A Look Back, At What Could Be The Most Significant Month in Elvis' Career
by Phil Arnold
On January 2, 1956, Elvis performed at a high school in Charleston, Mississippi. It was an event similar to more than a hundred others in 1954 and 1955 when Elvis toured extensively throughout the south and southwest. But things were about to change for Elvis – in a big way.
Back in late November 1955, Sam Phillips sold Elvis' contract to RCA Records for $35,000, but nothing changed in Elvis' life immediately. He still had a string of previous concert commitments to fulfill, and there was the usual downtime over the Christmas holidays. Right after his 21st birthday, however, things got very busy for Elvis.
On January 10, he and Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, and Bill Black did their first recording session at the RCA studios in New York City. Floyd Cramer, who had played piano behind Elvis on some Louisiana Hayride shows and Chet Atkins, guitar virtuoso and RCA Nashville studio chief, augmented the small group. This first session produced "I Got A Woman," a hit for Ray Charles a year earlier, and "Money Honey," and earlier hit for the Drifters. Both would end up in Elvis' first LP album, Elvis Presley.
The big accomplishment of the day was recording "Heartbreak Hotel," a song that sounded unlike anything Elvis had recorded before. It would ultimately become his first hit for RCA and would stay at # 1 for seven weeks.
After one of his last performances at the Louisiana Hayride on January 15, Elvis started a six-day tour through Texas, as part of Hank Snow's All Star Jamboree. Col. Parker was Snow's manager before taking over Elvis' career, and he put Elvis on thirty-two of Hank Snow's shows. On January 20 in Fort Worth, Elvis did his last appearance as a supporting act. From then on, he would always be at the top of the bill.
Hank Snow and Elvis Seventh Billing
On Saturday, January 28, Elvis made his first appearance on national television. He and the boys performed on CBS' Stage Show, starring Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Elvis sang "I Got A Woman" and "Shake, Rattle, and Roll / Flip, Flop, and Fly," two Joe Turner hits he often performed on stage. Although Elvis' first TV exposure was on a rather low-ranked show, it was the start of the buzz about him that grew to a roar later in the year.
First TV Show – January 26, 1956 Elvis with Dorsey Brothers
Elvis finished January on a tremendous roll. Next up, in quick succession, were more recording sessions at RCA, more television appearances, a two-week tour through Virginia and the Carolinas as the headliner, the release of his hugely successful first album, and a screen test with Hal Wallis at Paramount.
In spite of all this, bigger things were still ahead for Elvis.