Gaston School Auditorium
Joinerville, TX

Gaston School was founded in 1925 when two community schools, Miller and Mt. Hope, consolidated to form  a centralized location for a new school to be built in Joinerville, TX. It was named in honor of Hugh L. and Irene Gaston, a teacher in the Mt. Hope School, who donated nine acres for the new school. 

Gaston Senior High School Building - ca.1954
courtesy Gaston Gusher HS Yearbook 1954

During the 1930's other community schools of Carlton, Burford and New Harmany consolidated with Gaston and expansion of the campus increased to ten buildings, a football field, baseball field, six tennis courts, power plant, bus shed, and water tower. It had paved walkways, a circle drive, rose garden, shrubs, trees and grassy campus with a playground surrounded by native rock walls built by the Works Project Administration (WPA). By the early 1930's the East Texas Discovery Well's community, was designated the "Largest Rural School in the World."

Ad for January shows in Tyler, Hawkins, Gilmer, Longview and Gaston - Jan. 23, 1955
Tyler Courier Times Ad
courtesy Tyler Public Library

On January 28, 1955, while on a tour with Jim Ed and Maxine Brown promoted by Tom Perryman, Elvis, Scotty and Bill performed at the Gaston School Auditorium.  The show was sponsored by the High School Band and the Band Parents Booster Club.

Overton Press Blurb - Jan, 26, 1955
courtesy the Gaston Museum

The event was recalled years later in an article in the Overton Press:

That's All Right
Elvis rules at Gaston concert in '55

By Charlotte Heldenbrand
Overton Press editor

Before there was a "Heartbreak Hotel" or "Love Me Tender" for Elvis Presley, there were hundreds of heartbroken, lovesick teen-aged girls at Gaston High School who screamed for the man who would come to be known as "The King of Rock and Roll."

They flipped for his hair, his good looks, his loud-colored clothing—and the music wasn't bad either.

Gaston High School Auditorium - ca. 1956
courtesy Gaston Gusher HS Yearbook 1956

Wally Read - Band Director
1954 Gaston Gusher Yearbook

In this day and age, who would believe a high school band could recruit and sponsor a concert featuring someone who would later turn the music world upside down and get the girls "All Shook Up"?

Henderson Mayor Wally Read, who would go on to direct the world famous Kilgore College Ranger Band, was the band director at Gaston High when his organization sponsored the concert as a fundraiser. A whole lotta shaking was going on Jan. 28, 1955, at the local auditorium during the concert, which featured Elvis in addition to sibling act Jim Edward and Maxine Brown.

Darlene Gaul Harman, who will retire this Friday from TXU/SESCO, was among the love-crazed bobbie—soxers in the audience that night.

"Every seat was taken, and although extra chairs were brought in, students were still forced to sit in the window sills. Wally estimates that approximately 800 people occupied the auditorium that evening," she said.

The night turned into a family event, since it was sponsored by the band parents, and many mothers and fathers got a look at Elvis in motion.

"My mom, along with other moms, packed the car and headed for the concert. Everyone was WILD!," Harman said. "We screamed until we were hoarse, and one of my girlfriends, Deborah Richards, fainted (or at least she convinced us of it). My Mom said she'd never seen kids go so crazy, but she just let us rip.

"Elvis wore his sexy pink and black outfit. We East Texas girls had never seen one man move and shake so much in our lives, and we have never been the same since."

Many remarked on his purple polka-dotted socks. The singer had seen girls rush the stage in previous concert appearances (including the Louisiana Hayride), so he had some moves to evade the fans.

The Gaston School Auditorium - ca. 1939
1939 Yearbook (Gaston Gusher) Photo courtesy the Gaston Museum

"After the performance, we ran up on the stage to get better acquainted with Elvis. He headed for the bathroom just behind the stage, but we caught up with him anyway," Harman said. "We were much too fast to be disappointed. We found the door before he could find the lock to secure himself inside. We were determined to get- an autograph, but all we had for Elvis to sign was a white sheet of- typing paper which was torn into four pieces.

"Luckily, I managed to get a piece of the paper for Elvis to sign. As Elvis got to each girl, he would have us turn around so that he could use our backs as a surface for writing. Patsy Barber, who was a sexy blonde, well-endowed, sporting a Marilyn Monroe figure, was directly in from of me receiving her autograph."

The Gaston School Auditorium Stage - ca. 1939
1939 Yearbook (Gaston Gusher) Photo courtesy the Gaston Museum

The petite London High student wasn't nothing but an autograph hound and did not mind being compared unfavorably to the Monroe—like student who preceded her in line.

"When it came my turn, Elvis placed the paper on my back and signed it, 'Yours, Elvis Presley.' He then informed me that I was ‘too bony.' I can assure you that his comment did not dampen the spirits of this little 93—pound girl, as Jim Ed Brown had ‘previously autographed my paper with the complimentary words? ‘Darlene, best wishes to a very cute girl—Jim Ed Brown.' I was on cloud nine!"

That long-ago concert experience has remained an uplifting memory to the local woman, who never again saw Elvis in person once his pink Cadillac left the Gaston campus.

"For 45 long years I have managed to hang on to this tattered, aging paper with a fading signature," Harman said. "'Since that night, much has changed in my life but the memory of that remarkable evening has remained unaltered."

A copy of that autograph will be on display in the Gaston Museum, thanks to her donation.

The Gaston High School Band on the Auditorium Stage - ca. 1954
Photo courtesy 1954 Yearbook (Gaston Gusher)

Barbara Hardy Barton, a museum board member and Gaston High grad, attended the concert only after her friend, Ruby Ann, talked her into it because she was not interested in "Hillbilly singers." Barton enjoyed the concert and would also appreciate any Elvis memorabilia (or copies) she can collect for a museum display.

Another Gaston High School grad (Class of *56), James Gray saw Elvis for the first and last time on the local campus.

He served as stage manager the night of the Elvis concert and likes to joke he urged the visitor to incorporate the now-trademark gyrations into his act. Unlike the female concert-goers, Gray remembers the event as being more orderly.

"He sat up there on this little stool on stage and played a little guitar and sang. It was really subdued compared to what he did later in his career," he said. "The audience didn't go screaming and passing out. Everybody stayed in their chairs. Of course, they clapped and all.

The Gaston School Administration in the Auditorium - ca. 1957
Photo courtesy 1957 Yearbook (Gaston Gusher)

"I‘ve kidded a lot of people about him sitting on that little stool: I got him backstage and told him people wanted to see a little action and movement on stage. so he needed to move around a little bit. That'd be stretching it."

Although he did not teach Elvis to dance, Gray did get a chance to say hello to him backstage.
"He was a very nice guy, very cordial—not uppity. I guess what we East Texans call down to Earth," he said, adding the concert "was very enjoyable. I thought he did a great job. He didn‘t have all that long hair and glitter and costumes."

Gaston's student newspaper, The Devil's Delight, reported in its Feb. 11, 1955 issue:
"The Band Parents Booster Club and the Gaston High School Band sponsored the Elvis Presley show Friday, January 28, in the high school auditorium. A percentage of the proceeds went toward the annual summer trip taken by the band. The money kept by the band was $95."

Admission was $1 for adults and 50 cents for students, and the band sold candy, popcorn and peanuts at the event.

In light of Presley‘s phenomenal career prior to his death in 1977, it is a wonder that East Texans got to see him in concert for such a small price, according to Gray.

Darlene Gaul Harman and James Gray
Yearbook Photos courtesy the Overton Press and the Gaston Museum

"To get in for 50 cents to see Elvis Presley, that’s pretty amazing. Of course, 50 cents was as big as a hubcap back then," he said. "I don't think anyone felt jilted on the ticket price. They got their money's worth." Elvis and his band were likely included in that group, since public exposure was worth a lot to someone, just breaking into the business.

"It was just a little program put on at the school. It seemed like we tried to get some other things, but they cost too much. We were able to get Elvis," Gray said. "My best recollection is they needed the money too. He wasn't prosperous then.

"Even though nobody knew who he was, that was pretty big doings for somebody like me," he said of his duties as stage manager. "Somewhere there's a program mimeographed in purple ink that listed me as stage manager. I'd like to get a copy of it."

A house fire destroyed that memento, along with some yearbooks and other school memorabilia. While that concert program would have sentimental value for the Gaston grad, he also realizes Elvis memorabilia is worth a lot to collectors. "Wouldn't it be something if we could go back in time and have our pictures made with him and stock up on that stuff? We could have built our (Gaston) museum by now," he said.

A copy of Darlene's Elvis and Jim Ed's autographs displayed at the Museum
courtesy the Gaston Museum

A junior, he and some of the other Red Devil Band members approached Wally Read, their director, and suggested they recruit the young singer for their fund-raiser.

"Some of us had heard of him at the Louisiana Hayride, so we went to Mr. Read and asked, 'What about this Elvis Presley? He does a little picking and singing.' Mr. Read said, 'Who’?,' " Gray said with a laugh.

The Overton Press - © 2000 courtesy the Gaston Museum

Gaston Independent School District, home of the Gaston Red Devils, stood on the hillside, overlooking U. S. Highway 64, the pride of its' communities through the 1965 school term. Due to the decrease in student population and oil production, the schools of Gaston and New London consolidated in 1965 to form the West Rusk County Consolidated Independent School District.

page added August 13, 2012

Gaston School history is courtesy of the Gaston Museum website. Special Thanks to Robert W. Forsythe (Class of 1954) of the Gaston Museum in Joinerville, TX for his assistance with this page.


All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

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