Even the most ardent non-fans of country music can probably name the weekly live show and radio program that is regarded as country music’s biggest stage: the Grand Ole Opry, out of Nashville, Tennessee. Yet even many committed country fans are unfamiliar with a program that, during its 1950s heyday, eclipsed even the Opry in terms of its impact on country music itself. From its premiere on this day in 1948 to its final weekly show in 1960, The Lousiana Hayride, out of Shreveport, Louisiana, launched the careers not only of several country-music giants, but also of a young, genre-crossing singer named Elvis Presley, the future King of Rock and Roll.
In many ways, The Louisiana Hayride was a straightforward knock-off of the Grand Ole Opry, but with two key differences. While both programs focused on country music and targeted the same geographic area with their 50,000-watt signals, The Louisiana Hayride embraced new artists and new musical innovations that the staunchly traditionalist Grand Ole Opry would never consider. While the Opry would rarely if ever feature a performer who had not yet had a hit record, the Hayride often featured up-and-coming artists who had yet to find an audience. And while the Opry banned the electric guitar, the Hayride embraced the instrument that would help transform one strain of “hillbilly music” into the new, hybrid form called rock and roll.
The Louisiana Hayride was the brainchild of Horace Lee Logan, who first became a radio host on Shreveport’s KWKH-AM in 1932 at the age of 16. Because most of the talented country artists who got their first breaks on the Hayride—Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Webb Pierce, Faron Young—would eventually move on to Nashville, it was common to hear The Lousiana Hayride referred to as “the Grand Ole Opry’s farm team.” Logan, however, always referred to the Opry as “the Tennessee branch of the Hayride.”
In addition to giving Hank Williams his first wide radio audience in 1949 and then welcoming him back after the Opry fired him for drunkenness in 1952, Logan and The Louisiana Hayride also gave 19-year-old Elvis Presley a crucial break in October 1954. After a lackluster, single-song debut on the Grand Ole Opry failed to garner him a return invitation, Elvis gave a knockout performance of That’s All Right (Mama) and Blue Moon of Kentucky on The Louisiana Hayride that set him on his path toward stardom.
An interesting footnote to the story of The Louisiana Hayride involves the origin of a famous Elvis-related phrase. In gratitude to Horace Logan for the boost he’d provided when Elvis was an unknown back in 1954, Presley gave a return performance on the Hayride in December 1956, at the very peak of his popularity. Midway through the show, thousands of young Elvis fans abandoned their seats after the King’s performance, noisily chasing after him in the wings while the live broadcast continued. It was then that Logan took the microphone and coined a famous phrase: “Please, young people…Elvis has left the building…please take your seats.”