PRESLEY: Rocked in Little Rock.
On May 16, 1956, Elvis Presley performed at Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock. Accidentally preserved by a local DJ who thought it wasn’t good enough for airplay, the recording is now regarded as the best-preserved of Presley’s early career.
Tickets were $1.50 in advance and $2 at the door. There were 7 and 9:30 p.m. shows and both were packed. Presley had been in the public eye for less than two years and was 21 years old. His single “Heartbreak Hotel” had hit No. 1 just weeks before. In fact, the announcer identifies the song as “Heartbreak Motel.”
This concert was not Presley’s first Little Rock performance, nor maybe even his strongest, but there is a cornucopia for Presley fans. Presley’s set is nearly complete, and the sound quality — which was probably a single microphone pointed at Robinson’s PA system — is surprisingly good.
There’s also a brief backstage interview: “This makes my third visit here. [Little Rock]’s really wonderful, especially tonight,” he said. Asked about his genre, Presley said: “Rock ’n’ roll has been in for about five years. ... It might change, like years ago when the Charles-ton was real popular, or the vaudeville acts, stuff like that. You could have told those people maybe it was going to die out, and they wouldn’t have believed you. But it’s dead now, see? Maybe four or five years from now, rock ’n’ roll will be dead.”
Under a headline reading “Elvis Cools Cats Down to a Dungaree Delium,” the Arkansas Gazette reported Presley wore a “purple coat and black silk slacks.” Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D.J. Fontana played the show with Presley, and vocal group the Jordanaires also backed him. Eight acts appeared on the bill that night in Little Rock besides Presley, who was billed as “the Nation’s Only Atomic Powered Singer.”
According to Central Arkansas radio historian Pat Walsh, the DJ on the Elvis-live-in-Little Rock tape was Ray Green, who worked for North Little Rock’s KXLR. Walsh said Green told him he thought the recording was so bad he didn’t submit it and it never aired.
”How does it feel to be right up there on top, right with the best of them, since you are one of that class?” Green asks. “It feels pretty good,” Presley replied. “It all happened so fast. I’m afraid to wake up, afraid it’s liable to be a dream, you know?”
Had the tape been on the air, it likely would have gotten recorded over later. Instead, Green discovered it decades later in a box. Walsh said Green got permission to market the concert from the Presley estate in the 1990s and issued a hologram CD. In 2002, the Little Rock concert was issued as part of a Presley box set — and it remains an integral document of the most important figure in what was then called “the rock ’n’ roll craze.”
“As far as rock ’n’ roll goes, I really like it, I enjoy doing it. And the people have really accepted it great,” Presley said on the tape. “And it just makes me want to say a vow to keep giving them something they enjoy.”
• “Heartbreak Hotel”
• “Long Tall Sally”
• “I Was the One”
• “Money, Honey”
• “I Got a Woman”
• “Blue Suede Shoes”
• “Hound Dog”