Elvis’ anniversary: ‘That’s All Right’
Presley played at Stateline 98 times
By Jeff Munson
Tribune city editor
It was a song that even today is widely misunderstood, yet its importance to rock ‘n’ roll history is something that made a king.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of “That’s All Right” the first record made by Elvis Presley. It is the song that took Elvis from a young guitar-toting, shy Tennessee man to arguably the greatest entertainment icon in American history.
As far as Elvis songs go, “That’s All Right,” wasn’t among his biggest hits. In fact, the 1954 song wasn’t even a hit at all.
“But its significance is important to the history of Elvis and of rock ‘n’ roll,” said Chic DiFrancia, a history buff from Virginia City, whose collection of Elvis memorabilia – including valuable mint pressings of records – proves the king lives on.
Today media and fans will converge on Memphis for a blowout celebration to commemorate the song, which has been labeled by the city as the tune that started the musical and cultural phenomenon known as rock ‘n’ roll.
Probably only die-hard Elvis fans or music historians are familiar with “That’s All Right,” a cover of a blues number by Arthur Crudup. Released in 1954 by Sun Records, then a local blues label in Memphis owned by a relatively unknown Sam Phillips, it was not a national success, but caused a sensation when played on local radio.
Presley’s upbeat version, mixing in a bit of country twang, gave the song a different sound. It created a buzz for Presley that eventually caught the attention of RCA Records, which bought out Elvis’ contract a year later. Presley wouldn’t get his first pop No. 1 single until 1956 with “Heartbreak Hotel.”
The song was misunderstood because many thought it was written by Elvis and that he wrote it for his mother, DiFrancia said.
Really, Crudup’s song is about a man who is playing suitor to a woman about which his mother has grave concerns, DiFrancia said.
The recording really came together when his friend Scotty Moore and others were messing around in the Sun Records studio one day and did the song.
“He got to fooling around on July 5 in a studio, just playing and the song came out,” DiFrancia said. “Sam Phillips, who owned Sun Records, got on the studio intercom and told them, ‘I don’t know what you guys are doing but keep doing it.'”
There were about three or four takes done, and Phillips made an acetate of the recording instead of a record pressing. He took the acetate to Dewey Phillips, a Memphis disc jockey, where it was first heard over the air on July 7.
“Phones just melted at the studio. They wanted to know who this guy was. This was the song that really launched Elvis,” DiFrancia said.
Elvis played at Lake Tahoe at the Sahara Tahoe Hotel, now Horizon Casino Resort. He played on five occasions for a total of 98 shows, DiFrancia said.
His first appearance was July 20 through Aug. 2, 1971, where he played 28 shows. He appeared again May 4-16, 1973, where he played 25 shows, but had to cancel the last because of illness.
Elvis came to Tahoe again May 16 through 26, 1974, where he did 22 shows, again in August 1974, from Oct. 11-14, where he did eight shows, and finally April 30-May 9, 1976, where he performed 15 shows at the Sahara Tahoe.
DiFrancia said he’s not sure why Elvis played Tahoe more than he did Reno, but suggested that it was likely a decision by his manager, Tom “Colonel” Parker to bring him here as often as time permitted.
Elvis is known for doing hundreds of shows in Las Vegas, where it is said that when his career went from peaks to valleys, Elvis played Vegas to peak again.
But why Elvis chose to play Tahoe over Reno is unknown. The only history that is known on the Tahoe appearances was included in the book “Elvis: His Life from A to Z” by Fred L. Worth and Steve D. Tamerius. But the history is really just the dates of the appearances.
What is known is that Parker made his living off of Elvis, taking as much as 50 percent from his show appearances. In fact, much of the money Parker made, he would gamble with when he was in Tahoe and Vegas, DiFrancia said.
“He’d be at the roulette wheel (while Elvis was performing)” he said.
There is an Elvis suite inside Horizon Casino Resort where Elvis would stay and where people can today can request the room. Otherwise, the showroom where Elvis played is now where the Horizon Stadium Cinemas stands.
Besides the room, one of the last remnants of the Elvis-Tahoe connection is a Sahara Tahoe menu, where Elvis appears on the front. DiFrancia came across the autographed menu from a collector in Reno, where he bought it about five years ago for $12. It is worth about $75.
Since Elvis made five Sahara Tahoe appearances, the hotel casino used the same menu, recycling it every time he came to town.
“They did not date these. They used them over and over again. They pressed a bazillion of them and handed them out show after show after show,” he said.
Inside the menu are a list of the chef’s specialties, including a $16 prime rib special.
“You get a prime rib and see the Elvis show for $16 bucks,” DiFrancia said. “Not bad for seeing the king.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this report