Entertainment critics regularly panned Elvis early in his career, particularly in 1956, when he burst onto the national scene. Over the years, Elvisblog has contained prime examples of these unfavorable reviews from the New York Times, the Las Vegas Sun, and Time magazine. However, the very first press report mentioning Elvis was in his hometown newspaper, the Memphis Press-Scimitar.
It appeared on July 28, 1954, in a column titled “Front Row,” written by the Press-Scimitar movie columnist Edwin Howard. It was the result of a rushed interview Elvis had with him during Elvis’ lunch hour (Elvis kept his truck-driving job at Crown Electric until October). The interesting thing about the interview is that Howard didn’t want to do it. He reluctantly agreed as a favor to an old friend he knew from their days in local theater. The persistent friend was a lady named Marion Keisker. Does that name sound familiar? Sure it does, Marion Keisker worked for Sam Philips at Sun Records.
In fact, she was at the front desk in 1953 when Elvis first showed up to cut a record for his mom. Some folks think Marion is the person who actually discovered Elvis, because she had the foresight to turn on the master tape recorder while Elvis sang “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.” She also got his name and address on a 3×5 card and added the note: “Good ballad singer, hold.” Marion was the gatekeeper at Sun Records and Elvis passed the test that day. It was another year before she got him back to sing for Sam Phillips, and Phillips may never have seen Elvis if not for Marion Keisker.
It has been duly noted that Elvis, Scotty, and Bill recorded his first song, “That's All Right,” on July 5, 1954. Once they recorded a second song, “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” on July 8, Sam quickly produced a 45 record. Soon, local disc jockey Dewey Phillips was giving “That’s All Right” heavy airplay, enabling Scotty to get the group booked at the Bell Air club. They played on two consecutive Saturday nights, July 17 and 24, and their sets consisted of two songs — the only ones they knew.
Then, Sam Phillips convinced Bob Neal, promoter of the upcoming “Hillbilly Hoedown” show, to add Elvis to the bill. The show was held in the Overton Park Shell on Frida,y July 30, and the headliner was Slim Whitman. This concert appearance is of historical note because it is when Elvis first started shaking his legs and where girls first started screaming for him. This was a big break for Elvis.
Marion Keisker must have foreseen the concert’s potential to aid his career, so she not only arranged the press interview for Elvis, she took him to it. She correctly saw it as a chance to promote both his new single and his upcoming live performance. She even came armed with stats to show how well “That’s All Right” was selling.
In spite of his friendship with Marion Keisker, critic Howard considered the interview a distasteful chore. When he saw Elvis, he was instantly turned off. Howard is quoted saying, “He walked in there looking like the wrath of God. Pimples all over his face, Ducktail hair. Had a funny looking thin bow tie on.” Howard forced himself to ask Elvis a few questions, and Elvis gave a crummy interview. Howard later said, “About all I could get out of him was yes and no.”
So, how bad was Elvis slammed in Howard’s column the next day? Howard opened with a section about the Ringling Bros. Circus coming back to Memphis after a two-year absence. Elvis definitely wasn’t going into the lead of the column. The Elvis item was brief, and the nicest thing Howard could manage to write was: “This boy has something that seems to appeal to everybody… equally popular on popular, folk and race record programs.” Howard obviously tossed off the piece without any rereading and editing, or else that terrible “popular on popular” jam-up would have been fixed.
So, just three weeks after Elvis recorded the songs for his first release, he was mentioned in an entertainment article in the local paper. It’s nice that Elvis received press coverage so quickly after starting his career, but it probably didn’t matter. The important thing was that there were teenaged girls at that hillbilly concert, and they saw something special up on that stage. It started the ball rolling. From that point on, Elvis always had plenty of bookings.
© 2007 Philip R Arnold All Rights Reserved www.elvisblog.net