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Elvis Slept Here

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Built in the early 1950s in the then still-bustling oil town of Gladewater, the white stucco Res-Mor Motel (get it? “Rest More”) has seen its better days. But visitors still come to stand outside Room 104.

The old motel, a relic of the pre-interstate days when U.S. 80 carried heavy east-west highway across Texas, has no sign or historical marker commemorating its most famous guest. Even so, his most fanatical fans know its significance: Elvis Presley stayed there in 1954-55 on the road to becoming a rock and roll legend.

Eighty-seven-year-old Tom Perryman of Tyler, one of the man who helped make Elvis a star, is doing a lot better than the old motel where the young, slick-haired kid originally from Mississippi used to stay when he could afford it.

As a disc jockey at Gladewater’s KSIJ, Perryman made extra money for the radio station and his family by booking entertainers he viewed as up and coming. One day in 1954, he got a call about a trio who had been playing on the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport – Elvis, guitar player Scotty Moore and base man Bill Black. They were broke and looking for gigs.

Perryman arranged for Elvis and his band to play at a long-vanished beer joint in Gladewater called the Mint Club. That happened November 23, and stands as Elvis’ first paid gig in Texas. In fact, before that time, he had never been before a crowd outside of Tennessee or Louisiana. Not only that, Perryman pushed Elvis’ first record on his radio show, as well as his later recordings.

Soon, Perryman and his wife Billie had become friends with the future King of Rock and Roll.

Billie clearly remembers the first time she saw Elvis.

“I walked into our living room with my three babies and saw three young men I didn’t know,” she says. “I asked what they were doing in my house and Tom said they were just changing clothes before their act.”

All these years later, despite his well-documented foibles, Billie has nothing bad to say about the entertainer her husband played a big part in promoting.

“He was a very nice young man,” she says. “He called Tom by his first name, but he never called me Billie. It was Mrs. Perryman and ‘yes ma’am and no ma’am.”

The Perrymans also fed Elvis and his boys.

“He loved Billie’s banana pudding,” Tom says. “She make it in a milk crock.”

Perryman knew good singing when he heard it, but he did not immediately realize that Elvis had that magic “it” that would make him world-famous.

Gladewater was no longer the boomtown it had been in the 1930s, but the area still had plenty of oil activity related to the storied East Texas field, for a time the world’s largest. Oil company camps – essentially company towns – dotted the pines around Gladewater.

One of those camps was operated by the old Humble Co. at Hawkins in Wood County. Humble employees and their families lived there. Perryman booked Elvis for a gig at the camp’s frame recreation center on Jan. 24, 1955.

“The place didn’t hold more than 250-300 people, and they were practically hanging out the windows,’ he says.

This was already Elvis’s second performance at Hawkins. He played there the first time in the high school auditorium, but the principal refused to allow him back because of his soon-to-be famous hip gyrations, which the educator viewed as vulgar.

“I always watched the audience during a performance,” Perryman says. “I could gauge how good somebody was by the way they reacted. During this show at the Humble camp, three generations, a grandmother, her daughter and her teenage granddaughter, were sitting on the front row. All three had the same response.”

Which is to say they loved the smooth-cheeked, pouty-lipped young man from Memphis.

“That’s when I realized he had it,” Perryman recalls. “If he can do that in East Texas, he’s something.”

Elvis sometimes stayed at the Res-Mor for a week, playing schools and beer joints all over that part of Texas. But the future rock and roll superstar did not work all the time. Between gigs, he had no trouble making friends with local girls.

“If every woman around here who supposedly had a date with Elvis actually did go out with him, he would have been taking out three different ones every day,” Perryman says with a smile.

Still, there was Holly.

“She was a beautiful girl from White Oak,” Perryman says. “In fact, she rode with Elvis when Billie and I drove him to Hawkins.”

Billie never knew her last name and has never been able to learn who she was or whether she still lives anywhere in the area.

As Elvis’ following began to grow, Perryman says he asked him if he wanted to be his manager.

“I said he could go, but don’t come back,” Billie laughed. “He had a wife, three kids and a house.”

When Perryman told Elvis he’d have to find someone else to handle his career, he tried to soften his no with logic.

“I told him that some weeks I was making as much as $125-30 between my radio job and the promotions we did,” Perryman says. “I couldn’t afford to take a pay cut to go on the road with him.”

Elvis soon asked another Tom, Col. Tom Parker, to be his agent and, as the old saw goes, the rest is history.



© Mike Cox - April 30, 2014 column
More "Texas Tales"

See also:
Elvis in Texas: The Undiscovered King, 1954-1958. - Book Review by Dr. Kirk Bane

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Music in Texas | People | Columns | Texas Town List | Texas

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