When I posted the article last weekend on Elvis’ first guitar, I had no idea of what was to follow. There were more favorable comments on this post than any other in a long time. For example, Collette C. sent in this:
Oh, this story was fantastic. I can see his mama grinning from ear to ear when she got her way. As a mom I know how she felt! I just love this blog. Thank you so much.
Selma S. had this to say:
Phil, I am relatively new to your blogs, and as a lifelong Elvis fan, I can’t tell you how much I look forward to your email landing in my inbox.
Your dedicated research, your ability to write a logical story and your way of bringing the emotions to life are matched by the fresh information you bring.
As much as I appreciated these, I was more intrigued by this comment made by an unidentified member of the Tupelo Elvis Fan Club:
I believe Mr. Larry Moss of Memphis owns the original guitar.
I replied to the comment and asked a few questions about Larry Moss. Within hours, I heard from him:
Great story and great due diligence. I am the person who owns the “Tupelo Special” guitar as some people call it… I’ll gladly discuss the details, if you’re interested…Larry Moss.
I jumped at the chance to learn more about Elvis’ first guitar, and Larry and I talked for an hour on Friday.
It turns out he and his wife Judy are major collectors of all sorts of Elvis memorabilia. They are kept in a secure, private location, but Larry has been known to let special people view his collection. When I get back to Memphis again, I will be thrilled to take up his offer for a guided tour.
Larry Moss and his wife started collecting back in 1973 when they got boxing champ Joe Frazier’s autograph on a dollar bill.
Now Larry and Judy’s collection amounts to hundreds of Elvis items, a very eclectic mix. For example, Larry owns the original contract Elvis signed with Col. Parker in November 1955. Vernon and Gladys also signed because Elvis was a minor at the time.
There is an interesting history to Elvis’ first guitar between the time Elvis had it and today when it occupies a prime space in the Moss’ museum-like collection.
Elvis and the guitar were inseparable during his time in Tupelo, throughout high school in Memphis, at the first recording sessions at Sun records, and on the road performing early in his career. Back in the summer of 1955, Elvis and the band toured throughout the South. Red West was Elvis’ friend from their high school days, and Elvis asked him to travel with them. During off-time, Red took an interest in guitar playing, and Scotty Moore taught him the basics.
As the end of summer approached, Red told Elvis he would be leaving to attend Jones County Community College in Mississippi on a football scholarship. Elvis bought his friend a used Ford Model A or Modal T (a forerunner of things to come). By that time, Elvis had purchased better guitars, so he also gave his first guitar to Red so he could continue to master the instrument.
Red’s best friend and roommate in college was Ronnie Williams, another scholarship football player. He was a fan of Elvis because he liked all of the first Sun releases. Ronnie would talk to Red all the time about Elvis.
Even with a scholarship, Red found himself financially unable to stay in college. He sold the car for $50 and gave the guitar to Ronnie Williams. He later stated that the reason he did this was because Ronnie was such a big Elvis fan (plus Red couldn’t afford a case to properly carry it around). Red went back to work for Elvis as a bodyguard.
Shortly after that, Ronnie Williams transferred to Florida State. Later, he was killed (possibly shot by the police, details are fuzzy.) The guitar ended up with his brother, Bill Williams, who in 2011, tried to sell Elvis’ first guitar at Guernsey’s Auction House in New York.
The guitar had a minimum bid of $200,000, or possibly $250,000 (details are unclear), but no bidders wanted to pay that much for a guitar with absolutely no validation presented. There was no documentation to tie it to Elvis, particularly no photo of Elvis holding the guitar.
This is where the current owner, Larry Moss, came into the picture. He had an association with Guernsey’s Auctions from when they held the Archives of Graceland Auction in Las Vegas in 1999. Gurnsey’s Arlan Ettinger contacted Larry and gave him the name and phone number of the man who had put the guitar up at auction. Over several months, Larry Moss and Bill Williams negotiated, and finally, Larry Moss became the owner of Elvis’ first guitar.
He took a gamble, but had a connection he figured would help him prove the provenance of the guitar. His father played football at Humes High with Red West’s dad. Larry conducted interviews with Red in 2013 and 2014, and has nearly a half-hour of tape where Red provides valuable confirmation that the guitar is in fact Elvis’ first guitar. Larry is in negotiations with Graceland right now, so no more details can be given.
Larry Moss owns several other prized guitars. In the 2013 photo above, Scotty Moore holds a Gibson ES-295, the one he played when “That’s All Right, Mama” was recorded. This is Larry’s second most valuable guitar. You can spot it in the next photo (taken before Larry acquired Elvis’ guitar).
The collection also includes many items of Elvis’ wardrobe and five of his rings, which will be featured at a later date in a special edition of the ElvisBlog series, “Elvis’ Fabulous Rings.” Here are some of Elvis’ clothes and movie wardrobe.
This is the jacket Elvis wore when the guys jammed around in Sun studios, creating the iconic Million Dollar Quartet.
Larry Moss’ collection includes another famous Elvis jacket — the one he wore during the Jailhouse Rock dance sequence.
Do you know what was Elvis’ first jumpsuit to have a cape? It is called the White Fireworks Suit, and Elvis wore it in 1971 and 1972. It now is a star in Larry Moss’ collection.
As stated earlier, ElvisBlog will soon do a feature on the Elvis rings in Larry Moss’ collection. There are great stories to tell about some of these rings. There will also be a post about Elvis’ third cape for his American Eagle jumpsuit. Yes, the third. There’s a great story here, too.
Like I said at the start of this article, I had no idea what last week’s post on Elvis’ first guitar would lead to.
Now, thanks to Larry Moss, I have a treasure trove of stories and pictures to share with you.
The photos above credited to James V Roy appeared on www.scottymoore.net. If you want to see more photos, go to Scotty’s site. Scroll to the bottom of the home page and type these into the search box: Elvis’ First Guitar, The Moss Collection, and The George Klein Interviews.
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