Saturday, 7 December 2013

G is for Gates


Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, posted an e-mail communication at on Monday, 24 February, 1997 at 13:00:40 (EST) — as This is how it read: ‘Elvis was never alive, he was a computer-generated figure, and his voice was the work of Creative labs. In 1977 Microsoft decided to put all of our focus on Windows, and the Elvis project was dropped. Sorry.’

Tomorrow Elvis and the bloke who was once in Cheers

Friday, 6 December 2013

F is for Fred

Fred was my guide on the tour of the Sun Studios in Memphis. I took it on a bleak November morning and fortified myself for the trip with breakfast in the attached cafe, third booth from the window — which is where Sam Phillips used to conduct his business in the early days of Sun when it was known as Miss Taylor’s Restaurant. 

I ate — of course — a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. Truly, ‘a breakfast fit for a king’. (Anyone interested in repeating the experience in the privacy of their own home should consult one of the Elvis recipe books: Are You Hungry Tonight? by Brenda Arlene Butler, say, or Fit For A King by Elizabeth McKeon. Or go to Higella's version here.)

I laughed as I ordered it from the waiter. He gave me a dishwater look. ‘Do people always laugh when they order that breakfast?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said, resignedly.

Because of the earliness of the hour and the chill of the day, I was the only one making the tour. I had Fred all to myself. But he did the whole thing as if there were a big crowd. He is, after all, an actor of sorts. The story he told is really a script he’d learned. But he’d learned it well and spoke it with surprising freshness. 

It was a very good story, anyway, a well-constructed history — from Sam Phillips starting the label right through to U2 using the tiny studio to record When Love Comes To Town with BB King. 

Fred outlined the social background, told me about the musicians, played snatches of songs, showed me the instruments and the equipment used. It’s literate, accurate — and honest. At one point, Fred stood in the corner by the door to the control room and grabbed hold of a big old microphone, a great hunk of time-dulled stainless steel. You think: I know that microphone, I’ve seen it in pictures, it’s the one Elvis used when he recorded at Sun. And Fred said: ‘This is a microphone just like the one Elvis used when he recorded at Sun. Not the real one. But one just like it.’ 

Thanks, Fred.

Tomorrow Bill Gates and the untold secret truth about Elvis

Thursday, 5 December 2013

E is for Enquirer

Elvis was one of the tabloid National Enquirer magazine’s main men. Before his death, it ran a five-part version of the Elvis — What Happened? revelations. It also paid Elvis’ cousin Bobby Mann $75,000 to take a secret photograph of Elvis in his coffin — though some say Elvis looks too young in it for it to be anything but a fake. It was published on the cover dated 6 September, 1977. The sales of that issue were a record-breaking 6.5 million.

A year later, on 20 September, 1977, the Enquirer also published the final photograph of Elvis alive — taken on the eve of his death by a fan as he drove into Graceland at 12.28am.

Some of the many Elvis appearances in the National Enquirer . . .

Tomorrow I breakfast like a king, in the king's chair - well, close enough anyway.
D is for Dilaudid

Pharmaceutical morphine in pill form. Elvis liked Dilaudid. He also liked Amytal, Quaaludes, Dexedrine, Biphetamine and Percodan, all pills and capsules prescribed to him by Dr George Nichopoulos — Dr Nick, to both Elvis and tabloid headline writers. 

Not that this meant Elvis was a junkie. Rather, as many fine minds have pointed out, he was a heavy user of pharmaceutical preparations — addicted not to ‘proscribed drugs’ but ‘prescribed drugs’. In the last two and a half years of Elvis’ life, Dr Nick wrote him scripts for 19,000 hits of the drugs he liked. ‘The worst case of indiscriminate oversubscribing I have ever seen in my investigations for the State of Tennessee’, said a local prosecutor on Geraldo Rivera’s 13 September, 1979 US TV report, The Elvis Cover-Up, which first exposed the extent and range of Elvis’ multiple drug abuse.

Yet… both the Board of Medical Examiners and the jury at a criminal trial cleared Nichopoulos of any wrong-doing. ‘He expended enormous efforts to keep drugs from Elvis and more than once saved his life,’ wrote Stanley Booth, Rolling Stones biographer, fellow Memphian and patient of Dr Nick’s, in a touching and vibrant essay for Mojo magazine. ‘The only people who understood that apparently were the jury who acquitted him.’ In the piece, Booth quoted Sun rockabilly Charlie Feathers: ‘It wasn’t drugs that killed Elvis, it was breakfast.’

Sam Phillips didn’t agree. For him, it was a broken heart that killed Elvis, only not a physical but a metaphorical one. ‘I’m talking about emotional entrapment. That’s deep stuff. And it’s serious stuff. And no matter what happens to you in this world, if you don’t make it your business to be happy, then you maybe have gained the whole world and lost your spirit and maybe even your damned soul.’

Fifteen years after Elvis’ death, in an interview with LIFE magazine, Nichopoulos, then still practising medicine in Memphis, said of Elvis: ‘I used to see him every day. When I’d get through at the office, I’d stop by at Graceland and see how he was doing. Now I find different ways to go home so I won’t be reminded.’

Next up Elvis and his tabloid life

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

C is for Costello

The other Elvis, who has never made studio recording of a Presley song. 

He has played them, live, though. As of autumn 2013, he has done Little Sister at more than forty-five shows. On at least one occasion, he introduced it as something by ‘an unknown singer from Tupelo, Mississippi’. He’s played (Marie’s The Name Of) His Latest Flame in at least forty-eight shows, dating back to 1983. Mystery Train, he’s done even more regularly, sixty-seven times since the first time in 1989, and with all kinds of other people and guests — Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Nick Lowe, The Lovell Sisters. (It's not the EP original, he performs, though, but the Band's partial rewrite of it — which goes some way to explaining the mystery of the mystery train which  In 2008, on TV, he did a version of Baby, Let’s Play House, in honour of Bill Clinton, an acknowledged Presley fan.


EC has also used some of the same musicians as EP. Guitarist James Burton, keyboard player Larry Knechtel, bassist Jerry Scheff and drummer Ron Tutt formed the Confederates, who appeared in live EC shows of the late 1980s and on 1987’s King Of America album. Scheff played on 1989’s Spike. Burton, Scheff and Knechtel appear on 1995’s Kojak Variety. And Tutt is on 1985’s The People’s Limousine which EC recorded under the pseudonym of the Coward Brothers (with T-Bone Burnett).

EC’s father, Ross MacManus (1927–2011), also performed many EP songs. As the singer with the Joe Loss band in the 1950s, Mr MacManus would cover whatever was a hit that week. He even recorded some EP songs, for cheap cover-version EPs for sale only in Woolworth’s stores (1909–2008).

Tomorrow Drugs and how not to take them.

Monday, 2 December 2013

B is for Blue

On the night Elvis was born, his father Vernon stepped out into the backyard and saw the skies were ringed in blue light. As a young boy, Elvis discovered that if he stared at the moon long enough, a blue ring would appear round it. Years later, he decided that blue was a colour with deep spiritual significance.

Blue was always there in his music. Not in the sense of ‘the blues’ but as in the colour ‘blue’. The flip side of his first single was Blue Moon Of Kentucky. He also recorded Blue Suede Shoes, Blue Christmas, Blue Moon, Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain, Blue River, Blueberry Hill, A Mess Of Blues, Mean Woman Blues, Beach Boy Blues, Indescribably Blue, Milkcow Blues Boogie, Something Blue, Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues, Steamroller Blues and When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again. He cut GI Blues and Blue Hawaii — both of which are, of course, the title tracks of entire movies with the same name. And Moody Blue was the title track of his very last LP. In all, that’s nineteen ‘blue’ songs.

By way of colour comparison, he didn’t record a single song with red, orange or purple in its title. In fact, the total his other colour-significant recordings is five. One black — Long Black Limousine; one yellow — The Yellow Rose Of Texas; one white — White Christmas; and two green — A Little Bit Of Green and The Green, Green Grass Of Home.

An article in the Rainbow Earth Dwelling Society Newsletter, as recorded by ‘Tubbs Gillis’ in Magical Blend magazine, reveals that Elvis believed he’d had a previous life on a blue planet orbiting a blue sun in the Pleiades Dogstar system.

In his essay, Elvis In Death, Nick Tosches wrote that, for some time before Elvis’ death, he’d thought of him not as a real person but as ‘an all-American demi-god who dwelt, enthroned between Superman and the Lone Ranger, in the blue heaven of the popular imagination’.
The colour of the pyjamas in which he died? Blue. As was the shirt and tie in which he was buried.

PS1 I just discovered there is an Elvis blue wine. That's right. Blue Christmas wine. Well, there is a picture of the label. Not sure if it's real or a joke. But sure of one thing. I wouldn't drink it. 

PS2 I just discovered there is an Elvis Blue - a South African singer born Jan Hoogendyk, in 1979 . . . More, not soon but in good time
Tomorrow The other Elvis (the C one)

I'm back . . . 

I've been with the King. I've been working on him, not with or for him but on him. Many, many years ago, back in the last century, I wrote a book on Elvis. It was a short and fast one. Fifty Elvis songs and their stories, making a mini-biography but focussed on the music. It came out, as Essential Elvis, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of his death.

Earlier this year, I was asked if I was okay with it being republished, as an e-book. Of course, I said. Just let me have a quick look through it and make the necessary corrections. I already knew, for example, that, to my shame, I'd mis-spelled Ann Margaret's name. See, I did it again. It's actually Ann-Margret. (She's Chicago-raised but Swedish-born.)

So I started making the corrections and adding new bits and then more bits and even talked to some people — including the niece of the man who wrote Long Black Limousine, the song which Elvis recorded in his 1969 and which almost prefigured his own end. 

I found more and more and more and put it all in. All kinds of details. Corrections of dates. Stories about the songwriters. I found a lot of demos of the songs – which weren't around first time but have since emerged.

All in all, it became a bigger book. Almost twice the size.

It's out this Friday, from Rocket 88. Here is the cover. Buy one. Buy more. (Oh, and buy yourself a copy of my last book, Filthy English while you're about it.)

The original Essential Elvis also contained an A-Z of Elvis. It wasn't exactly padding in the original. More somewhere to put other thoughts and ideas which didn't fit into the song stories I told. It was more fun, more light-hearted, less reverent. And, so we took the decision to leave it out of the new edition.

So . . . I'm posting it here, on this blog, as an Elvis advent calendar. There will be one a day till Christmas. (Actually, given that there are 26 letters in the alphabet, it will, of course, run through to Boxing Day. At least. As Elvis' birthday is January 8, I might stretch it through till then.) And I begin with . . .

A is for Aaron

Elvis’ middle name, which his mother spelled as Aron on his birth certificate, and which was — rightly or wrongly — changed to Aaron on his gravestone.

More tomorrow Actually, more later today, as I started my A-Z Elvis calendar one day late so it coincided with the working week.