Sunday, August 17, 2008

George Klein's Elvis Memorial Service

There’s a door prize this year. Looks like it’s a framed print of Ronnie McDowell’s painting of a young Elvis holding a guitar looking into a mirror where the reflection is the adult Elvis in the same pose.

Slides open up the show. The first is a baby picture of Elvis (aww). Now they’re playing Elvis music and showing more pictures of Elvis throughout the years. Some are new to me (one with the Dorsey Brothers, one with Rudy Vallee).

The head of the U of Memphis Fine Arts Dept opens the event. He talks about the Distinguished Achievement Award they give. Sam Phillips was one of the first recipients. This year it will be Sam’s son, Knox.

There are 3 scholarships in Elvis’ name given here every year. There’s a scholarship in Sam Phillips’ name for students in production. George Klein has also endowed a fund. Other scholarships are in the names of Isaac Hayes and Charlie Rich.

Invitees enter – here comes George Klein, Mark James, DJ Fontana, Dr. Nick and his son Dean, Marion Cocke, Jimmy Velvet, Knox Phillips, Ronny McDowell, Larry Geller, Sally Wilbourn, Ray Walker, Will “Bardahl” McDaniel, Mrs. Lester Hoffman.

GK opens with a reading of the inscription written by Vernon that is on Elvis’ grave marker.

Ray Walker gives the invocation.

All the memorial services over the years have started with a “Phillips” and this year it is Knox.

GK talks about how Elvis would want to visit Sam at all times of the day or night. Knox was part of this

Knox Phillips: The longer Elvis and friends would stay at our house, the better, as far as I was concerned.

Since Isaac Hayes just died this Elvis week has been a bit of a haze for me. He and Elvis were a little alike. Came from the same foundation, a great force in the music world. I was struck by the interviews with fans this year, especially when questions came up about Isaac. And I was impressed with your answers about Isaac. Isaac and Elvis put Memphis on the musical map.

And my dad made it possible for so many people to do the things they did in music.

I loved it when Elvis would arrive at the door and say “Hi Mrs. Phillips, can we come in?” I loved the way he would play pool – he would “electrify” any room he was in. Elvis was always cool and kind to my brother and me. When Elvis was around he’d pay attention to us kids, the youngest in the room.

My dad would call and say come on down to the studio because there was something you might like to see. I remember I was around 12 and had the duck tail hair cut. I thought I was pretty cool. So one time I got that call and there was Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins - and he came over and hugged me and said “Stay with me, Knox, stay with me”. It’s one of my fondest memories.

We thought we led perfectly normal lives but when we look back on it, not many people can say “I had grooming tips from Elvis when I was 12”.

When we come together to remember Elvis, I say remember the totality of his music and all he accomplished and helped others to accomplish.

GK – Elvis told me one time about all the people who would put him down and tell him he wouldn’t make it. Sam gave me the best advice I ever got – don’t ever let them change you – don’t let ‘em put you into a country “bag” or a “movie” bag.. etc. And I never forgot that. Then one time at a session, in walked Chet Atkins. He walked over to Scotty and started giving Scotty some pointers. It took all the gumption he had to go over to Mr. Atkins and told him ‘we have our own style so please don’t tell my guitar player how to play”.

Next up: Ronnie McDowell, the only one who had a hit record *about* Elvis.

Elvis is like the energizer bunny – he just keeps going on and on.

First time I heard Elvis was just after Hank Williams. Then the Dorsey Brothers. Then I saw him in “King Creole”. First time I saw Elvis on the big screen.

Jerry Reed (“Guitar Man”) told me he was out fishing and a boat came out and told him Elvis wanted him to play guitar on his recording. He got to the studio, looked at Elvis straight on, then came around to one side and looked at him, then went to the other side and looked again. Elvis said “man, you’d better stop staring at me like that”. Reed said “Man, you are the pretty man I’ve ever laid eyes on”.

Why does Elvis keep going on? I think it’s because of Elvis’ heart. He had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known.

Ronnie has just recorded a new song written by Mark James “Blue Suede Heaven”. I’m proud of it, but I won’t stop singing Elvis until my toes curl up.

George wants Ronnie to sing a few lines of the new song, and now Ronnie is insisting the GK sing with him. Ronnie says “are you ready?” GK says “no”. He really meant it. When it was his turn to sing he just said the words.

So Ronnie sings a little of “Love Me Tender” and gets some audience members to sing with him.
GK – Alan Fortas and I gave DJ the name “Sticks” Fontana. Elvis found him on the Louisiana Hayride. In Hollywood, Elvis’ band was called the EP Continentals and were supposed to record an instrumental album. But Parker wouldn’t let them do it. Scotty and Bill quit then but DJ stayed with him. Next up someone said “there’s Elvis Presley and his one-man band”.

DJ Fontana - Elvis asked me how come I didn’t quit and I said “Elvis, you always done exactly what you said you would do, so I had no reason to quit”. I stayed with Elvis for 14 years. He hired Scotty and Bill back. We worked 24 hours a day with Elvis. We traveled with Elvis, Scotty, Bill, sometimes George, sometime Gene. We said Elvis, get a bus! He said no, but then he started traveling on the train and we were still stuck in the car!

Once we were in the Hollywood Knickerbocker and bought a few shirts I thought were cool so I showed them to Elvis and he said “nice, where’d you get them? “ I said ‘downstairs’. He then proceeded to rip all the buttons off the shirt. “Elvis, why’d you do that?” He said “Remember my shoes you threw out the car window? It’s payback time”.

Once they were at a hotel and Bill and DJ pushed Elvis into the pool. A woman complained about the chaos and said “who do you think you are, Elvis?”

GK introduces “Bardahl” who hung with the guys.

Will “Bardahl” McDaniel: 1957 I worked at the Rainbow Skating Rink. I was asked to work a private party one night. Didn’t tell me whose party it was. Just had to give out the skates, etc. It paid $50, which was a whole lot of money.

They let in 150 people. I’d been working there for years and didn’t know a soul there. I gave everyone a set of skates and went out skating with them. Then Elvis walked in. Then I hear a whistle and all the girls come off the ice. So it was all the guys skating free flow in the middle. I said I was going to get Elvis and they told him. So we all line up and 5 minutes later I’m in a chair and I wake up and Elvis is fanning me, apologizing. Same thing happened again. I wake up and Elvis is fanning me. Next time we do this it’s Elvis laid out cold “Sh*t, I’m gonna die”, I said. At that point Elvis told Red he liked me and to give me the phone number at Graceland saying I could come anytime.

Elvis borrowed $5.00 from me one night and when I was up at Graceland I asked for my money back. Elvis blew up and had me thrown out of the house, saying I didn’t appreciate all the good times I was participating in. The next night I was in Graceland again - and I got my $5 back but he never apologized.

(He tells several more stories but I just can’t keep up).

GK – second part of the Jerry Reed story - Jerry Reed said “Elvis I’m straight but if I weren’t I’d kiss you, you’re so pretty”.

GK introduces Dr. Nick.

Dr Nick – Elvis came to our house at 2-3:00 in the morning and scared the neighborhood because they thought the Hell’s Angels had arrived. There wasn’t anything wrong, but Elvis just wanted to talk. He tried to come into the house but there were clothes lines all over the place because our dryer had broken down. Elvis had to dodge all the sheets and clothing and finally found me. And he said “If you’re going to be my doctor, you ain’t gonna live like this”.

He was just a great guy, fun to be around.

Right after Elvis died I took one of the doctors from the hospital to a Memphis State football game. He had had too much to drink and he kept saying “they shouldn’t have called that play”… Then he said ‘someone’s been throwing tomatoes at me”. Turns out he’d been shot. Someone was trying to shoot me but he’d leaned over to say something. I was sure someone was trying to shoot me and I was looking behind me for a long, long time. I can understand why some fans would want to hurt me. But Elvis was one of my best friends and I loved him and I did everything I could to save him.

One Sunday afternoon Elvis wanted to see me, so I was driving there. On the way over, I got broadsided by another car. He offered me a big Seville to use until I could get a new car. I used it for months and finally one day he said “Are you going to give me that car back?” I said “I have to talk to my wife about it”. She discouraged me. The next night I told him “I guess I’d better not take it”. He said “Just give me a dollar and you can buy the car”. So I did. Elvis was such a giver. When he gave something, 10 others would want the same thing and I didn’t want to start anything. That’s why I didn’t want to take the car but he thought I was just a cheapskate and didn’t want to pay for it.

GK introduces the producer of this event: Bev Rook

Bev: Thanks for coming. The Elvis world lost a number of people this year. Bobby McDowell, Isaac Hayes, and Todd Morgan, our dear friend. Also JD Sumner’s brother and Hugh Jarrett (bass singer of Jordanaires), Elaine Dundy and Bill Burk.

GK introduces Dean Nichopoulos

Dean Nichopoulos – Elvis really loved his fans. We were on tour and one night he wanted to get the crowd going. I used to put the bandaid on his fingers. Since it was slow, Elvis gave one of his rings away. About 3 songs later he gives another ring away and the audience is fired up. So I’m thinking – that’s about $30,000 worth of rings just to get the audience fired up. Then the TCB ring comes flying and it fell right to me. Afterward he mentioned he gave away 2 rings but accidentally lost the TCB ring. I took it out of my pocket and gave it back to him.

I taught him how to play racquet ball. One time I’m hitting balls with Linda Thompson. He doesn’t show up for 40 minutes. He comes in and says “what are you doing with my girlfriend?”

In Palm Springs he asked me if I wanted a motorcycle. I said no thanks. He said “you can ride on the back of mine”. He gives me a pitcher of water and says “you have to hold this, wrap your hands around my waist and hold on”. Now he puts a cigar in his mouth and we take off. We’re going 75 miles and hour. And he’s turning around talking to me and I’m saying “yes, sir, yes sir” But I didn’t know what he’s saying. We keep going faster and faster and I’m getting scared, we’re going so fast! When we got back to the house I asked him “what were you telling me back there on the bike?” He said “Do you want to go faster?”

We spend a lot of quality time together, watching TV, talking together in Lisa’s room.

One time I got hurt and needed stitches. We were on tour and I got to the hospital and there seemed to be a long line of people waiting for the doctor. I went up to the doctor and asked him if his wife was an Elvis fan. He said yes. I said, “do you have tickets for tonight’s concert?” He said no. I said “If you stitch me up first you’ll have to tickets for tonight’s show”.

One night on tour he called me around 3:00 in the morning. “I want to read something to you”, he said. He had the Bible out and he wanted to read to me about earthquakes.

What do you give Elvis for his birthday? I had them make a toothpick with his initials on them. He says man, I really like that. Wow, I thought I’d done pretty well. He asked me to bring over the black box he carried his jewelry in. Opened it and there were 2 engraved toothpicks, just like mine. Thereafter he got a set of sweats for Christmas and his birthday.

He was a giver. He loved watching you get your presents.

(note: They’re going to have a book coming out in about 8 months.)

GK introduces Jimmy Velvet

Jimmy Velvet – He’d bring a stack of movies for us to see at the Memphian. If he didn’t like a movie he’d raise his hand and they’d change the movie. We were watching “Parent Trap”. Hayley Mills is in her room and there were pictures of famous people there. She’s dancing and picks up a picture of Ricky Nelson – that was it – his hand went up to change the movie.

GK introduces Mrs Hoffman (I thought I had a picture, but I guess I don't)

Dr. Lester Hoffman widow, Mrs. Hoffman – Knowing this man changed my life After Lisa was born were invited to see her. Our visit lasted 45 minutes and it was a glorious time. He never stopped staring at Lisa. On the way down the steps he lit up a cigarette. I said ‘why do you smoke?” He said “why do you care?” I said “because you’re my friend”. He told me I was going to become a yoga instructor, and that’s what happened. He helped me get my training and I’ve been a yoga instructor for 39 years.

We were in Elvis’ dressing room one night after a performance. I said “where’s Elvis?” He was showering. When he came out and hugged me and asked “was I any good? As the evening wore on, people would bring celebrities in to meet him and I said “Elvis, we shouldleave”. He put his hand on my leg and said “they are them and you are us and don’t leave”. My husband says “how long are you going to let him keep his hand on your knee?” And I said “til my leg falls off or he takes his hand away”.

GK introduces Ray Walker – he’s the guy that introduced Elvis to “How Great Thou Art”

Ray Walker – Elvis came in and introduced himself and I said I know who you are and he said “I know who you are”.

Pat Boone and I have been friends since we’re 16 years old. Elvis opened for him a couple of shows. Elvis says hello, Mr. Boone”. He says “call me Pat”, and Elvis said “but your famous” Pat says “that’s ok, call me Pat”.

Pat’s house was right behind Elvis’ and Elvis would sneak out of his house and go visit with Pat and his wife after he’d told the boys he was going to bed.

Elvis was the best listener I’ve ever seen in my life. He was the best-read reader of religions of anyone I’ve ever met. When he looked in your eyes you know you had his full attention. What a wonderful human being Elvis was. We were friends, more or less from a distance, which was probably a good thing. I still love him to this day. He called me a chameleon. I thought he was telling me I was a lizard. But I’d sing differently for each song.

On “Surrender” Elvis had already sung high note after high note. I’d told him it was great that he sang like he talked – talking with a melody. So we were rehearsing this song. He asked you teach voice. I want to hit that high note and I’m afraid I can’t make it. So I took him into another room and say ‘can you vomit?” He said “what?” Ray demonstrates the sound. He practiced with all the vowels. And then Elvis said “I’m ready, let’s do it”. Someone just sent me all the outtakes on that session.

GK introduces Mark James – Mark James is a great singer AND a great song writer, including 5 or 6 songs for Elvis.

Mark James - Memphis has always had trend-setting music. I came here in 1968. Elvis was renting movie theatres and rinks. You’d go into clubs and you’d see Isaac Hayes singing.

Elvis came into the studio with about 40 songs. I was looking for a special song for him – and Suspicious Minds was the only song I had there. Elvis seems nervous with me around (since I’d recorded the song a couple of years before). So I knew I couldn’t be there. It was the same musicians cutting the same song, so I knew I didn’t have to be there.

I saw Elvis at the Hilton and in New York. Elvis was one of a kind. A great artist. I never wrote a song for him until “Blue Suede Heaven” and this was my shot to write a song about Elvis.

(He sings it – it’s a nice tribute song).

Introduces Larry Geller

Larry Geller – tells the story about how he met Elvis. I grew up in So. Cal. The very first rock concert in So Cal was Elvis. I was still in school and my friends and I thought we were the coolest thing that ever happened. We had the look. We looked like little ‘Fonzies’. We didn’t buy tickets but we figured we’d get in to see him. The doors close and we’re not in. So we tried to get into the theatre from the side. No go. We went to the back of the building and we see Elvis! He was with some of the guys. I said “come on guys, let’s go!” They froze. I ran over to Elvis and there was – that face. He had this inner glow, this vitality. I was awestruck. He stuck his hand out and said “Hi, I’m Elvis Presley”. I couldn’t believe it. I shook Elvis Presley’s hand. Time goes by, I became a hairdresser. I did the hair of Roy Orbison, Rock Hudson, Peter Sellars.. every star came to us. One afternoon Alan Fortas calls to tell me to come up to fix Elvis’ hair. Normally I wasn’t awestruck, but this was special. I drove up to the house. I walk in and Elvis comes up to me and says “Hi, I’m Elvis Presley”. Man, I’m having this flashback, but I didn’t tell him then about the first meeting. We went into his bathroom and started to talk. He wanted to know who I was, what I was about. When I told him what I was looking for, he said “I need to know what you know”. He asked me to come to work for him.

Elvis was the greatest entertainer ever. He has more fan clubs now than any living performer.

Elvis said he knew what the Bible meant when it said It’s better to give than to receive. He tells the same story about the kid and the motorcycle he told in “200 Cadillacs”.

We were making a film and Elvis’ choreographer was Norman Winters. We were walking to the sound stage and a guy was walking on the sound stage – a jeweler. He says “Elvis, I got it for you”. Elvis looks at the ring, tries it on, it fits, it’s beautiful. Norman comes around and Elvis shows him the ring. Norman says it’s beautiful and Elvis takes the ring off his finger and gives it to Norman.

How Great Thou Art recording session: we were getting ready to go. He sent the other on and said Larry, I want to talk to you. This is not just another commercial album. This is God’s music. And you know the Bible says God works in mysterious ways and I’m not going to utter a word until I’m ready to do this right, because you never know who will hear it. We meditated. Ten years later we meet a big Elvis fan who says “Hi, Larry”. He asks her “why do you love Elvis? What’s your story?” She said, well I had a terrible accident and it destroyed my legs. I knew I would never have a boyfriend, would never get married. I was going to take an overdose of medicine to kill myself. But the radio was on and I heard Elvis sing “How Great Thou Art” and I was filled with love and good feeling and decided to live. I told Elvis this story and tears streamed down his face. “Man,” he said. “Did I need to hear that”.

I had the overwhelming task to do his hair for his funeral. But when I walked in with Charlie Hodge and walked up to Elvis’s body and I looked at that gorgeous face – I stood about him for about 20 minutes. My heart ruptured. Like Niagara Falls all the memories poured over me. All of a sudden a memory from about 10 years earlier came to me. I remember our routine was making 3 movies a year and we’d drive back to Memphis, stay for a few months, then drive back. Elvis would have me come up. I’d do his hair, we’d talk. He called me upstairs one day. Elvis is sitting at the edge of the bed, shaking his head and I knew something is up. He hands me a movie magazine and on the cover was a picture of Elvis in one of his movies, looking distraught. The headline was “Elvis still in grief over his mother’s death”. It said his group hears Elvis crying in the middle of the night, etc. Elvis said “do you believe that stuff?” “Grieve? I hope, Lawrence, you never have to grieve the way I did. In 1956 I came on the scene and all hell broke loose. I was on TV, I recorded and then I went to Hollywood to fulfill my wildest dreams. Everything was going my way. And then I got drafted. And then my mom died. The light of my life died. So my career was cut short, I was shipped overseas, and I was grieving. You know me, I want to know the reason for everything. Why me? Why did He take my mom? “ That’s what he was going through that day. He was constantly questioning why him, why Elvis that all this happened to?

GK introduces Marion Cocke

Marion – when Elvis was coming into the hospital Dr Nick asked her to come in on her day off to take care of Elvis. Elvis brought us all together and made us one family. He deserved all the honor and respect that he is getting this week.

Many of my stories have pretty much been told. But after Elvis died I was in Palm Springs. A lady who had made a movie with Elvis came up to me and said “I’m so-and-so and I made a movie with Elvis” and I said “I’m Marion Cocke and I spent the last 2 years of his life in Elvis’ bedroom”.

I wanted to do something positive to honor Elvis. The first benefit dinner I did for Elvis was at the Peabody. Next year will be the 18th year of the dinners. We didn’t think many would come this year, but we had 330 and had to turn people away. So I’ll be doing it again next year, although I’m having such trouble with my memory I may forget to come!
I do appreciate the fact that you fans also do much charity work in Elvis’ name. And then I went to the vigil last night. And I watched the people come up the walk – young, old, healthy and infirm, and I remember when Elvis asked me “Mrs. Cocke, do you think my fans will remember me?” (!)

GK introduces Sam Phillips’ companion, Sally Wilburn.

Sally Wilbourn– 1953 first album, today the remix of “Baby Let’s Play House”

Elvis invited us into his world and we all stayed. We never left. And it will all continue. Elvis would be proud. As we continue this journey, let’s don’t forget the music.
(music – the remix is played –Marion gets up to dance and Ray Walker joins her! You go, guys!)

That’s the end of the presentation. It went well over 3 hours. I heard a few stories I hadn’t heard before, heard many stories I already knew, and appreciated the fact that we still have these folks who have links to Elvis.

And MIKE FREEMAN wins the painting!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Vigil Day

I did not attend the ETA contest Thursday night, so someone else will have to report on that. Instead, I went to see Jamie Aaron Kelley perform at EP Delta. He’s such a talented artist.

I did not attend the sold out Blue Hawaii breakfast with Darlene Thomkins, so if someone was there, feel free to add a comment here.

Friday August 15th – Vigil Day

Vigil day for me started out slow and easy. I had breakfast with Joe Petruccio and then brought him over to Graceland Crossing where he had his gorgeous artwork on display. I think he sat there from 11:00am until midnight, autographing calendars, paper, t-shirts – whatever people put in front of him. Joe doesn’t just write his name when he gives an autograph. He does a drawing of Elvis on each and every item he autographs. What a special guy!

The big event of the morning was the David Garibaldi's Rhythm and Hue Performance Art Show. David created several 6-foot portraits of Elvis in under 7 minutes for each to Elvis music. He paints a little, comes forward to dance, goes back to paint some more, either with brushes, his fingers, and sometimes just throws some paint. He was fun. It was SO, SO hot at the time, but it was still interesting to watch him do this.

I decided to stay around Graceland all day. I was at Graceland Crossing where the tent had Elvis-wannabes singing to karaoke all day long. Some were pretty good, some, um, weren’t. There were a lot of people there.

And then the rains came. It rained HARD for hours! Some thunder and lightning, but mostly heavy rain. We were wondering what was going to happen with the vigil with all the bad weather.

Around 8:00 we went to the Sirius booth. They couldn’t go to the sound stage because of the weather. All the local DJs were there, including George Klein. I spoke to Argo about the time frame of my little interview. Then we went across the street to the gates to see the opening ceremonies. Guess what? IT STOPPED RAINING! Indeed, it didn’t rain for the next 2 hours (it was starting again when I was leaving).

Jack opened the ceremonies with a short statement. It was mostly about how he shouldn’t be there, it should have been Todd. He talked about how much Todd is missed, especially at times like this (note: understatement of the year). Then he introduced Kevin Kern to give the rules. I was torn between wishing they had used a little of Todd’s script (“if you’re here for the wrong reasons, you’d better hope security gets to you before these fans do…”) and knowing that trying to “be” Todd would probably not have worked either. No win situation.

One more note about Todd – many of us who talked about this felt that there was no mistaking the sense of a huge void, the deep sense of loss. He was truly a great man.

The ceremony went on with the theme “I Miss You” which was referring to both Elvis and Todd. It was the 30th year of Vigils organized by the Elvis country Fan Club.

The songs were "I Miss You" by Don H. Sumner. "I'll Hold You In My Heart", "Peace In The Valley" an d"Can't Help Falling In Love".

The sea of candlelight started to wend its way up the hill. It was a beautiful sight. Of course Elvis music was being broadcast for all to hear, no matter where they were.

I went back to the Sirius booth at that time because it was getting close to the time Argo said he thought I should be at the booth for my interview. There was a lot going on over there. GK was in the booth, all sorts of people were being interviewed and Doc Walker was limping (he dropped something heavy on his foot just before he came to work). Justin Morgan arrived and he was interviewed byArgo. He’s such a sweet person and you can just sense his sadness.

(Argo, Justin and Jenna)

Jack came by and was interviewed. Karen (KJ) was interviewed by Doc (which was funny because he asked her where she was when Elvis died – and her response – “in nappies (diapers)!)

I was finally interviewed by Argo at around 10:00pm. He’s really nice and makes you feel very comfortable and not too nervous.

At that point KJ, Marie, Tom and I got in line for the vigil. It still wasn’t raining. Each time I go to Graceland I am reminded just how large this property is and I try to imagine how Elvis must have felt to have all this land to enjoy, to play. I try to imagine what it was like to be here during Elvis’ life. Then I get a sense of sadness about what might have been.

The line moved fairly well. From the gate to the grave took just under 2 hours. There was no rain and the temperature was in the 70s. What a difference from last year. The floral arrangements this year are as spectacular as usual.

Here is the link to my vigil pictures, some good, some fuzzy.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

EW day 6 - Second Day of EI Conference - Morning Session

First of all, a big question has been brought up about Elvis on Tour. ElvisSessions reported on a conversation he had with Tom Brown about this. He (Tom) hinted at EOT might coming out at some anniversary in the near future. Sillerman was on tape so was not asked about it. People shouted out to Tom several times during the day asking about it and each time he would say "I can't talk about it". That's it. So no official word came out at the conference. We must continue to speculate.

Opening the conference today was the video-taped interview with Robert Sillerman. Scott Williams flew to NY to meet with him.

What are your plans for Las Vegas? -
It will be a big, interactive (you will be able to “talk” to Elvis), maybe they can get the street names “Elvis Presley Blvd West”. Elvis deserves a bigger presence in Vegas for what he did there.

What are your plans for Graceland –
The impact of economy may affect how fast what we do. Won’t be spending all of the money up front. But major pieces will be completed soon (“soon” being a relative term). Our current economic situation is pretty dire.

Sneak peak of plans?
Tied up with what happens with Memphis and TN We need approval. Once we know what we can do, plans will come out. Perhaps in 6 months.

Sillerman: I’m an Elvis fan – put your earplugs in and I’ll do my rendition of an Elvis song. I’m a big Elvis fans. Elvis and I have a long history.

Why did you want to buy EPE? Society has changed so much over the last 10 years, principally driven by the devices we have – ipods, dvds, internet, etc. we can now deal with iconistic people. Since it’s impossible for anyone else to ever attain the heights that Elvis did, it was our desire to be associated with this kind of talent, a talent that needs no definition, explanation. I can’t say when the idea precisely came to me, but after we sold our last entertainment company, we were looking for something.

What’s your earliest memory of Elvis -
I was studying classical piano (quite good, if I must say so myself), I had no awareness of rock and roll or of Elvis. I had my little portable radio and there was no Yankee game on. So I heard an Elvis Presley song and was taken aback. I got out of bed to have my brother listen to it. He didn’t like it but I told him he was crazy. I was captivated then – by “Hound Dog”. I know it sounds funny, but it was almost a life-changing moment.

What did you think of the Celine Dion/American Idol duet with Elvis?

Every time I see that I get goosebumps. It’s the technology I was talking about. The idea emanated from CKX. Everyone I show it to says Elvis more than holds his own with Celine’s powerful voice.

Did you see Elvis in person?

Do you own the DVDs? I saw Elvis live 5 times – in college and after college. Once in Boston, 4 times in Vegas. When I watch the concert footage I am evoking the live experiences.

Elvis Radio – what’s your favorite era and song?

No one single favorite song. It changes all the time. I listen to 13 all the time. 50s era is my favorite. In the Ghetto, Lieber and Stoller songs.

Is there going to be an EP Theme Park?

No roller coasters and ferris wheels and things like that. There will be Elvis-themed features where you can come in with themes of Elvis’ life. Interactive. We can move things out of Graceland to display them elsewhere and restore the house to its original look.

Are you a member of EI.

Yes. (He pulled out his card)

Tom gives away a prize – ipod-like/radio/ preloaded to play Elvis video clips. The one you buy has 20 video clips. This prize has 80.

Chris Noelle picks the winner. Drats. Didn’t win this one either.

(note: nothing in the next interview session was new to me. Same old stories, sorry to say. I guess there is just so much they can add after all this time).

Tom introduces the new DVD Elvis in Las Vegas – we see a clip. It’s always great to see Elvis close up on the big screen.

Now we see a trailer for EinLV.

Next up – Jerry Schilling and Joe Guercio

Tom – take me back to 1969.

Joe – ’69- I wasn’t there. But when I saw he was coming, it blew me away.

Jerry – We had been there before. Elvis loved to visit Vegas and go see the shows.

Joe - First time I met Elvis was in Sammy Davis’ dressing room – right after he got out of the Army. To get to meet him was a thrill.

Tom – reminded us of what Sammy Shore said about how nervous Elvis was before he went on.

Joe – I can understand his nervousness. He’d been there before and was not successful.

Jerry– his show was very different from what was out there in Vegas. Elvis would watch the first row in the audience. One guy would never look up. Finally, when Elvis did Trilogy, the guy stood up and saluted. Elvis could do what he wanted. Gospel in Vegas? If Elvis did it, yes, he could do what others just couldn't get away with.

Joe – Hilton flew me to LA to meet Parker and Diskin. I got the whole limo treatment, and we’re going to lunch. We got to this little hut – and we had bologna sandwiches!! Parker knows everything I’ve ever done. He asked me if I could do what they want. Mind you, I was not an Elvis fan at the time.

First days of rehearsal and Lamar brings a ton of music over and says ‘this is what we’re going to do’. I said “I’m not a librarian”.

Second rehearsal Elvis walks in. He hangs around for the first hour. Joe E says would you like to meet Elvis. “I think it would be nice”. From the moment we shook hands – it was such charisma! We hit it off and were friends ever since.

Jerry – I was in LA when Elvis was picking the band. We had all these great musicians and we knew this one drummer’s name who was sure to be picked – but Elvis didn’t pick him. This heavyset guy keeps playing the drums – his family is in the van. Elvis comes over to me and says “watch this” and tells Ronnie Tutt what he wants. Elvis picked him because he had the same mindset as Elvis.

Tom – and the gospel quartets? Joe – I never saw anyone do church music before that.

Jerry – I worked on the DVD for about a year (behind the scenes) for about a year. ABC Entertainment flew me to Vegas where we did the interviews. We went down to the dressing rooms where I told some stories about the time Elvis was there. It’s great to hear the next and current generations talk about how Elvis influenced them

Tom – his ear for picking a song –

Joe – it was the lyrics, the story, that sold a song for Elvis.

Jerry – Elvis is the most underrated producer in music history.

Joe – he loved all music – he had a rock and roll band, an orchestra and church groups – all on the same stage.

Tom – when he wanted something, he wasn’t confrontational . He knew a better way to get things done the way he wanted.

Tom - talk to me about Elvis, who had no musical training.

Joe – for the first night’s performance – he was in tune with everything that was going on around him. He sang to the back row all the time. He made the person in the back row feel as close as the ones up front. It was a good time. It was more of a happening than a “show”. He’d change a song as he went along so we always had to be paying close attention. The first time he did this we were in the middle of “He Gave Me a Mountion” – he switched things around but I’d told the orchestra that when I dropped my hands go to bar 32. Elvis changed something but we were ready. Made for interesting shows every night.

Jerry – he always had a degree of nervousness, although not to the extent of the first show. He always worried about whether the fans would accept him.

Tom – how difficult to transfer the Vegas show to the road?

Joe – it wasn’t difficult – he took his charisma with him. (laughter)

Jerry- there was probably more to it for everyone else (laughter)

Joe – we all had to take karate lessons in Vegas and he brought in Ed Parker to train us. Everyone has to participate. I said I’m not going. I’m home for 2 weeks and I’m not coming in for this. I detected a vibe from Elvis. Last night everyone got their karate level belts – during the show! Closing night party – “Ronnie Tutt – black belt”… …. … “Joe Guercio” – Parker gives me a black belt- a black belt - in baton. :-)

Joe – tells the marble story – (let me know if you haven’t heard it – I’ll type it out).

Jerry talks about the practical jokes Elvis did in the down times of movie making. Says this behavior carried over to Vegas. If you’ve seen the tv show “Entourage”, that’s how it was back then.

Joe – Elvis was one of only 4 stars I’ve worked with all these years that truly respected the rest of the people- on stage. He made everyone feel important.

Tom – Vegas then and now?

Jerry – we spent almost 3 months a year in Vegas – shows - and fun. Back then I thought it was huge but you could still interact. Elvis took it to the next level. Then hotels got bigger and bigger. Now we’re in the third phase now. It’s just huge. So big. But the good news is that Elvis will be even bigger than ever next year when the Sillerman project is done.

Joe – when Elvis came to town hotels were filled to 88%. That had never happened before.

Tom introduces Charles Stone.

He took a picture of Elvis back stage in Michigan playing the piano. He’d forgotten about it and found the undeveloped film this year! I’ll have to go down to the expo to see this picture of Elvis sitting at the piano all by himself. (note: I bought a copy of this very different picture of Elvis.)

Charles says Elvis never played to an empty seat (although others have said this isn’t entirely true). There is nothing else in the history of entertainment that could compare to the electricity and excitement of Elvis walking onto a stage.

Prize is an autographed copy of this picture.

Another prize – a copy of the deluxe 68 special autographed by Steve Binder.

Marian Burns (? Didn’t get name straight) talks about Elvis from Broadway to Memphis. I’m going to take a break right now. Since I’m going to this concert on Sat. I’ll blog about it then.

EI Conference Thursday afternoon

Video of 68 special- bordello scene and outtakes –

Susan Henning- yowsa!

First face of milk commercials.

Played Hayley Mill’s twin in “Parent Trap”

Was in Live a Little, Love a Little. Played a mermaid. (showing a clip of her here). I don’t remember it, but it’s cute! She’s sitting on a diving board (as mermaid), holding out her lunch. A whale comes up and takes her food.

SH - They fitted me for the mermaid tail sitting in a wheel chair – when Elvis walked in. That’s how we met. Instant sparks. He’d take me out on his motorcycle.

Tom – how did you get into the 68 special?

SH – During LaL he took my number and called me back a few days with the offer. I was engaged at the time but I couldn’t help the feelings I had for Elvis. Broke off engagement. My character was called the “virgin hooker” in 68 special. When I came on to the set for the first time he had his back to me. I went up to him from behind and touched him and he said “my boy, my boy”

Tom – in the outtakes you seem to be having a special private moment with Elvis.

SH – when I saw the outtakes just now it really brought me back to a very, very special time in my life.

Tom – in talking about your time with Elvis, how do you draw the line with how much you want to tell vs how much people want to know more.

SH – good question. People who really love Elvis respect his privacy and I think some things should be left up to one’s imagination.

Tom – well, there go my next 3 questions… Over the years did anything change in what you thought about what could have been?

SH – a decision was made in our relationship – remember, I was a young 21 year old woman, I had lots of dreams I had not yet fulfilled. And he was there already living his dream. I wanted to live my life, not so much live Elvis’ life. So there was a path I had to choose. I chose to develop and see who “Susan” was. I honor everything he’s done. He is the king and there will never be another Elvis.

Tom – what is it about him that makes us be together 31 years after his death?

SH – He transcends gender, so he appeals to men and women. His sex appeal. His charisma. You can have that and be egocentric. But he was genuinely humble, so touchable. Add that to talent. It’s magnetic.

Tom – tell us about your life after Elvis.

SH – we have how much time? I did a few more films, and some television. I was a successful commercial model. But I wanted white fences and meadows and horses. I have 3 wonderful children and a wonderful supportive husband that has allowed and been supportive of “Susan Henning”. Dating actors was a way of life. People ask if I saved a lock of Elvis’ hair. But it was just life and we didn’t think of things like that. But I’m grateful that you all want to hear about my time with Elvis.

Susan has put together a book about her time with Elvis. She found some pictures of us that have never been seen before. Don't know when it will be released.

Hambri (SP?) from Sony/BMG to talk about the Elvis Christmas duets CD1957 and 1971 Elvis recorded 2 Xmas albums. Using new technology we’ve recreated the original tracks and then added the new artists to sing the duets with him.Some artists were asked to participate but were too intimidated. He wouldn’t name names.

Track Listing - (although I missed something)
Anne Murray- "Silver Bells"
Martina McBride- "Blue Christmas"
Gretchen Wilson- "Merry Christmas Baby"
Wynonna- "Santa Claus Is Back In Town"
Sara Evans- "Silent Night"
Leann Rimes- "Here Comes Santa Claus"
Amy Grant- "White Christmas"
Carrie Underwood- "I'll Be Home For Christmas"

We’re hearing a little piece of “Blue Christmas” Elvis with Martina McBride and “Here Comes Santa Claus” with LeAnn Rimes.

My thoughts – this is going to work for a Christmas album to introduce Elvis to new fans. But if it were anything but Christmas songs I’m not sure I’d want to hear Elvis duet with anyone (except Lisa).

New door prize – Viva Las Vegas DVD – Tanya Lamani George (belly dancer, ’68 special) picks the number. She says Elvis a very special human being. Kind, warm and generous. She does a little belly dance move.

Another video – of David Garibaldi doing his incredible “rhythm and hue” art work to Elvis music. Awesome stuff.

Thomas Kincaid has a new Christmas painting. Video of him talking. Commercial for the new painting to be out this fall “Christmas Cottage” (not Graceland). Also has done “Winter at Graceland” for sale. It’s very pretty. The pink Cadillac is in front of Graceland, with Elvis and a woman (can be anyone you want :-))

Darlene Thompkins on now. (Sorry, I don't seem to have a picture of her.

Tom: How did you get the role with Elvis?

DT - my agent sent me on an audition for a musical. I can’t sing and I can’t dance but that didn’t stop me from going to an audition for an Elvis movie. Elvis wasn’t there but I got the part. When I first saw him he took my breath away. He was the most beautiful person I’ve ever met. But when started to talk and he made me feel like we had already met. A few days later I admitted to him that I couldn’t sing. Elvis said no matter, we can dub the voice. Then I admitted I can’t dance, either. He said “Just have fun!”. In one scene Norman Taurog puts me right up with Elvis. And I know that Elvis is a “one-take” guy. In slice-and-sand scene I move of the scene. When you hear about how nice Elvis was and how kind, it doesn’t come close to describing how he was.

Another prize – Elvis #1 hits Vol 2

Video – Elvis’ screen test at Paramount. It’s still fun to watch this.

More video movie clips – from movies of the next panel.

Panel: Celeste Yarnell (CY)form LaL and Edward Faulkner( EF) and Francine York (FY) from Tickle Me

Tom – what was the set like

CF – there was a bit of a cloud over the set because MLK was assassinated. Elvis and I comforted each other over that sadness. When that wasn’t happening, he kept the energy up and made us have lots of fun.

EF – I had a very small part in GI Blues. Being 2 southern boys we had a very nice relationship. He and John Wayne had a lot in common. Both were very easy to work with and I never saw either of them on set with a script. The last time I saw him he was rehearing a later movie. When he saw me he came right off the set, the set closed down and he talked with me for 20 minutes.

FY – I first saw Elvis on screen in a movie theatre. I was modeling in San Francisco. But when I saw him in person, he was very, very special. Elvis had a very sweet smell (not cologne). It was wonderful. One day we were having trouble with something on the set, so while we were waiting Elvis was blowing into my ear. Wow! We chatted about movies I’d made with Jerry Lewis and told me I’d have a great career. Elvis was down home – but gorgeous! He was so much more handsome in person.

Tom – a lot of people put the movies down, but it seems a lot of young people are discovering Elvis through his movies. What kind of reaction are you seeing from Elvis fans about how important these movies are?

CF – The remixes – the first was of the song Elvis sang to me – and now it’s a number 1 song. But I’m not happy that there were hip-hop dancers in the video!

Tom – What did it take to get the fight scenes?

EF – they were professionally choreographed. Elvis and I staged one fight. We rehearse it a couple of times, we basically did the whole thing in one day. He made you feel extremely comfortable. Every event I do – people from around the world – it warms my heart to see people going back to these honest films as opposed to what is being shown these days. It’s amazing how many young people have found Elvis.

Tom – you worked with Jerry Lewis. Tell me how important it is for an actor to get along with the crew and the director How did Elvis stack up?

FY – Our set was very happy. The crew liked Elvis. At the time of this movie Elvis had bought a green convertible for his girlfriend. She drove it right on the set and Elvis was livid. You didn’t flash his gifts.

CY – lots of rehearsal for kissing scenes. His makeup would end up on my face and we’d have to redo it. Elvis told me to pick out a car but I told him I didn’t need it. He said what do you want? I said just your friendship. His eyes welled up and he gave me a big hug.

Tom- how does it feel to come to these events?

CY – I’ve been amazed. I am filled with gratitude. You think you’re coming out for us, I’m saying we’re coming out for YOU.

EF – It’s a delight. I’m retired after 19 years in the business.. It is very heartwarming to meet the fans and it’s my privilege to give back to you. I enjoy talking to you all.

FY – I’m still working. I told my agent I’m going to this Elvis event, clear my calendar. It’s amazing that you appreciate something we did so many years ago. And as I’ve said, there will never be anyone or anything like Elvis ever again. I travel around the world and no matter where I go, everyone knows who Elvis is.

More prizes – the new Graceland DVD, Steve Binder autographed CD box, the new Barbie doll!

That's it for today.

A few pictures

I've posted a few pictures here in a slide show. You can click on any picture to see it by itself.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Terry Mike Jeffrey

We went to EP Delta to see Terry and his group tonight. I have only seen him once before when he sang just a couple of songs at Marian Cocke’s benefit last year. I was impressed then, but tonight I was blown away. As ElvisSessions mentioned about his show the night before, Terry is very professional and has a fabulous band (including his wife of 35 years and his son!). He’s NOT an ETA. He sounds like Elvis, sings his repertoire, but doesn’t try to copy Elvis. He’s also James and Glen D., instrument-wise. He’s amazing, talks to the audience with great fun, and puts on an awesome show.

BTW, I had dinner at the EP Delta restaurant. They have their annual “Elvis” menu which includes a fried banana split. Did you know Elvis was fond of eating duck quesadillas? ;-)

EW day 5 - first day of EI Conference

I'm here!

Wednesday morning.

Well, the airline gods came through, but the car rental gods didn’t. Then when I got here the person who had my ticket wasn’t to be found. So I missed the entire morning. And I’m really sorry I missed Mike Stoller and DJ Fontana talking together. I sure hope Elvissessions has that in his report.

Wednesday afternoon EI Conference

Jack Soden gives greetings, then we see some of Having fun with Elvis on the ’68 Special. I thought we'd hear more from Jack than just welcome.

Tom Brown introduces Sammy Shore (SS), the comedian who opened for Elvis in Vegas. He says nobody wanted to see the comedian. They just wanted to see Elvis.

Tom: did you find that a challenge?

SS – I was an unknown. Opening night everyone in the world was there. Movie stars – Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, etc. I knew if I bombed my career would be over. If I did well, I’d do well in the business. I hadn’t gotten there yet. So this was it for me. Elvis and the Col saw me open for Tom Jones and they liked me. Elvis and Parker came backstage to meet him and I was speechless. Parker said “I like your humor” and I said I like your chicken”.

So, opening night there was a lot of pressure. This was it for me. It was me out there by myself. House lights dimmed and there was a tympany roll. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, a legend in his own time.. , but first here’s Sammy Shore. “ And the mike was dead! My big break and the mike was dead! They shoved out a new mike and I started to adlib to make it look like the second mike didn’t work. After 5-10 minutes I had ‘em. If the mike wasn’t dead I probably would have bombed.

When I came off I saw Elvis waiting. I shook his hand – and his hand was sweaty, too. He was nervous. After all, this was the first time in 12 years he’d been on a live stage. Of course we know what happened. My dressing room was next to his and I tried to get the celebs and the young pretty girls to come in to my room. But everyone wanted to see Elvis, of course.

Two older gentleman came in. They were very high ups in the William Morris agency!! They said what I’d done that night was incredible. We want to sign you at the WMA.

After all my small club experiences I was ready to handle what happened that night.
Vegas was the place to see and be seen. Everyone had an opening act. No longer. The hotels want everyone to see the show and get back to gambling. Nowadays there are few comedians playing there.

Tom: have you talked to people here that saw you in Vegas?

SS. Oh sure. But I tell you, working last night, opening for Shawn Klush.. I got my standing ovation – and then I watched Shawn. It was like going back in time. He was amazing. It was like going out on tour with Elvis!

Tom: tell me about your book.

SS: “the Man who made Elvis laugh”. (too fast to copy, but he’s very, very funny describing what’s in his book). But the serious part of his book amounts to “it ain’t over til it’s over”. (He’s 81.) Sammy’s son is Pauly Shore. He says “Let me say 2 words about Pauly: I’m sorry”. Then jokes that it could have been CarrotTop.  (He was funny all the way through but I don’t think it translates well here on the written page.

(Note: Sammy Shore was very funny but I couldn't capture him here. Mannerisms, sound effects, etc. I hope you can hear it some day).

Sandi Pichon helps give away a prize. Tells the Elvis-gets-panty-thrown-at-him story. Talks about how great it’s been since she put out her 2 books. They help her relive her experiences. That's really special.

Tom is talking about the 25th anniversary concert. We see a clip. Then Tom introduces Joe Moscheo, Terry Blackwood, Sherman Andrus – The Imperials.

Joe: it was the best time of our lives. “He Touched Me” album – who knew what that would become?

Tom: Dixie mentioned that he seemed to be a different person when he sang gospel in church. What did you see?

Terry: Elvis would go see the gospel events, coming in late, leaving early so he wouldn’t bother everyone. My family attended the same church. Gospel influenced his life.

Tom: you can literally draw a line from that gospel to rock n roll

Sherman: when I listen to Elvis’ interpretation of songs you can feel all that passion. You knew he had something special. We called it in the church being endowed or having the spirit. This guy cut through all the cultural everything. It didn’t matter what kind of song he sang, but you always felt his passion.

Tom: if he had not been the singer he became, would he have fit into a gospel quartet?

Terry: laugh – how could you be in a group with Elvis? He’d always be standing out.
Joe: I thought he was an amazing gospel singer. Remember “If I Can Dream” he believes the lyrics, he’s selling the meaning. “I’m trying to tell you something”.

Tom: he would always sing gospel during the Vegas years.

Joe: there was a special elevator up to the suite. Even before getting to the elevator he’d already start “I, John” or something. He was relaxing us.

Terry: every time he initiated a song a capella it would be a gospel song. “Farther along” – we knew that song backwards and forwards.

Tom: when you were singing gospel, would Elvis stay on a part? Bass, tenor, etc.

Terry – Elvis could sing whatever he wanted. Laugh)

Joe: He’d sit at the piano and hit a high note – ‘see that note up here’, he’d say. ‘That’s Millie.’ Then he'd play a lower note and say 'that's Joe's...' He actually arranged the songs.

Terry: and he’d know if you missed a cue.

Joe threw a t-shirt into the audience. Nice souvenir, although I'm not sure what the t-shirt was.

Tom: what’s the number 1 thing people ask you about a memory you have?

Terry: was Elvis as nice as we’ve heard. What was he really like? Of course he was as nice as everyone has heard. He wasn't one of those stars who would do their job and leave. He wanted to hang around with us.

Tom interviews Carlee, the winner of the MySpace Karaoke contest. (She sang with the Imperials last night). She was pretty intimidated at first (last night). She has been learning a lot more about Elvis and he gained a lot more respect for him. You go, girl!

Next up: JoAnn Cash, John’s sister. (Can't believe I didn't take a picture of her. Sorry. I have one on video, but can't pull it out right now)

Tom: what was your first experience singing with John?

JC: We’d work in the cotton fields and we would sing all day long. I thought everyone sang. We sang in church, school. So it wasn’t that big a deal.

Tom: John wanted to be a gospel singer, too.

JC: yes, he did but Sam said it wouldn’t sell. But he did sing gospel later on in his career. Early on in his career he’d be in a different city every night and in order to keep going, Johnny would take the pills that would push his body. But he got passed all of that.

JoAnn Is a born again Christian. Then she met her husband in the church. They are pastors in a church they started in Nashville.

Tom plays the audio of Elvis introducing himself as Johnny Cash and starts singing “Folsom Prison” and “Walk the Line”.

JC: The kinds of songs Johnny sang were from his life experience. I write gospel songs that are truly from my experience. And Elvis could make you cry when he sang. He could also make you laugh. He was one of the funniest people, too.

Joe Petruccio comes out to give away another prize. It’s lot’s of stuff, including a small wood block he painted. Nice. Which I’d won that!

Another prize – Lowell Hayes is giving away a TCB! DRATS! Made from the original mould! I wish I’d won that, too! (sigh) Tom asks about what it was like putting these things together for Elvis. Lowell met Elvis in 1969 and then he asked me to start making his jewelry. TCB ring story – he wanted a stage ring. I made several rings – the big horseshoe ring he gave to JD. Then after that they talked about the design for a new ring. Elvis wanted him to bring it upstairs but I wanted him to see it under the light of the chandelier. He was amazed and thrilled. His comment was “Wow! Wait til Sammy Davis sees this ring!” We sing happy birthday to Mr. Hayes. He’s 69.

CMT had a contest – Viva Las Vegas contest. Winner is interviewed. I left the room for a few minutes here.

A bit of gospel video that includes Richard Sterban.
Next guest – Richard Sterban- from the Stamps and the Oak Ridge Boys. Elvis was a frustrated bass player.

Tom: what was it like to be in a group with 2 bass singers – Richard and JD. He was hired by JD when JD wanted to spend more time on his business ventures. I was there about 6 months when Elvis called JD to get the Stamps to go on tour with him. So JD wanted to sing again and Elvis wanted JD there, too.

Tom: When did you know you wanted to be a singer?

RS: I wanted to be a ball player, but that wasn’t to be. But believe it or not, when I was a kid I sang as a boy soprano. But when I was about 6 yrs old I already knew I wanted to sing for a living.

Tom: and before rock n roll, gospel WAS rock and roll.

RS: Yes. This music fascinating me, especially with JD.

Tom: how often did the offstage gospel happen?

RS: more often than not. Sometimes even *before* we went on stage, as well as afterward. It was a very big deal to be on one of the largest tours around. It was a very exciting time for me. A lot of people questioned my decision to move on to the Oak Ridge Boys, but I really liked them, too.

Tom brings out his old vinyl ORB records. Talks about RS’s fashion sense. Turns out RS once worked in the mens dept of Gimbels’ dept store. ( I just love Tom Brown. He's such a great interviewer because a) he's so knowledgeable about his guests and b) he's such a genuine fan!

Tom: what went through your mind last year when you did Elvis the Concert?

RS: the best part of the concert last year was being reunited with all the guys, the Sweet Inspirations, etc. I had a really long chat with Ronnie Tutt. But it was also unbelievable to sing with Elvis again (RS gets choked up here).

Tom: there have been tremendous changes in touring. How does it differ touring then
and now?

RS: With Elvis we played the biggest venues. It helped set me up for touring with the ORB. Then, we had a few lights here and there – today it’s techno shows and all.

RS: Elvis was a big football fan. Because of the 3 TVs he had, he could watch several games at the same time. Nowadays that’s much easier.

Tom: what do you think of the Elvis phenomenon after all these years?

RS It will never happen to any other entertainer. Last year they sold out the FedEx forum – for a dead entertainer! That will never happen again. My daughters love his music. It’s got that magic, just the music, even without the image.

I was on “Burning Love”. He walked around the studio with a handheld mike. That would never happen today. He’ was an engineer’s nightmare. Tom: talk to me about how important it was to find the right song.

RS: material is the most important thing in the music business. We’d spend hours listening to demos just to find that one right song. But Elvis had no idea what he was going to record before he went into the studio. We might listen to 4,5-10 songs and he’d decide which song to record. (He had a great ear for what would be good for him). So then someone would have to quick write an arrangement and Elvis would tell us what he wanted us to sing.

Tom: how have you guys (ORB) stayed together so long?

RS: the key is the love of what we do. We love the creative process. We’re not young anymore but I hope to continue working for a long time.

Video - Elvis sings “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”

Scott gives away several prizes, including a USB flash drive with 70 Elvis songs on it. Scott has cool prizes.

(I know I wrote about this when it came on but I just noticed it's not here...) At some point today they showed a photo/video montage of Elvis in the army with the audio of the Dick Clark interview with Elvis when he was in the army. I've never heard the whole interview before. It's really great! And some of the video was new to me, too, although probably not to many of you reading this.

That’s it for today. Going to see Terry Mike Jeffrey tonight and may run over to Club Elvis, but that depends on how I feel. I’m bushed from the red-eye flight and no sleep today.

I will post some pictures of the Expo - probably later tonight.

EW Day 4 report by ElvisSessions

First up for us was the Shawn Klush concert at the Cannon Center. We're pretty ambivalent about the whole ETA scene, but we gave it a shot back when EPE first endorsed such acts in 2006. We were mightily impressed with Klush, even if we remained somewhat perplexed by the impersonator scene overall.

It certainly was no surprise to us when Shawn won the competition last year, though we didn't attend any of the performances. We'd expected to see Shawn on the Elvis Cruise, but a scheduling conflict prevented him from attending.

Tuesday being a fairly slow day, we went ahead and ordered the tickets for his show. We certainly had a good enough time, though the audience's swooning adulation remains a little misplaced, in our opinion. But to each her own, we suppose.

As tribute, impersonation, performance art, call it what you will, Shawn is pretty amazing. On the outside edges of his range, he strays off model, but many of his mannerisms, physical and vocal, are eerily familiar -- and sometimes downright chilling.

There was a lot of fun risque banter with the audience members who were straining for kisses and scarves, and if you don't let yourself get too uptight about the whole thing, it can be a lot of fun.

Shawn's a good performer, and he had a strong Chicago band behind him. Some of the cheesy reputation of ETAs comes from the often-substandard karaoke they have to contend with. But Shawn put on a professional show, for sure.

Ray Walker of the Jordanaires shared the stage briefly, and it was fun to hear him actually handling some of the LEAD vocals on It's Now or Never. Ray was his usual cut-up self, and he fit right in with the light mood of the show. Joe Guercio was in attendance, too, and he cheerfully posed for photos with the ladies afterward.

One ETA artist is enough for us, and that's all for the week.

In the evening, we attended the second Music and Movie night. Steady rain into the afternoon may have had some folks worried about a muddy evening, but the skies cleared up in time to give the grass a chance to dry.

We enjoyed another cool night on the Graceland lawn as Terry Mike Jeffrey and his band -- along with members of the TCB band and the Imperials -- put on an excellent show.

Terry is such an Elvis Week regular, there may not be much more we can say about him after several years of reports. It's a credit to his professionalism, though, that he doesn't let the concert fall into a rut. He always throws in a few rare numbers along the way (Drums of the Islands, for example!) But of course, all the usual highlights were there, too, including the traditional American Trilogy closing.

Carlee Goins, the MySpace Elvis Week karaoke contest winner, got her chance to perform a number with the band. We'd seen her dancing with her boyfriend at the first Club Elvis, and we were happy to spot her at the second one so we could congratulate our fellow Texan on her excellent performance. "Dynamite," was one one attendees assessment. (To read more about Carlee, here's a link to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal article about her, which includes information on how to listen to her entries in the contest. )

After Terry Mike Jeffrey left the stage, we enjoyed That's the Way It Is (the special edition version, as usual, of course). This movie really holds up well in the outdoor setting, and though we'd seen it from exactly the same spot last year, we still enjoyed it immensely -- as always. The sound system was plagued by some dropouts in the right channel, unfortunately, but of course when you have every moment memorized anyway, you hardly notice.

We had our first chance of the week to talk to some friends after the concert so we didn't make our usual nightly check of the Graceland grounds. After helping the dancing diehards close up Club Elvis, we retreated to our hotel to get ready for the start of Day 5 -- and the Insiders Conference.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

EW Day 3 report by ElvisSessions

Thanks again, ElvisSessions! See you tomorrow!

Just two events to report on today: the Fan Club Presidents' Event, which has been opened up to anyone (who pays the modest admission fee, that is) and the first night of the Music and Movies. (Could someone else provide a dispatch from Gigi's Meet 'n' Greet?)

We started the day at the presidents' event. Clearly this was this year's substitute for the much-missed Fan Forum. However, the event lacked the freewheeling open-mike Q&A session of the forum. Instead, various staffers (mostly from marketing) paraded before us. All pleasant enough, but no sparks -- and sadly, not a lot of big scoops.

As far as new products go, suffice it to say, if you can put it in a jumpsuit, EPE will license it. There will be more Mickey Mouses in jumpsuits, in case one wasn't enough. And if that's too cartoonish, well, there's an adorable set of porcelain field mice in jumpsuits (?!) And, of course because you were clamoring for it, an entourage of M&M's in jumpsuits. Also, Elvis M&M's in snowglobes ... in jumpsuits. And, of course, Jesus and the 12 apostles in jumpsuits ... NO, we just made that up ... Don't get any ideas, EPE

But somebody's buying, or they wouldn't be making them. So, more power to them. At least there was no threat of a new creepy robotic head this year, so let's be grateful for that at least.

We suppose everyone's already heard about the two different Elvis and Priscilla wedding doll sets (plastic or porcelain, depending on your budget constraints, but to our eyes, the plastic may actually be the better likenesses.)

Truthfully, there weren't any big-deal product announcements. Interestingly, not a peep about the Christmas duets album at this meeting -- though we all know it's coming.

Instead they showed the video for the Spankox remix, and though there's still plenty of skin in it, the video in fact has been re-edited for the U.S. market to spare us some of the more, ahem, adult themes.

We also got the usual roundup of Elvis news clips from the last year. Old news, sure, but when you see them all compressed in a few minutes, you realize what a busy year it's been, starting with coverage of the 30th anniversary concert and Lisa Marie's In the Ghetto duet. Also, we had wrapups of the attention paid to the comeback special and Army induction anniversaries. And, of course, we saw clips from Dancing With the Stars.

We got the first in a series of plugs for the new Walmart exclusive Viva Las Vegas TV special DVD, which goes on sale Tuesday.

There were the usual drawings for items such as that DVD and the new Comeback Special four-CD set (which is a beauty, by the way, even if it doesn't include any material that's new to the obsessive collectors among us).

So, if there wasn't much news on music, movies or merchandise, what distinguished this fan club event? Well, it was the moving tributes to Todd Morgan. Jack Soden started it off and speaker after speaker honored our deeply missed friend.

For those of us who were able to make it to EPE's memorial service in April, we knew what to expect. But for others, this was their chance to let the tears flow as the speakers choked up and the treasured photos and videos were shown.

Jack promised we'd be hearing more about Todd, and we hope EPE has some special words of honor reserved for him on vigil night, the time when many of us will miss him most of all.

As if our heartstrings hadn't been tugged enough, we then heard from a grateful resident of Presley Place. She talked about all the services the charity provides and how they had saved her and her young son. Once again, much of the audience was in tears.

That set the stage for a parade of fan club representatives to hand their checks to officials from various Memphis-area charities, including the Humane Society and, of course, St. Jude's.

Several fan club leaders took the stage to offer advice on fund-raising, and the results of their efforts spoke for themselves as the dollars accumulated.

Finally, Joe Moscheo, Terry Blackwood and Sherman Andrus of the Imperials took their seats on the stage to entertain the audience. But they didn't sing to us ... we did the singing, to Joe, who was celebrating his 71st birthday. (Thanks to the Sweet, Sweet Spirit fan club of Ohio for being thoughtful enough to provide a lovely trophy to Joe to mark the occasion.)

All three Imperials in attendance shared memories of Elvis, but Joe and Sherman, especially, had good stories to recount. Joe spoke of meeting Elvis for the first time in 1960 at a gospel quartets competition in Memphis. All but unknown at that time, Joe was amazed that Elvis knew him and the work he had done as an accompanying pianist. Joe spoke of how he bashfully asked Elvis for his autograph, only to be put at ease by Elvis' asking for his signature in return.

Sherman's story similarly illustrated Elvis' fundamental decency, as he told of meeting Elvis for the first time and joking with him about needing a TCB of his own, even though he'd never performed with Elvis. He may have thought he was kidding, but you know Elvis ... sure enough, next time they crossed paths, Elvis handed him a box that held a TCB -- and another piece of jewelry.

It sometimes seems everyone who met Elvis has a story like this, and all of them seem to have been awed by the experience. We're so fortunate Elvis Week gives us so many opportunities to hear these stories.

OK, wow, this is a long report already, so let's move along briskly and wrap this up.

The first night of Movies and Music gave us a chance to truly revel in the cool weather. Although the staff members were handing out fans, who needed them? It was a sweat-free night.

Andy Childs and his band took the stage while we waited for nightfall so the movie could start. Andy's set was familiar to those of us who have seen him before, though the show included a heavy acoustic emphasis, with Andy going "unplugged" and solo for the middle portion of the performance. That gave several of the standards a different, folksy feel. Perhaps not quite as rousing as the full band treatment, but for the Elvis Week veterans, a fresh approach is always appreciated. The peformance suited the weather and the lower-key Elvis Week we've been enjoying so far. Mellow.

But just in case anyone felt cheated, Andy made sure to close with the signature Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On, including the patter and band introductions many of you may remember from last year's event.

Jerry Schilling and George Klein took the stage briefly to make some remarks on the Viva Las Vegas TV special, among other things. But nothing too earth-shattering. Yes, G.K., we spotted you in the movie right away

And as for that movie ... perhaps you've heard of it .... a little film called Jailhouse Rock?

What is there to say, the movie was great -- as always -- and the fans loved it -- as always. Of course, they showed us the recently restored version, so it looked immaculate and sounded great.


And tonight's report from Graceland Crossing ... positive again, for the third night running. A good-sized crowd deep into the night, and consitently good performances on the stage. Graceland Crossing is the best place to take Elvis Week's pulse, and we're pleased to report it's strong and steady this year!

Monday, August 11, 2008

EW Day 2 report by ElvisSessions

note from SeattleSusieQ: I'm thrilled that the weather is so perfect! Hope it lasts.
ES's report:

Well, what a fun day -- even if the pace is a marked contrast to 2007.

"Leisurely" best describes the mood of this year's Elvis Week so far, with plenty of time between activities to relax and enjoy the sights.

We had a chance to pick up our tickets at Graceland and were delighted when, upon, giving our last name, the EPE staff member remembered the first name. "Oh, you have a lot of tickets. You're hardcore." After pulling all the little envelopes, we had to laugh. "OK, they're all here ... except for the big packet for the concert." Oh, and you have THAT package, too," she said in surprise.

Yes, we'll pretty much see and do it all this year ... and we'll try to report on it all. (We weren't able to attend the memorial luncheon for Bill Burk; can anyone fill us in?)

First up for Sunday was the gospel "brunch" at the Car Museum. We have to confess that until late Saturday, we had assumed this would be a concert like the one at the old EP Memphis restaurant back in 2003.

It was until we thought about the fact that the event was scheduled to last only an hour that we realized what it really was.

Now, let's be clear here: A chance to share breakfast with fellow fans and listen to Elvis perform gospel music is a great idea. Quite pleasant.

But surely you can understand that with a ticket price of $33 apiece, we might have expected something more than the 20- to 30-minute loop of Elvis gospel performances we got.

The food -- scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy and grits heavy with cheese -- was good enough, kept warm and ready for us.

But a ticket price of $15 would seem a little more fair. At $15, you might draw a hungry crowd every morning and it could make a nice daily start for the Elvis Week regulars. (Just an idea )

Nothing really to report on the music. Just the clips you'd expect, the gospel medley from the '68 Comeback, Sweet Sweet Spirit and the informal gospel recordings from Elvis on Tour, Peace in the Valley from the Sullivan Show, etc.

We joked in our Day 1 report about the misnamed Elvis "brunch." Well, it appears EPE figured it out for itself sometime after it published the schedule, because the commemorative coffee cups they gave us for the event were marked "Elvis gospel breakfast 2008." Inside were samples of the Elvis house blend coffee from Ugly Mug. Thanks, EPE.

A non-Elvis aside: After the gospel brunch, we visited Shelby Farms with our puppy -- his favorite part of Elvis Week. If you travel to Memphis with your dog, give him a treat at Shelby Farms -- probably the greatest off-leash dog park in America. And what a great place to enjoy this beautiful Memphis weather. That's right: beautiful Memphis weather in August. After being brutalized by the heat last year, we have been rewarded with temperatures in the 80s this year. Marvelous!

After dropping a worn-out dog off at our hotel, we raced to the Bears on Tour scavenger hunt. We've been boosters of this event since it started because of the opportunity to wander Graceland at our own pace without the usual crowds. Last year, being the 30th anniversary, drew a larger than average crowd. But this year, much like the first couple of scavenger hunts, we never had more than a couple of people sharing the rooms with us. What a different feeling you get when you can spend time in the mansion alone.

And best of all, our loyalty to the scavenger hunt was rewarded this year. That's right, we won the first-place drawing. (Sooner or later, our number had to come up .) So, now we have the fun of trying to make up our minds how to spend the $300 -- that's right, three hundred dollars -- in Graceland gift certificates we won.

If you haven't tried the scavenger hunt before, give it a shot your next Elvis Week. It always draws your attention to new little things you might never have noticed before (like the St. Francis statue hiding in the corner of the Jungle Room -- have you spotted that one before? ) Plus you might end up a few hundred dollars richer!

After a quick dinner, we zipped off to this year's first Club Elvis, at the Car Museum. Club Elvis has grown a lot since its slow start years ago. Now there's a core enthusiastic crowd that dances the night away. This year, they twisted and kicked right up until the traditional American Trilogy closing. (The first of many for the week, we're sure!)

A lot of the new remixes got spun, but to our ears a number of them are pale follow-ups to the three officially released in the U.S. so far. We'll get a chance to hear and see more of Spankox later this week, so we'll reserve the rest of our comments about all his remix attempts till after that.

For those who chose to party outside in the beautiful cool weather -- or didn't want to pay the Club Elvis admission fee -- there was plenty going on at the Graceland Crossing tent. Just like Saturday night, the seats were still full after midnight, and the amateur singers were going strong.

But we had to head on to bed. We want to be fresh for the Fan Club Presidents' event, which we assume marks the much-appreciated return of the Fan Forum, albeit in a different guise. Also up tomorrow: Night One of Music and Movies.

EW Day 1 report by ElvisSessions

Elvissessions has posted 2 reports already about Elvis week and has given me permission to repost them here, since I'm not there to do my own reporting yet.

Thanks, Chris!

File this under "no where to go but up." We pulled into town rested and ready for the kick-off party, which was moved from the Hard Rock Cafe to EP's Delta Kitchen and Bar because of "capacity reasons."

Anyone who remembers our dispatches from previous years knows we're the most enthusiastic boosters and gentlest critics of Elvis Week events.

But finally: our first truly negative review.

First, it's easy enough to imagine that the "capacity reasons" were too much capacity, not too little. Although in the first half-hour, there were people sitting at almost every table in the VIP area, that was a very temporary condition and there was pleny of room elsewhere in the restaurant.

That's not EPE's fault, certainly, and many Elvis Weeks start slowly and still build to remarkable clilmaxes.

But it's hard to overlook the event's other shortcomings.

First, the band, billed as Elmo and the Shades, was way off the mark for an event advertised as an Elvis Week "kick-off."

Any Elvis connection appeared to be coincidental. Yes, there were run-throughs of Johnny B. Goode and Big Boss Man. But for the most part it was more a tribute to Memphis music in general, especially to the Stax sound.

The band was good. The second set, for example, opened with some remarkable solo guitar work. But simply put, who ever imagined the Theme From Shaft was going to put anyone in an Elvis frame of mind?

As far as the food for the VIPs .... ummmm ... ick.

The nacho cheese, for example, tasted as if it had been reconstituted from powder. The only less-appetizing possibility was that the grit in it could be explained some other way.

Some of the desserts, obviously pulled from a refrigerator (freezer?) shortly before the event, had been turned to mush by condensation that had collected on them. Only a few lemon bars survived at all.Small barbecue sandwiches just weren't good, and the same could be said for most of the rest.

At first, rather disappointed at the paltry selection, we were temporarily heartened by the arrival of a new tray about a half-hour into the event. Our hope turned to dismay as we realized that even after tasting it, we could not state for certain what it was. (Pork, perhaps?) Certainly, it was none too savory, and we set most of it aside.

There's no sense belaboring the point; Elvis Week isn't about fine dining. However, it was hard not to spend the evening calculating where the $40 per "VIP" had gone.

The wait staff was friendly -- and forgiving on our bar tab. And it's always great to start to see the familiar faces begin to gather.

But clearly we weren't alone in our negative assessment. The audience thinned out fast. We lasted longer than most, but we threw in the towel not long after midnight. We'd love to hear from anyone who actually made it through to 3 a.m. But our guess is most of the wait staff got a chance to turn in early.

After leaving Beale Street, we paid our traditional first late-night visit to Graceland to check the week's pulse. By this measure, things look promising. Still a good crowd at the tent, and still a performer on the stage.

We couldn't stick around long, as we have to be up for the 8:30 a.m. gospel "brunch." (By the way, EPE, if it's 8:30 a.m., it ain't a brunch )

We hope to be back soon with more (better) reports.
Audubon Drive posted a comment to this report:

I was there too, but I had the cheap ticket so was forced to sit by the bar. Literally forced to: I was upstairs visiting, hanging out and the bouncer noticed that I didn't have the "VIP wristband". Which is not a bad thing to sit by the bar, just couldn't stay all night. Had a Tupelo tour to do the next day (today).

The band was good, I have heard them many times here in town. Half the band played with Isaac Hayes on the Theme from Shaft" recordings. No, its not Elvis related, but Memphis related. You may have missed what "Elmo" the lead singer said: that he played for one of Elvis' New Years Eve parties at the old Club Manhattan. So there was a little Elvis after all.

In all, I got the better of the deal by getting the cheaper ticket.