The Louisiana Hayride

The Louisiana Hayride

The week after Elvis's October 2, 1954 appearance on ''The Grand Ole Opry,'' his record producer Sam Phillips arranged for Elvis to appear on the Opry's main competition, ''The Louisiana Hayride.'' This radio program began on April 3, 1948 and was broadcast by KWKH from the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana. Admission to the audience was 60¢ for adults and 30¢ for children and the show ran three hours. All of it aired in the region while parts of the show aired nationally on CBS Radio and overseas on Armed Forces Radio.

Known as ''The Cradle of the Stars,'' the Hayride was the springboard to fame for many country music stars including Hank Williams, Slim Whitman, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Faron Young, Floyd Cramer, Kitty Wells, Johnny Cash and George Jones to name just a few. Many of the Hayride regulars toured around the region in Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. In future ''Elvis Facts of the Week'' we'll profile some of these acts Elvis toured with in the early days of his career.

Elvis first performed on the Hayride on October 16, 1954. On November 6, 1954 he returned with his parents and, still being underage, they signed his contract with the show to appear weekly for one year. Elvis would receive $18 per show with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black each receiving $12. Through the rest of 1954 and through 1955, Elvis would have to race back to Shreveport each Saturday night from whereever he was touring to fulfill this commitment. In October 1955 the contract was renewed for another year at a $200 per show fee. By the spring of 1956 Elvis's fame had skyrocketed and the constraints of his weekly appearances on the Hayride made it very difficult to schedule Elvis elsewhere. With the filming of his first movie pending and the need to be in California, Colonel Tom Parker Parker (who got involved with Elvis's career in 1955 and officially became his manager in 1956) was able to buy Elvis out of his contract for $10,000 and the promise to appear on the special Hayride charity show on December 15, 1956. Elvis's last regular weekly appearance on the Hayride was March 31, 1956.

It was on the Hayride that he did his only product commercial. It was a radio spot for one of the show's sponsors Southern Made Doughnuts. Joseph D. Kent, owner of the surviving tapes of the show said in a 2002 interview that although he has a recording of Johnny Cash's doughnut commercial, he doesn't have the one of Elvis's as many of the tapes were reused and many others were eventually thrown away. These commercial spots in the program were not like modern commercials. Kent went on to explain that a fresh hot box of doughnuts would be delivered to the announcer on stage, who would open it in front of the audience, and the announcer would ask whichever act was setting up to perform next to offer their opinion of the product. The performer would then step up to the microphone and ad lib a testimonial of how good they were. Kent said about the Cash commercial, ''...in this case they said 'Johnny Cash knows about Southern Made Doughnuts don't you Johnny?' And he stepped up to the microphone and said, 'Yeah man, they're the best in the world, you just dunk 'em and slurp 'em, man they're fine, I think they're just the best.''' Elvis's endorsement would have been somewhat similar in nature.

James Burton, who played lead guitar for Elvis from 1969 to 1977, is a Shreveport native. In August 2005 he held the James Burton International Guitar Festival at the Municipal Auditorium, former home of ''The Louisiana Hayride.'' The festival featuring many well-known guitarists was to help raise money for Burton's foundation dedicated to providing musical scholarships and instruments to children and young adults. James appeared on the Hayride in the 1950s. On August 21, 2005, James's 66th birthday and the last day of his festival, a statue honouring him was unveiled in front of the auditorium. It stands next to the statue there of Elvis. Although the Hayride program stopped in 1960, the Municipal Auditorium is still the venue for various live entertainment events in Shreveport.

Source: EPE