It was 35 Years Ago Today: Our Thoughts On The Life, Music, And Death Of Elvis Presley!

Today marks the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley's passing and, while I find it bothersome how we choose to celebrate great lives on the days of their passing, any opportunity to discuss Elvis is ultimately fine with me.

When he walked into Sun Records to see about cutting a record, he did so for two reasons.  The first was to have something to play for his mother, whom he adored more than just about anything else on Earth.  The second, arguably, was to be discovered, although "being discovered" back in those days meant something completely different than it does today.  Back then, you could be discovered and still never be known outside the state of Tennessee, or Mississippi, or whatever state you happened to be in.  Back then, a lot of singers enjoyed regional stardom.  To be the biggest thing to ever hit Memphis was a big dream back then.  Nowadays, nobody wants to be a regional success.  They want the whole enchilada - world domination - or nothing.  

When asked by the receptionist who he sounded like, Elvis responded, "I don't sound like nobody." True as it may have been in hindsight, to the folks at Sun, who surely saw boastful hopefuls like him each and every day, it must have sounded like a cocky thing to say.

Sam Phillips heard something he liked in the young man's voice and eventually brought Elvis into the studio to see what could be done with material that Phillips had hand-picked.  The session was on its way to being an unfruitful affair when Elvis picked up the guitar and played an impromptu version of a 1946 blues tune called "That's Alright".  The two guys who'd been hired to back him up for the session quickly joined in and what Phillips heard floored him.  He quickly began rolling tape.  Days later, the song was played on a local radio show called Red, Hot & Blue and the phone lines lit up with listeners begging to hear the song again.  DJ Dewe7y Phillips obliged by playing the song repeatedly during his show. 

Sam Phillips had Elvis record another song, "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", and a 7" single with "That's Alright" as the A side was released.

Then he became world famous, right?

Wrong.  Elvis and his band ran into a lot of bumps in the road as the inexperienced Elvis quickly learned how to master performing in public.  It took a year of performances in clusb as far away as Houston and Texarkana, not to mention a year-long contract to perform on Louisiana Hayride (a counterpart to the Grand Ol Opry) before things really started to happen.

By 1956, however, enough of the pieces had fallen into place - including original manager Bob Neal hiring Col. Tom Parker as a promotional consultant - that Elvis was able to make his national TV debut in January on CBS' "Stage Show".

Elvis' national fame was built brick-by-brick over the year of three years.  There was no singular "Ed Sullivan" moment for Presley, although perhaps the infamous "Hound Dog" performance was the spark in the powder keg to make him a household name. 

Of course, it could also just as easily have never happened.  A few days after his first appearance on the show, Elvis and his band had been left badly shaken after an engine went out on a plane they were on and had almost gone down over remote Arkansas.

Can you imagine how different life for an entire generation would be if Elvis Presley had died in a plane crash before "Don't Be Cruel, "Love Me Tender, or any of the songs for which he is best remembered had even been recorded?

In 1958, he was drafted.  Naturally, Elvis was happy to oblige, sayin "The Army can do whatever they want with me", which is pretty damn patriotic.  Would today's Justin Beiber do the same?  

As he prepared for service, he admitted to friends that he believed his music career to be over.  Can you imagine that? 

Elvis was talent at its purest. He was an entertainer just like Sinatra in that he made no proclamations of being an "artist", yet he WAS.

As for why he was an artist and, say, Justin Timberlake is not, I don't know that I can come up with an answer. Justin has made the little girls swoon, enjoyed a lengthy career full of great success, yet he's still a complete and total sham to me because his every move is premeditated and "borrowed" from the likes of Michael Jackson.

Elvis may have been influenced by early rhythm & blues, and church music, but what he came up with completely on his own was 110% Elvis Presley. Similarly, The Beatles wore their early influences on their sleeves, but when they did "Twist & Shout", it became theirs completely. John's vocal performance rendered all other versions inferior, including the original (my own personal opinion, mind you).

Sure, Elvis quickly turned into a caricature of himself, or what the public perceived him to be, and the Colonel's meddling ended up doing more harm than good, if you ask me, keeping Elvis so damn busy all the time that he could barely have a moment to just enjoy life.

When you take time to look back at all the great early music he made, all the films he was in, they all happened in just a matter of 2-3 years. Add to that the touring and you can't fathom how a human being could be kept that busy. It's almost like slavery. You can't stop, you can't get off the ride because there's too much money to be made and Parker has your ass committed to projects, albums, and tours for the next ten years!

And the Vegas Elvis in the jump suits, sweating profusely? There is such a great sadness in that, like a beautiful animal kept in a cage and taken around to county fairs, tied to a wooden stake by a rope it could easily break free from, but it's soul has been broken.

I choose to remember Elvis as the man who owned that fucking stage during his legendary comeback special. By then, he was jaded by the star-making machine, no longer the innocent man who'd cut those early sides, but here he was getting back in touch with the simplicity of rock & roll. It was just him and his band and, for that moment, he proved that that was all you need.

These days, of course, all you need is autotune, Photoshop, and a good make-up artist. You don't even need a song, or the ability to sing, or perform. You just let them fix everything in post-production and enjoy being a star.

There will never be another Elvis, but, man, we sure could use one.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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