Elvis in Waco

Elvis Presley is a name that hardly needs explanation. The king of rock-and roll stands as a cultural icon to this day, but few people know of his connection to Waco and Central Texas. In 1958, at the ripe age of twenty-two, Elvis joined the United States Army and moved to Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, for basic training.

Elvis had been to Waco before, doing what he knew best—performing. In 1956 he graced the Heart O’ Texas Coliseum and performed in front of a full house. But when he came back two years later, his calling was much different. Though Elvis had been part of the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) at Humes High School in Memphis, he could have easily avoided combat military service when the time came. Having already achieved a good level of fame with his hits “All Shook Up,” “Hound Dog,” and others, Elvis could have been excused from military service or served in a non-combat role. But his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, thought that serving in the army infantry would boost Elvis’s career and paint him as a true American, not just as a hip-gyrating, rock-and-roll youth. Elvis, being the humble man that he was, agreed and was assigned to a tank division at Fort Hood.

Luckily, when Elvis arrived at Fort Hood, he already had a friend close by. In the early 1950s, when Elvis was just trying to break into the music world, he met a Dallas radio DJ named Eddie Fadal. In 1956, Eddie lived in Waco and went to Elvis’s show at the Coliseum to see if the star remembered him. After navigating around a crowd of fans and convincing Elvis’s bodyguards to tell Elvis a man named Eddie Fadal had come to see him, Elvis welcomed him with open arms. Eddie offered to have Elvis over after the show for a midnight snack, and he took him up on the offer. Elvis and the band rolled up to Eddie’s house late that night with their instruments strapped to the roof of their car, and a surprised Mrs. LaNelle Fadal scrambled to serve the boys a delicious meal. Little did the Fadals know, that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Though a willing soldier, Elvis disliked life at Fort Hood, maybe because he could never be just one of the guys. For that reason, he left the base whenever he could and drove to Waco to spend time with Eddie and his family. The Fadals’ home quickly became his home away from home, and they began to expect Elvis every weekend. They even built a den and stocked it with records and music equipment for Elvis to enjoy during his stays. The den was of course painted pink and black, Elvis’s favorite colors. He usually stayed up late into the night listening to music and would sleep most of the day, truly relaxed around the Fadal family.

Soon enough Elvis also decided to rent a home in Killeen for his parents to stay in while he was in Texas, so Vernon and Gladys Presley became regulars at the Fadals’ as well, along with Elvis’s girlfriend Anita Wood. Gladys even taught LaNelle how to cook Elvis’s favorite foods, including burnt bacon, purple-hull peas, and sliced tomatoes. Eddie would also pick up cream pies for Elvis from the Hickory Stick or Toddle House, and Elvis would claim a whole pie for himself in one evening.

But Elvis’s presence did not go unnoticed around town. Word sometimes spread quickly if a neighbor caught a glimpse of a black Cadillac pulling up to the Fadals’ home. Kids would come from all over town demanding to see Elvis, sometimes even climbing the roof and threatening to break in. Other times people would camp out on the lawn and refuse to leave or threaten violence until they got to see the young Presley. Elvis did not want to cause his friends any trouble, so he would go out and talk to crowds of people and spend time with them until they were satisfied and left of their own accord. Eddie quickly had to unlist the family’s phone number.

Yet Elvis’s courteous response to these crowds did not mean he welcomed them. He was by nature a shy, simple man who just wanted to spend time with his true friends. He always sought to fly under the radar and spend quality, private time at the Fadals’. He would not even allow Eddie to have any family over during his visits. In fact, Elvis hated the idea of surprise visitors so much that when he arrived at the Fadals’ he would take a quick lap around the entire house to make sure no one was hiding and waiting to see him. It became his ritual, after entering through the back door. This behavior stemmed from Elvis’s fame, but also his constant fear that his friends might be using him for his status. In fact, the only family member of Eddie’s that Elvis liked was his brother Louis, because Louis had ignored Elvis the first time they were in the house together, passing him by to go speak with his brother. This fear of being used was strong in Elvis, but Eddie proved himself a true friend and a father figure to the young star.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck while Elvis was at Fort Hood. Gladys Presley went back to Memphis for medical treatment, and Elvis received a call that things were not looking good for his mother, from whom he was inseparable. When Gladys passed away on August 14, 1958, Elvis was crushed. After being granted a month of leave from the army, he and Eddie spent time in Memphis grieving. For the rest of his life Elvis would often sing gospel songs in the quieter moments and remember his mother.

Elvis returned to Waco and shipped off to Germany soon after. He cried the night he shipped out, as he would not only miss his friends and family, but he feared his fans would forget him while he was gone. Of course, that did not happen. But regardless, Elvis’s time in Waco had come to an end. Eddie remained his faithful friend, even when they went their separate ways in the coming years. The Fadals still refer to those months in 1958 as the “Elvis days,” and tell even more stories of their time with him.

Eddie’s son Dana still owns the house where Elvis stayed, and his sister Janice manages the property. It can be rented on Airbnb, so Elvis fans from near and far can come experience the home. They decorated the home in mid-century style reminiscent of the 1950s and recreated the pink and black den Elvis spent so much time in. Janice has also put together a book of her father's writings about those times called "Elvis Days." To order a copy of the book or see photos of the house, check out the website theelvishouse.com. Since many remnants of 1950s Waco that Elvis enjoyed have closed down, the house remains one of the last testaments to Elvis in Central Texas.

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A Fine Guy
Waco Musicians Association officer John Vanston remembers his interactions with a young Elvis Presley before the singer skyrocketed to national fame. ~ Source: Vanston, John interviewed by Gary W. Hull, August 19, 1977 in Waco, Texas. Baylor...
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