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
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.
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
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
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.
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,
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
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