According to wikipedia, Amory was the first planned city
in Mississippi. The Kansas City, Memphis & Birmingham Railroad needed a
mid-point between Memphis, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama for their
locomotives, and they laid out the new town of Amory in 1887. People
from nearby Cotton Gin Port on the Tombigbee River abandoned their town
and moved to Amory.
The Old Armory at
101 9th St S, Amory, MS
Photo courtesy Terry Thornton
The National Guard Armory on 9th Street South in Amory was
planned around 1937 as part of the Works Project Administration (WPA). It was one of four
similar armories designed by Jackson, MS architect, N.W. Overstreet and built
around the same time in Aberdeen, Starkville and Meadville.
Amory's was built to replace the first armory, located on North Main St. In the pre-skyscraper age, the local
armories were usually one of the largest buildings in town. The Guard needed secure storage space for weapons and
equipment, and big enough to train 600 to 1,000 members.1
The armory was completed by 1941.
Sometime in the fall of 1955, Carl and Johnny shared a
bill at the Armory in Amory. It was
reputedly on this show that Johnny suggested that Carl write a song
based on a phrase he had heard. Cash told Perkins of a black airman whom
he had met when serving in the military in Germany. He had referred to
his military regulation air shoes as "blue suede shoes." Cash suggested
that Carl write a song about the shoes. Carl replied, "I don't know
anything about shoes. How can I write a song about shoes?" 2
Marshall Grant, Luther Perkins and Johnny Cash
Photo courtesy web
While playing in Jackson, Tennessee several nights later, he
saw a dancer in the crowd trying to keep his girlfriend away from his
new blue suede shoes, which connected with the idea that Cash had given him
and leads his writing lyrics and subsequently he and his brothers
worked up an arrangement.3
In 1955 Elvis, Scotty, and Bill shared several dates
with Carl Perkins and also Johnny Cash. There were only a few
occasions where they all performed on the same bill. According to
Peter Guralnick in Elvis Day by Day, all three acts shared the bill on
either December 12th or 13th at the National Guard Armory in Amory, just
days before Carl would audition the song for Sam
Phillips and cut it at Sun.4
According to Bill E. Burk, the
show was booked by Bobby Ritter, a dee jay
for WTUP in Tupelo, who also reputedly booked Elvis for others shows in
Mississippi, including Bruce and Tupelo.
“He (Elvis) was always late on stage, it seemed," said
"On those nights when he would arrive late, Bob Neal and I would go on
stage. Bob would be the comedian and I the straight man and we tried to
keep the folks entertained until Elvis got there, but they didn’t want
to hear us." 5
Clayton, Carl and Jay Perkins -
Photo by Jay Harrington's mom courtesy Rockabilly Hall of Fame
Bill wrote that Carl Perkins remembers the Amory
Perkins and Elvis had driven to Amory together from a concert the night
before in Helena, Arkansas. En route, they were discussing music and
both mentioned how much they liked singing the song, Only You, made
popular by the Platters.
During his time on the Amory stage, someone in the audience shouted,
"Only You, Carl."
"You got it, hoss," Carl snapped back, and sang his version of the song.
Perkins had the house jumping and they weren't ready for him to leave
the stage when the time came.
Backstage, Perkins found Elvis sitting, head in hands, shutting out the
"You feelin' okay?" he asked Elvis.
"Aw, ain’t no need in me goin' on," Elvis replied. "They’re ready for
you. What’d you do Only You for?"
Challenged, Perkins snapped, "’Cause I wanted to. ‘Cause I can sing it.
There’s two reasons. You want another one?"
“Well, I was gonna do it," Elvis told his fellow Sun partner.
"Well, go on out there and do it," Perkins commanded.
"Hell, the Platters are singin' it somewhere tonight."
"I ain't that big a damn fool,” a sulking Elvis said. "I ain’t goin’ out
there and sing something you done sung. You done tore ’em all to pieces.
I might as well go on to the car. "
Ritter and a partner had seen this interplay. Ritter made a five dollar
bet, that despite the audience’s reaction to Perkins, Elvis would come
out the crowd winner at the end.
"Walking toward the stage, Elvis asked me what we had been talking
about," said Ritter. "I told him about the bet."
When Elvis walked on, the crowd was still shouting "We want Carl! We
Elvis, said Ritter, seemed to become overly motivated.
"He went wild. He sang, he was all over that stage. He was down on his
knees. He was attacking that guitar.
"And it wasn’t long before he had 'em eatin' outta his hands!"
When he re-entered the backstage area, Elvis winked at Ritter and said,
"Go get your five dollars!" 5
By this time, Elvis had signed with RCA and the concert in Amory would be the last time the three acts would
appear together. It's likely though, that Carl may have misremembered several
of the details. Elvis hadn't performed in Helena since March of
that year but they would share a date in Helena
days later, on the 15th.
Elvis performing Blue Suede Shoes on February 11, 1956
Carl recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" at Sun on December 19, 1955 and
it was released on
January 1, 1956. It would become Sun Records first national hit. Elvis would record a cover
version and first perform the song on national TV on February 11, 1956 during his
third Dorsey Brothers' Stageshow
April 1956 Carl's version finally topped most charts. Although it spent almost five months on Billboard's country and pop charts, it
excluded from the number one position by "Heartbreak Hotel." By early May
both Perkins and Sun Records had logged their first million-seller.3
Steve Sholes of RCA chose the song for Elvis and the
boys' first session in New York. Elvis had been reluctant to steal the hit from Carl and
according to Scotty, begged off after a few takes saying he didn't think
they could improve on the original. Sholes agreed not to release their version as a single
while Carl's version was still hot and the song was released with the
first LP in March.6
In regard to Elvis covering the
song, Sam has said, “Carl was in a car wreck on the way to do a TV show (the Perry Como Show) and couldn't tour. Elvis did a cover and had a hit with it bringing in money Carl would have never seen from royalties."
The royalties from the Elvis version gave Carl the money he needed during his
recovery. He pointed out that in hindsight people think that the Elvis version overshadowed Perkins version. The fact is, Perkins version gave Sun Records their first national hit, selling over a million copies and giving them the cash flow they needed at the time. Perkins took
“Blue Suede Shoes” to the top of the country charts and #2 on the pop charts. Elvis’ version (on RCA) stalled at #20 on the pop charts. But the royalties from the Elvis version gave Carl the money he needed during his
Both Elvis and Johnny would eventually go on to individual
stardom but Carl, though an inspiration and legend to many and well
respected by his peers, never reached the heights he hoped or expected. He
continued to play and record the rest of his life. Scotty and he would record
together years later on several occasions and at times get together
In April of 1975, plans were made for a new armory on Highway 25 North
with anticipated completion of construction 13-14 months after. For
many years the Mississippi National Guard's 198th Tank Battalion used the concrete 9th Street facility for its
training and headquarters prior to relocating to their new facility. The old armory
then reverted to the city of Amory.8
The building has had various uses since the Guard left
it, from voter polling places to justice court offices and courtroom to use of the gymnasium for building parade floats and holding church yard
sales and prom nights. The roof has some new leaks, the gym's
hardwood floor is buckled in place and some upper windows are broken
out, but because the building is now designated a historic landmark,
Amory's third, no construction, renovation or preservation efforts can
be undertaken without a permit from the
Mississippi Department of
Archives and History.1
At least one person in attendance at Amory, Terry Thornton, a high
school junior from Monroe County, remembered seeing the show
and years later wrote the following:
Elvis Presley in the Hill Country: Concert at Amory
by Terry Thornton
I saw Elvis perform at a concert in
Monroe County, Mississippi --- and got in for free!
My earliest recollection of Elvis Presley (who grew up in East Tupelo
near the Hill Country of northeast Mississippi) was from the 1950s.
Several of my friends from Parham and Hatley had seen him and had heard
him sing and thought him the best thing since sliced bread. I didn't
know what or who they were talking about.
But all that changed in 1955 for me.
During my junior year 1955-56 at Hatley School [east of Amory], Monroe
County, our class play, a comedy, was to run for two performances. We,
the cast and crew, worked hard getting that play up and running and had
a great fun at rehearsal. The two nights for the performance were
selected weeks or maybe months in advance. Even back then placing
school-sanctioned events on the school
calendar had to be coordinated with the administrative offices well in
Our two big days were approved and we then advertised our play dates. If
I remember correctly, those dates were in the fall of 1955.
A few days before our play was to begin its two-day run, posters begin
to appear around Amory and maybe even one or two of the printed
announcements showed up in Hatley. Elvis Presley and a group of other
hillbilly music singers were going to do a show at the National Guard
Armory Building (now called the Old Armory) in Amory. Elvis if I
remember correctly was not the head-line act. Johnny Cash who was on the
program if I remember correctly was not the head-line act either. Carl
Perkins was the main attraction.
Several of my friends, especially the girls I knew, were in a
"twit" that Elvis was coming to Amory. Word spread rapidly
that the former Tupelo boy was coming again to Amory to sing. Heck, I
didn't know that he had been there before.
The first night of our school play was well attended. The auditorium was
packed. We said our lines well and the crowd laughed when they were
supposed to. We looked forward to our final performance the next
Next evening came but the auditorium was nearly empty. A few loyal
mothers and fathers and grandparents of the crew and cast showed up
along with a few favorite aunts and uncles. But the house was
"thin" to say the least. We were disappointed because we had
hoped for a second big crowd to help raise money for our junior-senior
trip later that school year.
Word circulated rapidly backstage that everybody at Hatley had gone to
see Carl Perkins in Amory. His song Blue Suede Shoes was a huge hit.
We finished our final performance to our limited audience. Backstage a
group of us guys decided as soon as we could get out of the costumes and
makeup we had on for the play and into our regular clothes (penny
loafers with a real penny inserted on the flap, blue jeans with rolled
up cuffs, and button-up shirts and dark-blue corduroy jackets emblazed
with Hatley FFA Club on the back) that we would go to Amory four miles
away and check out what was going on at the National Guard Armory.
Finding a place to park at the armory was difficult. Cars were parked
everywhere. There was even a big new Cadillac convertible with a trailer
hitched behind it pulled up on the lawn of the armory. We later were
told that this was Johnny Cash's car and that the trailer was used to
haul the performers' instruments. But I don't really know which of the
performers owned the car.
We walked into the lobby about 10:00 P.M. The ticket office was closed
but there was an usher at the door. He waved us over and said for us to
go on in. Because it was so late, they had already stopped selling
So the one time I got to see Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl
Perkins, I saw them for free! And at the time, free was as high a price
as I thought anyone would pay to see Elvis, from Tupelo but moved to
Our gang entered the armory hall and found seats high up on the south
bleacher-style seats. The seating on the floor was still pretty much
full of the paying crowd. The area in front of the stage was packed with
all of the girls from Monroe County --- and they were squealing and
gawking at a person on the stage plucking on a guitar and singing.
It was Elvis.
I had to be told.
Elvis would hit a cord or two on his guitar, wiggle a joint or two, and
snarl. The girls would scream. Then Elvis would do it all over again
only wiggling the other side of his body. More screaming. He would sing
but I don't have a clue what he was singing because the screaming was
louder. Then he stopped singing and the wiggling gradually stopped ---
and he then hit a cord so loud that he popped a guitar string.
That broken string was a clue for the girls to scream even louder. The
music got faster and so did the wiggling. Elvis finished that set and
went back stage. A whole gaggle of girls rushed to the door leading to
that backstage area and went rushing backstage to be with Elvis.
I don't have any notion of what kind of musician Elvis was based upon
that first and only time of seeing him perform live. He could not be
heard for the screamers!
I can't remember which performer came next but when he finished to great
applause, Elvis reappeared with a new set of guitar strings. He started
another song and again the screaming drowned him out. Then he broke one
of his new guitar strings! Louder screaming! And then a few cords later
he broke a second of his new guitar strings! The screaming was keening
at this point. And later he broke a third string much to the delight of
the screamers who were jumping up and down right in front of the stage.
We left before the performance was over. On our ride back to Hatley it
was the consensus of the group of five guys in the car that the kid from
Tupelo wasn't much. He couldn't play a guitar without breaking the
strings. We knew. We had our own hillbilly band and in all the
performances and in all the rehearsals, nobody had ever broken a string.
Our lead guitar player commented that he bet he could "break a
string" while playing his guitar too. He said could take a file and
before he went on stage, file down a string. Then while playing, to make
sure he plucked it really hard. That would break it. And then he
wondered aloud why should he do something like that?
Little did we know. By the following year, Elvis was recording and
making movies and appearing on national television. His appearance on
the Ed Sullivan Show in the fall of 1956 was probably watched by
everybody with a television set in the hill country of east Monroe
Country even if it was on a church night.
I don't think us guys ever got what it was about Elvis. I will always
remember seeing him for free in Monroe County and thinking that he would
never do well in the music business.
Little did I know about Elvis.
Little do I know about what causes girls to scream.