Elvis Ignited:
The Rise of an Icon in Florida

Bob Kealing

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"I don't think there was a better time and place to be a teenager than in Florida in the 1950s. It was such a magical place. Elvis is part of what contributed to that excitement."--Bob Graham, former Florida governor and United States senator

"Kealing tells us the story of what happened when Elvis arrived in Florida and what role the Sunshine State played in his life and musical career. This is a critical era in the Elvis Saga."--William McKeen, editor of Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay: An Anthology

"A Florida-centric look at his 1956 breakout state for people who thought they knew everything about Elvis."--Joel Selvin, author of Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day

"Presents a great picture of what it was like to be a touring musician in the 1950s and also of Florida at the time and how the culture was changed by the shock of Elvis."--Joy Wallace Dickinson, author of Remembering Orlando: Tales from Elvis to Disney


It was his most electric and influential time as a live performer. The young and hungry Elvis burst onto stages large and small--sexy, controversial, brimming with talent and ambition. One lightning-hot year in Florida fueled his rise from novelty act to headlining megastar.

Elvis Ignited tracks the rising star through his tours of Florida, from 1955 when Presley was an unknown to 1956 when Presley played more concerts in Florida than in any other state. In only fifteen months, Presley toured Florida four times, becoming the object of worship, scorn, and controversy. Struck by a new kind of music and performances so different from anything they had known before, Floridians saw how special Elvis was before the rest of the world caught on. Before their very eyes, he transformed from Hillbilly Cat to the King of Rock and Roll.

Bob Kealing interviews people who saw the King up close, recalling the time-stands-still memories of hearing his iconic songs for the first time. He speaks with Floridians who helped Elvis along the way: the late Jim Kirk from Ocala, who offered Presley his first headlining opportunity; former governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham, who saw the young rockabilly god at the dawning of Elvis mania; Steve Binder, who produced Presley's '68 Comeback Special; and Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin, who opened for Presley in Florida.

Kealing follows Elvis after his return from the Army to his homecoming TV special in Miami with Frank Sinatra and through the filming of Follow That Dream in Florida in 1961, offering unique insights into the singer's relationship with co-star Anne Helm, his controversial manager Tom Parker, and the beginnings of his melancholy as a prisoner of fame.

This book is a roadmap to Elvis's time in the Sunshine State, a guide to the many small and large venues he played up and down the peninsula, and a spotlight on the people who witnessed, supported, and even opposed his meteoric rise to fame. It was a turning point in American music history; it was the arrival of rock and roll.

Bob Kealing, an Edward R. Murrow and five-time Emmy award-winning reporter for NBC’s WESH-TV in Orlando, is the author of Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock; Kerouac in Florida: Where the Road Ends; and Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire.

[Presley] comes back to life in the pages of Bob Kealing’s Elvis Ignited. . . . This is the Elvis that created the legend: young, beautiful, raw and revolutionary, a shot of pure energy into mid-century America. Tampa Bay Times

Fascinating stories about the singer’s early career in the Sunshine State. Florida Today

Reveal[s] Florida’s crucial role in the life and musical careers of the king of rock ‘n’ roll. . . . The first comprehensive record of a real turning point in American musical history. Orlando Sentinel

This book has the energy of Elvis’s hip-shaking and leg-shaking performances. At once mythic and credible, it’s a kind of creation story. It’s a time and place not to be forgotten, and Bob Kealing makes it exquisitely memorable. Florida Weekly

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