As everyone knows, 2007 was the thirtieth anniversary of Elvis' death. The hullabaloo surrounding this particular anniversary is likely to mask another significant anniversary and one which offers fans the chance to celebrate one of Elvis's greatest assets: his on-stage performing ability. Fifty years ago, in 1957, Elvis Presley undertook his last live performances of the 1950s, with tours that took him to eighteen major cities in the USA and Canada. He played twenty-eight concerts, with a total audience of over a quarter of a million people. He was at the pinnacle of his career and would soon be pulled away to perform in a very different fashion for the US military.
Right: On stage in Seattle, September 1, 1957. One of 19 photos in Elvis 57: The Final Fifties Tours. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, Museum of History & Industry)
Books that examine Elvis' concerts tend to concentrate on those of the 1970s. In "Elvis 57: The Final Fifties Tours," however, author Alan Hanson provides a detailed look at the three tours that provided those twenty-eight concerts. Furthermore, he does so with style. Hanson is a retired teacher of history, English and journalism, and is an Elvis fan to boot—it is difficult to imagine a better combination of qualifications for writing such a book. The result is a well written and engrossing narrative, full of detail and interest, that should please any Elvis fan.
Hanson begins his book with a brief look at the context of the tours, examining Elvis's career at the time and the reasons for the tours. Then it's into a chapter by chapter look at each stop along the tours. Again, context is important and Hanson provides plenty of background information in each chapter: the anticipation of the local population, often negative towards Elvis; contemporary press quotes; fans' activities; promotion; ticket sale arrangements, and so on. Each concert is then studied, often with information being provided about the acts that preceded Elvis in the "Elvis Presley Show" (usually including, believe it or not, jugglers and tap-dancers!), seat prices, press conferences and, more importantly for the Elvis fan, the clothes he wore, the songs he sang (just how many times did he sing "Fools Hall Of Fame" and did he ever record it?) and the way in which Elvis performed and how his performance was received by his largely adoring audience. Again, the narrative is backed up by contemporary reports and more recent reminiscences of those who were actually present, including fans, performers and local disk-jockeys.
Hanson is not afraid to correct some widely-held beliefs, either: the concerts were not all sell-outs as is often stated, some promoters probably lost money, and Parker was all too willing to inflate figures of all sorts in his wily attempts to promote his product.
In addition to the chapters specifically about the concert stops, several others look at related issues: the two-day train journey at the start of the Pacific Northwest tour in August 1957; the split with Scotty Moore and Bill Black; Parker's machinations. Finally, Hanson closes with an examination of the long-term impact and historical and cultural significance of the 1957 tours and Elvis in general.
"Elvis 57: The Final Fifties Tours" is propped full of information and anecdotes, much of which was new to me. It is also illustrated with 18 black-and-white photographs, few of which have previously been published in book form. Just one of these photos is poorly printed; it is a US Army photo showing Elvis performing during his very last concert of the 1950s, held at the Conroy Boxing Bowl, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, on 11 November, 1957. Given the quality of the other photos in the book, I suspect the cause of the poor reproduction is the original photo itself. Given the paucity of information about this show, however (it was not covered by the main Hawaii newspapers and only one brief review of it, which appeared in the barracks' newspaper three days later, is known to exist), the photo is a real gem.
Contrary to what one might think, given the number of titles available, it is not easy to get a book about Elvis published. Publishers seem to be interested only in those books by recognised names in the Elvis world, often providing redundant information, or rehashes of the biography, replete with the usual errors. Well researched and well written books are sadly few and far between (Marc Hendrickx has been trying for several years to get a publisher interested in the English translation of his excellent "Elvis A. Presley: Muziek, Mens, Mythe," perhaps the best general Elvis biography available, so far without success). Alan Hanson has therefore chosen to self-publish his work through iUniverse, but don't be put off by the resulting lack of advertising hype and promotion: "Elvis 57: The Final Fifties Tours" is one of the best Elvis books in many a year and deserves to gain the full support of all Elvis fans.
Buy it; you will not be disappointed.
© David Neale, August 2007
"'Elvis 57: The Final Fifties Tours' is one of the best Elvis books in many a year and deserves to gain the full support of all Elvis fans."