Elvis, Scotty & Bill | Katz drugstore | Lamar|airways Shopping Center Opening | Sept. 9, 1954
Marty Lacker, who knew Elvis in high school and would later become a member of his Memphis Mafia in the early '60s was working at Shainberg's Department Store in the shopping center when it opened. Marty said, there was a walkway in between the two buildings. If you were standing on Lamar and looking straight at the building Katz would be the building on the right and the stage was in the lot behind there on the Airways side.
Shainberg's was on the left just across the walkway to Katz.
Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley and Bill Black - Memphis September 9, 1954
Barely two months after the release of their first record and less than a month before their first and only appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, Elvis, Scotty and Bill were still playing strictly small gigs in and around Memphis. They were hired to perform at the grand opening of the shopping center on September 9, 1954.
They did so on a makeshift stage built on a flatbed truck in the center's expansive, unprecedentedly large parking lot. Still relatively unknown outside of Memphis the Memphis Press-Scimitar again misspelled Elvis' name, this time with two S's in Presley. Elvis' appearance at Katz drugstore drew a a huge crowd of teenagers and is MCed by Elvis' former Humes classmate George Klein.
Elvis Presley in parking lot at Lamar Airways Shopping center - September 9, 1954.
Opal Walker was a young girl from Memphis at the time who was at the show that night and took 3 photos that have since been reprinted in countless books and articles. They are the only known photos of the appearance there though none show the actual performance.
Opal recalls, 'Elvis had that one record out, and it was a smash locally, and I loved it. I had a girlfriend who was a friend of Dewey Phillips, the first deejay to play him. My girlfriend and I went down and sat in with Dewey while he did his show, and he told us all about Elvis and where he went to church. You can bet we were at First Assembly next Sunday, and he was there with a friend. After church we flirted with them. He teased me about my long blonde hair'.
'This show at Lamar-Airways shopping center came up and I went alone and took my camera. I rode a streetcar, I believe and waited for Elvis to arrive. They all came up in that Chevy, and I asked him to pose and he seemed happy to. There were a lot of people there, but few besides me seemed to know who he was. I had him all to myself. I could have shot a whole roll.
But I didn't know then what I know now. He went on stage and started singing and shaking... the girls went wild. Me, too. That was the first time I saw Elvis perform, but I didn't miss any opportunities in the future'.
In the audience that night was John Evans who at seven years old would listen to Dewey Phillips.
When they heard that Elvis would be at the shopping center they went to watch. His brother held him up so he could see and he remembers them dressed as real weird country musicians with Elvis wearing pink and gray. He said, 'they had a big string bass and the guy would twirl it around. There was only one amp and it was sitting on a chair with a little guy playing a big guitar'. John would later achieve fame playing guitar and keyboards on the first Memphis pop record to go to No. 1: The Box Tops' 'The Letter'.
Elvis Presley in parking lot at Lamar Airways Shopping center - September 9, 1954
Johnny Cash, just recently out of the Air Force, married and relocated to Memphis, was also in the audience that night. In an autobiography he wrote, 'the first time I saw Elvis, singing from a flatbed truck at a Katz drugstore opening on Lamar Avenue, two or three hundred people, mostly teenage girls, had come out to see him. With just one single to his credit, he sang those two songs over and over.
That's the first time I met him. Vivian and I went up to him after the show, and he invited us to his next date at the Eagle's Nest'. Read more from Johnny Cash.
July 5, 1954 : The recording notees for 'I Love You Because' and That's All Right'.
July 6, 1954 : Except from the book, A Boy From Tupelo
Elvis Presley : Backstage at the Overton Park Shell : Friday, July 30, 1954