ELVIS! The Early Years

Even the legendary Elvis Aaron Presley paid his dues as a struggling young musician. In early May of 1955, Elvis and 25 other artists, billed as “Hank Snow and His Big Show, ” rolled into the Port City to perform at Ladd Stadium as part of the Southern festival circuit. During tours, Elvis and fellow RCA Victor contract musicians often made appearances at local record stores, such as Prichard Music and Appliance, to promote albums and sign autographs. A Mobile Press-Register ad for the two-day show read, “Autographed pictures with the purchase of the artist’s RCA Victor record.” General admission to the concert was $1. Fellow singer on the RCA label and Elvis’ tour roommate, Jimmie Rodgers Snow, remembers a swarm of teenage girls chasing the heartbreakingly gorgeous rebel musician across the Ladd Stadium football field.

Well before his sequined jumpsuits and satin capes became a fashion statement, Elvis was on the fast lane to becoming a sex symbol. Many locals still fondly remember spending nights cruising between Johnny’s Drive-In and Ozzie’s Bar-B-Que, and none could forget the evening that a young Elvis paid a visit to the Loop and stopped traffic. Cars bottlenecked at the drive-in while swooning female fans scrambled from their vehicles to get a glimpse of the future King of Rock ’n’ Roll. “I ran him off the parking lot, because there were too many people out of their cars, ” recalls owner Johnny Vallas.

In October of 1955, Elvis would return to the Bay area to perform during an assembly at the Vigor High School auditorium, but the show was short-lived. Principal J.M. Laird was aghast at Elvis’ unorthodox gyrations and closed the curtain on the concert after only 30 minutes.

At the beginning of his career, Elvis would make several more appearances here, including shows at Curtis Gordon’s Radio Ranch Club, in Mobile, and the Greater Gulf State Fair, in Prichard. He frequently dined at The Bluegill and sat at booth 24. Today, a plaque still marks his throne.

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Over the next two decades, Elvis returned to the Port City to headline a handful of sold-out concerts at larger venues, like Municipal Auditorium. While in town, he would stay in a suite at the Admiral Semmes Hotel, ordering hamburgers, chips and champagne from room service — a meal fit for the King.

A Year in His Blue Suede Shoes

In 1956, no one could’ve predicted the level of enduring fame that 21-year-old Elvis Presley would achieve. Photographer Alfred Wertheimer, while not a fan, found Elvis’ experiences very intriguing. He accepted an assignment to document a year when the artist was on the brink of superstardom. The piercing images provide insight into Elvis’ daily life – riding on his tour bus, eating alone at a diner counter, performing in a con-cert hall, flirting with adoring women – before his world was completely rocked.

Forty of Wertheimer’s photographs have now been compiled into a compelling Smithsonian Institution exhibit, “Elvis at 21.” The show will open at the Mobile Museum of Art on Sept. 9.

September 9 – December 4
Elvis at 21
Mobile Museum of Art, 4850 Museum Drive. 208-5200.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m. M – Sa, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Su.

Sponsored by The History Channel, this Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit shares an intimate portrait of a young Elvis Presley through Alfred Wertheimer’s camera lens.

September 9 – 11, 16 – 18
All Shook Up — Joe Jefferson Players
11 S. Carlen St. 471-1534.

A musical based loosely on William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” features Elvis Presley classics, including “Jailhouse Rock, ” “Heartbreak Hotel, ” “Love Me Tender, ” “Don’t Be Cruel” and more. Written by Joe DiPietro, directed by Jeffrey Williamson.

Lawren Largue

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