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RoyalMale

A ‘SHY BOY’, A ‘MAMA’S BOY’, A BOY SO NERVOUS THAT HE WOULD PANIC WHEN HIS FATHER DIVED INTO A SWIMMING POOL: THE YOUNG ELVIS PRESLEY, ACCORDING TO FAMILY FRIENDS, DID NOT LOOK TO BE A CONFIDENT STAR IN THE MAKING. MICHAEL STEPHENS CHARTS THE EXTRAORDINARY TRANSFORMATION OF THE BOY WHO WOULD BE KING

© Time & Life Pictures/Getty

Elvis Presley was more than a singer. He was – and still is – an icon of pop culture, the first larger-than-life superstar, a folk hero and legend, yet also something of a myth.

In today’s X-Factor culture, stardom is transient: despite huge success, no-one can seriously believe Susan Boyle will be anything but a quirky footnote in pop history in 20 years time. Thirty four years after Elvis Presley’s death, his allure remains astonishing. Type ‘Elvis’ into Google and you get 188,000,000 returns. By contrast, the UK’s biggest pop icon, ‘Lennon’, gets less than half that. Google is certainly not the arbiter of all, of course, but the search sends a message. Elvis is still all around.

It’s partly the myth that still fascinates, as the basics of Elvis Presley’s life read like a fable – his rags-to-riches life story featured family tragedy, a meteoric rise to fame, unrivalled adulation, an opulent lifestyle, excessive habits, and a tragic (and, some would argue, rather pathetic) demise.

But what a rise it was. And Elvis Aaron Presley’s remarkable influence on world pop culture began when he was just 10 years old.

THE BOY WHO WOULD BE KING

The Presleys lived in Tupelo, Mississippi, and it was here that Elvis made his first public performance. Even at this tender age, Elvis would spend many Saturday afternoons at the Tupelo Courthouse from where the radio station WELO broadcast its Saturday Jamboree programme. The Presley family were not musical, but young Elvis was entranced by song. He sang Old Shep, a song about a 19-year-old German Shepherd dog, for WELO a few times.

Elvis had no formal training in music. In a 1965 interview he remembered, ‘I sang some with my folks in the Assembly Of God church choir [but] it was a small church, so you couldn’t sing too loud.’

But when, at the beginning of his school term in 1945, pupils were asked if they would like to read or sing a song at assembly, 10-year-old Elvis obliged. He sang Old Shep again. His teacher Oletta Grimes remembered, ‘He sang it so sweetly.’ The school principal was similarly impressed and they decided Elvis should be entered into a singing competition in the upcoming 1945 Mississippi-Alabama Fair And Dairy Show, held in Tupelo.

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About Vintage Rock

Vintage Rock: Winter issue 2011 features: 50 Greatest Rockabilly tracks - Prepare yourself for the greatest party tape in history with our essential cuts. The Roots of Rock’n’Roll - The definitive lowdown on how it all began The stars - Fantastic features on Elvis, Hank Marvin, Jet Harris, Carl Perkins, Ike Turner and many more Rockabilly Hair - Tope stylist Mr Ducktail tells all, ably assisted by Levi and Bernie Dexter All Mama’s Children - News, reviews and events for the incorrigibly beat-minded