Elvis Presley early days: The King was rejected by every record company ‘His music STINKS’
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The King cut his first official record on July 5, 1954, at Sun Studio. Months earlier he had paid $2 to record the song My Happiness as a gift for his mother Gladys. Still only 19, he constantly saved money from his job at Crown Electric, where he hoped to become an electrician, to pursue his music dreams on the side. A fateful recording session would change everything, although it took the rest of America another year to appreciate that a star had been born.
On that day in July 1955, the budding pop star was in the studio with his new backing group, Scotty Moore on lead guitar and Bill Black on string bass. But the real magic happened during a break when Elvis started improvising an up-tempo version of Arthur Crudup’s 1946 song That’s All Right, Mama on his rhythm guitar.
It’s easy to forget that he wasn’t just an extraordinary singer and showman, Elvis was also an instinctive musician with an ear for melody and the knack to draw from influences around him and incorporate them into his own style. He even changed some of the lyrics to the song.
Scotty later recalled how it all happened in thrilling detail
Scotty said: “All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them.
“Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open … he stuck his head out and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ ‘Well, back up,’ he said, ‘try to find a place to start, and do it again.'”
Sam was the producer and owner of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, who realised something special was happening. The track was recorded in one take and pressed as a single with Blue Moon of Kentucky on the B-side.
Philips promoted the single to local radio stations and it became a sensation in the Tennessee area, selling 20,000 copies.
Elvis was signed to Sun Records and Phillips started trying to attract attention at a national level for almost a year, with little success.
One rejection letter from Monarch Records executive Nate Duroff puts it very bluntly, indeed.
It said: “I have been talking to another local distributor regarding taking on your line…
“I have given him samples of your last releases and he is of the opinion that the Elvis Presley records would not sell in Los Angeles.”
The reason is not only brutally dismissive, but it also contains some very good advice.
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The letter continues: “I know for a fact Western and Hillbilly out here ‘stinks” as far as sales.
“Mr Diamond also says that the southern blues are very weak in sales also. He suggests that a Rock and Roll in western or hillbilly, such as Bill Haley records would move good out here.”
Phillips met with budding manager Colonel Parker who persuaded him to sell Elvis’ contract for the then staggering sum of $35,000.
Neither Elvis nor Phillips wanted to part company but the producer needed money to pay off debts and reinvest in Sun Records.
Parker started a bidding war with record labels and RCA Victor triumphed.
Within months, Elvis had been repackaged with a more Rock n Roll sound, but still keeping his unique soul and blues (and hillbilly) roots.
His first nationally released single, Heartbreak Hotel, was recorded in Nashville and hit the charts in January 1956 and became a number-one smash. His self-titled album was released that March and held the top spot for ten weeks.
Those executives at Monarch Records and elsewhere must have been kicking themselves.
Phillips, meanwhile, continued to build Sun Records with his new roster of talent which included Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.
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