BY HOPE HARRINGTON OAKES
AMORY – When construction was completed in 1942, the National Guard Armory in Amory became a vital part of the community. In addition to providing much-needed employment and funding to the local economy with construction of the WPA project, the Old Armory has served as a training and storage facility for the National Guard, as well as a community center that has seen its share of ball games, dances, wrestling matches, and other events through the years, as well as concerts for up-and-coming performers.
According to Jamie Morgan, Deputy City Clerk in Amory the armory was the site of a legendary performance.
“Perhaps the most widely known and celebrated artists to ever perform at the National Guard Armory in Amory were Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins in November of 1955 for a Country and Western Jamboree and Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley in December of 1955. The December 12 and 13 performance was one of the only two occasions where the three played together in concert and the last time Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley performed together. It is believed that the song ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ rose to its future success due to the appearances of these artists in Amory. The night of the November 24, 1955 concert in Amory it is rumored that while conversing pre-show,Johnny Cash shared a story of an airman he met while he was serving in the military who referred to his military issued shoes as ‘blue suede shoes.’ Mr. Cash told Carl Perkins that he should record the song that he had been working on about those shoes. According to a documentary video created for the Amory Regional Museum via a grant through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Carl Perkins and his band performed at a dance at Tommy’s Drive Inn shortly after the November Amory, MS show, in Jackson, Tennessee. While playing, Carl noticed a young man and lady dancing near the front stage. Carl Perkins stated that the gentleman seemed more worried about his footwear than he did the lovely girl dancing with him. In a 1992 NBC interview, Carl Perkins stated that the young man kept saying, ‘Don’t step on my suedes.’ In the interview, Carl Perkins says that he sat down that night and penned the words Blue Suede Shoes on the top of a brown paper bag.”
Through the years, time and neglect have taken its toll on the building. Though the building was designated a Mississippi Landmark in 2002, due to the massive amount of disrepair, it was actually being considered for demolition. Thanks to the efforts of local resident, Martha Dalrymple, a committee was formed to save the Old Armory and restore it to its former glory, once again. The Dalrymple Old Armory Foundation, LLC came to an agreement for the restoration in November, 2012. Combining their efforts with The National Guard Old Armory Event Committee, the main phase of restoration was completed in February, 2014. Their mission is “…to preserve the heritage, beauty, and usefulness of the historic National Guard Old Armory…seeks to pay tribute to past events that were vital contributors to the history of The National Guard Old Armory and the city of Amory and, in doing so, maintain funding for the future of The National Guard Old Armory building.” According to Old Armory Reborn (OAR) Board “A lot of folks wanted to do something, but without Martha’s input, we wouldn’t be here,” said OAR board member Art Gentry.
At the Unveiling Dinner recently held at the Old Armory, invited guests were led on “walk-through” tours, and were treated to music by John Milstead, as well as special guest band, W.S. “Fluke” Holland Band. Fluke is actually a former drummer for both Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. “We’re here to take the renovations to the next phase, and move forward on the sound system, lighting, and electronics to make it an important entertainment center for Amory and the surrounding area,” Gentry said. “The Unveiling Dinner was put together in less than three months on no money…the ticket sales funded this whole evening. We wanted to introduce the Dalrymple Foundation to see what we can do to move forward. The Old Armory can now seat 1,000 people. The stage is 35 feet wide.”
To help take it to the next level, additional funding is needed. The next big fundraiser will occur on August 9th when The Blue Suede Ball will be held.
“There is a budding culture here in Amory and we now have a place where people can come from other communities to use our place here,” Gentry said. “This vision is obtainable.”
For more information regarding the Old Armory, contact Jamie E. Morgan at 662) 256-5721.
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