From the San Antonio Express-News
It didn't sound anything like his pre-fame rockabilly singles for Sun Records. Gone, for the moment, was the slap-back tape echo perfected by Sam Phillips and the fast, rattling country and blues twang of a train running off the tracks.
"It's strange, it's something you remember. It doesn't sound like anything. It still doesn't sound like anything anybody ever made," said Sony BMG historian, producer and author Ernst Jorgenson, an expert on Presley's RCA Victor catalog, recording dates and rare tapes. But even Jorgenson wonders: "Is 'Heartbreak Hotel' even rock 'n' roll?"
The future king of rock 'n' roll — who would have turned 71 today — certainly thought so.
But kids wanted to hear it again and again. It became Presley's first No. 1 record.
Presley had just turned 21 when he cut the mono track live. Take No. 7 was the keeper.
Just in case, RCA prepared a four-song EP of unreleased Sun Records material to rush out should it flop. But Elvis believed in the song, written primarily by Mae Boren Axton and Tommy Durden.
Jorgensen learned that Presley had even introduced "Heartbreak Hotel" from the stage at a small gig during Christmastime 1955, saying, "This is going to be my first hit record."
KTSA's Ricci Ware said only Marty Robbins' "Don't Worry (About Me)," a mournful honky-tonkin' lament, would ever again send such shivers down his backbone. "It was very different, and it did have a ton of reverb," Ware recalled about first hearing "Heartbreak Hotel." "It was a very haunting tune." He would spin it at night on his "Night Train" show at KREL-AM in Baytown.
"It wasn't so much dangerous as it was parents didn't approve of it," retired radio personality Bruce Hathaway recalled. To some, Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" was considered vulgar."It was underground in that day," Hathaway said. "But the (rock 'n' roll) craze was going that way. It's hard to believe that Elvis has been a phenomenon for that long."
He was virtually unknown at the time outside of the hayride circuit and small roadhouses and county fairs in the South. "The world knew nothing at all," Jorgenson said.
One such listener was 17-year-old Harlandale High School graduate Barbara Jean McGarity Denecamp, who found herself face to face with Presley and his mother at a "Louisiana Hayride" concert in Shreveport, La., in November 1955. She was participating in a stage contest called "Beat the Band."
"All the way around to the back door, there were hundreds of screaming girls. You couldn't even move," Denecamp said. "Elvis was walking around with his guitar and at the time, I didn't know it, but that was his mother sitting up against the back wall. I said, 'Hello.' But I was so nervous.'"
Denecamp loved the spooky "Heartbreak Hotel," but she initially was attracted to Elvis' country element. "Oh, I loved it. When he had Scotty Moore and Bill Black, the three-piece band was absolutely fabulous — the country sound," she said. "I liked everything he had. I'll tell you the truth, he could play anything and I liked him. He was just one of a kind."
In her mind, Presley took the place of Hank Williams. But in concert, it was a sheer pandemonium Williams had never experienced. "You couldn't hear him at all," she said. "It was just screaming and screaming, lights, flashbulbs. It was just a madhouse. And I never ever in my life thought Elvis Presley was vulgar."
The RCA hits followed in an avalanche. Ware remembered "Hound Dog" (the flip side was "Don't Be Cruel"), which came later. "We'd play one side, and 30 minutes later we'd flip it over and play the other side," he recalled.
Jorgenson, the Sony BMG historian, called the two-sided hit a double whammy.
Dallas-based artist Jeff Scott sees Presley as the embodiment of the American dream and "bringing along this gumbo of American culture" to the forefront when he hit the national stage with "Heartbreak Hotel."
Scott's book, "Elvis: The Personal Archives," found clues to Presley's mystique in the king's day-to-day belongings. "He was able to communicate, through his personal style and thought, his music to the world," he said. "You had this really humble man, on the one hand, that wanted to communicate his soul, his inner excitement about the music, and I think he used his clothes and his fashion sense as a way to bring out, as an entertainer, to connect his soul and the soul of American rural culture to a larger audience."
Perryman recalled booking Presley in October 1954, and the trio made all of $90.
"He was good lookin', a nice kid," he said. "His hair wasn't coal black. It was actually a dark dirty blond. But he was a phenomenon and it will never happen again. I knew then he had something besides that rockabilly."
EIN thanks the knowledgable Doc J Carpenter for the link.
"Elvis Presley is the supreme socio-cultural icon in the history of pop culture"
(Dr. Gary Enders)
" Elvis is the 'glue' which holds our society together....which subconciously gives our world meaning"
"Eventually everybody has to die, except Elvis"
(humorist Dave Barry)
"He is the "Big Bang", and the universe he detonated is still expanding, the pieces are still flying"
(Greil Marcus, "Dead Elvis")
"I think Elvis Presley will never be solved"
"He was the most popular man that ever walked on this planet since Christ himself was here"
"When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew I wasn't going to work for anybody...hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail"
"When we were kids growing up in Liverpool, all we ever wanted was to be Elvis Presley"
(Sir Paul McCartney)