Fans worldwide are preparing to celebrate the 88th birthday of Elvis Presley on January 8. But this week also marks the anniversary of the icon’s first ever demo for Sun Records in Memphis. He recorded It Wouldn’t Be The Same Without You and I’ll Never Stand In Your Way while he still only 18 years old on January 4, 1954. He had graduated school the previous July and taken a series of jobs including cinema usher and drill press operator. His first tax return in 1954 recorded annual earnings of $916.33. The following year it was already $25,240.15 as his recording and concert career began to take off and $282,349.66 by 1956. Eerything had changed after one fateful recording session at Sun Records.
The Memphis label run by Sam Phillips remains legendary for helping start the careers of not just The King but also Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Anybody could come in a record and press a record for a small fee. On July 18, 1953, Elvis had handed over $3.98 to record the first of two double-sided demo acetates, My Happiness and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.
By early 1954, Phillips and producer Marion Keisker started to pay attention and thought he had potential. On June 26, 1954, they called Elvis at home at his parents’ rented apartment at 462 Alabama Avenue, and told the excited teenager they had found a song for him they potentially wanted to release as a single called Without You.
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Keisker had kept Elvis’ details on file, along with the note “Good ballad singer.” Although Sun Records founder Sam Phillips hadn’t been so sure, he had returned from a trip to Nashville with the demo for Without You. Nobody knew who the singer was and it would be 65 years before music producer Chris Kennedy finally made the stunning discovery it was Nashville singer Jimmy Sweeney, who died in 1992.
Back in the studio, Phillips wanted to see if Elvis could do it justice. This was the teen’s big chance but it seemed like he had blown it, unable to match the mystery artist’s sweetly emotional vocal. Keisker later reported Elvis slammed the table and shouted: “I hate him! I hate him! Why can’t I sing like that?”
However, on July 5, they gave him another chance but there was still no magic, until an extraordinary moment of inspiration struck.
Scotty said: “All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them.
“Sam (Phillips), I think, had the door to the control booth open … he stuck his head out and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ ‘Well, back up,’ he said, ‘try to find a place to start, and do it again.'”
The track was recorded in one take and pressed as a single with Blue Moon of Kentucky on the B-side. Philips promoted the single to local radio stations and it became a sensation in the Tennessee area, selling 20,000 copies.
Elvis was signed to Sun Records and Phillips started trying to attract attention at a national level for almost a year, with little success.
However, Memphis fame lead to highly lucrative demand on the local touring show circuit, alongside the likes of June Carter Cash. Eventually, Elvis would attract the notice of Colonel Parker, who spotted his national potential and had the contacts (and hussle) to broker a new deal with RCA Records on November 21, 1955, buying out teh Sun Records contract for $35,000.
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