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Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

Elvis visited Sikeston in 1955

Friday, January 21, 2005

(Photo)
Earl Wade of Blodgett holds a picture of a young Elvis Presley performing at the Sikeston Armory in 1955.
SIKESTON -- Fifty years ago today Sikeston first caught a glimpse of an up and coming 20-year-old Elvis Presley when he performed at the Sikeston Armory.

Tickets were only $1 for adults and 50 cents for children. Approximately 100 people turned out to see Presley on Jan. 21, 1955.

In 1954 Presley began his singing career with Sun Records label in Memphis. When Presley first performed in Sikeston, no one really knew who Presley was, according to Earl Wade of Blodgett. Even Wade admitted he didn't know Presley when he met him.

"I was in the National Guard (in Sikeston) and I was helping set up chairs at the armory," Wade recalled.

During this time Wade was interrupted by a young man trying to get into the front door of the Armory.

"Lloyd Johnson and I had the door shut and he was rattling the door and said he had to go to the bathroom. So we showed him."

Later the same young man returned carrying a Piggly Wiggly sack with something pink and silky hanging out.

"I thought it was a pink, silky dress, but he said it was suit he got from Beale Street," Wade said.

The young man proceeded to ask where the dressing room was, Wade explained. "I told him where it was and said but that's for Elvis Presley. He said, 'I am Elvis Presley,'" Wade laughed.

Byron "Barney" Caldwell of Sikeston was also working for the National Guard when Presley visited.

"I rented a piano for $15 for him so he didn't have to rent one," Caldwell said about the first visit. "I watched him perform and it was a small crowd. I didn't think too much about it."

Wade remembered a few parents not being impressed by some of Presley's moves.

"Some of the mothers took their daughters out when he started doing the hoochy-coochy stuff," said Wade, referring to Presley's then detested -- and unheard of -- gyrating moves.

Caldwell called Presley a regular fellow.

"It was just people weren't familiar with the type of twisting and hadn't come around yet. He probably did more of that on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,'" said Caldwell, now 78.

When Presley returned later that year on Sept. 7, attendance topped 1,100 at the Armory, with some even turned away at the door. Johnny Cash also appeared with Presley both times.

This time Presley was dressed a little better and arrived in a pink Cadillac, Wade said. His parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley, were also along.

"He went from rags to riches in a hurry," Wade said.

A then 20-year-old Chris Tyrone from Portageville was fortunate enough to witness one of Presley's visits. She said she learned of Presley's visit from an advertisement in the local newspaper.

"I just remember I was just thrilled to see him," recalled Tyrone, now of Sikeston. "He was just starting out.

Presley rocked the Armory with tunes like "That's All Right, Mama" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

"He's just a young kid full of energy and didn't have an ounce of fat on him. I remember he couldn't be still. He was always jumping or jerking, and his hands were always sweaty. I remember shaking his hand and feeling wetness. I'll never forget it," Wade said.

As time goes by it's definitely difficult to remember exact details about Presley's visits, but there are some memories that will never fade, Wade noted.

"I overheard him (Presley) say he didn't drink, didn't smoke and his biggest weakness is women," Wade said.

Caldwell's most memorable moment of Presley's visit was when he left after his first performance.

"The first time he was here in an older car that didn't run good and he parked it behind the Armory," Caldwell said. "When he left, some of the fellows had to push him to get him started, and I remember him turning back and waving to us as he drove out of town."

Wade remembers Presley, who was a relative to Floyd and Mary Eta Presley of Sikeston (Presley's grandfather, J.D. Presley, was the brother of Floyd Presley), as a happy go lucky and a good looking kid, he said.

"I could tell he was going somewhere. The younger generation liked Elvis and he would cut up a lot during his shows. He was kind of a clown," Wade said.

That September was the last time Presley performed in Sikeston. In late 1955, his recording contract was sold to RCA Victor. By 1956, he was an international sensation.

But Wade didn't let the opportunity pass him by. Right before Presley left the second time, Wade captured a photo of Elvis in front of his Cadillac.

Caldwell recalled returning home to his wife following one of the Presley's performances. She had asked him who performed that night at the Armory.

Caldwell told his wife: "Well, he was a man named Elvis Presley and I've never heard of him, but I'll say one thing, he's different. We're transitioning into something different, and I'm not sure what it is -- only time will tell."

Photos and information about Presley's appearances in Sikeston can be found in "Did Elvis Sing in Your Hometown?" by Lee Cotten, which is available at the Sikeston Public Library.