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Elvis Presley at The New Frontier Hotel April 1956

The 50's also saw the launch of many careers at the New Frontier including Elvis Presley's first Vegas appearance in 1956, Judy Garland's nightclub debut, and and had already given birth to Liberace's career and staple candelabra in 1944.

Elvis at the New Fontier Hotel - 1956
Elvis at the New Fontier Hotel - 1956

In April, Colonel Parker booked Elvis, Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D.J. Fontana for a two week engagement at the New Frontier beginning on April 23rd. The flyer for the Hotel advertised Freddy Martin and his orchestra, who were scheduled to do a stage show version of the Broadway musical Oklahoma! Also on the bill were comedian Shecky Greene and as an added attraction, the 'Atomic Powered Singer', Elvis Presley. Since Nevada was the home of Atomic powered testing, Parker thought the name would be catchy.

On April 21, the Las Vegas Sun reported, 'The handsome 21-year-old rock 'n' roller's appearance in the latest Sammy Lewis production is considered to be the Las Vegas entertainment scoop of the year. The young vocalist will be featured in one of the most lavish productions ever presented in the Venus Room, Lewis stated. Freddy Martin and his band, comic Shecky Greene, the Venus Starlets and a cast of more than 60 performers will make up the entertainment package'.

While Elvis was already becoming quite popular with teens around the country, he was not the typical Las Vegas Strip entertainer of the time and his shows were met with a cool reception. After the first performance, at which the audience politely applauded, but showed none of the wild enthusiasm to which they were accustomed, Scotty, Bill and D.J. knew they were in for a long two weeks.

Scotty Moore and Elvis Presley Las Vegas 1956
Scotty Moore and Elvis Presley Las Vegas 1956
Above photo from the book Flashback

Scotty, Elvis and the Freddie Martin Orchestra
Scotty, Elvis and the Freddie Martin Orchestra

Bill Willard, a reviewer for the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, panned the performance writing, 'For the teen-agers, the long, tall Memphis lad is a whiz; for the average Vegas spender or showgoer, a bore. His musical sound with a combo of three is uncouth, matching to a great extent the lyric content of his nonsensical songs'. D.J. Fontana said, 'I don't think the people there were ready for Elvis. He was mostly for teenagers, kids. We worked with Freddie Martin's orchestra and here we were three little pieces making all that noise. We tried everything we knew. Usually Elvis could get them on his side. It didn't work that time. The Colonel did a show for teenagers on Saturday, and it was just jam-packed, with everyone screaming and hollering'.

Elvis, Bill and Scotty performing in the Venus Room at the New Frontier.
Elvis, Bill and Scotty performing in the Venus Room at the New Frontier

Elvis Presley on stage at the New Frontier Hotel Las Vegas.Willard may have captured the dismay that older Vegas audiences had with the young upstart, but Las Vegas resident Ed Jameson caught a vision of the future Elvis would have in Vegas. Penning a rebuttal to Willard's review, Jameson wrote, 'He is not a Rock 'n' Roller nor is he a cowboy singer. He is something new coming over the horizon all by himself and he deserves his ever-growing audience. Nobody should miss him. Parents would do well to take their children to hear him.  It would be a good way to get to know and understand your own kids'.

Between Shows - Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys

On their off hours the band did pretty much what they did in any town: they hung out in the bar. None of them were interested in the casinos. One night they all went out to check out the other acts on the strip. Performing at the Sahara lounge were Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys.  They had a hit in 1955 with a song titled Hound dog that also had been a hit for R&B singer Big Mama Thornton. When they heard them perform that night, they thought the song would be a good one for them to do for comic relief.

'We loved the way they did it', says Scotty. 'They had a piano player who stood up and played -- and the way he did his legs they looked like rubber bands bending back and forth. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote the the song for Big Mama Thornton, but Freddie and The Bell Boys had a different set of lyrics. Elvis got his lyrics from those guys. He knew the original lyrics but he didn't use them'.

Although Elvis would later visit often and make movies there, it would be at least 13 years before Elvis would perform on stage in Las Vegas again and by then it would be without Scotty, Bill and D.J.

Liberace, now performing at the the Riviera, attended one of the performances with his brother George. Afterwards they went backstage and they hammed it up for the press with Liberace borrowing Scotty's guitar.

Liberace hams it up with Elvis backstage at The New Frontier
Liberace hams it up with Elvis backstage at The New Frontier

Relaxing by the pool between shows April 26, 1956
Relaxing by the pool between shows April 26, 1956

Scotty, Elvis and the Freddie Martin Orchestra
Scotty, Elvis and the Freddie Martin Orchestra

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