Lee Gordon Presents Elvis Presley
THE BIGGEST SHOWS OF 1957 (Book 1)
by Peter Robert Hayden
Lee Gordon Presents Elvis Presley......The Biggest Shows of 1957 (Volume 1), Peter Robert Hayden, Self-published, Australia, 2015, Softcover, Unpaginated (approx. 160pp), Illustrated (color and b&w), ISBN: none.
Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, April 2015
Images from the book were not available for inclusion with this review. The images shown are from the EIN Elvis Photo Archives and publicly available sources.
“It’s almost unbelievable when you see an artist walk out on stage and receive an ovation like the one we have witnessed tonight.”
The mid 1950’s represented a halcyon period in the Elvis story. As a young man in his early 20’s bridled with incredible musical ability and a rampant onstage physical presence, 1954 to 1957 represented the peak of what has been referred to as “Presleymania”.
A number of great books have considered this period (or particular aspects of it) in detail including:
- Elvis Presley A Boy From Tupelo (Ernst Jorgensen)
- Long Lonely Highway (Ger Rijff) - plus many other Rijff releases
- Early Elvis Trilogy (Bill E. Burk)
- Elvis In Canada (Bill E. Burk)
- Elvis On The Road to Stardom (Jim Black)
- Elvis The Sun Years (Howard Banney)
- King! – When Elvis Rocked the World (Pete Nelson)
- Teenager’s Hero (Steve Rino)
- Tupelo’s Own Elvis Presley (Joseph Pirzada)
- Elvis Presley Memphis Recording Service – two volumes (Joseph Pirzada)
In 2015 another excellent release has been published, this time by noted Australian Elvis researcher and author, Peter Robert (“Bob”) Hayden: Lee Gordon Presents Elvis Presley......THE BIGGEST SHOWS OF 1957 (Book 1).
In what is the first in a trilogy the author goes behind the scenes to reveal in great detail the Elvis shows staged by promoter Lee Gordon in Canada and the USA in 1957. The significance of the Canadian shows is multi-faceted, firstly they were the only non-USA live performances by Elvis ever and secondly they occurred at a point in Elvis' career where he had achieved the first great peak of his incredible popularity.
Book 1 of the author’s trilogy covers Elvis’ concerts in the first third of 1957 which included four of his five historic shows in Canada (two each in the cities of Toronto and Ottawa) and his electric concerts south of the Canadian border in Chicago, St. Louis, Fort Wayne, Detroit, Buffalo and Philadelphia.
Structurally, Lee Gordon Presents Elvis Presley......THE BIGGEST SHOWS OF 1957, resonates through a wonderful fusion of narrative, visual and archival material illuminating its vibrant subject matter. The sum of its parts also neatly destroys the view of one commentator quoted in the book that "Presleyism is a cultural wasteland"!
Bustin' loose in Philly, April 5, 1957
The information imparted for each of the concerts is both robust in fascinating detail and enlightening in breadth.
From Toronto fans being left with "Rigor Elvis" and Philadelphia rockin' while Elvis rolls to the 180 police assigned to control the 10,000 strong crowd at the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York and Elvis’ “five tough looking protectors” in Philadelphia, Hayden’s narrative sparks to life with pieces of seemingly disparate information which, together, reflect the typhoon that was Elvis in the 1950s, a foreign force which stridently unsettled, if not "mom and dad" middle America, certainly the corridors of political, cultural and religious power in a right-wing, non-progressive, conservative America.
A highlight of the author's structural approach to his subject is the wealth of important and interesting archival material that adds gravitas beyond the book's strong narrative.
Concert reviews, newspaper clippings, venue information, transcripts of radio and fan club interviews and fan accounts of seeing the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll at his early days peak make for riveting reading and heighten the reader’s sense of the drama, excitement and socio-cultural impact of “Presleymania”.
Rockin' up a storm of controversy in Philly April 1957
Hayden’s narrative displays great depth of research and thought and his easy-flowing style engages. The result is an account which vividly brings to life the excitement and drama of Elvis in 1957. Along the way the author reveals many fascinating stories and incidents that many fans will be unfamiliar with. For example:
Presley didn’t do himself any favours in the face of critics claiming a link between the singer and juvenile delinquency when he got in to an altercation with on a Memphis streets few weeks before the show.
While signing autographs, Elvis was confronted by an 18-year-old U.S. Marine alleging the singer had bumped the soldier’s wife months earlier. Guileless, Elvis pulled out a Hollywood prop pistol, and with a broad grin on his face exclaimed, “I’ll blow your brains out, you punk.”
Opposite: Elvis in his famous Gold suit....Toronto 1957
At another point, Hayden recounts the police presence employed to restrain Elvis’ often over-zealous fans:
Toronto police, under the command of District Chief George Elliott, took no chance of a repeat, stationing as many as 125 uniformed officers around the arena to spot trouble before it started. “Whenever a youngster bounced up in his seat a policeman would reach over and plunk him down again,” the Star’s Scanlon observed. “This sometimes gave the Gardens the appearance of a large jack-in-the-box but it seemed to have the desired effect.
Elvis with fans in Ottawa
Other absorbing accounts include:
- how one Canadian reporter represented himself to the Colonel as a columnist for a string of Australian newspapers in order to obtain an interview with Elvis
- the reel-to-reel tapes of one of Elvis’ 1957 concerts that were sold on ebay in 2006
- the fan credited with being responsible for Elvis’ appearance in Toronto
- how the Colonel (an illegal Dutch immigrant) was able to travel with Elvis across country borders to Canada (thank goodness for those driver's licences!)
- a review of one Elvis show by Dr. Charles Peaker, organist at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, who reports on the ‘shouts’ accompanying the “sick Aztec god” and includes salient observations such as “I seemed to gather from it that Elvis was loosely like Hamlet, but yet with much of Claudius’ feeling for sex...” and “How nice it would have been had if we could have heard him sing even one song.”
- how the celebrated academic, philosopher and intellectual responsible for the concepts of “the medium is the message” and “television is a cool medium”, came to Elvis’ defence
- the concert when Elvis closed the show with “Hound Dog” repeating chorus after chorus a dozen or more times in a growing crescendo
Similarly, the eclectic press headlines when Elvis was in town are evocative and reflective of the mixed emotions surrounding his talent, including:
- Elvis Wiggles and Wails as 24,000 Scream and Scream
- Elvis Unhurt - and Unheard
- 13,373 Frenzied Fans Headaches for Cops
- Elvis Presley, He Excites Girls, Scares Critics ............................
- Out of Control
- In His Dreadful Finery ................................................................
- Youth Have It Too Soft
- ‘Mind Men’ Not Scared By Elvis
- Elvis’ Entrance would have Scared Savages
Opposite: the back cover to Lee Gordon Presents Elvis Presley......Biggest Shows of 1957
Lee Gordon Presents Elvis Presley......The Biggest Shows of 1957 features more than 100 impressive visuals in its 100+ pages including a number from the extensive Bob Hayden Collection. Many rare photos of a dynamic performer live on stage are particularly engaging while, as noted earlier, visuals of show ticket stubs, auditorium photos, concert promotional material, etc add a valuable dimension to the rich narrative-visual record on offer. Not surprisingly the quality of some images (particularly those taken by fans) is dark, but their historical significance more than compensates.
The photographic highlights include a dynamic shot (from the Harris Radin Estate) of Elvis dressed in his famous Nudie designed Gold Suit (shown in b&w) caressing the microphone and knees bent, and an impressive triptych (from United Press) of a young female fan in the literal and metaphorical throws of climactic teenybopper expression.
Alan Heffernan, who was Lee Gordon’s right-hand man in Australia, provides the Foreword to the book. His is a great background context to the book including detailing Lee Gordon's reaction to learning of the Colonel's announcement that Elvis would be retiring from 'live shows' and confining his appearances to movies.
The book design is reader friendly and its content is printed on quality, heavy semi-gloss paper stock.
Volume 2 in Hayden’s trilogy will focus on the remaining shows in 1957 while Volume 3 will be a photographic record of those shows.
Verdict: With its first-hand accounts of the virile young Elvis live on stage and a treasure trove of archival material, Lee Gordon Presents Elvis Presley stamps itself as an important socio-cultural record of the time when Elvis sang the ”devil’s music” and led young girls astray with his curled lip and gyrating hips. Bob Hayden is to be congratulated on a thoroughly researched and wonderfully entertaining exploration of Elvis in (the first third of) 1957, the result of which is an Elvis history lesson which springs to life at every turn of the page. This release will be warmly welcomed by serious students of the complex, colourful and multi-faceted Elvis story and one which also offers plenty for the casual fan or reader. I look forward to the remaining volumes in the author’s trilogy.
To order Lee Gordon Presents Elvis Presley......The Biggest Shows of 1957 contact the author
About Lee Gordon
(Sources: Bob Hayden, Wikipedia, Australian Dictionary of Biography and EIN)
Lee Lazar Gordon (born Leon Lazar Gevorshner, March 8, 1923 – November 7, 1963) was a self-confident American entrepreneur and rock and roll promoter who worked extensively in Australia in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. He enjoyed a colorful (often for the wrong reasons) if somewhat tragic career.
Gordon's jazz and rock 'n' roll tours had a major impact on the Australian music scene and he also played a significant role in the early career of pioneering Australian rock 'n' roll singer Johnny O'Keefe (often referred to as Australia’s King of Rock ‘n’ Roll) and other rock 'n' roll luminaries of the period including Lonnie Lee, Laurel Lea and Barry Stanton.
A highlight of Gordon's shows in Australia was the 1957 tour of Bill Haley and His Comets.....over three weeks 300,000 patrons saw their performances and Gordon offered Haley $US100,000 to stay for an additional week.
Gordon also founded his own record label in Australia (Lee Gordon Records Pty Ltd, which operated as Leedon – formed from his first name and the last three letters of his surname). Despite having generated multi-million dollar profits through his music promotion, Gordon lost it all in failed investments.
Frank Sinatra was reportedly best man at Gordon's marriage to Queensland born Arlene Topfer in 1962 (they were twice married to each other and twice divorced). Gordon died far too young at the age of 40 due to a coronary occlusion. His wife, Arlene, gave birth to their son in 1964.
While Gordon could not achieve his dream of bringing Elvis “Downunder”, he did stage Elvis’ only live performances outside the USA – 5 shows in Canada, as well as a series of Elvis concerts across the USA, also in 1957.
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