the biggest country & western record news of 1955

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

ELVIS WAS AL­READY A STAR when RCA Victor ac­quired his con­tract in No­vember 1955. The record com­pany had won a bid­ding war for the right to pur­chase his con­tract from Sun Records. They paid a king’s ransom for that con­tract but be­lieved that Presley would be the biggest country & western record star of 1956!

The deal was com­pli­cated and in­cluded three ob­vious parties—RCA Victor, Sun Records, and Elvis Presley—along with two less ob­vious parties—Hill & Range Music and Colonel Tom Parker. The deal re­ceived a good deal of at­ten­tion in the trade jour­nals al­though most of that at­ten­tion ad­dressed the first three parties.

Much of what hap­pened im­me­di­ately after the deal was fi­nal­ized has been ob­scured with the pas­sage of time. Ex­actly when RCA Victor was able to place copies of Presley plat­ters in re­tail shops across the country is not known. By ex­actly, I mean to the day. We have means of de­ter­mining rea­son­ably ac­cu­rate dates.

This ar­ticle is one in a se­ries about col­lecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56.

Col­lector Keith Flynn has been able to ac­quire moun­tains of doc­u­men­ta­tion about RCA Victor and their Presley re­leases and make it avail­able to fans, col­lec­tors, and re­searchers on his Elvis Presley Pages site. But he has not yet found the ac­tual pa­per­work de­tailing when the first RCA Victor Elvis Presley record was shipped to dealers.

That record was a reissue of the final Sun single, I Forgot To Re­member To Forget / Mys­tery Train. Re­leased with the cat­alog num­bers 20–6357 for 78 rpm records and 47–6357 for 45 rpm records, copies were def­i­nitely avail­able to fans prior to Christmas 1955.

While we may not yet have ac­cess to RCA Vic­tor’s listing no­tice with the ship­ping date for those records, we do have some other documentation.


Western Record News: RCA Victor in-house Record Bulletin from November 28,  1 955, announcing release of first Elvis Presely single.

Biggest C&W Record News of the Year!

There is RCA Victor Record Bul­letin dated No­vember 28, 1955, that was sent to com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The memo’s title (in all caps) was “Biggest C&W Record News Of The Year!” It ad­dressed the much-ballyhooed ac­qui­si­tion of Elvis Presley the com­pa­ny’s im­me­diate plans.

Here is the full text of that memo with the cap­i­tal­iza­tion and un­der­lining the same as the orig­inal. (I have num­bered each para­graph for ease in re­fer­ring to it from my com­ments that follow).

1)  “In Elvis Presley we’ve ac­quired the most dy­namic and sought-after new artist in country music today, one who’s topped the ‘most promising cat­e­gory in every trade and con­sumer poll held during 1955!

2)  Pro­mo­tion is being spear­headed with disc jockey records to the en­tire Pop and C&W ‘A’ lists, an ini­tial cov­erage of more than 4,000 destinations!

3)  Page ads will ap­pear this week in Bill­board and Cash Box, with reprints about 10 days later. The is­sues will carry full pub­licity on Presley joining the label.

4)  It’s im­per­a­tive that follow up this all-market ap­proach to every sta­tion re­ceiving Pop or Country ser­vice. Use the trade ar­ti­cles to sell your dealers and one stops across the board!

5)  The tunes: I FORGOT TO RE­MEMBER TO FORGET and MYS­TERY TRAIN. The number: 20/47–6357. The name: ELVIS PRESLEY, one that will be your guar­antee of sen­sa­tional plus-sales in the months to come!”

The memo was signed by John Y. Burgess, Jr., Manager/Sales and Promotion/Single Record Department.


Western Record News: B-side of white label promo pressing of first RCA Victor Elvis Presley single, "Mystery Train" (47-6357).
This is the B‑side of the disc jockey records that are men­tioned in the RCA Victor Record Bul­letin from No­vember 28, 1955. Among col­lec­tors, these records are re­ferred to as white label promos.

Sensational sales to come!

1)  The first para­graph ac­knowl­edges that Presley was the most sought-after new artist in country music today.

2)  The second para­graph an­nounces the com­pa­ny’s plan to man­u­fac­ture and ship at least 4,000 disc jockey records (white label promos) to the en­tire pop and country & western “A” lists. I as­sume that “lists” refers to top radio sta­tions, al­though I did not know that sta­tions were cat­e­go­rized in such a manner. Nor did I know that there were so many sta­tions that there could be 4,000 in the “A” cat­e­gory. How many more were there in 1955?

This state­ment would also ap­pear to bol­ster the ar­gu­ment that the very first thing that RCA Victor did with their new artist was to get copies of his cur­rent hit single into record and de­part­ment stores around the country as quickly as possible.

3)  The third para­graph men­tions ads that will ap­pear this week in Bill­board and Cash Box. The first such ads did ap­pear in the is­sues of those mag­a­zines cover-dated for the first week of December.

4)  The fourth para­graph ba­si­cally urges whole­salers to order now and order big.

5)  The fifth para­graph lists the ti­tles of the Presley platter with its cat­alog number and ac­cu­rately guar­an­tees the reader “sen­sa­tional plus-sales in the months to come!”

The only real sur­prise in the memo—aside from the number of copies of disc jockey records that RCA Victor manufactured—was the fact that it took RCA Victor seven days after ac­quiring Presley to reach this point.

This ar­ticle about the biggest country & western record news of 1955 is one in a se­ries about col­lecting Elvis records from 1955 and early ’56. Click To Tweet

Western Record News: photo of Elvis posing with guitar in RCA's New York studio on December 1, 1955.

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is of the label for the white label pro­mo­tional pressing of RCA Victor 47–6357, I Forgot To Re­member To Forget. As there is no need for a larger or un­cropped ver­sion of that image here, in­stead here is a photo of Elvis taken at the RCA Victor recording studio in New York. Taken on De­cember 1, 1955, the visit and the photos were purely for pub­licity pur­poses. Elvis would not ac­tu­ally record a note for his new record com­pany until Jan­uary 10, 1956, and then it would be at RCA’s studio in Nashville.


Western Record News: Elvis in his gold suit from early 1957.


The first four­teen ar­ti­cles in this se­ries are al­most com­pleted and listed below with links to each. Should you ac­cess one of these ar­ti­cles and re­ceive an Error Page, try back a week later.

01  RCA Vic­tor’s “SPDSeries of Spe­cialty Records
02  What Was the First Elvis Record That RCA Victor Released?
03  The Biggest Country & Western Record News of 1955
04  The First RCA Elvis Record Was “I Forgot to Re­member to Forget”
05  The RCA Victor Car­toon Pic­ture Sleeves of the ’50s
06  The Elvis “This Is His Life” Car­toon Pic­ture Sleeve
07  RCA Victor 47–6357 Bootleg Pic­ture Sleeves
08  The “Record Bul­letin” Pic­ture Sleeve for RCA’s First Elvis Record Is a Fake
09  Did RCA Re­lease Other Ver­sions of Elvis’ Songs to Com­pete With Elvis’ Records?
10  A New Kind of Hit Re-run With Elvis Presley
11  Was “E‑Z Pop Pro­gram­ming 5” the First LP to Fea­ture an Elvis Track?
12  Was “E‑Z Country Pro­gram­ming 2” the First LP to Fea­ture an Elvis Track?
13  Was SPD-15 the First EP to Fea­ture an Elvis Track?
14  Is the Country & Western Jukebox Pro­mo­tion Kit a Fake?

More ar­ti­cles ad­dressing the early RCA Victor re­leases are planned. Each will con­tain the block­quote, “This ar­ticle is one in a se­ries about col­lecting Elvis records from late 1955 and early ’56,” like the one at the be­gin­ning of this article.

To find all the ar­ti­cles in the se­ries, copy the block­quote, paste it into the Find op­tion (the mag­ni­fying glass in the nav­i­ga­tion bar at the top of each page), and then press Re­turn or Enter on your keyboard.

Fi­nally, thanks to Paul Combs (Elvis Records), Frank Daniels (Frik­tech), Dave Reynolds (Elvis Rare Records), and Joe Spera (Elvis Presley Tapes) for their input in some or all of these articles.



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