Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, March 2021
Author-researcher, Paul Belard, is on a mission. His goal is to record the full Elvis story in photo-archival format. He has already released around 15 titles and the 1950s period is nowhere near completed, meaning the final number of volumes across Elvis’ career will be seriously high!
For this latest release, Elvis 1956 – 5 July to 31 July (Memphis-Biloxi-New Orleans), Belard neatly sets the scene for the events of July 1957 in the Preface:
The first few days were spent in Memphis, with a one day trip to Tupelo on July 7. This was trip to Biloxi where Elvis visited June Juanico. A rumor that the couple were engaged resulted in a media frenzy and Elvis and June heading to New Orleans to escape it. The days were spent deep sea fishing and relaxing before Elvis returned to Memphis on the 20 th, where photographer, Lloyd Shearer, was on hand to take a slew of photos of Elvis around the city. At the end of the month Elvis returned to Biloxi.
The narrative element to the book is minimal, comprising brief introductions to certain days during the month and a neat recap of Elvis’ time in Biloxi. Belard lets the strong mix of photos and archival material tell the story.
With the notable exception of the Lloyd Shearer photographs, many of the other images are candid shots. Together, they are a wonderful mix of color and b&w images of a relaxed King of Rock and Roll. Accordingly, they show the nature of their informal capture and in some cases their age (having been taken more than 60 years ago). As the majority of images are of Elvis “off-stage”, they offer a different perspective than most other photobooks.
The visual highlights include:
- Eleven page spread of the photos taken by Lloyd Shearer
- Elvis (with microphone) on stage supporting the Blackwood Bothers at their All-Night Gospel Concert
- Series of color and b&w photos of Elvis water-skiing
- Several images of Elvis and June Juanico during unguarded moments
- Numerous images of a bare-chested Elvis including a great shot of him in his swimming trunks with a towel draped around his neck and back and in his bedroom
- Various nice images of Elvis with Vernon and Gladys
- A bare-chested Red West with Elvis
- Color image of the cover to the popular one-off magazine, Elvis Presley (EIN Note: coincidentally, this magazine was re-issued last year by Gwandanaland Comics as Elvis – The First 21 Years)
- Various photos of Elvis with fans including one fantastic b&w shot of Elvis kissing an obviously very happy young woman
While the hundreds of images of Elvis dominate Elvis 1956 - 5 July to 31 July, there is a diverse of equally impressive archival material that nicely complements the visuals. They are rich in interesting information, reflecting both the hysteria of “Presleymania” and how Elvis was promoted in, and by, the press. The archival material includes:
- Elvis Mobbed, Signs on Arms in Hattiseburg (news item)
- Lloyd Shearer’s article in Parade magazine, Elvis Presley Most Controversial singer of our day, he is both loved and hated. Here’s what he says.
- Six-page spread of the Girl who got to PRESLEY
- Lloyd remembered Elvis in 1977 (news item)
- Radio interview in New Orleans
- All Steve [Sholes] Wants For Christmas Are More Singers Like Presley
- Billboard ad for Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel single
- Cashbox Disk of the Week (Hound Dog)
Verdict: Elvis 1956 July 5 to July 31 Memphis – Biloxi – New Orleans is another strong volume in Paul Belard’s photo-archival series recording the Elvis Presley story. The hundreds of interesting candid shots of Elvis on vacation, with fans, at home, deep sea fishing and having publicity shots taken around Memphis will please both Elvis historians and the casual reader. While many of the images have been published piecemeal in other publications, this is the first volume to bring them all together. It is a fine photo-archival record of that one month in Elvis history, which, in the mid-1950s, offered Elvis a quite different experience to most others- one where he was able to relax and have fun, escaping momentarily from having to go on the road with its gruelling schedule night after night.
Paul Belard fans take note: his next book (due out soon) is Elvis Rings Vol. 1 – a glorious full-color presentation of (just some of) the hundreds of rings Elvis owned throughout his life.