“These Great Ones Came From Tennessee”
“Elvis is watching you” our Golden Gloves Boxing Coach whispered in my ear. “He came through the back door a few minutes ago while you were sparing”. Wiping the sweat from my eyes I looked around the stage in Dave Wells Community Center where we always trained for the North Memphis Golden Gloves. (Our boxing tournament and training center was held in the Dave Wells Community Center, on Chelsea Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee.) “I remember just staring at Elvis and wondering why he was there”. “Red” West, his constant companion and bodyguard, was standing beside him. “Red” stood tall and strait. He was all-state center from the Humes High School football team and was very much a man. Elvis seemed to stand on his right foot with his head tilted to slightly to one side. He seemed to be watching and considering every movement we made while we were training for Golden Gloves Boxing Tournament. Elvis, always accompanied by “Red”, would come to the gym on different occasions to watch us train however he never put on the boxing gloves. He seemed to save that for his career in the movies. I have often wondered if these trips to the gym, to watch us box, influenced him in the boxing movies he would make a little later in his career.
While Elvis was watching us train for the North Memphis Golden Gloves Tournament Johnny Burnette, Dorsey Burnette and Paul Burlison (later world renowned “The Rock and Roll Trio”) would be in the Gaston Community Center training for the South Memphis Golden Gloves. Paul had discontinued his boxing career at this time but he would still go to the gym to help Johnny and Dorsey in their Golden Gloves training. All Three were Golden Gloves Champion. In fact all three won the South Memphis, the City of Memphis and the Mid-South Golden Gloves tournaments. Johnny was always so energetic and handsome. We would tease him because when he was hit with a left-jab by and opponent his well groomed hair would go up into the air and come back down in the same place! His hair was never out of place. Dorsey was just a little mean. His left hook would stagger many, many boxers including some leading professional boxers in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Paul Burlison’s stunning knockout of a leading contender in Memphis made him known as one of the outstanding boxers in Memphis, Tennessee.
Personally, my boxing career would bloom a few years later. In the boxing season a few years after meeting Elvis, Johnny, Dorsey and Paul I would defeat the U. S. Military Boxing Champion in Little Rock, Arkansas; win the Sugar Bowl Boxing Championship in New Orleans, Louisiana; be presented the outstanding boxing trophy after winning the North Memphis, the Memphis City and the Mid-South Golden Gloves championships in Memphis, Tennessee; be presented with the “Outstanding Sportsmanship” trophy in Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois (the same year Cassius Clay won the “Outstanding Boxing” trophy as a light-heavy weight). Later in the year, after winning two fights in National AAU Boxing Tournament in the Boston, Gardens in Boston, Massachusetts I would be forced to withdraw from the tournament due to a cut under my chin which required stitches.
I boxed in Boston with Tony DeMarco, trained by Peter Fuller, managed by “Rip” Valenti until an accident crushed the elbow in my left arm. This forced me to stop my boxing career.
Living in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1950s and getting to know Elvis Presley, Johnny Burnette, Dorsey Burnette, Paul Burlison, Jerry Lee Lewis (that’s another story) Charlie Rich, Johnny Cash, Lee Denson, Dickey Lee and later working with the legendary Carl Perkins has inspired me to build THE INTERNATIONAL ROCK-A-BILLY HALL OF FAME, INC. in honor of these great musicians and friends. Our hall of fame is built in Jackson, Tennessee which is about an hours drive from Memphis in Carl Perkins hometown of Jackson, Tennessee. In it these great artists become alive again.
We also have a ROCKABILLY FESTIVAL every year in August, the weekend before Elvis Week in Memphis, to raise money and continue the operation of The Hall of Fame. This year’s festival is August 8th, 9th and 10th, 2003. Live performances will be held in the Carl Perkin’s Civic Center, Jackson, Tennessee.
President of The International Rock-A-Billy Hall Of Fame Inc.