Fifty Years Later, East Texan Shares His Story With The King - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

08/14/07-Tyler

Fifty Years Later, East Texan Shares His Story With The King

This Thursday marks 30 years since the death of the King. Elvis Presley died August 16, 1977 and all this week, we're taking a look back at the East Texas connections, and how the memory of Elvis remains strong all these years later.

Perhaps it's stronger no more than with Tom and Billie Perryman. 

Tom has spent more than 50 years spinning records, but in the mid 50s, became part of history.  He helped Elvis get his start right here in East Texas. 

"When I saw this grandmother and mother and daughter -- three generations -- and they had just about the same reaction to Elvis Presley, I said that something's going to happen to that boy," Tom Perryman says.

Elvis had the talent. Of that there was no doubt.

In 1955, Tom and Billie Perryman hosted the Louisiana Hayride -- a group of talent seen few times before.

"All very courteous, and all very nice kids," Billie Perryman describes several of the group.

Tom worked at KSIJ in Gladewater, the studio where a documentary of those days was shot a few years ago.  Of course, Elvis would be one of the standout stars.

But Billie didn't see the crowd appeal so readily.

"I really didn't think Elvis was all that good looking.  I though he was cute, but i didn't think that was all that good looking, but of course the girls just fell all over him."

Tom says, "I brought him over here first and worked with him, and I saw immediatley that he had something. He was a phenomenon."

The pictures on the wall of the Perryman home mark that special point in time, when a legend was in the making.

"Billie counted and I think it was something like 15 or 16 appearances with him in 1955," Tom says.

The Perrymans and Elvis lost touch after the 50s.

Tom said the entourage -- the crush of fans began to isolate Elvis.

"The last time I saw him was that picture I have when he came to see us in 1956 at the Grand Ole' Opry," Tom says.

In the years after, they watched from afar.

"We still loved him.  It was sad to us. The worst part to me was when we went to Louisville, to the last show of his and when he walked on the stage -- and he did a fantastic show, but he was so bloated, so overweight.  It was sad to me," Billie says. 

Tom recalls the day Elvis died.

"Some of us in the business weren't really really shocked about it -- the fact that he really had died.  We knew that he was headed for a terrible ending if he didn't change."

Tom got a phone call from Nashville that day. 

"I got busy on the phone and checked it out and couldn't find anything on it until we got official word probably from the news service."

He then gave the word to his listeners.  Then as now, he appears every morning on 104.1 "The Ranch". 

"Elvis was a phenomenon, and he created something in music that no one has ever done or ever will do.  Not even the Beatles or anyone who has come along since," Tom says.

Tom Perryman not only touched the career of Elvis, but also of Country Hall of Fame Singer Jim Reeves.  Perryman and Reeves co-owned KGRI Radio in Henderson before Reeves died in a plane crash in 1964. 

Morgan Palmer, Reporting morganpalmer@kltv.com

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