Stephen F. Austin State University

Most, but not all, East Texans dearly loved Elvis (November 2013)

Most, but not all, East Texans dearly loved Elvis
By Van Craddock

A lot of folks in Gregg County have Elvis Presley stories. Nearly all are Elvis fans. But that didn't include my dad.

Back in the mid-1950s, a young Elvis spent a lot of time in East Texas. He was just starting his music career.

Gladewater radio station KSIJ had a major hand in Elvis' Piney Woods popularity. The AM station was located on the top floor of T.W. Lee's four-story building on U.S. 80, just across the street from the Green Hut Café.

"Gentleman" Jim Reeves and Tom Perryman were among the station's deejays and numerous artists stopped by to perform live and plug their records.

One day in 1954, or it might have been 1955, my dad was sitting in the Green Hut having his usual cup of coffee when Elvis and his Blue Moon Band (Scotty Moore and Bill Black) walked in. Apparently Elvis was in a bad mood because the singer made a snide comment that my dad didn't appreciate.

The two stood toe to toe for a moment, pontificating on each other's ancestry and ready for fisticuffs. Fortunately (for Elvis), Scotty and Bill broke it up before any punches were thrown. I say fortunately because my dad had been an amateur boxer while in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He'd won 20 consecutive fights in the ring.

If my dad had socked Elvis in the mouth, it likely would have ended Elvis' music career just as it was starting. After all, "Love Me Tender" with a lisp just wouldn't have cut it.

My dad never was an Elvis fan after the Green Hut rumble.

Elvis became one of the "Louisiana Hayride's" most popular artists and developed quite a following in East Texas, especially with his hit titled "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

With Perryman (now a member of the National Disc Jockey Hall of Fame) as promoter, the band played a number of times in Gregg County.

Local appearances included Kilgore's Driller Park, Gladewater's high school and old Bear Stadium, and Longview's legendary Reo Palm Isle club. Elvis performed at the Reo four times in 1955. Other East Texas shows were in Gilmer, Tyler, Gaston, DeKalb, Carthage, Paris and Henderson.

(By the way, Gladewater's role in rock history includes more than Elvis. In the summer of 1955, a young Johnny Cash played a show there with the great Carl Perkins, author of "Blue Suede Shoes." Sitting in the dressing room waiting to go on state, Cash penned a tune that became one of his biggest hits. He called it "I Walk the Line.")

On Aug. 15, 1955, just four days after playing the Reo Palm Isle for the final time, Elvis signed a management contract with Colonel Tom Parker and, as they say, the rest is history. By 1956 the former Memphis truck driver was no longer playing VFW halls, high-school gyms and ribbon-cuttings.

"Blue Moon of Kentucky" had been replaced by mega-hits such as "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Love Me Tender" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" By 1956 Elvis was fast becoming the king of rock.

But my dad still wasn't a fan.