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The Rock-itt : August 2011
August 16th marks the 34th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, one of the most well known and influential figures of the twentieth Century. Elvis is a renowned figure in every country and continent on earth and not just to music lovers, he is a cultural phenomenon. I can only think of a couple of other people in human history who would be as well known throughout the world as Elvis. Jesus Christ, Princess Diana, Muhammad Ali and Adolf Hitler perhaps. If you think someone else should be added to this list e mail me c/ - The Rock-Itt and let me know. The fact that even now, 34 years after his death, there are an estimated 25,000 Elvis impersonators throughout the world has got to say something about his fame and enduring popularity. Although he only got a C for music at school, a young Elvis was transfixed with music. As a teenager in Memphis Tennessee he spent all of his time listening to the radio, playing guitar with his friends, hanging out in cafes that had juke boxes and roaming around Beale Street Memphis listening to the rhythm & blues and gospel performers of the day, most of whom were African American. He was a shy kid and some thought a momma’s boy but Elvis knew he would be a singer. It wasn’t an easy start for him though, he worked s everal jobs including as a truck driver while he tried to get his career started. Elvis was impressed by the songs that a young Memphis music producer, Sam Phillips, was making at his recording studio, Sun Records. On two occasions Elvis bought studio time and recorded some songs in the hope that Phillips would be impressed and sign him up. Phillips thought that Elvis had a good voice but he was looking for a different sound, something that was a mixture between the ‘black’ and ‘white’ music of the time. slicked hair and sideburns, his gyrating dance style had the girls screaming which lead to him only being filmed from the waist up in his early TV appearances. He was however polite, well mannered and respectful to all he met and no one could fault how beautiful his voice was, especially when he sang gospel songs. Until they saw him, some people didn’t know whether he was black or white. One thing that Elvis also did was help to merge the races and break down the barriers between black and white. Music is a universal language which doesn’t discriminate and Elvis spread the word to include everyone. 1950’s America was a divided nation. Sadly, segregation of the races was practiced in all areas of society. There were ‘white only’ and ‘black only’ clubs and radio stations, designated areas where seating was and wasn’t allowed on buses, in cafes and so much more. Fortunately this is no longer the case but at the time in most areas these divides were aggressively kept. On the third occasion that Elvis recorded at Sun he was again failing to impress Phillips, until when they were about to finish, he broke into an up tempo rockabilly version of a blues song called ‘That’s All right Momma’. Phillips was astounded, he’d never heard anything like it and he had found the sound he was after. He recorded the song right then and there and sent it to a local radio DJ who after playing it on his show got so many phone calls from excited teenagers to play it again, he ended up playing it 14 times that night. Elvis was on his way. Elvis’ fame grew and grew as he recorded more and more songs and performed live shows as well as on television. No performer had looked or sung like him before, he drove girls crazy and guys wanted to look like him. Usually when younger generations like a musician, older ones don’t but this wasn’t really the case with Elvis. He looked dangerous with his Once he reached fame, Elvis lived his life in the spotlight. He made headlines whatever he did, from giving away his burgeoning music career to serve in the army, to marrying a young Priscilla, to his decade long Hollywood movie career, to his 1968 comeback to performing live, to his career as a celebrity in Las Vegas wearing his famous jump suits and costumes on stage, his excesses, his generosity and finally to his untimely death at only 42 years of age. By John McGee A statue of Elvis in Beale St Memphis Elvis had many jumpsuits made for his stage appearances. Some had so many rhinestones sewn in the suit weighed more than 20kg Sun Studio, Memphis