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Vince Staten: 60 years ago, Elvis paid to make a record

VINCE STATEN • Jul 23, 2013 at 11:05 PM

I ran in the convenience store to grab a soft drink, and as I was paying, I glanced over at the newspaper rack. Staring up at me was Elvis, on the front of a special edition of USA Today.

“What’s that about?” I asked the clerk. “Is Elvis alive again? Is he back at that Burger King in Kalamazoo?”

He didn’t know.

I knew it wasn’t Elvis’ birthday. That’s in January. And it wasn’t the anniversary of his death. That’s in mid-August.

I picked up the paper: It’s the 60th anniversary of Elvis’ first recording.

I didn’t remember any celebration on the 50th anniversary of his first recording, so I knew what it really was: an excuse to put Elvis on the cover.

But it is true. Last week was the 60th anniversary of Elvis’s first recording.

It’s quite all right if you are scratching your head, wondering which recording: “Hound Dog?” “Love Me Tender?” “All Shook Up?”

None of the above. In fact it wasn’t a commercial recording. It was a vanity record. Nobody paid Elvis to make a record. In 1953 he paid to make a record.

I didn’t buy the paper. I know the story. I interviewed many of the participants for my 1978 biography of Elvis.

It was July 18, 1953. Elvis stopped by the Memphis Recording Service, a custom record studio where anyone could plop down $4.98 plus tax and take home a 10-inch acetate disc that would immortalize his or her singing or guitar playing or poetry reading.

For years the story had been that Elvis made the record for his mother’s birthday. If so, he was a little early. Or a little late. Her birthday was April 25.

Memphis Recording Service was an arm of Sun Records, which was owned by Sam Phillips. Phillips was well-known in Memphis for discovering and developing local talent, including Bobby “Blue” Bland, B. B. King and Rufus Thomas.

Even if we accept the story that it was a present for Elvis’ mama, it was an odd one. The Presleys didn’t own a record player. When Elvis’ first Sun single was released a year later, he had to borrow a record player from the Fruchter family in the apartment upstairs to play it. I know that because I interviewed Jeanette Fruchter back in the ’70s.

I think that first recording was a gamble, a $5 bet that Phillips would hear him sing and immediately sign him to a recording contract. But Phillips wasn’t there that day 60 years ago.

Phillips’ secretary, Marion Keisker was impressed with Elvis’ singing and took down his name and phone number and told him she would give it to Phillips. The number was the telephone number of the Fruchters. The Presleys didn’t have a phone either.

But Phillips never called. So six months after that first custom recording, Elvis decided to return to Memphis Recording Service. And this time it was Phillips running the board.

Elvis paid his $5 and recorded “Casual Love Affair,” a ballad, and “I’ll Never Stand in Your Way,” a country song. After the session, Phillips said he liked Elvis’ voice and once again took down his name and phone number.

Elvis had met the famous Phillips face to face and impressed the man with his voice. But all he had to show for it was another $4.98 record. And he didn’t even own a record player.

If Phillips hadn’t called within a couple of months, Elvis most assuredly would have been down there again, making another record for dear old mom, who didn’t own a record player.

But Phillips did call. And on July 5, 1954, Elvis recorded his first hit record for Sun, “That’s All Right, Mama.”

USA Today can celebrate that 60th anniversary next summer.


The ink was barely dry on Friday’s paper when I heard from Matt Stanley. Matt had been intrigued with my column about the little green dude, a ceramic planter that had stumped the experts at “Antiques Roadshow.” It didn’t stump Matt. He found a planter just like it on Etsy, a website where people buy and sell crafts and vintage items. Well, almost “just like it.” Same hat, same duster, same mask, same gun. The only difference: this was a little blue dude. Etsy called it a “vintage ceramic bank robber planter.” No mention of a cartoon character.

So we still don’t know if the planter was based on a comic book character. But we do know the color wasn’t significant. The little green dude also came in blue. And who knows, it might also have been available in red or orange or black or brown.

It sold two years ago for $15, $20 less than the lowest Roadshow appraisal.

Contact Vince Staten at vincestaten@timesnews.net or via mail in care of this newspaper. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.blogspot.com.

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