|Elvis Express Radio brings news of Elvis releases and provides free online entertainment & news to fans around the world. We DO NOT sell any Elvis products
Before he displayed a piano that was once used in a honky-tonk frequented by the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sonny Burgess and other "rockabilly" performers at his
Rock 'n' Roll Highway 67 Museum, Henry Boyce had to be sure the instrument was authentic.
After all, Boyce is the 3rd Judicial Circuit prosecuting attorney and has prosecuted cases in Jackson, Lawrence and Sharp counties for the past 14 years.
So using his professional skills, he began to investigate. He compared a photograph of the upright piano when it sat in Porky's Rooftop Club in Newport with the piano he now has
in the lobby of the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce building on Hazel Street.
Boyce used a magnifying glass to scrutinize the ornate designs on the piano legs and matched them with the photograph. He noticed the keyboard's unique covering and the
utilitarian bench that came with the instrument.
Then, he found a performer who played at the club in the 1950s and who remembered the piano.
Burgess, who still plays music, signed a sworn affidavit for Boyce confirming that the 1907 Knight-Brinkerhoff piano is the one that was at Porky's Rooftop when Presley performed
there March 2, 1955.
"We don't know for sure if Elvis used it that night," said Boyce, who began his rock 'n' roll museum in 2009. "But if he did play piano on any of his songs then, this is the one he did
The piano was part of the music scene that began along U.S. 67 in the early 1950s.
Performers such as Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Billy Lee Riley played in joints along the highway from Newport to Pocahontas, plying their trade in a musical style that
has been replicated by musicians over decades.
Robert Plant, for example, has said he copied the "rockabilly" style in some of his songs with the band Led Zeppelin, and Bob Dylan credited Riley as an influence for his music.
Most of the joints in those days were rowdy. A piano player in a roadhouse in Trumann was once shot at by a patron who didn't like the songs the musician played. Fights often
broke out at a lot of the clubs, fueled by the raucous music and ready flow of alcohol.
Hershel "Porky" Sellers, who died in 1998, opened a barbecue restaurant along U.S. 67 next to KNBY-AM, a Newport radio station, in the early 1950s. He named it Porky's Rooftop
Club and let musicians play atop the one-story building. Fearing that someone could fall off, he soon installed wooden railings.
Later, Sellers enclosed the area and put a roof on it, creating a second floor and thus protecting performers from inclement weather.
On March 2, 1955, Presley performed there after playing a show earlier that day at the armory at Arkansas State College in Jonesboro.
It was less than a year after Presley had released "That's All Right (Mama)," which propelled him to the top of the charts and made him a popular performer nationwide. Dozens
crowded into Porky's to hear him sing, Boyce said.
As the show concluded, Sellers gave Presley some sage advice about his onstage gyrations, Boyce said.
"He told Elvis, 'Son, you've got a great voice, but if you want to make it in the music business, you better clean up your act,'" Boyce said.
Eventually, Porky's, like many of the other clubs along U.S. 67 -- the Silver Moon in Newport, the King of Clubs in Swifton and the Skylark Drive-In in Pocahontas -- closed. An auto
parts store now sits where Porky's once was.
Porky's upright Knight-Brinkerhoff piano ended up with a Newport church organist and business owner, said Charlotte Plegge, a member of the Jackson County Historical Society.
For years, Wilma Evans displayed the piano at The Gizmo, a Newport gift shop, before selling it to a physician. Nicole Lawson-Rounds kept the piano in her home with the intention
of her daughter learning to play it. But tuning the piano and refurbishing it was costly, and the daughter lost interest, Plegge said.
Lawson-Rounds donated the piano to the historical society about five years ago, Plegge said. It was stored in a building with county records and artifacts until Boyce obtained it for
display earlier this month.
"We thought that this was the perfect opportunity to display the piano at the museum and reunite it with its friends from that era," Plegge said.
The piano display is set up in conjunction with the Depot Days Festival in downtown Newport, which begins today with blues performances scheduled by The Deltatones at 7 p.m.
and the Memphis All-Stars at 8:15 p.m. The festival opens again Saturday at 9:30 a.m. with an auction, and musical performances starting at 1 p.m. and continuing until the festival
ends Saturday night.
Included in Saturday's scheduled performances are: Sonny Burgess and The Legendary Pacers at 5:15 p.m.; the Memphis All-Stars at 7:30 p.m.; and Jason D. Williams, the last
performer, at 8:45 p.m.
Boyce, who is the chairman of the event, will open his museum Saturday. At noon, Burgess will dedicate the piano.
|PIANO CONFIRMED ORIGINAL FROM EARLY ELVIS SHOW VENUE
September 23, 2016 - The Democrat Gazette/ Elvis Express Radio
|Henry Boyce displays a piano at his Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway 67 Museum that was
present during Elvis Presley’s 1955 show at Porky’s Rooftop Club in Newport.