When he was about six years old, he began to notice the
sounds in his head. Music, that’s what it was, music
which had been created in the Mississippi delta.
His mamma used to hum what her taciturn husband called
“nigger music”, she also liked to wiggle her
ample posterior in time to the beat in her head. He heard
the music all the time, it consumed him all day long, and
even in bed he couldn’t shake it off. He got a job
learning to be an electrician, but something was pulling
at him, getting stronger, he quit, and started to drive
a truck, this was better, he was working on his own mainly
and could listen to the music.
His guitar and piano skills were improving, and there was
something raw and new about his voice, he was gaining a
reputation at local fairs, the girls were smitten with him,
and he was real lucky he didn’t get himself, or any
of them into trouble!
He was dressing in a way that his peers thought was sissy,
he had to defend his manhood on a few occasions, nobody
thought that his wild clothes and singing would get him
anywhere. His dad, moody at the best of times barely acknowledged
his talent, but his mamma encouraged and even boasted to
the neighbours that her boy would make it big one day.
He was very conscious of their poverty, they had had to
do a moonlight flit on a couple of occasions. He was determined
to change their situation one way or another. His love for
his mamma was deep and unconditional, he felt she deserved
better than she was receiving, his papa was a difficult
individual, he was also of old southern culture, he had
no time for black people, and felt they should know their
place, life had hardened him, and he was just surviving
day to day, the best way he could.
One morning after dropping off his delivery, the music
in his head reached a crescendo, he pulled over in front
of a Memphis recording studio. Nervously he approached the
lady manning the desk, would it be possible he wondered,
to make a little recording for his mamma’s birthday?
The receptionist, who was old enough to be his grandmother,
had a funny feeling, there was something about the overly
handsome young man, but she couldn’t figure out what
made her think that. She explained the procedure, took his
two bucks and left him too it. She was returning to her
desk, when he started to sing, a slow melancholy song, full
of hidden meaning. When he returned to thank her, clutching
his freshly pressed acetate, he asked him his name, she
invited him to return later that week, and talk to the boss,
she thought the boss might be interested in recording him.
In the meantime, he got a gig on a well known country hoe-down,
his stage antics were now the talk of the county, his voice
had gotten more raw and powerful, the girls were mesmerised,
a few close buddies had to body-guard him off the stage
now, due to hostile boy-friends.
The recording studio boss was intrigued, session musicians
were brought in, several tracks were laid down, copies were
sent to the local radio stations, and air-play increased
dramatically after the stations were bombarded with calls,
mainly from hysterical females. Moral issues raised their
heads, this was after all mid 1950’s America, TV stations
refused to show-case him, but it was a losing battle, how
could they keep him off the air?
The records began to sell in their millions, his name,
once known only to Memphians, was now on every ones lips
across the world, he had stepped on to a roller coaster,
which would not stop for over 20 years, but right to the
end, he remained essentially that little boy with sounds
in his head.