah, but yeah, unprecedented. Elvis got a $5,000 bonus. But here's what's interesting. Any small business owner out there, I believe you will relate to this. Sam Phillips, according to some of his children that I've heard speak about that sale. I mean, maybe he felt like it was a backed into a corner situation. I don't know I wasn't there. But in some ways, he wanted to do it because he wanted money to put into his business. He was this was a very, very new business that he was starting. He had dreams of growth, many artists. And that kind of a sale, being put into your business allows you to dream and do things. And it’s easy to I think that was stupid. But yeah, I think as a small business owner, you see you don't get to draw money out very early on, you have to continue putting more money, more money into the business. And so otherwise, it basically stays a lemonade stand. You know, it's kind of annoying. Good point. We're learning that about our podcast. But anyway, Sun Records was a huge part of his upbringing and the foundation of his career. So got his
first single for RCA was Heartbreak Hotel, that released in 1956, and became the first of his career to sell more than 1 million copies.
So that there again, Sam Phillips going so was I holding him back like what? You know, I mean, I don't know. That's incredible, though. These, these are numbers too that are hard to imagine in today's music, because of all the access we have to streaming and the population increase. Think about the population was so much less than two. Yeah. So to hit numbers like that. Yeah. It's affecting a higher percentage of people. Right, you see what I'm saying? Right, exactly.
Well, and then shortly after that in 1957, at just age 22, he bought Graceland. Well, he was only 22. Isn't that crazy to think about buying an estate like that? At 22. No. So again, in 1957, this would have been a lot of money, but $102,500 That's what he bought it for. Yeah, no way. 14 acres. That house was, you know, it was already built the Yeah, was already there by Dr. Thomas Moore and his wife, Ruth. Okay. And so yeah. Wow. It was named Graceland in honor of the original owner's daughter, Grace. Okay. And so anyhow, he purchased that. And he did do a number of updates to the property over the years that he owned it, including the addition of the music themed iron entrance gates that you can
Yeah, you know, see pictures, music notes all over. Yeah.
The indoor waterfall and racquetball building and anyway, just amazing.
Graceland is incredible. It is? Well, Elvis, it was Elvis, his home for 20 years. Yeah. So I mean, it is pretty cool to think about the amount of life he had there from 22 to 42. Yeah, and literally died there. Yeah. Did you know it's the second most visited historical home in the US after the White House or the White House? Wow. They earn about 10 million annually.
Well, in 2006, George W. Bush became the first sitting US president to visit Graceland. He traveled there with the Japanese Prime Minister. I'm not going to even be able to pronounce his name. That's fine. But we believe that Japanese Prime Minister was a die hard Elvis fan. Again. the influence was vast. But yeah, very well worth seeing, whether you're an Elvis fan or not. That is what I was about to say, you don't have to be an Elvis fan to be able to enjoy that property. And I mean, they have his plane, that might be additional fee. Do it all, it's all incredible. If you have to pick just do the house. And he's buried there. Yes, yeah.
Well, we've mentioned a lot about his music career, but it wasn't even just a music career. He starred in 31 feature films. I thought it was like four beach films if you would have asked me at the onset of this. I had no idea. And two theatrically released concert documentary films. Wow. Yeah, for a number of years. He was one of Hollywood's top box office draws, one of the highest paid actors. And he wanted to be this was all well, he wanted serious filmmaker. And he didn't ever get that. Sad, because yeah, he probably could have done so much more. No, he wanted to be James Dean. That was who he wanted to be. Yeah. Yeah. But he he did it wasn't that I sometimes I think, oh, like, why would somebody put him in television and take him away from music? Have you seen that face?!? Well, that's true. That's true. Let's reach as many people as we can and television that's selling tickets right there. I mean, let's be
real. Well, some of his top selling music came from his movies. 11 of his motion picture soundtracks went to the top 10. Okay, and of those four went to number one. So the soundtrack for GI Blues in 1960 was number one on the Billboard Top 100 album for 10 weeks. Wow. And the album from Blue Hawaii was number one for 20 weeks. I'm pretty sure mom had that one. Blue Hawaii. Yeah, I think so. I think they just replayed that at the theater here to celebration of him. Elvis week. Yeah. Well, and there's so much more money to be made in television and film a lot of times. And so as soon as he started television to Yeah, as he started getting on this trajectory, you know, you start seeing money and start putting your efforts where the money is. He did three
network television specials as well. Oh, yeah. They so yeah. Elvis in 1968. Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii via satellite in 1973. And Elvis in concert in1977.
Wow. Well, way before those numbers, I do think a lot of people remember you know, the hip shaking saga.That was Ed Sullivan. Yes. So I again, I don't know I love putting people in their place with statements they make but I think it is pretty funny to think Ed Sullivan had once said he would never have this controversial singer on his top rated show. But that was the week before Elvis his appearance on Steve Allen and the Steve Allen show when they had Elvis on surpassed all of Sullivan's ratings. Sullivan then, pays Elvis $50,000 to make three appearances on his show, which at the time was more money than any performer had ever been paid to appear on any variety program. So Elvis goes on to make his appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. And he says I wanted to say to Elvis and the country, that this is a real decent fine boy. It was on this very same Sullivan appearance that Elvis was shown on camera from the waist up only one of the early television history's most memorable moments.
So funny. And because I was talking about percentage of population Yeah, then and stuff listen to these figures. 60 million people saw that, more than 80% of the TV viewing audience tuned in to that show. You can't get that number anywhere today.
Ain’t no Super Bowl pulling that kind of numbers, like percentage wise. I am not talking about just numbers. Unreal. Wow. That's crazy.
Well, Hawaii was definitely a place where I I felt like it was a place of refuge for him. He got to do some films and stuff there. But you can't talk about Elvis without turning and talking about just the sad the downward spiral. Yeah, the the hardness of it all. I'm, I'm grateful that faith does seem to have played a role in his early years and then circled back into his last years. In that book I mentioned earlier that with all the interviews, you know, he spent many years in the Las Vegas Hilton doing shows there so much so he had like a suite that he lived in. Yeah, and that Hilton. And that's the Las Vegas building that our parents saw this show. Yeah. But you know, he was lonely and well we're what is sad, sad, it all sounds so glamorous, but it's not it's a lonely lonely thing and you definitely see this in some of the writings that they found of him and this was December 1976. So this was what about eight months or so from when he died at Graceland, but I mean things like this is what he wrote. I will be glad when this engagement is over. I need some rest from all of this, but I can't stop, I won't stop. Maybe I'll take everyone to Hawaii for a while. Others notes said these are just little jotting down on like napkins. I don't know who I can talk to anymore nor who to turn to I only have myself and the Lord. Help me Lord to know the right thing. I wish there was someone I could trust and talk to prayer is my only salvation now I feel lost sometimes be still and know I am God feel me within before you know I am there. So yeah, I'm grateful that there were like seedlings it sounds like of just because even I mean he's just literally like gonna quoting Scripture as he's writing sad things. It sounds like there was the instilled scriptures or things that he knew to be true. In the shaking, he still kind of knew the solid. But he was Yeah. Well, he was pushed and you just can't, physically, emotionally, spiritually, nobody can keep up with the demand that was on that. But I do believe that even you know, those seeds of his faith showed up in his generosity in life. He was known as being so generous, not just with the people he knew, but people that he barely knew. I mean, waitresses, and that's when it gets fun. Right? That's when it I mean, though, amazing. We're talking about buying Graceland at 22. But he also gave away an estimated 200 Cadillacs. Wow. On one single day, he purchased 32 Cadillacs and had given them all the way by the afternoon. Cadillacs, you know, not expensive leather jackets or guitars, Cadillacs. Wow. Yeah. Probably the best day of his life. Right. Right. Getting to be that generous. So, in addition to Cadillacs, he also gave away jewelry and cash to friends and strangers. He purchased FDRs presidential yacht in 1964. He paid 55,000 for it, and later donated that to St. Jude’s Hospital, there in Memphis. Wow. And they sold the vessel to raise money. And then he also did several benefit concerts. In fact, I loved this, and of course he had been in the military, so that would be important to him. But one performance that he did in 1961 generated more than $50,000 toward the completion of the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii. Work on that project had been paused because they didn't have the money. And so that was kind of a a monument for Pearl Harbor. Yeah. Pearl Harbor. Yeah. So anyway, the funds for the concert he did that 50,000 was able to progress that project. So Wow. I think he had an incredible heart. I think he was an incredible man. And there's so much that's been written, filmed, documented about him. I mean, if you're an Elvis fan, it's endless the amount of resources that you can find to try and get to know more about him in the short 42 years that we had him here. It's wild to think about, even just in pondering how controversial that Ed Sullivan performance was,. The plumb line, how it's fallen now. Like that little hip shake is nothing compared to what's going on TV now.
Yeah, you know, well, we mentioned Sun records earlier. That was definitely a monumental place for Elvis and Sun is celebrating their 70th birthday this year. So we're actually going to do a Sun records giveaway I wanted to mention that and the prize is awesome. I guess I don’t qualify, huh?
So they are releasing at least one A new vinyl per month. That's cool. And they're selling Limited Edition collector boxes which come with an exclusive t shirt. And then a box you can fill with your favorite Sun records. But we on our Instagram account are going to be giving away one test pressing vinyl that will be picked at random. This is all one grand prize, one official Sun 70th vinyl that's curated, like a curated compilation, and then a Sun t shirt. So you're gonna get two vinyls and the son t shirt as the prize. Those are all collector's items. And we'll have that up on our Instagram to enter to win that this week. So look for that. Happy Birthday Sun. Yeah. 70 is no small feat. They've seen a lot of artists on their roster, some big ones.
Okay, well- Rest in peace, Elvis and Peace be with you, Laura Beth… thank you and also with ya’ll.