Tampa Bay Legends


Col. Tom Parker

Col. Tom Parker

Col. Parker, who steered Elvis Presley to infamy as a show business icon, was the main guy for catching stray dogs for Tampa's Humane Society on North Armenia Avenue in the 40's and early 50's when he got the bug for show business.

Parker was very creative as a dogcatcher. He would gather the pups from three or four dogs, put them with one Mom, and call Tampa Tribune reporter Paul Wilder with the scoop that one dog had 21 pups. Wilder, a very respected journalist, always fell for Parker's line of bullshit. But it paid off later.

His first entry into the show business arena was as manager of singer Eddie Arnold. After a few years, he caught wind of a Memphis rocker who had some promise but who was unhappy with the direction of his career. He met up with Elvis and struck a deal - he would take Elvis straight to the top in return for 50 percent of all income. History shows both honored that deal.

One of Elvis' first concerts was held in 1956 at Tampa's Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory, only weeks before the famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show where cameras had to limit their shots of the hip-swinging singer to above the waist. Parker kept the King hidden from fans by keeping him hold out at the Humane Society Building on Armenia.

Parker was very loyal to the people in Tampa who had been good to him. He gave reporter Wilder the first exclusive interview with Elvis in 1956, a payback for all the times Wilder fell for his Humane Society publicity scams. Album cover and Elvis souvenir poster printing was given to Tampa's Renaldi Printing Company to the day in died...in return for credit extended to Parker early on when times were lean.

During his Tampa years, he lived on the Northeast corner of Lois Avenue and Obispo and was a frequent customer at Bay Hardware and other stores in the immediate area. His stepson, Bobby Ross, had a successful advertising agency in Tampa until his death some 20 years ago.

Parker brought Elvis to Tampa for concerts many times. In the early years, Elvis stayed at the old International Inn at Westshore and Kennedy Blvds. Once the Colonel forged a close relationship with the Hilton chain, which had exclusive rights to Elvis' services in Las Vegas and where Parker has an entire floor for offices and living quarters, the performer was secluded at the down-town Hilton on the Hillsborough River prior to his gigs at the now razed Curtis Hixon Hall.

Parker wasn't a real Colonel... it was an honorary title bestowed upon him in the 50's by the governor of Louisiana.

Tom Parker died in 1997 from a stroke. But before his death, he was successfully sued by the estate of Elvis Presley to have his 50 percent stake in Elvis' posthumous income significantly reduced.

Copyright © 2004 By TEDD WEBB • All Rights Reserved