The Original Carter Family

Country or Folk music had been in existence for many generations before it was first commercially recorded in the early 20th century. For many music historians, the "official" birth of country music happened in August 1927 when all-comers were welcomed to a demo session held by visionary record producer Ralph Peer in Bristol, Virginia. The Carter Family were amongst those who showed up dreaming of stardom and financial success. Alvin Carter, his wife Sara and her cousin Maybelle formed this most unlikely trio but their clean and professional style made a huge impression on Peer who signed them to the RCA Victor record label and also appointed himself publisher of their music, making a person

Tommy Sands, the Elvis prototype

When Colonel Tom Parker was fired by Eddy Arnold in 1953, he immediately started working with young hillbilly singer Tommy Sands. Aged just sixteen, he was already a eight-year showbusiness veteran and had sung on The Louisiana Hayride radio show and recorded a single for Freedom Records in Texas. Parker had high hopes for the boy and steered him towards RCA Victor Records in the hope that his long-term colleague, Steve Sholes, could produce some recording magic. This was the third time Parker had given a new singer to Steve Sholes ... and both of the previous artists had been notably unsuccessful. Over the next two years, Parker and RCA invested serious time and money in Tommy Sands, recogn

Elvis has left the building

During the early 1950s, Colonel Tom Parker was exclusively managing the hugely successful country singer Eddy Arnold. But Parker had become bored and part of him longed to get back to grass roots. He knew two useful guys out of Chicago, Al Dvorin and Tom Diskin: Dvorin ran his own talent agency and had done some work with Diskin, who managed the Dickens Sisters (part of the Eddy Arnold show) and just happened to be his siblings. In Diskin, Tom Parker recognised exactly the sort of man with whom he needed to work: short, wiry, well-spoken and polite -- indeed, he was almost the exact opposite of the Colonel and would be an ideal and complementary partner. They formed a small promotions and

Elvis Presley, quiet crusader

Throughout his long career, Elvis Presley's manager advised him to steer clear of any political or controversial subjects when being interviewed. In fact, Presley became the master of the non-interview, using charm, humour and self-deprecation to avoid tricky subjects, a talent later picked-up on by Dylan and The Beatles. As such, Presley was never able to publicly voice his thoughts on the issues of the day (the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, etc) but by examining the comments of his closest associates and carefully combing through newspaper archives, a picture emerges of a compassionate and intelligent man. His private life was peppered with examples of his passion for equality among the races

Colonel Tom's secret club

Above all things. Colonel Tom Parker loved "playing the game". By nature he was a practical joker and would happily spend $10 to con you out of $1. His most famous and long-standing joke was his own private club named The Snowmen's League of America, which was a pun on the real-life Showmen's League of America, a fraternal organisation for carnival, circus and outdoor entertainers which Parker himself joined just after the war. The pun centred on the word "Snow" which in common slang meant to pull the wool over someone's eyes or to pull a fast one without the victim realising, skills at which Parker was very adept, especially if it involved money. Although the private club was "imaginary", P

Tommy Durden at the crossroads

Tommy Durden was, by common consent, the nicest man you could ever meet. The youngest of ten children, born in Georgia, Tommy fell in love with music at a young age and, in particular, he adored the Gospel sounds coming from the black churches. From there it was just a short step to the blues. After the war, he determined that he would follow his heart and signed-up with a small travelling troupe of entertainers who subsequently dubbed themselves The Westernaires. A tall, gangly and gentle man, he gave his heart to one of his bandmates who soon became his wife. He occasionally wrote songs, often drawing upon his own experiences and emotions. Many of his compositions had a story behind them.

The first songbook

During the 1940s and 1950s, Songbook Folio sales were a regular part of a country musician's income. His publishers would print a selection of his popular hits in a booklet format which would be sold before shows and during the interval. Country superstar Roy Acuff, ever-enterprising, also had a nice little thing going with a mail-order system once he'd advertised his songbook over the airwaves. In mid-1955, Hill & Range music publishers, encouraged by would-be manager Colonel Tom Parker, were slowly edging their way towards the rising Elvis Presley, and they secured rights to produce Presley's own songbook as he made his way towards the big-time. Unfortunately, because Parker was not yet of

Marty Robbins, Tom's friend

Although we now think of it as a definitive Elvis recording, for most Southern listeners in 1955, "That's All Right" was a hit song for Marty Robbins, not Elvis Presley. Robbins recorded it in December 1954 after Elvis' ground-breaking debut Sun record release began to finally run out of steam. It was released on the mighty Columbia label early the following year and peaked at number 7 hit on the Billboard country music charts, ending a period of falling sales for the singer. Robbins had been in show-business since the beginning of the decade and was fascinated by stories of the Old West. He was also well-known to Colonel Tom Parker and owed him a mysterious debt of gratitude, and he played

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