DescriptionElvis Presley's Legendary 1955 Original Personal Services Contract with RCA Records, Signed at Sun Records on November 21st by Elvis, His Father, Colonel Tom, and an RCA Executive. A four-page (single-sided) 8.5" x 11" typed (carbon copy) contract on thin paper, the first page being on Radio Corporation of America Record Department letterhead. There are file holes at the top of all four pages, with one or both sides of each page also three-hole punched (none of these impinge upon the text or handwriting). The signatures are all in clear blue ink at the bottom of page four, as follows: "H Colemon Tily III" as representative for RCA, "Elvis Presley," "Vernon Presley" as Father and Natural Guardian, and "Col Tom Parker" as "Rep."
This was the deal that led to the transformation of a twenty-year old Memphis lad from a popular Southern act recording on the regional Sun Records label into an international superstar with the full power of the large and prestigious RCA label behind him. Of course, the change was not immediate. Presley had played for a remote Louisiana Hayride broadcast at the high school in Gladewater, Texas just two days before inking this deal; four days after penning his name to this contract, he and his group performed at another high school venue, this one in Port Arthur, Texas (for the grand sum of $350). In the meantime though, the $5,000 bonus (of which Colonel Tom took his 25%) was a windfall to Presley. It is known that he went shopping in Memphis on November 23rd and spent $600 of it at Ed's Camera Shop! The day after the date of this agreement, Elvis, a well-mannered and appreciative young man, sent a telegram to Colonel Parker who had, for only a month, been Elvis's de facto manager (though Bob Neal still had a managerial contract): "Dear Colonel, Words can never tell you how my folks and I appreciate what you did for me. I've always known and now my folks are assured that you are the best, most wonderful person I could ever hope to work with. Believe me when I say I will stick with you through thick and thin and do everything I can to uphold your faith in me. Again, I say thanks and I love you like a father. Elvis Presley."
The contract date is typed as November 15, 1955 on each page and addressed to Mr. Elvis Presley, c/o Colonel Tom Parker at Madison, Tennessee (Parker's home) on the first page. A portion of the fourteen-paragraph contract was likely standard RCA boilerplate text, but there are a few clauses that might be interesting to examine more closely:
(2) ...A minimum of eight (8) record sides shall be recorded each year during the terms of this contract...
(4a) ...For the rights herein granted and for the services to be rendered hereunder by you, we shall pay you a royalty of 5% of the retail list price of records in the country of manufacture of 90% of all double-faced records manufactured and sold...
(4c) In order for us to obtain the assignment of your recording contract with Sun Records and for us to acquire title to the master records recorded by you for Sun Records, we have paid the sum of $35,000. and such payment shall be charged as an advance against one-half (½) of the royalties provided for in this agreement... [The contract wherein Sam Phillips agreed to this sale and compensation was signed earlier that same day.]
(4d) Upon the execution of this agreement we shall make to you a bonus payment of Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) which shall not be recoupable by us out of royalties or otherwise.
(9) We shall have the right to use and to allow others to use your name, facsimile signature and likeness and your biographical material for advertising and purposes of trade, in connection with the phonograph records made pursuant to this agreement... [The rest of this paragraph -- the part that would forbid Elvis from allowing anyone else to use his name, signature, or likeness in the marketing of certain products -- has been crossed out and initialed by Tily.] [Colonel Tom was likely looking ahead toward potential licensing income. Presley merchandise brought in $22,000,000 in 1956 alone.]
(10) The term of this agreement shall be three (3) years beginning November 21st, 1955 [handwritten].
(11) In the event you record a musical selection in which you have an interest, direct or indirect, in the copyright; the copyright royalty payable on such selection shall be 1½¢ [the typed 1¢ has been crossed out and initialed by Tily] per selection... [Concurrently with this contract, Parker set up two music publishing companies, Gladys Music and Elvis Presley Music, to handle all the songs that Elvis recorded. Songwriters were forced to give up one-third of their standard royalties in order for Elvis to record their songs.]
The last lines of the contract above the signatures read: "Please sign all copies of this agreement and return them to us. One executed copy will be returned for your files." This agreement was signed in person by all parties in a personal meeting. This is the copy that resided in the Presley archives at Graceland until 1999 when it was sold as lot A47 at the Elvis Presley Auction, October 8-10, 1999, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas by Elvis Presley Enterprises. That auction raised money to build Presley Place, a twelve-unit housing complex in Memphis designed to meet the needs of homeless families. This was a project that Elvis would have been very proud to be associated with; his daughter Lisa Marie was present at its official opening in 2001.
This astonishing document is considered by many to be the most desirable, important, and valuable recording contract ever signed. There is not an Elvis fan anywhere who is not familiar with this document; there is not an Elvis fan anywhere who wouldn't want to add it to his or her collection. For this cataloger, just having it on his desk for part of a day was actually quite a thrill. At the end of this auction, only one fortunate collector will feel the pride of ownership and the responsibility of stewardship for this iconic piece of popular culture. Shouldn't that be you? COAs from the Estate of Elvis Presley at Graceland and Rick Consola.
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