Monday, July 5, 2004

50 years ago: Elvis Presley recorded “That’s All Right”

That’s All Right, Mama

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup

Writer(s): Arthur Crudup (see lyrics here)

Recorded: September 6, 1946

Released: March 1949

First Charted: --

Peak: 6 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 1.1 video, -- streaming

That’s All Right, Mama

Elvis Presley

Recorded: July 5, 1954

Released: July 19, 1954

First Charted: July 17, 2004

Peak: 3 UK, 31 AU, 4 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 0.5 US

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, -- video, -- streaming

Awards (Crudup):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Presley):

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“The foundation stone of rock ‘n’ roll was laid” TB on July 5, 1954. It marked the first commercial recording session for Elvis Presley at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. The future King of Rock and Roll had recorded a couple of double-sided acetates for his mother in ’53 and ’54 at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Services, costing him $3.98 each. The teenager born to a poor sharecropper in Tupelo, Mississippi, was “bullied at school. He wore strange clothes and kept to himself, only ever really getting close to his mother.” AH Phillips wasn’t enthralled but said “We might call you sometime.” TB

When that call came, the intent was an audition. He was backed by guitarist Scotty Moore and stand-up bassist Bill Black, who he met the night before. SS Elvis started off with a cover of “Harbor Lights” followed by roughly a dozen takes of “I Love You Because.” Phillips “heard something special in the kid’s voice, but the music just wasn’t happening.” SS

They were about to quit for the evening SS when Elvis started singing “That’s All Right, Mama,” a 1946 song by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. He was a country-blues guitarist born in the Mississippi delta who became a pioneer of electric guitar blues. The re-release of “Mama” in March 1949 was the first 45 rpm single released by RCA Victor. WK He started recording around 1941, but by the time Elvis recorded “That’s All Right,” Crudup had given up on music out of frustration in being cheated out of royalties. LW

“Black’s slapping bass and Moore’s country licks was a shotgun marriage for country & western and rhythm & blues, now known as rockabilly.” TB It wasn’t that it was “rebellious or its tempo particularly fast…The most impressive characteristic of ‘That’s All Right’ is the way Presley projects such complete drive with so little audible effort.” DM His vocal is “loose and free and full of confidence, holding it together.” SS He “sings with an assurance that is quite astonishing for someone so young, someone who had basically never performed before.” AH

Phillips “realized that something new and exciting was happening. He’d finally found what he’d been looking for: a white boy who could sing the blues.” TM A man of big ideas, Phillips was convinced he could end racism in the United States by getting people to listen to the music black people were making, even if it was sung by a white person. AH Elvis himself acknowledged that he wasn’t doing anything new. “The colored folk been singing it and playing it just the way I’m doin’ now, man, for more years than I know. Nobody paid it no mind till I goosed it up.” TB

By the next Thursday, Phillips got an acetate to Dewey Phillips (no relation to Sam), the hottest DJ in Memphis. When Dewey played it on the air, he got dozens of calls. It became a regional hit, reportedly selling 300,000 copies in the South, but didn’t take off nationally. SS Elvis was still a couple of years away from becoming the King.


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First posted 3/23/2023; last updated 8/23/2023.

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