Historic Elvis Find Announced

On a regular basis EIN looks at a new release or issue in the Elvis world. In this edition we shine our spotlight on what could turn out to be one of the greatest discoveries in the Elvis world:

Historic Find - Elvis’s ‘First’ Louisiana Hayride Concert Possibly on Two 78 Records

Background: EIN was recently contacted by Tara Wesson in the USA.

Tara’s mother, Bonnie, has in her collection two 78 records dating from 1954 - 1955 on which it is claimed is Elvis’s first live appearance on the famous Louisiana Hayride.

Elvis appeared on the Louisiana Hayride on 52 occasions between 16 October, 1954 and 15 December, 1956. A number of Elvis’s recordings on the Hayride have been released on vinyl and CD. In fact, Elvis’s Hayride performances are probably the most reissued recordings of The King. EIN has catalogued more than 50 different CD releases featuring tracks from his appearances.

The definitive release (to date) is: Good Rockin’ Tonight (The Evolution of Elvis Presley) Louisiana Hayride MME72627-2 USA 2000 Double CD with booklet.

Bonnie has exclusively told EIN the story behind this amazing piece of Elvis history:

‘These Elvis Presley records were given to me on December 31, 1958. I was a big Elvis fan since his first record came out, "That's All Right Mama." I started collecting articles and pictures to make a collection of over 2000 pictures. I saw Elvis at the Robinson Auditorium in 1956. He was in L.R. in 1955 but I wasn't old enough to go by myself. My brother dropped me off on our only transportation, a old Harley Davidson. What a performance!

"When I was 17 years old, I met a man at Snappy's Drive Inn at 7th & Broadway. Harold Wesson was driving a 1954 Cadillac Coupe Deville with a 20" extension and a Continental Kit on the back. Powder blue with a cream colored top. He was cruising the five or more drive inns in the area like all the others who drove a car, looking for dates. He was 28. He and the other men all dressed in the old Memphis style clothes. We went out a couple of times and he quickly found out what a big Elvis fan. I was [too] and told me he had recorded Elvis at his first (as I recall) performance at the Louisiana Hayride in late 1954 or early 1955. He went to Memphis and had the tape put on two 78 records.

"He told me Elvis was only supposed to sing one song that night. After the crowd went wild, Elvis sang more and stole the show. He was called back to play all the song on the records. At the time Harold was a truck driver making runs out of Shreveport to Arkansas hauling sugar. Harold says the outfit Elvis wore, an orange jumpsuit with fringe, is what he remembers. He said he and some friends drove there to hear Elvis. They recorded only Elvis's performance. Harold at the last minute ran and got a recorder from his auto.

"The record has Elvis being introduced, Elvis tells a little about the song he will song...." it goes something like this." The announcer then says they will bring Elvis back for another song. Five songs are recorded including "Hearts of Stone , Tweedle Deedee, Money Honey ".

"On the next date, he brought the records and a real autographed picture of Elvis. What a thrill!! I played the records a few times for my friends, then not at all. Harold has always said they were of great value. I haven't played the records since they were played a lot before I got them. They have been put away for the past 43 years.

"Harold and I married in 1960 and divorced in 1969 and have three girls. He had a stroke Dec. 29, 2001. As he went over the facts with Tara recently, he said he had seen Elvis on several occasions and he also said the records were mine to do with whatever I wanted to do. Harold remembers seeing Elvis in the Memphis night clubs and at the stock car race track in Memphis. Harold told us Elvis was aware he had the records and always asked him, "Do you still have my records?"

"Harold told us Elvis had also offered to buy them from him. Harold was a race car builder and sprint car team owner for many years. And raced all over the south. He has stories of meeting Elvis at the track and at night clubs. I think the records are a collector's item plus the sound track should be used to make a video of Elvis (digital) returning to the Louisiana Hayride.

"I have written a script that I think would be fabulous. It is progressive and old/new school. I would like to send it to you.

"About 16 years ago, I contacted RCA and sent the tape of the records. In time they sent them back. I assume they made a copy. I sent the tape to Elvis Presley Enterprises in 1992. They have the only tape made. Thank you, Bonnie Wesson"

Current situation: After EIN was contacted by Bonnie and Tara Wesson we provided their information to Ernst Jorgensen in BMG. BMG has now officially contacted the Wesson’s and is waiting on feedback from Joey Kent of the Louisiana Hayride. The recordings are for sale and Bonnie Wesson has also developed an idea for a high tech video to support and promote the recordings.

Audio Quality: While the 78’s haven’t been played for 43 years, Bonnie and Tara have told EIN that the audio quality is similar to an eight-track. While the recordings obviously won’t be of contemporary audio CD quality it appears they will be on a par with the better quality Louisiana Hayride Elvis recordings already released by the Hayride.

Questions: There are several intriquing questions yet to be fully answered in this story:

  • Do they represent Elvis’ first full Louisiana Hayride performance?
  • Why didn’t BMG acquire the recordings when contacted by Bonnie Wesson in the mid 1980’s?
  • Do the recordings represent previously unreleased versions of the songs?
  • What are the five songs recorded?

As the records haven’t been played for 43 years, Bonnie is only able to identify three of them from memory: Hearts of Stone, Tweedle Dee and Money Honey.

If they are actually from Elvis’s first Hayride performance on 16 October, 1954, then the remaining tracks must be That’s All Right, Mama and Blue Moon of Kentucky, as these two songs from that date are already available on ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight – The Evolution of Elvis Presley’.

If the songs were recorded at a subsequent Hayride concert then it is problematic as to whether or not they will represent ‘unreleased recordings’ as Hayride recordings of the three songs identified by Bonnie Wesson are available on the ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ album.

Interestingly, there is only one group of five songs recorded on the same date on the Hayride album. They were recorded on 22 January 1955 and were: Tweedle Dee Money, Honey Blue Moon of Kentucky I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine That’s All Right, Mama.

If the five tracks turn out to be unreleased versions, and on the basis of Bonnie’s feeling that they represent Elvis’s first appearance on the Hayride, they could well be, then they represent the earliest ever live recording of Elvis in concert. On this basis they would be a very historic part of the Elvis story and very valuable. Bonnie, Tara and BMG have said they’ll keep EIN posted, and in turn we’ll keep you up to date as this story further unfolds.

This edition of Spotlight On the King was prepared by Nigel Patterson, President, Elvis Information Network, April-May 2002.

© EIN 2002