Ask "Mr. Music"
Jerry Osborne

In syndication since 1986, and now in our 32nd year — Over 3,200 questions answered
Most recent column here — plus 20 years of archived ones linked below

FOR THE WEEK OF OCTOBER 8, 2018

DEAR JERRY: In some early rock and roll publications, I have seen some brief comments from Billboard in 1954 regarding Elvis' first record: "That's All Right" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky" (Sun 209).

Yet, I have never seen anything about this landmark single attributed to The Cash Box in mid-1954. It seems like they too would know how innovative and revolutionary this record was.

What say you?
—Butch Franco, Pleasanton, Calif.

DEAR BUTCH: Until I began my search through the mid-1954 issues of The Cash Box, I had no idea how much attention they paid to a totally unknown artist, with a funny name, and on a fledging record label in Memphis.

Here is what I found in just three issues:

After about two weeks after Sun 209 came out, The Cash Box Rhythm N' Blues section, in the August 7, 1954 issue, lists the Top 10 regional hits for nine markets: New York; Chicago; New Orleans; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; St. Louis; San Francisco; Newark; Baltimore; Nashville; Atlanta; and Memphis.

Here are the Memphis Top 10:

1. "Honey Love" (The Drifters)
2. "Work With Me Annie" (The Midnighters)
3. "Let's Walk" (Charles Brown)
4. "Please Forgive Me" (Johnny Ace)
5. "Sh-Boom" (The Chords)
6. "I Understand Just How You Feel" (The Four Tunes
7. "Okie Dokie Stomp" (Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown)
8. "Co-Operation" (Carl Mathews)
9. "Just Make Love to Me" (Muddy Waters)
10. "That's All Right" (Elvis Presley)

In that same section, Cash Box lists five records that are "Coming Up in R&B." In no particular order, they are:

"That's All Right" (Elvis Presley)
"You Can't Have Two" (Dinah Washington)
"Any Day Now" (Ella & Buddy Johnson)
"Come to Me Darlin'" (The Crystals)
"Tick Tock" (Marvin & Johnny)

Interestingly, Elvis is the only white artist with a tune in the entire Cash Box R&B section. Also, "That's All Right" (Sun 209) is the only Sun record mentioned anywhere in the issue.

One week later (August 14), Cash Box ran a news piece, beginning with this headline:

SUN'S UNUSUAL COUNTRY AND R&B PAIRING CREATES EXCITEMENT

"MEMPHIS, TENN: Sun Record Company, Inc., announced the signing of Elvis Presley to an exclusive two year recording contract.

"Presley's initial record on the Sun label, "That's All Right" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky" has just been released and reports from key cities already indicate it will be a big seller. Music Sales Company, the Memphis distributor for Sun, reportedly has sold over 4,000 copies in the first week.

"The disk is an interesting and unusual pairing in that "That's All Right" is an R&B tune and "Blue Moon of Kentucky" is out and out country.

"Sun reports the record is getting airplay on all types of programs, and juke operators are spotting the record in all types of locations.

"Presley is a newcomer to the entertainment business. Just 19, a recent high school graduate, the artist had never done any professional work before his recording stint for Sun.

"Since the release of the record, however, he has played a big show date at Overton Park Shell in Memphis, sharing billing with such established artists as Slim Whitman, Billy Walker, and the Louvin Brothers."

In that same issue's record reviews, they rated "That's All Right" as "Excellent," and "Blue Moon of Kentucky" as "Very Good." Including some unusual words ("feelingful" and "deck"), they go on to say:

"THAT'S ALL RIGHT" (2:43)
(Wabash Music BMI - Arthur Crudup)
Elvis Presley sings a middle tempo bounce southern type blues. His feeelingful vocal with a more than just a backer-upper bass and guitar support by Scotty and Bill looms like a potent piece of wax. Listening and re-listening convinces one that the deck could make a great deal of noise.

"BLUE MOON OF KENTUCKY" (2:45)
(Peer BMI - Bill Monroe)
Presley sings a rhythmic country ditty with an interpretation that has that country feel all the way through."

Along with the raving review for "That's All Right," it was one of three "Cash Box Rhythm N' Blues Best Bets."

"In that same issue's "Cash Box Folk and Western Roundup" section, they say:

"Bill Fitzgerald, of Music Sales in Memphis, reports that Elvis Presley's "That's All Right" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky" is a three-way smash. The record is clicking at a fast rate in the Pop, R&B, and Country fields."

In the August 21st issue, Sun ran a half-page display ad. It reads as follows:

"Pop - Hillbilly R&B. A Hit! All three ways, Elvis Presley's "That's All Right" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky" (Sun 209).

"The Biggest Selling Record Ever to Hit Memphis Territory.

"Not in history, according to music stores, operators and distributors, has a record sold as many records in less than two weeks as the new and different release just out by ELVIS PRESLEY-"THAT'S ALL RIGHT" b/w "BLUE MOON OF KENTUCKY"-SUN 209. Both sides are hits!

"The comment from practically all Memphis territory DJ's (Hillbilly, Pop and R&B) is that they have never seen a record get the response this one has. The record shops are swamped with calls for it even before its release. Nearly every shop in this area is reporting phenomenal sales.

"[Juke box] Operators have placed it on nearly all locations (white and colored) and are reporting plays seldom encountered on a record in recent years.

"According to local sales analysis, the apparent reason for its tremendous sales is because of its appeal to all classes of record buyers. In fact, the owner of one large local retail store says: "I BELIEVE PEOPLE WHO NEVER BEFORE BOUGHT A RECORD ARE BUYING IT. I NEVER SAW ANYTHING LIKE IT!"

As an aside, the Music Vendor's Top 40 C&W chart ranked both sides of Sun 209, from the beginning of October through the end of 1954.

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