In previous writings and conversations over the years, when I asked if others could name Elvis Presley’s first #1 rated national record, the answers were inevitably “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” or “Hound Dog.” Ocassionally, “Love Me Tender” or “Jailhouse Rock” were mentioned.
Even most big time Elvis fans were wrong. The first #1 national hit was released on August 1, 1955. Although I wasn’t born until four months later, I remembered the date because it was my maternal grandmother, Ruby Floyd’s, 45th birthday.
A few years or so later, she’d play Elvis Presley’s greatest hits album and we would dance to each song on both sides of the disc. It’s little wonder I became a solid lifelong Elvis fan.
The first night of showing a new movie at the Trail or Mission Drive In theaters in San Antonio, my family would be there early–in time to be parked front and center and catch the cartoons and upcoming attractions previews.
Bill Black, Scotty Moore with the addition of Johnny Bernero on drums were the musicians.
Elvis’ first national hit was actually his last recording at Sun Studios and was cut on July 11, 1954 but released on August 1st over a year later.
Johnny was actually a full time plumber who worked opposite Sun Studios, but was hired by Sam Phillips to play drums from time to time.
Johnny was a bit older than the rest of the group and was more of a western swing style drummer, evidenced from the groove he plays on this track. He was offered the job as Elvis’ drummer but turned it down due to having a family.
Johnny did go on to record under his own name at Sun, however the singles weren’t released at the time and he never became successful in the music industry. You can find some of his recordings on line now though.
Scotty Moore’s guitar had a Nashville steel guitar sound, and Bill Black played a clip-clop rhythm on his large stand-up bass (now owned by Sir Paul McCartney).
Elvis sang a brooding vocal. This is the closest the trio came to a traditional country song while at Sun.
The song reached the Billboard national country music chart #1 position on February 25, 1956 on the Billboard C&W Best Sellers in Stores chart. It remained there at #1 for 2 weeks, and spent 5 weeks at #1 on the Billboard C&W Most Played in Juke Boxes chart.
The record reached #4 on the Billboard Most Played by Jockeys chart. It was the first recording to make Elvis Presley a nationally-known country music star. The song remained on the country charts for 39 weeks.
The single reached no. 2 on the Cash Box Country singles chart on the March 10, 1956 Top 15 Country Best Sellers Chart.
The flip side of this release, “Mystery Train”, peaked at the #11 position on the national Billboard Country Chart.