Originally created 08/16/97

Augusta fans had a burnin' love for Elvis 40 years ago



Twenty years ago, Elvis died. But instead of remembering the man who left Las Vegas, some Augustans remember the hound dog in black leather loafers who rocked Bell Auditorium on Wednesday, June 27, 1956.

Robert Symms, 63, was there.

It was 98 degrees. Six-packs of Cokes were on sale for 17 cents. And Elvis was in town.

"It was a hot, hot night," Mr. Symms, a photographer, recalled Friday. He stood outside with his camera slung around waiting for Elvis' limo.

Elvis was late.

"A cab pulled up at the curb and some guys got out of it and started walking up toward the stage door," Mr. Symms recalled. "It wasn't until they got really close that we realized it was Elvis."

Lip furled, sweaty shirt collar open and his jacket mis-buttoned, the King walked in the stage door.

"He was kinda rumpled," Mr. Symms says. "A lot of stars dress kinda cruddy."

"He looked like he needed a hair cut," The Chronicle reported the next day.

Elvis changed his jacket, posed with some fans and hit the stage.

There was no warmup act.

"He was the main event," Mr. Symms says. "The only event."

Wearing black loafers and a bright red sports coat, Elvis Presley "bounced on the stage of Bell Auditorium like a hungry panther," The Chronicle reported.

More than 6,000 teens crammed into Bell Auditorium and watched as "the hottest thing in music today groaned, twitched and swung his hips," the newspaper reported.

"Back then, it was the largest stage in Georgia, possibly in the Southeast," Mr. Symms says.

Jean Rhodes, 64, sat in the left side of the balcony. She had never seen so many people, she says.

That night he sang Heartbreak Hotel, Long TallSally, I Was The One, Baby Let's Play House, IWant You, I Need You, I Love You, I've Got aWoman and Blue Suede Shoes.

"I was right favorable impressed," Mr. Symms says.

"Dragging the mike to the side of the stage, the 21-year-old Presley edged his way off stage with his last note and ran to a waiting taxi at the stage door," The Chronicle reported.

But the king didn't go too far. He was hungry. So was Ms. Rhodes.

"After the performance, we decided to go down to Luigi's and have a pizza and he was down there," she says.

She got him to autograph her hand.

"I'll never wash this hand again," she told him.