At the time, his name Elvis Presley, was strange, almost space-age like, add to this he never received formal music training or learned to read music; his education was by ear. He also frequented record stores with jukeboxes and listening booths. He knew all of Hank Snow's songs, and he enjoyed records by other country singers such as Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Ted Daffan, Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmie Davis, and Bob Will.
In August 1953, Presley visited 'Sun Records' with the intent to pay for a few minutes of studio time to record a two-sided acetate disc of My Happiness and That's When Your Heartaches Begin. Although there was a much cheaper, amateur record-making service at the nearby general store, he would later claim that he intended the record as a gift for his mother, or that he was merely interested in what he "sounded like". After he recorded, 'Sun' boss Sam Phillips asked receptionist Marion Keisker to note down the young man's name, which she did along with her own commentary, Good ballad singer. Hold."
In January 1954, Presley returned to cut a second acetate, I'll Never Stand In Your Way and It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You, but nothing came of it. Not long after, he failed an audition for a local vocal quartet, the Songfellows; he explained to his father, "They told me I couldn't sing."
In April, Presley got a job driving trucks for the Crown Electric company. His friend Ronnie Smith, after playing a few local gigs with him, suggested he contact Eddie Bond, leader of Smith's professional band, which had an opening for a vocalist. Bond rejected him after a tryout, advising Presley to keep his day job, "because you're never going to make it as a singer".
Phillips, meanwhile, was on the hunt for someone who could take his label to a broader audience from the sound of the black musicians 'Sun' had so far been focusing on. Although an attempt of Presley to sing Without You failed to work out, Phillips nonetheless invited Presley to sing as many numbers as he knew. Phillips was impressed enough by what he heard to invite two local musicians, guitarist Winfield "Scotty" Moore and upright bass player Bill Black, to work something up with Presley for a recording session. That session, held the evening of July 5, 1954, was going badly until Presley took his guitar and launched into a 1946 blues number, Arthur Crudup's That's All Right and when the band joined in Phillips popped his head into the room and demanded they stop and re-start so he could capture the moment on tape - it was the sound he had been looking for!
Three days later, popular Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played That's All Right on his "Red, Hot, and Blue" show. Listeners began phoning in, eager to find out who the singer was. The interest was such that he ended off playing the record repeatedly during the last two hours of his show. Interviewing Presley on-air, Phillips asked him what high school he attended in order to clarify his color for the many callers who had assumed he was black. During the next few days, the trio recorded a bluegrass number, Bill Monroe's Blue Moon of Kentucky, again in a distinctive style and employing a jury-rigged echo effect that Sam Phillips dubbed "slapback". The resulting single, Elvis' first, was pressed with That's All Right on the 'A' side and Blue Moon of Kentucky on the flip.
The trio played publicly for the first time on July 17 at the Bon Air club with Presley still sporting his child-size guitar. At the end of the month, they appeared at the Overton Park shell, with Slim Whitman headlining. A combination of his strong response to rhythm and nervousness at playing before a large crowd led Presley to shake his legs as he performed: his wide-cut pants emphasizing his movements, causing young women in the audience to start screaming - his famous hip dance was born!
Soon after, Moore and Black quit their old band to play with Presley regularly, and DJ and promoter Bob Neal became the trio's manager. From August through October, they played frequently at the Eagle's Nest club and returned to 'Sun' Studio for more recording sessions, and Presley quickly grew more confident on stage.
Presley performed his only appearance on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry on October 2; after a polite audience response, Opry manager Jim Denny told Phillips that his singer was "not bad" but did not suit the program. So, two weeks later, Presley was booked on Louisiana Hayride, the Opry's Shreveport based more adventurous rival. The broadcast was heard on 198 radio stations in 28 states. Presley had another attack of nerves during the first set, which drew a muted reaction; a more composed and energetic second set inspired a more enthusiastic response. Soon after the show, the Hayride hired him for a year's worth of Saturday-night appearances. Now trading in his old guitar for $8, he purchased a Martin instrument for $175, the band began playing in new places like Houston, Texas, and Texarkana and Arkansas.
In January 1955, Neal signed a formal management contract with Presley and brought the singer to the attention of Colonel Tom Parker, having successfully managed top country star Eddy Arnold, Parker was now working with the new number-one country singer, Hank Snow. Parker booked Presley on Snow's February tour.
Presley renewed Neal's management contract in August 1955, simultaneously appointing Parker as his special adviser. The group maintained an extensive touring schedule throughout the second half of the year. The trio became a quartet when Hayride drummer Fontana joined as a full member.
At the Country Disc Jockey Convention in early November, Presley was voted the year's most promising male artist. Several record companies were now showing interest in signing him. After three major labels made offers of up to $25,000, Parker and Phillips struck a deal with 'RCA Victor' on November 21 to acquire Presley's 'Sun' contract for an unprecedented $40,000. Since Presley was still considered a minor at age 20, his father signed the contract. Parker further arranged with the owners of 'Hill and Range' Publishing, Jean and Julian Aberbach, to create two entities, 'Elvis Presley Music' and 'Gladys Music', to handle all the new material recorded. This was quite a coup for songwriters would be obliged to forgo one third of their customary royalties in exchange for having him perform their compositions. By December, 'RCA' had begun to heavily promote its new singer, and before month's end had reissued many of his 'Sun' recordings.
On January 10, 1956, Presley made his first recordings for 'RCA' in Nashville. 'RCA' enlisted pianist Floyd Cramer, guitarist Chet Atkins, and three background singers, including first tenor Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires quartet, to join the band and fill out the sound. That resulting session resulted in Heartbreak Hotel released as a single on January 27.
Parker then brought Presley to national television, booking him on CBS's Stage Show for six appearances over two months. Presley then stayed in NYC to record at 'RCA's' New York studio to release eight songs, including a cover of Carl Perkins' rockabilly anthem Blue Suede Shoes. In February, Presley's I Forgot to Remember to Forget, a 'Sun' recording initially released the previous August, reached the top of the Billboard country chart. Neal's contract was terminated and, on March 2, Parker became Presley's exclusive manager.
'RCA Victor' next released Presley's eponymous debut album on March 23.
Presley made the first of two appearances on NBC's Milton Berle Show on April 3. His performance, on the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego, prompted cheers and screams from an audience of sailors and their dates.
Twelve weeks after its original release, Heartbreak Hotel became his first number-one pop hit.
In late April, he began a two-week residency at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Although his subsequent shows were not well received by the conservative audience, he managed to sign a seven-year contract with 'Paramount Pictures' in an effort to satisfy his acting ambitions. He began a tour of the Midwest in mid-May, taking in 15 cities in as many days. He had attended several shows by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys in Vegas and was struck by their cover of Hound Dog. After a show in La Crosse, Wisconsin, an urgent message on the letterhead of the local Catholic diocese's newspaper was sent to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. It warned that "Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States. ... [His] actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth. ... After the show, more than 1,000 teenagers tried to gang into Presley's room at the auditorium. ... Indications of the harm Presley did just in La Crosse were the two high school girls ... whose abdomen and thigh had Presley's autograph."
The second Milton Berle Show appearance came on June 5 at NBC's Hollywood studio, amid another hectic tour. Berle persuaded him to leave his guitar backstage, saying, "Let 'em see you, son." During the performance, Presley abruptly halted an uptempo rendition of Hound Dog with a wave of his arm and launched into a slow, grinding version accentuated with energetic, exaggerated body movements. The gyrations created a storm of controversy. To Presley's disgust, he soon found himself being called "Elvis the Pelvis", which he cited as, "one of the most childish expressions I ever heard, comin' from an adult."
The Berle shows drew such high ratings that Presley was booked for a July 1 appearance on NBC's Steve Allen Show in New York. Allen was no fan of rock and roll and attempted to introduce a "new Elvis", now dressed in a white bow tie and black tails. Presley sang Hound Dog for less than a minute to a basset hound wearing a top hat and bow tie. As described by television historian Jake Austen, "Allen thought Presley was talentless and absurd ... he set things up so that Presley would show his contrition". The next day, Presley recorded Hound Dog, along with Any Way You Want Me and Don't Be Cruel. The Jordanaires sang harmony, as they had on The Steve Allen Show; they would work with Presley through the 1960s. The single stayed on the charts for 11 weeks, an accomplishment not matched for another 36 years.
That Allen show, for the first time, beat CBS's Ed Sullivan Show in the ratings. Sullivan, would have nothing to do with that, and despite showing little interest in Presley before, booked him for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000. The first, on September 9, 1956, was seen by approximately 60 million viewers (82.6% of American TV viewers of the time) despite careful camera shots engineered to reduce the impact of his leg gyrations.
The release of Love Me Tender, coupled with his first performance on Ed Sullivan, prompted a record-shattering million advance orders; more than any other event, that first performance on Sullivan made Elvis a national celebrity of the kind America never had seen before.
Elvis, Presley's second album, was released in October and quickly rose to number one. The album includes Old Shep, which he sang at the talent show in 1945, and which now marked the first time he played piano on an RCA session.
His first motion picture, Love Me Tender, was released on November 21. Though he was not top billed, the film's original title "The Reno Brothers" was changed to capitalize on his latest number one record, Love Me Tender. Despite being bashed by the critics, it did OK at the box office.
On December 4, Presley paid a visit to 'Sun Records' where Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were recording and jammed with them. Though Phillips no longer had the right to release any Presley material, he made sure the session was captured on tape. The results became legendary as the "Million Dollar Quartet" recordings; Johnny Cash was long thought to have played as well, but was actually only present for a photo opportunity at Phillip's behest.
Presley made his third and final Ed Sullivan Show appearance on January 6, 1957. This presentation was, indeed, shot only down to the waist. Some commentators have claimed that Parker orchestrated an appearance of censorship to generate publicity. Despite all this, Ed Sullivan was won over and at the end of the show, declared him, "a real decent, fine boy"; two days later, the Memphis draft board announced that Presley would be drafted into the army sometime that year.
Each of the three singles released in the first half of 1957 went to number one: Too Much, All Shook Up, and (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear. He was even attracting fans even where his music was not officially released, such as the Soviet Union where his music was being smuggled in on X-Ray plates.
Between film shoots and recording sessions, the singer also found time to purchase an 18-room mansion eight miles (13 km) south of downtown Memphis for himself and his parents called Graceland.
His second film, Loving You (in Technicolor) was released that July.
He commenced three brief tours during the year, continuing to generate a crazed audience response.
Elvis' Christmas Album arrived in time for the season that year and quickly became cited as one of the best Christmas albums of all time. After the session, Moore and Black, who were drawing only modest weekly salaries, resigned in disgust at not being able to share much of the wealth and success of Elvis himself.
A couple of weeks into the new year, Don't, another Leiber and Stoller tune, became Presley's tenth number one seller.
On March 24, 1958, Presley was conscripted into the US Army as a private at Fort Chaffee, near Fort Smith, Arkansas. After training, Presley joined the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany, on October 1. His army pay was donated to charity, on his request. Introduced to amphetamines by a sergeant while on maneuvers, he became a strong proponent about their benefits. While in Friedberg, he met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu. They would eventually marry after a seven-and-a-half-year courtship. Between his induction and discharge, he had ten top 40 hits, most specifically, Elvis' Golden Records (1958), which hit number three on the LP chart.
Presley returned home on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant on March 5. He had hardly gotten back when his next album was rushed into release and became a number one hit.
Presley returned to television on May 12 as a guest on The Frank Sinatra Timex Special, an ironic move for both stars, given Sinatra's dislike of rock and roll. Also known as Welcome Home Elvis, the show had been taped in late March, the only time all year Presley performed in front of an audience. Parker secured an unheard-of $125,000 fee for eight minutes of singing. The broadcast drew an enormous viewership.
G.I. Blues, the soundtrack to his first film since his return, was a number one album in October. His first LP of religious material, His Hand in Mine, followed two months later to make 13 on the charts. 27 films then followed; 5 were accompanied by soundtrack EPs and another 15 featured album soundtracks.
Something for Everybody album then followed.
Another benefit concert, raising money for a Pearl Harbor memorial, was staged on March 25, in Hawaii. It was to be Presley's last public performance for seven years.
It would be eight years and after the birth of his daughter and a period of questioning his career that he would return with From Elvis in Memphis (1969). Presley was keen to resume regular live performing. Following the success of the Comeback Special, offers came in from around the world. After many successful and lucrative performances, That's the Way It Is arrived.
On December 21, 1970, Presley arranged a meeting with President Richard Nixon at the White House, where he expressed his patriotism and his contempt for the hippies, the growing drug culture, and the counterculture in general. He asked Nixon for a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge, to add to similar items he had begun collecting and to signify official sanction of his patriotic efforts.
The US Junior Chamber of Commerce named Presley one of its annual Ten Most Outstanding Young Men of the Nation on January 16, 1971.
'MGM' filmed Presley during April 1972, this time for Elvis on Tour. It subsequently went on to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Documentary Film that year. His gospel album He Touched Me, released that month, would earn him his second Grammy Award, for Best Inspirational Performance.
In January 1973, Presley performed two benefit concerts for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund in connection with a groundbreaking TV special, Aloha from Hawaii; it was his first global satellite broadcasted concert. Presley's costume became the most recognized example of the elaborate concert garb with which his latter-day persona became closely associated. The accompanying double album, released in February, went to number one and eventually sold over 5 million copies in the United States.
Presley and his wife, meanwhile, had become increasingly distant, barely cohabiting. In 1971, an affair he had with Joyce Bova resulted, unbeknownst to him, in her pregnancy and an abortion. Presley and his wife filed for divorce on August 18.
After the divorce, he was now becoming increasingly unwell. Twice during the year he overdosed on barbiturates, spending three days in a coma in his hotel suite after the first incident. Toward the end of 1973, he was hospitalized, semi-comatose from the effects of Demerol addiction. Despite this, he staged more live shows with each passing year; 1973 alone saw him perform 168 concerts, his busiest schedule ever. In 1974 he undertook another intensive touring schedule but by that September his condition declined notably to the point it was affecting his performances.
On July 13, 1976, Vernon Presley, who had become deeply involved in his son's financial affairs, fired "Memphis Mafia" bodyguards Red West (Presley's friend since the 1950s), Sonny West, and David Hebler, citing the need to "cut back on expenses". However, Presley's stepbrother David Stanley has claimed that the bodyguards were fired because they were becoming more outspoken about Presley's drug dependency.
'RCA', grew nervous at the lack of time Presley spent in the studio. After a December 1973 session that produced 18 songs, enough for almost two albums, he did not enter the studio at all in 1974. Not until March of 1975 did he return in Hollywood, but Parker's attempts to arrange another session toward the end of the year were unsuccessful. To facilitate more recordings, 'RCA' sent a mobile studio to Graceland that yielded two more sessions, albeit at a struggle. The net result of these recordings were five entering the top five of the country chart, and three went to number one; none made it to the pop chart, however: Promised Land (1975), From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee (1976), and Moody Blue (1977) and Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis (live; 1974); there was enough music for 6 albums in total.
Presley and Linda Thompson split in November 1976, and he took up with a new girlfriend, Ginger Alden. He proposed to Alden and gave her an engagement ring two months later, though several of his friends later claimed that he had no serious intention of marrying again.
In 1976 he failed to appear in Baton Rouge; he was unable to get out of his hotel bed, and the rest of the tour was cancelled. He was now grossly overweight, sweating during performances and his voice often suffered. Despite the accelerating deterioration of his health, he stuck to most touring commitments. Way Down, his last single issued during his lifetime, came out on June 6.
Presley was scheduled to fly out of Memphis on the evening of August 16, 1977, to begin another tour. That afternoon, Ginger Alden discovered him unresponsive on his bathroom floor. Attempts to revive him failed, and death was officially pronounced at 3:30 p.m. at Baptist Memorial Hospital. Drug abuse has been most cited as the cause of death.
The funeral was held at Graceland on Thursday, August 18. Outside the gates, a car plowed into a group of fans, killing two women and critically injuring a third. Approximately 80,000 people lined the processional route to Forest Hill Cemetery, where he was buried next to his mother. Following an attempt to steal the singer's body later that month, the remains of both him and his mother were reburied in Graceland's Meditation Garden on October 2, where it remains under guard to this day.
Within a few days, Way Down topped the country and UK pop charts. Between 1977 and 1981 six more albums were released posthumously.
President Jimmy Carter issued a statement that credited him with having "permanently changed the face of American popular culture".
Since his death, there have been numerous alleged sightings of Elvis Presley, and strangely enough these often occur at Burger King restaurants. A long standing conspiracy theory states that he faked his death. Fans have noted alleged discrepancies in the death certificate, reports of a wax dummy in his original coffin and numerous accounts of Presley planning a diversion so he could retire in peace.
Many cities sponsor Elvis look-alike events; a daily occurrence in Las Vegas.
Nonetheless, Elvis Presley remains one of the the top ranking American pop icons, a legend in the music industry; it is said that his estate still earns an exorbitant amount of money from royalties and licensing to this day and guard his image and name carefully. In November 2010, Viva Elvis: The Album was released, featuring his voice to newly recorded instrumental tracks. As of mid-2011, there were an estimated 15,000 licensed Presley products. He was again the second-highest-earning deceased celebrity!
Presley holds the record for most songs charting in Billboard's top 40 and top 100; the number of hits he received rivals only the Beatles - and depending on which side of the Ocean you reside on, you will dispute who beat who by 1. Presley also never toured outside the USA, except for a couple of shows in Toronto and Montreal, Canada.
On the anniversary date of his death, every year since 1997, thousands of people gather at his home in Memphis to celebrate his memory, during a candlelight ritual.
Presley had a tremendous number of recordings, most being compilations of singles. He also has had a massive number of recordings released since his death. Diskery has only archived a fraction of them, adding more as we get time.