Elvis makes another demo acetate at Sun Studio. This is one of many early Elvis recording sessions.
April 20, 1954
Elvis changes jobs again, going to work for Crown Electric Company. At Crown, he does various jobs, including driving a delivery truck and delivering supplies to job sites. He also goes to night school and studies to be an apprentice electrician.
June 6, 1954
At Marion Keisker’s suggestion, Sam Phillips calls Elvis into the studio to try singing a song Sam hopes to put out on record. The song is "Without You" and Elvis does not sing it to Sam’s satisfaction. Sam asks Elvis what he can sing and Elvis runs through a number of popular tunes. Sam is impressed enough to team Elvis up with local musicians Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass) to see if they together can come up with something worthwhile.
July 4, 1954
Elvis meets Scotty and Bill, but nothing really clicks until July 5, when after a tedious session, Elvis and the guys break into a sped-up version of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "That's All Right." This song, backed with “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” becomes the first of five singles of early Elvis songs recorded and released on the Sun label.
Summer of 1954
Elvis, Scotty, and Bill start performing together, with Scotty acting as the group’s manager. Elvis continues to work at Crown Electric as the group starts to play small clubs and books other small-time gigs locally and throughout the South, enjoying moderate success with the records and personal appearances.
October 2, 1954
Elvis’ one appearance on the “Grand Ole Opry” doesn’t go over particularly well, with one of the Opry officials reportedly suggesting that Elvis go back to driving a truck. The Opry is very important at this time. This is a painful disappointment in Elvis' early career.
Elvis, Scotty and Bill continue to record and to travel. They quit their day jobs in mid-October 1954.
October 16, 1954
They appear for the first time on the ”Louisiana Hayride,” a live, Saturday night, country music radio show originating in Shreveport, Louisiana, broadcast over KWKH Radio. The show is the “Grand Ole Opry's” chief competitor, carried by 190 stations in thirteen states. This leads to regular appearances on the Hayride. In November, Elvis signs a one year contract for 52 Saturday night appearances. This is a great break, but as Elvis’ popularity grows, his commitment to the Hayride prevents him from traveling much outside the South to further his career on a larger scale.
January 1, 1955
Elvis signs a contract with Bob Neal, who now becomes his manager.
January 15, 1955
During his association with the Hayride, Elvis meets “Colonel” Tom Parker, a promoter and manager connected with various acts and the ”Louisiana Hayride.” Parker is also the manager for country star Hank Snow. A previous Parker client is country star Eddy Arnold.
Elvis, Scotty and Bill continue touring on their own and in package shows with various country stars, including package tours of artists from the Hayride. Colonel Parker is involved. This includes touring with Hank Snow. The regular Hayride appearances continue. Drummer D.J. Fontana joins Elvis’ band. In the spring, Elvis fails to be accepted on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” a network television show. As always, Elvis’ live appearances have special appeal for the teenagers, especially the females. His original and unusual style, sexy moves, and good looks start to cause more and more excitement wherever he plays. Sometimes the crowds break through the barricades in near-riot behavior. Elvis gains more and more popularity and begins to receive national attention. Colonel Parker becomes more involved in Elvis’ career.
August 15, 1955
Elvis signs an official management contract with Hank Snow Attractions, which is owned equally by Snow and Colonel Tom Parker. Bob Neal remains involved as an advisor. Colonel Parker is to be Elvis’ exclusive manager from this time on and Snow is soon no longer connected to Elvis.
November 20, 1955
Elvis signs his first contract with RCA Records. Colonel Parker negotiates the sale of Elvis’ Sun contract to RCA, which includes his five Sun singles and other early Elvis songs that are unreleased Sun material. The price is an unprecedented $35,000, with a $5,000 bonus for Elvis. RCA soon re-releases the five Sun singles on the RCA label. At the same time, Elvis signs a contract with Hill and Range Publishing Company, which is to set up a separate firm called Elvis Presley Music, Inc. Elvis will share with Hill and Range the publishing ownership of songs bought by Hill and Range for him to record. Elvis is the hottest new star in the music business.
January 10, 1956
Two days after his twenty-first birthday, RCA holds the first of many Elvis recording sessions at their studio in Nashville. Among the early Elvis songs laid to tape during this studio session is "Heartbreak Hotel."
January 27, 1956
"Heartbreak Hotel" b/w "I Was the One" is released on vinyl by RCA and sells over 300,000 copies in its first three weeks on the market. It is soon to go to #1 on Billboard’s pop singles chart for eight weeks and hits #1 on the country chart and #5 on the R&B chart. It becomes the first Elvis single to sell over one million copies, thus earning Elvis his very first gold record award.
January 28, 1956
Elvis appears with Scotty, Bill and D.J. on the Jackie Gleason-produced “Stage Show,” starring Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, on CBS. This is Elvis’ first network television appearance. He appears five more nights on “Stage Show” over the weeks ahead and makes minor waves nationally. The last of these six appearances is March 24. Traveling and personal appearances continue during this time, including the “Louisiana Hayride” appearances for which he is still under contract.
As "Heartbreak Hotel" makes its climb up the charts on its way to #1, "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" b/w "Mystery Train," Elvis' fifth and last single to be released on the Sun label, hits #1 on Billboard’s national country singles chart. His first #1 hit on a national chart.
March 23, 1956
RCA ships “Elvis Presley,” the first album in Elvis’ discography. This album full of early Elvis songs soon goes to #1 on Billboard’s pop album chart for 10 weeks. It is the first Elvis album to reach over $1 million in sales, thus earning Elvis his first gold album award.
March 25, 1956
Elvis arrives in Los Angeles to begin a two-part screen test for Paramount Studios in Hollywood on the 26th and 27th. He lip syncs "Blue Suede Shoes" and performs a scene from the as yet unmade film, “The Rainmaker.”
April 3, 1956
Elvis appears on “The Milton Berle Show” on NBC. This particular broadcast of the show originates from the deck of the aircraft carrier the USS Hancock.
April 2 - 6, 1956
Elvis signs a one-picture movie contract with Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures. The contract includes options for six more pictures.
April 23 - May 9, 1956
Compared to the usual hysteria, Elvis has lukewarm acceptance for his two-week engagement at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. He is not exactly what the adult audience of Vegas gamblers relates to very well. During these two weeks, the single “Heartbreak Hotel,” and the album “Elvis Presley,” both hit number one on the Billboard pop charts.
Through all of this, the travel and personal appearances around the country and new Elvis recording sessions and releases continue. The crowds get bigger and bigger, wilder and wilder. Elvis’ fame grows dramatically. Some of these shows have to end early due to fans’ storming the stage. Elvis creates pandemonium wherever he goes.
June 5, 1956
Elvis appears again on “The Milton Berle Show,” this time in the studio where the show usually originates, backed by The Jordanaires, Scotty, Bill and D.J. Among his selections is a playfully sensuous performance of "Hound Dog" that drives the kids in the audience wild and disgusts the press and some of the adult viewers. It is one of his most controversial performances. This merely serves to fuel his seemingly unstoppable popularity even more.
Traveling, personal appearances and new record releases continue. By this time, his sexy moves and black-influenced sound is being condemned by certain factions of the “morally concerned” establishment and the religious community. But the kids love it.
July 1, 1956
Elvis appears on “The Steve Allen Show” on NBC. Among his performances this night is a much toned down version of "Hound Dog." Allen has Elvis dress in white tie and black tux with tails and has him sing the song to a live Basset Hound, a tongue-in-cheek response to all controversy created by the Berle appearance the month before. Elvis good-nature goes along with it, but is not too happy about it. Elvis also appears in a cowboy comedy sketch with Allen, Imogene Coca and Andy Griffith.
The Elvis recording sessions, record releases and touring continue. The condemnation and controversy continues as well, along with the ever-growing popularity. Ed Sullivan, who had said that he would never have the likes of Elvis Presley on his show, changes his tune when he sees the big ratings that Elvis attracts to the Berle and Allen shows. A three-appearance deal is worked out for $50,000 and is the highest amount ever paid to a performer, up to that time, for appearing on a variety show.
July 2, 1956
The Jordanaires, a gospel quartet and popular country back-up group, begin working with Elvis in the studio during his fourth RCA session and soon begin touring with him. They will also appear with him in several films and remain his main back-up group until the late sixties.
Elvis begins shooting his first movie, “Love Me Tender,” on loan-out from Paramount to Twentieth Century Fox. It is originally titled “The Reno Brothers,” but is re-titled before its release to capitalize on Elvis’ sure-to-be-a-hit single from the soundtrack.
September 9, 1956
Elvis makes the first of three appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the top television program of the era. Elvis attracts the highest ratings ever for any television variety show, receiving 80% of the national viewing audience. Character actor Charles Laughton hosts in place of Sullivan, who is recuperating from a car accident.
September 26, 1956
Elvis Presley Day is proclaimed in Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis’ parents join him as he returns to the town of his birth as a big star. He performs two shows at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, the same fair at which he had performed at age 10. This time there are a hundred National Guardsmen surrounding the stage to control the crowds of excited fans.
By this time, souvenir merchandising using Elvis’ name, image and likeness has become a big part of the Elvis phenomenon. Licensees will soon be producing as many as thirty different products including hats, t-shirts, jeans, kerchiefs, sneakers, shirts, blouses, belts, purses, billfolds, wallets, charm bracelets, necklaces, magazines, gloves, bookends, a statue, lipstick, cologne, stuffed hound dogs, stationery, sweaters, crockery, and more. Elvis and the Colonel are to blaze new trails in the area of celebrity merchandising. This is to be forever a part of the marketing of Elvis Presley, feeding a never-ending demand.
October 28, 1956
Elvis makes his second of three appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.
November 15, 1956
Elvis’ first movie, “Love Me Tender,” premieres at the Paramount Theater in New York City, opening nationwide in the days following. It becomes a smash hit and the critics’ reviews aren’t bad for his acting in this melodrama, which is set in the American South of the 1800’s Civil War era. The film has Elvis performing several songs.
December 31, 1956
The front page of The Wall Street Journal reports that in the past few months, Elvis merchandise has grossed $22 million in sales. Elvis ends the pivotal year of his career, when regional popularity gave way to unprecedented national and international fame. The year of 1956 has seen the beginning of Elvis souvenir merchandising, the beginning of a successful movie career, huge record sales (five number one singles on the pop chart, two number one albums on the pop chart, and other hits), history-making television appearances, record-breaking personal appearances and more. Elvis has become the primary symbol of the new youth culture in America. He has also become one of society’s most controversial figures. His unique blending of white country and gospel music, black R&B and gospel, white pop music, his particular brand of charisma and talent, and the resulting success and controversy, have helped him greatly to begin, without premeditation, a cycle of change in music and pop culture and the mores of American society. Nothing will ever be the same for Elvis Presley or for the world.
January 6, 1957
Elvis makes his third and final appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It is for this appearance, that Elvis is seen only from the waist up. It’s funny that after all of his television appearances the previous year, such censorship comes at this time. It is particularly amusing that this guideline remains in place during Elvis’ performance of the gospel standard, “Peace in the Valley,” one of five songs he performs on this Sullivan appearance. Ed Sullivan himself helps diffuse some of the controversy surrounding Elvis when he comes out on stage to thank Elvis and tells the studio audience and millions of American television viewers that “this is a decent, fine boy” and what a delight he has been to work with when appearing on the show. Ed Sullivan is the most influential person on television and one of the most powerful people in the television industry at the time. Personal appearances, recording sessions, record releases, controversy and publicity continue.
Elvis begins production of his second movie, “Loving You.” Elvis also begins dying his hair black.
February 3, 1957
The New York Times runs a story entitled, "Presley Records a Craze in Soviet Union." Elvis records are not legally available in the Soviet Union. The article tells of bootleg recordings being cut on discarded X-ray plates and being sold in Leningrad on the black market for fifty rubles (about twelve and a half dollars) each, a lot of money at the time.
Elvis buys Graceland Mansion for himself, his parents, and his paternal grandmother to live in for $102,500. It will be ready for them to move into on May 16th, 1957. Elvis doesn't spend his first night in Graceland until June 26th, 1957.
While touring with his show, Elvis performs outside the U.S. for the first time when he appears in Canada. Two shows are in Toronto on April 2 and two shows are in Ottawa on April 3.
Elvis begins work on his third motion picture, “Jailhouse Rock,” for MGM.
July 9, 1957
Elvis' second motion picture, “Loving You,” premieres in Memphis. It opens nationwide on July 30 and is on the Variety’s National Box Office Survey for four weeks, peaking at #7. Elvis skips the premiere, but takes Anita and his parents to see a private midnight screening. Hit records include early Elvis songs such as the title track and classic smash "Teddy Bear." Traveling, touring, record releases and personal appearances continue.
August 31, 1957
Elvis performs in Vancouver. This is the third Canadian city he has performed in and marks the last time he will perform a concert outside the United States.
September 27, 1957
Elvis returns once more to the town of his birth to perform. This time it is a benefit for the proposed Elvis Presley Youth Recreation Center in Tupelo, Mississippi. The grounds include Elvis’ birthplace home. He will donate regularly to the center for the rest of his life.
October 17, 1957
“Jailhouse Rock,” Elvis’ third motion picture, premieres in Memphis. “Jailhouse Rock” opens nationally on November 8 and peaks at #3. It ends up being #14 for the year. By 1969, its earnings in the U.S. and Canada were roughly comparable with those of “The Wizard of Oz.” The title song is a smash hit. Years later, this film will be considered one of Elvis’ best acting performances, surpassed only by “King Creole,” which is to follow in 1958. “Jailhouse Rock” will come to be considered the ultimate classic of all “rock opera” movies. The "Jailhouse Rock" production number in the film is to be recognized as the grandfather of pop/rock music videos, a music format to become widely popular by the 1980’s.
November 10 – 11, 1957
Elvis performs shows in Hawaii for the first time. This would also be his last public appearance before entering the Army.
Elvis and family enjoy their first Christmas at Graceland. Elvis also officially receives his draft notice, a day he has known would be coming soon.
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