When did Elvis become country?

I was listening to a number of classic country stations this weekend and heard them all play Elvis Presley songs, both early and late in his career. That’s probably more than I hear Elvis’ songs on oldies stations. This puzzles me since I remember reading when Elvis played the Lousiana Hayride and Grand Olde Opry in the fifties, he was frostily received and in both cases was not invited back. Plus many histories of country music note rock-and-roll’s popularity in the fifties sharply decreased the popularity of country music. So why and when did Elvis start being considered country music?

Elvis was country from day one. The B-side of his first single was a Bill Monroe cover.

Elvis and the other 1950s rock pioneers were melding together blues, folk, and country music. The country part is often overlooked in the history of rock, because of its uncool associations, but it was a crucial part of what became rock music. Not just from the white side, either: Chuck Berry was a big country music fan and some of his songs are much closer to country than the blues.

The Grand Old Opry is not the arbiter of what is or isn’t country music. They famously banned Hank Williams Sr from appearing, too, and you can’t get any countrier than Hank. Elvis is country as much as anything is.

Grand Ole Opry

Spellcheck got me on that one.

Heh. :wink: Your post is otherwise solid.

Underlining mine.

My (rather dim) recollection is that Elvis was not played much, if at all, on Country stations in the 50’s and 60’s. I believe it was sometime in the 70’s that he was included in their programming. I welcome correction on this matter if I’m mistaken.

As to why, I can only speculate. Certainly a case can be made that he fit in with other Rockabilly/crossover artists such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. Perhaps the Outlaw movement in Country music helped widen the horizons of Country radio programmers.

True, although his style on that probably made most Monroe fans cringe, and (I presume) kept it off of Country radio at the time.

Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
Elvis’ “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Monroe himself was inspired/challenged by Elvis’s version. So much so that he answered it by going back and re-recording Blue Moon of Kentucky to include the uptempo section found at the end of the clip you linked. (Bill was not one to allow himself to be upstaged by some punk kid.)

These days, most people who know the song only know Monroe’s post-Elvis recording of it and have forgotten the original version, which was slow waltz all the way through.

The story I heard, an anecdote told on A Prairie Home Companion, was that Bill Monroe was asked whether he was offended by Elvis’ version of his song. Monroe replied, “No, sir. Them were powerful checks.”

A lot of music of the 50’s has to be thought of in at least two categories: what they thought it sounded like back then, and the way it sounds to us now. We just don’t seem to perceive the differences between country-style rock and country the way people did back then. And that change in perceptions itself has a history. I’m not prepared to give a full accounting as to why Elvis, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, gets retroactively lumped in with country, but Bill Haley doesn’t. But the upshot is that categorical distinctions are fluid even within the populations who are making those distinctions.

I don’t know the exact answer to the OP, but I do know that when I moved to the Memphis area in the early '80s (I was about 12 or 13), the local FM country music station was WLVS (as in W-Elvis).

I listened to country music exclusively throughout high school and got my first real introduction to Elvis via that country music station. And this was not some retro country station, it was top 40 country, mixed with some standards, and lot of Elvis.

(WLVS actually changed formats in the mid-80s to easy listening–no telling what it is now)

But see the distinction drawn now between country-style rock (termed “country”) and rock. The “boundary” has shifted far rockward.

Indeed, I would argue that the majority of what was regarded as “Rock ‘n’ Roll” back in the day would not be considered “Rock” now.

IIRC, this is not correct. While he was shunned at the Grand Ole Opry he was well received on the Louisiana Hayride. The Grand Ole Opry considered itself the the home of established performers while the Louisiana Hayride sought to nurture the up and coming stars. It took a couple of weeks for the crowds to catch on but he was a big hit there eventually.

My observation from a number of years of playing in bands: After 5 or 6 years rock songs tend to become acceptable to country crowds. In the mid 80s you could get away with playing Joe Walsh, BTO, or even April Wine in some pretty redneck looking places. I used to say that after 5 years all rock songs automatically become country. I think the real truth is that the stereotypical hardcore country only fan is actually pretty rare.

Missed the edit window.

“By the end of his first year on the Hayride, Elvis was hotter than a two dollar pistol.”

You have to remember where Elvis grew up; Mississippi and Tennessee. Yeah, he was exposed to a lot of gospel music, but most of what was on the radio in those areas was country. And most of the records he made at Sun were remakes of the country tunes he grew up listening to.

Then later in his career, in the 70’s, he veered back into country and occupied the same “musical space” as Kenny Rodgers and Dolly Parton. Most of his studio work was done in Nashville (a relatively short ride from Graceland in Memphis). It would have been especially difficult not to be influenced by country in that environment.

  • Shadowfyre (whose doper name would have been Elvis if it had not already been taken)

Just a little off topic: a local radio station has an advertisement for an all-Elvis gospel service at the local Methodist church. Based on what I saw at Graceland last month (on vacation with my wife!), I can see both the gospel and country sides of his early hit records.

Recent Jeopardy question:

One of the only two people in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of fame.

(The second answer is: Who is Johnny Cash.)

Elvis was huge on the country charts in his '50s heyday, even with songs that weren’t remotely countryish, like “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Strangely, the only song from his late-60s comeback to make the country charts was “Don’t Cry Daddy”–I would have thought at least “Kentucky Rain” would have been a natural for country radio.

List of Elvis’s country chart hits

I think I love you - simply from a cool Elvis knowledge standpoint.

Shakester did a great job overall. The fact that Elvis was rock n roll, Carl Perkins was rockabilly and Johnny Cash was country was subtle degrees of variation and marketing. Same with Chuck Berry - the fact that he was black was the only thing that kept Maybelline - based on the country song Ida Red IIRC - from being sold as country.

Our Country station (I was a DJ there for 24 years) played “Kentucky Rain” when it came out. We played Elvis in limited rotation. When did he really become “Country?” In my experience it happened when he died. THEN he started to be embraced by the hard core crowd. Well, he started to be embraced by enough of the hard core crowd that we increased the Elvis playlist.