This week, Elvis’ estate is celebrating the icon’s January 8 birthday. 46 years after his death, the star remains as famous as ever. Just looking at Elvis Presley in full flow delivering a spectacular rendition of Hound Dog, it’s impossible to understand how anyone could ever not see the rock and roll legend’s superstar qualities. Within three years of releasing his first single, That’s Alright, The King was already a major international superstar and had moved into his lavish Memphis mansion Graceland. But his dad revealed the bitter rejections that the star faced in his early days.
Nobody was interested in the boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, in his earliest years. His family had moved to Memphis, Tennessee, when he was 13. The teenager entered singing competitions and practiced at home on his guitar.
After leaving school, he tried to get his first break, approaching local vocal harmony groups and playing at local fairs before he cut his first record aged 19.
On June 22, 1997, Vernon gave an interview to promote Elvis’ upcoming US tour, tragically unaware it was just two months before the star’s death. He proudly showed off his son’s ‘Trophy Room’ at Graceland, with its walls filled with the star’s extraordinary collection of Gold Records. He revealed how hard Elvis fought to get anyone to believe in him, but refused to change his look or music for anyone.
Vernon added: “At the time he was more interested in gospel singing and quartet singing.
“So he tried two or three different young groups to get in with them and they were either full or didn’t think he could sing good enough, I don’t know what happened.”
Elvis didn’t let anything stop him, saving his money to pay for early recording sessions at a local studio, and suddenly everything changed after an incredible improvised jamming session.
On July 5, 1954, Elvis went into Sun Studio with his backing group, Scotty Moore on lead guitar and Bill Black on string bass. There was no drummer or keyboard player, with Elvis also playing acoustic rhythm guitar.
uring a break, Elvis started improvising an up-tempo version of Arthur Crudup’s 1946 song That’s All Right, Mama. He also changed some of the lyrics, demonstrating his instinctive musicianship.
The new version was recorded in one take and pressed as a single with Blue Moon of Kentucky on the B-side.
The single was released on July 19, 1954. Although it did not chart nationally, it was a huge hit locally, selling over 20,000 copies and reaching Number Four on the Memphis charts.
Radio stations were inundated with calls and the teenage star was called in for interviews. Hysteria built fast at local shows. Everything was about to change very quickly.
In 1955, drummer D. J. Fontana joined the trio and with Colonel Parker on board as manager, record companies were soon competing to sign the new quartet, with RCA Victor winning the bidding war.
Elvis unveiled his first RCA single, Heartbreak Hotel, with a nationwide release in January 1956. The song shot to Number One in the United States and Elvis was soon dominating the airwaves, as well as numerous TV appearances.
Just imagine what those groups who turned him down must have been thinking.