Written By: Eliza Berman

In 1954, Elvis Aaron Presley was working as a truck driver for $35 a week. Two years later, he was raking in $12,500 for a week’s work in Las Vegas. Before long, a surname was no longer required to invoke the megastar LIFE dubbed a “howling hillbilly success.”

Though he began recording music in 1953, it was in 1956 that Presley became a phenomenon. That was also the year he first appeared in the pages of LIFE, in a one-page story about the runaway success of “Heartbreak Hotel.” The magazine explained:

A lover’s lament called Heartbreak Hotel sung by Elvis Presley is the best-selling record in the country this week, and the 21-year-old hillbilly who howls, mumbles, coos and cries his way through it has overnight become the biggest singing attraction for teen-agers in the U.S.

A string of television appearances introduced the young singer to households across America, and within a short time he was inspiring frantic behavior among overwhelmed fans. “Shortly girls were quivering and fainting wherever he turned up to sing Long Tall Sally, I Got a Woman, and Blue Suede Shoes,” the magazine explained. “On a tour of Texas last week they kicked through a plateglass door in Amarillo to get him to autograph their arms and underclothes.”

Here is an intimate look at a Nashville recording session for a new star who would, in due time, become a legend.

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

Elvis Presley in Nashville 1956

Elvis Presley recorded in Nashville studio, 1956.

Don Cravens The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Nashville 1956

Presley recorded in a Nashville recording studio, backed by the Jordanaires (Gordon Stoker, Neal Matthews Jr., Hoyt Hawkins and Hugh Jarrett).

Don Cravens The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Nashville 1956

Presley, tired, leaned over a railing in a recording studio during a break from a recording session in Nashville, 1956.

Don Cravens The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Nashville 1956

Presley (second from right) during a break from recording, 1956.

Don Cravens The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Nashville 1956

Presley showed a framed gold record of “Heartbreak Hotel” to (left to right) drummer D.J. Fontana, singer Gordon Stoker and guitarist Scotty Moore, 1956.

Don Cravens The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Nashville 1956

Presley performed emotionally, even in the privacy of a studio.

Don Cravens The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Nashville 1956

Elvis Presley in Nashville, 1956.

Don Cravens The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Nashville 1956

Presley took a break during a recording session, while Steve Sholes, head of Country and Western Artist and Repertoire, talked to producer Chet Atkins in the background, 1956.

Don Cravens The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Elvis Presley in Nashville 1956

Presley used the roof of a taxi to sign autographs for teenage girls after his recording session.

Don Cravens The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

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