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|HONORING THE CRUCIBLE OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
January 26, 2016 The Dispatch / Elvis Express Radio
Here, in an interview from 1957, Elvis himself tells us what REALLY happened...
It was July, 1953, and she [Marion Keisker] was sitting in the offices of a record company in Memphis, Tennessee. I don’t know what she was doing there. I didn’t know then. I don’t
know now. Anyway, while she was sitting there an 18-year-old kid walked in, carrying a guitar, and started to sing. He made a test record of two songs, 'That’s When Your
Heartaches Begin', and 'My Happiness'. He paid exactly four dollars to make the record. This woman, this unknown woman, listened and thought, “This boy can really sing.”
“This boy,” of course, was me, Elvis Presley. And her noticing me was fateful in my life. I’ve had a lot of good luck, for which I am very grateful.
Part of the luck comes from the people I just happened to meet. One was Sam Phillips, president of Sun Records. Another was Col. Tom Parker, the man who’s handling me now.
But maybe the most important of the lucky things that have happened to me was because of the woman I'd never met, the woman who sat in the office on that hot day in Memphis
three years ago.
One long year after that, a year in which I suffered ups and downs, a year in which I really began to learn the singing trade, Sam Phillips received a new song. He’d never heard it
before. But he liked it. It was called 'Without You'. He wanted to record it for his company. But he couldn’t think of the right artist to sing it. While thinking this over one day, he
happened to run into the same woman who had been sitting in the office the year before, the woman who had heard “this boy” sing. And there the long arm of coincidence
stretched out long. For Sam Phillips mentioned his problem. Who was going to sing his new song? “Why not that boy, that Elvis Presley?” she asked.
So, Sam Phillips called the electric company where I was working. “How about coming around, Elvis,” he said. I couldn’t believe my ears. It took about five minutes for me to get out
of the office and hustle on down to where Sun’s studio was. And so I got my first hit?
Not so easy as that. In fact, it was a while before I got a real record out in the record stores. But it did put me in touch with Scotty Moore, a guitar player, and Scotty in turn
introduced me to a bass player, Bill Black. We worked together, trying this song and that, and then we went to see if we could fit something together we thought worth recording.
Nothing seemed to work out. It was like a young girl making a cake that kept falling flatter than a pancake. Then I remembered a tune called That’s All Right, Mamma. And the
cake turned out fine All at once the swing of it, the real feeling of singing great, and knowing that you were singing great, caught up with us. We knew we were really turning it on.
And when we listed to the playback, we all got really excited. It moved.
So that’s how the unknown lady fits into my story. Without her, I’d still be a young guitar player working my way around the small towns of the South, earning a living where I could.
Instead, I’m the owner of four Cadillacs. And this year I can expect to make a good living.
|Who REALLY gave the world Elvis Presley?
Sam Philips? or Marion Keisker?
Elvis is rightfully called the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” although in this age of Miley Cyrus you’d be hard-pressed to explain to a millennial what all the fuss was about. Hearing the
opening rhythm guitar and vocals of Elvis’ first record, a reworking of an old blues number originally done by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, “That’s All Right, Mama,” still gives me
musically evoked frisson -- or goose bumps to the less scientific of you.
While Elvis’ talent is today undisputed -- he is, after all, the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music -- he might still be driving a truck for Crown Electric if not for the
intervention of Sam Phillips, founder of both Sun Studio and Sun Records, in Memphis. I’m reading Peter Guralnick’s excellent “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’
Roll” and highly recommend it for any fan of popular music.
Phillips is perhaps one of the greatest unheralded figures in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, and his contributions to popular music are astonishing. His tiny Sun record label produced
226 singles during its 16-year existence, more rock ‘n’ roll records than any other label. My wife and I vacationed in Memphis for nearly a week in 2003 and while there is much to
see and take in (and yes, we went to Graceland; not as cheesy as I thought it would be), the Sun Studio was a highlight, for if those walls could talk, they would tell the story of the
origins of rock ‘n’ roll.
So Sam Phillips is credited by Peter Guralnick and history as the man who brought us Elvis Presley?
He say's he was there that day when the 18 year old Elvis first walked in to Sun Studios and made a personal 2 sided demo record, 'My Happiness' and 'Thats When Your
But what about Marion Keisker?
"I made that record," she said. "And Sam said I did not. It has been a source of great pain to me. Sam has gone to great lengths to say 'Marion is wrong,' what that is just not true.
"Ridiculous statements have been made," she added. "He said I did not know how to run the equipment. Well, that was the end for me. I finally asked him - in unladylike terms -
'Who ran the shop when you were out on the road?' It was me. I was there."
Ed Leek (who had Elvis' first demo in his possession since 1953 confirmed Keisker's story. "Oh hell, you made that record,' he said. "Elvis told me you made that record."
Disappointingly the new Guralnick biography about Sam Phillips fails to give Marion Keisker her proper and rightful place in history for what she did in 1953.
Marion Keisker recorded Elvis Presley in July 1953. Sam Phillips was NOT in the studio.
Marion Keisker heard something in Elvis and made a note "Elvis Presley, A Good Ballad Singer".
When Sam Phillips heard Elvis, he was not impressed?
Marion Keisker pushed Sam into agreeing to give the young Elvis a try on the song 'Without You'.
IF it was left to Sam Phillips alone, it's highly likely that Elvis would not have got the big break.
Marion Keisker was Sam Phillips’ assistant at Sun Records in the 50s, and as such was the employee who first recorded the
young Elvis Presley in 1953. In 1946, she began working for radio station WREC. Phillips joined as an announcer a year later and
when he launched the Memphis Recording Service in 1950, Keisker went along as his assistant, continuing to work part-time for
the station until 1955.
Phillips started Sun in 1952 and Keisker arranged sessions for the blues musicians who recorded there. She kept a log of all
activities at the company, which provided future historians with interesting details. Keisker was on duty in 1953 when Presley
arrived at Memphis Recording Service to record two songs as a gift for his mother. She took his fee, ran the recording machines
and made a note of the boy’s potential.
It was she who suggested to Phillips that he record Presley on Sun the following year and she who took Presley around to visit
disc jockeys and the press. Presley called her his ‘first fan’. As Sun grew, Keisker performed such duties as handling accounts
with distributors and pressing plants.
All of the aspiring artists who wanted to record for Sun had to speak to Keisker before they were accepted or rejected by Phillips.
Keisker left Sun in 1957 to join the US Air Force, with which she worked until 1969.
In 1960, Sgt Elvis Presley of the United States Army met up with his "first fan" who was now Captain Marion Keisker of the United
States Air Force (see picture left).
She died of cancer in December 1989.