Who owned this car and why is it significant? YES, it was Elvis Presley’s. When Elvis Presley became rock’n’roll’s first superstar in the mid-1950s, one of the first things he did to celebrate his newfound fame and fortune was to buy two Cadillac limousines — a pink one for himself and a matching white one for his beloved mother Gladys.
Thus began Presley’s lifelong obsession with the Cadillac. Elvis became the veritable king of Cadillac buyers. He spent millions buying Cadillacs — at least a hundred of them — and spent millions more having them customized. Many were given away to family, friends, acquaintances and, on occasion, even to complete strangers.
However, this was Elvis’ Gold Cadillac. Why was it special? We’ll tell you tomorrow. Today, we’ll expand on a hints from yesterday:
- Elvis is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The consensus around Nashville in the mid-to-late 1950s was that Elvis Presley was very bad for country music, that he had in fact almost killed it; in truth, he was very good for a younger generation of country musicians, giving them potential access to broader media exposure than their predecessors had enjoyed. Prior to Elvis, country music was generally considered a regional genre of music.
- Elvis appeared only once at the Grand ‘Ol Opry. However, it was very early in his career and the audience response was lukewarm at best. However, two weeks later he was booked on Louisiana Hayride, a chief rival of the Opry and more adventurous radio program. This eventually lead to Elvis being booked for a full year of Saturday night performances at this Shreveport, Louisiana based program.
- Elvis was signed by Sam Phillips of Sun Records whose record company focused on black musician music. Always looking to expand his audience base, Phillips liked Elvis’ unique sound and thought he might be the ‘white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel that could make Sam a billion dollars’. In July, 1954, after several attempts with various songs, Elvis gave up on a futile night’s recording session and instead began clowning around with a blues song and acting like a fool. Soon the other two local musicians followed suit and suddenly Sam realized he had found the sound he’d been looking for. Two weeks later that song, That’s All Right, was played on a popular Memphis radio program and the crowd response was immediate; everyone wanted to know who the singer was. Elvis… was ‘born’.
- Elvis failed an audition for a local vocal quartet, the Songfellows, and told he “couldn’t sing” because he didn’t have an ear for harmony. Six months later, That’s All Right became a hit!
- Elvis worked as a truck driver for the Crown Electric Company in April, 1955 and, at the urging of a fellow performing friend of his, auditioned for the friend’s professional band as the lead vocalist. The band leader, however wasn’t impressed and reportedly told Elvis to stick to truck driving “because you’re never going to make it as a singer”. Three months later, That’s All Right became a hit!
- Elvis failed an audition for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts on the CBS television network. Though he was regionally known in the southwest, he wasn’t nationally known and neither was his music at the time of his audition. He did make his television debut on March 3, 1955 on the KSLA-TV broadcast of Louisiana Hayride.
- Elvis got his/her first big break on the Louisiana Hayride radio program; the Shreveport-based show was broadcast to 198 radio stations in 28 states. Presley had an attack of nerves during the first set, which drew a muted audience reaction. A more composed and energetic second set inspired an enthusiastic response. A combination of his strong response to rhythm and nervousness at playing before a large crowd led Presley to shake his legs as he performed: his wide-cut pants emphasized his movements, causing young women in the audience to start screaming. During the instrumental parts, he would back off from the mike and be playing and shaking, and the crowd would just go wild.
- Elvis had a child-size guitar that he played for years, including his early performance years. However, when he got a contract for a year of Saturday night performances on Louisiana Hayride, he stepped up to a $175 Martin guitar and traded in his old guitar for $8. As the story goes, his old one was thrown away.
You’ll find Elvis’ Gold Cadillac in the Country Music Hall of Fame and other unique items of interest in Nashville at Funexcursionsinabox.com.
Tomorrow: Answer to ‘why is the Gold Cadillac significant?’