'People ask, 'Didn't you like rock and roll?' but there was no rock and roll at the time', says Locke, one of the few remaining friends who knew Elvis just before and just after he spun the world off its music axis.
Dixie Locke and Elvis Presley.
Elvis had been drawn to Locke's church, First Assembly of God, because of his love of gospel music and the Blackwood Brothers quartet, which sang at the church. On January 24, 1954, Fourteen year old Dixie noticed Elvis at a church function and making sure he overhears, she made plans with a girlfriend to go roller-skating the following Saturday night. 'I thought he was the most gorgeous thing I'd ever seen. He was a very shy person, but when he started singing he put so much into putting the music across that he kind of lost himself. He threw himself into it completely', she says.
The following Saturday, Elvis went to the Rainbow Rollerdome, where he 'bumped' into Dixie, speaking to her for the first time. He drives her home in his 1941 Lincoln.
On February 16, Barely two weeks after their first meeting Elvis brought Dixie home to meet his parents. On February 26, Elvis and Dixie attended the all-Night Gospel singing at Ellis Auditorium together for the first time. Elvis and Dixie will see each other virtually everyday throughout the summer, going to the movies two or three times a week. On June 3, 1954 Dixie left Memphis for a family vacation in Florida.
That's All Right
On July 5, 1954, Elvis recorded 'That's All Right'.
July 18, Late in the evening, the Locke family returns from their Florida vacation, and while driving into memphis Dixie hears 'Blue Moon of Kentucky' on the car radio. She knew Elvis had been recording at Sun Records. 'I knew what was going on, but neither he nor I had any idea of the magnitude of it. I got a telegram from him saying, 'They're playing my records on the radio'. He was ecstatic over it. It was almost like disbelief that the disc jockeys would even play it', says Dixie Locke, now executive secretary of the church.
Dixie Locke and Elvis Presley 1955.
Dixie dated Elvis for about two more years during which he played small concerts and clubs. 'I don't think there was a whole lot of money involved in it. In the first weeks and months it was more like hometown boy makes good'. 'He was still just totally innocent and spontaneous. There wasn't a proud or conceited bone in his body'.
Elvis attended the junior and senior proms with Dixie Locke in 1954 and 1955 at South Side High School. Afterward, they slowly drifted apart. 'It was kind of a mutual thing. His career was going in one direction, and I didn't feel that I could be a part of it. His career kind of consumed him there, and there wasn't much time for anything else'. Dixie Locke later married and is now known as Dixie Locke Emmons.
In the DVD Elvis Presley Classic Albums - Dixie Locke has some lovely recollections about the period and we are treated to some fascinating old film of Memphis & Beale Street as well. Some great church footage also helps to demonstrate just how important Gospel music was to Elvis' new sound.
Last Train to Memphis
For years, Dixie Locke wouldn't do interviews. She didn't want to cheapen the memory of her first love, nor did she want to let it become the event that defined her. And she certainly didn't want to open her private life to public scrutiny, having seen what too much of that can do to a person.
It was Peter Guralnick who finally convinced Dixie Locke to go on the record, and in 1990 the two of them sat down with a tape recorder in the basement of the same church she and Elvis had attended as teenagers. She told him the entire story, from the night she met Elvis at the Rainbow Rollerdrome to the last time she saw him, at Graceland the day after his mother's funeral. The interview became a cornerstone of Guralnick's landmark two-volume Elvis biography, Last Train to Memphis (1994) and Careless Love (1999), books that managed to humanize a man the rest of the media had been able only to deify or caricature.
'I think it was one of the most emotional interviews I've ever done', Guralnick says. 'She was so honest, and she told the story so eloquently. Afterwards, it was almost as if we both slunk away from the church basement like we had done something wrong. Because it had that degree -- I think at least from my perspective -- it had that degree of emotional investment'.