Rob Grayson

Host - Morning Edition

My heroes have always been disc jockeys. I especially admired the ones who could take the canvas of the fourteen-second intro of a teeny-bopper song and paint a masterpiece.  From my youth, I strove to emulate them.  I had the good fortune to walk in some of their footsteps, albeit a respectful pace behind. 

The Mississippi Delta in the 70's was a great place to begin a career in radio.  My first after-school job was doing the afternoon shift at an easy-listening FM in my hometown of Greenville at age 14. 

George Klein brought me to Memphis, and WHBQ, in 1976.  Most of the ensuing time has been spent in the general Memphis radio community, and producing and engineering at Wilkerson Sound Studios. 

I landed on the WKNO doorstep in 2001, and am tickled that they continue to let me show up here every morning. 

Ways to Connect

Worlds collided in 1965 when the Beatles, on tour in the states, had a meeting with Elvis Presley in LA. But other than memories and conflicting stories about what did and didn’t occur…

John Lennon: “We all plugged in what was ever around and we all played and sang.”

George Harrison: “I never jammed with Elvis at all.”

Paul McCartney: “No.”

…no tangible record of the event exists; no pictures, no film, no tape. The moment which held so much potential was logged as a disappointment in the journals of both camps.

The story, as I understand it, can be summed up in these two parables, noted by Chris Davis in the Memphis Flyer in 2006. At the peak of their popularity in 1964, British duo Peter And Gordon played a gig in Chicago. At the time, they held the top spot nationwide with their song “A World Without Love.” Travis Wammack, who grew up in Memphis, was a young guitarist in the touring band, and also had a single on the charts. Before the concert, Wammack took a call from legendary WLS DJ Art Roberts. Art wanted to make sure that Travis would play his song, called “Scratchy,” that night.

In 1964, British invaders did, with guitars, drums and hair, what their 1812 predecessors with bayonets, guns and war ships couldn't. They laid siege to the hearts and minds of the colonists, and took charge of a great part of commerce. And this time they didn't have to burn down the White House.

If you’re one of those who has to find organization in the midst of chaos, you could divide the history of Hi Records into roughly three parts, defined by three artists. The first would be marked by the instrumental hits, primarily recorded by either the Bill Black Combo or Ace Cannon. The third, and most commercially successful period, was the run of hits by Al Green in the early 70’s. But in between, the man who bridged those dissimilar chapters would step out from behind the board to the other side of the glass, and be the star on his share of hits from the 60’s.

In 1964, as the nation’s record charts were awash with British product ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, the Memphis recording scene was hanging in there. When you look at the Billboard chart from April 4, 1964, The Beatles had the top five songs in the US. The following week, the 11th, 14 of the 100 spots were taken up with Beatle songs released on five different labels. But a closer look at that chart brings up some old familiar names.

One of the few false starts in the meteoric rise of Elvis Presley’s early entertainment career was an ill-fated run in Las Vegas in 1956. Elvis, Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D.J. Fontana spent two weeks trying to light a fire under a stodgy bunch of middle-aged gamesters. Even this fortnight drubbing displayed a silver lining, as an enthusiastic throng mobbed a special Saturday teenage matinee performance. This pointed to the demographic which would make up the sold-out shows when Presley returned in earnest to become the hottest ticket in town from 1969 through the end of his career.

Many Memphis teenagers greeted the dawn on Sunday, February 4, 1964, with their future sights set on being athletes, astronauts, or accountants. The event they shared that evening would move these goals to the back burner as things switched over to plan “B.” For most, this new obsession would last a couple of weeks; for others, a couple of years; but for a few, it would never end. The sea-change quantum-shift of paradigms began with one television appearance, the debut of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, and would be fueled locally by adjustments made to another TV show.

The Patty Duke Show premiered on TV in September of 1963, in which the actress played the dual role of twin-like “identical” cousins. At the same time, Elvis Presley was working on Kissin’ Cousins, a movie with a similar plot twist. In order to keep a lid on expenses, Colonel Tom Parker ordered the soundtrack work to be recorded in Nashville this time, instead of Hollywood. The title track to the film would be Presley’s next single, making it to number 12 in early ‘64, as Elvis waded ankle-deep into the rising tide of what would be known as the British Invasion.

Fun In Acapulco Via Rio

Mar 13, 2012

Col. Tom Parker didn’t want Elvis Presley to leave the country. Parker cited security nightmares and instability abroad. Folks who have researched it also figure the Colonel originally came to the states illegally under dark circumstances, cemented his place here by enlisting in the armed services under a fake name, and might have had trouble getting back in should he leave the US. Whatever the back story, this turn of events turned the movie Fun In Acapulco into, more or less, watching someone else on film having fun in Acapulco while Elvis himself had fun on the Paramount back lot. At this point in time, Presley’s movie soundtrack albums were outselling his regular studio albums, and this soundtrack did yield a top 10 single,  “Bossa Nova Baby.”

Have you ever had a song running through your head and it just wouldn’t go away? Rufus Thomas had that problem, exacerbated by the fact that the song was one he needed to record, and the studio at Stax, where he recorded, was out of order. When he finally did get around to moving the song out of his mind and over to a record, the resulting single would be his biggest, but would also send his career to the dogs.