Elvis' tours in 1957 were his last before entering the Army. Alan Hanson, author of Elvis '57: The Final Fifties Tours recently sat down to talk with EIN about this incredible year in the Elvis story.
In his stimulating and highly informative interview, Alan discusses what is in his critically acclaimed book, the height of Presleymania and the controversy around it, the Nudie Gold Suit designed for Elvis, why the Montreal concert was cancelled, the little known concert Elvis did essentially for military personnel and a lot more about Elvis on tour in 1957.
"Alan Hanson's thorough research results in an excellent, detailed review of the 28 concerts that Elvis performed during three tours in 1957. Written with style, full of information, both of the shows themselves and of the events surrounding them. These were Elvis's final concerts of the 1950s. Accompanied by 18 black-and-white photos, few of which have been previously published in book form. Not a book to be missed!" (David Neale, Elvis In Print)
|EIN: Alan, who is Alan Hanson and where does he call home?
AH: I’m 58 years old. Three years ago I retired after 30 years as a high school history and journalism teacher so that I could start a second career doing what I’ve always wanted to do—write. I live in Spokane, Washington, as I have for most of my life. My wife, Christine, and I have two daughters, Katie, age 23, and Beth, age 20.
EIN: How and when did you become an Elvis fan?
AH: Well, I know when it was, but I can’t remember how it happened. It was in 1962; I was 13 years old at the time. “Return to Sender” was Elvis’s big song then, and “Girls, Girls, Girls!” was both the first Elvis movie I saw and the first Elvis LP I bought. But just what turned me on to Elvis at that time, I can’t remember. My older brother had Elvis records, so I was certainly exposed to his music before then. Something about Elvis just clicked inside of me in 1962, and I’ve been a fan of his music ever since.
EIN: What gave you the inspiration for a book focusing on Elvis’ last live shows prior to entering the Army?
AH: In 2002 I knew I was going to retire from teaching in three years and wanted to try freelance writing after that. At the time, though, I had never been paid for anything I’d written. To test my ability to make money at writing, I decided to write an article about Elvis’s 1957 appearance in Spokane, something I knew nothing about at the time. I checked out the Spokane newspaper archives about the concert, found and interviewed a few people who had been there, wrote the article, and sold it to The Spokesman-Review for $150. All of a sudden I was a professional writer! Writing the article was so interesting, I soon found myself researching Elvis’s other appearances in the Pacific Northwest in 1957, and then his appearances elsewhere that year. I didn’t set out to write a book about Elvis’s last live shows of the 1950s; it just sort of evolved that way.
EIN: What can fans expect in Elvis ‘57: The Final Fifties Tours?
AH: First of all, they can expect to learn a lot about a year in Elvis’s life that has definitely been unreported. Also, the book is not just about Elvis; it’s about the whole Elvis phenomenon in 1957. There is lots of info about Elvis, of course, but there are also many anecdotes about his fans, his critics, and all the controversy surrounding him wherever he went. There’s also a special chapter on Colonel Parker, who, in my opinion, managed Elvis brilliantly in 1957.
EIN: How did you go about the research process?
AH: The newspaper archives for the eighteen cities in which he appeared that year were my main source of information. That’s where I found the basic information—the dates, the numbers, the press conference info, the hotels, the venues, and so on. The newspaper reviews of Elvis’s concerts were written by people who had actually seen him perform within the past 24 hours, and, while I had to make allowances for the biases of the writers, I trusted the accuracy of their reporting. Also, the newspaper archives gave a sense of how Elvis was viewed in 1957, of how some people hated him, while others loved him. Variety was another good source of information on Elvis’s appearances back then.
Also, when possible, I tried to visit as many of venues, hotels, and train stations associated with Elvis’s 1957 appearances as possible. In Vancouver, B.C., I stood on the spot where Elvis’s stage stood in Empire Stadium (now a park); in Tupelo I strolled the former site of the fairgrounds where the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair and Dairy Show was held; and in Portland I visited the Multnomah Hotel, which had a couple of pages about Elvis’s stay there in their history book. Those on-site visits gave me a visual sense of how Elvis and his fans interacted back in 1957.
EIN: How difficult was it to source material?
AH: The newspaper archives are kept on microfilm by public libraries in the 18 cities Elvis played in 1957. I was able to visit the libraries in Spokane, Seattle, Vancouver, Tacoma, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Tupelo. For the other eight cities, my local library was able to obtain their newspaper microfilm for 1957 on loan so that I could view it in Spokane. The inter-library loan program is an amazing resource for a writer. Elvis ’57 could never have been written without it. I wound up with a dozen binders full of photocopied newspaper articles about Elvis’s 1957 concerts.
EIN: How long did it take you to write Elvis ’57: The Final Fifties Tours?
AH: I wrote the newspaper article about Elvis’s 1957 Spokane appearance in 2002. So, from the initial idea to completed book took five years. The bulk of the research and writing, however, was done over a two-year period from 2005-2007.
EIN: What were some of the highlights and discoveries for you in producing the book?
AH: As far as discoveries are concerned, I found information that debunked some myths that surround Elvis in 1957, in particular the false reporting of riots and the gross over-estimates of crowd sizes. I’m an Elvis fan, but I’m also a historian by training, so I think historical honesty is important. The highlights of the process for me were locating and then hearing the stories of people who actually saw Elvis perform in 1957.
Interviewing Gordon Stoker and Hugh Jarrett, of course, was special, and it was great to sit in Red Robinson’s office in Vancouver, B.C., and hear him talk passionately about his day with Elvis in 1957. The biggest highlight for me, however, was being able to run down and talk with Bob Blackburn and Nancy Welty. Bob was a Portland DJ in 1957, and Nancy won a contest he ran on his radio program. Together they attended Elvis’s press conference and concert in Portland. I loved talking to them about their memories of that event fifty years ago. The picture they had taken with Elvis is in my book.
Most of the newspapers had either discarded all their negatives from so long ago or donated them to a library, museum, or city archives. So I had to contact those institutions and deal with them individually. I wound up getting photos from the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, the Urban Archives in Philadelphia, the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University, the Ottawa City Archives, and the Tropic Lightning Museum in Hawaii. I also used three privately owned photos.
EIN: What can fans expect regarding photos in the book?
AH: There are 19 photos in the book. From the start, I wanted to find and use as many previously unpublished pictures as possible. I wound up with maybe eight or nine photos that will probably be new to the eyes of most Elvis fans.
The photos are spread throughout the book, one at the beginning of most chapters. I have to say, though, that when the book was published, I was very disappointed with the quality of the photo reproduction. The publisher said it was the best they could do with the printing process they use, which is basically photocopying instead of traditional book printing.
EIN: How did you source the photos?
AH: It was quite a scavenger hunt. I started by contacting the newspapers that had printed photos of Elvis when he played their cities in 1957. I got the cover photo from the Toronto Star that way but not much more directly from newspaper archives. (The News Tribune had some great photos from Elvis’s appearance in Tacoma, but they absolutely refused to let me use them in my book at any price!)
EIN: 1957 was a huge year for Elvis before he entered the Army. How many shows and fans did he perform before?
AH: In 1957 Elvis performed 28 live stage shows in 18 cities and on one military post. It broke down like this: one show each in Chicago, St. Louis, Fort Wayne, Buffalo, Spokane, Vancouver B.C., Tacoma, Seattle, Portland, Tupelo, Oakland, and Schofield Barracks (Hawaii); two shows each in Detroit, Toronto, Ottawa, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu; and four shows in Philadelphia. The biggest crowd he played to that year was in Vancouver, B.C., (16,500) and the smallest was in Philadelphia (3,200). The combined paid attendance for the 28 concerts was a little over 260,000. Although that represented unparalleled drawing power for those days, it didn’t satisfy Colonel Parker, who repeatedly exaggerated the crowd sizes in each city. His phony numbers are still being quoted today, but I tried to set the record straight in my book.
EIN: How were Elvis’ performances in 1957? Do you think he put something extra into his live shows knowing they would be his last for several years?
AH: For his 1957 concerts, Elvis had obviously matured considerably as an entertainer since the year before. All of the performances were basically the same. He was on stage for 40-45 minutes and sang 15 or 16 songs, always opening with “Heartbreak Hotel” and always closing with “Hound Dog.” By 1957 he had become a master at controlling a crowd’s emotions. He calmed them down, got them on the edges of their seats, and then made them explode in a frenzy. Then he would slow it down and start the process all over again. I think those waves of emotion he took them through is why so many people talk about being “drained” after attending a Presley show back then.
EIN: What were some of Elvis’ stand-out concerts in 1957 and why?
AH: I think three shows really stood out because of unusual things that happened during them. First, in Chicago on March 28, 13 girls fainted when a group of fans pressed up against an iron railing around the stage. It scared the hell out of Colonel Parker, who knew the death of a girl at an Elvis concert would be disastrous for his boy’s career. Parker worked very hard the rest of the year to make sure security was strong enough to keep fans from reaching the stage.
The one security lapse was in Vancouver, B.C., on August 31. There Elvis played Empire Stadium, an outdoor football arena. With the stage placed at one end of the field, he was barely visible to some fans as much as a hundred yards away. To get a better view, thousands of fans poured out of the stands onto the playing surface and advanced up close to the stage. The Colonel got scared and pulled the plug on the show. Elvis left after just 22 minutes on stage. It was the only concert of the year that ended early.
The third stand-out show was in Los Angeles on October 28. Elvis ended the show by rolling around on stage with Nipper, the plaster RCA trademark dog that usually sat quietly on one side of the stage. The next day, a columnist for the Mirror-News accused Elvis of lewd behavior on stage. As a result, the next night the police, after warning Elvis to tone it down, filmed his performance as evidence should he violate the city’s public decency law.
EIN: 1957 was also a very controversial year for Elvis. In researching Elvis ‘57: The Final Fifties Tours what views and insight did you form about the controversy?
AH: It was quite interesting, the whole controversy that surrounded Elvis and rock ’n’ roll back then. Some people, particularly religious groups, very strongly believed that Elvis needed to be stopped because they felt he was corrupting the morals of young people.
There were some adult journalists, parents, and government officials who actually liked him. But the majority of adults were simply in denial. They truly believed, and I came across this sentiment quite often, that the whole Elvis thing would eventually fade away on its own. They were certain that Elvis was a fad that would soon disappear, and that he would have to go back to driving a truck. Then their children would turn back to the music of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, and the newest crooner, Pat Boone. They had no idea rock ’n’ roll was there to stay. If they had, the adult backlash against Elvis would probably have been much stronger than it was at the time.
EIN: Also, in 1957 Elvis performed outside the USA for the first and only time in his career. Please tell us about the Canadian shows?
AH: Elvis appeared in Toronto and Ottawa toward the end of his spring tour in 1957, and then played Vancouver, B.C., during his Labor Day weekend Pacific Northwest tour. The crowds in the Canadian cities were among the largest crowds for Presley’s concerts that year. Elvis originally had planned a single show in Toronto on April 2, but when it sold out quickly, a second show was added. After the Montreal show was cancelled, a second show was also added in Ottawa to handle the crowd that was expected to make the trip from Montreal to see Elvis in Ottawa. Another thing is that the newspapers in all three Canadian cities gave amazing coverage to Elvis’s appearances in their cities. Much more coverage than any of the U.S. newspapers gave Elvis’s shows.
EIN: Why was the Montreal show cancelled?
AH: Montreal didn’t directly ban Elvis from appearing in the city. Instead, the city council voted to withdraw permission for Elvis’s show to use the city’s large indoor arena. Since there was no other venue in the area large enough to accommodate the show, the promoters had to cancel it. Why the Montreal officials blocked Elvis’s appearance is not completely clear. The most likely reason was that there was an election approaching, and the politicians were concerned their chances for reelection would be hurt if a riot occurred during Elvis’s show in the city arena.
EIN: “The Presley Special”…please tell us about that?
AH: A travel agency and the Canadian National Railroad put together a package deal for Montreal citizens who wanted to go to Ottawa to see Elvis perform on April 3. Riders got rail transportation and a ticket to the 8:00 p.m. show in Ottawa. It must have been a great experience. There was a band on the train so the teenagers could dance in the aisles during the two-hour trip to Ottawa. There was more dancing at the station in Ottawa as the teenagers waited to board the train for its 11:00 p.m. return trip to Montreal.
EIN: Rioting at Elvis concerts in 1957. How prevalent were these?
AH: There were none. Period. There were no fire hoses, no rubber bullets, no paddy wagons at any Elvis concert in 1957. The only arrests I read about were four college boys who threw eggs at the stage in Philadelphia and a drunken sailor in Vancouver.
There was screaming and jumping around at every concert, but nothing that approached a riot. Elvis was able to complete his entire show in every city except for Vancouver, and that was because about 4,000 kids moved onto the field and up close to the stage to get a better view. It could be described as pandemonium, but it was far from a riot. Ask Scotty Moore. Ask Red Robinson. They were there and they say there was no riot.
The Elvis myth-makers love to think that Elvis caused riots everywhere he went. It bothers the Elvis fan in me when I read that word “riot” attached to Elvis’s concerts. It makes Elvis seem like some freak, who caused violence and vandalism, instead of the dynamic performer that he actually was.
EIN: What extra security precautions had to be taken for Elvis’ 1957 live shows?
AH: As mentioned earlier, the mob of girls around the stage in Chicago scared the Colonel. At every Elvis show after that Parker insisted that even more security forces be on hand than were called for in the original contract with promoters. There were anywhere from 50-100 police officers on site when Elvis performed. Parker was determined that, after Chicago, fans would not be able to reach the stage. In the indoor arenas, he made sure security forces blocked every aisle and pushed kids back to their seats. The Colonel even used his own body as the last line of defense. He stood in front of the stage, and if any girl made it past the police, he rushed forward and forced them back himself. At the outdoor stadiums in the Pacific Northwest, Parker had a row of wooden sawhorses set up a short distance in front of the stage. He called the area between the barrier and the stage “No Woman’s Land,” and as far as I could discover, no woman ever made it across that area while Elvis was performing. The only big collapse in security happened in Vancouver, but even there no one crossed the barrier until after Elvis left.
EIN: 1957 was also the year of Elvis’ famous “Gold Suit” designed by Nudie. What did you discover about the suit?
AH: Colonel Parker paid $2,500 for the gold tuxedo that he wanted Elvis to wear for all of his 1957 stage shows. The suit included jacket, slacks, belt, tie, and shoes. However, Elvis only wore the complete suit three times. He wore it for his first two concerts of the year in Chicago and St. Louis, and then several days later he wore it for the last time during his first show in Toronto. Elvis stopped wearing the gold pants because gold was flaking off when he went down on his knees on stage during “Hound Dog” at the end of each concert. Elvis eventually abandoned the gold tie and shoes, as well, so that by the time he went to the Pacific Northwest in late August, he was only wearing the gold jacket and belt.
EIN: Rock historians have written extensively about “Beatlemania” with the magnitude of “Presleymania” being overshadowed. What is your view on the issue?
AH: If you’re referring to the pandemonium generated by Elvis and The Beatles, I think the crowds reacted with about the same intensity to both. The Beatles did draw bigger crowds. For instance, in 1957 Elvis drew 16,500 for his concert in Vancouver, B.C.’s Empire Stadium. Seven years later The Beatles appeared in the same stadium and drew a crowd of 20,500. There were a couple reasons for that.
First, in the seven years between Elvis and The Beatles, the population of most major cities increased. More importantly, though, Elvis was fighting a highly conservative U.S. culture in 1957, while The Beatles rose to popularity in a much more liberal and permissive society in America. Who knows how many more teenagers would have gone to see Elvis if their parents hadn’t absolutely forbid them to do so?
EIN: How potent was “Presleymania“ in 1957; was it at its peak?
AH: It certainly was. There was some doubt about Elvis’s popularity when he started his first tour of the year in Chicago in late March. Pat Boone and Harry Belafonte were selling a lot of records, and many thought Elvis, who hadn’t been on stage for months, had lost his edge. The crowd in Chicago put an end to that notion. They screamed throughout the entire concert, as did the crowds at every Elvis concert that year. He drew crowd numbers in 1957 like no entertainer, including himself, ever had. Another important thing about the 1957 concerts is the quarter million people who attended them became part of a core Presley fan base that remained loyal to him during the army years.
EIN: In preparing Elvis ‘57: The Final Tours you not only used media reports and other archival material from the time but also interviewed a number of people who were actually present at the shows. How valuable were those interviews to your final manuscript?
AH: The contemporary print sources provided the basic information that formed the framework for the book. The interviews added the depth and personal touch that gives the book some life and makes a connection across the intervening 50 years. They ranged from Jordanaires Gordon Stoker and Hugh Jarrett, who were actually on stage with Elvis for all of his 1957 concerts, to disc jockeys, to police officers, to fans in the stands. Talking to all of those people was by far the most enjoyable part of the research.
EIN: There has been some controversy about the date of Elvis’ last live show in 1957. Lee Cotten in his book, All Shook Up Elvis Day By Day identified the last concert of 1957 as being a New Year’s Eve show in St. Louis, yet yourself and others cite it as a November concert at the Conroy Boxing Bowl in Hawaii. During your research did you come across any support for Lee Cotten’s claim?
AH: I had never heard of this claim until your question. I haven’t read Cotten’s “All Shook Up” book, but I do have a copy another one of his books, “Did Elvis Sing in Your Hometown?” In that book he tries to list every Elvis appearance in the 1950s, and he mentions no such December 31, 1957, show in St. Louis. I certainly found no reference to a second concert in St. Louis that year. Elvis appeared there on March 29, 1957, and it seems unlikely he would have returned there just nine months later. Everything I’ve read places Elvis at Graceland on New Year’s Eve 1957.
EIN: The Conroy Boxing Bowl show itself is not well known but one of Elvis’ most unusual and intriguing concerts. Please tell us about it.
AH: I was unable to find much information about the content of that particular show, but I assume it was much the same as the other concerts that year. The show was on Veterans Day and was primarily intended for military personnel and their families. However, the show was also open to the public, and quite a few people made the trip up from Honolulu into the hills of central Oahu, where Schofield Barracks was located. All tickets were $1, making it the cheapest ticket to see Elvis anywhere in 1957.
EIN: In 1957 Elvis either met or had a profound effect on emerging and future stars. In particular EIN is thinking of Ricky Nelson and Jimi Hendrix. What did you uncover about their experiences?
AH: Elvis’s meeting with Ricky Nelson after his first Los Angeles concert in October has been well documented, and, although it’s discussed in Elvis ’57, I didn’t uncover anything new about it. Jimi Hendrix saw Elvis’s Seattle show from a distance. He couldn’t afford to buy a ticket, so he stood with others on what was known as “tightwad hill,” which overlooked the left field fence of Sick’s Stadium. A few days later Jimi drew a picture of Elvis in his notebook.
EIN: In 1957 Elvis performed a number of songs in concert which it appears were not recorded either live or in the studio. What can you tell us about these?
AH: During my research I came across three such songs. A woman who attended Elvis’s concert in Spokane claims that he sang “Searchin’,” a Coasters hit in 1957. I didn’t report this in my book because I couldn’t confirm it, and I didn’t feel the fifty-year memory of one person was enough to say it really happened. I’m also leery of a newspaper reporter’s claim that Elvis sang Charlie Gracie’s “Butterfly” in Toronto on April 2.
Again, there’s no other report of this, and I’m not confident a reporter, who was not an Elvis fan to begin with, could recognize what Elvis was singing amidst all the screaming. There is no doubt, however, about Elvis singing “Fool’s Hall of Fame” in both Vancouver on August 31 and Seattle on September 1. Multiple people have testified to this, including D.J. Fontana.
EIN: Getting a book about Elvis published these days is a challenging task. Many fans don’t realise that most publishers are only interested in Elvis related manuscripts which have a “sensational” hook. Did you explore the possibility of publishing through well known publishing houses before settling on doing it yourself?
AH: I don’t know that publishers are looking for “sensational” books about Elvis. It seems to me they’re more likely to publish books written by people who actually knew Elvis, performed with him, worked for him, and so on. My experience was that since there are so many Elvis books being published these days (an average of two a month), publishers are unwilling to take a chance on an unknown author in the saturated Elvis book market. The big publishers will only consider books presented to them by agents they trust, and since I didn’t have an agent, I had no shot with the big houses.
Another thing is that I was impatient. I felt my book needed to be published during 2007 to take advantage of the “50 years later” angle. Looking back, I don’t think it would have hurt my book to have waited one year more. Early on I did submit a book proposal to two regional publishers, both of whom gave it an honest look before sending rejection letters. In the end, iUniverse promised a quick turnaround, so I went with them. And I think they did a good job.
EIN: Alan, do you have any plans for another book or other project about Elvis, for instance one looking at his live shows in the 1954 to 1956 period?
AH: It all depends on how successful Elvis ’57 is. If it sells well, and if the Elvis community accepts it as a worthwhile contribution to the Presley legacy, then I might consider doing another book. You have to understand, though, that doing a similar study about just the 1956 period would take a phenomenal amount of research. It took me over a year to research the Elvis concerts in 18 cities in 1957. In 1956 Elvis played 79 cities! That’s a ton of microfilm to look through.
EIN: Alan, it must be very satisfying to have produced a critically acclaimed and much needed examination of a very important period in the Elvis story.
AH: Yes, the positive reviews and the many kind comments I’ve received from Elvis fans have been quite gratifying. Now, if I could just convince Graceland to carry Elvis ’57 in their stores, then the effort involved in writing the book would be both personally and commercially satisfying.
EIN: What is next for Alan Hanson?
AH: I enjoy writing about Elvis, and I still have a lot of information and analysis about him that I’d like to share with other Elvis fans. One thing I’m considering is starting an Elvis blog on the net. If I do that, like with Elvis ’57, I’d focus on historical information about Elvis, not just from the 1950s, but from all parts of his career.
EIN: Where can fans buy Elvis ’57: The Final Fifties Tours?
AH: It’s available a lot of places online, and it can be purchased through any major U.S. bookstore. For those outside the U.S., I think that Amazon.com is the least expensive way to get it. Anyone who would like a signed and/or personalized copy can order one directly from me. Also, with books ordered from me, I provide Elvis ’57 bookmarks and postcards that aren’t available anywhere else. Those interested can contact me at email@example.com and I’ll provide ordering details.
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