Three of the most important events in history occurred just 50 years apart in the 20th century.*

In 1905, a young scientist living in Paris published “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”, thus creating the revolutionary concept of “special relativity”. Eleven years later, he would expand that concept to “general relativity”, E=mc².

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Two years later, a young artist working in Paris produced “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, thus creating the first cubist painting.

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Many people believe that great achievements come in threes. So what was the third? Some might say the development of aviation or the creation of the atomic bomb, but both were merely extensions of E=mc².

I would posit that the third happened at the RCA Victor recording studio at 1525 McGavock Street in Nashville on January 10, 1956. There, the Blue Moon Boys…Scotty Moore, guitar; Bill Black, bass and D.J. Fontana, drums, were joined by guitarist Chet Atkins and pianist Floyd Cramer and a fairly obscure young “country & western” singer to record two songs.

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The first was “I Got a Woman”, the second was a somewhat morbid tune written by a journeyman C&W singer, Tommy Durden, and a school teacher, Mae Boren Axton.** It was based on a recent suicide in which a young man leaped to his death from a window in a Miami hotel, leaving a one line note: “I walk a lonely street”. According to Axton, as she and Durden worked on the song, she said “Everybody in the world has someone who cares. Let’s put a Heartbreak Hotel at the end of this lonely street.”

 

RCA released the songs on January 27, with “I Got a Woman” as the “B” side and “Heartbreak Hotel” as the “A”. Barely a week later, this ad began running daily in the Winston-Salem Journal.

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On February 16, 1956, Elvis Presley performed three shows live on stage at the Carolina Theater in Winston-Salem…one at 4 PM, one at 7 PM and one at 9:30 PM. He was part of a touring country and western show featuring the Louvin Brothers, Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, featuring June Carter, and his own band, the Blue Moon Boys.

Among the songs that he performed were “Tutti Frutti”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “I Got a Woman” and “Heartbreak Hotel”, which was soon to carry him to the top of both the pop and C&W charts and become his first million selling song.

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There was a lot of other stuff going on locally at the time…Gene Autry was appearing at the brand new Memorial Coliseum…it was the height of the high school basketball tournament season in Forsyth and every nearby county…and big time tennis, long before our shiny new Winston-Salem Open, was on tap, but the show drew three packed houses, at 2,600 per segment. When the other acts were on stage, the rest were in their dressing rooms beneath the stage. But when Elvis was on, the other performers were in the wings watching.

Our own living legend, Roy Thompson, wrote a wonderful, bemused review of the show:

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* You don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask the brilliant and multi-talented Steve Martin, who wrote an insightful and very funny play on the subject: “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”. That play was performed a few years back as a staged reading by members of the local Little Theater group.

** Mae Boren Axton was the mother of singer-song writer Hoyt Axton, whose greatest success came from recordings of his songs by other groups, including the Kingston Trio’s huge “Greenback Dollar”, Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” and “Snowblind Friend”, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog” and Three Dog Night’s “Never Been to Spain” and “Joy to the World”, the number one hit of 1971.

Some Navy friends and I saw and heard him perform “The Pusher” for the first time in public at a coffee house near San Diego State University in 1967…that was followed by an epic weekend party at his new home at Ramona in the mountains east of Dago.

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