Fans who experienced Elvis Presley perform at Spokane’s Memorial Stadium in August 1957 recall how the King looked and sounded as he gyrated across the stage at the peak of his career.
However, Jackie Allen remembers how Presley felt.
“His skin was so soft” Allen recalled. “I remember touching his hand when he signed for me.”
Allen, 80, was photographed by a Spokane Chronicle photographer while she received an autograph from the rock and roll star.
“I was crying when I met him,” Allen said while calling from her Spokane Valley home.
The North Central High School alum, class of 1960, was one of the few people at the Spokane train station when Presley arrived. A neighbor, who was hired to pick up Presley, told Allen about the emerging superstar’s arrival.
“I was one of the few people there at the station the night before the concert because hardly anyone else knew about it,” Allen said.
The following evening Allen, who lived across the street from Memorial Stadium, attended the show.
“I cried throughout the concert since I was so thrilled,” Allen said. “I still have the ticket stub from the show.”
Linda Chamberlain also has her ripped ticket from the event.
While cleaning out her mother’s basement five years ago, Chamberlain discovered her lone memento from Presley’s Spokane debut, on the night of Aug. 30, 1957, at Spokane Memorial Stadium (later known as Joe Albi Stadium).
“When I saw the ticket, I was like, ‘Oh my God, are you kidding me?’ ” Chamberlain said from her South Hill home. “It was an experience I’ll never forget. I was 10 years old and I knew how lucky I was to see Elvis.”
Chamberlain, 75, and her sister, Rita Joyce, 77, who grew up in Hillyard, experienced history thanks to their mother, Nicky Joyce, who was crazy about Elvis.
“My mom was 31 at the time of the concert and she thought Elvis was the greatest,” Chamberlain said. “She loved playing those early Elvis albums in our house. She and her friend decided to take my sister and I to the show since we were her cover. I was 10 and my sister was 12. Most parents at that time didn’t like Elvis. I overheard my friend’s parents say that he was the devil and he was just awful.”
Teenage girls, the overwhelming majority at Presley’s Spokane debut, screamed and howled throughout the 16-song performance, Chamberlain said.
“I remember my mother got upset with the girls in front of us, who were out of control,” Chamberlain recalled. “They just screamed. She told them that she didn’t pay for our tickets to hear them. She wanted to hear Elvis.”
Chamberlain and her sister wanted to see Elvis. Chamberlain repeatedly yanked at the binoculars around Rita’s neck.
“My poor sister’s memory from the show is me pulling on the binoculars,” Chamberlain said. “We weren’t far from the stage, but we both just wanted to see Elvis as well as possible.”
Presley kicked off the show with Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.” The King followed with such classics as “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.”
“I loved every minute of the show, but my favorite was when Elvis played ‘When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again,’ ” Chamberlain said. “That’s an amazing song.”
Give Chamberlain credit for going with the deep cut penned by Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan. Presley, who was 22 and in his prime, altered the state of pop music and pop culture. The first rock and roll star was just a year removed from his initial hit when he played Memorial Stadium. His first two albums, “Elvis” and “Elvis Presley,” each recorded and released in 1956, were pure, primal blasts of rockabilly.
Many music pundits believe that 1957 was Presley’s peak as a singer and performer.
Presley’s raw sensuality disturbed many adults and thrilled young women. It was a huge deal when Presley opened his four-day, five-city Pacific Northwest tour in Spokane.
“You wonder why Elvis played a show in our city, which didn’t have a lot going on at the time,” Chamberlain said. “And we were so isolated.”
Nevertheless, Presley, his band, his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and his entourage embarked on a two-day train trip from Memphis to Spokane.
Presley played on a stage directly in the middle of the Memorial Stadium field. “He was right on what would have been the 50-yard line,” Chamberlain said.
According to Chamberlain, half of the stadium’s concrete bleachers were empty.
“I’ll never forget that people were seated on one side of the stadium,” Chamberlain said. “Nobody else was on the other side (of the venue).”
What is burned into Chamberlain’s memory is Presley’s finale, “Hound Dog.” During the performance the kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, leapt into the dirt track from the stage that separated him from his fans. Presley belted out “Hound Dog,” while in a gold lamé jacket, and fell to his knees in the dirt and sawdust.
“I’ll never get that image out of my head, and as soon as ‘Hound Dog’ ended, Elvis jumped into a Cadillac and drove right out of the stadium,” Chamberlain said. “It all happened so fast. Girls jumped over the railing from the stands to the track and started putting sawdust and dirt from where Elvis jumped on into their purses. It was absolutely crazy.”
Not every young girl was as fortunate as Chamberlain and Joyce. Judith Holter, 77, who was a sixth grader growing up in West Central when Presley played Memorial Stadium, wanted to catch the King but didn’t have the opportunity.
“I couldn’t afford to go,” Holter said while calling from Olympia. “I wanted to see Elvis but we were a limited-income family.”
The tickets, which were $3.50, are the equivalent of $37 today.
“That’s the way it went for me,” Holter said. “My father passed away and my mom was raising us. Elvis was such a thing. He was such a great singer. He was so attractive. But I never saw the show or any footage from it.”
Chamberlain has never witnessed film of the show either.
“I don’t know if anything was shot,” Chamberlain said. “My regret is that I didn’t bring my Brownie Instamatic. No one thought to bring a camera to the show. It’s alright. I’ll always have my memories of Elvis performing, and I still have my ticket stub after all of these years.”
Chamberlain and Allen each visited Graceland after Presley died in 1977, but neither saw the aging enigma when he performed at the Coliseum in 1976. “I didn’t want to spoil my memories of Elvis playing Memorial Stadium, so I didn’t go to the Coliseum,” Allen said. “I still think about that show at Memorial Stadium, and I still love Elvis.”