Overwhelming Overton

By FerryMar 5, 2015

This is the second themed article by Ferry, this time he focusses on the 1954 live performances.

Back in 1954 Elvis really started his career. Sam Phillips of the Sun recording studios just recorded the song that would change it all. “That’s All Right Mama”. The song was written and recorded by Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup in Chicago on September 6th 1946. He recorded it as “That’s All Right”. Some lyrics were traditional Blues verses as recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1926. Crudup’s version was released as a single on RCA Victor 20-2205. It wasn’t successful. It was re-released as “That’s All Right, Mama” on RCA Victor 50-000. It was their first rhythm and blues record on the new 45 rpm single format. Also Marty Robbins would record it in 1955. It was this version in mind that was used by Elvis on July 5th 1954. Elvis was present together for the 5th time at the studio. This time with Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass) for a recording session. Nothing came from it. It just wasn’t there. During a brake Elvis started to goof around in an up-tempo version of this song. Bill Black joint in and later on Scotty Moore to. Sam Phillips wanted to start them all over to record it. This is what he was looking for. After the recording Bill Black would remark: “Damn, Get that on the radio and they’ll run us out of town”
Sam gave some copies to local disc jockey Dewey Phillips of WHBQ. He played it on July 7th 1954 during his show “Red, Hot and Blue”. Elvis weren’t there to listen to it on the radio. He was to nervous to. So he went to a local movie theater. Dewey was overwhelmed by the phone calls, he finally played it 14 times that evening. Elvis was picked up from the theater. He had to give an interview that evening on-air. The people had to know who this kid was. The record was officially released July 19th 1954 and sold around 20.000 copies. This was not enough for national charts, but he went 4th on the local Memphis charts.

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The nervousness he had during this airtime is also what happened when booked for Slim Whitman’s Show on July 30th 1954 in the Overton shell in Memphis. Just his third booking since de recording of the song. (first was July 17th and second was July 24th, both in the Bon Air in Memphis, Tennessee) Elvis started at 8.00pm that evening with the just released song. He came up with dress pants, white shirt and a black neck-tie, his hair still blonde and not dyed black yet, and no ducktail to be found yet. Elvis was so nervous again that he didn’t stand still upright behind the microphone that evening as usual, but his leg shook to the rhythm of the song standing at the ball of his feet. Elvis was shocked by the screaming girls and didn’t know why they did that. They never did that on other performances he did. After “That’s All Right, Mama” he sang the B-side of the SUN single 209, “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. After this performance Elvis went of stage and asked people why they were yelling and screaming. They told him it was because of his shaky leg. Later that show they did the same two songs but also the song “I’ll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin’).

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This Shaky leg was the beginning of the moves (see article: The Moves) which brought him fame. Elvis didn’t use it all the time, but every once and a while to make sure that his leg was what the girls triggered. It was just a shky leg which he would develop to a whole stage performance. Doing 44 more performances the rest of the year (most at the Eagles Nest) he also started to do the real big shows. Starting October 2nd at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville Tennessee and October 16th at the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana. But that’s a whole other story.
p.s. The picture with Elvis with four-year-old Charlie Torian Jr. backstage at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis, TN on July 30, 1954 is kinda special. Charlie grew up to be a Memphis police officer. He was one of the Memphis Police Department honor guard sergeants from the nearby South Precinct who kept watch over Elvis's coffin while it was at Graceland on August 17, 1977.

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