There's an auditorium in the city of Shreveport that played a huge roll in launching the careers of some of this country's greatest musicians. In the 1950's, almost everyone had heard of the Louisiana Hayride. Today, the memories of those great performers still echo through the old building.
"It is said that if you were to have stood in this building at the right moment in time, that you would have actually seen the music change, the face of music change for the whole country, right in the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium because of people like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and of course Elvis Presley," says Teresa Micheels with the auditorium.
It was 1954 when Elvis made his first appearance on the Louisiana Hayride, a weekly live concert that was broadcast on radio from the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport. KWKH radio announcer Frank Page introduced the young singer.
In an oral history recorded for LSU Shreveport, Page talks about the decision to put Elvis on the Hayride.
"We thought he sounded different, so we said let's try him out and see what happens. Well you know what happened. It drove the older people away and the young ones came in".
Elvis became a Hayride regular for the next year. The rising star packed the house.
Guitar legend James Burton started playing in the Hayride's house band when he was 14 years old.
"The crowd just went nuts. And then the younger crowd, every time he'd come and play, it was packed a packed house. A lot of singers I didn't know that well, but I had the opportunity to work with 'em and meet 'em back in those days and it was fantastic," says guitarist James Burton.
For ten amazing years, from 1948 until 1958, the Louisiana Hayride was known as the cradle of stars. Not only Elvis, but Country and Rock a Billy greats like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams spent their early years performing on this stage.
"It was kind of a birthing time for everybody to go on to things like the Grand Ole Opry, the bigger and better things, but they could actually reach a wider audience with the Louisiana Hayride," said Micheels.
While he was playing the Hayride, Burton wrote one of the most recognizable Rock-N-Roll guitar licks.
"Every night we'd play the clubs around Shreveport. I was under age so I had to get a permit to go play. We would play this little instrumental and it was like the biggest draw of the night. Everybody wanted to here it over and over, over and over," Burton said.
That little riff was the beginning of the hit song Suzie G. Burton left Shreveport and the Hayride and toured the country with Ricky Nelson. Then he got a call from the king.
"Elvis called me back in '69 and asked me to put a band but I was there the whole time, 69 up until he passed away in '77. He was really down to Earth person. He was a good southern gentleman, he was a great guy and the music, of course you know the music and what a great singer and performer," Burton said.
Burton still tours and records with some of the biggest names in music. He's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And he's returned to his home town setting up a recording studio directly across the street from the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium. Out front, on Elvis Presley Avenue, there's a statue of two famous musicians who made their make in Shreveport.
"They ask me who was your favorite entertainer to perform with. They were all my favorites because they were all good. They were all different, and that's what makes the music business so great is everyone is different," says Burton.
The Shreveport Municipal Auditorium is still used for concerts and other functions, including an occasional benefit concert by James Burton and his musician friends.
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