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My Brush with History

“Hopped-up Country”

April 2020

The guitar pickin' kid called himself Elvis Presley

As a teenager I liked the sound of guitar music, and I practiced until I was fairly proficient at picking out tunes. Later I got an electric guitar, and lots of noise became my best creation, musically. After graduating from high school, I moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, and worked days and picked nights. I met Hank Williams, Sr., and saw Hank junior as a diaper baby in Bossier City, across the Red River from Shreveport. Later they moved to Nashville.

I won’t forget sitting in that quiet dark corner and finding a Russian freighter trying to make it to Cuba.

A couple of years later, with delusions of grandeur, I too went to Nashville, intending to pick on the Grand Ole Opry. I soon learned that the city was overrun with guitar players who could beat me, and most of them were starving. I went back South, got a real job, and just picked for fun. I moved to Arkansas, worked for American Oil, and did my picking on KELD radio in El Dorado and at various PTA and church functions.

In 1954 KELD called and asked if I could pick onstage that night with a young man trying to make a start m rock ’n’ roll. They offered to pay me seventy-five dollars. Were they kidding? That was more than I made in a whole week at my full-time job.

The stage was on one side of a football field, and a tent had been set up for the star. I was escorted backstage to meet him and get prepped for the show. By this time I was getting nervous. I was twenty-five. This kid was nineteen, dressed in a pale lavender suit, and hyper as a mule colt.

I started trying to back out of the deal, and he started trying to put me at ease. He didn’t smoke, drink, or curse, and he answered my questions “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.” When I told him I’d never picked rock music, he said, “Sir, my stuff is just hopped-up country.”

We went onstage and started the show. Fifteen minutes later he didn’t have a dry thread on him, and only two strings remained on his Martin D-18 guitar. The crowd was making so much noise they couldn’t hear my mistakes. After about an hour the singer said, “You did good,” and I headed home.

When I walked in the door and laid my money on the table, my wife asked how it had gone. I told her I played terrible but nobody heard it; they were screaming, fainting, dancing, and deaf. I told her about the kid, his good manners. I told her he had an energy that the crowd loved. I predicted he would make a million dollars in the next few years if his body could stand it. “Who was he?” she asked.

“He called himself Elvis Presley,” I said.

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