Elvis Presley’s first concert in Arizona thrilled teens and scared parents

By the time he made his first appearance on a stage in Phoenix — a sold-out gig at the Arizona State Fairgrounds — Elvis Presley was the hottest rockabilly singer on the planet.

It was June 9, 1956.

“Heartbreak Hotel,” his first single since signing to RCA Records, was in its sixth of seven weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 100.

Four days before performing at the fairgrounds, Presley shocked the nation by stomping his way through a steamy version of “Hound Dog” on “The Milton Berle Show.”

The sexual energy of his pelvic gyrations inspired the New York Daily News to fear that pop culture had ‘reached its lowest depths’, dismissing the performance as having been ‘tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to diving and brothels”.

The 5,000 tickets available to see the 21-year-old’s first date in Phoenix sold out in two hours at $1.50 each.

There was no coliseum at the fairgrounds in the 1950s. Presley performed at the grandstand, where rodeos and car races were held.

An ad in The Arizona Republic promised “an all-new variety show” with opening sets from the Flaim Sextet, Miss Jackie Little, Frankie Connors, Phil Maraquin and the Jordanaires Quartet.

Ray Odom, the concert promoter, who also brought Presley to Tucson the following night, had erected a chain-link fence to keep fans from rushing onto the stage as the girls tore his clothes and pulled his hair during other gigs.

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Elvis arrived in a green Cadillac

The singer was taken to the stage in a green Cadillac.

As Odom recalled the view from his seat in the governor’s box in “Ray Odom: A Lifetime of…Radio, Records & Racehorses”, “We were surrounded by young girls. Not just bobby soxers, but a lot in late or early teens When Elvis sang, they would grab their hair with both hands and shake it or grab their ears and pull.

A review in The Arizona Republic the next morning weighed in on the night’s events with “Elvis Presley kayoed 5,000 screaming teenagers last night at the state fairgrounds with raucous rock and roll songs and jerks and jerks. violent shaking.”

He said he did a 30-minute set, singing “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Long Tall Sally”, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” and “Blue Suede Shoes”, among others, for “Hundreds of female admirers strained against a chain-link fence about 25 yards from the platform.”

“Quickly, the spotlight, fairground dust and his own violent contortions took their toll,” reported Jerry Eaton of The Republic.

“The wax melted and Presley’s long curly hair hung in his face. His dark blue suit and red knit shirt faded.”

The set ended with several choruses of “Hound Dog”, during which “police warned the surging teenagers from the fences as Presley abandoned the platform and rushed to his knees for the bleachers”.

The man knew how to work a crowd.

“Then he backed up to his green Cadillac,” Eaton reported. “And with a wave of his hand he stepped inside and was swept away in a trail of fairground dust.”

The next morning, when Odom returned to the fairgrounds to settle down, the gardener said, “Ray, I’ve never seen anything like it. This morning when we went to the club, we found more 60 pairs of mesh girl’s panties.”

Elvis couldn’t dance, ‘but I can do showboating’

The Republic also covered Presley’s encounter with members of the Phoenix Elvis Presley Fan Club, one of whom asked, “Can you dance, Mr. Presley?”

Photos from the Elvis Presley concert as they appeared in the Arizona Republic

“No doll,” replied the singer. “But I can demonstrate.”

The Phoenix Gazette also covered the gig in a column by Bobbie Johnston titled “Presley’s Performance Terms Are Disgusting”.

“The novelty of her popularity is bizarre and frightening, but it’s there nonetheless,” she wrote, clearly siding with the “anger and disgust” who phoned her to let her know that the “form entertainment” of the singer is not appreciated by the public. older generation.

“The sight of Mr. Presley moaning his unintelligible words in an inadequate voice during a demonstration of primitive movements that are difficult to describe is enough to shock parents,” Johnston wrote.

“His whole career seems to be based on a rudeness that no teenager should see. It’s good to know that many parents in the audience seemed worried that such displays would spread and grow. His performance can be summed up briefly: mediocre talent, bad taste; certainly not for children.”

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-4495. Follow him on Twitter @EdMasley.

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