Today marks the 56th anniversary of an event that longtime residents of Bastrop still talk about -- the night Elvis Presley shook up an audience at Southside Elementary School.

Today marks the 56th anniversary of an event that longtime residents of Bastrop still talk about -- the night Elvis Presley shook up an audience at Southside Elementary School.


Local memories of the Feb. 24, 1955 show have been collected and published in the Enterprise at least twice since then. However, readers may be surprised to learn “The King” stopped in Bastrop more than once during his early career.


Elvis recorded his first single, “That’s All Right, Mama” at Sun Studio in Memphis in 1954. In November he signed a one-year contract for 52 appearances on the Louisiana Hayride, a country music show broadcast live from Shreveport on Saturday nights.


Merton Bowe of Mer Rouge recalls that Elvis made several stops at a local drive-in called The Patio during his trips from Memphis to Shreveport and back.


“He was just a common person then,” said Bowe. “He wasn’t real popular yet. I would see him and talk to him.”


Bowe had returned from service in the U.S. Army and was close in age to Elvis, who was 19 years old at the time. He said the future icon wore plain clothes and was always very friendly.


“He just came in there and got something to eat, and hit the road again. He wouldn’t stay long. He wanted to get in and out before there was a crowd.”


Faye Bowe said The Patio included the drive-in eatery and a a motel with five or six cabins, located near the intersection of Grabault and Mer Rouge roads.


“It was where the teenagers used to hang out,” she said. “We used to go by and get a Coke, burger and fries.”


The Bowes met at The Patio in 1956 and were married the following year. In the meantime, Elvis played to a packed house in Bastrop and went on to nationwide fame.


Southside Elementary was the final stop in the Jamboree Attractions tour, which included four shows in Arkansas. Elvis played with the Blue Moon Boys, Scotty Moore and Bill Black. The tour included the Duke of Paducah, comedian, and country legends Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters -- including June Carter, the future wife of Johnny Cash.


Harry Howard told the Enterprise in 1995 the show was sponsored by local radio station KTRY as a charity event. According to ads published in the Enterprise from Feb. 22-23, two shows were scheduled for 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets were sold at Bastrop Drug for a dollar apiece.


“I remember he broke a string right after he came out,” Howard is quoted. “I was backstage and the Duke of Paducah said, ‘He does that at every show and I don’t know why, but the girls go wild over it.’”


Merton Bowe was in the audience. Faye Bowe said she wanted to go, but her parents would not let her because of the traffic.


One of her school friends went up on the stage and was helped back down by Elvis. Afterward, the friend refused to wash her hand because Elvis had held it.


“I was so jealous,” joked Bowe.


The Southside cafeteria still contains the stage upon which Elvis gyrated, as well as an old piano that is believed to have been used in the shows.


Howard recalled that Elvis and the other performers went to eat at Arlie’s Cafe on West Madison Avenue after the show. When a local man picked a fight with Elvis over his long sideburns, the two scuffled outside the cafe, and Elvis came out the winner.


Faye Bowe said she and all the local teenagers listened to Elvis on the radio. She also recalls watching his famous performances on the Ed Sullivan  Show in 1956.


“Everybody had to watch him on Ed Sullivan,” she said. “They just showed him from the waist up, of course.”



He was barely Elvis...but he was in Bastrop


Originally published in the Bastrop Daily Enterprise Oct. 6, 2007


The date was February 24, 1955.


The place: Bastrop's own South Side Elementary School.


Music fans packed the auditorium, breathless with anticipation, anxious for the curtain to raise at 7:30 p.m. for the first of two shows.


Lurking somewhere out of sight, 20-year-old Elvis Presley awaited his cue.
In 1955 the future King of Rock 'n' Roll stood on the cusp of worldwide fame, and few could have predicted how meteoric his ascent into the public consciousness would be.


Just two years before his Bastrop appearance, Elvis had graduated high school and worked as a truck driver for Crown Electric until signing his first contract with Sun Records in Memphis.


Despite humble origins -- his parents had bought him his first guitar because they couldn't afford a bicycle -- Sun magnate Sam Phillips saw potential in Elvis' brash musical style.


Phillips teamed Elvis up with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, with whom he recorded his first album, "That's All Right, Mama" just months before coming to Bastrop.


Known as the Blue Moon Boys or the Bill Black Combo, they traveled half a million miles in 1954 with Shreveport's Louisiana Hayride, burning up stages in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.


Elvis' Bastrop appearance was orchestrated by Memphis disc jockey-turned-manager Bob Neal, who was known for combining second-string acts from the Grand Ole Opry and Hayride, slating rural schoolhouses to perform in and giving the schools a cut of the profits.


For the '55 Jamboree Attractions tour, Neal signed the boys with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters and comedian Benjamin "Whitey" Ford, known to radio listeners as The Duke of Paducah.


The Bastrop Daily Enterprise ran ads for the show Feb. 22-23, and tickets were sold at Bastrop Drug for $1 apiece.


Oral Herndon, 80, only went to the show because his wife saw the ads.


"I hadn't really heard of Elvis yet. I had no idea he would get so famous," Herndon said.


Martha Crumley and her sister-in-law, Dorothy Rowland of Searcy, Ark., borrowed money for tickets and left their husbands on baby-sitting duty.


"They couldn't have stopped us from going if they tried," Crumley joked.


"They used to have things at the schools all the time. We used to go, no matter what was happening," said Ida Dumas, 82, who went to the show with her husband, Reese, and son, Dennis Ainsworth.


"I was just eight years old, and it was my first secular concert," said Ainsworth, who now lives in San Diego. "When Elvis came on stage the girls and women cheered wildly."


As Dumas tells it, Elvis "came out and did a lot of twisting and so forth."


Crumley remembers that Elvis wore all black, tight fitting clothes, he had an escort for protection, and the audience was all shook up.


"The young folks thronged him. They were doing everything but pull him down from the stage," Crumley said.


Asked if she shared in the tearful hysterics, Crumley said, "I was too old for that. I was cheering."


For Ainsworth the scene has taken on a dream-like quality.


"I just remember his figure on the stage as opposed to really remembering him and his face. What I remember most is being in shock at all these screaming women!" Ainsworth said.


"He had an encore, maybe two. Afterward the women kept screaming, but he didn't come back out. People just looked at each other like they were trying to figure out what they just saw. Was it really real? To me it was like a creature from outer space had just landed! I didn't know what kind of music this was, but it wasn't country, and I loved it!"


Even in 1955, Elvis was the act none dared follow. But what about the performers who graced the stage before him?


Herndon remembers someone comparing another man's girlfriend to a bureau, "because she sits in the corner all day and has big drawers." The joke likely came from Ford, alias the Duke of Paducah.


Ford began his career as one of the McGinty Cowboys who originated "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain." His tag line at the end of each act was, "I'm goin' back to the wagon, boys. These shoes are killin' me!"


Crumley remembers Ford as the announcer from the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts: "He'd say, 'Let 'er go, boys,' and the show would start."


Also at the show was June Carter, second generation member of the Carter Family Singers whose courtship with Johnny Cash -- they married in 1968 -- is recounted in the 2005 film "Walk the Line."


"June was cuttin' up and acting stupid, telling jokes," Crumley said, adding that the comedienne wore oversized bloomers.


Within two months of the Bastrop show, Elvis cracked the Billboard's top ten with "Baby, Let's Play House." Colonel Tom Parker replaced Neal as his manager and began slating him for TV appearances.


America, and the world, couldn't help falling in love.


Crumley remembers watching Elvis -- from the waist up -- on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. Ainsworth recalls a sold-out box office when Elvis' first movie, "Love Me Tender," played at the Rose Theatre. Herndon remembers an A&W Root Beer stand on North Washington Street where a jukebox never seemed to stop playing Elvis tunes.


"We all tried to act like Elvis. Even now, I'm 80 years old and I still try to act like Elvis," Crumley said. "His fame lives on. I don't know if it will ever die."