The Curious Trail of ‘All Shook Up’

Dick Rosemont - January 14, 2013

"...Presley admitted having never composed a song in his life"

"All Shook Up" is one song that certainly epitomizes Elvis Presley's early career. He was also famously known for shaking his hips, and that shook up priggish adults. While Elvis took “All Shook Up” to the top of the charts in 1957, few knew its background. Enter Otis Blackwell.

Brooklynite Blackwell began his career in the early ’50s and, despite his R&B leanings, cited C&W singer Tex Ritter as a major influence. While he did enjoy modest success as a singer, notably “Daddy Rollin’ Stone,” Blackwell subsequently focused on songwriting. His first connection with Elvis was “Don’t Be Cruel.” In search of a B-side for his “Hound Dog,” Presley heard Blackwell’s demo tape of the song. Just as Elvis’s singing was a hybrid of pop, country, blues and R&B, Blackwell also combined these musical elements. It’s been said that Elvis mimicked Blackwell's vocal style on the demo which, sadly, has yet to be made available for the public to hear. White Presley and black Blackwell were a winning combination.

Following the success of “Don’t Be Cruel,” Blackwell provided Elvis with “Paralyzed,”  and meanwhile had a huge hit with “Fever” cut by Little Willie John (and later, Peggy Lee). On November 7, 1956 a singer by the name of David Hill recorded the Blackwell-penned “I’m All Shook Up.”

Though white, and sounding it, Hill’s recording was issued on the R&B label Aladdin. It’s a corny arrangement—and the least black sounding issue on that label I’ve encountered—that suffered a deserved death. Elvis, enamored with Blackwell’s tunes as he was, probably never heard Hill’s record. He cut his famous version on January 12, 1957, but not before a significant change occurred. Elvis was suddenly listed as the co-writer of the song, now titled simply “All Shook Up.” Presley’s manager, Tom Parker, was a hard-nosed negotiator and my assumption is that the convinced Blackwell to share the publishing royalties. I imagine Parker saying to Blackwell that he could have 100% of nothing or, if Elvis recorded his song, 50% of a lot. Despite his co-credit, Presley admitted having never composed a song in his life.

More Fun Facts:

While shaking a bottle of Pepsi, publisher Al Stanton challenged Blackwell to write a song titled “All Shook Up.”

Following Presley’s publishing maneuver, new pressings of David Hill’s record credited both Otis and Elvis as writers, and was now also titled “All Shook Up.”

David Hill, under his real name David Hess, later became a songwriter and penned the Elvis hit “I Got Stung.”

Otis Blackwell passed up opportunities to meet Elvis, fearing it would be bad luck. Another Presley hit he wrote was “Return To Sender.”

The 1994 Otis Blackwell tribute album Brace Yourself!, includes two interpretations of “All Shook Up,” by Jon Spencer and Kris Kristofferson.

Otis Blackwell, who suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1991, died of a heart attack in 2002. He was 71 and is buried in Nashville.

David Hill’s “I’m All Shook Up”

Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up”