Did Elvis Record 'Tiger Man' At Sun?

EIN checks the facts and the fantasy

- Spotlight by Piers Beagley

A question that has puzzled Elvis fans through the years is whether he actually recorded the song ‘Tiger Man’ during his years at SUN.

The basic questions are
1. If Elvis DID NOT record ‘Tiger Man’ at SUN then why did he refer to it several times in concert as “The second song that I ever recorded, not too many people heard it”?
2. If Elvis DID record it, then why hasn’t any reference to it at SUN or proof of its existence been found?


EIN's Piers Beagley investigates and checks the facts and the fantasy ...

A question that has puzzled Elvis fans through the years is whether he actually recorded the song ‘Tiger Man’ during his years at SUN.

Elvis would first perform ‘Tiger Man’ in concert at his first 1969 Las Vegas International season and would continue playing it through the years – usually in a medley with Mystery Train - until his last performance at Saginaw on May 3 1977. He would sing it over 150 times on stage!

The basic questions are
1. If Elvis DID NOT record ‘Tiger Man’ at SUN then why did he refer to it several times in concert as “The second song that I ever recorded, not too many people heard it”?
2. If Elvis DID record it, then why hasn’t any reference to it at SUN or proof of its existence been found?

Elvis would first perform ‘Tiger Man’ in concert at his first 1969 Las Vegas International season and would continue playing it through the years – usually in a medley with Mystery Train - until his last performance at Saginaw on May 3 1977. He would sing it over 150 times on stage!

Elvis performs Tiger Man August 1970

But the performance that would rate as his finest would be the raw energy that Elvis imparted into his “NBC TV Special” 'sit-down' performance on June 27 1968.
Elvis would also try out the song at his dressing-room jam two days before.

Interestingly at neither performance would Elvis mention that this was an old SUN recording of his even though he did reference 'That's All Right' as "my first record" at both 'sit-down' shows.
While Elvis' introductions were very scant, he had been asked by the show's producers to tell some stories between songs so this would have been a perfect point for Elvis to mention 'Tiger Man' as a track he had recorded at Sun.    

The song 'Tiger Man' was composed by Joe Hill Louis / Sam Burns and first recorded by Rufus Thomas at SUN back in 1953. 

It could be seen as a clever follow-up to his previous hit single ‘Bear Cat’ that Sam Phillips has suggested as a “reply record” to Mama Thornton’s popular ‘Hound Dog’.

In fact 'Tiger Man' could be seen as yet another "reply-record" as both his 'Hound Dog' and 'Bear Cat' are referenced in the lyrics of 'Tiger Man'!

" Well, I get up on the mountain and I call my Bear Cat back,
My Bear Cat comes a-running and the hound-dog get a way back"

Rufus Thomas recorded the song in 1953 so there is no doubt that Elvis would have heard the song on Memphis radio.

Elvis’ first visit to SUN was in July 1953 to record his first acetate and of course it was a year later on July 1954 that Elvis recorded 'That's All Right' and he became a serious SUN recording artist.

It was unfortunately due to Elvis' success that Sam Phillips would then focus less time on his black artists, as Rufus Thomas would testify....

Rufus Thomas, "In the pre Elvis days of Sun Records, during the early days Sam Phillips was recording all black artists and there's where 'Bear Cat' came in and 'Tiger Man'. All these songs that I was doing with Sam Phillips and then after a year or so Elvis came. And when Elvis came, I don't know why, he comes up with some sort of a tale but Sam discarded all of his black artists."

'Tiger Man' would in fact be the last single released by Rufus Thomas on SUN.
Listen to Rufus Thomas crazy original here

Elvis would also meet Rufus Thomas and have their picture taken together at the WDIA Goodwill Review charity show at the Ellis auditorium in Memphis December 7, 1956.

Despite any issues that Rufus Thomas felt over leaving SUN records he would acknowledge the effect Elvis had with black audiences in those days..

Rufus Thomas, "I was the first black jock to play Elvis until the PD told me to stop playing Elvis. We were doing a show at Ellis Auditorium, George Cline brought Elvis back stage and they were going to put Elvis up front in this show. I said, don't you do that, if you do the show is over but they put him close to the end and we were wearing Indian costumes, I had a great big hat and then feathers and the like. So I took Elvis by his hand, led him on stage and he did that willow with that leg two or three times and it was over and the show was really over and the people, these were black people, his first all black show, they stormed that place trying to get to Elvis. And the next day I started back to playing Elvis and we been playing Elvis ever since. See there's no one, or individual who can think for a group of people. There's one man who just happened to be white thinking that black folks didn't like Elvis and he was so wrong. People like music and if it's good it makes no difference who's doing it, black, blue, green even plaid if it's like that. And I love good music and Elvis was doing good music for me at that time. He was doing blues, rhythm and blues because that was his beginning."

So the thought that there might be an acetate or undiscovered tape of Elvis at SUN singing ‘Tiger Man’ is a mouth-watering concept - but is it an unlikely fantasy or strong possibility?
- Facts for the theory that Elvis did record 'Tiger Man' at SUN.

To be honest the only fact that indicates that Elvis might have recorded 'Tiger Man' at SUN is his on-stage comments, “The second song that I ever recorded”. Unfortunately there is nothing else - at all.

There is no compelling evidence of any kind and as we all know Elvis' on-stage comments were never particularly factual.
Listening to Elvis' Las Vegas seasons or US Tours it is obvious that once Elvis discovered a good introductory line he would often stick with it for the few weeks.

Elvis' jokey comments such as the Ed Sullivan "son-of-a-bitch" or the frog-on-a-lilly-pad routine before 'Hound Dog' were used almost every night once Elvis started feeling comfortable with the routine.

However even Elvis' "facts" could never be taken at face value.
- 'Softly As I Leave You' was never a "true story" told to Elvis about a man who was dying.
- 'Hawaiian Wedding Song' was never "the most requested song" from his movie Blue Hawaii.
- 'Trying to Get To You' was not recorded in 1959 as Elvis noted at his 1977 concerts.
- Charlie Hodge was not named "Kate Smith".
- Nor did Elvis do a movie "just before 'Gone With The Wind' came out.."

Of course in many instances Elvis was deliberately joking - but it goes to show that if the introduction felt right Elvis would keep using it whether it was true or not.

It is also worth noting that in performances while Elvis continued to refer to 'That's All Right' as "my first record" throughout his career he would soon stop referring to 'Tiger Man' as his "second record".

It is worth adding that in Las Vegas February 1971 Elvis introduced the song 'Mystery Train' as being "my second record" before launching into 'Mystery Train' as the first part of the medley. This only adds to the confusion!

Elvis would perform Tiger Man on November 14, 1971
(With thanks to Francesc Lopez)


- Facts against Elvis ever having recorded 'Tiger Man' at SUN.

In multiple interviews guitarist Scotty Moore doesn't recall 'Tiger Man' ever being recorded although he vaguely recalls that, "Maybe it was have been something we might have run through a few times."
Scotty Moore does however remember performing other SUN era oddities such as 'Hearts Of Stone' or 'Rock Around The Clock'.
Moore's "vague recollections" of course could apply to dozens of songs that the Blue Moon Boys jammed together on in the studio warming up before a session.

The NBC TV Special
While Elvis' introductions were very scant during the TV taping, he had been asked by the show's producers to tell some stories between songs.
This could have been a perfect point for Elvis to mention 'Tiger Man' as a track that he had recorded at Sun but at neither performance would Elvis mention that this was an old SUN recording of his - even though he did reference 'That's All Right' as his "first record" at both 'sit-down' shows.
SUN Studio Paperwork
While Sam Phillips was never particularly interested in keeping detailed paperwork, two songs 'Satisfied' and 'I Got A Woman' are definitely noted on his paperwork but the tapes are missing.
'Tiger Man' however is never referenced in the SUN paperwork.

Audio Engineer and Elvis researcher Kevan Budd (see EIN interview here) has spent more time than almost anyone else working on Elvis' SUN era material.
Kevan Budd played the major role in the sensational 'Elvis At Sun' release from 2004 which finally corrected the poor audio mastering that Elvis fans had been listening to for decades. 
If there is any suggestion that 'Tiger Man' might have been recorded on an acetate it has not been found even with decades of investigation.
Kevan Budd confirmed, "There is no paperwork record of an Elvis Presley SUN acetate of `Tiger man` in Elvis Presley's personal collection.  If Elvis ever had it, there is no record of it and it's not there now."  -

RCA's Ernst Jørgensen has been investigating Elvis' legacy for decades. In the past he has acknowledged that there was a possibility* that Elvis might have recorded 'Tiger Man' at SUN but after spending another 14 years researching his fact-driven book 'Boy From Tupelo' Jørgensen has still found no proof of any kind except for Elvis' on stage quips.

When Scotty Moore was asked about the posibility of Tiger Man ever being recorded he said, "Maybe it was something we might have run through it a few times* - because that was Rufus, wasn't it? We didn't record it - if we did then it got erased. Sam didn't want to spend money on tape."

*EIN acknowledges that there has to be "a possibility" that Elvis could have played around with 'Tiger Man' at some point at SUN since Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys would certainly have jammed on a multiple songs that were never taped even if just to warm-up before a session.
At the SUN studios Million Dollar Quartet jam Elvis would try out 'Reconsider Baby', 'Little Cabin Home On The Hill', 'Down By The Riverside', 'When The Saints Go Marchin' In', 'Farther Along' and 'Too Much Monkey Business' all songs that he would record professionally later on. So while this proves Elvis would play around with whatever songs came to mind at the time, it didn't mean that they were ever recorded on to acetate or for actual release while he was working for Sam Phillips.


'Tiger Man' Live in the fifties?
If Elvis had tried 'Tiger Man' as his second song at Sun, and so remembered it affectionately playing it both at the '68 Comeback Special and also in concert throughout the seventies, then surely he would have performed it live in the fifties?

So what SUN tracks do we know from recordings or documentation that Elvis performed LIVE in the fifties.
It is an impressive list which may surprise some fans.

That's All Right - YES
Blue Moon Of Kentucky - YES
I'll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin') - No
I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine - YES
Just Because - YES
Good Rockin' Tonight - YES
Milkcow Blues Boogie- YES
I Got A Woman
(Sun try-out) - YES
Baby Let's Play House - YES
You're A Heartbreaker   - YES
I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone - YES
I Forgot To Remember To Forget - YES
Mystery Train - YES
Tryin' To Get To You - YES

even , 'I Love You Because' - YES!

Plus there are all those other non 'Sun' songs we know Elvis performed such as... 'Money Honey', 'Fool, Fool, Fool', 'Hearts Of Stone', 'Rock Around The Clock', 'Tweedlee Dee', 'Pledging My Love', 'Danny Boy', 'Only You', Little Mama, etc
But NO 'Tiger Man'!

Of course it is worth noting that even if we had proof that Elvis performed it live on stage in the fifties that in itself would not guarantee 100% that Elvis recorded 'Tiger Man' at SUN - but it would be a positive indicator.

Sam Phillips' search for the  "Second Record"
Elvis would shake-up Rufus Thomas' original 'Tiger Man' whenever he performed it, creating an inspired rock'n'roll proclamation that he was indeed 'King of The Jungle'
We all know that had Elvis performed ‘Tiger Man’ in Sun studios it would have been exactly what Sam Phillips would have wanted to put on tape.

Instead Elvis struggled for a second single follow-up to 'That's All Right' trying out ... 'Blue Moon', 'Tomorrow Night', 'I'll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin')', 'Satisfied', 'I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine' and 'Just Because' - before hitting gold with 'Good Rockin' Tonight'.
It is notable that ONLY two of the above six, late 1954 recorded numbers, were even released by Sam Phillips, yet he kept all the tapes, as well as the tape box notes.

The final fact that can't be overlooked is that 'Sam Burns' who is credited as co-composer of 'Tiger Man' was in fact Sam Phillips pseudonym.

If Elvis had put 'Tiger Man' down on tape at SUN at any point in this period - Sam Phillips would have kept the tape, whether Elvis liked his attempt or not.

Especially because Sam Phillips had a composer's credit!
In the same way that we would all like "to believe" that 'Tiger Man' was recorded at Sun (because it would be so damn good) similarly Sam Phillips would have kept the tape.

Sam Phillips was not known for his reticence or low opinion of himself!
The very fact that Phillips had a composer's credit on the song would have made Elvis' recording,
a) Very memorable for Sam Phillips
b) Financially beneficial to Sam Phillips
c) Something Sam would have been eager to keep on tape
d) Something Sam would have bragged about later on in interviews even if the tape or acetate was lost.

We have to acknowledge that if Elvis loved the song and it was "the second single I recorded" then we would have some kind of definite proof such as from Sam Phillips' paperwork or notes or interviews, or at least the fact that Elvis did perform it at some time on stage in the mid-fifties.


FTD contributor Joachim Bernecker "(aka Ciscoking)" comments..
... "What bothers me is the fact that this whole idea that Elvis recorded Tiger Man at Sun studios is based on nothing but pure speculation. You can read hundreds of pages of people's wild suggestions but in the end you discover nothing but assumptions, speculations, listings, events, what ifs, etc..etc.. While these flights of fancy are nice to consider they actually contain nothing .. I repeat nothing ... that indicates that this acetate or recording did indeed happen. There is not one solid once of proof. Nothing. No written note, no eye witness, no book source, no session logs, no audio, no newspaper article, nothing."

Please check out Ciscoking's excellent website detailing all of Elvis' concerts and their CD releases here.

Similarly Shane Brown author of 'Elvis Presley" A Listener's Guide' adds..
... "The issue here is not whether not Elvis attempted Tiger Man at Sun, but the fact that the evidence for such a theory is based on something he said on stage a few times, when we all know that Elvis said lots of things on stage that were not true, nor did they have any basis in fact. The likelihood here is that Elvis first did this spiel at some point when Mystery Train and Tiger Man were a medley, and kept it when Mystery Train was temporarily excised. Mystery Train wasn't, of course, his second record either, but it's close enough given Elvis' normal stretching of the truth or misremembered details.
So Elvis sang 'Tiger Man' at Burbank. So what? That's no evidence either. He sang 'Baby What You want Me To Do' there as well, many times. But no-one is offering that as evidence that there is a studio recording lurking somewhere.
What's more Ernst spent about ten years working on 'A Boy from Tupelo' and yet found NO EVIDENCE that the song was ever recorded."

Overall Verdict: Of course there's no harm in dreaming - what a great find ANY new recording from Elvis' SUN era would be - but Elvis' legacy is already clouded enough with uncorroborated suppositions and conspiracies that without any genuine proof this lightweight theory needs to be laid to rest. Looking at all the facts above fans have to acknowledge that all the research strongly points to the fact that Elvis never recorded a version of 'Tiger Man' at Sun Studios and that any other suggestion is sadly just a flight of fancy.

EIN notes that a few fans who are less interested in due diligence and more interested in personal dreams of finding something that never occurred try and argue their case for 'Tiger Man' being recorded at SUN studios here on the FECC website. If you want to read more about the alternate viewpoint then EIN recommends that you check it out here at the very entertaining FECC Forum.

Spotlight by Piers Beagley
-Copyright EIN August 2015. Do Not reprint or republish without permission.

Click here to comment on this article - What is YOUR opinion?

Go here for more relevant EIN articles:

'Elvis-The King Of The Jungle' In-Depth Book Review:

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'The Elvis Files Vol. 5 1969-70'  Book Review:

Elvis Opening Night Las Vegas 1969 - 45 Years Ago Today:

Elvis; Concert Review 1969: EIN 40th Anniversary special Spotlight:

"Elvis: A Listener's Guide" EIN Interview with Author Shane Brown:

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