Did I see Elvis? If I did, thankfully it wasn’t him and grandma welcoming me into the light.
Know me, and you know I thrive on old rock and roll music in general and anything about “The King of Rock and Roll” in particular. “Did you see him in person,” someone always asks. For many years, the short answer was, “No.” But, that’s where this story begins.
Before moving to Mount Pleasant during my grade school years, the last career stop for my dad was in the small West Texas community of Seymour—a dusty spot at that time where everything was within walking distance.
Walking to a country music show at the high school gym one night was exactly what the teenage daughter of a family friend had in mind. Only after agreeing to let a couple of younger kids tag along did her parents consent to allowing her and a girlfriend to attend. I suspect that was to dampen any plan for meeting boys, but it worked—and I was one of the tag along kids.
Childhood recollections of the night were pretty much limited to a late night, loud music, some guy in brightly colored clothes singing, and the weirdest thing—every girl in the crowd going insane. There were also doses of stern parental lectures afterward regarding trust, responsibility, not coming home on time, and other similar parental sermons many have heard … and given.
Fast forward to 2003 and on the phone is Ernst Jorgensen, a record executive whose life work has been documenting Elvis’s image by re-mastering songs and publishing books about “The King’s” career.
He was gathering information for a book chronicling early Elvis appearances from his Sun Records days driving across the South singing at small town store openings, community fairs, gyms and dance halls. Seeking confirmation of a 1955 appearance at the Mount Pleasant National Guard Armory, Jorgensen said Jordanaires’ lead singer Gordon Stoker suggested he call me. “Gordon says you’re from Mount Pleasant.”
“I am,” I said, “But we didn’t move there until 1959 … from Seymour.”
“I’ve already confirmed Elvis in Seymour,” Jorgensen said. “I’ll email you that clipping and a copy of the poster.”
The story bylined Doug Dixon related how the local VFD had sponsored a country music show April 25, 1955, “… in the Seymour High School Auditorium … with special guest star, Elvis Presley.”
Dixon, who attended the show, reported a man at the entrance with a cigar box collected admission of one dollar “You just paid your dollar and walked in.”
Entertainers from the San Antonio record label TNT, “put on a pretty good opening show,” according to Dixon, “But of course, the crowd was impatient to see Elvis.” Dixon describes a long evening where, “Every singer sang twice, even the man who had taken our money at the door got up and sang. That was when the M.C. admitted Elvis wasn’t there yet, but he would be pretty soon.”
Dixon’s article accounted as how following intermission, the man with the cigar box went through the crowd refunding 50 cents to everyone, including some who had sneaked in without paying during the intermission. The second half continued much like the first and time grew late, wrote Dixon. “Eventually, most of the audience left, grumbling about being ‘took.’ Only hard core Elvis fans remained, still hoping for a miracle.”
“Suddenly a girl at the edge of the stage … screamed, ‘He’s here! He’s here!’” Dixon described guitar player Scotty Moore and other band members (drummer D.J. Fontana and bass player Bill Black) taking their places before Elvis walked on the stage.
“He was wearing a fire engine red sport coat, bow tie, white shirt and blue trousers, Dixon wrote. “Both coat and trousers were two sizes too large, so he could make his moves without ripping something. For a long moment, he stood there with half-closed eyelids, not saying a word. Scotty stepped up behind Elvis and pretended to wind him up as one winds a wind-up toy. With this done, Elvis suddenly grabbed his guitar and broke into ‘That’s All Right Mama’ … and the show was on.
“What a show it was!” Dixon wrote. “Elvis shook, danced and twisted, as he sang one song after another … Bill Black rode his bass like it was a horse, as he slapped out a rockabilly beat. Scotty Moore’s guitar lashed out adding to the frenzy of the crowd. Girls screamed, cried and several appeared to faint. The girl standing next to me moaned and slid to the floor and lay there jerking, as if she was having some kind of seizure.”
According to Dixon, after several songs Elvis explained their late arrival. “We were booked into Miller Brothers over at Wichita Falls for a dance,” he quoted Elvis as saying. “We didn’t know about this booking until we got a phone call earlier in the evening … some kind of mix up.”
Elvis reportedly asked for a long intermission in Wichita Falls allowing time for a quick appearance in Seymour. The problem was compounded, according to Elvis, when they ran out of gas just outside Seymour and had to hitchhike into town.
“Hectic man,” Dixon quoted Elvis as saying. “Real hectic.” Elvis reportedly also said he would appreciate someone taking them back to their car with some gas after the show, and “… almost every girl in the house volunteered.”
So the question remains. Did I see Elvis in person? There’s no way to know for sure, but the evidence is compelling that I was there the night in a dusty West Texas town when “Elvis finally entered the building.”
Leon Aldridge — July 7, 2015
(Originally published in the Center (Texas) Light and Champion, June 2, 2014)