"My Summer Vacation"

Recently, when the Shorpy Historical Photo site was posting some unpublished photos by Phillip Harrington, Michael Rabens commented about how his father had toured with Elvis in 1956 and wondered about the existence of a photo.  I contacted him, sent him several possibilities and as a result got to speak with his father and am happy to tell his story:

In August of 1956 Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ performed their last tour in Florida, with a final stop in New Orleans, before Elvis began making movies.  It marked the end of two years of almost continuous touring. Since May of that year they toured with, and were opened by variety style acts booked by Al Dvorin from Chicago.  The backing orchestras were also supplied by Dvorin and on this tour at least were all recruited in Chicago.

Scotty, DJ, Elvis and Bill with tour orchestra onstage in Miami - Aug. 1956
Photo by Charles Trainor courtesy Art Photo Expo

Seymour Rabens of Chicago has been playing the clarinet for over 70 years, and the saxophone for about 68 years. He received his bachelor's degree in music education from Roosevelt College in January of 1952 and later served in the U.S. Army during the Korean war where he played clarinet with the 5th Army band. His clarinet was a Buffet made in 1936 that he bought used along with a Selmer alto sax in 1950. While in the Army he bought an old tenor tax, an Evette-Schaeffer, which was a second line of Buffet. He was discharged in December of 1954 and attended Northwestern University in Evanston, IL on the G.I. bill where he received his masters degree in music in June of 1956.

Scotty, Elvis, Bill and DJ with tour orchestra onstage in Miami - Aug. 1956
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff

Finishing his course load early, he began teaching in January of 1956 and playing professionally on the weekends. He was teaching 8th grade at the Gale Elementary School in Chicago when, at age 27, during the summer vacation he was recommended by his friend Bob Erickson to complete the seven piece band put together by Al Dvorin for Elvis' August 1956 tour. Bob was one of the two alto sax players in the band and they needed a tenor. With Seymour and Bob the seven piece band was comprised of one piano, one drummer, two alto saxophones, one tenor saxophone and two trumpets. The band leader was one of the trumpet players. Seymour said the band drove down together in two cars, straight to Miami from Chicago in 24 hours.

Scotty, Elvis and tour orchestra piano player and drummer onstage in Miami - Aug. 1956
source Cristi Dragomir

Al wasn't on the tour but he remembers that the Colonel was. He remembers especially the Colonel riding up and down the beach in Daytona advertising the show with a horn as if they needed to. He remembers Elvis backstage a lot and him coming in through an alley. Though more interested in jazz at the time he wasn't really a fan of Elvis or his music but remembers one time in particular that he sat down at the piano to jam with the band. It didn't go too well he said but they liked Elvis and thought he was very polite and congenial.

Elvis in the wings in Jacksonville watching tour orchestra and opening acts - Aug. 1956
Photo Jay B. Leviton courtesy Ger Rijff's Elvis Close-up

He doesn't recall exactly what they were paid but said it wasn't a lot. Of the tour, Jacksonville stands out in his mind. He tells of how, the (Duvall County) Sheriff of Jacksonville came into the theatre before the show and said to Col. Parker, "if Elvis moves anything below the waist, I'm closing the show."

The tour dates and venues (click for detail):
August 3, 4  - The Olympia Theater Miami, FL (7 shows in 2 days)
August 5  - Fort Homer Hesterly Armory Tampa, FL (1 matinee and 1 evening)
August 6  - The Polk Theater Lakeland, FL (1 matinee and 2 evening)
August 7  - The Florida Theatre St, Petersburg, FL (1 matinee and 2 evening)
August 8  - The Municipal Auditorium Orlando, FL (2 shows)
August 9  - The Peabody Auditorium Daytona Beach, FL (2 shows)
August 10, 11  - The Florida Theater Jacksonville, FL (1 matinee and 2 evening each day)
August 12  - The Municipal Auditorium New Orleans, FL (1 matinee and 1 evening)

At some dates on the tour they remained onstage while Elvis performed after backing the opening acts while on others the curtains were drawn and no instruments except the piano were visible onstage. He remembers that the band would play exit music when Elvis finished and left the stage for the alley where a car with his "cousins" was waiting for him at the end of the show. He also recollects at times playing behind the screen when a movie preceded a show and has recollections of viewing a short of Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock from the back.

Elvis leaves the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville - Aug. 1956
Photo Jay B. Leviton courtesy Ger Rijff's Elvis Close-up

In some cities the local unions would require that visiting bands would have to hire the same number of local musicians to augment the band if they wanted to perform. This he remembers was the case in New Orleans on the tour and the local band leader suggested they all play some Dixie for the crowd while waiting for the show to open so they played Muskrat Ramble. Laughingly he recalled that didn't go too well either and the leader asked why they didn't say they didn't know it before they played it.

Seymour with the Fifth Army Band reunion held in August of 2011 on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. The musicians are all veterans of the Korean and Vietnam. Seymour is playing the same clarinet he had in Florida in 1956.

Photo courtesy Seymour Rabens

That was the only time he worked for Dvorin but he remembers him being in the audience at one of his later gigs. He later took extramural classes from the University of Illinois, qualifying for principal by 1967. In all he spent 19 years teaching for the Chicago Public School system and then another 19 as a principal of the Louisa May Alcott Elementary School there. He has been retired since 1993. He still has and plays most of the same instruments though he traded the tenor sax he used on the tour for a Selmer in 1958. He still plays out regularly, most recently as a member of the Dick Elliot Orchestra where they play big band music, though he said most of their gigs now are for senior centers. Occasionally they introduce Seymour for a solo and mention that he toured with Elvis in 1956. They then play a rendition of Love Me Tender.

Seymour (with Elvis) at a '50s party at the North Shore Retirement home in Evanston, IL - February 2013
Photo courtesy Seymour Rabens

Seymour said he regrets not ever taking a picture with Elvis although there were numerous opportunities as we were backstage with him before every show. He never saw any pictures of himself and any from the tour either until I sent him some. He said, I could not find my picture in any of the photos except the one with the magician and a trumpet player and a saxophone player on either side of him. THAT SAXOPHONE PLAYER IS ME!

Phil Marquin backed by tour orchestra in New Orleans with Seymour Rabens on sax on right - Aug. 12, 1956
Photo Jay B. Leviton courtesy Ger Rijff's Elvis Close-up

When school resumed in September, 1956, I asked my class the usual question: "What did you do this summer that was special?" Then they asked me the same question, and when I told them that I played with Elvis, the response was, "OH YEAH!" And I had no proof that I really did. So now, if anyone doubts that I did, thanks to you, I have photographic proof.

page added March 27, 2013

Special thanks to Michael Rabens and Seymour Rabens for their assistance with this page.


All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

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