Book Review:

Elvis January-February 1956

by Paul Belard

Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, May 2019

Paul Belard, Linden Press, USA, 2019, Softcover (21 x 27.5cms), 186 pages, Illustrated, ISBN-13: 978-0999893951

The latest two books from Paul Belard continue to impress thanks to Belard's ability to source an incredible array of well known and obscure images of Elvis and important archival material. EIN's Nigel Patterson took a peek inside each book to discover what is on offer. Here is Nigel's review of Elvis January-February 1956 (review of Elvis September 1958 - Germany Bound to follow soon).

Elvis Presley, the "20-year-old fireball with sideburns and two Cadillacs" will be singing his own brand of country-bop tunes......

This volume of Belard's pictorial and archival record of the Elvis story focuses on key events in two months which were instrumental in establishing and accelerating Elvis' career.

In January 1956 RCA released Elvis' first national hit single, the haunting Heartbreak Hotel backed with the underrated I Was The One. Throughout January and February Elvis performed at various venues in the southern states. Importantly, late in January, Elvis made his first appearance on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show television program in New York. This appearance and Elvis' subsequent three other appearances on the show (in February) put his music and his controversial gyrations front and center, exciting youth, and often replusing parents and the establishment.

Elvis January-February 1956 offers a comprehensive mix of professionally captured and candid shots of Elvis on stage, off stage, on TV, on the road, and with fans. Viewed as a package they are an important record and rich reflection of what was happening in just two (albeit very important) months in Elvis' life and career. Each day or days is introduced by a brief overview of where Elvis was and what he was doing.

In addition to the many photos of Elvis on the Dorsey Brothers Show telecasts, some of the many visual highlights include:

  • images of Elvis in full flight (gyrating) at the Carolina Theater in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • a great shot of Elvis on stage at the memorial Auditorium in Witchita Falls, Texas
  • Elvis on stage in Newport, Virginia
  • the large crowd lined up outside the Municipal Arena to see headline act Elvis Presley and Stars from the Grand Ole Opry
  • grainy but unusual image of Elvis with guitar appearing from the side of the curtain
  • Elvis backstage with singer Justin Tubb at the Carlina Theater in Spartanburg, South Carolina
  • various very rare images of Elvis being interviewed by Ray Pulley and students from Oscar Smith High School in Virginia
  • rare grainy images of Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker outside the Hotel Roosevelt
  • Elvis relaxing with friends in Palm Beach, Florida
  • Elvis and songwriter, Mae Boren Axton, looking at the Heartbreak Hotel single
February 10, Elvis performed four shows at 2:30, 4:30, 7:00 and 9:00 PM at the Carolina Theater, Charlotte,  North Carolina
February 15, Elvis performed at 8:00 PM at the Walter Williams High School Auditorium, Burlington, North Carolina

Consistent with his earlier releases, Elvis January-February 1956 features a range of archival materials to complement Berland's hundreds of photos and minimalist text. These archival items offer an insightful account of how Elvis was viewed and reported on by the media as his career started to snowball. The archival gems include:

  • the Billboard review of Heartbreak Hotel, in which the reviewer notes that buyers beyond Elvis' "hillbilly fans" were clamouring to buy the record
  • national and regional record charts
  • concert posters
  • a handwritten letter from Elvis to his fan club president;
  • various media articles such as Our Gals Go Ga-Ga Over Elvis (Charlotte News); Presley Plucks Rhythmic Response From His Fans (Charlotte Observer); Presley, Country-Bop Singer, Will Give 3 Shows Here Today (Winston-Salem Journal); Victor Gives Party For Elvis Presley (The Cash Box); and The day no one wanted Elvis - but me (United Press); and
  • an intriguing letter from RCA's Steve Sholes to Elvis suggesting songs that may be good for Elvis to sing. The songs included Lookout Mountain; Anything For Gold; I Will If You Will; Pins and Needles In My Heart; Mr Blues; and one song Elvis did record, One Sided Love Affair.

The visual element includes a color/colorised section of publicity shots for RCA (other color images are included throughout the book), and the front cover features that great image from Elvis' second album, Elvis. As you would expect, given the age of many of the photos, the quality varies from very good to poor. However, they never fail to engage or inform.

February 26, Elvis performed three shows at 2:00, 5:00 and 8:00 PM in the City Auditorium, Pensacola, Florida

Paul Belard's books may not be the glossy coffee table productions offered by Erik Lorentzen et al, but what they may lack in gloss is counterbalanced by the important visual-archival record they offer, a record which reflects the energy and excitement of the time, and valuable insight into the media and public attitudes to the young King of Rock 'n' Roll.

The first edition of Elvis January-February 1956 is a limited edition of 50 copies, each signed by the author and numbered.

Verdict: Paul Belard has published another solid entry in his massive project to visually catalog Elvis' life and career. As a comprehensive visual and archival record Elvis January-February 1956 is a book Elvis scholars and many fans will visit time and time again.

To order any of Paul Belard's books contact: Paul Belard

About the author: Paul Belard learned the art of bookbinding in Paris in the late 1970's at the shop of renowned French bookbinder Paule Ameline. He has been practicing fine bookbinding, repairs and restoration in the USA since 1980. His other interests are varied, including the American Civil War, history, and a massive project to produce an exhaustive pictorial record of Elvis' life and career.

Paul's published "Elvis" titles as at May 2019 are:

Upcoming titles from Paul Belard include the thematic, rather than time specific, Elvis A Humanitarian and Elvis Badges, Cops and Guns!

Read EIN's interview with Paul Belard

Comment on this review





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