Backed by Scotty and Bill

Bill and Scotty - ca. mid 1955
Photo Scotty Moore

Though Elvis rarely performed with any but his own band, Scotty and Bill would on several occasions back other entertainers.  Usually they were acts they regularly toured with, like the Browns and others, but on occasion it was with an unknown and unscheduled.  I was recently contacted by a Memphis native with one such story and after forwarding her thanks to Scotty as requested, we decided to share what she had to say.

Hi James,

This comes to you from a now-72-year-old woman who sang on one of Elvis's early concerts in a small town, I'm pretty sure in Arkansas, in 1955. I was 14, had been singing in the Memphis area with a two piece band at VFW clubs and store openings. The band failed to get a spot in the concert but somehow I did. I found myself backstage, waiting to go on, and had NO BAND. Scotty Moore and Bill Black immediately offered to play for me (no rehearsal, no music, no TIME!) They backed me for two songs, which were well received by the audience in the high school auditorium.

Carl "Cheesie" Nelson backed by Jimmy Day, Scotty, DJ and Bill in Texarkana - 1955
Photo courtesy Texarkana Gazette

The only musicians I talked to were Scotty and Bill. Someone introduced us and they said they would play for me. I was amazed it was Elvis' band. I'd had no idea who they were, Elvis had not yet been on. They assured me they could play anything I wanted and they did. Before I had time to think it was over.

I did not meet Elvis, who came on shortly after me. I was whisked away and returned to my home, after seeing only 30 minutes or so of his performance. Three days later he came to my house, and asked me if I would like to go to the movies. He had had his manager (maybe Bob Neal, not sure) get my address.

Period one glee club at Humes HS, Glenda in back row 6th from left - 1956
Photo courtesy The 1956 Herald - Humes HS yearbook

He himself hired me for the next concert, and escorted me there, where I sang again, with Scotty and Bill backing me. (Would like you to know that I was not a groupie, just wanted to sing!) There were several young up-and-coming performers at both concerts, including Johnny Cash. Those concerts are somewhat a blur in my memory, I was just enjoying the ride and not paying much attention. The second could also have been in Arkansas, or even in Mississippi, but it was not in the Memphis area. They would have been in late November or in December. I do remember Johnny Cash well. I liked him, but felt a little scared of him.

During these 60 some-odd years since then I have often thought I should have thanked the guys for their help, for I probably wouldn't have got to sing at all except for them. Scotty is the only person I know from those events in '55 who has also survived. I know he is still very famous and beloved, but I wonder if he remembers the little 14 year-old girl on that stage. I also have had a wonderful life since then and am still singing, in church.

Dewey Phillips at WHBQ in the Hotel Gayoso, Memphis, TN - June 1950
Photo courtesy Mike Freeman

I went out with Elvis three or four times (this would have been late November or early December). I turned 15 on December 2nd that year. He took me to meet Dewey Phillips, showed me where he went to church, and the project home where he had lived.

Lauderdale Courts in Memphis, once a home of Elvis' and also Bill Black's mother - ca.1956
Magazine Photo courtesy Ger Rijff

Red West (who was a classmate of mine at Humes, though I did not know him at school) was usually with him, along with several other people, who I can't remember. Everyone in the car would be singing. He was always a perfect gentleman with me, and very respectful. (I was not one of the "screamers," but saw lots of them when I was with him.) Elvis did not drink, smoke or use profanity. He was super polite when he met my family. The worst thing I ever heard him say was "SHEEIT!" The last time I saw EP was Christmas Eve, 1955, just before he went to Nashville to record his first big hit song.

Humes HS Thespians on the Humes HS auditorium stage, Glenda on far right - 1956
Photo courtesy The 1956 Herald - Humes HS yearbook

I did not graduate from Humes, I graduated from Bartlett (Nicholas Blackwell High School) in 1957. I started at Humes in the ninth grade and continued until the end of my junior year, then went to Bartlett for my senior year. I do have the Humes High annual yearbooks from 1955 and 1956. I'm in there a few times also, in both annuals. Red West (Bobby West) was a senior then and there are numerous pictures of him. He was quite the athlete. He would not have noticed me then, I was a lowly sophomore. Red and his girlfriend were on at least one of the dates with EP. My parents were building a home in Bartlett and moved there during the junior year, but allowed me to stay in Memphis with my aunt who lived on Manassas, about four blocks away from Humes. The first visits from EP were at my family home shortly before they moved into the new house, and he came after that to my aunt's house.

Humes HS 6th period speech class - Glenda 2nd from right front - 1956
Photo courtesy The 1956 Herald - Humes HS yearbook

I don't have pictures, I was such a kid it never occurred to me to take pictures, even if I'd had a camera. There were always people around who were taking pictures, but I never knew how to obtain any. I was too young to know what to do. They would have been of value to me if I had, so would the check for $50 that Elvis personally gave me for the second concert. He was quite upset when he heard that I'd been paid only $5 by the manager of my band, who was the one who got me in that first concert. I lost touch with him long ago, and my mother and my aunt who actually talked with EP are deceased.

We were such kids then, with no idea how everything would happen. It is still vivid in my memory and I just would like to know if Scotty remembers me. I am thanking him now, with my congratulations on his 80th birthday. I'm looking forward to making it to that milestone myself!

Glenda Harper
Memphis, TN
March 30, 2012

Unfortunately, given the lack of advertisements and photos we can only speculate where and when these appearances might have been. Glenda said she has no recollection of DJ or any drummer playing with her though by the given time frame he had been appearing regularly with Elvis, Scotty and Bill. Scotty said that at the time they were all fairly accessible and they performed every opportunity they could.  Though Scotty doesn't recall this particular event he enjoyed reading about it and we want to thank Glenda for sharing her story.

page added April 5, 2012

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