Radio legend Tom Perryman dies

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The man who was instrumental in Elvis becoming a rock-n-roll sensation has died.

Award-winning broadcaster and legendary DJ Tom Perryman, who has been playing country music and connecting with his fans for nearly 70 years passed away Thursday.

“I sorta got my start in Texas,” a reflective Elvis Presley told reporters at Dallas’ Love Field in August 1958. Presley, a soldier in the United States Army at the time, had just returned from Memphis, where he attended the funeral of his mother, Gladys, and was en route back to Fort Hood to re-sume basic training.

By that time, of course, Presley had become an American idol. But just a few years earlier, a largely unknown Elvis Presley had electrified stages from the Piney Woods to the High Plains, leaving Texas audiences all shook up and ready to rock.

“One night in October 1954, I got a call from Pappy Covington, who was booking talent at the ‘Louisiana Hayride’ at Shreveport,” says 85-year-old Tyler radio legend Tom Perryman. “He said, ‘I’ve got these three boys from Memphis who just auditioned to play the Hayride.’ Said they were broke, and could I get them a booking in East Texas?” Perryman soon booked Elvis, guitarist Scotty Moore, and bass player Bill Black into the Mint Club in Gladewater. “Then a few months later, at a show at the Humble Oil Camp Community Center in Hawkins, I watched the reactions of a girl, her mother, and her grandmother in the crowd,” says Perryman, “and I knew immediately that this Elvis was a very special artist.”

Musicologists point to Presley’s raw and frenzied performances of the mid-1950s, before he joined the Army, as the most transformative of Presley’s career. “He played more than a hundred shows in Texas from ’54 to ’56,” says Stanley Oberst of Waco, author of the books Elvis in Texas and Elvis Presley: Rockin’ Across Texas. Oberst used a 1955 state road map to track Presley’s travels through Texas around that time. “There should be an official Elvis route marked with signs—the ‘Hound Dog Highway,’” he says.


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