The town of Gilmer, Texas is located in the "Piney Woods" area
of East Texas, 19 miles northwest of Longview and 108 miles east of
Dallas in Upshur County and is the county seat.
It is the birthplace of blues guitarist and singer Freddie
King, founding member of The Eagles, Don
Henley, singer Johnny Mathis and
Shocked. It is also notable for being home to the annual East Texas
Texas was going to celebrate its Centennial in 1936 so Texas counties were encouraged to hold celebrations to commemorate the Texas centennial. Since Upshur County was an agricultural area it was decided that the celebration be related to agriculture, particularly Yams which had been a good cash crop. A weevil problem resulted in a quarantine on shipping in the early 30s but in early 1935 the quarantine was lifted, yam growers were back in business and the first East Texas Yamboree was held.2
1935 also happened to be the year that the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created
in Washington by the Roosevelt Administration to bring electricity to rural and agricultural area. By the 1930s, while almost 90 percent of city and
urban dwellers in the U.S. had electricity only ten percent of rural and country dwellers did, mainly because the private utility companies found it cost prohibitive to run lines to isolated rural areas and to farmers they believed too poor to pay.3 The plan was that the Government, through the REA, would provide loans for local cooperative groups to finance their electric projects essentially letting the people who will use the electric power in the rural area form their own power distribution company and sell to themselves.4
In 1936 Upshur County sent applications to the Development Division of the REA in Washington requesting a loan of $140,000 to finance the construction of 105 miles of lines
their area. In September a partial allocation of $70,000 to begin work on the Upshur-Rural Electrification project had been approved and on October 25, 1937 the State of Texas issued a charter for the Upshur-Rural Electric Cooperative. The cooperative’s first office was located in the basement of the courthouse in Gilmer and in July of 1938 28 miles of line in Upshur county were first energized and served 139 members.4 By 1939 the REA had helped to establish 417 rural electric cooperatives, which served 288,000 households and its actions encouraged private utilities to electrify the countryside as well. By then rural households with electricity had risen to 25 percent.3
As the Upshur cooperative grew a move was begun to erect a headquarters building on a 26-acre tract of land located west of Gilmer and in 1941 the cooperative received a loan of $125,000 from the National Youth Administration to erect the building, making it a well-lighted, well-arranged and pleasant office for the employees. The building,
sometimes referred to as the REA building, is located at 1200 W. Tyler Street on Highway 154. Throughout the years, many organizations, groups, civic clubs, and others used the headquarters building which contains a 600 seat air-conditioned auditorium for meetings and other events.4
By 1953, more than 90 percent of U.S. farms had electricity.5
Ad for January '55 shows in Hawkins, Tyler, Gilmer,
Longview and Gaston
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff
Located only about 14 miles north of Gladewater, Texas up US 271, Gilmer was one of the few immediate area towns where
Elvis, Scotty and Bill were booked by Tom Perryman, the KSIJ Radio deejay in Gladewater.
They had first come to Gladewater while "stranded" in
Shreveport 60 miles east around December of 1954 when Pappy Covington, the
booking agent for the Hayride, contacted Tom Perryman who got them gigs there at the
Mint Club on US 271.
Perryman became a real friend to them and continued to get them booked
all around east Texas. Other towns in this immediate vicinity they performed in were Hawkins,
Longview, Tyler and Kilgore.
Jim Ed and Maxine Brown performing I Heard the Bluebirds Sing
On January 26, 1955,
they made their first of only two appearances in Gilmer, the first of which was in the auditorium of the Cooperative
building. They had shared the bill with Jim Ed and Maxine Brown at least
as early as December in 1954 in Helena, AR and
had been touring steady the last couple of weeks with them starting with dates in Clarksdale
and included shows in Booneville,
MS and Sikeston,
MO. This week of shows at least were booked by Perryman. Lee Cotten wrote that Elvis, Scotty and Bill were paid a total of
$150 per show and $10 a day for travel expenses.6
According to Maxine's recollection, Gilmer was one of the few times they had stolen the show from Elvis
and she wrote, we did it again two days later at the high school in Gaston.
I'm sure that few stole shows from him after that. I know for sure the
Guralnick wrote, Jim Ed and Maxine Brown were a highly polished act. They had had a number-eight national hit the previous summer with
"Looking Back to See," were comparative veterans of the Hayride, and had an audience that turned out for them every time and they never failed to reach a good portion of the crowd.8
the Browns, from Pine
Bluff, Arkansas, who had been performing since 1952, were a brother and sister act when they joined the Hayride in May
of 1954. I Was Looking Back
to See had been recorded at the KWKH studio in Shreveport with
Jim Reeves on rhythm guitar and Floyd Cramer on piano and they'd offered it to almost every major record company
before Fabor Robison arranged a contract for
them on the Fabor label.9
Elvis on the Upshur-Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. stage
(side) - Jan 26, 1955
Photo courtesy Stanley Oberst's Rockin'
the show in Gilmer Peter wrote and quoted Perryman as saying, "They did a lot of their harmony gospel songs, and they had their big record, and there was a lot of older family people there. That was the only time I ever saw anybody steal the show from Elvis. Of course it was a big thrill for the Browns." Most of the time, though, they
didn't seem to know what had hit them. It wasn’t that they were any less popular or that the fans didn’t flock around them when they came out after the performance to sign autographs and sell their records; it was just that when that boy was
onstage, it was like nothing that had ever been before. Whether people liked it or not, they
didn't seem able to think of anything else, and it prevented them from focusing on just about anything that followed.8
Throughout the years, the power use of cooperative members has grown by
leaps and bounds.
As of December 31, 1984, Upshur-Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation was
serving 27,270 consumers with 296 miles of transmission line, and 4,244
miles of distribution line.4
After almost 60 years, the REA was abolished by a massive reorganization
of the Department of Agriculture in 1994. Its responsibilities were
transferred to a new agency, the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) which is
also part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The electric loan program
continues to operate much as it did under the REA.5
Cooperative building in Gilmer and its auditorium are still in use today, though
the time of Elvis' next and last appearance in Gilmer that following September, again
with the Browns on the bill, they performed
in the Gymnasium/Auditorium of the Junior High School.
Gilmer Junior High School (Trinity Street
building currently occupied by the Gilmer Independent School District (ISD)
administrative offices at 500 S. Trinity Street in Gilmer, TX was originally
built as a school in 1902. Over the years the building and adjacent
Gymnasium and Auditorium has been used by various occupants and for
various purposes. In
1955 it was Gilmer's Junior High School and is located only a few blocks from the Upshur-Rural Electric
auditorium is a large, detached, hut roofed structure adjacent to the
school building and connected by a catwalk on one side. It has a
main entrance in front and side double door entrance and exits, and two
addition stage level doors in the rear. It contains a large gymnasium floor with fixed
bleacher style seating on the front side and a stage opposite those on the
other. There are showers and dressing rooms located in the area beneath
the bleachers but that area is all closed off today. There is a
smaller building attached to the main Gym on the rear of
the far side which is used by the school department as storage.
September 26, 1955 Elvis, Scotty, Bill and the Browns made their second
and last appearance in Gilmer, though by now DJ was touring regularly
with the band and Bonnie Brown had graduated high school and joined her
brother and sister as a trio act. One of the first recordings they
did with Fabor together was Here Today and Gone Tomorrow.
The Gilmer Lions Club will sponsor an appearance of the
"Louisiana Hayride" show on Monday night, Sept. 26, in the
Junior High gym. Hayride stars will include Elvis Presley, Scottie and
Bill, J.E. and Maxine Brown, Floyd Cramer and Jimmy Day.
Lions Club members will have tickets which will go on sale Thursday
(today) at $1 for adults and 50c for children. Tickets may also be
purchased at any school in the county, the club said.
Lions Club Brings 'Louisiana Hayride' To Gilmer For Monday Night
Radio's famed "Louisiana Hayride" is coming to Gilmer next
Monday night for an appearance at 8 p.m. in the junior high school gym.
The Gilmer Lions Club will sponsor the show and the Lions urge everyone
who is planning to attend to buy tickets in advance. Most of the club's
profit will come from advance ticket sales. Each Lion has tickets to sell
and they have been distributed to most schools in the county.
Price is $1 for adults and 50c for children. The club will use the money
for work with crippled children including a Lion's crippled children camp
at Kerrville, and to help Upshur County children who need glasses or have
other vision handicaps.
Elvis Presley, popular "Hayride" singer, will be on hand along
with Scotty and Bill and two other stars, J. E. and Maxine Brown. The gym
will ring with such numbers as "That's All Right,"
"Heartbreaker," "Looking Back to See" and "You
Thought that I Thought."
Elvis and Bill at Gilmer Junior High - Sep. 26, 1955
Photo by David Topp courtesy Stanley Oberst's Rocking Across Texas
David Topp, a local high school student at the time, was in attendance
that evening and borrowed a camera from his employer to take photos at the
performance.11 As is apparent in
the photos, Elvis likely broke the strings on his guitar or had trouble tuning it,
as he regularly did, and borrowed Jim Ed Brown's for portions
of the show.
Elvis (with Jim Ed's D28) and Bill at Gilmer Junior High - Sep. 26, 1955
Photo by David Topp courtesy Stanley Oberst's Rocking Across Texas
Scotty, DJ, Elvis (with Jim Ed's D28) and Bill at Gilmer Junior High - Sep. 26, 1955
Photo by David Topp courtesy Stanley Oberst's Rocking Across Texas
Days after the show the Mirror reported:
Lions Club Says 'Hayride' Show Biggest Project
Approximately 1,000 persons attended the Gilmer Lions Club-sponsored
appearance of the "Louisiana Hayride" show in Gilmer Monday
night. The club reported it made more than any other project it has
This money is used for underprivileged and handicapped children in the
county. A part of it probably will go to the Texas Lions Camp at
Kerrville which is being enlarged to take care of more children next
Next fund-raising projects by the club will be at the Yamboree. The club
will have a baseball "dunking" set up. By paying for throws,
anyone will have a chance to dump a Lion member who will be sitting over
a tub of water. The club also plans to have a refreshment stand during
the time of their first appearance in Gilmer, Elvis had recently come
under the management of Bob Neal. Bob though, at the time appeared more
interested in dee-jaying and staying in the immediate Memphis area and
Elvis had since asked several people, including Tom Perryman, to be his
manager. In the months that followed this last appearance in Gilmer, the
Colonel would accelerate positioning himself to assume that role and get
Elvis signed with RCA.
The deal with Fabor that the Browns had was far from a good one and Maxine
Brown wrote, from the moment Tom Perryman took over as our manager, he set out to free us from the recording contract Fabor Robinson held over our heads. Finally, he was able to strike a deal with the old devil. But we had to pay a dear price. Fabor would give us a release, providing that we let him have all the royalties from our past record
sales. This meant we'd continue to get nothing from our big hits, "Looking Back To See" and "Here Today and Gone
Tomorrow." On top of that Fabor wanted ten thousand dollars in cash."
The other option was to wait a year for their contract
to expire but disgusted with Fabor and anxious to be free of them they
borrowed the money and bought their way out.7
Perryman immediately sought them a new label and the
following year they followed Elvis to RCA. Perryman was also
instrumental in getting them signed to the Ozark Jubilee, a country
music television program hosted by Red Foley out of Springfield, MO.7
In 1965 they joined the Grand Ole Opry and then in 1967 the Browns
Tom Perryman eventually joined WSM in Nashville and
became the host of the WSM all-night radio show. He would later
buy several radio stations in partnership with Jim Reeves, who himself
had a similar experience with Fabor as the Browns. Tom Perryman today is
still in radio with a show for radio station KKUS in
Tyler and is a member of the Country Music D.J. Hall of Fame.7
Through the years the Yamboree has grown from a local event to one that draws a crowd from around the state of Texas, as well as surrounding states. With the exception of a three year period during World War II, the four-day
Yamboree has been held each October since and features arts and crafts, barbecues, contests, parade, fiddlers contest, barn dance, food, quilt show, livestock and more.10
The former junior high Gymnasium is referred to now mainly as The
Trinity Street Gym. The Gilmer Chamber of Commerce has
a very long term lease on the building from the School Department and periodically
will rent it out for an event. In years passed it has been used
extensively for festivities during the annual Yamboree, most recently
the barn dances have been held there.
added November 3, 2010
Special thanks to Linda Williams and McKinley Walker of the
Upshur-Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation for their assistance with
this page and also to the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, the Gilmer ISD and
Mary Laschinger of the Gilmer Mirror. Also, special thanks to Francesc
Lopez for the use of the period Gilmer-Mirror articles.