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Jack White was mystery buyer who paid $300,000 for first Elvis recording

The Guardian logo The Guardian 3/6/2015 Guardian music
Jack White performs on stage at the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year show at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision/AP) © The Associated Press Jack White performs on stage at the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year show at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision/AP)

When an acetate of Elvis Presley’s first ever recording was auctioned in January, the identity of the buyer who paid $300,000 (£197,000) was kept secret. Now it can be revealed that the mystery shopper was Jack White, who is going to release My Happiness and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin on vinyl for Record Store Day on 18 April.

The revelation comes in an interview with White in the new edition of Billboard. Naturally, it’s not a straightforward interview: Billboard editor-at-large Joe Levy went to Memphis, Tennessee, to meet White, only to be greeted instead by “a mysterious man with a black suitcase and instructions to hurry to meet White three hours across the state in Nashville”. When Levy got to Nashville, he passed the suitcase on to White, who announced to his employees at Third Man Records: “This is the first recording ever made by Elvis Presley. On Record Store Day, Third Man Records will issue this on vinyl.”

Elvis recorded the two songs on 18 July 1953 at Memphis Recording Service, owned by Sun Records boss Sam Phillips. Both have appeared on plenty of compilations, but the exact story of their recording is uncertain. Presley’s friend Ed Leek claimed to have given the 18-year-old singer $4 to pay for the recording, while one popular legend claims Elvis recorded the songs for his mother. The acetate – the only one in existence – was put up for sale by Leek’s niece.

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