A musician for whom a young Elvis Presley auditioned advised him to “stick to driving a truck, because you’ll never make it as a singer.”
We all admire the prescient individual who can spot a diamond in the rough; who has the vision to see great value in someone or something that everyone else has overlooked. Conversely, we love to jeer the fool who lets a valuable gem slip through his fingers, even if nobody else realized its worth at the time either.
So it was with Elvis Presley. It was far from apparent during Elvis’ early adulthood that he was destined to become one of the most popular entertainers the world had ever seen. The day after Elvis graduated high school in 1953, he started work at M.B. Parker Machinists’ Shop for $33 a week. When Elvis stopped by the studios of Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service sometime that summer (ostensibly to make a personal record “to surprise his mother”), he was, in the words of Marion Keisker, Phillips’ partner and receptionist, “shy, a little woebegone, cradling his battered, beat-up child’s guitar.”
While Elvis waited to record a couple of tunes (“My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”), he asked Miss Keisker if she knew of any groups looking for a singer. She didn’t.
Elvis knew he wanted to be a singer, but he didn’t know how to go about becoming one. He hung around the Memphis Recording Service studios for the next several months and cut another personal record in January 1954, but he accomplished little else in the way of becoming a professional artist. The most notable “professional” event of these early years was Elvis’ switching jobs (because his previous employer had made him get a haircut), taking a job driving a truck for Crown Electric driving at the princely sum of $40 per week in April 1954.
A month later, Elvis was excited that the big break he had been seeking might finally be at hand. Ronnie Smith, a fellow music enthusiast with whom Elvis had played a few little gigs was, at 16, a member of a real professional band. This band was led by Eddie Bond, a 21-year-old “veteran” musician who had been performing in Memphis since he was 15 and was seeking to re-establish himself after having finished a stint in the navy. Ronnie and Elvis ran into each other, and Ronnie mentioned that Eddie was looking for a singer for their band. Maybe Elvis could try auditioning for the spot, Ronnie suggested.
Elvis duly showed up at a club called the Hi Hat shortly thereafter, where he met Eddie Bond and nervously performed a couple of songs onstage. Bond turned him down. The reasons why Bond turned him down have become confused over the years (Bond later claimed it was the club’s owners who forced him reject Elvis), but according to a mutual friend, Bond told Elvis to stick with driving a truck “because you’re never going to make it as a singer.”
Within a few months Elvis would record “That’s All Right (Mama)” for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records label. After the disc proved to be a hit in Memphis, Eddie Bond had Ronnie Smith ask Elvis if he’d like to sing with them now. Elvis politely declined the invitation.
Guralnick, Peter. Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley.
Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1994. ISBN 0-316-33220- (pp. 29, 134, 426).
Raiteri, Charles. “Eddie Bond: A Reluctant Rockabilly Rocker Remembers.