Fascinating letters revealing how record producer struggled to get a young Elvis Presley's music released
19th June 2019
19th June 2019
Letters have revealed how a record producer struggled to get a young Elvis Presley's music heard - faced with record executives and DJs who said it 'stinks'.
The startling criticism has emerged in a series of letters, never seen before in their entirety, due to go up for auction in Devizes, Wiltshire, this weekend.
The fascinating archive, on sale for £50,000, reveals calamitous calls made by moguls who said Presley's music 'would never sell' despite his popularity in Tennessee.
Memphis music impresario Sam Phillips, of Sun Records, had written to industry bigwigs citing 'a new artist who is causing tremendous excitement' in the hope Presley's songs could be heard further afield.
But his letters met with a lukewarm reception, despite him trying to win over the recipients by saying 'this Presley thing is tremendous' and 'we've got a big one - don't let it get away.'
The letters date back to July 1954 when a then 20-year-old Elvis had just released his very first single, That's All Right.
But while the song proved popular in his home state of Tennessee - selling an unprecedented 4,000 copies - record companies and radio stations from Los Angeles to Miami were less impressed.
Miami record distributor, Marvin Lieber, wrote back: 'Locals won't even touch it...as they consider it too racy.'
Nate Duroff, of the LA-based Monarch Records, said Elvis' type of music 'stinks'.
He wrote: 'Elvis Presley records would not sell in Los Angeles. I know for a fact that Western and Hillbilly out here 'stinks' as far as sales.'
The archive of 47 letters cover the 16 months Elvis was signed to Sun Records.
Despite the initial rejections, his career soon soared and he signed with big-time RCA Records in December 1955.
The following month he released Heartbreak Hotel which was his first number one hit and started his rise to become the King of rock 'n' roll.
The letters belong to a British collector who is now selling them through Henry Aldridge and Son Auctioneers.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said they document the evolution of Elvis Presley and the birth of rock 'n' roll.
He said: 'This is one of the most important archives of letters relating to the earliest parts of Elvis Presley's career ever offered for auction.
'It chronicles the birth of Elvis' career and the genesis of the journey that would lead him on the path to stardom.
'It is being auctioned almost 65 years to the day his debut single was released.
'Elvis was a nobody when he first signed to Sun Records. He recorded That's All Right and the early correspondence from Sam Phillips does not even mention Elvis by name, he was that unknown.
'But as they progress you sense the realisation dawning on Phillips that these record executives had a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity here.
'The tone changes to one of Elvis generating tremendous excitement and record sales in Memphis that had never been heard of before.
'Phillips sent these letters to executives all over America but the response he got back was lukewarm to say the least.
'The rejection letter from Monarch Records stating Elvis Presley would never sell in Los Angeles has to be one of the worse judgments made in the music industry of all time.'
Forty-one of the documents are the carbon copies of letters sent from Sun Records.
Mr Aldridge said: 'When Sam Phillips wanted to send a letter to a record distributor, disc jockey or retail outlet he would dictate the contents to office manager Marion Keisker.
'She would take a sheet of Sun Record Company stationary, put a piece of carbon paper below it, and put a piece of plain white paper below that.
'She would type out the letter, mail the top letter and file the bottom sheet in the Sun's files.
'These copies have been with a couple of serious collectors of Elvis memorabilia and have been certified by the Elvis Presley Museum.
'The current owner, who is British, bought them about 10 years ago and they have never been seen before in their entirety.'
One of the first letters sent by Sun is dated July 29, 1954 to Nate Duroff of Monarch Records.
Phillips pleads with Duroff to 'please get this record out there...this record has the necessary potential to sell in any territory in the country. It is definitely going to be one of the biggest records of the year.'
Eight days later he wrote to Bronzeville Distributors in Chicago stating: 'This Presley thing is tremendous. In Memphis there was never a record like it for sales, plays and listener-demand. So ride it, boy, and we'll have it made.'
On August 10, 1954 Phillips wrote to Marvin Leiber of Pan American Distributors in Miami, telling him 'we've got a big one; don't let it get away.'
On September 11, 1954 he wrote to the Campbell-Carl Company of Wichita, Kansas, citing the airplay figures of Elvis' single in Memphis.
Phillips added: 'It is on virtually every Juke location in town and the ops are ordering and re-ordering and re-ordering!'
On November 4, 1954 he chastised the boss of a record company in Philadelphia for not distributing Elvis' songs.
He wrote: 'In the past few months Sun has released a new artist who is creating a tremendous excitement...his name is Elvis Presley, and we sent you samples.
'There has been big movement on the number in virtually every market and we regret that nothing has happened on it in your territory.'
The letters are being sold on Saturday in Devizes.