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 us travel back to the Armory and recapture the excitement from those wild times in 1955/56!
Elvis at the Armory:
1955, May 8 (2 shows)
1955, July 31 (2 shows)
1956, February 19 (3 shows)
1956, August 5 (2 shows)
And it was here in Tampa, two and a half months after Elvis’ first appearance, photographer William Robertson captured Elvis and the boys in action 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 the next year, Elvis this time headlining his own week-long Florida tours, saw him back on stage at the Armory for three performances on February 19, 1956 and two performances on the 5th of August, 1956.
To the right: Elvis outside the Armory in February.
To the left and below: on stage in August.
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”.
The next day, Elvis was scheduled to perform in St. Petersburg, FL.
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.
To the right the side-entrance can also be seen.
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 orginal photo of the 1st album-cover (July 1955) and especially in the other action photo from that day.
During his 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 regarding 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 .