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|BOOK BRINGS BACK MEMORIES OF ELVIS
July 12, 2016 - By John Davis, Northern Wyoming Daily News / Elvis Express Radio
|The other day I (John Davis) received a book in the mail from Amazon.com. It was a Johnny Cash biography and I was surprised to receive it; I didn’t remember having ordered this
book. Still, I browse around lots of odds and ends books and it was entirely possible that I came across a review that intrigued me and so ordered an atypical book.
I found the book interesting, because Johnny Cash is an interesting figure. But what really got my attention was some of the author’s background information, which included a
famous encounter between Elvis Presley and Sam Phillips.
Sam Phillips was a record producer in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1950s, a man who became a legend because, among other things, he sold the recording contract of Elvis
Presley to RCA Victor. It was the description of this “famous encounter” that really grabbed me, bringing back sharp memories from 1956 when I was a 13-year-old boy in Worland.
The author described how Phillips had heard Presley sing and had seen something; Phillips wanted him to come into the recording studio and cut some tracks. At first, Presley just
sang the songs of other people and the session became a flat event, only a lukewarm repetition of what other singers had done better.
But then Presley started playfully strumming his guitar and singing a song called, “That’s All Right,” a blues tune. Phillips immediately recognized what he was hearing, a white
boy singing black with an incomparable sensuality. The song was quickly recorded. Elvis Presley’s earliest songs had an enormous influence. As the author of the Johnny Cash
book wrote, those first Presley songs were greeted with awe by “legions of players,” including Eric Clapton and John Lennon.
This author was absolutely right. I know “That’s All Right” had to have been greeted with great enthusiasm by kids all over the world, because it was so received by junior high
kids in Worland, Wyoming. I remember playing that Presley record time and time again, along with other of his earliest pieces, such as “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.”
I’ve always thought that if an event in the popular culture penetrates the Big Horn Basin, it is probably having a country wide influence, and the Elvis Presley phenomenon seems a
validation of this thesis. We all know that Presley’s music and that of all those who followed him had a huge cultural impact, in Wyoming and every state of the union.
This rock and roll music was controversial; it was seen by adults as a threat and there were attempts to suppress it. It was threatening, I think, because it was sexual in a way no
other music was. At 13 and 14 we wouldn’t have used those terms, but we certainly knew that it was exciting in a way no other music was.
But it was more significant than that: Elvis not only sang black, but he used black musical forms, such as rhythm and blues. This was also seen as a threat, because the kids of the
50s didn’t care that this music had an African origin, or that people of African descent sang it. I remember that when rock and roll shows were being presented in the south in the
late 50s southern officials bitterly condemned the music, using the ugly language of the South in those days, by saying, for example, that it was "Ni##er Music, and in some cases
I believe these officials accurately detected that a lot of young people did not view African-Americans as lesser creatures, and that the acceptance of rock and roll by black or white
singers was a challenge to the Jim Crow laws and other racist positions of the South declaring the inferiority of minority peoples. More than that, I think that the consequent change
in the feelings of white people toward people of color, affected in part by the appeal of rock and roll music, was a major factor in a chain of events culminating in the Civil Rights Act
But in 1956 or 1957 my friends and I didn’t think that much about the historical significance of this new music, just that it was really cool.
John Davis was raised in Worland, graduating from W. H. S. in 1961. John began practicing law here in 1973 and is mostly retired. He is the author of several books.