April 21, 1956 - Municipal Auditorium, Houston, Texas
April 21, 1956 - Municipal Auditorium, Houston, Texas Text and photographs by John D. Greensmith:
"The date was April 21st 1956 and as a news photographer for The Chronicle in Houston, Texas, I had been assigned to photograph a concert featuring the then controversial young singer, Elvis Presley. He was to appear at the old Texas Municipal Auditorium for one performance. There was more than a little concern in Houston that Presley's stage antics might excite the audience too much and cause a riot. So extra police protection was planned. Church leaders were urging their young members to stay away from the Elvis concert because his style of singing was "lewd" and "suggestive". There was no doubt that Elvis did play to the females in his audiences with his bumps and grinds and moaning and groaning...but was it lewd? Frankly, a lot of of us at the time thought he was rather amusing to watch, but that maybe he did excite the young ladies with his writhing body action and slicked back hair. But a threat to the morals of the young generation? Hardly! So it was with more than the usual detached attitude of a news photographer that I walked the short distance across the street from the newspaper office to the auditorium where Elvis was to perform. And I had to admit I was anxious to meet this young performer. Inside a small, very ordinary room, Elvis sat in front of a smudgy mirror combing his hair. It seemed a natural way to remember my introduction to Elvis. I hesitate to say it, but I recall thinking how greasy his hair was and wondering if he used crankcase oil to slick it down. Elvis stood up and I was introduced to him. I was at first taken by how quiet he seemed and what a soft voice he had when speaking compared to the booming vibes he had when he sang. After explaining who I was and what I would like in the way of photos for the newspaper, Elvis assured me he could give me all the time I wanted since the show didn't start for 30 minutes. He seemed surprised and maybe a little disappointed that I was the only member of the press on hand. Elvis and I went to the stage where he was to perform. The curtains were closed and you could hear the buzz of the crowd as it gathered. Band instruments stood on stage awaiting the musicians. Several large speakers were propped up on folding chairs to provide the sound system. It was a very plain setting for a concert to say the least. I recall asking Elvis to put his right foot up on one of the folding chairs and to look as though he were tuning his guitar. He obliged. l recall him asking how big the crowd was and going over to the curtain to look out at the audience. Counting the crowd was soon to become the least of his concerns! As a news photographer using large format film, i had been trained to capture the action in one or two photos - three at the most. So i only took a few shots of Elvis backstage...what a pity! Today i probably would have taken several rolls of 35mm using a motorized camera. I don't recall any words said between Elvis and myself. I do recall thinking that he had oily skin, greasy hair and was not a very friendly person. But on the other hand, he was polite to me and also most co-operative at a time when he could have been otherwise. And he did have a rather untrained and genuine charm about him. After maybe 8 to 10 minutes alone with Elvis, the local P.R. person reappeared to say that he felt Elvis should be excused to get ready for the show. We all shook hands and I went down into the auditorium to await the Presley performance. Elvis came on stage and the crowd in Houston went wild! And that's the way it went for the whole of his show. He sang softly, loudly, confidently and played his guitar gently or boldly as the song or mood dictated. The audience, particularly the young Houston belles, at times sat in awe and then screamed and hollered with delight. Flashbulbs popped all over the place and a few young ladies seemed to faint with excitement. But there was no riot or close to what police and public worry warts felt might take place. No one tried to climb on stage and no articles of clothing were tossed on stage. All in all, it was a noisy but pretty tame afternoon...much to everyone's surprise. When the concert was over, Elvis came to the front of the stage and sat down at the edge to sign autographs on glossy black and white portraits of himself that were held up to him by probably about 100 admiring young women. No one tried to tear off a piece of his clothing or plant a kiss on him. It was all very civilized! And, by the way, Elvis was one heck of a fine singer! He did it his way.
Newspaper advertisement for Elvis's appearance on "The Steve Allen Show" on July 1, 1956. Allen had received strong pressure to cancel Elvis' appearance, and even went so far to say that Elvis "would not be allowed any of his offensive tactics" on the show. The appearance generated great publicity for Presley and Allen, and for one Sunday evening, Ed Sullivan lost the ratings war. This defeat was a catalyst for Sullivan's unprecedented deal with Presley management for three visits in September, October and January, all of which would help propel Elvis into the stratosphere of stardom. It also lit a fire for Elvis' newest single, "Hound Dog," which he did indeed record the next day in New York. Two weeks later it was on the street and would sell in enormous quantity, becoming one of his most heralded RCA recordings. So the Allen gig was significant and worthwhile.