Elvis Presley : Teeners' Hero - May 14, 1956
Without preamble, the three-piece band cuts loose. In the spotlight, the lanky singer flails furious rhythms on his guitar, every now and then breaking a string. In a pivoting stance, his hips swing sensuously from side to side and his entire body takes on a frantic quiver, as if he had swallowed a jackhammer. Full-cut hair tousles over his forehead, and sideburns frame his petulant, full-lipped face. His style is partly hillbilly, partly socking rock 'n' roll. His loud baritone goes raw and whining in the high notes, but down low it is rich and round. As he throws himself into one of his specialties - Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes or Long Tall Sally - his throat seems full of desperate aspirates ('Hi want you, hi need you, hi luh-huh-huh-huv yew-hew') or hiccuping glottis strokes, and his diction is poor. But his movements suggest, in a word, sex.
He is Elvis Aaron Presley, a drape-suited, tight-trousered young man of 21, and the sight and sound of him drive teenage girls wild. All through the South and West, Elvis is packing theaters, fighting off shrieking admirers, disturbing parents, puckering the brows of psychologists, and filling letters-to-the-editor columns with cries of alarm and, from adolescents, counter-cries of adulation.
-: In Fort Worth 16-year-olds have carved his name into their forearms with clasp knives (one did it four times), and an older woman was heard to plead with him: 'I've got my husband's Cadillac outside. Come with me?'
-: In Oklahoma City he was safely whisked away in a police car after his show, but a reporter who had interviewed him was mobbed by the stage-door Jennies. 'Touch him', yelled one. 'Maybe he's touched Elvis!'
Heavy Beat. The perpetrator of all this hoopla was born in Tupelo, Miss, (pop. 11,527). His parents gave him a guitar before he was twelve. 'I beat on it for a year or two', he drawls. 'Never did learn much about it.' He learned to sing church hymns with a heavy beat, as Negro revival singers do, but gave no thought to a musical career. A couple of years ago, Presley, working as a truck driver, was seized with the urge to hear his own voice, took his guitar with him and made a recording in a public studio. 'It sounded like somebody beatin' on a bucket lid', Presley recalls. 'But the engineer at this studio had a recording company called Sun, and he told me I had an unusual voice, and he might call me up sometime.'
When the call came, Presley was overcome by the stiffness that still bothers him when he sings without an audience. The session was about to fizzle when he started fooling around with a rock-'n-roll beat, the same heavily accented style he uses today. Records started to sell, and Elvis set out to get himself a manager. The manager booked Presley with the words, 'He may not sound like a hillbilly, but he gets the same response.'
It was not long before the response was even better, comparable to Johnnie Ray or Frankie Sinatra, with girls snatching Presley's shirt, belt, shoes, and RCA Victor buying out his recording contract for $35,000. Elvis now nets $7,500 a week for personal appearances, will net more than $100,000 this year; he owns three Cadillacs and a three-wheeled Messerschmitt, plus a dazzling wardrobe.
Dodgem, Too. Last week his Heartbreak Hotel was the nation's No. 1 best-selling record, and Elvis Presley himself was appearing at Las Vegas' New Frontier and getting a taste of more adult audiences. There was little screaming to be heard, but some fully grown female listeners matched the star squirm for squirm. As for Elvis, he spent some of his offstage time amusing local showgirls, but most of it amusing himself in a small amusement park, where, for hours on end, he and his cronies rode the dodgem cars, having a wonderful time.