About the song
If you are a fan of rock and roll, you probably know that Elvis Presley is one of the most influential and iconic figures in the genre. But do you know how he started his musical career and what was his first recorded song? In this blog post, we will explore the history of Elvis Presley’s debut single, “That’s All Right (Mama)”, a song that changed the course of music history and launched the career of the King of Rock and Roll.
“That’s All Right (Mama)” was originally written and recorded by blues singer Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup in 1946. Crudup’s version was a slow and mellow blues song that expressed his resignation to his lover’s infidelity. The song was not a big hit, but it was popular among blues fans and musicians, especially in the South.
Elvis Presley was one of those musicians who admired Crudup’s song. He grew up listening to various styles of music, including gospel, country, and rhythm and blues. He had a natural talent for singing and playing guitar, but he was too shy to pursue a professional career. In 1953, he walked into the offices of Sun Records and the Memphis Recording Service to make a personal record as a gift for his mother. He paid $3.98 plus tax to record two songs: “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”. The owner of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, was not impressed by Elvis’ performance, but his assistant Marion Keisker noticed something special in his voice and wrote down “Good ballad singer. Hold” in her notes.
A year later, Phillips decided to give Elvis a chance and invited him to record some songs with two session musicians: guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. On July 5, 1954, they tried several songs, but none of them sounded right. Phillips was looking for a white singer who could sing “black” rhythm and blues, but Elvis seemed too stiff and uninspired. During a break, Elvis started to fool around with his guitar and sang “That’s All Right (Mama)”, but at a much faster tempo than Crudup’s original. Moore and Black joined him on their instruments, creating a lively and upbeat sound that caught Phillips’ attention. He asked them to repeat what they were doing and recorded it on tape. That was the moment that some regard as the true beginning of the rock and roll revolution.
Phillips delivered a copy of the recording to a local disc jockey named Dewey Phillips (no relation) at WHBQ radio station. On July 8, Dewey played “That’s All Right (Mama)” on his show Red, Hot & Blue, making it the first time that an Elvis song was broadcasted on air. The listeners loved it and requested it over and over again. Dewey also interviewed Elvis on air, revealing that he was a white singer who sounded black. This caused a sensation among the audience, who were curious about this new musical phenomenon.
“That’s All Right (Mama)” was officially released as a single by Sun Records on July 19, 1954, with “Blue Moon of Kentucky” as the B-side. The single sold well in the Memphis area and became a regional hit. It also attracted the attention of other radio stations and record labels across the country. Elvis soon became a star in the South, performing live shows with Moore and Black as his backing band. He also recorded more songs for Sun Records, such as “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “Mystery Train”, and “Baby Let’s Play House”. In 1955, he signed with RCA Victor and began his national and international fame.
“That’s All Right (Mama)” is considered one of the first rockabilly songs, a fusion of country and rhythm and blues that influenced many other artists in the 1950s and beyond. It is also regarded as one of the most important songs in rock and roll history, as it marked the emergence of Elvis Presley as a cultural icon and a musical innovator. The song has been covered by many artists over the years, such as Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, U2, and more.
If you want to listen to Elvis Presley’s original version of “That’s All Right (Mama)”, you can watch this video or this video. You can also watch this video to see him perform it live at the Louisiana Hayride in 1954.