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Pt. 3: Where is the ‘Heartbreak Hotel’

Courtesy Photo A young Elvis Presley poses with songwriter Mae Axton circa 1955.

Courtesy Photo
A young Elvis Presley poses with songwriter Mae Axton circa 1955.

CHILDRESS — A young man from Childress named Perry Morren had Mae Axton as his journalism and English teacher, and he greatly admired her. He was an outstanding baseball player and was drafted into professional baseball right out of high school. However, he never quite made “the show.” He played on some farm teams and found himself with a Triple-A team in Jacksonville, Fla. Somehow, he learned that Axton was in Jacksonville and of her connection to “The Song.” This would have been in the afterglow of “Heartbreak Hotel.” He reached out to her, and they got together. Axton told him Hotel Childress was the hotel she was thinking of when they wrote the song. Later, Morren became a chiropractor in Childress and a longtime friend of Charlie Johnston. They talked many times about how “Childress had missed out” on leveraging the Elvis connection. Not anymore if I can help it!

I am not a songwriter, nor a singer. The only musical instrument I can play is a stereo. But I have loved and appreciated music and songwriters since I was a little kid. There was a point at which I discovered that many, if not most, popular songs were not made famous by their authors. One great example was the huge hit “Greenback Dollar,” as performed by The Kingston Trio (1963), on whom I cut my teeth. I later learned that song was written by – you guessed it – Hoyt Axton.  I’m really writing about “Heartbreak Hotel,” but I want to mention two awesome songs that didn’t have the same impact. In fact, arguably no song in music history has had the impact of “Heartbreak Hotel.” It’s only two minutes and ten seconds long; it doesn’t have very many lyrics, but a lady with Childress connections was its co-writer, and she said the Hotel Childress was what when she was thinking of when writing “Heartbreak Hotel.”

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