The Memphis Sound
Thu November 10, 2011
Back In The States, Stuck On Top
Elvis Presley’s first record sold one copy, and he was the one who bought it. In the summer of 1953, when the teen-aged Elvis drove up to 706 Union Avenue and finally worked up the nerve to go inside, the lady who greeted him at the front desk at Memphis Recording Service was Marion Keisker. Marion had been a radio personality at WREC in the 40’s, where she met Sam Phillips, then joined him in the adventure of starting and running a recording studio. Marion gave Elvis the rates for making a simple recording, $3.98 plus tax, then oversaw his first foray into fame. As Ms Keisker cut Elvis to acetate, waxing his repertoire of “My Happiness“ and “That‘s When Your Heartaches Begin,” she heard a little something there. She ran a tape to play later for Sam, making herself a note which said “Good ballad singer, Hold.”
There should be a special place in rock history for Marion Keisker. I would let her share the alcove with Jim Foy. I’ll tell you more about him in a minute.
Although it took a year before anything tangible came from it, Marion’s hunch was validated to the point that nearly sixty years later we are still here talking about it. Six months after his first one, Elvis cut a second one-off record, but in the summer of 1954, his third single had advance sales of 6,000 before the ink even dried on the labels.
Following Presley’s departure for RCA, Marion and Elvis parted ways, but would have a most interesting reunion. In March, 1960, when Elvis was getting ready to leave the Army, the Armed Forces Radio and Television folks in Germany put together a going-away press conference. In charge of the send-off was Captain MacInness, or should I say Captain Marion Keisker MacInness. She had also left Sun behind for a new career, and once again wound up in the right place at the right time to be a part of the Presley story.
Back stateside, RCA couldn’t get Elvis in front of a microphone soon enough, and advance orders in excess of one-and-a-quarter million of whatever-his-first-single-turned-out-to-be fuelled the fever. March 20, 1960, Presley was back in studio B in Nashville and cut six tunes. “Stuck On You” rose to the top, and gave Elvis his first post-Army number one, and writer Aaron Schroder his second ace in a row. The entourage moved to Miami for a March 26th ABC-TV special which cast a tuxedoed Elvis and Frank Sinatra each riffing on the other’s big tunes.
Oh, back to Jim Foy. He was sort of the Marion Keisker in the history of the Beatles. Before they made it big, their manager, Brian Epstein, secured them an audition with Decca Records. Decca had one open spot for one new group, and narrowed it down to two bands. They actually passed on the Beatles in favor of Brian Poole and the Tremoloes, mainly because they were a local London band and the Beatles were from all the way up north in Liverpool. Somewhere in the annals of bad business decisions rests the rejection letter which stated “Guitar groups are on their way out, Mr. Epstein”. Undaunted, the manager took that Decca audition tape from label to label trying to win the Beatles a contract, but with no takers. A business acquaintance suggested that Brian take the tape to EMI engineer Jim Foy to press it to record, which would make it easier to carry around and leave copies. Foy listened as he transferred the tape, and once again, heard that little something. He got Epstein in touch with a publisher, who got him in touch with Parlophone Records head George Martin, who went on to sign The Beatles and produce their million-selling records for the next eight years.
As Marion Keisker and Jim Foy could attest, the secret to success is to be in the right place at the right time with your ears on.