ROCKIN' AT THE HOLIDAY INN

In the late '50s or early '60s, Kemmons Wilson developed a musical extension for Holiday Inns: the Holiday Inn record label. Wilson pressed 45s with that imprint, aiming to sell them at his hotels' front desks and in the lobbies of the Continental Trailways bus line he then owned.

Among those recording for the Holiday Inn label were “The Ozark Flash,” Frank “Andy” Starr; a group called the Roller Coasters; and Charlie Feathers, a fierce country singer who could also wail rockabilly. A Mississippi native, Feathers also recorded for Sun, Sam Phillips's label, and the Sun subsidiary, Flip. In 1955, about the time Wilson's Holiday Inn hotel concept was gaining traction, the Sun Records roster included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, also known as the Million Dollar Quartet.

The Holiday Inn-Sun connection is a deep one. Kemmons Wilson and Sam Phillips were friends; Phillips was an early investor in Holiday Inn. It was Wilson who advised Phillips to sell Presley's contract and back catalogue to RCA Victor for $35,000. Wilson didn't think the Pelvis could sing.

Phillips used the proceeds from the Presley sale to launch WHER, the first “all-girl radio station,” on Oct. 9, 1955. Women played the records, managed the station and reported the news, according to National Public Radio, which broadcast a special on WHER in 1999, 44 years after its first broadcast.

According to Jim Cole, a music fan who used to work in the archives of the University of Memphis, another personality associated with the Holiday Inn label was Dot Abbott, a staffer at WHER who would become better known as Dot Holiday. “She became kind of the voice of Holiday Inn,” says Cole, who helped renowned rock historian Peter Guralnick research his epochal, two-volume biography of Presley.

Cole says he also thinks Wilson was involved in the jukebox business in Memphis “early, like in the '40s.”

The Holiday Inn label figures on a great two-CD Feathers anthology, “Get With It,” released recently on the independent label Revenant Records. It also comes up in the reminiscences of the family of Starr, the “Ozark Flash;” strongly influenced by Presley, he cut two tracks, “Feeling” and “Dream,” for the Holiday Inn label in 1961.

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