U.S. Mail

Elvis' employment - Boyd Bennett - Billy Lee Riley - Rocket 88 original

Billy Lee Riley

[august 2002]

Here are two quotes from Billy Lee Riley which I thought might interest you. He has just released a new CD and has a book coming out early next year. The CD is great and the book should be interesting to say the least since Billy still holds some serious grudges against several people in the music business.

Billy on all the various names he recorded under:
"There has been a lot of names pinned on me back then that was not me. Will and Bill being one. I never recorded under that name. Good Jelly Bess..? Never heard of it. I did record "A Little Piece at a Time", but it wasn't until 2000. I recorded that and "You Got to Come and Get it" which was recorded by another artist a while back. The releases on Myrl and Dodge labels were owned by someone in Ferriday, but I recorded them in Memphis at Pepper Sound Studios in 1960 where I was working at the time as a producer. Meryl Dodge lived in Ferriday, La. Jimmy Wilson was my piano player from late 1957 until we broke up the band in 1960. He did play on lots of Johnny Cash's sessions in Memphis. I don't know when the one you are talking about was recorded but it could very well have been Jimmy Wilson because he moved out there in 1960.
Anytime you run across a name I have been pinned to, just let me know and I will tell you if it is me or not. These are the names I did use: Darron Lee (the name of my son), The Megatons, Prince Albert, Sandy and The Sandstones, also Skip Wiley and Lightnin' Leon.
All of the records recorded by these names had The Little Green Men plus some other musicians on them. Believe me, there are is a lot of information that has been put out concerning that era especially about Memphis artist and music that is not in the least true. I will reveal a lot of this in my forthcoming book, "RED HOT and TROUBLE BOUND".

Billy on how some of his stuff was released on a Bo Diddley Surf LP: "Through a very slick move by Leonard and Phil Chess. After the Megaton's record hit the charts, Phil and Leonard wanted me to do a follow-up album. I recorded twelve or fourteen tunes with me writing several of the songs. I flew to Chicago and made a deal on the album with Leonard and Phil. The album laid on the shelf for two or three years and then it was released as Surfin' With Bo Diddley.
They took my guitar and harmonica off and added Bo Diddley's guitar. I have been trying to collect royalties on those songs for a long time but with no avail. Man back in the fifties we were dealing with a lot of sharp crooks, smarter than any of us."

Elvis' Employment History

The summer of Elvis' freshman year of high school, his dad Vernon bought him a push lawn mower. With the mower and a couple of sickles, Elvis and his three buddies - Buzzy Forbes, Farley Guy and Paul Dougher - started a lawn business. They charged $4.00 per yard. This was the beginning of the working life a young man who would very soon become a millionaire.

Elvis received his Social Security card # 409-52-2202 in September 1950. That all he went to work as an usher at Loew's State Theater on Main Street in Memphis.

Starting in June 1951, Elvis held a summer job at Precision Tool. He worked three months operating a spindle drill press at this plant, which manufactured rocket shells for the military. He made $27.00 a week. That same year he took his driver's license test using his uncle Travis Smith's 1940 Buick.

In April 1952 Elvis returned to Loew's State Theater as an usher, only to to be fired five weeks later for an altercation with a fellow usher. Some say it was started by the other usher, prompted by his jealousy over a female employee's apparent fondness for Elvis. Soon after, in June, Vernon Presley bought a 1941 Lincoln, which became regarded as Elvis' car. It is said he spent more time pushing it than driving it.

In August 1952 Elvis applied at the Upholsterers Specialties Company. On the application he gave his date of birth as January 8, 1934, adding a year to his stated age in order to qualify as old enough to work there. He worked there one month, earning $109.00. In September 1952 Elvis worked for MARL Metal Products, a furniture manufacturer. He worked the 3:00 PM - 11:00 PM shift as an assembler. His mother Gladys made him quit this job because he kept falling asleep in school. On March 26, 1953 Elvis visited the Tennessee State Employment Security Office. On his application he wrote under "leisure time activities": "Sings, playing ball, working on car, going to movies." The interviewer noted: "rather flashily dressed 'playboy' type". On April 6, 1953 he visited the employment office again and updated his application for work saying he wanted to operate "big lathes".

On another visit to the employment office on July 1, 1953, Elvis reported he needed to "work off financial obligations and that he owns his own automobile". This time he was sent to the M. B. Parker Company for a temporary job as an assembler. He worked there until the job ran out at the end of the month, making 90-cents an hour or $36.00 a week.

Returning to the employment office in August 1953, he indicated he wanted a job in which he could "keep clean". He was sent to several places for interviews, including a Sears & Roebuck store and a Kroger grocery store. He was not hired from any of these interviews.

On September 21, 1953 Elvis returned to Precision Tool company, operating a drill press for $1.55 a hour. He continued to work there until March 19, 1954.

Elvis filed his first income tax return on March 6, 1954, listing himself as "semi-skilled labor" and having earned at total of $129.74 at M.B. Parker and $786.59 at Precision Tool for a total of $916.33.

On April 20, 1954 Elvis began working at Crown Electric for $1.00 an hour. He delivered supplies to the job sites and hoped to train to be an electrician. He stayed at Crown until mid-October 1954 after having recorded his first record at Sun Studio and officially become a self-employed entertainer.

In 1955, he reported on his income tax return a total of $25,240.15 in earnings. This figure would jump the following year to $282,349.66. By 1958 he had earned over a million dollars in one year. In a short time he had come a long way from his days behind a push mower.

Boyd Bennett

[July 2002]

Just found the following story about the passing of Boyd Bennett in our local newspaper. Although "Seventeen", released in November 1955, was his biggest hit, reaching 28 in the Billboard Hot 100, he will be remembered amongst rock & roll fans for songs like "Boogie Bear", "Tennessee Rock & Roll", "Blue Suede Shoes", "Move", "Hit That Jive Jack" and many others.

Boyd Bennett, who wrote the song "Seventeen" and was once a fixture in Louisville radio, television and dance bands, died Sunday of a lung ailment in Sarasota, Fla. He was 77.

"He helped put Channel 32 on the first time it went on the air," said his widow, Margaret. Bennett was the general manager of WLKY-TV in the early 1960s and had appeared on WAVE-TV in the '50s.Bennett appeared on several shows and created "Boyd Bennett and His Space Buddies," in which he was a local Captain Video character. He liked to tell people that he'd given comedian Foster Brooks his first break in television on that show.

The songwriter, musician and TV producer was born in Muscle Shoals, Ala., but was raised in North Davidson, Tenn., just outside Nashville. He began his musical career singing gospel songs with his grandfather and started his career playing guitar in honky-tonk bars.

Bennett served in the Navy in World War II and suffered a serious leg injury at the Normandy landings on D-Day. After the war Bennett worked the nightclub circuit and was a disc jockey and announcer on several radio stations in the Louisville area.He started his own band, Boyd Bennett and his Rockets, in the 1950s and hit pay dirt in 1955 with "Seventeen", a huge hit that was also recorded by several other groups and earned him several million dollars.

He left Louisville in 1970 to pursue business interests in Dallas and returned from 1989-96 before going back to Texas. He had moved to Florida a few months ago.Bennett's funeral will be Friday in Sanford, Fla. He will be buried there.

Rocket 88 original

Bill Ellis: Bidding hot for Rocket 88 original.
May 11, 2002 Lot No. 630. That's all you need to know if you have the money to purchase a bit of Memphis music history.
Up for grabs through sports and Americana collectibles auction company MastroNet is an original acetate of Rocket 88, the R&B classic recorded in 1951 by Sam Phillips at Memphis Recording Service, the 706 Union studio that would soon give rise to Sun Records.
Considered by many to be the first rock and roll song, the Chess-licensed hit by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats - a.k.a. Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm - is being offered in its acetate pressing at online auction site Mastronet.com. Acetates were the initial, limited pressings of a recording taken from the master tape (though Phillips recorded directly onto 16-inch acetate disks at first, before switching at the end of 1951 to tape, according to a history of record production found on Columbia University's Department of Music Web site.

Not always collectibles in and of themselves, acetates usually become valuable when the artist or recording itself has merit - Elvis Presley's 1953 demo of My Happiness being one of the more famed examples.
Rare records Web site Good Rockin' Tonight offers the best summation: "Acetates of records by Elvis and the Beatles are worth a fortune, but you can use your Lawrence Welk acetate as a Frisbee."
It's not uncommon to find local music memorabilia up for auction. John Montague made many historical pieces available through Sotheby's when he closed his Memphis Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2000. And the year before, Elvis Presley Enterprises auctioned off $4 million worth of kingly items in Las Vegas, partially to fund the 12-unit homeless shelter Presley Place.
The 16-inch Rocket 88 acetate is being sold by Memphis-based consignor Jerry Gibson, 64, owner of River Records. He said it came from a large collection of Sun 45s, 78s and acetates he bought in the mid-'90s. The acetate from the March 5 Rocket 88 session also contains an unreleased alternative version (a 40-second snippet) plus two additional tunes: the single's B-side, Come Back Where You Belong, and I'm Lonesome Baby. The latter was paired with the final song from that session, Heartbroken and Worried, and released as Chess single 1459 under Turner's name."
It's a one-of-a-kind, to me, piece," says Gibson. "Especially with the alternative take." Gibson didn't know how many Rocket 88 acetates exist, though Sam Phillips remembers pressing no more than a half-dozen from the source recording (which this acetate could very well be).
"I know I made a couple for Dewey (Phillips) because they wouldn't last long with him the way he played his records," says Phillips. "I'm sure I made one or two for myself, and it could have been that I made one for Ike and Jackie."
Bidding began April 24 and lasts through Thursday. The current high bid is $4,235, but look for that figure to climb in the final hours. Gibson says he's hoping to get $20,000. "Who knows where it'll end up at?" he says. Where it physically should (and probably won't) end up - the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum - is another matter.

From Adriaan Sturm (USA)