Tyler and East Texas hold a significant place in Elvis Presley's rise to stardom. That is why Brian Petersen, a Presley fan and author who lives in Sweden, recently e-mailed the Tyler Morning Telegraph for help.
He is working on his second book about Presley's early career, with the help of Ernst Jorgensen, an RCA/BMG producer. However, Petersen stumbled onto what he thought could be a discrepancy.
Petersen has two photos of Presley performing; one that is said to have been taken at the Mayfair Building at the East Texas State Fairgrounds, and another supposedly taken at the Reo Palm Isle Club in Longview. Yet, both pictures had the same unusual ceiling in the background. Petersen thought the ceiling was too distinct to be in both buildings.
Presley played several gigs in East Texas during 1955 with the Louisiana Hayride, a tour presented by Shreveport radio station KWKH, and a disc jockey from Gladewater's KSIJ station, Tom Perryman.
Petersen knows this because he has a copy of an advertisement about the Hayride show dates and times in Tyler, Hawkins, Gilmer, Longview and Gaston.
He said the ad came from the Tyler paper and with further investigation, the ad was found in the newspaper archives at the Smith County Historical Society. The ad ran on page nine in the Sunday edition of the Tyler Courier-Times--Telegraph on Jan 23, 1955.
Petersen knew Presley performed at both the Mayfair and the Reo around the same time but the question still remained if both the pictures were from the same place.
Who better to ask then the man who promoted Presley in East Texas during that time - Perryman, now a morning DJ on KKUS 104.1 FM "The Ranch" in Tyler?
"Elvis' first day he ever worked in Texas was in Gladewater on Highway 271 at the Mint Club," Perryman said.
Presley joined the Hayride tour in the fall of 1954 but some of the dates fell through, and the promoter in Shreveport called Perryman for help.
"He asked me if I knew of somewhere Elvis, Scotty and Bill could play on short notice," Perryman said. "I said 'Yes' and put them in Gladewater."
That night, Perryman's wife, Billie, sold tickets at the door and they pulled in $90.
Perryman said there was no recorded date of this performance because it was only advertised on the radio a few times.
"Usually I would keep 15 percent of the profits for plugging the gig on the radio but I gave it all to Elvis," Perryman said. "And he never forgot."
When Presley came through East Texas on the Hayride tour again in 1955 with Jim Ed and Maxine Brown, Perryman served as the master of ceremonies.
"I probably was the only hillbilly disc jockey playing Elvis' record," he said.
Hitting The Ceiling
While providing insight into Presley's beginnings in Texas, Perryman couldn't say for sure that the photos were taken at the Mayfair Building.
Next in line for clarification was Alice Emmons, East Texas State Fair general manager.
"He played in my high school gym when I was a junior," said Mrs. Emmons, who attended school in Hawkins.
The fairgrounds building 'expert' studied the photographs and confirmed they were taken in the Mayfair Building - water spot stains on the ceiling in one photo gave it away for certain.
To this day, the unusual pattern on the ceiling is still evident. Petersen was pleased to hear the confirmation.
"Elvis was and still is the greatest performing artist ever, and we feel that it is time that the record be set straight as to his rising to superstardom," Petersen said. "July 1954 through December 1955 is the period in Elvis' career we know the least about. We hope to be able to change this."
Petersen's first book, "The Atomic Powered Singer," details Presley's whereabouts during 1956.
He began writing about Presley's gigs after reading a book called "Long Lonely Highway" by Ger Rijff, a Dutch writer.
"It was sort of a scrapbook with pictures and articles about Elvis in the 1950s, and I started going through all my books and magazines making a list of all the shows Elvis did back then," Petersen said. "Soon I discovered that different books place him in different states on the same dates."
Petersen, an air traffic controller, started writing to libraries all over the United States and borrowed microfilmed newspapers from 1954 through 1958.
"Going through page after page, day after day, week after week and month after month, I spent thousands of hours doing research," he said.
Petersen even spent four weeks looking at archives in New York, Raleigh, N.C., Memphis, Little Rock, Dallas, Austin, Baton Rouge and Biloxi Miss to find "hidden gigs."
"In 1994 I felt I had sufficient information to put 1956 on paper," he said.
The result was a 240-page book "that set the record straight for the first time ever according to Elvis' whereabouts during that year," he said. "I came up with no less than 40 dates that had never been printed in any book before."
His book was only sold through Elvis fan clubs, and due to the fact an American author put out a book six months later dealing with the same issue, the book never hit the US market.
"I still sit on 400 copies but would need one person to take the whole lot in order to make it cheap for them to buy," Petersen said. "The postage to the United States is far too expensive for single book orders."
For the next book, Petersen is looking for more advertisements, ticket stubs, photographs and personal stories about Presley from 1954 to 1955.
"We are interested in everything the readers can tell us and everything they can show us," he said.
Petersen's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.