You may know that May 15 was the birthday of Las Vegas. We celebrate the day of the auction that led to the creation of the railroad’s townsite. You may not know this May 15 was the centennial of the birth of Eddy Arnold. Yes, the country singer. And we’re not just talking about him today because the author of Nevada Yesterdays is a country music fan. There’s more to the story.
Eddy Arnold performed for more than sixty years. He had 147 songs on the Billboard charts. He was a pioneer of the Nashville Sound, which sought to take country music out of the fields and go uptown with it. He first performed at the El Rancho Vegas in 1949. He later said he was afraid the owners expected him to gamble when he wasn’t performing. He was relieved to find out he didn’t have to. He was a Las Vegas fixture until he announced his retirement just after his eightieth birthday—from the stage of The Orleans, where he was performing. But Eddy Arnold also affected Las Vegas in a way you may not know about and he didn’t expect.
In 1953, Arnold was doing a two-week gig at the new Sahara, where longtime entertainer and impresario Bill Miller booked him. The deal was made through Colonel Tom Parker, who assured Arnold that he was his only client.
Parker had gone down to the Sahara’s coffee shop when a call came to Arnold’s room. The caller asked Arnold to give a message to Parker: “Just tell him the show we got together with Hank Snow is doing great.” Snow was another country singer, and Arnold didn’t appreciate Parker working with somebody else. He went to the coffee shop and told Parker about the call. As he approached, he saw Parker and his assistant hide some papers under the table. Arnold said nothing until he finished the two weeks in Las Vegas. Then he sent a note to Parker firing him. They worked out an arrangement for Parker to keep booking him, though not exclusively. Publicly, they praised each other.
Arnold also praised Parker when Hank Snow asked about him. Snow signed with Parker and they set up a booking agency. According to Snow, Parker “mentioned a young artist who seemed to be creating quite a disturbance in certain parts of the Midsouth and especially Texas.” The creator of that disturbance was Elvis Presley, who signed a deal with Snow and Parker—or so Snow thought. Snow said his attorney told him Parker wasn’t operating legally and could get him into trouble with the IRS. Informed of this, Parker said they should end their partnership. When Snow said he asked what would happen to their contract with Presley, Parker replied, “You don’t have any contract with Elvis Presley. Elvis is signed exclusively to the Colonel.”
Snow never said anything publicly until he published his autobiography, about forty years after the events he described. By then, Elvis was dead and Parker was old and retired. But they had become a part of Las Vegas lore after signing an agreement for Elvis to perform at Kirk Kerkorian’s International, where Elvis sold out more than 800 straight shows. The entertainment director who signed that deal? Bill Miller, who had signed Eddy Arnold years before.
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