Uncle Bill's Elvis Triliogy

Posted August 16. 2007
Uncle Bill - playguitar40@yahoo.com

Over the years I've offered these to different discussion groups. It's basically a condensed story in two parts of my Elvis memories. Enjoy:

It was May 4th, 1956, a Saturday I think. My friend Jessie and I had purchased tickets to see Elvis Presley at the Veterans Memorial in Columbus. There were two shows; we could only afford the 8:pm show. The second show was at 10:pm.

Rock & Roll permeated our lives. We ate, lived and breathed every aspect of this new cultural phenomenon, and with all the hoopla that had preceded Presley's appearance both good and bad, we were psyched. I had seen Elvis on the Dorsey Brothers television show. He had made several appearances and caused a lot of excitement. It was hard at first to figure out who and what he was. Was he "hillbilly or what?" But there was something very exciting about him. The way he looked, acted, performed, sang. The entire make up of his act was counter to what was going on at the time. In April 1956 he did the Milton Berle Show. Uncle Miltie was a no-holds barred TV comedian and his show was live and wide open. Presley seemed to like the atmosphere and just tore up the tube that night. It was a hot topic of discussion of the telephone lines the next day I can tell you. The stage was set for what was to come.

Jessie and I got to the Vet early. As usual we dressed alike, it was the cool thing to do. We liked to cruise around the lobby for the ladies and possibly spot one of the acts doing the same.

Our seats were on the main floor, left of the stage about twenty rows back. We were veterans of many R&B shows that had been coming through since the Vet opened in 1955. These were traveling shows made up of ten to twelve acts that either had hits on the charts or had past hits. A comedian as an MC and a big band toped the bill. We were lucky to have seen many of the big stars of the 50's because of these shows. The show started; there was a dance team, a juggler an animal act of some kind. We were beginning to think that it was a joke and so was the crowd. The Jordinaires came on and sang a few songs and announced an intermission. The crowd was uneasy, "What the hell had we our seven dollars for, A vaudeville show?" The first set of curtains had not closed, only the "mid" curtains. A group of men began setting up the drums and what I thought was a Premier amplifier on a chair with one of the house microphones pointed directly at it about a foot away. This was odd I thought, I hadn't seen that before. The Vet had an excellent "state of the art" sound system for those days.

An upright bass was brought out; it was brown with white trim. After about twenty minutes the lights went up and down which was the signal to those in the lobby and elsewhere that the second half was about to begin. I can remember Jessie saying that there would probably be an elephant act next.

When the lights went down for the last time, one of the Jordinaires came out to do the introduction. It was the small skinny one. In the mean time Bill Black came out to the right of the drums and picked up his bass, D.J. Fontana took his seat and Scotty Moore came out from stage left and plugged in his guitar. It was the biggest Gibson I had ever seen. They were all wearing sport jackets.

The skinny guy reminded everyone about the fire exits and smoking and then said, "And now ladies and gentlemen, the fastest rising star in show business today, Elvis Presley" and pointed to the right side of the stage. There was polite applause as the one lone spotlight swung over and hovered at the edge of the stage where the curtain ends. The band was playing some strumming fan fare, no Elvis. The applause continued a few seconds and then started to dwindle with a din of murmuring rising from the right side of the audience. I was thinking, "Oh Christ, don't tell me he's a no-show after all we've had to sit through." The auditorium was dark as the spotlight began to slowly sweep across the stage to the other side and there he was. Standing about four feet out from the edge of the stage. He had his legs spread slightly, his head down with a long strand of hair covering his face, his beautiful leather covered Martin guitar hung dangerously across his body pointed down. He was wearing a Green polished cotton jacket, black slacks, black open neck shirt and black loafers with white suede inserts. It was a sight I'll never forget. There was a stunned mummer from the crowd for about five seconds. No one seemed sure as to what to do. Presley looked up with a scowl on his face and with his right arm he wiped his mouth with the full length of the sleeve and flipped it down as if throwing snot to the floor. Then he turned and stalked his way to the microphone as a tiger would stalk a kill. All hell broke loose...

The screaming started in the balcony. I had never heard anything like that before. I looked back and up to see what happened. A fight possibly? Maybe someone fell over the rail? What the hell were they screaming for?

Presley grabbed the mic spread his legs and yelled, "Well since my baby left me." Now the main floor was screaming and everyone was on their feet. He sang "Heartbreak Hotel," then "I got a woman" during which he began to shake as the crescendo of the song increased, jumped completely off the floor as Scotty tore into the lead and ran behind Bill Black to play during it. "Money Honey" was next. As Scotty played the famous opening chords he strung it out by first twitching his left shoulder and then his right. By this time there was total hysteria. I had never seen any performer move like that, black or white. He was all over the place. I also understood why Scotty Moores Amp was miked into the PA system.. Elvis and Scotty's guitar were one. One played, the other moved. Scotty was accenting Elvis and Elvis was responding to Scotty's guitar. It was astonishing.

The one thing you must understand is that in those early days there was none of the "cutesy" Elvis that would move a leg or cock a finger to make the girls scream and snicker about it. Oh no, This was a man on a mission. This was a planned attack on an audience. He knew exactly what he was doing and what would happen. Col. Tom Parker had taught him well, cause a riot: its bad press but it's good for business. Parker had read the state of the art correctly. The music world was ready for a new direction and who best to lead it? Elvis Presley.

In the chaos that ensued I lost track of the songs. I was vacillating between awe and fear that there was going to be a riot.

The last thing I remember was that as Elvis left the stage he dropped the mic on the floor. Stand and all. Dropping a cherished Vet microphone on the floor! What balls. A stagehand was out in a second to retrieve it... I remember the feeling as I left Veterans Memorial auditorium that night and walked up Broad Street to catch my bus. How long would it take me to learn how to play guitar, grow sideburns, and earn enough money to by clothes like that. How could I be like him...? As I think back on it now, I guess it was there-that stunning moment when that spotlight hit Elvis that my life really began. A sixteen-year-old kid with little going for him found a new life, a new meaning and a belief that if a young truck driver from Memphis could be the King of the world, then I could do anything... It only took me many years to realize how much he meant to me.

The King is dead, Long live the King...
Part 2:

Elvis was on tour again. The closest he was coming to Columbus was the Hobart Arena in Troy, Ohio on Saturday November 24th, 1956.

WTVN, a local radio station was putting together two busses to attend the concert. Prices were steep and there was a rush for the tickets.

At the time, I was dating a girl named "Judy," who had a good friend named "Alexis." Her Father owned a big car dealership in Columbus and had pull at the radio station. Mainly with the top DJ in Columbus at the time whose name was "Maurice Jackson." She got four tickets through her Father for Judy and I, herself and a buddy of mine named "Billy Gilbert." A tough little guy from Kentucky.

I was, by that time "Elvis reincarnate." I had the whole thing. Long hair, DA's, Goats tail, simulated side burns by pulling down my side hair. "I couldn't grow real side burns until I was almost nineteen." So I decided to make an impression. Or at least show up looking good for the ladies.

At the time I was working at the State Street Record shop. And making pretty good money for a Kid. So I went on a spending spree. I bought a pair of black tasseled loafers with white suede inserts in the top. A gray and black-stripped shirt with black velvet collar and cuffs. New pair of black pleated gabardine pants with a severe peg and a thin silver belt. Buckle to the side, I was all set.

I don't remember much about the bus trip. Everyone was excited. When we pulled up in front of the Arena, I was shocked to see that it was a Hockey rink. I had never seen a hockey rink before and to even imagine my hero appearing in a concert there was appalling. People were milling around everywhere, Alexis grabbed us and said to follow her. She met up with Maurice Jackson, the local DJ who had a small group of people with him. As he led the way past several security guards, we made our way under the stands to a door and into a locker room. It was a surreal scene. There surrounded by a Simi-circle of about twenty people was Elvis Presley. And he was talking and getting dressed. With all these people looking at him. Judy grabs my arm with both hands and starts to mumble. An action she would repeat several times that night.

Jackson led us through the group and to the very front of the line. Judy is now part of my arm. Elvis is standing in front of a bank of wall lockers, adjusting the collar of his ruffled white shirt. He's wearing the famous sports jacket with zigzag strips and chesterfield, "velvet" collar. It's a very pale blue or "off" color. He was photographed in it many times. People are asking questions, taking pictures. He's just battering with them, laughing at jokes and being "nice."

He turns to face me about eight feet away. Looks at me and starts to walk towards me. Judy is beginning to shake now. I can feel her. She tries to get even closer to me. Presley walks up to me and stops about two feet away and looks me up and down. Head to toe. I was frozen. Judy is shaking so hard that I'm off balance.

I stick out my hand and say, "Uhbaheleo Elvis." He nods as a sign of approval I guess, shakes my hand and says something. I haven't a clue what he said. Judy and Billy swear that he said, "owya doin Man." Several things I do remember. I was taller than he. His hair was light and dark brown as if lightened by the sun. He had the longest eyelashes I had ever seen on a man. And they were curled up, just like a woman's.

His side burns were so long that they almost covered his ears. He had them combed back over his ears which made his hair look even longer. I took serious note of all this.

I have to say that for a man, he was beautiful. For an iron clad heterosexual like me to say that takes some doing, but he was. simply a beautiful man...

For about fifteen minutes Elvis talks to people. People give him gifts. A ladies club brought in a cake shaped in the design of a guitar with "Love me Tender" written on it. His first movie had just came out. Someone said something to the crowd which had grown and we were all ask to depart because the show was about to begin. As we were being ushered out, I fell over a little guy dressed in black who cut in front of me trying to get to another door. Billy recognized him as "Nick Adams." A movie star that Elvis had become friends with, and who later made his fame and fortune on TV as the "Rebel." A long running series. He died very young unfortunately.

The stage at the arena looked like something that was built for the Crusades. A very high wood platform at the far end of the rink. It was ugly and undecorated. Possibly ten feet high. We had excellent seats. Very close and to the far right. Which meant we could see somewhat behind the stage.

I also noticed that for the first time at any rock show I had attended, there were security guards stationed in front of the stage, and a various places on the floor of the arena.

Since we knew what to expect for the beginning of the show, I spent most of the time trying to figure out where they put the ice when they weren't using it. Two big differences this time. The first half was shorter with fewer acts.

The Jordainaires were on longer before intermission and were well received.

During the intermission, I noticed that a "canopy" was being set up from the back of the entrance to the arena, to nearly the bottom of the stage stairs. It was a half canopy, just overhead with the sides exposed.

Set up on stage was basically the same as before except there were additional microphones, a piano and a Fender bass with a Bassman amp on the side. Scotty's Amp was again on a chair, into a house mic. It was a Fender this time. Possibly a Bassman.

The lights went down, crowd was yelling already. Band comes up on stage with a piano player. "Floyd Cramer" maybe? The Jordainaires also come up and take their places stage right, behind Bill Black. Someone comes up and introduces Elvis. There is a few second delay and up he comes from behind the stage. Waving and smiling at the crowd. As he gets to the front of the stage the entire arena turned "blue." From the thousands of flashbulbs going off at the same time. In those days, there weren't a lot of restrictions on picture taking at concerts.

You couldn't hear yourself think and it was hard to see because of so many flash bulbs. Elvis started with "Ready Teddy" and did what I would call a "sophisticated" show. He had already by that time began to tame down the live act to conform with the acceptable.

The only difference was "Hound Dog" at the end. He sang it first "fast." Then he slowed it real down to a grinding blues tempo and went all around the stage pointing and singing at the ladies in the front row. Several times he slid down on his knees towards the edge of the stage. He would have been hurt badly had he fallen off. As well as ripped to shreds by the near hysterical girls in the front row. While it probably lasted only a few minutes, it seemed to go on forever. Finally he stood up, sang the last verse, threw the mic to the floor again ran to the rear of the stage, jumped from the halfway point of the long stairs into what appeared to be a blanket held by six or more men. It was carried rapidly to the back doors which were both open and clearly visible from where I was standing, to a car. Thrown in the back and the car was gone.

The band what still playing, the lights were still down and the crowd was still yelling. But Elvis had really left the arena folks.

Finally after a few minutes, the band finished, the lights came up and the soon to be familiar announcement was made from the stage. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building, thank you and goodnight." I think the crowd was to stunned to care. I collected what was left of Judy. I think she experienced some "womanly" feelings that night for the first time.

While it was a great night for me and everyone else that was there, It also reflected the beginning of the end of the original Elvis mythology. The attitude, the hard core "in you face" dark sinister "rock at any cost" was fading. A new Elvis was emerging. Cleaner, more acceptable to all. He was a major star at that time, and getting bigger. Gold suits, stupid Hal Wallis movies and those God awful jump suits and Vegas were to come. The swagger and rebellion that had defined a generation, and had given Rock and Roll it's "personally" was fading away.

Yet, we have seen and felt his influence down through the ages. The back bending posturing of Robert Plant; The brooding attitude of John Mellencamp. The strutting slick domineering demeanor of "Bono" of U2.

The bad boy images of thousands of singers that became heroes of kids with nothing going for them except the urge to be like somebody. The attitude of rebellion...

Rock and Roll became Rock and Roll because of Elvis Presley. He changed my life and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

I beamed with pride watching his "Elvis is back" television special in the early 60's; I turn my head when I saw his bloated body in those silly jump suites barely getting through the songs. And I cried openly when he died.

Today I'm going to put on a scratchy RCA 45 rpm record on my seldom used turntable and pick up a glass of my favorite wine and toast a birthday wish to the King as the speakers shout out a familiar plea ... "Well since my baby left me."

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