MEMPHIS PRESS-SCIMITAR, Tuesday, November 22, 1955

Memphis Singer Presley Signed By
RCA-Victor for Recording Work

By ROBERT JOHNSON, Press-Scimitar Staff Writer

  Elvis Presley, 20, Memphis recording star and entertainer who zoomed into bigtime and the big money almost overnight, has been released from his contract with Sun Record Co. of Memphis and will record exclusively for RCA-Victor, it was announced by Sam C. Phillips, Sun president.

At 20, an RCA-Victor contract, growing fame, and a pink Cadillac.

  Phillips and RCA officials did not reveal terms, but said the money involved is probably the highest ever paid for a contract release for a country-western recording artist.
  "I feel Elvis is one of the most talented youngsters today," Phillips said, "and by releasing his contract to RCA-Victor we will give him the opportunity of entering the largest organization of its kind in the world, so his talents can be given the fullest opportunity."

Handled by Parker
  Negotiations were handled by Col. Tom Parker of Hank Snow-Jamboree Attractions, Madison, Tenn.; Bob Neal, Presley's personal manager, and Coleman Tiley III of RCA-Victor.
  Elvis Presley Music, a publishing firm. has been set up to handle much of Presley's music, in conjunction with Hill and Range Music. Inc., New York City.
  Bob Neal, WMPS personality, continues as Presley's manager and will handle his personal appearances and other activities, but Hank Snow-Jamboree Attractions will handle Presley enterprises in radio, TV, movies and theaters.
  Also taking part in negotiations were Hank Snow himself, RCA-Victor's longest-term western star; Sam Esgro, RCA-Victor regional sales manager; Ben Starr of Hill and Range Music, and Jim Crudgington, local RCA-Victor representative.
  Presley, who lived in Tupelo, Miss., until he was 14 and is a graduate of Humes High, is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Presley, 462 Alabama.
  Phillips---signed him for Sun Records after Presley wandered in one day and wanted to have a recording made at his own expense.

Best-Seller, Fast
  His first record. "That's All Right, Mama" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky," hit the best-seller lists immediately after release in July of last year and both Billboard and Cashbox, trade journals, named him most promising western-star. He became a regular on Louisiana Hayride on CBS. His newest record, "Mystery Train" and "I Forgot to Remember," is his best-seller so. far. Both songs were written bye Stan Kesler and Charlie Feathers a Memphis team. Tony Arden has just recorded "I Forgot to Remember" for Victor, and Peewee King's latest is also a Kesler-Feathers composition.
  All five Presley records have made the best-seller list.
  Presley's "Mystery Train" is being played by pop disk jockeys as well as c&w in the east.
Sun has 10 country-western artists remaining on its label, including Johnny Cash and a newcomer, Carl Perkins of Bemis, Tenn., who writes his own music and who is causing a stir. This week Sun brings out a new feminine vocalist, Maggie Sue Wimberley, of Florence, Ala., with songs by another Memphis composing team, Bill Cantrell and Quentin Claunch, who wrote a previous substantial country-western hit, "Day Dreaming."

courtesy Memphis Public Library

First RCA Contract for Elvis
The Terms

the Colonel, Gladys, Elvis and Vernon Presley, H. Coleman Tily III, Elvis and Bob Neal at Sun - Nov. 21, 1955
Photo © EPE Inc.(?)

On October 20, 1955, while Elvis, Scotty and Bill were performing in Cleveland for deejay Bill Randle, the Colonel accelerated negotiations for Elvis' recording contract getting Elvis' parents to sign papers granting him "sole and exclusive" right of representation with respect to "all negotiations" for a new recording contract and on October 24, he contacted Sam Phillips, demanding his best price. Sam later called him in New York and told him $35,000 for the contract plus an additional $5,000 for Elvis' back royalties. On the 28th RCA informed the Colonel that the highest they would go would be $25,000.

Bob Neal, Sam Phillips, H. Coleman Tily III, Elvis and the Colonel at Sun - Nov. 21, 1955
Photo © EPE Inc.(?) courtesy FECC/otto

Sam would not be moved and they agreed that as of October 31st the Colonel would have two weeks, until November 15th, to make a $5,000 non refundable deposit to keep the offer open on the sale as agreed and then until December 1st to raise the $35,000. On November 15th, the last day possible, RCA singles division manager W. W. (Bill) Bullock, reluctantly agreed to the price and Parker sent him, Sam, the $5,000 from his bank in Madison.

Jim Crudgington, Elvis and H. Coleman Tily III at Sun - Nov. 21, 1955
Photo © EPE Inc.(?) courtesy FECC/otto

The contract was written up on that day, the 15th but the deal was not finalized until the 21st, almost a week later in Memphis at Sun. In addition to Sam, Bob Neal, the Colonel and Elvis with his parents who would be needed to sign, in attendance that day from RCA were Steve Sholes, H. Coleman Tily III, RCA's legal representative, local RCA distributor Jim Crudgington, and regional representative Sam Esgro along with Ben Starr of Hill and Range, Hank Snow and Tom Diskin, though not necessarily at Sun. Diskin was the Colonel’s assistant at Jamboree Attractions and at that time not on the best of terms with Sam.

Replica copy of Elvis' first recording contract with RCA, written Nov. 15, 1955, signed on Nov. 21, 1955
Photos © James V. Roy

November 15, 1955

Mr. Elvis Presley
c/o Colonel Tom Parker
Madison, Tennessee

Dear Mr. Presley

1. This contract for your personal services is made between Radio Corporation of America (RCA Victor Record Division) as the employer and you. We hereby employ you to render personal services and you agree to render such services for us for the purpose of recording and making phonograph records.

2. Recording will be made at recording sessions in our studios, at mutually agreeable times. A minimum of eight (8) record sides shall be recorded each year during the term of this contract, and additional recordings shall be made at our election. The musical compositions to be recorded shall be subject to our approval as satisfactory for manufacture and sale. We shall at all times have complete control of the services to be rendered by you under specifications of this contract.

3. If, during the term of this contract, the minimum number of record sides stated above are not made, then either you or we may elect to extend this contract for a period not in excess of six (6) months; provided, however, that if the failure to make said minimum number of sides is due to the fault of either party hereto, such party shall not have such election. Notice of the election to extend the contract pursuant hereto shall be given the other party not less than ten (10) days prior to the expiration of the term of this contract. In the event such election is not exercised by the party entitled to do so, then neither party hereto shall be liable to the other for failure to make said minimum number of record sides. In the event the making of recordings and/or the manufacturing of records is curtailed, suspended, stopped, or otherwise adversely affected by government actions, war, strike, flood, or similar cause beyond our control, we shall have the right to reduce the record sides to be recorded as specified in section 2 above proportionately in relation to the length of time such conditions shall remain in effect.

4. (a) for the rights herein granted and for the services to be rendered hereunder by you, we shall pay you a royalty of 5% of the retail list prices of records in the country of manufacture of 90% of all double-faced records manufactured and sold on both faces of which are embodied any of the selections recorded hereunder.; and one-half the respective amounts of such royalty for 90% of all records manufactured and sold on only one face of which is embodied a selection recorded hereunder. Royalties for records sold outside of the United States of America are to be computed in the national currency of the country where the retail list prices above mentioned apply, and are to be payable only with respect to records for which we receive payment in the United States of America, in dollar equivalents at the rate of exchange at the time we receive payment in the United States of America.
    (b) Within fourteen (14) days after approval of each record side we will pay for the services of accompanying musicians, vocalists, arrangers and copyists, at the rate of union scale, and such payments shall be charged against your royalties.
    (c) In order for us to obtain the assignment of your recording contract with sun records and for us to acquire title to the master records recorded by you for Sun Records, we have paid the sum of $35,000. and such payment will be charged as an advance against one-half (½) of the royalties provided for in this agreement, or any extension thereof, and in your agreement with Sun Records with respect to records already recorded by you thereunder and subsequently released by us.
    (d) Upon the execution of this agreement we shall make to you a bonus payment of Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) which shall not be recoupable by us out of royalties or otherwise.

5. Payment of accrued royalties accompanied by statements shall be made semi-annually, on the first day of May for the period ending February 28, and on the first day of November for the period ending august 31, in each year. However, we shall have the right to deduct from the amount of royalties due any advance royalties previously paid.

6. In the event that a new medium shall be used for reproductions of your recording hereunder or of your recordings heretofore made, we will pay you a royalty based on the retail list price of each unit sold. The rate of such royalty shall be determined by the applicable agreements between us relating to the making of such recordings.

7. During the term of this contract you will not perform for the purpose of making phonograph records for any person other than us. You will not at any time manufacture, distribute or sell or authorize or knowingly permit the manufacture, distribution or sale by anyone other than us of phonograph records or any other device for home use embodying
    (a) any performance rendered by you during the period of this agreement or any prior agreements between us or
    (b) any performance rendered by you within five (5) years after the expiration of the period of this agreement of a composition which shall have been recorded pursuant to this agreement.
You will not record, or authorize, or knowingly permit to recorded for any purpose any such performances without in each case taking reasonable measure to prevent the manufacture, distribution or sales at any time by any person other than us of phonograph records and other devices for home use embodying such performance. Specifically without limiting the generality of the foregoing, you agree that 
    (a) if, during the period of this agreement, you perform any composition for the purpose of (1) making electrical transcriptions, (2) for radio or television or (3) for sound tracks for motion picture files or
    (b) if, within five (5) years after the expiration of the period of this agreement, you perform for any such purpose any composition which shall have been recorded pursuant to this agreement, you will do so only pursuant to a written contract containing an express provision that neither such performance nor any recording thereof, will be used, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of making phonograph records or any other device for home use. You will, at our request, cooperate fully with us in any controversy which may arise or litigation which may be brought relating to our rights under this paragraph.

8. all recordings and all records an reproductions made therefrom together with the performances embodied therein, shall be entirely our property, free of any claims whatsoever by you or any person deriving any rights or interests from you. without limitation of the foregoing, we shall have the right to make records or other reproductions of the performances embodied in such recordings by any method now or hereafter known, and to sell and deal in the same under any trade-marks or trade names or labels designed by us, or we may at our election refrain therefrom.

9. We shall have the right to use and to allow others to use your name, facsimile signature and likeness and your biographical material for advertising and purposes of trade, in connection with the phonograph records made pursuant to this agreement. You agree that during the term of this agreement you will not permit or authorize anyone other than us to use your name, signature or likeness in connection with the making, advertising or marketing of any phonograph records, phonographs, tape recorders, radio or television receivers, combinations thereof, or similar music reproducing equipment.

10. the terms of this agreement shall be three (3) years beginning     November 21st, 1955   .

11. In the event you record a musical selection in which you have an interest, direct or indirect, in the copyright; the copyright royalty payable on such selection shall be 1½ ¢ per selection. We will not pay any copyright royalty on a Public domain selection, recorded by you, in which you have a direct or indirect interest in the copyrighted arrangement.

12. The standard provisions of our RCA AFM Form No. 1-55 are incorporated herein by reference.

13. you hereby agree that each year during the term of this agreement, at RCA's request, you will make at least ten (10) personal appearance performances, including but not limited to television and radio performances, for the purpose of promoting the sale of your recordings, at such time and place as RCA may select, provided the times selected do not conflict with any of your prior contractual commitments; for which RCA shall pay you at least appropriate Union scale plus necessary expenses determined by RCA.

14. You grant us two (2) successive options to renew this contract for periods of one (1) year each upon all the terms and conditions herein contained. Such renewal periods commence at the expiration of the term of this contract, unless it shall have been extended, in which event it shall commence at the latest expiration date of any such extension. Such options may be exercised by written notice mailed to you not later than ten (10) days prior to the expiration of the term of this contract or any extension thereof.

Please sign all copies of this agreement and return them to us. One executed copy will be returned for your files.

Very truly yours,


By         H. Coleman Tily III          


  Elvis Presley                                 
Elvis Presley

  Vernon Presley                             
                            Father and Natural Guardian
Col Tom Parker Rep

On the same day, Elvis signed another contract with the Colonel which named him "only" and essentially replaced the one signed the previous August. They also signed "a long-time exclusive writing pact" with Hill and Range setting up a separate publishing firm, Elvis Presley Music, Inc. Oddly enough, Ben Starr of Hill and Range had been meeting with Sam Phillips only weeks before regarding the Elvis Presley songbook and licensing of the Sun catalog in Europe, all while Cleveland's Bill Randle was in negotiation with Hill and Range to start a talent management company for their own interests in Elvis.

replica of receipt for signing bonus(es) on Hotel Peabody stationary - Nov. 21, 1955
Photo © James V. Roy

According to Peter Guralnick, as the result of a co-publishing arrangement that the Colonel had entered into with Hill and Range Elvis would now receive half of the two-cent statutory mechanical fee and half of the two-cent broadcast fee on all new Hill and Range compositions that he recorded, which would be registered through his own publishing company. If at this point he were to start writing songs as well, or, perhaps more pertinently, if he were to start claiming songwriting credit for songs he recorded, a practice going back to time immemorial in the recording industry, he could increase his income by up to another two cents per side. Hill and Range, meanwhile, stood to gain an almost incalculable advantage over their competitors in the field by securing not just an inside track, but what amounted to virtually a right of first refusal from the hottest new singing sensation in the country.

Tom Diskin, Jim Crudgington, The Col., Elvis, Hank Snow, Bob Neal, H. Coleman Tily III and Sam Esgro - Nov. 21, 1955
Photo © EPE Inc.(?), courtesy Erik Lorentzen

The purchase price for Elvis' contract was $35,000.00, which is what was paid by RCA to Sam Phillips as specified, beyond the initial $5,000 deposit which Tom Parker had made (and for which he was reimbursed). Presumably, the $5,000 represented the back royalties that Phillips owed Elvis. Beyond that, RCA and Hill and Range kicked in an additional $6,000 total as a signing bonus for the artist. This was paid to Parker, who deducted a 25 percent commission, which he split, after expenses, with Bob Neal. It has been speculated for years that Hill and Range put up a substantial amount of the purchase price itself, up to $15.000, but nothing has been found either in the contract or in the negotiations that led up to it to confirm that arrangement, nor has anyone Peter has spoken to confirmed it from a position of knowledge. At the same time it remains a logical possibility.

Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis, Bob Neal and Hank Snow at the Peabody Hotel - Nov. 21, 1955
Photo © EPE Inc.(?)

Back at the Peabody Elvis received $4,500 which was his part of the $6,000 signing bonus. Add to that the $5,000 he received from Sam for the back royalties and his immediate take for the ordeal that day was $9,500 and a red Nipper neck tie. Scotty and Bill got nothing out of the sale, no part of any of the recordings they played on at Sun or entitlement to any from the catalog that RCA had acquired, not even a tie. Billboard magazine did however mention that Sholes planned to keep the same backing to Elvis on rhythm guitar (Scotty, Bill and DJ), and the new contract stipulated that accompanying musicians would be paid union scale for sessions, the cost of which would be recouped from Elvis' royalties.  At five percent, it was two more than the three he was to "receive" from Sun. Sam was required also to turn over all existing tapes and recordings of Elvis and to stop all sale and distribution of any by the end of the year.

Hank Snow and Elvis at the Peabody Hotel - Nov. 21, 1955
Photo © EPE Inc.(?) courtesy Ger Rijff''s Long Lonely Highway

With the selling, the Colonel had been promised at least three guest appearances for Elvis on television, which led to the Dorsey Brothers' Stageshow appearances. Though the group would share several dates with Hank Snow over the next few months, Jamboree Attractions, strangely enough a company started by Tom Diskin, was eventually dissolved. The contract with the Colonel signed that day named him, exclusively. As Peter Guralnick wrote, Hank Snow would never see a dime from this and it would take almost six months for him to fully realize it.

page added August 25, 2013
promoted September 5, 2013

The original contract, sold by EPE at auction in 1999
Photos © Heritage Auctions, added Dec. 10, 2013

The COA sold with original contract by EPE at auction in 1999
Photos © Heritage Auctions, added Dec. 10, 2013

Much of the information presented here is quoted or condensed from Peter Guralnick in Last Train to Memphis, and also according to Scotty Moore and Jim Dickinson in That's Alright Elvis and the Nov. 21st contracts themselves.  Special thanks to Peter Guralnick who when consulted was at work on his new book about Sam Phillips and coincidentally and fortuitously at the point where Sam is just about to sell Elvis' contract!

An example of an RCA neck tie (not Elvis'), manufactured by the Hampton Hall men's apparel company
Photos courtesy Etsy


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