Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Failing is Not a Reason to Give Up

Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys were a pretty new item on the music market in 1954. Their rockabilly style, mixing country, blues and gospel music together, was new, too. As a result, it required an open-minded person to accept these new styles and not be offended by them. And America in the 50’s was a very easy place to offend people.

Back in those days, the Grand Ole Opry was the largest country show in the United States. Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records and Elvis’s contract, got the Blue Moon Boys a gig at the Grand Ole Opry, a very unusual stroke of luck for a group so young. They were excited. They were unheard of and now they were on one of the greatest shows in the U.S.

But things didn’t go quite as planned. Apparently the country element of rockabilly wasn’t large enough for the conservative country crowd. The crowd did not respond well to the show put on by the boys and the talent producer of the show told Elvis afterwards that he should go back to driving trucks. Ouch.

The Blue Moon Boys weren’t done yet, though. The Louisiana Hayride was also running at this time and, though not as big as the Grand Ole Opry, it was more open-minded. When Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys showed on their show, they were a big hit and returned many times afterwards. Taking the advice of that Talent Producer at the Grand Ole Opry could have destroyed a perfectly good career because Elvis and his band didn’t fit into that shows niche.

Later, Elvis, now managed by Colonel Parker and working for RCA, went onto the Milton Berle show to play a couple songs. He finished with a crowd favourite, a cover of Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog”. Elvis’s version is much more upbeat and rock ‘n’ rolling. Then it would go into a slow section where Elvis would shake his body to the music and get the crowd going wild. The music of the show is fine. The clip is even good and nowadays most people would smile with Elvis’s energetic movements, but not America back in 1956. Some people were so offended, they wanted to have Elvis banned.

The newspapers tore the Mississippi kid apart. But the Colonel got Elvis on the Steve Allen show, a big show similar to David Letterman’s show nowadays. Allen brought Elvis on after a “he’s learnt his lesson” speech. Elvis was further humiliated by singing “Hound Dog”, the song that had got him in trouble, to a real hound, a moment he would say to the end of his life was his most embarrassing moment.

Working through his imminent failure had done him a favour; Steve Allen’s show beat Ed Sullivan’s show in the ratings that night. Sullivan, known for showing the latest cutting edge acts of the day, was flabbergasted and wanted to get the boy who had outdone him that night on his show.

Elvis was booked for a performance which has since become a legendary moment in that show’s history. Sullivan called Elvis, “a very nice boy” and Elvis’s career was safe and back on track again. Elvis returned to the Sullivan show for a further two, unforgettable performances.

Elvis was still not immune to failure; Elvis and his boys were offered a four week engagement down in Las Vegas. But after a couple weeks of bad reception from the conservative audience, who expected entertainment on the line of Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra, Elvis’s group cut their stay short and left casino town. However well he was doing in the charts, Elvis could not guarantee the love of older fans as well.

Fast forward thirteen years to 1969: Elvis has done his ’68 comeback special and has had his biggest selling hit with “Suspicious Minds”. Elvis wants to return to touring and the Colonel has once again booked him in Las Vegas at the International, later the Hilton, Hotel. It’s hard to imagine the thoughts going through Elvis’s mind. This was the town which had seen one of his greatest flops when he was a national sensation. Now he was still making a comeback. His whole concert tour career might hinge on the success of these shows. What would happen if he failed again, even after the changes of time, and he had to cut his tour down, again?

But times had changed and so had people’s opinions. When Elvis performed in Las Vegas, all these years later, he was warmly received. So warmly that a documentary film Elvis –That’s the Way it Is was done through MGM showing Elvis during that first year back in Vegas. Elvis continued to play successfully at the Hilton until the end of his life and is still associated with that famed hotel in Vegas.

Elvis’s Lessons:

Ø Failing is not a reason to give up. Not everyone will dig your style. Take what you can learn from a situation and move on, continuing to do your best. Who knows, maybe next time you try you’ll be successful.

Ø Given different changes and after being altered by the pass of time, situations that once turned out in failure can be turned around to create success. Elvis could do it in Las Vegas, so can you do it in your life.

P.S. If you're interested in seeing Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, this is a clip from his first appearance:

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