About The Artist
Bob Neal was born to his missionary parents in the Belgian Congo on the continent of Africa. He spent his early years traveling between Africa and Europe as well as the United States.
In the late 1940s, he had his own program on WMPS, "The Bob Neal Farm Hour". On that show he featured nothing but country music.
Along came 1954 and Sam Phillips of Sun Records called Bob Neal and told him he had a new act on his label and asked Bob if he could get him on a show. Bob put him on a show on August 10, 1954 and in one interview, Bob said he was suprised at the great audience reaction to a newcomer. Later on, he asked Elvis if he had a manager. That led to Bob managing Elvis for about a year and a half.
Neal was said to have given Elvis a free ticket to attend a Jordanaires concert at Ellis Auditorium. Bob introduced Elvis to the Jordanaires. He also arranged for the Speers Portrait photos of Elvis that were mass produced and sold at venues. He then accompanied Elvis and his group to Cleveland for what was their first 'Northern' personal appearance. From there, he flew to New York with them for the failed Arthur Godfrey TV show audition in March 1955.
At some point in 1954, he arranged a tour for Elvis, the Louvin Brothers and Jim Ed and Maxine Brown.
Like any new singer, getting the word out about them is part of the overall effort. In 1955, Bob was able to prime the two main music publications of that era, Billboard and Cash Box with plenty of material to use to help promote Elvis and generate interest in his career.
Johnny Cash told readers in a 1958 biography type article how Bob Neal came to be a part of his life. It was around 1955; Bob was the manager of Elvis Presley in addition to his disc jockey duties at WMPS. Johnny had just written and released a new tune called "Cry, Cry, Cry". He had gotten the inspiration from a WSM disc joecky by the name of Eddie Hill. It seems Eddie was frequently telling his listeners every show, "...Stay tuned, we're gonna bawl, squall and run up the wall." Johnny's first inclination was to make it a novelty song and call it "You're Gonna Bawl, Bawl, Bawl." but didn't like that and wrote his legendary classic.
Bob called Johnny one day and told him his record was getting a lot of requests at the station. He also wanted to know if Johnny would be interested in doing a short tour with Elvis, Webb Pierce and a few others. Johnny was so ecstatic about that offer that it wasn't until after he had hung up that he realized he hadn't asked how much Bob was going to pay him on the tour.
Bob's talent agency was known as Stars, Inc. In 1956, he was putting together a package of shows that would take several artists on a tour through Florida during September and October. The roster of entertainers was to include Johnny Cash, Sonny James, Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings, Johnny Horton, Faron Young and others. That same 1956 column told readers that Elvis played to a crowd of 14,000 at Russwood Park in a July 4, 1956 concert in Memphis. It was a benefit show for the "Milk Fund."
At the time Johnny's career was getting started, he was being managed by Dick Stuart, another Memphis disc jockey. Dick arranged an audition for Johnny with the Louisiana Hayride over KWKH out of Shreveport, Louisiana. One thing led to another - appearances around the country and eventually leading to Nashville. On his debut appearance at WSM's Grand Ole Opry, he sang "I Walk The Line". By that time, Bob Neal had become his manager.
Another aspect of the relationship with Elvis was a business partnership they formed that became the original "Elvis Presley Enterprises." The offices for their endeavor was at the office Bob rented at 160 Union Avenue in Memphis. His wife, Helen the secretary.
When Bob took Johnny to the Louisiana Hayride, it may have led to other endeavors on his part as well. In 1958, one article reported that Bob Neal was the new owner of radio station KCIJ in Shreveport.
While managing Johnny, he gave his career a different turn. He wasn't the first singer to try it - a movie role to broaden his audience appeal. Elvis had done "G. I. Blues" around that time. Johnny found himself in "Five Minutes To Live".
A 1963 article notes that Bob had a hand in the Wil-Helm Talent Agency that was created by the Wilburn Brothers and Don Helms; whether this was a business arrangement or friendly professional assistance wasn't clear. However, a later article glossing through the historical events over a period of time noted that Bob "left" the Wil-Helm agency in 1963 to form his own agency.
In 1966, Bob handled the bookings for the Compton Brothers on the East Coast. ARound that time they had signed to be regulars on the WWVA Jamboree over in Wheeling, West Virginia. The OMAC agency was to handle their bookings on the west coast. That's the same group that handled Buck Owens.
Early in 1966, Bob included a news item in Country Music Life describing the success his agency saw in 1965. It was his best year since he had moved operations to Nashville and stated that he would have to limit the number of artists he represented to be able to offer them the best effort of his agency. At the time he was representing Carl Belew, Tommy Cash, Stonewall Jackson, Sonny James, Warner Mack, Johnny Paycheck, Pete Drake, Connie Hall and Jimmy Martin.
In 1966, he began to book Jack Reno who had just left his disc jockey position at WXCL in Peoria, Illinois.
We continue to see evidence of how Bob was able to get his roster of talent included in the news of the day. Another 1966 article notes that Bob had Stonewall Jackson heavily booked for a couple of months, including a 15-day tour to Japan in May.
When Johnny Paycheck released his Little Darlin' record, "The Lovin' Machine" in 1966, it set off a flury of activity for Johnny. After finishing a tour in the northeast, he was set to work with the Jayne Mansfield show in Florida for a 29-day tour in the southern part of the USA. Bob and Aubrey Mayhew were also trying to put together a syndicated televiosn show for Johnny as well.
Late in 1966, he added Montie Lee (the older brother of Melba Montgomery) to his stable of artists that he was managing. And showing no signs of slowing down, he later added Ruby Wright, then on Epic Records, Clyde Pitts of Columbia Records and Warner Mack, on Decca at the time.
Again late 1966, his agency made the news by arranging to have Conway Twitty and the Lonely Blue Boys make their first appearance in Nashville after Conway's switch to counry music. The appearance was to be at the Nashville Police Department Show on October 15 and 16, 1966.
Bob was proving to be quite an astute business person at promotion. In an August 1966 article, he announced he had a 37% increase in gross bookings over the same five month period in 1965 and expressed satisfaction that gross commission earnings were up for the Bob Neal Agency. He noted that 1966 was shaping up to be the best year yet for his agency.
Credits and Sources
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