The Artist and the Businessman: Elvis Presley Meets Col. Tom Parker

Elvis Presley wasted no time winning over fans right from the beginning, thanks to his voice, energetic stage show, style, revolutionary sound and charm.

But the music business is just that – a business – and every artist needs a manager to help take care of the details. From mapping out a tour route to arguing for higher appearance fees, the manager takes care of the business side of things so the artist can focus on the music.

At the beginning of Elvis’ career, he met a man who would help him see his goals through to fruition. On February 6, 1955, Elvis met the man who would become his third and final manager: Col. Tom Parker.

Portrait of a young star: Elvis, backstage at Ellis Auditorium on February 6, 1955.

Portrait of a young star: Elvis, backstage at Ellis Auditorium on February 6, 1955.

On February 6, 1955, Elvis and his band performed two shows at Memphis’ Ellis Auditorium, a venue the guys knew well.

At both the 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. shows, Elvis and his band, Bill Black and Scotty Moor, shared the bill with country star Faron Young, “Beautiful Gospel Singer” Martha Carson, Ferlin Huskey “and many more,” as the poster promised. Elvis, still a young performer, is billed last, as “Memphis’ Own.” The poster included that he’d perform his regional hits “Heartbreaker” and “Milk Cow Boogie,” which he did, along with “That’s All Right” and “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”

A bit of history happened in between those shows.

Elvis was billed last on this February 6 poster, but in a year, he would make his first national TV appearance.

Elvis was billed last on this February 6 poster, but in a year, he would make his first national TV appearance.

Oscar Davis, an associate of Col. Tom Parker, had seen Elvis perform in October 1954, and met Elvis backstage through Elvis’ manager, Bob Neal. Neal knew Parker, who had many, many connections in the entertainment business, could take Elvis to the next level, and wanted the young singer and the promoter to meet.

Davis raved about Elvis to Parker and his fellow associate, Tom Diskin. Parker and Diskin checked out Elvis’ performance on the Louisiana Hayride on January 15, 1955, but didn’t meet Elvis and his band just yet. He did, however, reach out to Neal.

That fateful meeting took place on February 6, in between Elvis’ two sets. Neal, Parker, Diskin, Davis and Sun Records’ Sam Phillips met across the street from Ellis Auditorium at a café called Palumbo’s. Elvis and his bandmates sat in for a portion of this meeting.

Palumbo's is no longer there, but history happened at this cafe in Memphis.

Palumbo’s is no longer there, but history happened at this cafe in Memphis.

The meeting wasn’t exactly a success. Parker explained he had the connections to take Elvis’ career to the next level, connections that a small label like Sun didn’t have. Naturally, Phillips didn’t like hearing this, especially after all of the work he’d poured into Elvis’ career.

Neal helped to ease tensions by discussing Elvis’ upcoming tour, and Davis said working with Parker could help get Phillips’ records into more stores.

Elvis, Scotty and Bill performed their regional hits at that February 6 show at Ellis Auditorium.

Elvis, Scotty and Bill performed their regional hits at that February 6 show at Ellis Auditorium.

The meeting, while not an enjoyable one, paved the way for eventual success. All of the men at the table wanted Elvis to succeed – and he did, more than any other entertainer in history. Elvis worked with both Neal and Parker until March 15, 1956, when Parker became his sole manager. Just shy of a year after that meeting on February 6, 1955, Elvis performed for the first time on national television (and as we know, Elvis had many other firsts in ’56 – like his first album, movie and more).

Interested in Elvis’ early career? You’re in luck. Many items, such as early hit records, stage wear and more, are on display at Elvis Presley’s Graceland. Plan your trip today.


9 Comments

  1. Barbara Conner

    Thank you for this story, do you know what is in the place where Palumbo cafe was ? Love Graceland! Hope to go for the 40th anniversary.

    • Hi Barbara – The whole block where Palumbo’s sat was torn down to make room for city, county and federal buildings in the 1960s. Ellis Auditorium was located at the corner of Poplar and Front Streets in downtown Memphis, and Palumbo’s was across from the auditorium.

  2. James carter

    I would like to visit graceland

  3. David Suttles

    Looking forward to the day I can visit Graceland
    Is it true that Parker received 50% of everything Elvis
    earned right to the end?

  4. Kathryn Callaway

    Elvis was great in all his music and in his life time. Always will be thinking of him.

  5. I did visit Graceland in 2013 it is awesome hope to go again.

  6. Frances Scott

    I would love to have any information or pictures you may have about the fateful concert (at the beginning of his career) in Kansas City, MO, that broke up very early in a riot. I was there and furious with the crowd for ending the concert I wanted to see so bad. I was able to attend the concert when he finally came back to KC many years later. I have always been a hugely devoted fan (even at 84 now) and am planning to finally make it to Graceland for the first time this summer with friends.

  7. Always the KING xo

  8. Pat Smith

    Signing Elvis away from Bob Neal was done somewhat underhandedly by Tom Parker. It was, ultimately, the right move for both Elvis and Col. Parker. What he did for Elvis’ career was a carefully constructed plan, but in the end, Col. Parker was earning more than Elvis, contractually, and there was a love-hate relationship between them. Peter Guralnick documents all of this in his biography of Elvis, a must read for Elvis fans.

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