Neverending Elvis

Friday, August 10, 2018

T.G. Sheppard Talks Elvis in Advance of Concert at Graceland's Guest House

Posted By on Fri, Aug 10, 2018 at 4:09 PM

T.G. Sheppard.
  • T.G. Sheppard.
T.G. Sheppard has recorded 21 #1 hits. But he called Memphis to talk Elvis. Also, to share news that he's bringing his old friend Barry Gibb along for the ride.

Memphis Flyer: You’re coming to perform a concert during Elvis week, but also taking part in one of the discussions, correct?

T.G. Sheppard: My wife Kelly Lang and I are part of a concert at the Guest House on the 18th at 3 p.m. It is part of the new Elvis Week calendar. They have added us as one of their main events during all this week. I think that is because of my friendship for so many years with Elvis.

It may also have something to do with having 21 number-one hits of your own. Just guessing.

You are too kind. We're coming in and doing a concert. Then on the 17th, I'm part of the Conversations. I think that's the morning of the 17th. And of course I'm bringing a very very special guest, Barry Gibb* with me.

That is a special guest.

Sir Barry Gibb.

Recently elevated to the peerage.

Yeah. He was knighted about three or four weeks ago. He and his wife were coming in to spend a few days with us during Elvis Week. And he's going to do the conversations with me as my guest. He's also going to attend our concert. It's going to be kind of exciting week in Memphis.
Sounds like it.

When Graceland announced it, our social media outlets just went absolutely berserk. Because Barry is so International. And Elvis was International, and still is. When you mention anything about Barry, your media comes in from all over the world from every country.

When you left home for Memphis, was it to get into the music business?


Well, I was a runaway. I left home when I was 15. I hitchhiked down to Memphis. That's where I met Elvis. I was just a kid at a skating rink. Rainbow Terrace skating rink on Lamar. I was there late one night, and Elvis pulled up in a Cadillac with a couple of other cars. Got out and walked over to me. It was about midnight. He asked where I was going, I told him I was leaving because they were closing the rink right down. He said they're, “No they’re not, they’re opening it up for me.” He said he was a man short on his team. They played a little game and they called it "kill." It was actually football on skates. I went and skated with him and the Memphis Mafia for a few hours, and the friendship just kind of stuck. We became instant friends. We remained instant friends until the day he passed. As a matter of fact, when I started my career out, he gifted me with my first tour bus. That really and truly gave me the opportunity to be able to be a performer. It gave me the confidence I needed at that time in my life to go forward. If Elvis thinks enough of me to give me a tour bus, maybe I've got a shot in this business. So I worked really hard after that.

You were already working in the music world by then but behind the scenes.

I was one of the executives with RCA Victor. After I couldn't make it as a rock-and roll-star, I went into the record business and thought that I could live my dreams through the eyes of other entertainers, which I did. People like John Denver and Waylon Jennings, and so many other stars. So I was a record executive before I became a country singer.


So was it strange going from being a kid from Humboldt to being buddies with somebody every teenager in the world wanted to know?


Yes, it was absolutely amazing to me. All of a sudden Elvis is my friend? It was just, I don't know. I told my mom, when I was a young kid, I said, “Mom someday I'm going to meet Elvis and he's going to become my friend.” And she said, “Now, son, I don't think the chances of that happening are very high. You're from Humboldt, Tennessee. You don't need to get your hopes up because that's not going to happen.” So somehow I always thought that I would meet Elvis. But it never stopped shocking me when I became friends with him. I'd have to pinch myself.

And it never wore off?

No. It never wears off when you're in the presence of somebody as big as Elvis was. And one of the beautiful things about this is, all the years that I was with him, virtually living at Graceland for 7 years. I always knew I was in the presence of greatness in my business and I was in awe of that greatness. But after a year or two, the friendship settled into just a normal friendship. He was just down to Earth. He was a religious man. Loved his mom. Which we all do. Loved and adored his fans. I got the feeling, after awhile, that he was just really and truly one of us. And that's why he is who he is today because he was one of us. But one of the ones who had his dream come true.


Did you learn any career lessons? Cautionary tales?

We all have egos, okay? It's how you control your ego as to how you appear to other people. You can always appear egotistical or you can appear confident. Elvis always appeared confident, not egotistical. I've always learned to portray that my own career. To be confident and not egotistical. If your ego gets out of hand the fans who made you what you are can take it away just as quickly.

Number two, and the most important thing that I learned from Elvis, is what he told me one day. He said, “If you ever forget where you came from you will never get where you want to go.”

You’ve been generous in talking about Elvis. It would be wrong not to ask if you had any projects in the works.

I've been fortunate to have had 21 number-one hit songs. I've been able to fulfill my dreams. But I am doing a couple of things right now that I'm so excited about. I'm in the studio recording my first country solo album in over 20 years. I've done other albums. I've done a duet album with my wife Kelly Lang. I've done duets with Willie, and Jerry Lee, and Haggard, and Mickey Gilley and all those huge, huge stars. But I hadn't done a solo record in so long and I'm having an incredible time recording again. And a strange thing happened with this album that wraps into the Elvis thing. I haven’t titled it yet, and it won’t be out till next year. But there are two songs that came to me that I’m going to debut at my show at the Guest House on the 18th. The first song is called “The Day Elvis Died.” We all know where we were and what we were doing. The second song that I’m going to duet is called, “I Want to Live Like Elvis,” and every line is a hook.

Also, there’s a TV special we just filmed called “Look Who’s Coming to Dinner.” And we’ll be announcing the network and all that soon.

*Gibb has canceled his trip to Memphis. No Sir Barry this Elvis week.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Q & A with '68 Comeback and T.A.M.I. Show director, Steve Binder

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2018 at 3:53 PM

Steve Binder & Elvis Presley on the set of Singer Presents... Elvis.
  • Steve Binder & Elvis Presley on the set of Singer Presents... Elvis.
Whether you recognize the name or not, producer/director Steve Binder is probably responsible for developing a considerable portion of your favorite pop-culture real estate. Before directing a landmark 1964 concert film, The T.A.M.I. Show, featuring James Brown, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes, Chuck Berry (and Marvin Gay, and The Beach Boys, and Gerry and the Pacemakers, and The Ronettes), and a full roster of future music industry legends. Binder worked on The Steve Allen Show. He partnered with top-shelf music producer Bones Howe. He produced Pee Wee's Playhouse. Star Wars completists can thank him for directing the Infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, which might have been considerably worse, had Binder not been called in to salvage the project, when the network's first choice didn't work out. In 1968, Binder accepted an offer to direct the NBC TV special Singer Presents... Elvis, better known now as the "'68 Comeback."

This week Binder's coming to Memphis and Graceland to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Singer Presents..., and sign copies of his book Comeback '68: The Story of the Elvis Special. Here's some of what he had to say about his work on The T.A.M.I. Show, and the NBC special that marked his return to serious recording and live performance. 

Memphis Flyer: I know we’re supposed to talk about Elvis, but I don’t think there’s a ‘68 Comeback without the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964. So I’d like to start there, if it’s okay.

Steve Binder: To begin with, I was directing Steve Allen at the time, and in the middle of it we took a hiatus. So I had an opportunity to collaborate again with Bill Sargent, The T.A.M.I. Show producer. Bill was really a great promoter. He didn’t have a lot of input creatively. He’d just finished producing [a filmed version of] Richard Burton on Broadway doing Hamlet. His idea — he was so far ahead of his time. Everything we’re watching today on digital, Bill thought about those things in the 1960’s.

What you guys were basically doing with T.A.M.I. is an early version of HDTV, right?

He took electronic cameras, when everybody had just transferred over to video tape, and he thought Kinescope was over. I don’t want to get too technical, but American television designated, when it went on the air, that it could only have 525 vertical and horizontal lines for the picture. Bill had a technical background in the Navy. He thought, you know, if we’re not being restricted by the FCC, we can have as many lines as we want and make the quality much better than a television picture. Therefore we can project on theatrical screens, 30 feet high. Back in those days he called it either Electronovision or Theatrovision.


And he came to me and asked if I was interested, because I’d done another project with him that was shown in arenas all over the world, starring Burt Lancaster and a whole cast of stars. It was during the period when schools were segregated and this was to celebrate the desegregation of schools. Burt not only hosted the show, he also sang and danced. It was pretty successful. It played in Madison Square Garden. It played at the Los Angeles Sports Arena and places like that all over the country.

So he came to me and said, I've just done Richard Burton doing Hamlet and I'd like to do another project right away. So we kind of came up with the idea of doing a rock and roll concert. It was obviously the decade with the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassinations, and the assassination of Martin Luther King and so forth. This obviously preempted a lot of all of that. But, Bill didn't give me any restrictions whatsoever. And Jack Nietzsche was the great composer and producer on the East Coast, and Phil Spector on the West Coast, were the two biggest producers in Rock music. And Jack was the musical director of The T.A.M.I. Show. He later went on to do the score for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and other major motion pictures. But Jack is the one who really determined who the hot acts were that year. And gave the Sargent the list.

Sergeant wanted to get the Beatles on the show, but instead he got Brian Epstein to give him Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer. Those were his acts. In fact the songs that Billy sang on the show were written by the Beatles.

And James Brown

I didn't even know who James Brown was, let alone how to improvise filming him. But I went to James and said we are ready to rehearse your set. He said you won't need any rehearsal; you'll know what to do when you see me. Everybody else I got one run through with to at least look at the apps. Obviously I went out and got their albums. None of them were superstars at the time. In fact, when the Rolling Stones were booked they were just the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger wasn't even popping out as Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Same with Diana Ross when we had the Supremes. It was just the Supremes and so forth. We mixed in English acts, because the British Invasion it just started. So we mix those acts with East Coast acts, West Coast Acts, Midwest Acts. None of us knew. I think of nine or 10 acts, eight of them are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame now. Nobody could have predicted that in 1964.


And all of them are huge. It almost seems unlikely that anybody could pick that many winners.


Chris? Who was the biggest star we had on the show do you think?

I’m probably wrong, but I’m going to guess it was Leslie Gore.

She was. She was the biggest recording artist we had on the film.

And she’s amazing. I know she wasn’t out of the closet yet, but re-watching Leslie’s performance of “You Don’t Own Me,” really drove home what an intersectional show this was in 1964. It was male, female, black, white, gay, straight. Like this utopian vision of a better future through rock and soul. And wasn’t a portion of any profit supposed to go toward empowering youth in their communities? Or fostering music scenes. The whole thing feels ahead of its time and I’m not sure there’s really been a concert film quite like it since.

There hasn't been. Sergeant was like one of the Mel Brooks characters in The Producers. He would go out and sell 300 percent of something. It would turn into a hit, and then he was screwed. So he went bankrupt on every film he ever did practically, throughout his career. He never had a successful movie that he held onto. The T.A.M.I. Show was actually picked up by AIP, who were doing all the beach bunny movies at the time with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. They had Vincent Price doing horror movies. American International pictures. They picked it up and then they called me and said they want to do another T.A.M.I. movie. The concept was we were going to do an annual event. And the money was going to go, or at least a great portion of it, to music acts all over the United States.

The minute AIP took it over, they were just interested in making money for themselves. So they took it. The actor who was the star of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was to host it. They put a lot of acts on the TNT show that weren't rock-and-roll acts at all. They were very successful acts, but more middle-of-the-road. Even Ray Charles at the time was on the TNT show. As great as he was, he was not considered rock-and-roll. So it was a case of pride and I turned it down. They gave the music concept to Phil Spector, who I did respect in those days a great deal. Phil literally begged me on his knees to direct the TNT show. I said I couldn't. I mean it's not the same concept. It's not going to have the same impact.


I like how real it is. The crowd is excited in a way you can’t fake. But most importantly, the bands seem to be having a great time. A great time playing, a great time interacting with the audience.

The only thing I contributed to that was making sure all the acts participated with no egos. And they would all be there for the entire two days that we filmed. They all rooted for each other. They bonded with each other. A lot of the dancers dated a lot of the acts, as a matter of fact. It wasn't a case of one-upmanship. It was more a case of trying to do their best. I think Mick Jagger or Keith put out a Rolling Stone interview saying it was the worst decision they ever made to follow James Brown. I think it was the best decision. Because I don't think we would have gotten that performance out of [Mick]. I think he thought he was James Brown after he saw James Brown perform.


I’ve followed some of that. Brown’s performance is unquestionably the show’s climax, but there’s something nice about starting with Chuck Berry and bookending that with The Stones and Keith Richards on guitar, before bringing everybody back for the finale.

I think so too. And all of that was very intentional. I wanted everyone who saw the film to know it was live. So, we had a first act and all the artists who appeared in the first act come out at the end of the first act. And then having all the artists come out at the end reinforced that they were all there together at the same time.

And very clearly having a blast.

I've done nine Diana Ross specials. I did Central Park with her — 1.2 million people there, etcetera. When I think about The Tami Show today, when I had all those dancers go right to The Supremes during their number ... To ask a major superstar today, “Hey we're going to have 25 dancers come through your line while you're performing.” It would be unheard of. But they all loved it. They loved that they weren't doing a television show; they were doing a movie movie. That was a big selling point for everybody. They were for real. And that's what I tried to do with all my shows. I don't want to see the slicked-down image of a star. I want to see the real inside of a star. You get that. With the Supremes, with Leslie Gore.

Leslie Gore has always been a personal favorite, but it really is hard to imagine her as the biggest star on a bill with The Stones, The Ronnettes, the Beach Boys.

She was phenomenal. I never saw Leslie after that, but stayed in touch. I was happy when she came out. I know the difficulty and the struggle the LGBT community face. Especially being from LA and everything. We don't have some of the prejudices that other people do in many cases. But they had to fight for every inch of becoming real 100 percent American citizens.

And her performance of “You Don’t Own Me” is just as good as it gets. We’ve talked about how intersectional the film is — and not always in safe ways for the time. I described it as utopian, even. But sometimes, at the corner of a frame, or just for a split instant you’ll see a cop in riot gear. As fun as it all seems, were there also concerns that something might happen?

There were concerns from the city which owned the Santa Monica City Auditorium at the time. And we fought against it. We definitely did not want these uniforms standing in the aisles and so forth. It was interesting because this is the time before any of the kids knew how to react to rock-and-roll. We didn't have a warm-up guy telling them they should applaud and scream and so forth. We didn't have signs up saying applaud. This is all real. In fact I didn't even sweeten the soundtrack. What people saw in the theaters was what happened, because there was no post-production whatsoever. When I looked at James Brown’s performance afterwards one of the engineers asked me if I could hear some of the female kids screaming the F-word. “F-me! f me!” But I couldn't hear it. It was all natural. It was all really happening. Parents were coming in to drag their kids out of the theater while we were actually filming. It was quite an experience.

We should probably move ahead four years. This utopian vision didn’t quite pan out. Like you said, the country is in turmoil. MLK, Vietnam. It’s a different world when you get the call about directing an Elvis TV special. Music had changed too. And you can’t do it because you’re about to start work on a feature film. Correct?

I was hired by an iconic 1950s producer at the time to do a dramatic feature film. The guy's name was Walter Wanger. He was famous and he was married at the time to a famous actress. He caught a Universal executive taking her out to dinner and shot him in the balls and became a front-page news story. I think he became more famous for that than his films. Anyway he had a book that he wanted to do, and I just seen the movie Blow Up out of England, and loved it. So I was working on the script when I got a phone call from NBC. I just finished this controversial Harry Belafonte, Petula Clark special.

Bob Finkel was a very good producer and director on his own in the 1950s. He was planning on producing the special himself after they made a deal with Colonel Parker, because Parker knew that the money had dried up in the movie industry to make another Elvis movie. So he went to NBC and said, “I'd like you to finance Elvis's movie with the caveat that Elvis will do a television special for you.” Well he never told Elvis about this and when he did tell Elvis about this Elvis said, “I don't want to do television, I've been burned on television,” and he had been — except for his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

They made him wear a tuxedo. Steve Allen put a hound dog in front of him while he was singing. Stuff like that. Bob said, “We've got a deal on paper, but we haven't got Elvis Presley.” He said he’d read about my Petula Clark/Belafonte controversy and realized I was around the same age as Elvis, and had a kind of rebel reputation. He said, “I know I'm not going to be doing it because every time I meet Elvis he calls me Mr. Finkel. We need to find somebody he can relate to.” So I said I wasn’t available. “I'm doing a movie movie.” Fortunately, my partner back then was one of the best record producers on the west coast, Bones Howe. Bones was producing all the hit records for the 5th Dimension, and The Association; he was working with Laura Nyro on "Save the Country."

Tom Waits, also?

That's right. Bones overheard my conversation with Steve and he said, “I've worked with Elvis. I engineered. I think you and Elvis would hit it off great,” he said. “I think you should do both. I think you need to call Winger and see if you can get permission to do the television special and do the movie.” By the time I got around to calling Wanger back, fate lifts his finger; he dies of a heart attack and this movie is canceled. I'm now free. So I called Finkel and said, “Hey, if you're still interested, I'm out of my commitment and would be interested in doing Elvis — on one condition. I want to meet Elvis one-on-one. I want to meet him alone, without any entourage or anything.

So they call me back and say, in order to do that I have to meet the Colonel in person. The Colonel will decide if I get to meet Elvis or not. So Bones and I truck out to MGM Studios where Elvis had just finished a movie. That's where the Colonel's offices were. And we walked in. And now the Colonel hands me a quarter-inch audio tape of 20 Christmas songs that Elvis had recorded and sent out as a gift to disc jockeys all over America. It's got a picture of Elvis surrounded by Holly and berries and so forth. He said, “This is the show that NBC and myself and decided on.” In my head instantly I knew this is a show I'm not going to do. So I wrote off the meeting.

We drove back to my offices on Sunset where I get this call: “I don't know what you did to charm Colonel Parker, but Elvis is going to be your office tomorrow at 4.” I was taken by surprise myself. In my book that I just finished, I go into detail on my first meeting with Colonel Parker and what happened when he presented me to the Snowman’s League for membership.

What was the Colonel’s superpower?

In my experience with Parker? I think he felt and really did believe he had power over people. I saw major executives at NBC who were just terrified of not pleasing the Colonel. I couldn't believe it. He overpowered people. I swear, he tried to hypnotize me many times. He was an amateur hypnotist and he would stare into my eyes. Especially the end. He was trying to will me. I think I was probably one of the only people he met in his life that really wanted nothing from him. I grew up working in my dad's gas station. My security blanket was always, in show business, if this doesn't work out I can always go back and pump gasoline and change tires so, you know ...

You weren’t getting snowed.

I thought he was a lousy businessman to be honest with you. Elvis wound up not having a piece of any of the movies he made. They're all owned by the studios themselves. All he wanted was the paycheck. And you owned Elvis from 9 to 5, when he went to work. He’d sing any song, read any script.

The Colonel told me, on the first day at MGM, he had a moving truck parked in the lot, in case he got into a confrontation with the studio, he knew he could move him and Elvis out in an hour.

So you get the meeting. And Elvis shows up ...

When Elvis showed up in my office the next day, first of all he saw all the gold albums on our wall. The 5th Dimension. The Association. He felt at home immediately. One of the first things out of his mouth is, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to do television because his turf was in the recording studio. And I said, “Why don’t you make a record, and I’ll put pictures to it.” He said it was the one sentence that really relaxed him. He asked me, “What if it fails?" I said, “If it fails, your career is over. But nobody will forget the success you had in your early recording career and your movies. TV is instant. The minute you appear on TV everybody has an opinion the next morning. If you’re successful, all the doors will open and you’ll have any choice you want. But it’s a gamble and I can’t promise you it’s going to be successful."

And you bring in The Wrecking Crew, The Blossoms, your production team.

By the time we got to Elvis we were well oiled machine behind the scenes. So this was really the first thing Elvis did outside the womb. In other words, he joined our world instead of me joining his. But, I asked Elvis if he wanted anybody from his world on our staff, and he said only one person, “I want Billy Strange to do my music.”

I'd been working with Billy Goldenberg in New York and on the west coast and thought Billy was brilliant. But I hired Billy Strange. In the beginning, I was more than willing to do. So everyday that we're getting closer to starting rehearsal in my office is with Elvis I called Billy strange and say where the lead sheets, where are the piano parts? We've got to start teaching the material. He'd say, “don't worry, don't worry.” Finally after all my frustrations I told Billy if the lead sheets aren’t on my desk Monday morning at 9 he’d be fired. He said, “You can't fire me.” I said, “Why not?” He said, “I’ve known Elvis a lot better and for a lot longer than you.” I said, “Fine, then I'll be gone and you'll be there but one of us is not going to be there.”


So I called Bob Finkel and I told him what I told Billy Strange. He called the Colonel and the Colonel said, “If Billy Strange is not there on Monday, Elvis isn't going to show up.” So I fired Billy Strange [and hired Billy Goldenberg]. I said, “Billy I'm not asking you I'm begging you, you've got to get on a plane and get here.” That changed Elvis's musical life period. What I didn't realize was, Elvis had never sung with an orchestra before. He'd only sung with his rhythm section. He'd go home and they'd bring in all the musicians to overdub everything.

When Elvis saw Billy Goldenberg standing on the podium, he'd never seen so many musicians in one room at one time. We had the big Studio One At Western Studios in Hollywood. The recording studio. And he called me out on Sunset Boulevard and said, “Steve, if I can't sing with this orchestra — if I don't like what I hear, you've got to promise me you're just going to keep the rhythm section and send everybody else home.” I made that promise to him. I said yes. And we walked back into the recording section and he walks up to conductor stand with Billy Goldenberg. And he loved every note he heard. He bonded with all the musicians. And that was the Wrecking Crew. The most successful studio musicians group in the history of the music. There was not a record made on the West Coast they didn’t work on, almost. The Beach Boys, The 5th Dimension, The Association and just every act used The Wrecking Crew for their records.

And you used several on T.A.M.I. Leon Russell, I think. Maybe Glen Campbell.

Leon Russell played Jack Nitzsche’s piano. And Glen was one of the guitarists. I used the Wrecking Crew throughout my music career practically. So there winds up being nobody from Elvis's world on my production team.

That’s pretty incredible.

Elvis came to me and he said, “There's a possibility I don't have to travel from LA to Beverly Hills.” In those days it was two or three hours in your car. Nowadays it might take 5 hours. But those days it was saving him a couple of hours of driving time to just stay in his dressing room. He said, “Do you think we could convert one of the dressing rooms into a living quarters? So we could bring a bed in and I can sleep there?”

That was the greatest thing that ever happened. Without that, I’d have never ever done the improv. We had two different companies of dancers. I had two separate choreographers; two separate sets of dancers. The show had kind of a combination of his stand-up, when he was in the black leather, doing his old hit records with an orchestra live. And that was basically it. I had not yet chosen how we're going to close the show. The Colonel kept constantly reminding me that it had to be a Christmas shop song. Also he wanted an old Frankie Laine song called “I Believe.” I don't know why he thought it was a Christmas song, because it isn’t.


So Elvis is basically living in his dressing room through this. That's interesting. A little like you talking about how all the T.A.M.I. show musicians were on site for the whole filming.


The entire time that we’re rehearsing the show, Elvis would go into his dressing room/living quarters, and he would jam with whoever happened to be hanging out. Like Charlie Hodge, his army buddy, who he loved. So we go in there and they would just be having fun and talking about the old days and singing songs I’d never heard before. And I said to myself instantly, “This is better than all the big production numbers were doing on stage. We've got to get a camera in there."

And the colonel wouldn't let me bring any cameras into the dressing room. And it was insane. Because this was the magic.I knew if we were putting out a disc, this is the one that you go platinum. Not the regular show. So I just kept pounding the colonel and hounding him everyday. And finally he broke down. I don't think he was ever happy that he did it. But he said, “Okay Binder, If you want to recreate it on stage, you can try that but I won't guarantee it'll get into the show.”

So I jumped on it. I didn't even have any money left in my budget to build the set for the improv. Because, I thought, “Hey, he did the stand up In his black leather, and he sang all his old hits from hound dog and Blue Suede Shoes on, and I said let's use all that set again. And then Elvis said to me, “You know, if we do this, is there any chance I could get DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore to come out?” I said I didn’t know. And he said, “Nobody plays guitar licks like Scotty Moore.”

So I got on the phone, although they hadn't played with Elvis in years and were totally pissed off at the Colonel. But they only came out for the improv when I taped it. They weren't in the dressing rooms when the jam sessions were happening and so forth. And that's where the whole idea came from. And thank God I was able to do it.

When the show first aired as the Singer special, it was an hour. It was cut down to about 48 minutes because of commercials and station breaks and public service announcements or whatever — with only two minutes of this improv. And it still got these gigantic ratings. It was the first time, I think, in Primetime, that one guy did the whole show himself without guest stars.

I had been through the guest star drama on every show I ever did. I’d just come through the Harry Belafonte episode where they didn't want him on The Petula Clark Show. So I wasn't going to put any guest stars in the Elvis show. Anyway it was a case of where I went to NBC. And I said, guys, I've got this great material in the can. I've got to put it into the show. How about buying another half hour of their time. They looked at me like I was insane. And obviously they didn't.

So I went on my own, and edited together a 90-minute version, which is the one we all watch today. NBC put it down in the catacombs. And when Elvis passed, NBC decided to do a big tribute to him. So they got Ann-Margret to host. And they used the Hawaii show. And they sent a gopher down to the catacombs to track down the Elvis Presley special. And this is a twisted fate. The guy who went down to the basement didn't know anything about the Elvis Presley special, when it aired, or anything about it. And he pulls my 90-minute version off the shelf, thinking, that's the show. That's when they started airing the 90-minute version instead. The 60-minute version even cut out the sequence where Elvis walks into what they call the bordello, with a brass bed and the girls. A lot depended on luck and fate, believe me. I couldn't be happier.

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Talking T.A.M.I. Show & '68 Comeback with Blossoms Vocalist Darlene Love

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2018 at 3:28 PM

Darlene Love plays The Guest House at Graceland Monday, August 14
  • Darlene Love plays The Guest House at Graceland Monday, August 14
Darlene Love is one of the great voices of rock and roll. She may also be one of the great, under-tapped experts on 20th-century pop, having observed the biggest acts in rock and soul from 20-feet away.

As a member of The Blossoms, Love was a regular on the seminal '60s era TV show Shindig. But the group made their career as studio support, and backing vocalists for artists like The Crystals, and The Righteous Brothers

"Monster Mash," anybody?

They also performed alongside Elvis in his '68 Comeback TV Special.

Love's coming to Memphis Monday, August 13th to celebrate 50 years of the '68 Comeback Special. She'll be performing at Graceland's Guest House. Here's what she had to say about being a Blossom and performing with Elvis.

Memphis Flyer: The Blossoms were already a group when you joined up, right?

Darlene Love: I met The Blossoms when I was in the 12th grade, the last year of high school. That's when I say I professionally started singing, because that's when they started paying me. Even if it was only $15 to buy gas for the car. Gasoline was only $0.22 a gallon.The Blossoms were a group already. They were getting ready to record for Capitol Records and needed a replacement right away. They just happened to be in a wedding party, and I was singing. And that's how I met them.

I thought it was something like that. I didn't think y'all had gone to school together.

The Blossoms did go to school together. But I was a little younger than them, and came along behind. They already had a manager and a singing coach. We used to practice everyday like going to school or going to a job. They already had a contract with Capitol Records. And they were getting ready to record. So it was lucky that we met and that I fit in the group. So we went from there to singing back-up. It's like we were thrown into that. Not even really knowing what we were doing. We knew we could sing, but we weren't sure about the session work.


But you start doing that almost right away, right?


We worked our first session I think back in 1958.

I know you guys were trying to make it as recording artists in your own right, but show business is tough and, while I know there were many downsides too, I'm guessing the session work created stability a lot of young artists trying to make it don't have. Is that accurate?

That's very accurate. Because there weren't really any black groups at the time that we're doing this. It was unheard of for them to be doing session work. Most of the sessions were contracted through our unions AFTRA. And most of the people in AFTRA were white singers. They'd call them and put together three or four girls.  Once we started getting into it we had to join the union. Thank God! Before, if they needed three singers, they booked three singers. But we already had a sound. So they could depend on us to have the sound they wanted. Therefore, we became bigger than life, in doing session work.

I've heard you guys called the West Coast's Sweet Inspirations. But I like to think of The Blossoms as the Wrecking Crew of backing singers.

Yes. Those guys in the Wrecking Crew were already doing sessions. We met them through Phil Spector. He gave them the name Wrecking Crew. We were doing work for everybody. We were at sessions all the time together. It was a minimum of a 2-hour session. Most sessions lasted anywhere between two and five hours. But a minimum of 2 hours. So we became very popular as background vocal group. And the Wrecking Crew became famous, and very wealthy for the recording sessions. They could do many more sessions a week than we could, because we had to use our vocal cords. They were using their instruments.

And the voice can wear out pretty quickly when you use it like that.

Hello? I think that's how I really learned how to take care of my voice. After we had a hard day, like a 10-hour day of singing. Sometimes that's what it was. I'd do nothing. No talking, no singing. That's when I found out your vocal cord were like a muscle. And your muscles get sore after a while. So you have to rest them. I learned all that on my own nobody told me. Well I couldn't afford a doctor! I had to learn it all on my own. But it's paid off over the years.


I know you've told it many times, but can we talk just a little bit about how The Blossoms recorded "He's a Rebel," then Phil Spector put it out as a Crystals record?

We had already been doing background work for two or three years before we met Phil. We were working for Lester Sill. Unbeknownst to us, that it was Phil Spector's partner. That's how we met Phil. Because Phil needed someone to sing "He's a Rebel," so they hired me to do it. As Darlene Love and The Blossoms. But that's not the name it came out under. It was credited to the Crystals. It all came out in 20 Feet from Stardom. I know a lot of minds were opened.


You guys knew it was a going to be a Crystals record though, right?


Oh yeah. We didn't go in there to do it as a group. We went in as a session. And I got paid extra for singing the lead on it. We knew it was going to be a Crystals record. It wasn't a surprise. The surprise was when we signed with Phil, [the next record] was supposed to be my record. But he put that one out under the name of the Crystals too. It got a little confusing for everybody back in those days.

You say it wasn't a surprise for you, but it was a surprise for The Crystals.

A big surprise. They were out on the road working and the record was on the charts.  They didn't even know the record was out. They were on the road with Gene Pitney who wrote the song. And from what I can understand, I talked to Gene Pitney years and years ago, and he said he'd taught them the song on the road. That's how they learned it.

So they were singing it on the road, just not on the record.

None of the crystals were on any of the records we recorded in California. Like to "Doo Run Run," "Sure the Boy I Love." Their lead singer LaLa Brooks was there to do the singing on the Crystal songs. But the Crystals weren't there to do the background on their sessions. We actually did a lot of those kinds of things, but a lot of those other records weren’t hits.  
I'm sure that did get confusing. Especially as you're trying to develop your career.


When I went out, everybody thought Darlene Love was a Crystal. But she was never a Crystal; she just recorded those records with Phil Spector. The Crystals lived in New York. I lived in California. And the Crystals were young girls. I was like 19. They were like 13 and 14.

I knew they were young. I guess I didn't realize they were that young.

Their mothers wouldn't let them fly to California to record. That was one of the big problems. It's well-known today. The Crystals still have a little trouble with it, and I can understand why. They go and do shows today. And they sing "He's a Rebel," and "He's Sure the Boy I Love." I'm sure they gotten to the point where they just don't talk about it anymore. That's water under the bridge.

And, to some extent the public record had been corrected.

The biggest problem I had, when I went out as a solo artist, the producers all wanted to say I was Darlene Love "originally of the Crystals," and I'd said "No no no! You can't say that. I have never been with the Crystals. I had to build a whole new career as Darlene Love. Which took a lot of time and energy. Thank god I was young. There was a time I couldn't even find work. Because the Crystals name is bigger than my name. So of course they could sell tickets on the Crystals, but they couldn't sell tickets on Darlene Love.

I know we're supposed to talk Elvis, but can we talk T.A.M.I. Show first?

We were doing Shindig at the time. And they think the producers of Shindig to let us out for the week to do The T.A.M.I. Show.

I was just talking to director Steve Binder about how intersectional and ahead of its time that show seems to be, conceptually.

It is. You're absolutely right. And it ended up being great, and people love great things. They love to watch wonderful things. It didn't matter to them if it was a male or female singing.

And it still just blows my mind looking at all the talent collected for that thing.

Rock-and-roll was like a stutter at the beginning. Okay here, we go! Oh no we can't! No, now here we go! What they did, they put the right people on The T.A.M.I. Show. My God, the Rolling Stones? Jan and Dean as the emcees? Give me a break, okay? Then, to bust it wide open, they hired James Brown. And he stole the show. I mean the Rolling Stones were going on after James Brown — and they refused to go on at first. They were like, "We're not going on after that!" That was an eye-opener for white people to see James Brown. Before that they didn't know James Brown. James Brown was a black act.

I love the moment when he's exhausted at the edge of the stage and The Blossoms are encouraging him to go back for more.

We were just as excited as the audience. I'd never seen James Brown. I mean, I loved those records. But nobody had ever seen that kind of energy on stage. Not before James Brown. Even Michael Jackson talked about how he stole a little bit of Jackie Wilson, a little bit of James Brown, and Chuck Berry, and I wrapped it all up in Michael Jackson. Then you have, of course, Elvis Presley who came on wiggling and shaking, and they didn't know what to think about that, either. He also took it to a whole other level.


So let's talk about the Comeback. Which, Elvis hated, by the way. Or— the word. He didn't like anybody calling it "the comeback."


I'm sure he didn't. Because it wasn't a comeback. He was getting ready to go to Vegas and he needed something to catapult him into live shows. That was one reason for doing that show. I didn't understand the word either. They call it that now, I guess because they couldn't think of anything else to call it.

Had you ever worked with Elvis before?

No. That was our first time to meet Elvis. But we were in the recording studio, recording all the music. That's where we met Elvis and became friends with him. Especially me, because of my gospel background. Every time he got a moment, he'd go get his guitar and ask, "Do you know this song?" We'd be over in the corner with The Blossoms and Elvis, just having a good time. I think they got a little bit angry with us we're taking all of his time.

And the improv part of the show is inspired by that, and Elvis jamming in his dressing room.

So natural. And they caught that when they did the round circle thing with him the black leather suit. I don't think they realized that was going to be so big. But it was all so natural. And it wasn't planned.

Can you tell me a little bit more about how the improv stuff developed. Not on the show, but in the studio between takes, or dressing room after rehearsal?

What I loved about Elvis: He loved what he called 'the hymns of the church.' Like "Precious Lord Take My Hand." "Amazing Grace." "How Great Thou Art." For us to know those songs, he was like, "Yeah, come on let's do some of those!" He would sing the leads and we’d do the background. He'd go, "Is this key is this alright?" And you know, whatever key it was in was all right with us. And that was the fun we had. And then we found out, years later when he went to Vegas, when they would be breaking down the stage to go home, Elvis and the singers would be sitting around the piano. It brought Elvis down. It was his down time. Like going to your room and watching TV. It takes a while to come down after you've done a show like that. And they would all just sit around and sing gospel songs. Not rhythm and blues or rock and roll. But gospel. Elvis won three Grammys for gospel music. That says a lot. I've been invited to come to Memphis for the 50th anniversary of the special. My group, we're going down to Graceland in August to celebrate the Comeback Special. And most of the show's going to be gospel. Then I've been invited back to go to Bad Nauheim, Germany where Elvis was stationed in the army, and where they have his festival. Last year we went and there were more than 10,000 people there. I said, "Y'all sure Elvis is dead?"

The T.A.M.I. Show 1964 [FULL LENGTH] from Larry Ball on Vimeo.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

"Elvis Used to Live Here" - Honest Tourism Commercials, Memphis Style

Posted By on Fri, Feb 9, 2018 at 10:53 AM

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If you haven't seen this short parody of Memphis tourism courtesy of Ryan Hailey take a peek.

You can find out more about Ryan's Shorts by clicking here.

Happy Friday!


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Go to Helvis

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 5:38 PM

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If you're planning to check out Mike McCarthy's Destroy Memphis documentary, about the failed effort to save Libertyland, or at least Elvis' favorite rollercoaster, the Zippin Pippin, you might also want to grab a copy of McCarthy's recently complied comic book HELVIS No. 1 (Millenia Comeback Special).

This erratically-published story of a pop-eyed zombie Elvis walks a weird line between personal and regional mythology, and a kind of underground journalism, chronicling the death and decay of a Memphis at the heart of American pop culture. 
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McCarthy created HELVIS in 1988 when he was still living with his parents, seventeen miles outside of Tupelo. The first (unfinished) version of the comic wasn't published for 24-years though the ghoulish, trash-rock horror story served as an inspiration for McCarthy's first film, Damselvis, Daughter of HELVIS, and its influence can be felt on in other films like Teenage Tupelo, The Sore Losers, and Superstarlet A.D.


The new, "complete" Helvis, currently available at 901 Comics, reflects McCarthy's interests from  Sexploitation films, Mad magazine,  and rock-and-roll to historic preservation. One sequence finds Helvis disoriented, mad, and riding the Zippin Pippin in Green Bay, WS. Although it reflects a less than happy ending for Memphis, the comic's a sweet Halloween treat for your favorite trickster, and the perfect companion piece for Destroy Memphis.

Worth it for the centerfold . 
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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Elvis Week: Deep Cuts Playlist

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 8:30 AM

Hey, how about an Elvis playlist made entirely of songs that almost never show up near the top of other Elvis playlists? Except for maybe "Little Sister." But I just can't make an Elvis playlist without "Little Sister." That would be wrong.



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Elvis Trivia Nobody Has Ever Heard Before

Posted By on Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 11:25 AM

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On the lighter side...
This column was originally published in honor of Elvis Week, 2014. To commemorate the 40th-Anniversary of Presley's passing The Fly on the Wall staff is honored to re-publish a list of 73 heavily researched trivia items that had never been printed anywhere else previously and haven't been printed anywhere else since. Enjoy.

1. Elvis' favorite small appliance manufacturer was Sunbeam. It is rumored "Burning Love" was originally written as a jingle for the toaster manufacturer.


2. Elvis hated the comic strip Alley Oop, and would draw a fake mustache on the title character out of spite each week.

3. Elvis was considered for the lead role in The Godfather.

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4. Elvis loved funny hats.

5. Elvis' favorite flavor of Laffy Taffy was banana.

6. The name Elvis contains five letters including two vowels.

7. Elvis's favorite band was Winger.


Elvis first encountered 80's band Winger in a meditative vision of the future.

8. Elvis' middle name is commonly misspelled. It is actually "Aronn"

9. Elvis wrote To Kill A Mockingbird under the pseudonym of Harper Lee.

Elvis first and only novel.
  • Elvis' first and only novel.

10. Elvis was an honorary member of the National Society of Quail Enthusiasts.

11. Elvis' favorite Mexican food? Tacos.

12. Designers presented Elvis with more than 170 shades of white and off white before manufacturing the first iconic jumpsuit.

13. Elvis gave all of his close friends unusual nicknames. He affectionately referred to Col. Tom Parker as “Turd Blossom.”

14. Elvis often wore a disguise consisting of a top hat, monocle, and false mustache to go out in public as Lord Jiggleton. He would greet people by simply shouting "Blimey!" at them in a loud, fake British accent.

15. Elvis often engaged in jelly bean eating contests with Red West. Red always let him win.

16. Elvis' favorite sexual position was abstinence. His second favorite: missionary. His third favorite: The bearded bugler.

17. Elvis and George Klein would often do puppet shows for Dutch children, which delighted the youth to no end!

18. The hit song "Return to Sender" was inspired by the true story of a man who mailed a letter only to have it returned.

New Zealand
  • New Zealand

19. Elvis was the first person to have contact with New Zealanders.

20. Elvis preferred black shoelaces.

21. Elvis called Vegas "Las Nashville."

22. Elvis owned a hound dog named Butta. It was surprisingly quiet.

23. Elvis had a giraffe named Becky that he kept in his jungle room.

24. Elvis’ favorite female vocalist was Roy Orbison.

25. Elvis regarded the Jungle Room as a vast improvement over the original Tundra Room.

26. Elvis’ favorite Halloween costume: Julia Child.

Halloween, 1976
  • Halloween, 1976

27. After discovering he was too tall to be an astronaut Elvis started his own space program.

28. The most rare Elvis recording is of his live "The King's Klezemer Kavalcade" recorded in 1971 in the Catskills.

29. Elvis once used his karate skills to defeat an entire ax gang.

30. For Elvis, no day was complete without prank calling Robert Goulet. Elvis pretended to be a DJ calling from a local radio station. He told Goulet he was giving away a fabulous prize and the first lucky listener to drop by the station would collect. As a result, employees at KXPT Las Vegas thought Goulet was “nutty as a sack of pecans.”

31. Given a choice, Elvis preferred several tiny marshmallows to one large one in a mug of hot chocolate.

32. Elvis beat Chuck Norris so badly in a karate fight...

33. Elvis hated the word smudge. He would punch anybody who said it.

34. Elvis loved a good knock knock joke.

35. Elvis' favorite American inventor: George Washington Carver

36. When asked about Ann Margaret, Elvis would often smile and say "Yeah, she is pretty!"

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37. Elvis invented the roomba.

38. When in Vegas, Elvis would often call Sammy Davis, Jr. and demand he bring him a Clark Bar. When Sammy refused, Elvis would yell "Well, you don't seem like much of a candy man to me!"

39. Elvis was pretty adamant in his position that Submariner was superior to Aquaman.

40. Whenever Elvis played Monopoly, he insisted on being the thimble, and he refused to utilize that house rule where you put fees in Free Parking and then whoever lands there gets them. "That's just too much, luck, Jack!"


41. If you play In the Ghetto Backwards you can hear somebody saying what sounds like, "Ottehg eht ni."


42. During Gandhi's hunger strike, Elvis would call daily to offer him a peanut butter banana and bacon sandwich. He genuinely wanted to be helpful.

43. Elvis gave away more El Caminos than Cadillacs

El Camino: Comfort of a car, convenience of a truck
  • El Camino: Comfort of a car, convenience of a truck

44. Elvis's unfinished last movie "King-Fu" was described as "Blue Hawaii" meets "Enter the Dragon".

45. Elvis had the bomb even before the British.

46. Richard Nixon made Elvis an honorary commissioner of the Federal Reserve, complete with voting rights.

47. Elvis made most of his money as a striker for Manchester United.

48. In addition to his love of gospel, Elvis also studied Qawwali,the devotional music of Sufis, which is credited with helping him maintain his voice.

49. Elvis’s Memphis Mafia accidentally invented Frisbee Golf while doing dishes one day.

50. While serving in the army Elvis met and befriended a young Andre the Giant. The 1959 single “Big Hunk of Love” was inspired by their friendship.

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51. Elvis was allergic to his own hair color, which is why he dyed it black.

52. Elvis once got into a Scimitar duel with the Sultan of Brunei.

53. In order to save on maintenance costs, Elvis and Charlie Hodge became certified TV Repairmen.

54. Elvis had a private subway that ran from Graceland to the basement of Godfather's Pizza in Overton Square

55. Elvis had a beloved pet Vietnamese Potbelly Pig, he called Pig E

56. Elvis was once offered the role of the zeppelin pilot in a film called "HindenBoogie"

57. Elvis once threw an urn at Slim Whitman's head.

58. While in the army, Elvis was used as a subject in the MK-Ultra experiments.

59. Elvis would often rent out the Memphian theater to enjoy private showings of the films of Ingmar Bergman.

60. Elvis used to rent out Libertyland for parties and would amuse guests by playing "Whack-A-George-Klein"

61. Vernon Presley's favorite meal was Cream of Spaghettios.

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62. Gladys Presley's favorite meal was regular Spaghettios.

63. Elvis Presley bought Graceland because he thought it was cool that it was on a street that had his name on it.

64. Elvis sometimes felt that cucumbers were spying on him.

65. When he was not performing, Elvis would often wear a beard of bees for days at a time.

66. Elvis only discovered his musical powers after he watched a robber shoot his wealthy parents in an alleyway.

67. Elvis would often leave pies cooling on a window sill only to have them stolen by lovable neighborhood scamps.

68. Portrayed Avery Schreiber in three episodes of Chico and the Man.

Elvis with Jack Albertson and Freddy Prinze
  • Elvis with Jack Albertson and Freddy Prinze

69. Elvis once fought alongside the armies of man and dwarf to put down the Dark Lord Sauron and save Middle Earth.

70. Elvis created a chain of yogurt shops called "Taking Care of Business Yogurt". This was later shortened to YOLO.

71. Elvis' final thoughts were of Rosebud, a sled he had as a child which symbolized lost innocence, youth and the love of his mother. We think. It's up to interpretation.

72. Priscilla was replaced by a wax figure in 1972.

73. Elvis played bass for a few months in KISS in 1976. His face makeup theme was "The Catfish"

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Fly on the Wall is compiled by Chris Davis with funniness provided by The Wiseguys.


8 Places Elvis Fans Won't Visit but Probably Should

Posted By on Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 10:33 AM

This was originally published here at FOTW back in 2013. It's still a good list and since so many Elvis-people are in town it seemed like a good thing to re-post. If you've never seen it before, enjoy. If you have, enjoy all over again!

#8: Alcenia's
, 317 N. Main

Free hugs with every meal. For real.
  • Free hugs with every meal. For real.

Alcenia's is a funky little soul food joint at the Southwest edge of Memphis' Pinch District where meals are cooked to order and every new customer gets a hug. Although neither the restaurant, nor the building has a specific Elvis connection, sidewalk tables provide guests with the best view of the I-40 overpass in town.

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Of course, when Elvis was a teenager living in the Lauderdale Courts housing project there was no scenic I-40 overpass. Instead, there was a cluster of African-American bars and in the evenings both the music and the crowds spilled out into the street.

Why Elvis fans won't visit: There's really not much to see, unless you count this sign marking the location of Memphis' first bar.


Drunk History
  • Drunk History


Why they should: The long demolished Green Owl, a working class African-American beer joint once located at 260 N. Main, just southeast of Alcenia's, was one of young Elvis' favorite neighborhood clubs. He was especially fond of a musician who played a homemade bass he'd fashioned from a bucket and a broomstick.

A view from the dark underbelly
  • A view from the dark underbelly

There's not much music along this somewhat lonely stretch separating the Pinch from the Convention Center, unless you count the song of all the cars and semis speeding by overhead. But these are the sidewalks where an impressionable teenaged Elvis mixed and mingled with blues players, and even though so much has been demolished, walking through Downtown's dilapidated but bouncing back north side, with its trolley line, horse stables and old shop fronts, is still like stepping back in time.

#7: The old Memphis Police Station, 128 Adams

These crumbling stairs...

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Lead to this locked, boarded-up door...

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That once served as an entrance to Memphis' Downtown Police Station.

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Why Elvis fans won't go: Unless you're a fan of weeds and urban decay, why would you?

Why they should: Elvis was fascinated by law enforcement. The lengths he'd go to collect a new badge knew no bounds.

Suspicious Minds
  • Suspicious Minds

But it wasn't all about the bling. Elvis was also genuinely in awe of policemen, and would sometimes ride along after making late night/early morning visits to the station. He even visited the downtown station one Christmas claiming that he needed something to do and it was the only place in town that was open.

Besides, who doesn't love to picnic near classical ruins?

#6: The Blackwood Brothers Record Store, 209 N. Lauderdale

The Lord is my bail bondsman
  • The Lord is my bail bondsman

Why Elvis fans won't go: Because the building, located just off Poplar Ave. near the Jail, has been converted into a bail bondsman's office in what might best be described as Memphis' bail bond district.

Why they should: Elvis was a huge fan of gospel quartets, and the Blackwood Brothers, with their fancy customized touring bus...

Elvis is gonna want one of these
  • Elvis is gonna want one of these

and their own private plane...

And one of these
  • And one of these

were, to put it mildly, complete badasses. Also, you can see the site formerly known as Lauderdale Courts from the front door.

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Today the only records being discussed at 209 Lauderdale are permanent ones, but when his soul needed a'rockin', this is where Elvis got his vinyl fix.

#5: Gulf Station, Second & Gayoso

On October 18, 1956, much ass was kicked near to this very spot
  • On October 18, 1956, much ass was kicked near to this very spot

I sometimes pretend that the above piece of public art is a monument built on the site where Elvis licked two gas station attendants then told the cops (jokingly) that his name was Carl Perkins.

Of course it's not and the the actual brawl went down across the street.

Cornered
  • Cornered

All three men involved in the altercation were charged with assault and battery, but Elvis had been struck first and the Judge ruled in his favor.

Why Elvis fans won't go: It's not an obvious landmark.

Why they should: Two reasons. This is where a scene plucked right out of an Elvis movie actually happened. Also, Elvis's life changed fast. This fight and the resulting day in court represent a dawning realization that life would never be normal again.

Continue reading »

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dammit Gannett: "Where's Elvis" Edition

Posted By on Tue, Jul 25, 2017 at 3:07 PM

Maybe it's time to change Fly On the Wall's long-running "Neverending Elvis" tab to "Disappearing Elvis." This is from Saturday's Commercial Appeal. And it's starting to feel personal. 
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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Col. Tom's Office: Piece of Elvis History to Become Car Wash

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 11:11 AM

HISTORIC NASHVILLE INC.
  • HISTORIC NASHVILLE INC.
Will nobody step up to save this admittedly unattractive house on Gallatin Rd. in Nashville where Tom Parker, a Dutch-born carnival barker turned music promoter, once marketed Elvis Presley, while helping himself to upwards of 50% of the artist's earnings? Anybody? Somebody?

No?

Okay. Elvis wouldn't want folks driving around in dirty cars anyway.

From Nashville Public Radio:

"According to the terms of the sale, [the previous owner] gets dibs on everything inside. He may save some items and then sell the antique light fixtures and cabinets, and the wood paneling and complete wet bar from the vintage basement."
Would look good in bronze... in front of a car wash.
  • Would look good in bronze... in front of a car wash.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ross Rice Talks About the Rise and Fall of Human Radio

Posted By on Thu, Jul 9, 2015 at 2:18 PM

Human Radio
  • Human Radio

Once upon a time there was a Memphis buzz band called. Human Radio. Keyboardist Ross Rice, guitarist Kye Kennedy, bassist Steve Arnold, and multi-instrumentalist Peter Hyrka had all built strong reputations playing in other 80's-era bands, and this union of premier players was often regarded as the coming of a local pop/rock supergroup. Human Radio played sprawling, three-set shows full of original material and unexpected covers.  The band quickly built a large local following and signed a two record deal with Columbia. The group's first radio single, "Me and Elvis," received quite a bit of national attention, but it also marked the beginning of the end for a band that didn't want to  be pigeonholed as a novelty act.  

After many years apart, Human Radio has reformed. The group has been playing together in Nashville and writing new material. They are coming back to Memphis this week for a show at Minglewood Hall. That news seemed like a perfectly good excuse to ask Rice—also a founding member of the long-running band FreeWorld — to tell a classic story about a band that wanted too much too soon. 

Fly on the Wall: I have a pretty clear memory of getting off work waiting tables on a Wednesday night and going Downtown to the South End with my co-workers to hear a band called Human Radio. But I don’t really know much about the origin story.

Ross Rice: We were all fairly well recognized musicians individually when we put that band together. It really started out with me and Kye [Kennedy]. We’d gone to school together and worked together. When Calculated X was done he came back from San Francisco and we decided to start something. We had a production deal going at Memphis Sound productions, which had a studio down where the old Hard Rock used to be. We we're able to attract Steve Arnold and Steve Ebe. Peter Hyrka was just going to sit in but quickly he was a permanent member. And we had that regular Wednesday night at the South End.

And you’d get great crowds on a Wednesday.


I was a founding member of Freeworld. We started Freeworld two years earlier and played Tuesday nights at the South End. Same kind of deal. So I called Jake Schorr. I said, “dude give me a night!” And he did. So, we had some original stuff but played a lot of cover stuff too. We played Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, Squeeze.  It was a an eclectic set. Just a bunch of stuff that we liked, that we were sort of into. And that sort of began the whole “quirky and clever” thing about us that we've never been able to escape. It was cool because we could do anything we wanted to do. We didn't want have to make a decision about what not to do, so we did everything. And then things picked up really quickly. Maybe too quickly, to be honest. It was too fast really, in retrospect.


Yes, I remember. You were a bunch of guys playing the South End, then you were signed and being primed to be the next big thing.

I kind of wish that we had had more time and built this thing up more slowly. You know, to build more of a regional base. We were playing Nashville doing well. Doing great in Little Rock. We were playing in Jackson and St. Louis. So we were branching out, but we really hadn't created a base for ourselves. We were very much a Memphis Nashville axis group.

And yet you ink a deal with Columbia.

That was a strange time when we got signed in that. Everybody was getting signed. You had Rob Jungklas, Jimmy Davis, John Kilzner. There was something going on in the industry, signing people left and right. We we're doing Memphis producer showcases. I think one showcase had ten bands and four of those ten bands got signed. The producer showcases lead to some private showcases and one day we got a call from [A&R man] Larry Hamby from Columbia. He flew in at noon. We had to block all the light out of the windows at Proud Mary’s so we could put on our light show. He walked in the door, we played 30 minutes, he walked out, got back on the plane and left. Three days later he calls and says, “we’re interested.” it was a very heady time.

You mention the light show. So you’ve got no regional base, but from the beginning you guys had a level of polish and showmanship that not many other area bands had. It’s easy to see how a label guy might be impressed by a group that's ready to go out on the road and sell it.

I'm still a little stunned looking back on it. We’d all played in a lot of Memphis-style music bands. I was in The Coolers with Duck Dunn for two years. I played two years every week with Duck. I got to do fucking "Green Onions" with Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Steve Potts seven times. I didn't have to do this anymore. After that, everything else is gravy. Human Radio was almost a direct response to all of that. We wanted to do something like we hadn't done yet. We always had the best sound available. And we had the light guy— and dude, we paid out the ass for those guys. We didn't make any money when the light guy showed up. It was sort of a calculated gamble on our part. We wanted to elevate ourselves. We wanted to present ourselves, especially once we got cranking, at the best level we could.

The label story is kind of a classic. Am I right to say that you guys had one idea of who you wanted to be and the label had another.

Yes. Well. It’s… We presented ourselves to our producer Dave Kahne. Here we are getting ready to make this record. And there's a process of trying to figure out what the band’s going to become. Because we were all over the place and wanted to be that way. But the general idea was to narrow it down. So, they came and looked at us and in a lot of ways we were re-created in Dave Kahne’s mental image. We were up for whatever. This is how it's done, let’s do it. We went along willingly with a lot of those decisions.

Like making “Me and Elvis” the first single.

It was crazy to us. When I wrote “Me and Elvis,” it was a joke it. It was just a ska tune, a kind of three-minute little jalapeno popper. It was a goofy song about Elvis for Memphis and people liked it but we never took it seriously. We just went with the flow. And then, all of a sudden, here we are and the record’s done. And they're saying that’s the single, and we're going, “oh shit,” because we could see what was going to happen. Because it’s a novelty tune. We got a lot of play because the morning jocks thought, “what a cute clever little tune about Elvis.”

Elvis was everywhere.

There was an Elvis zeitgeist going on at that point, I guess. We got to tap into it. Mojo Nixon had his song Elvis is Everywhere. So we got some good single action out of that. But there was a gradual process and we weren't really aware of it, being in the middle of it. This process where we’re turning into something we’re not really sure we want to be yet. So there was a conflict. But I don't want to sound like we were fighting them or anything. We were willing to make changes. We wanted success, and wanted to be good ballplayers. We wanted them to like us and to take care of us.

What’s interesting is when the record was done and we came back to Memphis and played again. People were like, “What the hell happened to you guys?” And we're like, “What do you mean what happened?” The people who had seen us when we were a bunch of goofballs at the South End though that we might've been spoiled by the process.

I remember seeing the video for “Me and Elvis” a lot.

Really? You must have stayed up late. I think we got a lot of late night play. The video did okay but the highest we got with MTV was medium rotation. I think there was a perception that we are getting a bit more play than we were, maybe our machinery was doing a good job on that. The video probably give the perception things are going a bit better than they were, actually. We were doing really quite well the sales of the record, actually. We beat a hundred thousand units, and that's not a bad thing for a new band. We also had a treatment for a second video for the song, “My First Million.” They test marketed that tune, and in every radio market they tested it was top-five phones.


So what happened?


We had a good run. I have to say, it was a beautiful thing. Memphis is not an easy town to break in, and I'm still surprised that we were able to achieve what we are able to achieve. For us the end was a direct byproduct of the speed of our ascent. The problem was, we were signed under [Walter] Yetnikoff, right before he left Columbia. There was a change of the guard and Don Ienner became the president. In a nutshell, when Ienner finally came around check out what the Hell’s going on with us, he didn't get it at all. I clearly wasn't cute enough to front the band, for starters. And there are other issues. And when the president of a label lets you know he's not really into your stuff, you're dead right then. That was the first domino for us. We came back to Memphis and had a lot of catching up to do because we hadn’t built the base we needed to survive something like this. So we’re traveling in a Penske truck. We’d put all of our gear in the bottom and we’d but the drum riser and our sleeping bags in the back and we’d go down the road in the back of the Penske truck. That's how we made it to a lot of shows. I think we probably gave some carbon monoxide damage to ourselves over the years doing that.

We were guaranteed a second record, but were given the option to leave. We thought we should do that because we felt like we are no longer welcome at Columbia. We looked around at other labels and they're like, “Well, Columbia records is the biggest label in the world. What makes you think we can do it for you?” There was a lot of that. We carried on for another couple of years. We were also sort of feeling the crunch financially. We just couldn't sustain it. We spent a lot of money on production. That was one of our hallmarks. It's kind of what made us and as with broke us at the same time. we really had a moment where we decided that we could keep doing this and really fall apart as friends or we could call it off. And one thing I'll say about us, we've all been very close friends from the beginning.

What were some of the high points?

I wish I could remember more of the high points. I seem to remember all the crazy shit that went down. Like this one time, when we played the Whiskey in Los Angeles we were in the limo being taken to do a sound check and there is this is terrible traffic jam. It's awful. So we’ve got this Russian limo driver who knows all the back streets, and Vladimir finds his way to the source of the traffic jam. And it's our bus. Our bus blocking Sunset Avenue pretty much from 2-6 in the afternoon on a Friday. As our bus driver was backing into the parking lot of the Whiskey the motor fell out of the mount. This was supposed to be the day I was going to enjoy our Whiskey gig. We considered putting our banner on the top of the bus for the TV helicopters. But then we considered the possibility of death threats and thought maybe it was a bad idea.

How did the reunion happen?

This friend of the band’s Kim Collins is a musician in Nashville. She’s in the band Smoking Flowers. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, so there was a big Nashville fundraiser and I got a call [in New York] asking if I could come down and play a show. I was in a position where I could do that. We rehearsed, and did the show. We had a packed room and just got that feeling, “Wow, this sounds pretty good.” 

Human Radio is at Minglewood Hall's 1884 Lounge Friday, July 10 at 9 p.m. $10.00


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

U.S. Postal Service Issues Neverending Elvis Stamp

Posted By on Wed, Jun 3, 2015 at 12:27 PM

Old young Elvis stamp
  • Old young Elvis stamp


Okay, okay, it's technically a "forever" stamp. Same idea.
U.S. Postal Service will dedicate the new Elvis Presley forever stamp August 12. At Graceland. During Elvis Week. Can we get a "hell yeah," and an "American Trilogy," please?

#TYTYVM

Presley is only the sixth inductee in the USPS Music Icon Series, but the second Sun Studio recording artist. Johnny Cash became a forever stamp in 2013. Other icons in the series include Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Lydia Mendoza.  

Stamp in Black
  • Stamp in Black


Postmaster General Megan Brennan says a preview of the stamp will be available at a later date. 

Press release boilerplate from Brennan:

“Elvis is a natural addition to our Music Icon Series. His life and talents are an incredible story. Spanning from his humble beginnings in a Tupelo, Mississippi, two-room house to becoming one of the most legendary performance artists of the 20th Century, Elvis Presley’s works continues to resonate with millions the world over.”

tumblr_mcbovc2g081qkxd8ho1_500.gif

The obvious hashtag for tweeting and such: #ElvisForever.



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ohio Man Sells Elvis' Pubic Hair on Craigslist

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2014 at 12:08 PM

Eeeeewwwwwwwwwwww! - CRAIGSLIST
  • Craigslist
  • Eeeeewwwwwwwwwwww!

Your Fly-Team has seen a lot of weird Elvis-related auctions and sales. This one, however, is a special kind of WTAF. So much so that it's being submitted without comment. 

From the listing:

All you Elvis collectors lookie here. I have a real pubic hair from Elvis Presley plucked by my ex-wife Billie Jean Flurt from Elvis crotch in 1965. I hate to part with it. But it can be yours for Christmas for $5000.00. Comes with letter of authenticity signed by Colonel Parker. I guarantee its real!

Sounds like a great XXX-mas gift for a special hardcore fan, if you smell what we're stepping in. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Merry Christmas: Elvis Hologram Duets with Iggy Azalea's Bottom.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 16, 2014 at 10:15 AM

It's supposed to be a hologram of Elvis, but it looks more like Aloha Johnny Cash. Also, Snowgirl Iggy poots.
  • It's supposed to be a hologram of Elvis, but it looks more like Aloha Johnny Cash. Also, Snowgirl Iggy poots.

In case you missed it, Elvis made an appearance in South Park’s 2014 Christmas extravaganza, sort of. The cartoon featured an animated version of an Elvis hologram singing “Holly Jolly Christmas” with Iggy Azalea’s flatulent bottom, decorated to look like a snowman. South Park’s Cartman, commentis on the performance like a video blogger. He's unimpressed.

Here's the clip.


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hunka Hunka Burning Booze: Man Named Elvis Presley Convicted of Throwing a Molotov Cocktail into a Liquor Store

Posted By on Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 2:54 PM



Fly on the Wall tries to avoid the over use of "hunka hunka" but sometimes nothing else will do. Fifty-seven-year-old Elvis Presley Strickland has been convicted of aggravated arson for throwing a Molotov cocktail into an occupied liquor store. 

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