Alan Freed may not even have been using the term "rock'n'roll" yet, but the WJW disk jockey planned the "Moondog Coronation Ball" and the arena--with a capacity of about 10,000--saw twice as many youngsters show up. Chaos ensued, partly because
thousands of counterfeit tickets were printed, and partly due to the growing enthusiasm for Rhythm & Blues among black and white listeners. This promised to be a terrific show, as the Dominoes with Clyde McPhatter and Varetta Dillard were on the bill, but the Cleveland Police, citing fire violations, stopped it cold. There can be little doubt that city officials were freaked out that a huge throng of blacks and whites were on the same cultural page. Did anyone think to record that lone song and the bedlam that followed? Surely Bill O'Reilly was there, taking notes. Freed apologized for the mess the following day.
Three years later, Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black played together at Houston's Eagles Hall on March 19th, 1955. Presley sang the A-sides of his first, second and fourth singles for Sun Records ("That's All Right," "Good Rockin' Tonight" and "Baby Let's Play House"), the initial B-side ("Blue Moon of Kentucky") and Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman," which would eventually appear on his first album (Elvis Presley/RCA, 1956).
Perhaps the best document of this show is Raw Elvis (Outwest/RCA, 1997), which contains those searing performances and interviews with DJ Bill Collie and guitarist Moore. I'd like to know who actually chatted with Scotty--it's a hokey trick, with an announcer's voice inserted as if he's asking the questions, followed by Moore's answers. Perhaps the interview is legit but it sounds phony. However flawed the presentation, this radiant, short set is worth having. The cover photo is surely from 18 months later when Elvis--by that time an international star--played a well-documented concert in the town where he was born, Tupelo, MS.
Raw Elvis, unlike Iggy & the Stooges' tired but somehow crazy Metallic KO, transcends its recording flaws because what transpired is revelatory. Elvis, age 20, pushes his limits, breathing hard into the mic, playing off his fellow musicians, responding to the crowd. He unfortunately dips into misogyny to introduce one song: "Little darlin' you broke my heart when you left, but I'll break your jaw when you get back." I'm not condoning this, but the attitude was not uncommon for this time period of so little awareness; as late as 1973, the British band Spooky Tooth put out an album whose title roughly echoed that phrase. Thankfully, the rest of the stage patter is good-natured ("We're booked in Alcatraz tomorrow night--got a long drive ahead of us"). This recalls Elvis' comments about not being fully aware of the kind of fervor the trio was creating because he, Scotty and Bill would never see the morning paper in that particular town the following day--they'd be long gone before its publication (see Jackson Browne's "The Load-Out/Stay").
Elvis is intensity personified on Raw Elvis, and hearing the screaming teens at Eagles Hall leaking into his vocal mic reveals how playful his stage manner was in his first full year as a live act. It's the earliest live Presley set recorded, teeming with skill, sex, danger, humor and freedom. "I'm out of breath!" he exclaims, rather than singing "that's all right" as the gig is exploding and winding down at the same time. As far as live rock'n'roll goes, this amazing performance sounds like Day One to me. And in my lifetime, it was Day One.