On this date, more than half a century ago, Elvis Presley wowed an audience at South Side Elementary School in Bastrop.
Not yet famous in 1955, the 20-year-old singing phenom from Memphis was already stirring excitement at small venues throughout the South.
“At the beginning of the tour, people asked who Elvis was,” said Jimmie Rodgers Snow. “The crowds went wild, and by the end of the tour, people knew who he was.”
The Rev. Jimmie Snow, of Nashville, performed with Elvis on the Jamboree Attractions tour that brought them both to Bastrop on Feb. 24, 1955. His father, country legend Hank Snow, had introduced Elvis at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport.
“I was one year younger than Elvis, so we were quite close in that sense,” said Snow. “When he came over [to the Snow home in Madison, Tenn.], we would ride motorcycles around.”
In 1955, Hank Snow entered into a 50-50 partnership with his manager, Col. Tom Parker, resulting in “Hank Snow Enterprises-Jamboree Attractions.” Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys, Scotty Moore and Bill Black, were booked with the tour as extra attractions.
“I carried the letter of intent to Lubbock, Texas, that made them part of Jamboree Attractions,” said Snow.
Snow shared the bill with Elvis, Buddy Holly and other performers at a show in Lubbock just weeks before the Bastrop concert.
“We toured for about a year and a half,” he said. “I used to ride in the car with Elvis, Scotty and Bill. Dad was the one who was basically drawing the crowds at first, because people didn’t know who Elvis was at the time.”
That soon changed, however. Audience reactions to Elvis convinced Hank Snow to move him from the middle of the shows to the end.
“Dad finally told him, ‘Close the show, so you can stay up there as long you want,’” said Snow.
The second phase of the Jamboree Attractions tour, billed as “WSM Grand Ole Opry,” began in Little Rock and ended with two shows in Bastrop on Feb. 24. The event was sponsored by local radio station KTRY as a charity event. Tickets were sold for $1 apiece at Bastrop Drug Store.
Snow said he does not have specific memories of Bastrop after this many years, but he does recall an incident related to the Enterprise by Harry Howard in 1995. Howard said after the South Side shows, Elvis went to eat at Arlie Williamson’s Busy Bee Cafe on the courthouse square, where a local man challenged him to scuffle.
“I wasn’t there when it happened, but Elvis mentioned it later,” said Snow. “That actually happened several times, in several different places.
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“I never saw Elvis smoke, drink or curse, but he did have a weakness for women. Flirting got him into trouble sometimes—I think that’s why he took up karate later on.”
Snow remembers comedian Benjamin Ford, “The Duke of Paducah,” and Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, who also performed that night and were family friends back in Tennessee.
The following year, Col. Parker asked Hank Snow to help him persuade Elvis’ parents to sign a contract with the agency they shared. However, as Snow writes in his 1994 autobiography “The Hank Snow Story,” Parker surprised him by signing Elvis to a management contract with himself rather than the partnership agency.
“Parker actually cheated my dad out of that 50 percent,” said Snow. “Of course, my father had no idea, at the time, that Elvis was going to be a superstar.”
As Elvis rose to national fame, Jimmie Snow committed his life to Christ and left his own recording career for the ministry.
“The last time I saw Elvis was in 1958,” he said. “I had become a preacher by then, and he asked to me to spend three weeks with him.”
Snow declined an offer from Elvis to act in his new film, “King Creole.” He would later found Evangel Temple in Nashville, the home church of Johnny Cash and other country stars, where he pastored for three decades. In recent years, Snow has returned to both the road and the recording studio. Photos and videos from Snow’s career and his travels with Elvis can be found on his Web site (www.jimmysnow.com).
He notes the indelible mark Elvis made on American music and culture: “Elvis was basically a country singer with a beat. Back then, nobody knew what rock ‘n’ roll was.”
Local memories of Elvis’ 1955 performance at South Side Elementary will soon be shared with music fans across the World Wide Web.
A new web page devoted to the Bastrop concert will be launched this week on the official Web site of Elvis back-up guitarist Scotty Moore.
One of several web pages commemorating the venues in which Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys performed, the new Bastrop page will include Enterprise articles about the concert and photos of local sites associated with Elvis -- from the South Side cafeteria stage to the former site of The Patio, a local drive-in where Elvis stopped to eat while traveling between Memphis and Shreveport.
The new page can be found under “Venues” at www.scottymoore.net.
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