Friday, January 8, 2010


Elvis Presley was born on this day, January 8th, 75 years ago in Tupelo, Mississippi. Dirt poor and scruffy, he was teased as "white trash" and hillbilly when he moved to Memphis as a teenager. There was no clue he would become a hit, not to mention a cultural icon, when he worked as a truckdriver, but the first glimpse of destiny came in 1954 when he started mixing black and white music. He recorded a song, for his mother, as a gift, but then he decided to record a few more to the anger of many in the heavily segregated South--combining country with rhythm and blues and a heavy backbeat. Before long, his "race-mixing music" and the swagger and smirk he stole from talented rebels Brando and James Dean made a fiery combination you either loved or hated, but either way he didn't seem to care. This was rock and roll.

Heartbreak Hotel

Other rockers came before him, Chuck Berry and Little Richard and a handful of crazy nuts, but they were mostly black and couldn't get a crossover hit on the segregated airwaves. In fact, only a few disc jockeys had the guts to play Elvis right off. The first was Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips, who played Elvis on his "Red, Hot and Blue" show. He played "That's Alright, Mama," and the phones started ringing. People were calling to find out the name of the new singer. And to find out what color he was.

From the start, Elvis was trouble. He appealed to teenagers because he was a rebel, he didn't stand stock-still like the crooners, and he rocked. Like him or not, he was something new and exciting and he rattled the cage of American culture. Maybe it was one big goof until he cut his DA and joined the Army, acted in a bunch of cheesy Hollywood movies, ballooned up in caped spangled jumpsuits, hugged Richard Nixon, and killed himself with pills and pies and fried banana sandwiches. But until then, man he was real gone!

Elvis on Sullivan, January 6th, 1957

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