Does anyone still remember when Elvis played Asheville back in 1955? Over in Denmark, the King's premier producer and archivist wants to know. Ernst Jorgensen is chasing the ultimate rock `n' roll cold case file. He's gathering details of Presley's life in 1955, just before he became a star.
That includes two shows Elvis did here in May and September of '55 at the old City Auditorium (now Thomas Wolfe Auditorium). Both were country concerts, headlined by the late great Grand Ole Opry star Hank Snow.
For Jorgensen, time is not on his side. A half-century after a lean young Elvis barnstormed the country, seeking fame and fortune, memories are fast fading away. Jorgensen - who produces all of today's Elvis albums for RCA - is compiling this material for yet another project, a book and CD set to be published later this year. "We are trying to document his rise to fame," Jorgensen said, in a phone call from his home in rural Denmark, an hour outside Copenhagen.
The King's life after 1956 is well recorded in history. But it's that one year, 1955, that remains something of a mystery.
The timing is perfect. This weekend, Elvis would have turned 70. Of course, he departed this world in 1977, or so they say.
On the road
Fresh out of Memphis and looking to strike it big, Elvis was the original road warrior in late 1954 and throughout 1955, Jorgensen said. He did about 250 shows that year, "in beer joints, football stadiums, schools," wherever he could pull a crowd.
"We've found some shots where he was playing on a flatbed truck," Jorgsensen said.
In a few markets, Elvis was already a solo star. But most towns, he couldn't draw a crowd alone. So in May and September of `55, he toured with Snow and other country acts. "He wasn't big enough to go in alone in Asheville," Jorgensen said.
Just the facts
Elvis slipped into town for two gigs at old City Auditorium.
On May 17, 1955, he was part of Hank Snow's Jamboree, which also featured the Rainbow Ranch Boys, Martha Carson and the Country Gentlemen. Slim Whitman, Elvis with Bill and Scotty, The Davis Sisters, Skeeter & Georgie, Jimmy Rogers Snow and Onie Wheeler.
A few months later, and building up steam, the future King returned on Sept. 16, 1955, for a "Grand Ole Opry" concert, again starring Snow with the Louvin Brothers, Cowboy Copas, The Rainbow Ranch Boys, Scotty and Bill, the Alabama Sundusters, Ken Marvin ("your favorite DJ"), emcee Red Kirk and Elvis ("back by popular demand!").
Searching for evidence
Other than two small ads in the old Asheville Citizen and Asheville Times newspapers, little is recorded about those two dates. Jorgensen hopes that someone may have a few memories. Or perhaps, have made a snapshot or two.
"We don't want people to invent anything, but they might remember what car he arrived in, or a song he did," Jorgensen said. These little clues - especially the photos - paint a unique portrait of the soon-to-be star. "His wardrobe changed from 1954 to 1955," the producer said. Through pictures, Jorgensen can tell "when he bought a new coat or a new pair of pants," he said.
Closing the book
Jorgensen, who co-authored the book "Elvis Day by Day," will use these 1955 memories in a new book and CD project, to be published later this year.
"Hopefully, this will be the true tribute, full of these little anecdotes," he said. "It will be the reference point for everything early Elvis."
Meanwhile, Jorgensen is working on yet another Elvis CD "Love," a collection of his romantic material for Valentine's Day, and a video and CD project, "Elvis by the Presleys," with the King's life told by his former wife Priscilla and his daughter Lisa Marie
Sharing the memories
Fans who saw Elvis in `55, either here or somewhere else, can e-mail Jorgensen's U.S. researcher Danny Kane at DannyKane@cox.net or call (718) 247-4448 and leave a message on the voice mail. CD prizes will be awarded for the best information and photos.