Childhood memories of Elvis; Alamo man's father was the first DJ to play the King's record on the radio
Jerry Phillips stands next to his 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with a gold record presented to his father, Dewey 'Daddy-O Dewey' Phillips. 'Daddy-O Dewey' was the first disc jockey to play an Elvis Presley record on the radio on July 10, 1954. / KENNETH CUMMINGS/The Jackson Sun
By David Thomas The Jackson Sun firstname.lastname@example.org
Jerry Phillips doesn't get as excited about the opening of dove season as he once did.
And he is not as patient as he once was while snagging a bass or catfish or whatever mistakes his lure for food.
"I don't like to sit and wait," Phillips said. "I like things that run or fly."
But Phillips enjoys a simple lifestyle, living in Alamo and working for Tate's Food Rite, which is a world away from what he remembers growing up in Memphis.
"My mother and father separated in 1963," Phillips said. "(Alamo) is my mother's home. I returned to Alamo in 1997 when my mother, who passed away in 2005, had a touch of dementia."
Phillips' father was Dewey Phillips, who played the first Elvis Presley song on the airwaves when he was a disc jockey at WHBQ Radio in Memphis.
"July 10, 1954, that's what all the history books say," Phillips said. "Daddy was the first to play an Elvis record ... the first man to play rhythm and blues or black music on a white radio station from 1949 to 1958."
WHBQ Radio was located in the Chisca Plaza Hotel when the music industry was forever changed. The station later moved to Highland Avenue.
"I think the Chisca was located on Main," Phillips said. "Daddy's show was the Red, Hot and Blue Show, and its advertising sold out for nine straight years."
Phillips recalled the show's main sponsor, Falstaff Beer, and the words his father used during the commercial. "Get that Falstaff beer," Phillips said. "If you can't drink it, just freeze it and eat it."
The first (Elvis) song Phillips' father played was recorded by Sam Phillips (no relation) at Sun Studios in Memphis.
Titled "That's All Right," Phillips said his father took a calculated risk playing the record. "Elvis was a different kind of singer," he said. "A white man singing black with a black sound."
After playing the song, Phillips said his father called Elvis to request an interview, but the King — who died Aug. 16, 1977 — balked.
"He was too shy to come to the station," he said. "Daddy got hold of Elvis' mama and daddy, and they went and got him at the theater, and Elvis told (Dewey) he didn't know what to say.
Dewey told him, "just don't say anything dirty."
With Elvis in the studio, Phillips said his father was credited with making a very smart move, considering Elvis arrived before the civil rights movement.
"He asked Elvis two times where he went to school," Phillips said. "And when he said Humes High School, everyone would know he was white, because Humes was an all-white school. He asked him twice, very smart, to get that out to the public."
The public could not get enough of a sound they had never heard before, and Phillips said his father played the song 12 times during his four-hour show.
Phillips and his family benefited from the relationship that developed between Elvis and his father.
"We were in and out of Graceland," Phillips said. "We always went to Graceland to go swimming, and Elvis came to our house on Perkins Road like someone coming to a barbecue. I was about 5 (years old) at the time, and if he had shows to do, he would come to the house and rest."
And Christmas was not just another day at the Phillips home.
"He was really good to us at Christmas," Phillips said. "It wasn't just one model car. It was five or six, and model airplanes, a pin ball machine.
"He bought my father a pool table."
But something that meant everything to Phillips was the appearance Elvis made at his father's funeral.
"When Daddy passed away, Elvis had just done the '68 Comeback Special," Phillips said. "Daddy died in September '68, and we didn't have a lot of money, so Elvis had him moved to the Memphis Funeral Home on Union."
Phillips said Elvis told his mother, "Miss Dot, I want to come, but I can't without a following." His mother told Elvis the family wanted him there.
"We were in the family area around the casket, and it was closed 15 minutes before the funeral," Phillips said. "Elvis, his wife Priscilla, his father Vernon, three other people — Red West, Sonny West and one other member of the Memphis Mafia — were there."
And that's when Phillips — who turns 60 in September — recalls his fondest moment.
"Elvis took me and my two brothers aside," Phillips said. "He told us, 'Boys, I may have made it big, but never without Mr. Dewey Phillips.'
"And Elvis took care of 'ole Dewey."
Phillips said Elvis was not in the public eye during the funeral service, but he sang two songs — "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" and "Peace in the Valley."
"The people thought it was a recording," Phillips said. "The second song came just before the service was over ... so they left so it would not be a big commotion. He was a genuinely caring person."
Things seemed to go from bad to worse for Phillips and his family after his father's passing. "Our house burned down three months after Daddy died," Phillips said. "(Elvis) was shooting a movie, and his father (Vernon) sent us money to help us out."
Phillips' father was raised in Adamsville and is laid to rest in Crump Cemetery, where his headstone reads "Daddy-O Dewey Phillips, the Heart of Rock-N-Roll."
"Daddy was a pioneer of rock and roll, and he and Elvis both lived to be 42," Phillips said. "But the best thing to say is that Elvis never forgot where he came from or the people who helped him."
'Elvis Week' Set to Commemorate 34th Anniversary of Music Legend's Death
In this photo taken March 25, 1961 and provided by the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Elvis Presley performs at the Bloch Arena on the Pearl Harbor Navel base in Honolulu, Hawaii. Fifty years ago, Elvis Presley helped raise money and bring attention to help build the USS Arizona Memorial. The King is being asked to deliver one more time. (AP Photo/ Word War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument
Published August 15, 2011
Elvis Presley fans are flocking to Memphis to prepare to honor the 34-year-anniversary of the death of the "King of Rock 'n Roll" Tuesday.
Every year, thousands of people arrive in Memphis from around the world to remember Elvis' death as part of "Elvis Week," which includes a candlelight vigil at the late singer's home, known as Graceland. But while the event doesn't take place until Tuesday, Aug. 16, by Monday morning, lines were already beginning to form.
This year also marks the 55th anniversary of the release of the first two Elvis albums. In just that first year, 1956, Elvis sold 10 million singles and 800,000 LPs.
But Elvis Week began a few days earlier this year with special recognition of the family who gave Elvis his style.
"My dad said, `Elvis would rather shop than eat,' " said Hal Lanksy, son of Bernard Lansky, the 84-year-old "Clothier to The King" who outfitted Elvis during his time in Memphis.
At noon Sunday, three generations of Lanskys -- Bernard, Hal, and Julie -- were recognized for influencing the fashion of "The King" and, in doing so, the fashion of rock-and-roll itself.
Over 200 fans -- some sporting the famous 1970s attire of Elvis -- gathered at 126 Beale, the original location of Lansky Bros. clothing, to see the unveiling of the historical marker. The event also featured local celebrities, such as George Klein and David Porter.
"I remember when (Elvis) first started out and he was singing with country shows," said Klein, 76, friend of Elvis."Guys came out with cowboy uniforms but Elvis came out with a black jacket, pink shirt and pink pants and he just stood out like a sore thumb."
Such fashion choices were a big departure from the 1950s' usual themes, Hal Lansky, 58, noted.
"Nobody wore black and pink ... but it (became) the color of the `50s, and we like to take credit for that," he said. "We like to take credit for Elvis wearing that color."