Elvis '57 - The Final Fifties Tours
By Alan Hanson
"In 1957 Elvis always opened his concerts with 'Heartbreak Hotel' and closed with a raucous version of 'Hound Dog'. The excitement generated by Elvis reached its fervent peak in 1957. Whenever he started his unique stage gyrations, swarms of shrieking and weeping teenage girls reached out to their golden-clad idol."
In 1957 Elvis performed in eighteen cities, including a short tour of Canada. Elvis ’57 is a detailed look at these tours which started in Chicago and ended with the headline grabbing sensation of the LA Pan Pacific concerts and the final Hawaii trip in November. These would be Elvis' last live appearances before he left for his army stint and would help cement his place in Pop culture forever.
Fifty years later it is still hard to comprehend the astounding impact that Elvis had on Pop Culture and the American way of life.
In 1956, his kick-start year, Elvis was still fulfilling his ‘pre-fame’ contract conditions performing an amazing 140 concerts in more than 75 cities before The Colonel bought out his original Hayride contract.
Despite his success, towards the end of 1956 conservative media outlets were still predicting the demise of Rock’n’Roll and suggesting that Elvis’ star was fading. So in terms of Elvis’ cultural legacy 1957 would have to be the key year where Elvis would have to prove his sustainability and that he wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan.
‘Elvis '57: The Final Fifties Tours’ focuses on the all-important concerts of this triumphant year where, due to movie commitments, Elvis would perform concerts in only 18 cities yet capture the minds of the quarter of a million fans who saw him.
Most Elvis books that focus on the fifties era discuss him in an biographical way with scant detail to the touring aspect of his career, while most "Elvis On Tour" books focus on Elvis in the seventies. So it is very refreshing to read such a detailed study on one particular part of Elvis life in 1957.
Don’t expect too many photos as this is a text based book. Although it does feature some excellent photos, some previously unknown, their print quality is a little disappointing as the author himself has acknowledged. They do however help illustrate the story which is a lovely and detailed journey.
(Right: Elvis In Ottawa)
Note that high quality original prints of Elvis live in 1957 can be bought directly from Alan Hanson's website.
Author Alan Hanson presents the story primarily using fifties print sources, such as newspaper articles, which gives the book a unique perspective. He spent years researching all these possible leads and it is fascinating to read articles that impart such strong reactions about Elvis, both good and bad.
There is a real thrill in reading concert reviews written on the very day that totally capture all the excitement of the moment. The images of Elvis’ performances are quite astounding and there is no doubt that through all the teenage screaming very little of Elvis and his band could be heard at most of the concerts.
There is a wonderfully powerful description of Elvis’ Toronto concert by Dr. Charles Peaker, organist at St. Paul, Anglican Church.
"He clutches the mike and begins to sing, twitching all over. Pandemonium - flashbulbs exploding so continuously I could see to write, an earth shaking din and through it all the band and the drums.
Up and down the stage he goes, dragging the mike like a captive, undulating, shouting feverishly. He freezes, the orchestra stops - he glares at the audience like one in a hypnotic trance, then he leaps, gives tongue, and starts to dislocate his golden legs again.
Apparently the audience doesn't want to hear him, and little he cares. Abruptly he stops, and says perfectly clearly, "Thank you very much".
Then his face sets, his lips curl back and seizing the mike by the scruff of the neck he prowls like a panther up and down the platform, snarling and driving his worshippers crazy.
Across the stage, a pitiful group, his quartet, surrounds another mike supplying harmony I suppose, but no one hears them, no one sees them; all eyes are on the sick Aztec god reeling up and down in his dreadful finery."
At times you will also find yourselves either laughing or crying from the stupidity of the negative reviews and articles.
"Elvis Presley is a vulgar, tasteless amateur ... I find this no laughing matter. It is a desperate state of affairs when you consider millions of youngsters being brought up on horror comics and Presley ... Bing Crosby does what he does with taste and voice. He is a professional in his field. Presley, on the other hand, is a cheap amateur in the extreme."
- Rudolf Bing, general manager, Metropolitan Opera Company.
"It goes without saying he has all the appeal of one-part dynamite and one part chain-lightning to the adolescent girls, but to one like myself who is neither a girl nor adolescent, I could only feel he was strikingly devoid of talent. One rock ’n’ roll ballad sounded just like the other, and the basic theme and appeal were sex, which Elvis lays on with the subtlety of a bulldozer in mating season, you might say."
"Rock'n'roll will die in the near Future, and Elvis will speed it along ... What a horrible experience. I came to find out what all the noise about Presley is about; and that's just what it all amounted to-a lot of noise."
Where necessary Hanson also embellishes his story with interviews from people such Jordanaires’ Gordon Stoker and Hugh Jarrett (sadly recently deceased) along with disc jockeys and fans that were actually there to witness this phenomenon.
Another delight is scanning set-lists and finding some real surprises. ‘Fool’s Hall Of Gold’ is mentioned, ‘Butterfly’ (presumably the US & UK #1 at the time by Charlie Grace) is also there, as well as a very early performance of ‘One Night’ only one month after Elvis recorded the song.
There are several touring highlights including the Chicago concerts with Elvis in his new Gold-Lame suit causing thirteen over-excited girls to faint! Also the Vancouver concert with the "riot" of the girls rushing the stage and Colonel Parker forcing Elvis to cut the performance short.
The aftermath is nicely described by D.J Fontana,
"We had gotten our equipment off the stage okay, and we all jumped in the car. It was Scotty, Bill, George Klein, and I. Scotty was driving, and boy, was George nervous. He said, "Scotty, put this car on race! They're gonna kill us!" (Because the fans were shaking the car.) "We're going to get killed in here!"
And Scotty said, "Well, we can't run over these people, George."
I thought we were going to have to stay there all night long until they decided to leave. We were there for about thirty minutes to an hour, then security came and got rid of all the kids. They meant well, they just got excited, I guess."
Right: After the Portland Press conference with DJ Bob Blackburn and 13 year old fan Nancy Welty.
Bob Blackburn was not an Elvis fan at the time and both he and Nancy contribute fascinating and original stories for the book.
Bob Blackburn,"In my era of the big bands, the great vocalists of the time sang, but they didn't prance around on stage."
Best of all it is a real credit to Hanson as a writer that there is a surprisingly strong narrative feel to the book. From the start you can feel the storm of Elvis slowly building up to the crescendo of the famed Los Angeles Pan Pacific shows with Elvis "disgracefully" rolling around on stage with Nipper the RCA dog!
The final chapters then work as a nice epilogue as Elvis’ military draft threatens to shatter this one-man tornado, leaving Elvis himself wondering whether he would have a future Pop career at all after he got out of the army.
Hanson sets the scene with a little prelude at each city to place everything in context. Here we learn about The Colonel’s (cheap) sales techniques, the local Fan Clubs along with the expectations of the local promoters, some of who would have definitely lost money. It is fascinating to learn that several concerts way undersold their expected ticket numbers although Hanson always digs deep to explain exactly why.
The highlights of Elvis’ pre-show Press interviews are also presented in detail, many I have never read before, with Elvis giving some fascinating and honest answers at times.
And if you think that the complete 1970’s ‘Elvis Presley Show’ with comedians and drawn out first-halves were painfully slow you will sympathise with the absolute torture the teenagers had to sit though in 1957 with Colonel Parker including tap dancers, jugglers and marimba players before Elvis finally arrived on stage.
Although focussing on the tours the book also includes important sidelines such as the resignation of Scotty Moore & Bill Black, the impact of Elvis’ impending army draft, and Colonel Parker’s propaganda machine.
The Hawaii chapter which examines the tour that was arranged by Colonel Parker and promoter Lee Gordon in "30 minutes over lunch" is also fascinating. This was Elvis’ introduction to Hawaii, the island that would play such an important part in his life. In one of his interviews Elvis’ instant attraction is notable.
Media: Do you like Hawaii?
Elvis: I Love it. If I move, I'll move here. . . if they'll ever deport me!
Media: How about Southern cooking?
Elvis: I don't like fried chicken. I like pineapples and coconut.
The two well-known Honolulu Stadium concerts are well documented however Elvis’ final 1957 concert, a Veteran’s Day performance for Military personnel at Schofield Barracks, will be something new for many Elvis fans.
The book also includes a useful index as well as a a thorough reference section.
Verdict: This book is a sensational investigation into the phenomenon of Elvis in the fifties presented from a brand new perspective focussing on Elvis’ concerts. The reviews from the time are exhilarating, the interviews fascinating and being given an insight into the public’s negative reactions is also another intriguing touch. Fans hoping for the regular look into Elvis’ girlfriends, fifties photos and Elvis’ home-life won’t find it here - but that’s what makes this book so refreshingly new and interesting. A well-researched book that is a must-buy for any discerning Elvis fan.
Click here to 'Elvis History Blog' - Alan Hanson's very informative website
Review by Piers Beagley June 2008
-Copyright EIN 2008
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