Hot Times In Florida (1955 / 1956)
By Ger Rijff
“The police filmed a show one time in Florida … they said ‘Man, he’s gotta be grazy!’ … so they, they … the police came out and they filmed the show … I couldn’t move, I had to stand still, the only thing I could move was my little finger …”
The ‘little finger-incident’ Elvis referred to during the ’68 NBC TV Special, happened in the city of Jacksonville. After his first of 6 shows in Jacksonville, Juvenile Court Judge Marion Gooding had told Elvis to tone down his stage act after many complaints from local church leaders and elderly citizens from a committee for good behaviour had reached Gooding’s office. The story went global after it had appeared in LIFE magazine, shortly after the incident had taken place. Elvis and the Colonel could not have wished for better publicity! Elvis and his wild gyrating performances were on everybody’s lips during the summer of ’56. While his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, a few weeks later, only added extra fuel!
It was in May of 1955, that Elvis, as part of Hank Snow’s All Star Jamboree package first played Florida. A love affair between the Memphis Flash and his Sunshine State fans was born!
During this tour Elvis, Scotty and Bill, performed two shows in Tampa at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. And they would return to Tampa on three more occasions in the following 15 months. Let’s travel back to the Armory and recapture the excitement of those hot times in 1955/56!
Elvis at the Armory:
May 8, 1955 (2 shows)
July 31, 1955 (2 shows)
February 19, 1956 (3 shows)
August 5, 1956 (2 shows)
It was in Tampa, two and a half months after Elvis’ first appearance, that William Robertson photographed Elvis on the same stage. One of the photos shot on this day (July 31, 1955) landed on the cover of Elvis’ first long play album Elvis Presley (LPM-1254). The very first rock ‘n’ roll album cover ever! Released in March of 1956, Rolling Stone magazine lists it as one of the all time ‘classic’ album covers ever made.
February and August of 1956, saw Elvis, this time headlining his own week-long Florida tours, back on the stage of the Armory for three performances on February 19, 1956 (image to the right) and two on August 5, 1956 (images to the left and below).
Here we have the back of the souvenir tour program that Elvis is signing (August 5, 1956).
There’s hardly a more fitting way to relive the excitement of Elvis on stage in the 50’s, than by observing the emotions displayed by his audience.
These five shots are from August 5th, and as far as I know these have never been published as such.
Similar, but different, pics (from the series focusing on this particular lovely lady) have appeared in The Cool King. And one of these five was used in Anne Rowe’s newspaper-article (though very heavily cropped).
Step into the timemachine, and let the pictures do the talking!
Before his first appearance that day at the Armory, Anne Rowe, reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, had a lenghty interview with Elvis. That is, if you can still call it an ‘objective view’ since the interview-subject was continuously charming the hell out of Mrs. Rowe! Well, I guess she didn’t really mind.
The next day (August 6, 1956) Elvis was in Lakeland, FL.
In these pics we see him checking out Anne Rowe’s fullpage article in the St. Petersburg Times that was published that day.
Needless to say, and unlike most of the articles written about him at this stage of his career, the female reporter gave him two thumbs up, claiming “Presley is the biggest thing in show business today”.
To round up this trip back to the 50’s, and to do it in style, with our sincere thanks to James V. Roy for making the following possible, we would like to present some THEN & NOW comparisons.
The modernday pictures were taken by James a few years ago, and they make it even easier for us to travel back in time since nothing much seems to has changed in the past 55 years.
In this picture we mainly see the back of the Armory.
The side-entrance can be seen to the right.
This photo provides a good view of the side of the building, in front of which Bob Moreland took most of the outdoor shots in that summer of 1956.
The side-entrance. We can clearly recognize the ornaments on the wall that are visible in the ’56 shots were Elvis is signing the souvenir program and also in some of the pics with Anne Rowe.
Next to the side-entrance we find these garagedoors.
In August ’56, this was the spot where Elvis had parked his brandnew Lincoln Continental.
In the back of this indoor shot, we see the railing that is visible in the original photo of the 1st album-cover (July 1955) and especially in the other action photo from that day.
During Elvis’ later gigs at the Armory, there were no behind-the-stage-seats, and in the ’56 live shots we can see the drapes that are now hanging from this railing.
For more info on the Florida ’56 tour, please click this link:
DOWN IN THE ALLEY (FLORIDA, 1956)
Photography by BOB MORELAND and WILLIAM ROBERTSON.
Armory location photographs in color by JAMES V. ROY .
That’s Bitsy Mott, Bill and Gene with Elvis checking out the Lincoln in the then and now section.
I should add, I took these pictures when on a work trip to Tampa years ago when the venue section on Scotty’s site was still only small. Scotty had recently retired and the site was winding down. I had only planned to do a few pages and then Ger sent me a lot of his materials and things from his collection which motivated me to keep it going. He’s been a great contributor as many of you know to Scotty’s site and I’m honored to see my pics presented among these others so creatively artistic as Ger and Bob have done here. Keep up the fantastic efforts guys.
As always guys – excellent research & thanks for sharing.
Absolutely wonderful!! Love the then & now photo’s. Is the building still there today?
Awesome, thanks again.
Paul, they had plans to convert the area into a sort of gated community while leaving the Armory as sort of a museumish type thing incorporated into their plan. I don’t think it ever evolved or know what the current status is but I believe its still there. See http://scottymoore.net/FtHomer.html
What a treat to be on holiday and find this great researched and indepth article here on Echoes Of The Past. (Where else?) Thanks Ger and James for this great, great read. Lovely to see the building has survived the decades. It gives me goosebumps to see the building in its current state as photographed by JamesVRoy.
The May ’55 tour was the occasion of the first EAP riot, spontaneous or not is debatable, after EAP slipped in a “Girls, I’ll see you backstage” at the end of his show.
According to Patricia Jobe Pierce, riots like this inspired Tennessee Williams to write Orpheus Descending, in which a god has the power to calm wild beasts with his songs only to be later torn to pieces by the same beasts.
Another winner, Ger!
A fantastic piece of Elvis history.
Fantastic!! It’s a time machine
Fantastic text and photos, love seeing then and now photos of backdrops to iconic pics….keep keeping the legacy alive.
SCOTTY and CARL reminisce…
A beautiful professionally filmed interview with Scotty and
Carl Perkins, reminiscing about Elvis in the early days,
for all to enjoy:
It runs for nearly 10 minutes. Check it out!
Indeed, very nice to watch these two gentle gentlemen talk about the very early beginnings! They were not only there when it started, but they were actually part of it.
I had the pleasure of meeting Carl Perkins in 1994, after a show (during which he kept on talking about two main subjects: God and Elvis), and he was so incredibly nice and friendly, just a most humble and down to earth guy. When it was time for him to step inside his waiting bus, I asked him to sign an album that I had brought, and after he noticed it was The Million Dollar Quartet, he said “that session was so nice, I’m gonna sign it twice!”. And he signed both the front and the back. A great guy!
Watching that video, Carl comes across as a really genuine and sincere guy, no bullshit. RIP Carl.
Hey guys, just noticed the photo you have as Feb. 19, ’56. I think this photo is actually from May 55 and that’s his 54 Caddy that burned up the following month. The roof of the replacement Caddy was still black in February of 56 I believe and he’s wearing the same clothes I have on my page from May.
I guess you’re right, James. There’s this photo of him, same sportscoat
and floppy quiff, with a girl on his side dated as May 1955. Thanks for
correcting my mistake.
No sweat Ger, its all part of the process.
Would you believe it’s 25 years ago we published the book “Elvis The Cool King”!? A photo journal of Elvis playing dates in Florida.
Check out what I’m doing, Elvis-wise, these days:
GER RIJFF ON FACEBOOK
Cool King, cool work… Great work guys, and thank you for keeping the 50`s Elvis alive. Plenty of jumpsuits around….
Cool photos from 56.
September 1955 was the year I was born, and also the birth of Rock & Roll!!!!
Ger Rijff was one of the coolest cats ever to land on Earth.
His knowledge and enthusiam about rock and roll were unmatched, quite literally.
Thanks for everything, Ger. It’s been a honour to share this planet with you.
Ger was one of the most difficult persons to work with but he did some amazing stuff back in the Eighties. He set the standard for many publishers to come. A very talented and gifted person.
I’ll never forget you, thanks man.
A privilege to have known you, RIP Ger.
It was an honour to work on so many projects with Ger. His no-bullshit approach and his unwillingness to suffer fools gladly is something we both shared. Rest easy, brother.
Nice tribute, he’s missed.
Great work and nice pictures. Very thorough info too. Elvis fans appreciate it.
Ger’s work will never be forgotten. His kind of work will never be matched. I still remember the excitement whenever a Rijff book was coming our way. Great memories.
This article was wonderful. The pictures are breathtaking of Elvis when he was so young. The articles along with the pictures I cannot express how much I enjoyed them. Than you very much from an Elvis fan forever!