A guitar for the King
There are several competing versions of the story, of what Elvis Presley really wanted for his birthday. Some say it was a rifle and others contend that it was a bicycle—both fairly typical choices for a boy his age growing up on the outskirts of Tupelo, Mississippi. Instead, Elvis’s highly protective mother, Gladys, took him to the Tupelo Hardware Store and bought a gift that would change the course of history: a $6.95 guitar. It was January 8, 1946, and Elvis Aaron Presley was 11 years old.
The historical significance of putting a guitar into the hands of a young man who would later help define rock and roll is obvious. For Elvis himself, however, getting that guitar was just one more step in a thorough yet totally unplanned program of childhood musical development that prepared him perfectly to ignite a revolution 10 years later.
Elvis Aaron Presley was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jessie, was stillborn, leaving Elvis to grow up as an only child.
Music surrounded the young Elvis; from country, bluegrass, blues and gospel to mainstream pop and even opera. Gladys Presley told stories of Elvis as a toddler jumping out her lap and running down the aisle of the First Assembly of God Church so that he could stand directly in front of the choir, singing along and imitating their movements. The local radio was dominated by country and western music, which Elvis adored. And as Peter Guralnick, author of the definitive early-Elvis biography “Last Train to Memphis” put it, Elvis “absorbed the blues from the radio and the pervasive contact that a poor white family like the Presleys, always living on the edge of town and respectability, would necessarily have with blacks.”
In 1954, Elvis began his singing career with the legendary Sun Records label in Memphis. In late 1955, his recording contract was sold to RCA Victor. By 1956, he was an international sensation. With a sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred and challenged the social and racial barriers of the time, he ushered in a whole new era of American music and popular culture.
His talent, good looks, sensuality, charisma, and good humor endeared him to millions, as did the humility and human kindness he demonstrated throughout his life. Known the world over by his first name, he is regarded as one of the most important figures of twentieth century popular culture. Elvis died at his Memphis home, Graceland, on August 16, 1977.
He starred in 33 successful films, made history with his television appearances and specials, and knew great acclaim through his many, often record-breaking, live concert performances on tour and in Las Vegas. Among his many awards and accolades were 14 Grammy nominations and 3 wins from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award which he received at age 36, and his being named One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation for 1970 by the United States Jaycees. He is an inductee to multiple music halls of fame.
Born within five years and 500 miles of one another, future greats such as James Brown, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Sam Cooke were being shaped by this same mix of musical influences, as well as by a culture in which listening to music generally meant participating in it, too. This generation of musicians would give birth to whole new genres and subgenres of American music—not just rock and roll, but rockabilly, rhythm and blues, soul and more. With his first guitar in hand, Elvis Presley took a key step toward joining that list of music greats on this day in music history, 1946. In celebration of that life changing moment, I give you Deputy Dave’s Drink of the Day: Love Me Tender
5 parts Beefeater® gin
3 parts dry sherry
1 part orange liqueur
1 part peach vodka
1 drop apricot brandy
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Add an orange twist, and serve.
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