Uncle Bill's Elvis Triliogy
Posted August 16. 2007
Uncle Bill - email@example.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
An upright bass was brought out; it was brown with
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
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
The King is dead, Long live the King...
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Rock and Roll became Rock and Roll because of Elvis
Presley. He changed my life and I'm not ashamed to
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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