Elvis & Shake Rag - Fact or Myth?
part of town could have influenced musical career"
M. SCOTT MORRIS, Daily Journal, 2002
ongoing renovation of the old Tupelo fairgrounds isn't
the city's first attempt at urban renewal. Back in
the '60s, homes, businesses and churches in an area
known as Shake Rag were bought out and bulldozed.
BancorpSouth Center is sitting right in the middle
of where Shake Rag used to be," said 69-year-old Henry
Hellestine, who grew up in the area. Some believe
Shake Rag had a pivotal role in shaping American popular
music by introducing a young Elvis Presley to African-American
blues and gospel.
may be impossible to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that
Elvis learned at least some of his guitar licks and singing
style from musicians in that long-gone segment of town,
but the oral history of the area has no shortage of Elvis
be in the horse barn in the auction ring picking his guitar,"
how I remember him."
history: Some recall Shake Rag as a poor, black area
of town with little value. Those who lived there remember
a vibrant community with its own politicians, churches,
barbershops, a boxing rink, a skating rink and more.
had a bunch of poor people who lived over there," Hellestine
were middle class people, too." Shake Rag also had music.
Men gathered on front porches and storefronts with their
guitars, harmonicas and banjos, said Nathaniel Stone, 69,
a former resident of the area.
King came and played there," Stone said. "He wasn't as famous
as he is now. He was in the process of moving up."
"Wsir" Johnson, who has interviewed numerous former Shake
Rag residents for a documentary he's putting together, said
the culture of the area would have been a natural attraction
for a young man with Elvis' interests.
can appreciate a little kid saying, 'I like that music.
Can you show me?'" Johnson said. "He was a musician." Sightings
Stone said there weren't too many white boys walking freely
through Shake Rag in those days, but it did happen on occasion.
Odie Johnson Sr., who grew up in the area, knows for certain
that Elvis was one of the few white kids who did visit.
daddy (Vernon Presley) used to work with me at L.P. McCarty,"
Odie Johnson Sr. said. "That was right here on Main Street
in Shake Rag."
area was certainly in walking distance from Elvis' home
in East Tupelo. The Presley family also moved several times
and lived near the area, according to childhood friendsBecky
Martin and James D. Ausborn.
have told me stories of Elvis driving his Cadillac through
there after he made it big," Charles Johnson said.
was he there? He was visiting places he knew. Right?"
questions: Stories of Elvis' forays into Shake Rag depend
on memories from people past retirement age. With his documentary,
Johnson is capturing the oral history and preserving it
for future generations. And he fully expects those future
generations to appreciate his efforts.
long as you have people trying to know how music evolved,
people will always come back to Elvis," he said.
will come to Tupelo wanting to know more. What actually
did he hear in Shake Rag? Did the culture have an effect
determined scholar is bound to be interested in finding
the answers. American popular culture has paid unprecedented
homage to Elvis in the 25 years since his death, and Odie
Johnson Sr. sees no end in sight.
loved him when he was alive and they love him now," he said.
"They're going to talk about him and talk about him and
never let him die."