This year marks the 60th anniversary of Elvis Presley's first appearance
on a Texas stage. With that in mind, I'd like to offer the following
before he dreamed of pink Cadillacs and paparazzi, a musical wannabe
named Elvis Presley and his two faithful sidekicks (guitarist Scotty
Moore and bassist Bill Black) tore up Texas highways, perpetually
late for their next high school hop, car dealership opening, or
Lion's Club fund raiser. As they dodged tumbleweeds at 110 mph to
play at every wide spot in the road, scores of abused cars and unwary
rattlesnakes sacrificed their lives so that one day Elvis Presley
could tell a Dallas newspaper
reporter, 'I owe a lot to Texas. They're the ones who put me over
the top'…No matter what the folks in Texas thought of his creative
wardrobe, dubious bodily exertions, or guitar homicide, all agreed
Elvis served as an excellent musical ambassador. They just weren't
sure from what planet…These are their stories." So begin Oberst
and Torrance in this lively, entertaining, and clearly written volume.
The authors divide their study of the touring "Hillbilly Cat," one
of the young singer's early monikers, into four segments: "Well,
It's a One for the Money '54," "Two for the Show '55," "Three to
Get Ready '56," "Now, Go Cat Go '58." Elvis played no concerts in
the Lone Star State in 1957, and by the following year, he was in
the Army, stationed in central
Texas at Fort Hood. But from 1954-1956, the Southern dynamo
crisscrossed the state, playing anywhere that would host him, from
nightclubs to schools to businesses to baseball fields to army depots
to oil camps. In January 1955 alone, for example, he played such
towns as Houston, San
New Boston, Hawkins,
and Joinerville, in western Rusk County.
Oberst and Torrance
have done their homework. They interviewed fans who attended Elvis'
Texas concerts; additionally, they consulted newspaper articles
from that period, including pieces from the Fort Worth Star Telegram,
the San Antonio Express, the Houston Chronicle, the Waco Tribune
Herald, the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, the Gladewater Daily Mirror,
the Alpine Avalanche, and the Corpus Christi Caller Times. Consider
this report from the San
Antonio paper following Elvis' October 14, 1956, appearance:
"Thousands of fans screamed, sobbed or gazed in a stony trance while
Elvis Presley bumped around a raised stage in Bexar County Coliseum…Ninety
percent of his audience were teen-aged and female, but one middle-aged
matron on the front row watched him with starry eyes…Elvis, in black
suit with white tee-shirt and bucks, stood straddle legged, wiggling
his hips, as fans fell to their knees before him and beat their
palms and heads against the floor…Screaming was at its height and
fans were pressing closer to the stage as Elvis finished his last
number. He gyrated off the stage on the last notes of the song and
jumped into a waiting car. The car left rubber streaks as it squealed
out of the Coliseum." Or take this account from Alpine's
newspaper about an impending concert in early 1955: "Elvis Presley,
the 20-year-old fireball…will make a personal appearance in the
Alpine High School Auditorium at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10…The phenomenal
success of 'That's All Right Mama' and 'Blue Moon of Kentucky' started
a series of hits including 'I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine,'
'Good Rockin' Tonight,' and his latest release, 'You're a Heartbreaker'
b.w. 'Milk Cow Blues Boogie.' Elvis also does novel and rhythmic
tunes on his show that he has not recorded…For a youngster catapulted
from obscurity…Presley is remarkably pleasant and friendly, and
always enjoys chatting with his many fans. He's single, and has
no serious interests of heart-devoting what time he has to spare
from his busy schedule of personal appearance-to working on his
car, and indulging in his hobby of collecting pink and black clothes."
As he relentlessly toured, the "Nation's Only Atomic Powered Singer,"
another of Elvis' early nicknames, won thousands of fans across
the state. Not everyone who attended his shows, however, adored
the energetic, loose-limbed entertainer. Jealous boyfriends viewed
him with suspicion, while the righteous saw Presley as lewd and
godless. At a performance in the Gladewater High School Gymnasium
on November 19, 1955, for example, Elvis tripped and fell on stage.
One audience member, obviously no admirer, hollered, "The devil's
child is drunk and can't stand on his own two feet!".
Elvis in Texas, generously packed with photographs, also includes
an appendix documenting Presley's 1954-1956 Lone Star shows. In
short, Oberst (who teaches public school in Plano)
and Torrance (author of Tea for Texas: A Guide to Tearooms in the
State) have produced a fun and informative study, though it is not
without some errors. Undoubtedly, Elvis enthusiasts and students
of Fifties Texas will enjoy this book. Just reading it, I got (ahem)
"All Shook Up."
- Review by Dr. Kirk Bane (Blinn College—Bryan campus)