On September 1, 1957, Elvis Presley performs a matinee concert at Tacoma's Lincoln Bowl as part of a five-show sweep of the Pacific Northwest over Labor Day weekend. The tour begins August 30 in Spokane, and includes stops in Vancouver, Tacoma, Seattle, and Portland.
Touring Behind 'Jailhouse Rock'
Lincoln Bowl was dedicated in 1948, as a counterpart to Stadium Bowl, the large outdoor venue adjoining Tacoma's other comprehensive high school. While primarily a venue for high school sporting events, it has also hosted professional boxing matches, military parades, community gatherings, and a handful of concerts. Elvis Presley's appearance in 1957, however, is the only example on record of a concert appearance by a musician of nationwide fame.
A crowd of about 6,000 people enjoyed a fairly intimate performance, with seating on the floor of the Bowl, as well as in the stands facing the impromptu stage. Judging by photographs from the concert, the vast majority of those in attendance were teen girls. Some young men, including Kent Morrill of The Fabulous Wailers fame, refused to buy tickets, jealous of Elvis' popularity among the girls, but later admitted watching the concert through binoculars from the trees in neighboring Lincoln Park.
Although Presley had made several recordings for Sun Records over the period from 1953-1955, his burst into the mainstream came following his first recording for RCA in Nashville, which was released on March 23, 1956. Over the next several months, Presley toured nationally, made his first appearances on national television, on shows hosted by Milton Berle, Steve Allen, and finally Ed Sullivan. His Pacific Northwest tour came just before the October 1957 release of his film Jailhouse Rock, and his songs for the film's soundtrack made up much of his performance set for the Lincoln Bowl matinee.
'He Strutted Like a Duck'
Tacoma News Tribune reporter Don Duncan attended the concert, and wrote a review that was published in the following day's paper. The article mentions the dozen-or-so songs Elvis performed from the stage at Lincoln Bowl -- including 1956-1957 hits such as "Hound Dog," "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear," and "Jailhouse Rock" -- but devotes more column inches to Presley's behavior and performance style. Some excerpts:
"Often the great roar of the crowd snuffed out the words. But no stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Elvis at the mike. He sang at least a dozen songs, this creator of mass hysteria, this modern-day answer to Austin, Vallee and Sinatra. But where they depended almost exclusively on voice, his was a combination of earthly body movements and a rhythm that smacks of the revival tent. It was burlesque with a twist as if Gypsy Rose Lee had donned men's clothing."
"Each squirm was carefully calculated as a Shakespeare soliloquy to heighten the dramatic effect."
"He strutted like a duck, his hands dangling loosely in front of him. He went to his knees in an attitude of prayer, taking the slender microphone with him. And he finished with a burst of shimmying that left him limp, his thick black hair hanging over his eyes and perspiration pouring down his pancake makeup."
"The idol of America's teenagers, a 6-foot, 1-inch, 180-pounder, lowered his lashes over deep blue eyes and said, no sir, I certainly don't mean to be vulgar when I wiggle my hips during a song. It's just my way of expressing my inner emotions" ("Presley Rocks n' Rolls ...").
When the music came to an end and the musicians made a quick exit from Lincoln Bowl on their way to an evening show at Sicks' Stadium in Seattle, screaming girls chased after them. From the News Tribune report: "Girls, dragging unwilling boys by the hand, rushed to the spot where Elvis vaulted into the car. They scooped up dirt, kissed it, and poured it into pockets and purses" ("Presley Rocks n' Rolls ...")
Elvis Reaches Out
But the story doesn't end there. The next day, before catching the train to Portland, Elvis spent some time in his Seattle hotel room reading reviews of his Tacoma and Seattle performances. The performer took the time to make a personal phone call to Don Duncan, telling him that his review was "the best article ever written about me."
Perhaps inspired by this personal call, Duncan wrote a column about his encounter with the iconic performer, which appeared in The Tacoma News Tribune the following weekend, at the bottom of page B-5. Ducan's article used only lower-case letters, an homage to the autograph he received from Elvis, which read "thanks, elvis presley." The article appeared under the headline "elvis nice to press, dazzler with girls." Duncan writes:
"since a lot of folks have sidled up to me in the past few days and asked for the plain, unvarnished truth about old sideburns hisself, i figured i'd let you in on all the secrets i learned. first off, this elvis has all his own hair and don't let anybody tell you it's a wig or those sideburns are painted on, and when those locks fell down on his forehead and he had to peek through them like veronica lake did before she went out of style, that was the real elvis.
"elvis is real nice and easy with the press and a real dazzler with the young girls who managed to get into his dressing room on the strength of being fan club officers or something like that.
"well, the music was really the thing out there at lincoln bowl, and make no mistake about it this boy elvis could have taught dr. goebbels a thing or two about mass psychology. this rock 'n' roll business has a real slugging beat that twists your insides all around and sets up some sort of chemical action that comes out in foot-tapping and screams. since i am too old to be screaming at 22-year-old singers, especially when they aren't girls, i just fixed a silly grin on my face and it served the purpose.
"the next day after my story was in the paper i got a long distance telephone call and the operator said hold on a minute, mr. presley is calling you. i figured he was mad or something and i looked for a place to hide, but there wasn't anything to do but stand there and take it like a man.
"he came on the line, elvis did, and instead of tearing me apart he said nice things about the story and how it was the best ever written on him and how he wanted to be sure and see me the next time he's in town. this should boost my stock considerably with some of my teenage nieces and nephews who are inclined to look upon old uncle don as a real square" ("Elvis Nice ...").