Elvis actually had little interest in music in-and-of-itself other than as a vehicle to Hollywood to be the next
Marlon Brando or James Dean, a rebel on the big screen. Although Elvis would never become what he aspired to be, he learned the "No Smile Thing" from Brando, Dean, and Tony Curtis. Elvis was sure that not smiling was the key to their success, and he was sure he could achieve that same sultry look . . . Elvis spent hours practicing in front of a mirror.
Philips liked Elvis' clothes. Elvis bought his clothes at Lansky's, a store on Beale Street whose customers were mostly flashy African-American men. Phillips also liked Elvis' sideburns. There is some dispute as to whether Phillips was actually in the studio when Elvis first walked in (Phillips' secretary took credit for the first recording). Phillips claimed he was there and recorded/pressed the first disc. Phillips knew Elvis had some kind of special talent, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
On 5 July 1954, Phillips brought in two musicians, and Elvis recorded "That's All Right Mama". It was a song from famed bluesman Arthur Crudup, but hadn't gone anywhere in terms of popularity. Elvis' blend of country with blues ("Rock-a-billy") would to right to the center of U.S. popular culture.
Not only was Dewey Phillips a passive-aggressive rebel, but according to Sam Phillips, Dewey had a "platinum ear", and was connected to his young listeners to an incredible degree. So it was no surprise that Sam sent Elvis' first recordings to Dewey. The songs were such a success that Dewey spent all his show alternating between Side A and Side B on the disc. In another bit of irony, Elvis could not read music, but he nonetheless could play guitar, and he could imitate any voice that he chose.
Mintz told Freed that the appeal of the music to white kids was centered around the beat. Freed had not yet found his special niche as a disc jockey on radio, but he not only found his niche, but secured his place in American music history. In the Summer of 1951, Freed started "The Moondog Show" on a 50,000 watt radio station in Cleveland, a station that was so powerful it reached most of the Midwest. Freed's success was immediate: it was as if an entire generation of middle class white kids had been waiting for someone to catch up with the times. On the radio, Freed became one of kids; he was on their side, opposite of their parents. When Freed endorsed concerts, thousands of tickets were sold, and more would be sold if he announced that he would be at the concert. In 1953, Freed had become incredibly popular in several states, while Elvis had graduated from high school, and had very limited options to pursue . . .