‘Rhythm is something you either have, or you don't have, but when you have it, you have it all over.’
Elvis knew how to sell a story, and Colonel Parker knew how to sell Elvis. Parker started out as a carnival ‘barker’, but ran away from the circus when he was 18. He left his hometown in Holland, took work on a boat, and jumped ship in America. He travelled the country seeking work, survived the Great Depression on little more than $1 a week, and eventually made it as a music promoter in 1938. He enjoyed a few minor successes. Then in 1955 he met a young singer called Elvis Presley.1
In retrospect it's easy to assume that Elvis would always have made it big. He had great talent; but it takes more than talent to attract the attention of the whole country. It also takes great marketing. For Parker, making good records was only the start. In 1955, as Presley's new manager, he moved Elvis from the local Sun Records to the national RCA label. On the back of his first hit single Heartbreak Hotel, he arranged for Presley to appear on the enormously popular TV programme The Ed Sullivan Show. He secured a film contract with Paramount Pictures. He created a fanzine. He published Presley's life story. He made a deal with a leading movie merchandiser. When Presley's first film, Love Me Tender, was released in November, the accompanying single sold over one million copies in advance sales. In one year Elvis had graduated from being a local rumour ...