Interview with Joey Kent : Owner of the Louisiana Hayride archives

By: Elvis Australia
Source: FECC
January 1, 1996

With the new book, 'Elvis - The Hayride Years 54-56', by Frank Page and Joey Kent about to be released we have managed to obtain permission to use this very interesting interview with Joey Kent, the owner of the Louisiana Hayride archives. This interview, courtesy of For Elvis CD Collectors is definitely very interesting reading.

Joey Kent and Frank Page are planning a second Hayride book that will focus on Elvis' last live performance at the Hayride on December 15, 1956. This is also very interesting to learn that they are hoping to include a CD containing the full concert from that night's performance.

Songs performed at the last Hayride performance were : "Heartbreak Hotel", 'Long Tall Sally', 'I Was The One', 'Love Me Tender', 'Don't Be Cruel', 'Love Me', 'I Got A Woman', 'When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again', 'Paralyzed', and 'Hound Dog'.

Mr. Kent, what is your involvement with the Louisiana Hayride materials ?

Joey Kent : My father, David Kent, bought the Louisiana Hayride name and archives from KWKH in the mid-seventies and produced a continuation of the Louisiana Hayride show from 1975 to 1987. I inherited the archival photos and recordings upon his death in 1992 and have worked in the years since to catalog, preserve and release these treasures to the world.

The news about your upcoming book 'Elvis : The Hayride Years 54-56' with Frank Page is great for the Elvis fans. We hope to enjoy a lot of previously unpublished photographs in this new publication. Will your book also feature reproductions of paperwork and memorabilia related to Elvis at the Hayride ?

Joey Kent : Indeed. The book contains over 120 images of Elvis from his tenure at the Louisiana Hayride, a great many previously unpublished, as well as copies of his contract, posters, letters, notes and news clippings, all woven together to tell the story of Elvis at the Hayride. I have held back only photos from Elvis' final Hayride show on December 15, 1956, as we are planning a second Elvis Hayride book dealing specifically with that performance.

Your book also includes a bonus CD titled 'Elvis Presley At The Hayride Tonight ! Volume One'. Is there enough material for a second book in the near future AND a 'Volume Two CD' ?

Joey Kent : As noted above, Frank Page and I are planning a second Elvis Hayride book which will focus on his final Hayride show in December of 1956. Since Elvis was a widely known figure by this time, the majority of the photos of him at the Hayride come from that show. The book will feature expanded interviews with the surviving photographers and other details specific to the show.  We hope to include a second CD volume as well, the full concert from that night's performance.

What was the idea behind the recording of these broadcast radio shows and for whom were they recorded ? Since it began in 1948, was each Louisiana Hayride broadcast recorded in full, every song and every performer?

Joey Kent : Sadly enough, the FCC did not require radio stations back then to keep copies of their programming as they do today.  Audio tape was a relatively new phenomenon and most stations still relied on costly and bulky transcription machines that made phono acetates. If a Hayride show was recorded on acetate or audio tape, it was generally because a commercial sponsor had requested some sort of proof their ads had run or the station was creating a sample of the show to give to a potential sponsor such as Jax Beer or Sal Hepatica. At one point, station manager Henry Clay ordered many programs recorded as ammo for a feud he was having with ASCAP.  The licensing organization had accused the station of performing more ASCAP songs on the Hayride than they reported and Clay ordered discs made to prove they were in error.

He further ordered the show's program director, Horace Logan, to encourage Hayride artists not to sing ASCAP compositions on the show! One saving grace, though, was a local photographer named Glen Graham. Mr. Graham loved country music and approached KWKH for permission to tape the shows on his Wollensock tape recorder. He was given permission to do so in exchange for making his professional services available to Hayride artists as an unofficial staff photographer of sorts. Mr. Graham taped the show many Saturday nights from the start back in 1948 but his studio was broken into in 1960 and most of the tapes were stolen at that time along with photo equipment, never to be seen or heard of again. Fortunately, Graham had run out of storage room for the tapes at his office and, beginning in the late fifties, began storing tapes at his residence. Those tapes, over 40 reels, survive today and comprise over 1500 of the 2200+ tracks I have in the Hayride archives. Artist performances by Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, George Jones, Johnny Horton, Bob Luman, Jimmy Davis, Tex Ritter and countless others were preserved in this way.

We know that most of Elvis' 1955 performances at the Hayride released so far come from acetates that vary in sound quality. However, it is pretty obvious that his performance of October 16, 1954 ('That's All Right, Mama' and 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky') offer superb sound quality. Does this mean that some of Elvis' performances were recorded on reel-to-reel tape instead of dubbing onto acetate disc ? Is it possible all the Hayride performances ( not just Elvis ) were recorded on reel-to-reel -- and only selected tracks were later transferred to acetate? If true, does this mean that many Hayride performances are lost forever?

Joey Kent : It is true that some recordings survive on tape and others on acetate.  Many acetates, such as those of Hank Williams' morning show on KWKH, were actually recycled for their aluminum centers and lost that way. Beginning late in 1952, when a portion of the Hayride show was broadcast every few weeks over Armed Forces Radio as part of their weekly country show "Saturday Night Country Style", acetates were made of those broadcasts for syndication to military bases throughout the world. Sadly, few copies survive today but some may surface down the road. Both the Library of Congress and the National Archives have a series of these recordings but both sets are from 1958-59, a collection salvaged some years ago by some US senator from a base in Korea.  In theory, Elvis would appear on several shows if they could ever be located.  In the case of Elvis' first Hayride show from October of 1954, that performance was indeed recorded on tape, and that accounts for the superior sound quality.

Do the tracks on the CD come from a better source than all of the previous releases containing these songs ?

Joey Kent : Yes, whenever possible the original sources have been used for this latest mastering, and sound restoration expert Walter Devenne did a phenomenal job of restoration using the latest sound enhancement techniques, many not available for use on earlier editions.

Do you believe that any of Elvis' performances at the Hayride are in the hands of private collectors ?

Joey Kent : Yes. I know of a Hayride recording of Elvis singing 'Little Mama' that is in private hands. I also know of a Hayride recording of Elvis singing 'You're Right, I'm Left, She's Gone'. The owner was kind enough to send Frank Page a cassette copy of an acetate he made of one of the Saturday Night Country Style armed forces broadcasts. The man taped the show off KWKH affiliate station KTHS in Little Rock on July 16, 1955. For some reason, he sent Frank a cassette copy many years ago but the man's name and address have since been lost to time. We did, however, restore the cassette copy of the song and it has been made part of the archives. I have been told in the past that many live recordings of Elvis from that era still exist on tape and acetate in the vaults of RCA/BMG.  Some may be Hayride although I haven't gotten confirmation on the titles, dates, quality or other information.

It is not impossible that some fans recorded Hayride shows from sitting in the audience or at home next to their radio. Have you ever come in contact with fans possessing such unique recordings ?

Joey Kent : Recently a recording surfaced of the final Hayride show Elvis did back in December of 1956. I have three songs from that night: two recorded by audience members and the encore of 'Hound Dog' recorded by KWKH. This tape, which was made by a radio station employee in Texas directly from the Hayride's radio broadcast that night, features all ten songs Elvis did that night including nice gems like 'Paralyzed' and 'When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again'. The radio mix contains much less distortion and the audience roars are more in the background where they belong.  At the time of this interview, I am still working to obtain a copy of this recording and hope to make it part of the second planned Hayride Elvis book.

You were involved with the CD titled 'Good Rocking Tonight The Evolution Of Elvis Presley' by Music Mill Entertainment, which contained two previously unknown Elvis tracks ('Blue Moon Of Kentucky' - 01/22/55 and 'That's All Right, Mama' - 01/15/55 ). Were there any Elvis recordings from the Hayride that you, for whatever reason, left off of this CD?

Joey Kent : No, I put in everything I had at the time.

The CD 'The Elvis Broadcasts On Air' states that five songs were performed and recorded on January 22, 1955, including 'Tweedlee Dee'. However, in two well-regarded Presley books, Sessions II (Joseph A. Tunzi) and Elvis Day By Day (Ernst M. Jorgensen and Peter Guralnick ), 'Tweedlee Dee' is being given as recorded a week earlier, on January 15, 1955. Since you were involved with the previously-mentioned Hayride CD, can you tell us why you have a later recording date for 'Tweedlee Dee'?

Joey Kent : Both the January 15th and 22nd performances come from the same acetate and that made it easy to confuse which was which since neither side of the acetate was labelled. The Elvis Broadcasts CD (for which I supplied the info) is in error. I got it backwards. As you'll see in the forthcoming book, a teenage girl named Joyce Railsback kept a journal of many of the shows and her diary helped straighten out the mess. I supplied the correct date to Ernst Jorgensen for his book and Joe Tunzi for his.

'The Elvis Broadcasts On Air' also claims that three songs from the final Elvis Hayride show on December 15, 1956 were pulled from a full 45 minute performance. Was this last Hayride show completely recorded? Do you own the tape?

Joey Kent : See above. Elvis' final Hayride performance ran between 35 and 45 minutes long and contained the following ten songs in order: 'Heartbreak Hotel', 'Long Tall Sally', 'I Was The One', 'Love Me Tender', 'Don't Be Cruel', 'Love Me', 'I Got A Woman', 'When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again', 'Paralyzed', and 'Hound Dog'.

Were there ever any Hayride shows broadcast on TV, either locally or regionally?

Joey Kent : At one time in mid-55, KWKH attempted a televised Hayride show on local CBS affiliate KSLA-TV 12. The show never made it past the pilot stage. Rumors abound that the show was recorde on kinescope but this simply is not true.  Kinescopes were very expensive pieces of equipment and KSLA was a brand new station that couldn't afford such a luxury.

Does any film exist of Elvis performing at the Hayride? Do you personally have any amateur footage of performers at the Hayride ?

Joey Kent : I've heard rumors but have never seen any footage. I have approximately one hour of 8mm footage recorded at the Hayride during the late 50s and early 60s by Hayride fan Ann Paulsen. A good bit of that footage was used in the 1984 Louisiana Public Broadcasting production 'Cradle Of The Stars' which is available on VHS.  I know of a good deal more footage and am trying to secure it now. None of Elvis, though. I can assure you the rumor that Hayride personnel shot footage of the show for insurance reasons is completely false. KWKH could barely afford to put on the show, much less have someone film each show.  Plus, the lawyers didn't circle back then the way they do now. What would the station have been protecting itself from?!

On behalf of all our readers we would like to thank you very much for your kindness and for having took the time to do this interview with us. We know that 'Elvis : The Hayride Years 54-56' will be a success, but still we would like to wish you all the best of luck with this project and the other ones in the future.

Joey Kent : Thank you. This volume was born of the creation of a much larger volume: a giant coffee table book about the history of KWKH and the entire Louisiana Hayride show. Hayride announcer Horace Logan wrote his book and Hayride bandmember/manager Tillman Franks has written his. It's time for Frank Page to go on the record with an unbiased historical accounting in not just his words but the words of the stars, engineers, fans, managers and others who helped make the show such an incredible success.  We sincerely hope to have the book, entitled 'Cradle Of The Stars: KWKH and the Louisiana Hayride' out sometime in 2004.  A lot of work went into this Elvis volume but it will pale in comparison to the full Hayride book which traces the evolution of KWKH from an amateur station in Shreveport in 1916 up through the Hayride era and into the present time.

In both cases, great care has been taken to restore all the photographs, verify all the facts, and credit all those who deserve credit.  Speaking the spirit of saving the best for last I'd like to thank the publisher of our Elvis book, Joe Tunzi, for encouraging Frank and I to compile this Elvis volume and release it to the public during the fiftieth anniversary year. Joe shares our enthusiasm for the rich history of the Hayride and personally produced the wonderful companion CD. It was his commitment that these ten tracks sound the best they've ever sounded that resulted in the hiring of Walter Devenne and the creation of an excellent audio companion to a wonderful glimpse into the early life of Elvis Presley. At long last, the gap between Sun and RCA has been filled in and Elvis at his most beautiful, his most free and wild, can now be shared with the world.  And who better to paint that picture than the man who first introduced radio listeners worldwide to a kid from Memphis back in the fall of 1954, my good friend, Hayride legend Frank Page. Both he and I thank you.

Joey Kent

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Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.

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