I was never a fan of Elvis Presley nor of the style of music he and so many others like him made popular in the fifty’s and sixty’s. He was at the forefront of a music revolution which swept the nation and the world, and his music is still being listened to and enjoyed sixty plus years later. Living in Branson, Missouri we are annually treated to shows featuring Elvis tribute artists and even Elvis look-alike contests none of which Cathy nor I have seen.
Elvis died tragically on August 16, 1977 of a reported pain medication overdose, but there are still some who believe his death report was a hoax. There have been reported “Elvis sightings” every year since his death, but these sightings are considered on the same order as UFO sightings and reports of appearances of Big Foot. I am able to report an actual Elvis sighting in El Dorado, Arkansas in 1955.
I was a sophomore in high school and was at the school early one spring evening practicing for a Latin play. I was such a nerd then I took Latin as an elective subject taught by Mrs. W.E. Durrett. The play practice ended at approximately 8:30 PM and several of us were leaving the campus and walking together to our vehicles. Our path took us past the auditorium, and as we neared we noticed the presence of a large number of parked cars and heard music coming from the stage. I asked one of my fellow Latin nerds what was happening, and he said it must be the concert scheduled for that night. I couldn’t imagine what kind of concert this might be in our auditorium, because the music I was hearing was what we used to call honky-tonk. If one drove past The Howdy Club on East Hillsboro in the late hours on a Saturday night the type of music one would hear would be the same we were hearing from the Wildcat auditorium stage .
With our curiosity piqued several of us peered through a window at the stage and saw a most unusual sight. There was a band consisting of several guitar players, a bass player, a drummer and the main attraction at center stage. The performer was of medium height, with long black hair combed into a duck-tail and was wearing a green shirt and purple pants. His appearance was certainly unusual, but his music style and bodily gyrations were something I had never before seen on stage. We listened for a few minutes, and my only comment to my friends when we left was, “I don’t think he’ll get very far with that kind of performance. Does anyone know his name?” Someone responded with, “I think it’s Elvis something or other.” I had never known anyone with the name Elvis.
Later the same evening about 11 PM while driving north on North West Avenue we spotted an individual standing on the street corner holding a guitar case. As we got closer I noted the green shirt and purple pants and recognized the performer we had seen just an hour or so before. His location on North West Avenue was near 5th Street where the Canary Court used to be. It appeared he was waiting for his ride or hitch hiking, but we didn’t have any reason to pick him up since we were not going his way.
About one year later that purple-pants performer recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” and the career of Elvis Presley began to sky-rocket to unprecedented heights. No other performer in the history of popular music has ever come close to his world-wide popularity. Instead of calling his musical style honky-tonk, it became known as rock and roll, and his gyrations on stage were widely mimicked.
Elvis performed on one other occasion in El Dorado before he became so popular. There was a performance at Memorial Stadium as part of a larger performing group, and I have no knowledge of this one. I do regret I didn’t at least pull over that night at the Canary Court to introduce myself and inquire if he needed a place to stay for the night. I can’t even imagine what my parents would have said had he accepted. Who knows- he might have offered me a spot in his band since I was a fledgling guitar player. But then in those days when I had hair, I never could get it to combed into a duck-tail!
PS 1: So much for my prediction concerning the future of the purple-pants performer I saw on stage that spring evening!
PS 2: That course in Latin helped me more in my subsequent medical training than any other subject I took in high school.