Tell me how Sam made an acetate took it right
over the disc jockey, Dewey Phillips to play and what kind of
Yeah, he did, he made an acetate
'cause he had his own, ah, ah, disc cutter, you know, but I don't remember
if he, if we had done both, "That's Alright Mama" and "Blue Moon In
Kentucky" before he took it over, if he just took, ah, the one on "That's
Alright", ah. I think we had both of them but "That's Alright" is one, Dewey
Phillips' program was more, was more an R and B type. And, ah, so "That's
Alright Mama" fit his format better. And, ah, he started playing it and the
phones was ringing off the wall. In fact they went and, somebody went and,
and dug Elvis out of the movie he was at and, and told him that, ah, that
Dewey wanted to talk to him on the radio. It was quite phenomenal really.
In, you know, you know, that backed up far and, ah, getting that kind of
response off of a local radio station.
get feedback right away. You cut the record, he takes it in. Is that
Well not everybody did that. I mean Dewey
and Sam were friends that's how he got that, that done. And, of course what
Sam was doing was just, wanted to just test it. He wasn't going to spend the
money to press the thing up and go through all that bangy works first, you
know. And, ah, of course he saw real quick that the interest was
Tell me what you remember about the first
couple of public performances that the thee of you did like at the Lamar
Avenue on the back of a truck and at the Eagle's Nest.
Basically we played the two songs we knew and went home.
We didn't have much of a repertoire. Ah, gosh, we played, ah, like I said,
played the opening to that Katz Drug Store on a flatbed truck. We played
some little high school, ah, a couple of high school, ah, ah, what do they
call it, that they have in the mornings.
Assembly, yeah we played a couple of
assemblies, ah, ah, the Starlight Wranglers, we were working at a, at a club
in, I think we took Elvis out there a couple of nights and, ah, just
whatever came along, you know.
What kind of
reaction were you getting from the audiences?
Ah, pretty good. It was, ah, I wouldn't say it was just absolutely instant,
ah, I think at first it was, people were, ah, ah, they had to see him and
listen to the music and kind of get it all put together in your mind. And
that nothing really, really started happening until we did a show at the,
ah, Overton Park Shell and, ah, which was like a full, full-blown concert, I
mean you had a stage and you had the whole thing. And this is where, ah, ah,
the leg shaking thing started. We, keep in mind, back then we had the, ah,
pants with the big legs on them and Elvis rather than just standing like
most guitar players, standing flat-footed and patting his foot to keep time.
He stood on the balls of his feet, with his heels off, actually off the, off
the floor and then in, playing the guitar and singing well he'd get to kind
of bouncing. Well when he started bouncing his britches leg started shaking
and the girls out in the first two or three rows started just screaming and
hollering, nobody knew what those, really what it was all about. And but
that's, they were, that's what it was. Of course after we found out well he
started embellishing and embellishing and didn't he embellish. He worked it,
he worked it great. But it was a natural thing to begin with, very
The kind of moves that a lot of black
performers had used for years, wasn't it?
when he first, when he started moving, ah, around on stage. He didn't do
much right in the very beginning. He stayed real close to the microphone and
like I said, what shaking and stuff he was doing was just, really from, ah,
from playing guitar and just, ah,
People in the
audience in those days in terms of black and white, was Memphis very
segregated in terms of entertainment?
in '54 it was, right. And, of course, all through the South well, ah, all
the audiences were, were segregated but as we went out further and further
up North and we were playing to mixed crowds and, ah, actually it was
something none of us even, ah, gave a thought to one way or the other. We'd
meet black musicians and entertainers different places and we were just, we
were into music, everybody was into music. You wouldn't, wouldn't give it a
thought, just, you know, just played, the way things were in that then
You played the Opry in '54. Tell me about
that. How were you received?
Well contrary to
a lot of reports that it was such a bomb, it really wasn't.
Start over, etc..
we played the Grand Old Opry, contrary to stories that's been put out, it
wasn't really a bomb. This was an older audience, they had their artists
that they went there on Saturday night to see, ah, here is a kid, a group
coming out doing one of their idol songs in almost blasmeous way and, ah,
dressed funny and, ah, so they expect them to get up and cheer and holler,
which they didn't, but they didn't hiss or boo either. It was a polite, just
a polite, they were polite mostly to all the artists on the, on the opry.
And, ah, the only bad thing came out, there was a comment that was made to,
to Elvis by the, the, ah, I think manager, Jim Tierney, the comment which is
well known - son, better keep your truck driving job. Or something to that
effect. And I think that hurt him, hurt his feelings a little but,
You mentioned Elvis dressed funny in terms
of the Opry. When you first started working with him, was he an eccentric
character in the way he dressed or acted?
he all, from day one, he dressed in, ah, ah, different, a little different
style than most of the kids around did, ah. I wouldn't say ec… eccentric
necessarily, just, ah, he just liked different style of stuff and mostly a
lot of colors and things. And what, I don't even remember what he wore on
the, on the Opry but it was certainly, wasn't a cowboy suit with sequins on
it, I know that.
Did you all come from fairly
Well how, how else can you
say it? If you're poor, you're poor and, ah, ah, Elvis was his and his
family was dirt poor. And, ah, that's about it, I mean, how do you explain
it? You got to be there.
Tell me about your
musical background. What kind of music do you like, where you grew up, what
you listened to growing up.
Well I grew up
actually down in Shreveport, Louisiana and it was a little bit different
thing from Memphis but we were country basically but I was going to high
school and we actually listened to big band stuff, the Woody Hermans, Tommy
Dorseys, you know, the Gene Krupa Bands, Buddy Rich Bands. And I'd listen to
all those records. We didn't have much to go by actually, to learn by, you
know, no video, not a lot of records. My cousin had a record collection with
all the big band. So he had the only set of drums in town actually at the
time. So we'd go to his house and listen to records, play along with the
records, that's where we actually learned how to play, kind of the jazz
basically, simple jazz fields.
Did you listen
to much music out of New Orleans, Earl Palmer ...
Yeah, I'm familiar with Earl and all the guys, you know, New Orleans
was a hot bed there for a while of, ah, of rock and roll players. You know
they had, for, ah, Frankie Ford and all those guys from out of New Orleans,
you know, I mean the rock, rock and roll guys. So it was quite a town for a
while actually, New Orleans was. Shreveport, on the second hand, we had more
musicians come out of that town that actually moved to Nashville later but
some of the finest pro., producers of records here in this town and
musicians come out of this one town.
feel your own style of drumming was influenced by New Orleans or Earl Palmer
No, no, no, I wasn't really, I
mean I know the name Earl Palmer, he's very familiar and he's done a lot of
great records but, as I mentioned earlier, my influence was like Gene Krupa,
Buddy Rich, the big band drummers actually, you know, Sonny Igota, there
were so many guys that I used to listen to. And that's why I really got into
it basically. I don't know how it worked in rock and roll, I guess it did.
Just a matter of switching things around a bit that's about all.
You played with an act on Louisiana Hayride, how you came
to join the group with Scotty and Bill and Elvis.
Of course the Louisiana Hayride at the time was strictly a country
orientated show. Webb Pierce was there, Fran Young, we're talking about all
country. Nat Stukey coming in and out, all the acts at one time or another
was in and out of there all the time, George Jones, just about everybody
played the Hayride. So, ah, they hired me actually, ah, first part of the
Fifties, just to play behind stage. Just said, don't go out on the stage
'cause the people, the country people were not used to drums at all. So all
I had was like they said, just bring a snare drum and a stick or something.
So that's what I did for a couple week-ends. They said, - well, walk out on
stage a little bit. So I brought the little snare drum out and played. And
they said, - well, can you bring anything else? I said, yes. They said, -
well, bring the base drum, you know. It's like one piece at a time and I'd
bring a little piece at a time. Well, how about a cymbal? Said, yeah, I got
one of those, you know. And next thing you know they, they finally let me
set up the whole complete set of drums out there. I guess they were trying
to get the, the country people used to drums and actually the country
artists were not used to drums either. So, it's hard for them to get used to
that steady beat instead of, you know, the guitars and base and everything.
But I think it worked out okay. Seemed like, I didn't get fired, so I was
okay I guess.
How did you happen to join up
with Scotty and Bill and Elvis?
come in, they had a couple of shows booked, well I heard their records
already. They, they brought me down the office one day and said, listen to
this record and see what you think. So I went down there, it was Tillman
Franks's office and a couple of guys that run the show. I said, boy, those
guys are really great, you know, what a sound they got. They said, we're
going to invite them down. So they did. So Scotty and Bill said, hey man,
you know, you mind working with us tonight? I said, well, no, that's, that's
what I'm here for. Let's go back in the dressing room, just talk about it,
you know. So he bought us a guitar and Bill had a slap base and Elvis had
his rhythm guitar and okay, we'll do that then. So they just said, well, can
you do that? Yeah. So I, I learned a lesson alright quick. They had such an
unusual sound on Sun, I said, if I go in there and I clutter it up with a
lot of fills and noises it will just take away from what they were doing so
I just didn't do anything, just played a simple back beat, back beat. And
maybe that's why they hired me 'cause I stayed out of their way, I don't
know. I thought it, that's the way it worked actually.
What was the record that you heard?
I think it was "That's Alright Mama" some of the early
stuff that they played for us down, you know, down in this guy's office and
they didn't have but maybe one or two songs as it was, you know. And after
that it was like every man for himself. Nobody know what was going to
happen, you know. Elvis knew a zillion songs but we didn't know a zillion
songs, you know.
Was this a new sound to
Oh ab., absolutely, the sound that these
guys were getting, any of the Sun stuff was absolutely just different from
any of the country records you'll ever hear or, or the, even the big band
things were not as unique as that sound, you know, Sam had got at that
Tell me about that.
While I was on the Hayride I had never, you know,
actually seen the guys perform anywhere, I think that was part of their
first time in Louisiana itself. So it, it was a little bit different from
everybody, everybody was waiting for him to come in, all the artists were
all back in the wings, everybody was just sitting on pins and needles just
to see what this kid was going to do, you know. And I was the same way,
'cause I heard, they, they played the records for me and like I said at
first they were so unique I said well man I'm staying out of their way, I'm
not going to play and, and clutter up their sound, you know. And we, I
talked to Scotty and Bill and Elvis and we said, well, let's go out there
and see what happens. And basically it, it, it was just a freak accident, it
worked. And I think the reason, like I said earlier, that it worked, I
stayed out of the way, I just learned not to play as much as I should and I
think they liked that better, you know. They finally let me play after a
while because we only had three pieces so we all, we all had to make more
noise than we were accustomed to making actually.
What kind of a response did you get, do you remember Scotty or DJ, you
can both answer now, that first night you played as a quartet, what kind of
Well the, the first night people
were polite, again, just kind of like the Grand Old Opry, they were polite,
they were nice. But it was a country older crowd and I think what they did,
they went home and, and told their kids, there was a boy down at the
Louisiana Hayride, you guys got to go see. The next couple weekends we had
nothing but kids so that was the breaking point actually, the screams, would
holler, you know the kids were screaming and hollering and crying and all
that stuff. And I think that's what really got us started.
You know plus the, all the local radio stations down in that area was really laying on
the, on the record too and I think that helped a lot. But, D's right the,
the first, the very first night was, ah, ah, was, was a lot better reaction
that we'd gotten at the Opry but it still wasn't all the screaming and
hollering and hoopla.
I read about a show you
did in Jacksonville, Florida in May of '55 it was described as a riot took
place. Can you tell me what went on?
think it was a riot. Is, was this at the Gator Bowl or was this in an
That was the Gator Bowl
If it's, if it's the Gator Bowl,
ah, basically what happened the fans were trying to get to Elvis for
autographs to get close to him, touch him, autographs after the show and,
ah, ah, got him up against the, ah, ah, chain link fence and would have hurt
him if they had not, ah, people had got him, finally got him into the ticket
booth where he was safe and could sign, sign the stuff that way.
See, kids don't know. They, they didn't mean to hurt him
or they, they wouldn't hurt anyone but they would hurt you in masses and
they didn't understand their power. If you had a thousand kids pushing at
one time, they didn't understand that, so, as it worked, it worked out,
there was no riots, we didn't see any riots.
What went through your mind, why people were getting so excited over this
Well, he's a good looking guy and, and
he had this charisma was just really out of this world, you just, you
couldn't pin him down to any certain, say, well, why do they like this guy?
How come? I can't answer that. And I've been trying to answer that for 35
years now and I still can't answer correctly. All as, all I know is, he had
this charisma about him and that was it.
his best, what he enjoyed, ah, all his life the most was being on stage. He
really loved, he loved working and reacting, getting reactions of the peop…
of the audience and working back with them. Also, all the terms of the
years: rock and roll, rockabilly, hillbilly cat, all these things, we never,
never thought of, it was just, it was his music. I still see it as different
from the, ah, quote, unquote - rockabilly or, or rock and roll acts even. It
was just Elvis music - pure and simple. Had his own thing.
When you started doing the television shows, after the
Berle show in '56 I was watching the tape and
Tell me about that.
Well we were doing the
Milton Berle Show and we was doing "Hound Dog" and right at the end we
usually go out well, all of a sudden, he went into this half-time bluesy,
"You Ain't Nothin But A Hound Dog" slow and, and we had never did that way.
That was the first, that was, and I looked around and Scotty looked around
and we all looked around and said, - now, what do we do now? And all we
could do is to say, well, we better follow him somewhere and that's what,
basically what we did with the bumps and the grinds and the cymbal crashes
and, ah. And after that he did keep it in the act but then he did like two
verses of that slow thing, then go back into the fast tempo again. I don't
think, I don't remember doing it on the show but we just, he may have, I,
it's been so long I can't remember exactly what we did. But that was the
first we even tried that.
Did it surprise you
You better believer it. You stand
there with your mouth hanging open, you know. Ah, and, ah, surprisingly
enough he, he wouldn't, he wouldn't, we kept our show, ah, pretty pat. I
mean the, he wouldn't switch tunes around you and get them out of sequence
or, ah, in fact I can't remember another time that, that he ever pulled
anything like that.
That was the first but it
was a good one, national television, you know.
You had done drumming for strip shows?
when I was in Shreveport, back in those days they had a lot of, well, strip
shows, I'd call them. Well what the heck can you call them?