How Elvis Became a Guitar Man

Walking into Tupelo Hardware, I wondered how Elvis Presley felt when his mother Gladys took him there for his eleventh birthday, on January 8, 1946.

It wasn’t too long after his very first public performance, singing “Old Shep” at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair children’s talent competition the previous October 3rd.

October 3, 1945

Forrest L. Bobo, was working at the hardware store and remembered Elvis “wanted a 22 cal. rifle and his mother wanted him to buy a guitar.”

“I showed him the rifle first and then I got the guitar for him to look at,” Bobo wrote in 1979. “I put a wood box behind the showcase and let him play with the guitar for some time.”

Today, an X marks the spot where Elvis made the transaction. It was nice to stand and ponder how that location changed history.

“X” marks the spot.
Photo: Jack Dennis

“Then he said that he did not have that much money, which was only $7.75 plus 2% sales tax. His mother told him that if he would buy the guitar instead of the rifle, she would pay the difference for him.”

“The papers have said that the guitar cost $12.50 but at that time you could have bought a real nice one that amount. The small amount of money that he had to spend had been earned by running errands and doing small jobs for people.”

Elvis has pure raw talent and passion, but he needed help developing his musical gifts.

Enter Frank Smith. Local pastor, neighbor and guitar picker.

Smith would always remain humble about how much credit to take for teaching Elvis guitar.

“I would show him some runs and different chords (D, A and E) from what he was learning in his book. That was all: not enough to say I taught him how to play, but I helped him.”

“That was all.” What a striking reflection.

How many people played guitar within a three mile radius of the Presley house in East Tupelo in the mid-1940s? We’ll never know.

Here’s the better question. How many people took the time to teach a younger musician what they knew about playing guitar?

We know at least one did, and his name was Frank Smith.

One mentor’s “that was all” may be another person’s “that was everything.”

Elvis Entertainment History

Texans Jack & Dodie View All →

Raised in San Antonio, Jack Dennis’ early experiences were as a newspaper reporter and private investigator. With a Texas State University bachelor’s degree, Jack studied journalism, education and psychology. He was the founding vice-president of Sigma Delta Chi, the Association of Professional Journalists at the University. Jack has received numerous awards, including Investigative Reporter of the Year from Rocky Mountain Press Association, David Ashworth Community Award, and Leadership in Management.
Some of the people and groups Jack has interviewed include:
Music
Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, George Strait, Roy Orbison, Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler, Freddie Mercury, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Loggins, Jackson Browne, Steve Wariner, Tanya Tucker, Scotty Moore, Fats Domino, Patty Page, Tommy Roe, Emmy Lou Harris, Johnny Rivers, Charly McClain, Kinky Friedman, John McFee, Guy Allison & Patrick Simmons (Doobie Brothers) , Randy Bachman (BTO), Jim Messina, Todd Rundgren, Alvin Lee, Gary Puckett, The Ventures, Freddy Cannon, Augie Meyer, Christopher Cross, Whiskey Myers, Sha Na Na (John “Bowzer” Baumann), Flash Cadillac, Jerry Scheff, John Wilkinson, Darrell McCall, and more.
Politicians & News
George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, Greg Abbott, Rudolph Giuliani, Larry King, Jack Anderson, Tom Bradley, Connie Mack, and more.
Actors
Clint Eastwood, Mike Myers, Taylor Lautner, Cameron Diaz, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, Selena Gomez, Tippi Hedren, James Earl Jones, James Woods, Jim Nabors, Martha Raye, Rosalind Russell, June Lockhart, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Howie Mandel, Meg Ryan, Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, James Drury, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Lane, Alan Thicke, Lou Diamond Phillips, Clint Howard, Tony Sirico, Cesar Romero, Michael Berryman, Tracy Scoggins, William Windom, Warren Stevens and more.
Space Explorers
Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Wally Schirra, Dave Scott, Gene Cernan, Walt Cunningham, Scott Carpenter, Gene Kranz (NASA Flight Director), Ed Mitchell, Richard Gordon, Bruce McCandless, Vanentina Treshkova (first woman in space, Russia), Alex Leonov (first man to walk in space, Russian), Al Worden, Dee O’Hara (nurse to astronauts) and more.
Sports: Joe Torre, Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes, Billie Jean King, Manuela Maleeva, Drew Pearson, Bob Lilly, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, George Gervin, Tony Parker, Shannon Miller, Cathy Rigby, Bruce Bowen, Wade Boggs, Fernando Valenzuela, Bernie Kosar, Dale Murphy, Jim Abbott, Dick Bartell, Mike Schmidt, Dan Pastorini and more.
Notables
May Pang, Bob Eubanks, Vernon Presley, Vester Presley, Charlie Hodge, Joe Esposito, Rick Stanley (Elvis’ step-brother, Harold Lloyd (Elvis’ first cousin), Doyle Brunson, Kara Peller, Hank Meijer, Norman Brinkler, Stanley Marcus, Jerry King, Mac King, Nathan Burton, Zach Anner, Louie Anderson, Owen Benjamin, Steve Byrne and more.

As head of Facilities for a major retailer (H-E-B Food/Drugs) for 20 years, Jack co-founded Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM) and was elected President to establish PRSM magazine. Jack is a writer, speaker, golf-concierge and happiness coach. He has researched and studied happiness for over 40 years.
Jack was a prolific writer for Examiner.com, with over 1,900 articles written in six years. His articles and stories have appeared in AXS Entertainment, The ROWDY Country Music, Memphis Flash, and numerous magazines.

He is author of “Miracles of Justice,” a true courtroom drama novel about social injustice and miracles.

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