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Reflections: Jimmie Rodgers, Elvis and Me

reflectionsheadernosponsorcroppedEnjoy our “Reflections” post — one of many vignettes and stories featuring memories of days gone by. This installment is from David H. McBride, a Laurel, Mississippi native, who currently resides in Senatobia, Mississippi, and writes frequently for “The Oxford So and So.” 
If you would like to contribute your own Reflections story, send it, along with photos, to hottytoddynews@gmail.com.


The 14th day of July, 1952 was a milestone in my young life. I turned 15 years old that day. Just after breakfast, and after the usual Happy Birthday greetings, and a gift of some sort, most likely a shirt or a new pair of blue jeans, my father instructed me to put on a nice shirt, comb my hair and come with him, as we were going to get me a driver’s license.
I had been driving for at least a year, albeit with no license; so off we go to downtown Laurel. The driver’s license office was on the back side of the Civic Center, on Ellisville Blvd. The state trooper who manned the little office greeted my father by name, and said, “what can I do for you?”
Pointing to me, my father said, “My son turned 15 today, and he needs to take over as the family errand boy. I have been teaching him to drive, and he is a calm good driver.”
The trooper handed me a little booklet of about six pages and said, ”Read this.”
When I finished, he gave me a little test on what I had read, then we went outside to the car and drove around the block and parked at the curb, went back inside, and he wrote out a paper driver’s license card.
I was a legal driver and the official errand boy for the McBride family, Mother to work, Granny to the drug store and beauty shop, my older sister to all sorts of social events (even though two years older, she could never cope with the cranky old stick shift Ford), younger brother to Boy Scouts, etc., younger sister to ballet lessons, etc. I was one happy teenager, with a full schedule of trips every day.
Having a radio in our car was very important to teenagers in the ’50s. There were several radio stations in the Laurel-Hattiesburg area, (this was before the advent of FM Radio), so we could twirl the dial and find our favorite station. The local stations all went off the air about 10 or 10:30 p.m., then the real stations came on the airwaves, 50,000 watt clear channel stations blasting all over the South, playing the beginnings of Rock and Roll, WLAC Nashville (always the favorite) WLS Chicago, KWKH Shreveport La. KAAY Little Rock Ar. And best of all XERF, the voice of Del Rio Texas, which was so powerful, they had to move it across the border into Via Acunia, Mexico. But still broadcast as Del Rio Texas, these stations played the music we wanted to hear, Rock and Roll, mostly black artists. The local stations would not play any black artists; so we had to wait till ‘late nite’ to hear our music, Big Joe Turner, The great Johnny Ace, Ivory Joe Hunter, Little Richard, Chuck Berrry, Fats Domino, Ike Turners band with Jackie Brenston singing ”Rocket 88” was the first real Rock and Roll song. 
But then in July of 1954, the real deal burst upon the scene, uninvited and unannounced, Elvis Presley hit like a tornado, a wild-eyed, twisting, howling, monster: every parent’s worst nightmare… hips swiveling, Royal Crown Pomaded, a nightmare to all good staid church-going folks, sounding like a wild man, flailing around, hair flying singing and playing “That’s all Right Momma” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
We were done in. We were sold. Our Moses had arrived.
In early May, 1955, I graduated from high school and had a few days to loaf before going to work for the summer, when one of my buddies pops up with a handout flyer telling about the third annual “Jimmie Rodgers Memorial celebration” on May 25 and 26 in Meridian, Mississippi, honoring the “Father of Country Music” the great Jimmie Rodgers.
“Ok, but why do I care?” Was my flippant reply. 
“Look,” my pal pointed down the page, Elvis Presley will be there and play at the American legion Hall that night. 
Wow. He had my full attention. Wednesday the 25 is a Barbecue with Elvis playing that night, Thursday the 26 is a parade, and Elvis will play at the Junior College Stadium later. I was sold, since Meridian is only about 60 something miles up highway 11 North, and I had made the trip several times, and it was an easy one-and-a-half hour trip. 
We began making plans, three of my buddies wanted to go so we split the gas four ways, and I took my 1950 Ford, and early Wednesday morning headed out.
After an uneventful trip, we found the area where the celebration was held; however, so had 10,000 other people. 
All the barbecue was sold before we got any; so we settled for a Coke and a pack of nabs for lunch, but as luck would have it, we wound up close to where Elvis and his group was hanging out. 
Elvis had on a Gold Lame’ suit (which matched his Gold Cadillac) with a gold lame’ tie and white buck shoes. His hair was slicked down and combed over to the side. I was surprised that he and I were about the same height, approximately six foot.
I had thought he was taller. He had several zits on his face. I guess at age 19 that was not unusual, but I had thought he would be perfect. 
Later, we went to the American Legion Hall for the show. Elvis put on a great show, did encore after encore, did “Baby lets Play house,” “I’m Left, You’re Right, Shes Gone,” “Milkcow Blues Boogie,” “You’re a Heartbreaker” and many others. 
We stayed till the last encore, and straggled out, vowing to be back the next day for the noontime parade.
The next day, a girl I had been trying to get a date with, showed up at a friends house; and after some conversation, agreed to go out with me. So, I called my pals and canceled the Meridian trip. I rationalized that Elvis might be a flash in the pan, and I could see him around most anytime I chose, and he would always be available to his local fans. Oh well, shows what I know about the career of a world-class entertainer. The next time I got to see Elvis in person was at the Hilton International in Las Vegas, and cost several hundreds of dollars instead of the $1 I paid at the door of the American Legion Hall in Meridian, Mississippi at the “Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Celebration” on May 25 of 1955.
Later, I learned that 60,000 people showed up in Meridian on Thursday the 26 for the Parade and show.


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