Hard to believe, but there really was a time when Elvis Presley was just another aspiring musician hoping to break through.
And here's proof: a 1955 concert poster with Presley among the opening acts, listed in small print toward the bottom and well below Faron Young, headliner Hank Snow, the Wilburn Brothers and others.
"We've never seen this poster before, so it was exciting to find," said Giles Moon, consignment director for entertainment and music with Texas-based Heritage Auctions. "Not only for the particular date and venue, but any poster of Elvis from the '50s is exceptionally rare."
Made by Nashville's iconic Hatch Show Print with its signature block lettering and bright colors, the poster is for a May 19, 1955, show. While the poster identifies the venue as "City Auditorium," a day-of-show advertisement in The News & Observer puts it at Memorial Auditorium.
Whatever the venue, the poster offers a window into Presley's place on the music industry's totem pole in the months before he became the biggest act in the world.
As main headliner, Snow was one of the biggest stars in country music. By 1955, he already had five No. 1 hits on the country singles chart. Presley, meanwhile, had released just a handful of singles, most recently "Baby Let's Play House" in April 1955.
Presley was listed as one of the "special added attractions" on that year's WSM Grand Ole Opry All Star Jamboree, but he consistently stole the show from that lowly perch. With Presley's star on the rise, crowd response and demands for encores grew night by night.
There were reports, however, that Presley chafed at his support-act status.
"I heard Elvis played in Raleigh and hated it," said Ernest Dollar, director of the City of Raleigh Museum. "Our brush with fame, I guess. Maybe he didn't like being so far down on the bill."
Presley would play Raleigh one more time as an opening act, in September 1955 on another package show. But then Presley's career exploded in January 1956 with his television debut and first No. 1 pop hit, "Heartbreak Hotel." Less than two weeks after that TV appearance, Presley returned to Raleigh as headliner for a February 1956 show at the Ambassador Theater.
As for what this 1955 poster might fetch, its final price could be a multiple of the $5,000 starting point for bids. Moon said that another Presley poster of similar vintage sold for around $11,000 a few years ago — but that was a duplicate, and it also showed signs of wear.
"This one is in remarkably good condition," said Moon. "We are expecting a lot of interest. Close to 700 people have made inquiries, which, for one of our sales, is exceptional. There's definitely a buzz among Elvis collectors because one of these hasn't turned up for a few years."
Online bidding is open now at entertainment.ha.com. Following that, there will be a live auction in Dallas on April 15, with bidding by telephone available. For details, contact Heritage Auctions at 877-437-4824.
David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi