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About A Week: Elvis in Texas

What a night it was when a 20-year-old singer with gyrating hips and a quiff big enough to surf on came to town! Peter Hinchliffe tells of the times when Elvis went to Wichita Falls, Texas.

Was a night, oo-oo what a night it was, it really was such a night…

That night when a 20-year-old singer with gyrating hips and a quiff big enough to surf on wowed them in the WF Auditorium.

The year, 1956. Elvis Presley was in town, blue-sueded feet planted on the first rung of the ladder to super-stardom as he embarked on a major United States tour.

His first smash-hit record Heartbreak Hotel was released on January 27 that year. In the first week 300,000 copies were sold.

Teenage girls at Wichita Falls High School were wild with excitement on the day of the concert. They talked of nothing else but Elvis.

The Auditorium was packed, mostly with squealing females. Joyce, my wife, was sitting up in the balcony. She didn’t squeal too loudly. Her mother was nearby.

Some mums, having heard of this wild young singer with the suggestive hip-movements, decided to go along as chaperones. They couldn’t bring themselves to admit that they were as keen as their daughters to see the new wonder.

For that one night Elvis was paid an estimated $40,000 (£30,000).

Actually he was on a return visit to Wichita Falls, Texas. He’d been there four months earlier, playing at the MB Corral, a big old Quonset hut which seated 1,000 folk.

The fee for Elvis and two musicians on that occasion - $175 (£116).

The MB Corral, home base of the Miller Brothers Band, booked in the likes of Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys, B B King, Fats Domino and Ike and Tina Turner.

On the night Elvis appeared the place was nowhere near full. The Corral just managed to break even.

The Miller Brothers played for the first hour, then Elvis for an hour, the Miller Brothers a third hour, then Elvis again.

After his first set Elvis left to play in Vernon, a nearby town. He was due to return to wrap up the night at the MB Corral. His manager, Colonel Parker, was already pushing him hard.

The Millers played on and on in their last set when Elvis failed to show up on time. He’d run out of petrol by the Pioneer restaurant in Wichita Falls. A waitress volunteered to run him back to the MB Corral. I shouldn’t imagine she needed much persuading.

The Corral stayed open late so that he could play.

Leon “Miller’’ Gibbs, who booked Elvis into the Corral, said, “Of all the musicians and all the entertainers in the world, I would say he was the hardest working.’’

Elvis gave full value for money on that big night at the WF Auditorium. Crazy gyrations. Lots and lots of hard-driving music. Shocking, but at the same time glorious.

The teenagers went wild. Even the mums enjoyed the show, though they never said so.

“Rock and roll was our music,’’ says Joyce. “New music, just for us.’’

Having seen Elvis she started to buy records at what would now be called an alternative music store. Raw rhythm and blues. Early rock and roll. If only we’d kept them.

In the days after the Auditorium concert the Bible-Belt girls of Wichita Falls High tut-tutted at the gossip that one of their number had gone off with Elvis in his pink Cadillac.

Secretly they were envious.


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