A number of years ago, I wrote a business plan for a blues band, of which I was the bass player. When I took a job in a community across the country, I re-wrote the plan, wrote some marketing materials which explained the music we played, and started working the plan and seeking bookings for my new band.
I also started interviewing musicians.
A guitarist that seemed to be a good choice told me that I was either trying to scam potential employers, or was an idiot. “You can’t book a band that doesn’t exist,” Jim insisted.
I asked how many gigs he’d been paid for in the last year. “Well,” he said, “I’m still having trouble finding the right musicians.”
“But Jim, you’ve been trying to form your own band and rehearsing with various musicians for… how long,” I asked? “Two years? No kidding? Two years with no pay at all. Do you think that you could learn some classic blues songs if I give you the lead sheets? You already know those songs? Great. Then a couple of run throughs with the rest of the band should be enough to get you comfortable. We have six paying gigs lined up. They pay seventy bucks, each. Wanna play?”
I was reminded of this incident in a conversation with an Elvis fan.
The fan explained Colonel Tom Parker had been charging 50 percent of Elvis’ income for managing the star. The fan believed that the Colonel had taken advantage of Elvis. Apparently its a commonly held belief. “Where would he have been if he hadn’t been lucky enough to hook up with Elvis,” the fan wanted to know?
I know exactly where he’d be.
It helps to understand who Colonel Tom was. The Colonel was born Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk in June of 1909 in Breda, Netherlands, the fifth of eleven children. After graduating from high school, he relocated to the U.S. and volunteered for the U.S. Army. Following his discharge he changed his name to Tom Parker, lived as a hobo, and joined the circus as a carny for Royal Amusement Shows.
In the early 1940s he worked as an ASPCA dog catcher, and pet cemetery proprietor in Tampa, Florida. As a dogcatcher, Parker put his circus training to use. He gathered the pups from several dogs, placed them all with one mother, and called a reporter from the Tribune to report a single dog had just given birth to 21 puppies. Apparently he did this more than once, and got press each time.
His first job as a show business manager began in 1944 when he took over the career of country singer Eddie Arnold. By the end of 1947 Arnold had been number one on the country charts for 53 weeks. When Parker and Arnold separated he began booking country star Hank Snow, taking over as Snow’s manager in 1955. He began hiring a Memphis rocker named Elvis Presley as Snow’s opening act.