Initial influences came through his family's attendance at the Assembly of God, a Pentecostal Holiness church. Rolling Stone wrote: "Gospel pervaded Elvis' character and was a defining and enduring influence all of his days." During breaks at recording sessions or after concerts, Presley often joined in private with others for informal gospel music sessions.
The young Presley frequently listened to local radio; his first musical hero was family friend Mississippi Slim, a hillbilly singer with a radio show on Tupeloís WELO. Presley performed occasionally on Slimís Saturday morning show, Singiní and Pickiní Hillbilly. "He was crazy about music... Thatís all he talked about," recalls his sixth grade friend, James Ausborn, Slimís younger brother. Before he was a teenager, music was already Presleyís "consuming passion". J. R. Snow, son of 1940s country superstar Hank Snow, recalls that even as a young man Presley knew all of Hank Snowís songs, "even the most obscure".
In Memphis, Presley went to record stores that had jukeboxes and listening booths, playing old records and new releases for hours. He was an audience member at the all-night black and white "gospel sings" downtown. Memphis Symphony Orchestra concerts at Overton Park were another Presley favorite, along with the Metropolitan Opera. His small record collection included Mario Lanza and Dean Martin. Presley later said, "I just loved music. Music period."
Memphis had a strong tradition of blues music and Presley went to blues as well as hillbilly venues. Many of his future recordings were inspired by local African American composers and recording artists, including Arthur Crudup, Rufus Thomas and B.B. King. King says that he "knew Elvis before he was popular. He used to come around and be around us a lot ... on Beale Street."
Presley "was an untrained musician who played entirely by ear. 'I don't read music,' he confessed, 'but I know what I like.' ... Because he was not a songwriter, Presley rarely had material prepared for recording sessions..." When he, as a young singer, "ventured into the recording studio he was heavily influenced by the songs he had heard on the jukebox and radio."