Elvis Presley (08.01.1935 - 16.08.1977) - American singer.
Elvis Aaron Presley was an American singer, musician and actor. He is a cultural icon, often known simply as Elvis; also "The King of Rock 'n' Roll", or simply "The King".
Presley began his career as one of the first performers of rockabilly, an uptempo fusion of country and rhythm and blues with a strong back beat. His novel versions of existing songs, mixing "black" and "white" sounds, made him popular — and controversial — as did his uninhibited stage and television performances. He recorded songs in the rock and roll genre, with tracks like "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock" later embodying the style. Presley had a versatile voice and had unusually wide success encompassing other genres, including gospel, blues, ballads and pop. To date, he is the only performer to have been inducted into four separate music halls of fame.
In the sixties, Presley made the majority of his thirty-three movies — mainly poorly reviewed musicals. 1968 saw a critically-acclaimed return to live music, followed by performances in Las Vegas and across the U.S. Throughout his career, he set records for concert attendance, television ratings and recordings sales. He is one of the best-selling and most influential artists in the history of popular music. Though known to have health problems later in life, his death — aged 42 — shocked his fans worldwide.
Presley was born in a two-room house, built by his father, in Tupelo, Mississippi. He was the second of identical twins — his brother was stillborn and given the name Jesse Garon. He grew up as an only child and "was, everyone agreed, unusually close to his mother". The family lived just above the poverty line in East Tupelo and attended the Assembly of God church. Vernon Presley has been described as "taciturn to the point of sullenness"and as "a weakling, a malingerer, always averse to work and responsibility". In 1938 he was convicted and jailed for an eight-dollar check forgery. He was released after serving eight months, but this event deeply influenced the life of the young family. During her husband's absence, Gladys, a wife who was "voluble, lively, full of spunk." lost the family home.Priscilla Presley describes her as "a surreptitious drinker and alcoholic."
At school, Presley was teased by his fellow classmates; they threw "things at him — rotten fruit and stuff — because he was different, because he was quiet and he stuttered and he was a mama's boy".
Aged ten, he made his first public performance in a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy, the young Presley had to stand on a chair to reach the microphone and sang Red Foley's "Old Shep". He won second prize.
In 1946, Presley's mother took Elvis to Tupelo Hardware to get him a birthday present. Although he wanted a rifle, he left the store with a $7.90 guitar. November 1948 saw the Presleys move to Memphis, allegedly because Vernon — as well as needing work — had to escape the law for transporting "bootlegger" liquor. In 1949, they lived at Lauderdale Courts — a public housing development — in one of Memphis, Tennessee's poorer sections. Presley practiced guitar playing in the basement laundry room and also played in a five-piece band with other tenants. Another resident, Johnny Burnette, recalled: "Wherever Elvis went he'd have his guitar slung across his back... He used to go down to the fire station and sing to the boys there... [H]e'd go in to one of the cafes or bars... Then some folks would say: 'Let's hear you sing, boy.'"
Presley attended L. C. Humes High school and occasionally worked evenings to boost the family income. He began to grow his sideburns longer and dress in the wild, flashy clothes of Lansky Brothers on Beale Street. Presley stood out, especially in the conservative Deep South of the 1950s and he was mocked and bullied for it. He enrolled in the school's ROTC and Christmas, 1952 saw Presley perform in the "Annual Minstrel Show" sponsored by the Humes High Band. Presley received most applause — he sang "Cold Cold Icy Fingers" and gave an encore of "Till I Waltz Again With You"
After graduation, Presley was still a rather shy person, a "kid who had spent scarcely a night away from home". His third job was driving a truck for the Crown Electric Company. He began wearing his hair longer with a "ducktail" — the style of truck drivers at that time.
On July 18, 1953, Presley went to the Memphis Recording Service at the Sun Record Company (now commonly known as Sun Studios). He paid $3.98 to record the first of two double-sided 'demo' acetates — "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin". Presley reportedly gave the acetate to his mother as a much-belated extra birthday present, though the Presleys didn't own a record player at the time. Returning to Sun Studios on January 4, 1954, he recorded a second acetate, "I'll Never Stand in Your Way"/"It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You".
Sun Records founder Sam Phillips had already cut the first records by blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf and Junior Parker. He thought a combination of black blues and boogie-woogie music might become very popular among white people — if presented in the right way. In the spring, Presley auditioned for an amateur gospel quartet, The Songfellows, and a professional band. Both groups turned him down.
Phillips had acquired a demo record — "Without Love (There Is Nothing)". Unable to identify the demo's vocalist, his assistant Marion Keisker reminded him about the young truck driver and she called him on June 26, 1954. Presley was not able to do justice to the song (though he would record it years later). Phillips did ask the young singer to perform some of the many other songs he knew and he invited local Western swing musicians Winfield "Scotty" Moore (electric guitar) and Bill Black (slap bass) to check Presley out. Scotty and Bill auditioned Presley on Sunday, July 4, 1954, at Moore's house. Neither musician was overly impressed with the young singer, but they agreed a studio session would be useful to see what they had. During a break at the studios on July 5, Presley began "acting the fool" with Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)", a blues song. When the other two musicians joined in, Phillips got them to restart and began recording. This was the bright, upbeat sound he had been looking out for. Black remarked, "Damn. Get that on the radio and they'll run us out of town." The group recorded four songs during that session, including Bill Monroe's Blue Moon of Kentucky, a bluegrass waltz. After an early take, Phillips can be heard on tape saying: "Fine, man. Hell, that's different — that's a pop song now, just about."
To gauge professional and public reaction, Phillips took several acetates of the session to DJ Dewey Phillips (no relation) at Memphis radio station WHBQ (The Red, Hot And Blue show). "That's All Right" subsequently received its first play on July 8, 1954. A week later, Sun had received some 6,000 advanced orders for "That's All Right"/"Blue Moon of Kentucky", which was released on July 19, 1954. From August 18 through December 8, "Blue Moon of Kentucky" was consistently higher in the charts, then both sides began to chart across the South, from Virginia to Texas.
Moore and Black left their band, The Starlight Wranglers, to work full-time with Presley. They began regular live performances in Memphis by promoting Presley's first Sun single. They played at the Bon Air, a club used by hard-drinking lovers of hillbilly music. Johnny Cash later recalled Presley playing during breaks at the Eagle’s Nest club.
At the Overton Park Shell (July 30, 1954), Presley, Moore, and Black were billed as The Blue Moon Boys, with Slim Whitman headlining. Presley is said to have been so nervous during this show that his legs shook uncontrollably. His wide-legged pants emphasized his leg movements, apparently causing the young women in the audience to go "crazy". Though initially uncertain about what caused the fans to scream, Presley consciously incorporated similar movements into future shows. DJ and promoter Bob Neal, who had been approached by Sam Phillips to get Presley on the Overton Park bill, was now the trio's manager (taking over from Scotty Moore).
Presley appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, on October 2; Hank Snow introduced Presley on stage. He performed "Blue Moon of Kentucky" but received only a polite response. Afterwards, the singer was allegedly told: "Boy, you’d better keep driving that truck."
Country music promoter and manager Tillman Franks booked Presley's first appearance on Louisiana Hayride (October 16, 1954). Before making the booking, Franks — never having seen Presley — referred to him as "that new black singer with the funny name". During the first set, the reaction was muted, but the second show had a younger audience and Franks advised Presley to "Let it all go!" House drummer D.J. Fontana, who had worked in strip clubs, was able to use beats to accentuate Presley's movements and — along with Bill Black's usual enthusiastic stage antics — the crowd was more responsive.
According to one source, "Audiences had never before heard music like Presley played, and they had never before seen anyone who performed like Presley either. The shy, polite, mumbling boy gained self-confidence with every appearance, which soon led to a transformation on stage. People watching the show were astounded and shocked, both by the ferocity of his performance, and the crowd’s reaction to it... Roy Orbison saw Presley for the first time in Odessa, Texas: 'His energy was incredible, his instinct was just amazing... I just didn’t know what to make of it. There was just no reference point in the culture to compare it.' 'He’s the new rage,' said a Louisiana radio executive... 'Sings hillbilly in R&B time. Can you figure that out. He wears pink pants and a black coat.'" Sam Phillips said Presley "put every ounce of emotion ... into every song, almost as if he was incapable of holding back". When he collapsed after a concert in Florida, a doctor warned him to slow down because he worked as hard in twenty minutes as the average laborer did in eight hours.
Presley's sound was proving hard to categorize — he had been billed or labeled in the media as "The King of Western Bop", "The Hillbilly Cat", and "The Memphis Flash".
On August 15, 1955, he was signed to a one-year contract with "Hank Snow Attractions", a company owned by Hank Snow and "Colonel" Tom Parker. Parker became Presley's manager thereafter. By August 1955, Sun Studios had released ten sides credited to "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill", all typical of the developing Presley style.
Several major record labels had shown interest in signing Presley. On November 21, 1955, Parker and Phillips negotiated a deal with RCA Victor Records to acquire Presley's Sun contract for an unprecedented $35,000.
To increase the singer's exposure, Parker finally brought Presley to television (In March 1955, Presley had failed a TV audition for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts). He had the singer booked for six of the Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show (CBS), beginning January 28, 1956, when he was introduced by Cleveland DJ Bill Randle. Parker also obtained a lucrative deal with Milton Berle (NBC) for two appearances.
On January 27, Presley's first RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel", was released. By April it reached number one in the U.S. and would sell a million copies. On March 23, RCA released the first Presley album: Elvis Presley. As with the Sun recordings, the majority of the tracks were songs by or from country artists.
From April 23, he had a two-week booking at the Venus Room of the New Frontier Hotel, Las Vegas — billed this time as "the Atomic Powered Singer". His performances were badly received, by critics and guests (it was an older, more conservative audience). However, Presley, Scotty and Bill saw Freddie Bell and the Bellboys live in Vegas, and liked their version of Leiber and Stoller's "Hound Dog". By May 16, Presley had added the song to his own act.
Soon after an April 3 appearance for The Milton Berle Show, shot onboard an aircraft carrier in San Diego, Presley, Moore and Black took a chartered flight to Nashville for a recording session. The pilot got lost and further mishaps along the way left all three badly shaken. After more hectic touring, Presley returned to The Milton Berle Show on June 5 and performed "Hound Dog" (without his guitar). After singing it uptempo, he then began a slower version. His exaggerated, straight-legged shuffle around the microphone stand stirred the audience — as did his vigorous leg shaking and hip thrusts in time to the beat.
Presley's "gyrations" created a storm of controversy — even eclipsing the 'communist threat' head-lines prevalent at the time. The next day's press used such words as "vulgar" and "obscene" because of the strong sexual content perceived in his act. Presley was obliged to explain himself on the local New York City TV show Hy Gardner Calling: "Rock and roll music, if you like it, and you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I have to move around. I can't stand still. I've tried it, and I can't do it".
The Milton Berle Show appearances drew such huge ratings that Steve Allen (NBC), not a fan of rock and roll, booked him for one appearance, in New York. Allen announced: "... We want to do a show the whole family can watch and enjoy. And that’s what we always do." After Allen introduced "the new Elvis" (in white bow tie and black tails), he remarked: "You are certainly being a good sport about the whole thing." Presley then sang "Hound Dog" to a top hat and bow tie-wearing Basset Hound sat on a pedestal (the performance lasted less than one minute). According to author Jake Austen, "the way Steve Allen treated Elvis Presley was his federal crime. Allen thought Presley was talentless and absurd... [he] set things up so that Presley would show his contrition..." The day after (July 2), Presley, Scotty, and Bill recorded the single "Hound Dog", making thirty takes before Elvis was satisfied. Scotty Moore later said they were "all angry about their treatment the previous night". (Presley often referred to the Allen show as the most ridiculous performance of his career. ) A few days later, Presley made a "triumphant" outdoor appearance in Memphis at which he announced: "You know, those people in New York are not gone change me none. I'm gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight."
Though Presley had been unhappy with the Steve Allen appearance, Allen's show had, for the first time, beaten The Ed Sullivan Show in the Sunday night ratings, prompting a previously critical Sullivan (CBS) to book Presley for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000.
Country vocalists The Jordanaires accompanied Presley on The Steve Allen Show and their first recording session with him was July 2, for the recording of "Any Way You Want Me". The Jordanaires would work with the singer through the 1960s.
Presley's first Ed Sullivan appearance (September 9, 1956) was seen by an estimated 55-60 million viewers. During the second, Presley only had to shake his legs to get screams from the audience, which a bemused Sullivan didn't notice him doing when stood next to the singer. On the third show, the family-minded Sullivan censored Presley's "gyrations": he was shown only above the waist. According to the show's director, Marlo Lewis, Sullivan told him that Presley was "hangin' some kind of device in the crotch of his pants" and that it was "waving back and forth" when the singer moved. Sullivan said: "We can't have that on a Sunday night. That's a church night". Although Lewis ordered camera two to film only Presley's chest and head, he never believed the "device" was there at all. Despite his misgivings, Sullivan still declared at the end of the show: "This is a real decent, fine boy. We've never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we've had with you... you're thoroughly all right."
On November 16, Presley's first movie Love Me Tender was released. It was panned by the critics, but did well at the box office.
Presley's decline continued. A journalist recalled: "Elvis Presley had become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self... he was barely able to pull himself through his abbreviated concerts." In Alexandria, Louisiana, a journalist complained that the singer was on stage for less than an hour and "was impossible to understand". In Baton Rouge, Presley didn’t go on stage at all. He was unable to get out of his hotel bed and the rest of the tour was cancelled.
Fans, too, Guralnick relates, "were becoming increasingly voluble about their disappointment, but it all seemed to go right past Elvis, whose world was now confined almost entirely to his room and his [spiritualism] books". In Knoxville, Tennessee (May 20), "there was no longer any pretense of keeping up appearances... The idea was simply to get Elvis out onstage and keep him upright for the hour he was scheduled to perform". Thereafter, Presley struggled through every show. Despite his obvious problems, appearances in Omaha, Nebraska and Rapid City, South Dakota were recorded for an upcoming album and a CBS-TV special: Elvis In Concert.
Rick Stanley (a step-brother) recalls that Presley was almost bedridden during his last year. "We'd fly into a city and he'd go right into bed as soon as we got there. We'd have to get him up to do the show." In Rapid City, "he was so nervous on stage that he could hardly talk... He was undoubtedly painfully aware of how he looked, and he knew that in his condition, he could not perform any significant movement. He looked, moved, and gestured like an overweight old man with crippling arthritis". A cousin, Billy Smith, recalled how Presley would sit in his room and chat, recounting things like his favourite Monty Python sketches and past japes, but "mostly there was a grim obsessiveness... a paranoia about people, germs... future events, that put Billy in mind on more than one occasion of Howard Hughes".
A book was published — the first expose to detail Presley's years of drug misuse. Written with input from three of Presley's "Memphis Mafia", the book was the authors' revenge for them being sacked and a plea to get Presley to face up to reality. The singer "was devastated by the book. Here were his close friends who had written serious stuff that would affect his life. He felt betrayed".
Presley's final performance was in Indianapolis at the Market Square Arena, (June 26).
August 17, 1977, was to be the start of another tour. However, at "Graceland" the day before, Presley was found on the floor of his bathroom by his fiancee, Ginger Alden. According to the medical investigator, Presley had "stumbled or crawled several feet before he died". He was officially pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. at the Baptist Memorial Hospital.
His funeral was a national media event. Hundreds of thousands of fans, the press and celebrities lined the streets hoping to see the open casket in "Graceland" or to witness the funeral. Amongst the mourners were Ann-Margret (who had remained close to Presley) and his ex-wife. U.S. President Jimmy Carter issued a statement.
Presley was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, Memphis, next to his mother. After an attempt to steal the body, his — and his mother's — remains were reburied at "Graceland" in the Meditation Gardens.