Elvis: The Louisiana Hayride Years 1954-1956

Frank Page with Joey Kent; Louisiana Hayride, Inc; USA; 2006; Softcover; Illustrated; 168 pages; ISBN: 0977830519

When Elvis first became a regional star in 1954 one of the most important contracts he signed was to appear on the famous Louisiana Hayride. The Hayride meant Elvis and his music were brought to a large audience on a regular basis, both in person and via the highly influential medium of radio.

Elvis: The Louisiana Hayride Years 1954-1956 is a spectacular chronicle of a rising career. It is a much expanded edition of the author's 2003 book, released through JAT Publishing, Elvis The Hayride Years 54-56.

Written by Frank Page, the Hayride announcer who introduced the Hayride audience to the young greasy haired kid named Elvis Presley, with Joey Kent, son of the Hayride's, Frank Kent, this is riveting stuff as it takes us on a fascinating Elvis journey across the southern states of the USA.

Along the way we share the fun, tension and passion of life on the Hayride, and learn how the Colonel managed to "worm" his way into Elvis' life and management.

Looking at the promotional flyers for the Hayride we quickly get a feeling for the enormity of the talent sharing the stage with the future King of Rock 'n' Roll: Jim Reeves, Slim Whitman, Johnny Horton, and Floyd Cramer are just some of the famous names.

The release also showcases many of Elvis' peers on the Hayride such as Billy Walker, Jimmy Lee, Dido Rowley, Carolyn Bradshaw and Elvis' first Hayride buddy, Merle Kilgore. Hayride record distributor, Stan Lewis, is also featured, as is Hayride promoter, Tom Perryman, and noted Elvis tribute artist, Ronnie McDowell.

The text is solid and engaging, bringing to life what it was like working on the Hayride and what happened socially:

Early on, Elvis kept company with Carolyn Bradshaw, a petite big-eyed brunette who also performed on the Hayride. He most often could be found playing the pinball machine at Murrell Stansell's Bantam Grill or mixing it up at Harry's Barbecue, a favorite hangout of George Jones, Faron Young, Johnny Cash and others. If a good movie hit town, Elvis headed down to the Strand or Don Theaters.

At another point we are treated to what it felt like watching the young Elvis perform:

The following night, Elvis spent his twentieth birthday with us on the Hayride. He was sporting pink crocodile skin shoes. The Memphis Flash turned in a rousing performance that left Joyce Railsback writing and underlining, "This guy I'd like to meet!"

All of the chapters are entertaining. From the Blue Moon Boys to Elvis' last Hayride show, on every page we learn something new about Elvis, and the Hayride as an important part of music history.

Be it Elvis interrupting the performances of other star's by peering out from behind the curtains and sending young girls into fits of screaming passion, or how the non-stop grind took its toll one night on Elvis when he lashed out at a backstage helper, the author's balance the differing shades of their narrative with considerable aplomb.

The Louisiana Hayride Years gives the reader a real feel for what Elvis was doing and how his life was moving along at a frantic pace.

Despite its strong narrative, it is the fine visuals printed on quality gloss stock which undoubtedly capture our attention. Given their age it is amazing how many are crystal clear. The many full page portraits are often stunning.

They include two great photos of Elvis and the Colonel individually with phone in hand (the caption tells us the Colonel is trying to look important). A poignant series of visuals showing Elvis with polio victim, Betty Field, reminds us of Elvis' great humanitarian efforts.

There are so many tremendous on-stage and off-stage photos that it is difficult to do them all justice. The photos are in-your-face ranging from dynamic shots of the Hillbilly Cat tearing up the stage to canoodling with obviously delighted female fans before or after his shows.

The inclusion of a large number of rare and previously unpublished photos will delight all fans while the presentation of historic archival material including press articles, bill posters, contractual material and Elvis' own page from the Hayride souvenir program gives added value to our appreciation of what actually transpired during Elvis' Hayride years.

The chapter showcasing a series of photos from Elvis' final appearance on the Hayride is a standout!

The page design is good offering appropriate white space and largish (arguably one point too big) text to make reading and viewing a pleasure. The large sized pages offer greater impact for the impressive visuals.

If you add this book to your Elvis library you will not be disappointed with the visual feast and illuminating text it offers.

Verdict: "Elvis The Louisiana Hayride Years 1954-56" is an historic record of a very important part of Elvis' rise to fame. This book is a near perfect balance of staggering visuals and evocative narrative.

Nigel Patterson, EIN, December 2006

Buy the limited edition book, CD and photo DVD set of "Elvis The Louisiana Hayride Years" by visiting:

"Elvis at the Hayride" website

"The Louisiana Hayride" website

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