Elvis Presley and The Big Bopper J.P. Richardson Jr.
Best of Friends
Their Lives Crossed Path Many Times from 1954 to 1959.
And how their success was intertwined.
Elvis Presley and the Big Bopper crossed paths many times during the meteoric rise of each others careers in music. In fact, the Big Bopper was a key figure in Elvis' early success and critical to Elvis becoming the icon he became. Elvis' Sun Records needed radio stations to accept them and take the gamble of playing them. One of the most popular DJs at the time was none other than KTRM's, Big Bopper broadcasting out of Beaumont, Texas. The blowtorch of a station had a very strong radio signal that went out for thousands of miles in all directions. When the Big Bopper, staged radio name for J.P. Richardson Jr. played Elvis' early Sun Records, his music was listened to by both the blacks and whites of East Texas and Louisiana. This radio exposure allowed The Colonel Tom Parker to successfully book a young Elvis Presley at numerous concert dates throughout Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. It even allowed Elvis to land a regular gig on the famed Louisiana Hayride. The Bopper would gladly spin the new progressive exotic platters of the 'Hillbilly Cat' Elvis Presley.
Monday, June 20, 1955 and Tuesday, June 21, 1955
City Auditorium Beaumont Texas
7 and 9 PM on the 20th
and 2:30, 7:00 and 9:00 PM on the 21st.
The Auditorium holds 2,400 seats…. And Elvis fills it for all 5 shows!
The shows are a benefit for the Beaumont Texas Police Department. The shows are organized by promoter Ed McLemore out of Dallas, Texas, to benefit the Beaumont Police. In fact, Elvis did one of his first ever double billed, back to back, 2 day concerts ever in Beaumont, Texas in a special benefit for the Beaumont, Texas Police Department. While the Florida police and other city officials around the south were skeptical about the young Elvis Presley, the Beaumont Texas police department was quick to accept him. Thanks to The Big Bopper Elvis agreed to do two benefit shows for the Baumont Police Department. Not only was Elvis accepted into the status quo of this East Texas city, he was a willing participant in raising funds for the city's finest law enforcers. For two days, the king of the 'one-night' stand, Elvis, Scotty, and Bill stayed in Beaumont , Texas. They would hang out for two days with the disc jockey that was promoting them as the next big up and coming musical act. The Big Bopper would even try his own hand at this boogie woogie black influenced sound with The Bopper's Boogie Woogie, and great rockabilly stylized songs like Crazy Blues.
While Elvis was in Beaumont, Texas for two straight days he ate at the Pig Stand Drive-In Diner. The exact same location where J.P. Richardson and fellow DJ Baxter Gordon would work on the Bopper's hits 'Purple People Eater meets The Witch Doctor' and then later 'Chantilly Lace' as they were driving to the recording studio. But undoubtedly at the strong recommendation of J.P. Richards, a young Elvis would dazzle the local Texas girls at the Pig Stand Diner… and then amaze them as he would perform at the local auditorium.
Elvis' manager Bob Neal would also attend these shows in Beaumont, Texas and with Elvis would visit the KTRM radio station to promote his newest records on SUN with DJ the Big Bopper. From Beaumont, Texas, Manager Bob Neal would wire the Colonel Tom Parker that he has been unsuccessful so far in his efforts to convince Elvis of the wisdom of leaving Sun, and he feels the Colonel should speak to him.
After the Colonel tries to convince Elvis to consider RCA, Bob Neal wires again from Beaumont, Texas hat Elvis continues to be ambivalent on the matter of leaving Sun. Neal tells the Colonel that it would be best to not bring it up anymore until Elvis returns home. On that same day the Colonel tells Steve Sholes at RCA Records of his new business arrangement with Bob Neal and Presley as Elvis' main business agent, and invites Sholes to make a bid to acquire the singer.
Later, in 1955 the Big Bopper was off the radio as Uncle Sam came calling and drafted J.P. Richardson for service of his country. He was sent to serve in El Paso, Texas. When his buddy Elvis Presley came touring through town on Wednesday, April 11, 1956 the two good friends got together again. No doubt discussing the great times they had had together a few years earlier as Elvis did those two great performances in Beaumont, Texas. Teetsie Richardson would always speak fondly when she recounted having dinner with her husband and Elvis Presley in El Paso, Texas. Elvis played that night at the Coliseum in E Paso, Texas. While in El Paso Elvis calls Bob Johnson at the Press-Scimitar in Memphis Tennessee to thank him for his recent stories in the paper. Elvis, always great with the DJs and writers would also visit the DJ, J.P. Richardson to thank him for his support in the past as well. On April 11, 1956 Variety announces that 'Heartbreak Hotel' has sold one million copies, thus becoming Elvis' first Gold Record—a fact certainly that the Bopper and Elvis would have celebrated together that night. Elvis also probably asked Bopper about a good local automechanic. While in El Paso, Texas, Elvis' car (which has 32,581 miles on the odometer) is serviced at the Lone Star Motor Co.. Elvis pays $58 for replacement of the left rear window glass, new wiper blades, a new outside rearview mirror and radio aerial, and the installation of a clothers hanger. The lube and oil order is crossed out with the notation 'No Time'.
After his discharge, the Bopper returned to his radio job at KTRM in Beaumont, Texas and he returned with a big splash. He engineered a radio stunt where he stayed on the air for 8 straight days and set the Worlds Record for the longest on-air radio broadcast. During that time he played 1,821 records and many of those Elvis Presley 45s. During the 122 hours and 8 minutes that made up his 'Disc-A-Thon' return to broadcasting he played Presley records and other great rock and roll discs as both white and black teenagers cruised past the Jefferson Theatre to hear and see their heroes. This type of exposure for Presley and the Bopper catapulted them both to the top of the music business.
The Proof of their Strong Friendship and Interconnected Lives is strongest at the funeral of the Big Bopper. Elvis was also drafted into the army like his friend J.P. Richardson. He undoubtedly counseled with the Bopper about his own military service. A special personalized Western Union Telegram was sent immediately following the tragedy.
'To the Family of J.P. Richardson'
Care of WM G. Hall Radio Station KTRM Beaumont, Texas
'We want to extend our heartfelt sympathies to you for the loss you have suffered and our prayers and thoughts are with you in this hour of sorrow. Respectfully=
PFC Elvis Presley and Colonel Parker.
The telegram of condolence says it all. Both Elvis and The Colonel felt forever indebted to J.P. Richardson for having the courage and guts to play the records of a young Elvis Presley. The great R&B, rock and roll, rockabilly sun records that so pushed the bounds of music at the time were embraced and readily broadcast by the great DJ at KTRM The Big Bopper. Without those many airplays would Elvis have been able to tour and gain such quick and meteoric popularity?
Would the icon that changed the world have been able to climb the ladder of success so rapidly without the rung provided by J.P. Richardson?
The next act of kindness and love by Elvis Presley is truly amazing. The largest floral arrangement at the funeral was supplied by Elvis and the Colonel. A guitar shaped wreath of flowers comforted the mourners and looked over the casket of the Big Bopper as the funeral services took place. Elvis Presley and the Colonel paid the highest respects they could to their good friend and musical colleague the Big Bopper.
We now invite the many Elvis fans to also pay tribute to the great Elvis friend J.P. Richardson. Help keep his memory alive by supporting the completing of the Lost Songs of the Big Bopper. Certainly if Elvis were still alive he would have gladly helped finish and records one of these songs written by his good friend. Please give to this Kickstarter Project today. ::: Help support the Lost Songs of the Big Bopper: