Encounters with Elvis
by Jennifer Cohron
Aug 26, 2012 | 1610 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Yvonne Watts looks on as her husband, Charlie, browses a book that was published about the 1956 Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show where he interviewed Elvis Presley for a Tupelo radio station. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
Yvonne Watts looks on as her husband, Charlie, browses a book that was published about the 1956 Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show where he interviewed Elvis Presley for a Tupelo radio station. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
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When Jasper resident Jo Lyn was 6, her family moved from Arkansas to a two-story duplex in Memphis. Their downstairs neighbors were Vernon and Gladys Presley and their teenage son, Elvis.

“Because I was six, my memories are vague, but I do remember him kissing his girlfriend Dixie, once giving his mother his check from driving a truck and playing guitar on the front porch,” Jo Lyn said.

In the summer of 1954, Presley recorded “That’s All Right” at Sun Records, and his life changed seemingly overnight when the song was played on local radio three days later.

Other than an appearance by Presley in his old neighborhood and a hospital visit to Gladys Presley after she had moved to Graceland, Jo Lyn and her family had little contact with their former neighbors after stardom struck.

The duplex they once shared with the Presleys on North Alabama Street was later razed to make room for St. Jude’s Hospital. Their collection of Elvis memorabilia, which included an autographed publicity still of Presley in a tuxedo that bore young Jo Lyn’s lip prints, were either stolen or lost during the family’s multiple moves.

However, Jo Lyn still treasures the time she spent near the King of Rock and Roll when he was simply “a really kind person with a good sense of humor and extremely tolerant of heathen children who would taunt him about kissing Dixie.”

Presley left a similar impression on Jasper resident and broadcaster Charlie Watts when the two met at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show in Tupelo in September 1956.

Watts, who was covering the event for local radio station WTUP, interviewed Presley and his parents as thousands in the town celebrated the family’s return to the place of Presley’s birth.

One of the most memorable on-air comments of the day, however, belonged to actor Nick Adams.

Adams, a friend of Presley’s, had never been in the South before. To buy some time thinking of other questions, Watts asked Adams for his thoughts on the local food.

“He said, ‘Oh, it’s great.’ Then he yelled, ‘Elvis, what’s those little round things your Mama makes for us?’ And Elvis said, ‘Okra!’” Watts said with a laugh.

Presley had last appeared at the fair when he was 10 years old. The reception he received was much different in 1956 — the year in which he released his debut album with RCA, made his first national TV appearances and made his big screen debut in “Love Me Tender.”

Watts recalled that the crowd was so anxious to get a piece of Presley that he was not able to attend a parade held in Tupelo that week in his honor.

At the fairgrounds, the people’s patience grew thinner in the summer heat as they waited for Presley to make his first of two appearances that day.

“Then the motorcycles came and a big limousine pulled up behind it. When the doors opened, the governor stepped out, and they booed him because they thought it was Elvis,” Watts said.

Watts added that unbeknownst to his fans, Presley was getting ready in a tent set up behind the stage.

He also took several minutes to reconnect with former schoolmates. Watts happened to be standing near a couple who were arguing about whether going in would be presumptious when Presley suddenly called them by name and ushered them in for a photo opportunity.

Presley was equally kind to a young girl from Tennessee who somehow managed to get past the numerous National Guardsmen, state troopers and other security surrounding the stage.

Watts was able to secure less than two minutes with Presley in between shows. The star politely answered questions about reuniting with old friends from Tupelo and his feature film “Love Me Tender,” which premiered two months later.

When Watts asked Presley about the unruly behavior of some of his fans, the star can be heard chuckling on the recording, which has been released several times in recent years.

“I really enjoy it. I think it’s real great that they care that much about you. I’ve had people ask me do I think it’s silly. I do not. I think it’s wonderful. I’m glad that they think enough of me,” Presley said.