Mae Boren Axton Interviews Elvis Presley 1955
August 1, 2012
Mae Boren Axton and Elvis Feb. 1956
That interview in May 1955 led Mae to meeting Col. Tom Parker who had just signed on to manage Elvis. Parker hired Mae to help with publicity. At that point in her career Mae had already written songs for Perry Como and Ernest Tubb. Later that summer, Mae's co-writer Tommy Durden read a story in a newspaper about a man who had taken his life. There was no identification on the body, just a hand written note that read 'I walk a lonely street'. Mae and Durden were struck by that line, and Mae came up with the idea of a Heartbreak Hotel at the end of that lonely street. Mae played the song for Parker then Elvis. Elvis loved it and began using it in his live shows. On January 10, 1956, Elvis recorded 'Heartbreak Hotel' at the RCA Nashville studio.
Mae Boren Axton Interviews Elvis Presley : 1955
Mae Boren Axton interviews Elvis Presley, she promoted the Hank Snow All-Star Jamboree where Elvis appeared. It was the first time Elvis met Mae and she gave him the song Heartbreak Hotel, which she had written. A few month later, Elvis recorded it, and made it famous.
Mae: Elvis, uh, you are sort of a be-bop artist more than anything else. Arent you? Is that what they call you?
Elvis: Well, I never have given myself a name, but a lot of the people call me, uh, uh, boppin hillbilly and be-bop. I don't know what they call me ...
Mae: Sort of a combination of things. But I've seen you perform and you're a terrific performer and a lot of my listeners have seen you and they've heard your records and they think you're very wonderfull and of course you really sky-rocked it to fame on That's All Right Mama. wasn't that the one?
Elvis: Yes Maam, that was the one that got me on my way and everything. It, kinda ...
Mae: And .. and .. on Sun records, I believe.
Elvis: Yes Maam, that's right.
Mae: I think that's very fine, and you started touring the continent and you covered a lot of territory in the last few month, I believe.
Elvis: Yes Maam. Ive toured mostly in West Texas is where my records are hottest. San Angelo, Lubbock, Midland, Amarillo.
Elvis, Faron Young and Mae Boren Axton : May 1955
Mae: They tell me, that they almost mobbed you there, the teenagers they liked you so much. But you know, I happen to know that you have toured all down in the eastern part of the country too; down in Florida and around, and that the people went for you there about as well as out in West Texas. Is that right?
Elvis: Well, I wasnt real well known down here. I mean you know, I'm with a small company and my records don't have the distribution that they should have, but, uh ..
Mae: Of course, that, that thats coming. It takes a little bit of time for that. And you know, some of the people that've been in the buisness for 20 years ... they've just ... It takes that long to get distribution all over the United States. But I think you're one of the fastes rising young stars, perhaps in the fields ... and I know that .. Uh .. That people go for you ... You know, I watched you perform one time down in Florida and ... Uh ... I noticed that the older people got about as big a kick out of you as the teenagers. I thought that was an amazing thing.
Elvis: Well, I I'magine its the way we ... all three of us move on stage ... We act like we just ...
Mae: Yes, and we mustnt leave out Scotty and Bill who really do a terrific job of backing you up.
Elvis: They sure do. I really, really am, uh ... I really am uh ...lucky to have them two boys. Cause they really are good. Each one of them has their individual style of his own and ...
Mae: Do you know what I can't understand Is, How you keep that leg shaking just ... just ... at the right tempo all the time? Its ... ( Both Laughing)
Elvis: Well I ... It get's hard some times I have to stop and rest a little bit ... cause ... (laughing) I just automaticly wiggels ... like that ...
Mae: Is that ... Is that ... does it ...
You started back in high school didnt you? Singing for around public performances for school and things ... Isn't that so?
Elvis: Well, no, Maam. I never did sing anywhere in public in my life, I mean except church.
Mae: Is that right?
Elvis: Yes, Maam.
Mae: And then you just went right on and got Into their hearts and .. and youre doing a wonderful job. And I wanted to congratulate you on that. And I wanted to say to you Elvis its been very nice having you in the studio today.
Elvis: Well, thank you very much Mae, and Id like to personally thank you for really promoting my records. I mean, because you have done a wonderful job, and I really do appreciate it because if you don't have people backing you and really pushing you, you might as well quit.
Mae: Well, You're right there ... Uh ... I do not deserve the credits though, It's my wonderfull friends and listeners ... Uh all over the country ... Who uh ... should be given that credit cause they deserve it, they're very fine people and very fine friends of yours.
I tell you what .. Let's do for that fine friends right now ... Let's ... Uh ... Play your latest number ... How about that?
Elvis: Okey ... We should do ...
Source : 'Elvis Speaks'.
More About Mae Boren Axton
Born, 14 September, 1914 Bardwell, TX, Died 9 April, 1997 Nashville TN Buried Hendersonville Memory Park, Hendersonville, Sumner County, Tennessee.
Mae's immediate and obvious claim to fame in the world of rock and roll, is as co-writer of 'Heartbreak Hotel', Elvis' first single on RCA, following his move from Sun Records.
There was however a lot more to Mae, a canny character on the Florida scene.
A multi-faceted lady, Mae played a crucial part in the game plan that launched the career of Elvis Presley.
She hosted her own radio and TV slots and in addition to journalism, wrote several hit songs during the 50s. Around the time Elvis was getting his start with Sam Phillips at Sun, Mae did some PR for Col. Parker. This involved radio, TV and newspaper work for Parker's package shows when they went through Florida.
Mae says Bob Neal asked for her assistance to get Elvis onto a Parker tour. This would help Neal in his objective to convince Elvis that he had the necessary clout to represent him well.
It was at this time that Mae taped her radio interview with Elvis (28 July, 1955 in Jacksonville) when she was instrumental in slipping Presley and his boys onto the show which Hank Snow was headlining.
Some six months later the Presley classic 'Heartbreak Hotel' written by Mae, Tommy Durden and 'Elvis' was committed to eternal wax.
It was the debut Elvis release on his new RCA label. And of course it was a massive hit which marked Presley's transition from a local southern sensation to a national phenomenon and it built on the foundation begun by Bill Haley's 'Rock Around the Clock' to establish rock and roll as a musical force that wasn't going to go away.
Elvis, The King of Rock 'n' Roll had ascended to his throne.
Mae had some 14 previous 'rock' numbers that had been on the charts and around 200 numbers recorded in all and she 'steered' Elvis towards Parker's management.
Axton had written several songs before with Durden and it was he who pointed out an article regarding a suicide. The man destroyed all his I.D. and left a one-line note 'I walk a lonely street'. A discussion ensued, as did the question 'Doesn't everyone have someone who cares?'
The pair decided to write a song around the tragedy and in a flash of creative inspiration, it was Mae's suggestion to locate a heartbreak hotel at the end of that lonely street.
Glenn Reeves however, who often wrote with Mae and Tommy appeared on the scene and soon declared the new title 'the silliest I ever heard'. He declined to help out on the song and went to do some errands.
Reeves did later demo the song after Durden's own attempt was judged by Axton as too sweet and gentle - she wanted some 'edge'.
Still Reeves declined to accept a third credit because he hadn't changed his opinion that the song was 'extremely silly' and didn't want his name connected with it. Major howler time.
Somehow, instead of what could have been Reeves, Elvis' name appeared as co-writer with the other two. This appears to have been pay-back by Mae for Elvis pushing for the song to get its eventual prominence. More specifically Mae says it was her gesture/promise made good to help Elvis fund a move to Florida for his parents.
Therefore this is a variation on the later Parker machinations to have his Boy's name, share writers' credit on several songs.
Ernst Jorgensen says Mae was in the studio in Nashville on 10 January, 1956 when the song was laid down.
Elvis had arranged a meeting with Axton in the city some time before and was immediately taken by the new song ........ Mae had made good her promise to write him a winner. Another of Mae's contacts was Steve Sholes at RCA, so serendipity really was in her corner back at that crossroads in recording history.
When she met Elvis, Mae was a little over 40 and teaching English at High School in Jacksonville, where her husband was the football coach. Her brother David, later became a prominent U.S. Senator from Oklahoma.
Arriving in Nashville, Mae met Minnie Pearl who introduced her to the influential Fred Rose. Axton quickly wrote a song for Rose's forthcoming Dub Dickerson session. She hooked up with Col. Parker in 1953 and claimed to be the only person to her knowledge, to get an apology out of him.
He used his 'The Colonel is the Boss' line on her and not liking the context, she angrily responded 'You be the Boss, be the big wheel but don't ever ask me to do anything for you'. This led to the Colonel apologising and despite this incident, maybe because of it, they then got along very well! She was energetic and resourceful and proved an excellent local PR woman.
To add a little spice and controversy, here's some extracts from the writings of biographer Donald Clarke:
'The sound quality of that first session was not good, and 'Heartbreak Hotel' is the worst of them all. Chet Atkins played rhythm guitar and Floyd Cramer was added on piano, together with an entirely unnecessary vocal trio led by Gordon Stoker, lead singer of the Jordanaires. Scotty Moore's guitar sounds exceptionally, irritatingly tinny, Cramer is too prominent and the whole track sounds like it was made underwater in a breadbox. It was a disgraceful recording for 1956 but a good song for Presley.
Despite its shortcomings', Heartbreak Hotel' reached all three Billboard charts in March. It was number one for eight weeks in the pop chart and for seventeen weeks in the country chart, and a number three R&B hit.
Think of it: one of the biggest, most famous hits of all time, recorded in January and in the charts less than forty-five days later. And this was already well into the age of tape recording, overdubbing, reverberation and all the rest'.
Jorgensen tells us that Sam Phillips pronounced the finished product 'a morbid mess'.
But Elvis clearly believed in it. The heavy overlay of echo and D.J. Fontana's rim shots created a powerful, emotion-laden atmosphere of upbeat despair
On hearing the new sides, Steve Sholes' superiors in New York wanted him to turn around and head straight back to Nashville to re-record the tracks and this time to get a sound closer to that of the Sun label product.
In the event, time was of the essence and the RCA 'brass' did relent and press ahead with the release, albeit with considerable misgivings. It proved of course to be a complete smash, taking only a matter of weeks to sell close on a million copies.
Another point of interest is that (no doubt to the frustration of Sholes) Mae held firm against Hill and Range's approaches to secure the publishing of 'Hotel'. She had promised it to Buddy Killen at Tree Publishing and if you check your CD packaging, you'll see that's where it remains credited to this day.
Some of Mae's other hit songs: Honey Bop - Wanda Jackson (the title cleverly reversing the old thing of Bunny Hop) I Won't Be Rockin' Tonight - Jean Chapel Falling in Love - Warner Mack Rock-a-Boogie-Lou Glenn Reeves and items recorded by artists as diverse as Perry Como and Ernest Tubb.
Mae did continue to write songs through the 60s and 70s and also taught college and high school.
In spite of overtures from Elvis, Mae never did supply him with another song. There were possibilities but as she felt she couldn't 'top' Hotel, she wouldn't settle for next best. Ironically, shortly before his death, a new Axton/Durden song 'It Takes A Little Time' might just have made it. Elvis planned it for his next session but fate decreed it would never take place.
Mae reached a very creditable 82 years of age and all in all, had quite a life.
It seems appropriate to give a nod to Mae's son Hoyt (born on March 25, 1938 in Oklahoma) weaving in a little more connected to Mae.
Singer, songwriter, actor Hoyt became an actor with TV guest parts (McCloud, Bionic Woman), films followed incl. The Black Stallion '79, E.T. '83, Gremlins '84.
Signed with his mother's CPI label '92, album Spin The Wheel '93. Elvis Presley recorded 'Never Been To Spain', thus recording songs by both mother and son.
Prior to becoming a Nashville music industry legend, Mae was a school teacher, a mother of two sons and wife to their father, John T. Axton, also a teacher and high school athletics coach.
Under his father's guidance, Hoyt became a sixty-minute football player at Robert E. Lee High in Jacksonville, Florida, playing both offence and defence. His athletic ability was such that he made All State and won a football scholarship to Oklahoma State University. Mae made sure that the inner-man was not neglected, though, making Hoyt take classical piano lessons until his preference for the guitar surfaced. Ironically, however, Hoyt credits his music career as much to John T. as he does to Mae: 'He was a singer and he loved to sing, although never professionally, he had this wonderful baritone voice, and he sang all the time. So I learned to love singing from my father and to love songwriting from my mother...'.
In 1963, the Kingston Trio had a near Top 20 hit on the US charts with Greenback Dollar, which Hoyt co-wrote with fellow folk singer Ken Ramsey. The song also made the Billboard charts on three different Kingston Trio albums during the sixties. However, the financial reward never came, and Hoyt made a mere $800.00 from the song. 'After I got ripped off as a writer on 'Greenback Dollar', I didn't go into a blue funk and walk around crying that everyone's crooked', Hoyt says of the experience. 'I've always been an optimist, and I'm going to stay that way until I die. I think I get that from my mother, who could go up to the devil himself and she'd say 'Hello, young man, you're a lovely shade of red, but you're a naughty boy'. With 'Greenback Dollar', I had a crooked publisher, and that was when I'd only been in the business a year, so I didn't know anything - I was just a kid with a guitar living in a car. How could I sue when the whole point of the song was how I didn't give a damn about a greenback dollar!!?'
Hoyt died aged 61, on 26 Oct. 1999 at his home in Montana, coincidentally just days after Tommy Durden (aged 79).
Other songs Hoyt wrote included 'Joy To The World', 'Della And The Dealer', 'When The Morning Comes', and 'Never Been To Spain' for Three Dog Night but later covered of course by Elvis.
Axton's 'The Pusher', was recorded by Steppenwolf and immortalised in the movie Easy Rider. He was survived by his wife, Deborah, and five children.
And it's nice that Mae's grandson, Mark Axton, Hoyt's son, has released a CD full of songs 'What's in a Name?', all self-composed.
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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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The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.