Black Velvet Elvis

Alannah Miles had a boyfriend. He was riding on a bus. But it was not just any bus. This was a bus filled with good people. They were Elvis fans.

Christopher Ward became inspired to write a song about this experience. It was August 1987 and they were traveling to Memphis to attend the 10th Anniversary of Elvis’ death.

Souvenir shops and stands hawked black velvet paintings. Videos from 1950s and 1970s Elvis concerts showed hysterical women falling on their knees. He started writing lyrics about it.

When he return back to Canada, Chris showed his words to Alannah and producer David Tyson, who wrote the chords for the bridge.

The song was one of three in a demo she pitched to Atlantic Records. Although they eventually signed to the label, Alannah was disappointed to find they gave Chris’ song, “Black Velvet” to country singer Robin Lee to record.

However, Alannah plowed through, recorded, and had her version released in December 1989, a two month head start before Lee.

Alannah’s record was promoted on pop and rock radio stations, while Lee’s on the country radio. Alannah won a Grammy in 1991 for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. In 2015, the song was awarded for it’s 4 millionth play on the radio by ASCAP.

It’s been 31 years since Alannah’s Black Velvet hit the charts. When asked about it last year, she said the song is “hard to peg, because it’s not the song we all thought would become the classic hit that it became.”

“There were other songs we thought might stand a better chance of that.

“But as it turns out, it was the one song that had something very special about it that would become that.”

“We spent a lot of time making that record,” she said. “It was the first record for me and it stumped me, if you will. I was a debut artist and we had to figure out who and what I was.”

“I knew who I was, but we wound up getting there by trial and error. And in doing so, we went through many takes.”

“We did a rock ‘n’ roll version of the song, and at the last minute, it was paired down to just vocals, bass, and drums.”

“At five in the morning, we got the track that we wanted – and I believe that’s why it was successful as it was. The old-fashioned clunky rock ‘n’ roll mix was dynamite.”

Mississippi in the middle of a dry spell
Jimmy Rodgers on the Victrola up high
Mama’s dancin’ with baby on her shoulder
The sun is settin’ like molasses in the sky
The boy could sing, knew how to move ev’rything
Always wanting more, he’d leave you longing for
Black velvet and that little boy smile
Black velvet with that slow southern style
A new religion that’ll bring you to your knees
Black velvet if you please

Up in Memphis the music’s like a heat wave
White Lightnin’ bound to drive you wild
Mama’s baby’s in the heart of ev’ry school girl
“Love Me Tender” leaves ’em cryin’ in the aisle
The way he moved, it was a sin, so sweet and true
Always wanting more, he’d leave you longing for

Black velvet and that little boy smile
Black velvet and that slow southern style
A new religion that’ll bring you to your knees
Black velvet if you please

Ev’ry word of ev’ry song that he sang was for you
In a flash he was gone, it happened so soon
What could you do?

Black velvet and that little boy smile
Black velvet in that slow southern style
A new religion that’ll bring you to your knees
Black velvet if you please

Black velvet and that little boy smile
Black velvet in that slow southern style
A new religion that’ll bring you to your knees
Black velvet if you please

If you please
If you please
If you please

Roadtrip 2020 Day 8: The Prehistoric American Trail


Imagine driving down a highway with virtually no other vehicles in sight, no billboards, no gas stations, no hotels or businesses for several hours.

Now visualize this as a two-lane paved road, with origins of being a trail during prehistoric times, now twisting and curving through dense tall forests and beautiful countryside.

A quick, short detour led into beautiful Dennis, Mississippi–just in case my ancestors had something to do with the name.

We took this journey, rich in miles of history, from Tupelo, Mississippi through the northwest corner of Alabama, to just shy of Nashville, Tennessee.

The Natchez Trace Parkway was an opportunity to slowdown–the maximum speed limit is 50 mph–enjoy casual observations and relish historical treasures along the way. No eyesores, trucks, or commercial vehicles are allowed.

The Parkway, we learned, was first a Native American pathway, with archaeological evidence dating back 10,000 years.

In the early 1800s, it served a vital role as a road home for Kaintucks, men who floated down the Mississippi with goods to sell, sold their boats as lumber and then walked hundreds of miles back north. The average walk back home was over 35 days.

The advent of the steamboat would change all this, but in the meantime, “stands” were developed up and down the Natchez Trace to put a one-night roof over travelers’ weary heads.

Slaves were sold, soldiers were buried, a nationally-known explorer killed himself, all surrounded by the most beautiful landscape and natural formations…and some not-so-natural formations.

In total, the Parkway begins in Natchez at Mile Marker 0 and ends at 444. We joined the last 180 miles at about Marker 260.

Highlights along the way, with Mile Markers given, are:

261.8 Chickasaw Village Site with multiple dwelling places and a fort. This small archaeological site has outlines of a winter home, summer home and the fort on the ground. Trailheads for a short nature trail and the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail are here.

269.4 Confederate Gravesites Thirteen unknown Confederate soldiers lie buried here, on the “Old Trace,” the trail before asphalt.  A short stroll under a canopy of aged trees offered time to reflect on our nation’s history and imagine what life was like then.

286.7 Pharr Mounds was one of our favorite stop offs. There are eight man-made burial hills laid out across the sprawling field. These mounds are older than Emerald Mound, built between 1 and 200 A.D.

327.3 Colbert Ferry Just before the bridge crossing the wide Tennessee River, this site provided a nice respite and photo opportunity.

We took Mr. Beefy for a peaceful walk and noticed a family picnicking by the river, and others fishing and boating.

It was at that moment, it hit me that Dodie and my dreams are coming true. Our lifestyle is allowing us to make memories we never would have otherwise.

Beefy along Tennessee River.

“Colbert’s Stand – George Colbert operated a ferry across the Tennessee River from 1800 to 1819,” some literature from the National Park Service (they maintain the Trace) explained. “His stand, or inn, offered travelers a warm meal and shelter during their journey on the Old Trace.”

“Colbert looked after his own well being and once charged Andrew Jackson $75,000 to ferry his Tennessee Army across the river…After a venison supper, one guest at Colbert’s Stand spent the night in an outbuilding (Wilderness Haven) with ‘not less than 50 Indians, many of them drunk.’ Here and about 20 other stands along the Trace, Kaintuck riverboatmen, money-laden businessmen, Indians and outlaws shared a spot of fellowship on a long hazardous road.”

“‘Shrewd, talented and wicked’ thus a traveling preacher characterized George Colbert, the half-Scot half-Chickasaw chief. But for more than 30 years he helped negotiate with the U.S. for Chickasaw rights as the tide of settlement advanced from the east. His successful farm showed his people the way of the future.”

385.9. Meriwether Lewis Death and Gravesite.Remember Lewis and Clark?

Lewis lived from 1774 to 1809. A marker states:

“Beneath the monument erected under the legislative act by the State of Tennessee A.D. 1848, reposes the dust of Meriwether Lewis, captain in The United States Army, Private Secretary to President Jefferson, senior Commander of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Governor of the Territory of Louisiana.

Meriweather Lewis gravesite.

In the Grinder House, the ruins of which are still discernible 230 yards south of this spot, his life of romantic endeavor and lasting achievement came tragically and mysteriously to its close on the night of October 11, 1809. The report of the committee appointed to carry out the provisions of the Monument Act contained these significant statements: “Great care was taken to identify the grave. George Nixon, Esq., an old surveyor, had become very early acquainted with the locality.” He pointed out the place; but to make assurance doubly sure the grave was reopened and the upper portion of his skeleton examined and such evidence found as to leave no doubt this was the place of interment.”

Over this section of the Trace passed part of the Andrew Jackson army in his campaign against the Creek Indians in 1813 and again on his return from the battle field of New Orleans in 1815.

But before Talladega and New Orleans – before the soldiers of Jackson had given renown to the Natchez Trace, it received its immortal touch of melancholy fame when Meriwether Lewis journeying over it on his way to Philadelphia to edit the story of his great expedition, met here his untimely death on the night of October 11, 1809.

Grinder House – Site and ruins of the Grinder House in which Meriwether Lewis met his death on the night of October 11, 1809.”

“Lewis led an amazing life, completing a two-year expedition through wilderness to the Pacific Northwest by the time he was 32 years old. When he returned, he was made governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory.

Unfortunately, Lewis died along the Natchez Trace Parkway three years later, under mysterious conditions. Most historians have concluded that his gunshot wounds were self-inflicted, for reasons we can only guess at now.”

Dodie exploring Old Trace.

391.9. Fall Hollow Waterfall is just off the Parkway just north of the US 412 intersection. As soon as we were out of the car we could here it.

A very short path and two wooden bridges took us across the small creeks before they begin their tumbling descent. The easy part of the path ends at an observation deck where we looked down at the largest waterfall. Past this point the path becomes very rocky and steep.

401.4 Tobacco Farm displays a tobacco farm from the early 1900s. A short trail leads to an old barn where tobacco hangs from the timbers.

404.7 Jackson Falls The trail here is one of the most popular along the parkway, but rain kept us from the
moderately strenuous hike. Jackson Falls is named after Andrew Jackson.

Although we left the Parkway at this point to travel to Murfreesboro, we did get a view of the Double Arch Bridge at 438.

Completed in 1994, the double arch bridge that spans Birdsong Hollow received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence in 1995 for its innovative design that rises 155 feet above the valley. The bridge carries Trace travelers 1,648 feet across the valley and Tennessee Highway 96.

Chickasaw and Kaintucks

Roadtrip 2020: 1st Week Recap-Elvis, Rock n’ Roll, Music

“Elvis is a workhorse,” his first cousin Harold Loyd, told me in 1976. “It was true when he started back in ’54 and ’55 before he was ever on TV or in the movies. It’s true now.”

“When we played when we was boys, we played hard,” Harold who worked at the front gate security in Graceland guard house smiled. “Whatever we did, he was enthusiastic and excited. I don’t know how anyone could have the stamina he does.”

Over 44 years later, I visit Graceland and reminisce of the excitement of meeting Elvis, Linda Thompson, Harold, Charlie Hodge and others.

Today Dodie and I, along with dog Mr. Beefy, continue to enjoy our roadtrip and are excited to be on our eighth day. Can you guess where we are now based on where we’ve been?

Days 1 & 2 June 19-20:

My first bucketlist item was to stop in Killeen, Texas where Elvis Presley rented this house while in Army boot camp in 1958.

According to the Archives dept. at Graceland, “The entourage of Gladys Presley, Vernon Presley, Minnie Mae Presley, Elvis and Lamar Fike soon out-grew the 3 bedroom Stylemaster Mobile Home Elvis was using. Elvis rented a house at 605 Oak Hill Drive from then Judge Chester Crawford at $1,500 a month.” 

He was assigned to the A Company of the Second Armored Division’s Tank Battalion, at Fort Hood. He completed basic training in June.  In August of that same year, Elvis’ mother Gladys became gravely ill and was sent to Memphis.  Elvis was granted leave to see her, shortly before she died. He then returned to Fort Hood and was transferred to Germany soon afterward, effectively ending his time in Killeen.

When Elvis first received his draft notice, he could have tried to get out of serving or at least made it easier on himself. The Army and the Air Force had both offered to let him serve in “Special Forces” as an entertainer and/or a recruiter.

The Navy offered him a special deal as well, promising to put him in a unit with others from his hometown of Memphis.

He had already sold more than 10 million records and starred in the movie “Love Me Tender” and was tempted. But his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, convinced the young Elvis and his father Vernon that taking the easy way out could anger millions of Americans.

“Elvis pulled his weight,” wrote Ira jones, Elvis’ platoon sergeant in Germany, in his book “Soldier Boy Elvis.” “He used his head and did his job well. He was one of us. He cared about us and he got back the respect and friendship he gave everyone else.”

“In several instances I saw sparks of leadership in Elvis that made me think he could have induced men to follow him into combat just as his music caused millions of young people to follow him.”

Elvis wasn’t a novice when it came to military service, however. Longtime friend George Klein said many people don’t know that Elvis was in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Humes High School in Memphis.

Klein and Elvis were classmates through junior high and high school. Elvis was best man at Klein’s wedding in 1970.

Klein said it was Elvis’ ROTC days in high school that enabled him to become a squad leader while in basic training.

The longtime friend said Presley got so tired of having to wake up his squad that he bought wristwatches for all 30 of them.

Klein said Elvis told him that he didn’t always love his Army work, but he enjoyed his fellow soldiers.

Days 3 & 4 June 21-22

In Vicksburg we started the Delta Blues Highway 61 portion of our journey.

Highlights included visiting homes, birthplaces, gravesites and juke joints of pioneer Blues artists and musicians, including B.B King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and more.

Our second day was spent primarily at Graceland and the Elvis Presley Memphis complex across the street.

This was my first visit to the new museums and exhibits complex across the street.

Days 5 & 6 June 23-24

Touring more Memphis area sites including Lorraine Hotel and home of Jerry Lee Lewis, in Nesbitt, Mississippi. We then spent two nights in Tupelo.

MLK assassination site.

Days 7 & 8 June 25-26

Traveled and researched more around Tupelo and then trekked to the place of my birth in Smyrna, Tennessee.

My parents lived there as my father was stationed there at Stewart Air Force Base. My father would take my mother for walks if it wasn’t too cold to help her “along with the pregnancy,” he said. “The idea was to deliver you (me) before December 10th or he would be sent to Japan.”

“We lived in a small house behind a large church on a hill near the train depot,” my mother elaborated. “We walked across the street and joined other airmen and wives at a picture window of a furniture-appliance store. It was the first time we’d ever seen Elvis.”

“Someone found out he was in New York visiting RCA Records and it might be on TV. It was a big deal. Everyone had been talking about him as he was traveling all over the place. That was on December 1st.”

Tom Parker,

“All us wives were keeping track of him the best we could,” she continued. “A few days later two of the airmen saw them (Elvis and his band) filling up gas in their car headed up to Indiana from Alabama. We were so excited he passed through where we all lived. That was in late in the night, early morning on December 4th. You were born less than 24 hours on the 5th. I used to laugh that Elvis passing through caused you to be born when you did.”

Elvis Presley’s 1955 performance schedule coincides with my mother’s memory:

January-1955
Jan 1: Eagles Hall, Houston, TX
Jan 4: Odessa High School, Odessa, TX
Jan 5: City Auditorium, San Angelo, TX
Jan 6: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
Jan 7: Midland High School, Midland, TX
Jan 8: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Jan 11: High School, New Boston, TX
Jan 12: Civic Auditorium, Clarksdale, MS
Jan 13: Catholic Club, Helena, AR
Jan 14: Futrell High School, Marianna, AR
Jan 17: NE Miss CC, Booneville, MS
Jan 18: Alcorn/Courthse Hall, Corinth, MS
Jan 19: Community Center, Sheffield, AL
Jan 20: Leachville H.S., Leachville, AL
Jan 21: Nat’l Guard Armory, Sikeston, MO
Jan 22: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Jan 24: Humble Oil Rec. Hall, Hawkins, TX
Jan 25: Mayfair Bldg/Fairgrounds, Tyler, TX
Jan 26: REA Bldg, Gilmer, TX
Jan 27: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
Jan 28: Gaston High School, Joinerville, TX
February-1955
Feb 4: Cadillac Club, New Orleans, LA
Feb 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Feb 6: Ellis Auditorium, Memphis, TN
Feb 7: Ripley High School, Ripley, MS
Feb 10: Alpine High School, Alpine, TX
Feb 11: Carlsbad Sports Arena, Carlsbad, NM
Feb 12: American Legion Hall, Carlsbad, NM
Feb 13: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
Feb 13: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
Feb 14: No. Junior H. S., Roswell, NM
Feb 15: Fair Park Auditorium, Abilene, TX
Feb 16: Odessa Senior H.S., Odessa, TX
Feb 17: City Auditorium, San Angelo, TX
Feb 18: W. Monroe H.S., West Monroe, LA
Feb 19: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Feb 20: Robinson Aud., Little Rock, AR
Feb 21: City Hall, Camden, AR
Feb 22: City Hall, Hope, AR
Feb 23: Pine Bluff H.S., Pine Bluff, AR
Feb 24: So. Side Elem. School, Bastrop, LA
Feb 25: Municipal Aud., Texarkana, AR
Feb 26: Circle Theatre, Cleveland, OH
March-1955
March 2: Newport Armory, Newport, AR
Mar 2: Porky’s Rooftop Club, Newport, AR
Mar 4: DeKalb High School, DeKalb, TX
Mar 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Mar 7: City Auditorium, Paris, TN
Mar 8: Catholic Club, Helena, AR
Mar 9: P. Bluff Armory, Poplar Bluff, MO
Mar 10: Civic Auditorium, Clarksdale, MS
Mar 11: J. Thompson Arena, Alexandria, LA
Mar 12: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Mar 19: White Coliseum, College Sta., TX
Mar 19: Eagles Hall, Houston, TX
Mar 20: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
Mar 20: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
Mar 21: Parkin High School, Parkin, AR
Mar 25: Dermott High School, Dermott, AR
Mar 26: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Mar 28: Big Creek H.S., Big Creek, MS
Mar 29: Tocopola H.S., Tocopola, MS
Mar 30: High School, El Dorado, AR
Mar 31: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
April-1955
April 1: Ector County Aud., Odessa, TX
Apr 2: Municipal Auditorium, Houston, TX
Apr 7: Corinth Co. Courthouse, Corinth, MS
Apr 8: B&B Club, Glober, MO
Apr 9: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Apr 10: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
Apr 10: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
Apr 13: Breckenridge H.S., Breckenridge, TX
Apr 14: Owl Park, Gainesville, TX
Apr 15: Stamford High School, Stamford, TX
Apr 15: Roundup Hall, Stamford, TX
Apr 16: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
Apr 16: Roundup Club, Dallas, TX
Apr 19: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Apr 20: American Legion Hut, Grenada, MS
Apr 22: Municipal Stadium, Texarkana, AR
Apr 23: Heart O’ Texas Coliseum, Waco, TX
Apr 24: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
Apr 24: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
Apr 25: M-B Corral Club, Wichita Falls, TX
Apr 25: Texas High School, Seymour, TX
Apr 26: City Auditorium, Big Spring, TX
Apr 27: American Legion Hall, Hobbs, NM
Apr 29: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
Apr 30: High School, Gladewater, TX
May-1955
May 1: Municipal Aud., New Orleans, LA
May 2: Baton Rouge H.S., Baton Rouge, LA
May 4: Ladd Stadium, Mobile, AL
May 5: Ladd Stadium, Mobile, AL
May 7: Peabody Aud., Daytona Beach, FL
May 8: Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL
May 9: City Auditorium, Fort Myers, FL
May 10: Southeastern Pavilion, Ocala, FL
May 11: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
May 12: GatorBowl Ball Pk., Jacksonville, FL
May 13: GatorBowl Ball Pk., Jacksonville, FL
May 14: Shrine Auditorium, New Bern, NC
May 15: City Auditorium, Norfolk, VA
May 16: Mosque Theater, Richmond, VA
May 17: City Auditorium, Asheville, NC
May 18: Am. Legion Aud., Roanoke, VA
May 19: Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh, NC
May 20: KOCA Radio, Kilgore, TX
May 21: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
May 22: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
May 22: Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
May 25: Am. Legion Hall, Meridian, MS
May 26: Meridian Jr. College, Meridian, MS
May 28: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
May 29: North Side Colsm., Ft. Worth, TX
May 29: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
May 31: High School, Midland, TX
June-1955
June 1: Guymon High School, Guymon, OK
June 3: J. Connelley Pontiac, Lubbock, TX
June 3: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
June 4: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 5: Hope Fair Park, Hope, AR
June 8: Municipal Aud., Sweetwater, TX
June 10: Am. Legion Hall, Breckenridge, TX
June 11: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 14: Bruce High School, Bruce, MS
June 15: Belden High School, Belden, MS
June 17: Roundup Hall, Stamford, TX
June 18: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
June 19: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
June 19: Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
June 20: City Auditorium, Beaumont, TX
June 21: City Auditorium, Beaumont, TX
June 23: McMahon Mem. Aud., Lawton, OK
June 23: Southern Club, Lawton, OK
June 24: Altus, OK
June 25: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 26: Slavonian Lodge Aud., Biloxi, MS
June 27: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
June 28: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
June 29: Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
June 30: Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
July-1955
July 1: Casino Club, Plaquemines, LA
July 2: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
July 3: Hoedown Club, Corpus Christi, TX
July 4: City Rec. Hall, Stephenville, TX
July 4: Hodges Park, DeLeon, TX
July 4: Soldiers & Sailors, Brownwood, TX
July 20: Cape Arena, Cape Girardeau, MO
July 21: Silver Moon Club, Newport, AR
July 25: City Auditorium, Fort Myers, FL
July 26: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
July 27: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
July 28: Gator Stadium Park, Jacksonville, FL
July 29: Gator Stadium Park, Jacksonville, FL
July 30: Peabody Aud., Daytona Beach, FL
July 31: Ft. Homer Hesterly, Tampa, FL
August-1955
Aug 1: Tupelo Fairgrounds, Tupelo, MS
Aug 2: Sheffield Center, Muscle Shoals, AL
Aug 3: Robinson Aud., Little Rock, AR
Aug 4: Municipal Auditorium, Camden, AR
Aug 5: Overton Park Shell, Memphis, TN
Aug 6: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Aug 7: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
Aug 7: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
Aug 8: Mayfair Building, Tyler, TX
Aug 9: Rodeo Arena, Henderson, TX
Aug 10: Bear Stadium, Gladewater, TX
Aug 11: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
Aug 12: Driller Park, Kilgore, TX
Aug 13: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Aug 20: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Aug 22: Spudder Park, Wichita Falls, TX
Aug 23: Saddle Club, Bryan, TX
Aug 24: Davy Crockett H.S., Conroe, TX
Aug 25: Sportcenter, Austin, TX
Aug 26: Gonzales B-ball Pk., Gonzales, TX
Aug 27: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
September-1955
Sept 1: Pontchartrain Bch, New Orleans
Sept 2: Municipal Stad., Texarkana, AR
Sept 3: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
Sept 3: Roundup Club, Dallas, TX
Sept 5: St. Francis Fair, Forrest City, AR
Sept 6: Bono High School, Bono, AR
Sept 7: Nat’l Guard Armory, Sikeston, AR
Sept 8: Municipal Aud., Clarksdale, MS
Sept 9: McComb H.S., McComb, MS
Sept 10: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Sept 11: Municipal Aud., Norfolk, VA
Sept 12: Municipal Aud., Norfolk, VA
Sept 13: Shrine Auditorium, New Bern, NC
Sept 14: Fleming Stadium, Wilson, NC
Sept 15: Am. Legion Aud., Roanoke, VA
Sept 16: City Auditorium, Asheville, NC
Sept 17: Th-ville H.S., Thomasville, NC
Sept 18: WRVA Theater, Richmond, VA
Sept 19: WRVA Theater, Richmond, VA
Sept 20: Fairgrounds, Danville, VA
Sept 21: Memorial Aud., Raleigh, NC
Sept 22: Civic Auditorium, Kingsport, TN
Sept 24: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Sept 26: Gilmer Junior H.S., Gilmer, TX
Sept 28: B&B Club, Gobler, MO
October-1955
Oct 1: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Oct 3: White Coliseum., College Sta., TX
Oct 4: Boys Club, Paris, TX
Oct 5: City Auditorium, Greenville, TX
Oct 6: SW TX St Univ., San Marcos, TX
Oct 6: Skyline Club, Austin, TX
Oct 8: City Auditorium, Houston, TX
Oct 10: Soldiers-Sailors, Brownwood, TX
Oct 11: Fair Park Aud., Abilene, TX
Oct 12: Midland H. S., Midland, TX
Oct 13: Municipal Aud., Amarillo, TX
Oct 14: Odessa H. S., Odessa, TX
Oct 11: Fair Park Aud., Lubbock, TX
Oct 15: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
Oct 16: Mun. Aud., Oklahoma City, OK
Oct 17: Memorial Aud., El Dorado, AR
Oct 19: Circle Theatre, Cleveland, OH
Oct 20: Brooklyn H.S., Cleveland, OH
Oct 20: St. Michaels’ Hall, Cleveland, OH
Oct 21: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 22: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 23: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 24: Silver Moon Club, Newport, AR
Oct 25: Houston Armory, Houston, MS
Oct 26: Gulf States Fair, Prichard, AL
Oct 28: Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
Oct 29: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
November-1955
Nov 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Nov 6: Community House, Biloxi, MS
Nov 7: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
Nov 8: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
Nov 12: Carthage Milling, Carthage, TX
Nov 12: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Nov 13: Ellis Aud., Memphis, TN
Nov 14: High School, Forrest City, AR
Nov 15: Community Center, Sheffield, AL
Nov 16: City Auditorium, Camden, AR
Nov 17: Municipal Aud., Texarkana, AR
Nov 18: Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
Nov 19: Gladewater H.S., Gladewater, TX
Nov 25: Wilson Jr. H.S., P. Arthur, TX
Nov 26: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Nov 29: Mosque Theater, Richmond, VA
December-1955
Dec 2: Sports Arena, Atlanta, GA
Dec 3: State Coliseum, Montgomery, AL
Dec 4: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
Dec 5: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
Dec 6: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
Dec 7: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
Dec 8: Rialto Theater, Louisville, KY
Dec 9: Swifton H. S., Swifton, AR
Dec 9: B&I Club, Swifton, AR
Dec 10: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Dec 12: Nat’l Guard Armory, Amory, MS
Dec 17: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Dec 19: Ellis Aud., Memphis, TN
Dec 31: LA Hayride, Shreveport

8: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Jan 11: High School, New Boston, TX
Jan 12: Civic Auditorium, Clarksdale, MS
Jan 13: Catholic Club, Helena, AR
Jan 14: Futrell High School, Marianna, AR
Jan 17: NE Miss CC, Booneville, MS
Jan 18: Alcorn/Courthse Hall, Corinth, MS
Jan 19: Community Center, Sheffield, AL
Jan 20: Leachville H.S., Leachville, AL
Jan 21: Nat’l Guard Armory, Sikeston, MO
Jan 22: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Jan 24: Humble Oil Rec. Hall, Hawkins, TX
Jan 25: Mayfair Bldg/Fairgrounds, Tyler, TX
Jan 26: REA Bldg, Gilmer, TX
Jan 27: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
Jan 28: Gaston High School, Joinerville, TX
February-1955
Feb 4: Cadillac Club, New Orleans, LA
Feb 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Feb 6: Ellis Auditorium, Memphis, TN
Feb 7: Ripley High School, Ripley, MS
Feb 10: Alpine High School, Alpine, TX
Feb 11: Carlsbad Sports Arena, Carlsbad, NM
Feb 12: American Legion Hall, Carlsbad, NM
Feb 13: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
Feb 13: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
Feb 14: No. Junior H. S., Roswell, NM
Feb 15: Fair Park Auditorium, Abilene, TX
Feb 16: Odessa Senior H.S., Odessa, TX
Feb 17: City Auditorium, San Angelo, TX
Feb 18: W. Monroe H.S., West Monroe, LA
Feb 19: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Feb 20: Robinson Aud., Little Rock, AR
Feb 21: City Hall, Camden, AR
Feb 22: City Hall, Hope, AR
Feb 23: Pine Bluff H.S., Pine Bluff, AR
Feb 24: So. Side Elem. School, Bastrop, LA
Feb 25: Municipal Aud., Texarkana, AR
Feb 26: Circle Theatre, Cleveland, OH
March-1955
March 2: Newport Armory, Newport, AR
Mar 2: Porky’s Rooftop Club, Newport, AR
Mar 4: DeKalb High School, DeKalb, TX
Mar 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Mar 7: City Auditorium, Paris, TN
Mar 8: Catholic Club, Helena, AR
Mar 9: P. Bluff Armory, Poplar Bluff, MO
Mar 10: Civic Auditorium, Clarksdale, MS
Mar 11: J. Thompson Arena, Alexandria, LA
Mar 12: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Mar 19: White Coliseum, College Sta., TX
Mar 19: Eagles Hall, Houston, TX
Mar 20: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
Mar 20: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
Mar 21: Parkin High School, Parkin, AR
Mar 25: Dermott High School, Dermott, AR
Mar 26: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Mar 28: Big Creek H.S., Big Creek, MS
Mar 29: Tocopola H.S., Tocopola, MS
Mar 30: High School, El Dorado, AR
Mar 31: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
April-1955
April 1: Ector County Aud., Odessa, TX
Apr 2: Municipal Auditorium, Houston, TX
Apr 7: Corinth Co. Courthouse, Corinth, MS
Apr 8: B&B Club, Glober, MO
Apr 9: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Apr 10: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
Apr 10: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
Apr 13: Breckenridge H.S., Breckenridge, TX
Apr 14: Owl Park, Gainesville, TX
Apr 15: Stamford High School, Stamford, TX
Apr 15: Roundup Hall, Stamford, TX
Apr 16: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
Apr 16: Roundup Club, Dallas, TX
Apr 19: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Apr 20: American Legion Hut, Grenada, MS
Apr 22: Municipal Stadium, Texarkana, AR
Apr 23: Heart O’ Texas Coliseum, Waco, TX
Apr 24: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
Apr 24: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
Apr 25: M-B Corral Club, Wichita Falls, TX
Apr 25: Texas High School, Seymour, TX
Apr 26: City Auditorium, Big Spring, TX
Apr 27: American Legion Hall, Hobbs, NM
Apr 29: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
Apr 30: High School, Gladewater, TX
May-1955
May 1: Municipal Aud., New Orleans, LA
May 2: Baton Rouge H.S., Baton Rouge, LA
May 4: Ladd Stadium, Mobile, AL
May 5: Ladd Stadium, Mobile, AL
May 7: Peabody Aud., Daytona Beach, FL
May 8: Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL
May 9: City Auditorium, Fort Myers, FL
May 10: Southeastern Pavilion, Ocala, FL
May 11: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
May 12: GatorBowl Ball Pk., Jacksonville, FL
May 13: GatorBowl Ball Pk., Jacksonville, FL
May 14: Shrine Auditorium, New Bern, NC
May 15: City Auditorium, Norfolk, VA
May 16: Mosque Theater, Richmond, VA
May 17: City Auditorium, Asheville, NC
May 18: Am. Legion Aud., Roanoke, VA
May 19: Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh, NC
May 20: KOCA Radio, Kilgore, TX
May 21: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
May 22: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
May 22: Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
May 25: Am. Legion Hall, Meridian, MS
May 26: Meridian Jr. College, Meridian, MS
May 28: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
May 29: North Side Colsm., Ft. Worth, TX
May 29: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
May 31: High School, Midland, TX
June-1955
June 1: Guymon High School, Guymon, OK
June 3: J. Connelley Pontiac, Lubbock, TX
June 3: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
June 4: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 5: Hope Fair Park, Hope, AR
June 8: Municipal Aud., Sweetwater, TX
June 10: Am. Legion Hall, Breckenridge, TX
June 11: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 14: Bruce High School, Bruce, MS
June 15: Belden High School, Belden, MS
June 17: Roundup Hall, Stamford, TX
June 18: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
June 19: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
June 19: Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
June 20: City Auditorium, Beaumont, TX
June 21: City Auditorium, Beaumont, TX
June 23: McMahon Mem. Aud., Lawton, OK
June 23: Southern Club, Lawton, OK
June 24: Altus, OK
June 25: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 26: Slavonian Lodge Aud., Biloxi, MS
June 27: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
June 28: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
June 29: Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
June 30: Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
July-1955
July 1: Casino Club, Plaquemines, LA
July 2: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
July 3: Hoedown Club, Corpus Christi, TX
July 4: City Rec. Hall, Stephenville, TX
July 4: Hodges Park, DeLeon, TX
July 4: Soldiers & Sailors, Brownwood, TX
July 20: Cape Arena, Cape Girardeau, MO
July 21: Silver Moon Club, Newport, AR
July 25: City Auditorium, Fort Myers, FL
July 26: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
July 27: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
July 28: Gator Stadium Park, Jacksonville, FL
July 29: Gator Stadium Park, Jacksonville, FL
July 30: Peabody Aud., Daytona Beach, FL
July 31: Ft. Homer Hesterly, Tampa, FL
August-1955
Aug 1: Tupelo Fairgrounds, Tupelo, MS
Aug 2: Sheffield Center, Muscle Shoals, AL
Aug 3: Robinson Aud., Little Rock, AR
Aug 4: Municipal Auditorium, Camden, AR
Aug 5: Overton Park Shell, Memphis, TN
Aug 6: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Aug 7: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
Aug 7: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
Aug 8: Mayfair Building, Tyler, TX
Aug 9: Rodeo Arena, Henderson, TX
Aug 10: Bear Stadium, Gladewater, TX
Aug 11: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
Aug 12: Driller Park, Kilgore, TX
Aug 13: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Aug 20: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Aug 22: Spudder Park, Wichita Falls, TX
Aug 23: Saddle Club, Bryan, TX
Aug 24: Davy Crockett H.S., Conroe, TX
Aug 25: Sportcenter, Austin, TX
Aug 26: Gonzales B-ball Pk., Gonzales, TX
Aug 27: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
September-1955
Sept 1: Pontchartrain Bch, New Orleans
Sept 2: Municipal Stad., Texarkana, AR
Sept 3: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
Sept 3: Roundup Club, Dallas, TX
Sept 5: St. Francis Fair, Forrest City, AR
Sept 6: Bono High School, Bono, AR
Sept 7: Nat’l Guard Armory, Sikeston, AR
Sept 8: Municipal Aud., Clarksdale, MS
Sept 9: McComb H.S., McComb, MS
Sept 10: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Sept 11: Municipal Aud., Norfolk, VA
Sept 12: Municipal Aud., Norfolk, VA
Sept 13: Shrine Auditorium, New Bern, NC
Sept 14: Fleming Stadium, Wilson, NC
Sept 15: Am. Legion Aud., Roanoke, VA
Sept 16: City Auditorium, Asheville, NC
Sept 17: Th-ville H.S., Thomasville, NC
Sept 18: WRVA Theater, Richmond, VA
Sept 19: WRVA Theater, Richmond, VA
Sept 20: Fairgrounds, Danville, VA
Sept 21: Memorial Aud., Raleigh, NC
Sept 22: Civic Auditorium, Kingsport, TN
Sept 24: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Sept 26: Gilmer Junior H.S., Gilmer, TX
Sept 28: B&B Club, Gobler, MO
October-1955
Oct 1: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Oct 3: White Coliseum., College Sta., TX
Oct 4: Boys Club, Paris, TX
Oct 5: City Auditorium, Greenville, TX
Oct 6: SW TX St Univ., San Marcos, TX
Oct 6: Skyline Club, Austin, TX
Oct 8: City Auditorium, Houston, TX
Oct 10: Soldiers-Sailors, Brownwood, TX
Oct 11: Fair Park Aud., Abilene, TX
Oct 12: Midland H. S., Midland, TX
Oct 13: Municipal Aud., Amarillo, TX
Oct 14: Odessa H. S., Odessa, TX
Oct 11: Fair Park Aud., Lubbock, TX
Oct 15: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
Oct 16: Mun. Aud., Oklahoma City, OK
Oct 17: Memorial Aud., El Dorado, AR
Oct 19: Circle Theatre, Cleveland, OH
Oct 20: Brooklyn H.S., Cleveland, OH
Oct 20: St. Michaels’ Hall, Cleveland, OH
Oct 21: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 22: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 23: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 24: Silver Moon Club, Newport, AR
Oct 25: Houston Armory, Houston, MS
Oct 26: Gulf States Fair, Prichard, AL
Oct 28: Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
Oct 29: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
November-1955
Nov 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Nov 6: Community House, Biloxi, MS
Nov 7: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
Nov 8: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
Nov 12: Carthage Milling, Carthage, TX
Nov 12: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Nov 13: Ellis Aud., Memphis, TN
Nov 14: High School, Forrest City, AR
Nov 15: Community Center, Sheffield, AL
Nov 16: City Auditorium, Camden, AR
Nov 17: Municipal Aud., Texarkana, AR
Nov 18: Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
Nov 19: Gladewater H.S., Gladewater, TX
Nov 25: Wilson Jr. H.S., P. Arthur, TX
Nov 26: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Nov 29: Mosque Theater, Richmond, VA
December-1955
Dec 2: Sports Arena, Atlanta, GA
Dec 3: State Coliseum, Montgomery, AL
Dec 4: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
Dec 5: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
Dec 6: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
Dec 7: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
Dec 8: Rialto Theater, Louisville, KY
Dec 9: Swifton H. S., Swifton, AR
Dec 9: B&I Club, Swifton, AR
Dec 10: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Dec 12: Nat’l Guard Armory, Amory, MS
Dec 17: LA Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Dec 19: Ellis Aud., Memphis, TN
Dec 31: LA Hayride, Shreveport

Roadtrip 2020 Day 7: Elvis’  Tupelo Childhood Friends Die


“Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935 to Vernon and Gladys Presley,” the sweet lady sitting on the front porch swing stayed on script. “Born in this two-room house built by his father, grandfather and uncle, Elvis was one of twin brothers born to the Presleys. His brother, Jessie Garon was stillborn. Elvis grew up in Tupelo surrounded by his extended family including his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.”

Mural on Main Street Tupelo.

Knowing the story well, I remained quiet with patience. Our guide’s southern accent was so pleasant, that it matched her polite tenderness.

“Financially, times were hard on Vernon and Gladys, and they had to move out of the house where Elvis was born when he was only a few years old for lack of payment,” she continued. “Vernon and Gladys worked various jobs while in Tupelo and moved several different times during the thirteen years they resided in Mississippi.”

Listening to her pronunciations, I imagined it sounded near like Gladys Presley did: a soft, tender drawl.

Since Dodie and I were the only ones there, I took the time to ask questions. She was polite and knowledgeable, but I could see hints of sadness in her eyes.

I went on in and turned to the front left corner because that’s the exact spot Elvis was born. Dodie and the guide were laughing outside and it comforted me as I took the time to absorb and savor the moment.

When I came back out I took the leash from Dodie so she could take a turn inside. The guide had already been introduced to Beefy.

“What kind of a dog is he?” she asked.

“Well, since we’re here at Elvis’ birthplace with you, he thinks he’s a Hound Dog,” I replied.

She laughed, “I had one like that–about his size too–but he thought he was a German Shepherd.”

That broke the ice. As Dodie walked into the front door, she turned around, looked at me, motioned to our guide and said, “Tell her your Elvis story, Hon. He interviewed Elvis. He’s a journalist!”

She wanted know all about it.

“You mean to tell me ya’ actually met him?” her eyes shined.

After I told her, she asked if had known Guy Harris?

“I only interviewed him by phone but that had to be at least 20 years ago,” I replied, knowing Harris was a childhood friend of Elvis from Tupelo.

“Well, he passed away in April,” she said. “April 7th. We sure do miss him here. He was hospitalized in December from a car wreck. He was able to come back once or twice with therapy, but he was never the same.”

“We had little cards made up for him and he’d come on most Fridays, especially when the tour buses came in from Memphis, and give talks–answer everyone’s questions,” she continued.

Guy’s mother and Gladys Presley were best friends. Although Guy was four years younger than Elvis, the two became friends and remained so throughout Elvis’ life, even after the Presley’s moved to Memphis.

Once when Guy came to visit Graceland, Elvis introduced him to his wife Priscilla as his best friend growing up in Tupelo. Priscilla Presley said on Facebook about Guy Harris “… We will miss you Guy. And you will be missed by all who knew you and those who met you on their journey to know more about Elvis’ life in Tupelo. RIP My friend.”

Elvis, Priscilla and Guy Harris, 1970.

“Nothing stood out about Elvis,” Harris once said. “There wasn’t no-one more surprised than me when he did what he did. Elvis was no different from any of the rest of us, back then. We’d go swimming together in the creek, just hang out, like kids do. There wasn’t a lot to do, growing up in Tupelo.”

“If we had a few cents we’d go to the movies. When we went to see his first movie, Love Me Tender. We couldn’t believe it. A few years earlier me and him’d go to watch westerns together at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning. Now we’re watching this dude up on the screen!”

Harris, 81, passed away peacefully at the home of his daughter in Saltillo.

Guy said Elvis growing up in Tupelo, was sheltered, shy and used to have to be coaxed to sing.

A quote from Guy at Elvi

“My mother Faye was there when the twins were born,” Harris said. Elvis had a twin brother, Jesse Garon, who was stillborn before Elvis Aaron entered the world on Jan. 8, 1935. “My mother was good friends with Gladys, Elvis’ mom. Because Jesse was stillborn and she couldn’t have no more babies after that, Gladys was real protective of Elvis.”

The two boys kept that friendship into adulthood. Elvis would usually call Guy anytime he was going to be in Tupelo, and Guy went to visit Elvis in Memphis too.

Guy Harris loaned Elvis a bicycle for this picture.

“That was the last time I saw him. It was 1970, when he came back to Tupelo on Dec. 29. He and Priscilla, and a couple of guys who worked with him, were in town. The guy I worked with on the police department named Bill Mitchell, who got elected sheriff, made Elvis an honorary deputy sheriff of Lee County. After we got all that done, he and I and Priscilla came out and visited right in here later on that night, you know, just as it was getting dark.”

Sadly, another childhood friend of Elvis, James Ausborn, passed away at age 87 on Saturday, February 29, 2020.

James was the person who introduced Elvis to his brother Carvell Lee Ausborn, known as Mississippi Slim who taught him three cords on the guitar and introduced him to radio. He was a flashy singer who had his own radio, “Pickin’ and Singin’ Hillbilly” show on Tupelo’s WELO.

Mississippi Slim

“I sat right behind him in class in the sixth grade at Milam (Junior High), and we run around together,” James once told a local newspaper. “I rode him around on my bicycle all over town. We’d go fishing together down on the creek, on Mud Creek, and he would start singing. I’d get on to him singing. I’d tell him, ‘We ain’t gonna catch no fish, you keep singing’.”

James Ausborn

Roadtrip 2020 Day 6: Elvis Presley’s Tupelo


Visiting the birthplace of Elvis Presley the past two days gives me a new perspective into the life of the greatest entertainer in history.

For some reason, even realizing Elvis didn’t live in his birth house very long,  I somehow equated that iconic two room house with all of his childhood.

The Presley’s were poorer than poor. They were desperate.

As President of the Texas Chapter of the Official Elvis Presley Fan Club in the mid to late 1970s, I had a bit of an inside advantage gathering information for writing articles back then.

I was fortunate to briefly interview Elvis, a life changing event for 20 year old me, in 1976. But I was also blessed to meet and interview Harold Loyd (Elvis first cousin) and Charlie Hodge (friend who lived at Graceland).

Meeting Uncle Vester Presley, first cousin Billy Smith, girlfriend Linda Thompson, a cook in the kitchen, and a secretary in the office out back, was an honor, but did I not interview them.

Although I’ve ventured to Graceland at least a dozen times, this was my first visit to Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo. It’s a wonderful experience as it offers a less rushed and more reflective environment. In many ways it’s more meaningful as it allows the serious fan (or researcher) to understand Elvis at a deeper level: his roots and childhood.

I’d bring donuts and coffee or hamburgers to the front gate guard house at Graceland in ’76. During the middle of the night Loyd explained that his mother, Rhetha, and Gladys were sisters from a family of eight siblings. During the interviews, Loyd remained loyal and protective of Elvis. He would skirt around any questions that might place his cousin in a bad light. In 1992, he clarified what he would not dare reveal during the 1976 conversations.

I’ve waited half a century to sit here.

‘Our grandparents, the father and mother of our mothers, were Bob and Doll Smith’, Loyd said. ‘We were about as poor as you’ve ever seen and Grandma was sick with TB (tuberculosis) most of the time. Grandpa Smith sold moonshine to make ends meet because there were no jobs and Grandma needed help to be cared for, especially with all those eight kids’.

“Grandpa died when I was three-years-old (in 1931).” Loyd recalled. “Everybody tells me Momma and Aunt Gladys were as close as any two sisters could ever be-very close.”

“And even though they were young and moved out of the house just to survive, they stayed close to each other. Well, when Grandma died, the same year Elvis was born (1935), it was kind of a relief for the two sisters.”

“Not many people know this, but Aunt Gladys was a singer too,” Loyd smiled. “She was always doing odd jobs, being a maid and looking after children, so she could buy material to sew clothes for her brothers and sisters. She was always taking care of everybody. She sewed nightgowns for her mother who had to stay in bed all the time with TB.”

“But her favorite thing was just to sing and dance,” Loyd added. “Grandpa would let Aunt Gladys and my mother go to the dance hall there in Tupelo and everybody tells me could do every dance there was at the time: the Charleston, Lindy Hop, Jitterbug.”

“And her voice was just amazing. She would sing all the time. That is some of my best memories, listening to Aunt Gladys sing and sometime Elvis and I would sing with her. It’s no wonder he was the best ever singer.”

In 1976, the public did not know about Vernon being imprisoned for a a forged check. The information did not come out until after Presley’s death, as the few family members that did know, kept it very quiet to protect his image. In 1992, Loyd was able to set the record straight:

‘What I couldn’t tell you was that Vernon was in jail’, Loyd revealed. ‘He was sent to the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, but that was after he already spent six months in the Tupelo.”

“Travis Smith, the brother of mine and Elvis’ mothers, along with Vernon and a man named Lether Gable got involved in selling a hog to someone but was only paid $4-not at all what the hog was worth in them days—so Vernon got mad and put a ‘1’ in front of the ‘4’ or a ‘0’ behind the ‘4’ to make it either $14 or $40′.

“Uncle Travis told me Uncle Vernon just downright forged a check, so I heard the story both ways,” laughed Loyd. “Anyways, Vernon spent some good time in prison and Elvis was just a little one about three to five years old.”

Vernon and Gladys Presley chose Elvis’ middle name to honor their friend and church song leader Aaron Kennedy. 

Kennedy claimed the check that landed Vernon in prison was not altered but forged by putting a blank check over Orville Bean’s and tracing his writing on to it.

“Doll” Smith was buried next to her husband Bob, both in unmarked graves just like others who couldn’t afford a tombstone, including Elvis’ twin brother Jesse Garon Presley. 

So like Elvis did in 1958 at age 22,  Gladys lost her mother when she was only 23.

Although Gladys had really been on her own since her father died (she was just 19), she acted as the default mom because of Doll being bedridden from tuberculosis for many years.

Other notes from Tupelo:

The day before Elvis’ first birthday, his great Uncle Noah Presley was elected Mayor of East Tupelo. His brother, Jesse (who helped his sons Vernon and Vester build the two room shotgun house Elvis would be born in) was proud that Noah was elected and was hopeful the Presley name might raise some in stature in the community.   

Gladys and Vernon

But when his son Vernon, Gladys’ brother Travis, and Lether Gable were indicted for forgery on November 16, 1937, Jesse was very upset.

Vernon was terrified of his father’s temper. Known as “J.D.,” he’d often get into bar brawls and come home drunk when Vernon was young. When they moved into their new house in December 1934, Gladys was just a few weeks away from giving birth to the twins. The house was a nice Christmas present and her mother-in-law, Minnie was helpful, but she knew Jesse ruled the roost. 

Their house was built next door to her in-laws, making it the fifth house in the tight area. They shared a common outhouse. Around the corner from their address at 306 Old Satillo Road, Vester and Clettes Presley and their daughter Patsy lived on Reese Street.

A veteran of WWI, Jesse drifted from job to job sharecropping and lumberjacking in Mississippi, Missouri and Kentucky until he married Minnie Mae Hood on July 20, 1913. Vernon was her first born.

A very proud man, J.D. would walk around town in an expensive ($24) suit and cane trying to appear dapper.

J.D.’s brother, Calhoun Presley once noted that “Jessie worked hard and played hard. He was an honest man, but he enjoyed drinking whiskey and was often involved in drunken bar brawls.”

“He paraded around town like a peacock, with his head in the air and a cane in his hand. Owning expensive clothes was his only ambition in life. He hated poverty and he didn’t want people to know he was poor. He felt that if he wore a tailor-made suit, people would look up to him.”

To make matters worse, J.D. farmed and lived on Orville Bean’s land. Bean was the man Vernon forged the check on.

With son Vernon now in prison after spending almost six months in Tupelo jail, J.D. became resentful towards Gladys. She and Elvis resorted to moving out to stay with her first cousin Frank Richards.

Vernon was imprisoned until a month after Elvis’ fourth birthday. Released on February 6 1939, Vester and Clettes took them in to their small Reese Street home.

Vernon was granted a six-month suspension of his sentence, on condition of continued good behavior. This leniency is the result of a “petition of the citizens of Lee County and on a letter from Mr. O. S. Bean, the party on whom the checks were forged.” The document is signed by Governor Hugh White.

Evidently, if Vernon ever was angry with Orville Bean, he didn’t seem to hold a grudge as he bought a new house from him in Tupelo in 1945.

Note: Elvis’ fifth-grade teacher, was Oleta Grimes, Orville Bean’s daughter. And it was Grimes who was so impressed with Elvis’ classroom performance of ‘Old Shep,’ she took him to the school Principal, Mr Cole. , and again Elvis sang ‘Old Shep’. They made sure he was entered a few weeks later at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, in Tupelo. He came in 5th place.

By 1942, they moved to Kelly Street, in a rented, small apartment. While Vernon was away helping to build a prisoner of war camp for the WPA, Gladys was admitted to hospital. According to nurse Leona Moore, who was working at the Tupelo hospital at the time, “The truth is she had a miscarriage.”

On May 15, 1943, Vernon came back and moved his family to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, for the WPA work. They went with Vernon’s cousin Sales Presley his wife Annie and their daughter. They resided in Pascagoula, a port near Biloxi at the southernmost tip of Mississippi on the Gulf of Mexico. The returned back to Tupelo on June 20.

Records show that from August 8, 1945 to July 18, 1946, they lived on Berry Street. With 4 rooms now, Minnie Mae Presley moved in. J.D. had left her and moved to Kentucky. The price was $2000, with a down payment of $200 and monthly installments of $30 plus 6% interest.

In 1946 they moved to a rental on
Commerce Street. It was just eleven months after purchasing the house on Berry Street.

6th grade

Vernon transfers the deed over to friend Aaron Kennedy for $3,000 to avoid foreclosure proceedings. Immediately, Aaron Kennedy gives Orville Bean a deed of trust, which is the same thing as a mortgage.

For a brief time they move back to Gladys’ cousin Frank and his wife, Leona Richards at 510 1/2 Maple Street, in South Tupelo.

In 1947 they lived on Mulbery Alley and by 1948, as Elvis enters 8th grade at Milam Junior High School in September, they lived at 1010 North Green Street, in the Shakerag section of Tupelo. Their house was designated for whites only in a respectable “colored” neighborhood.

“Almost decided overnight,” Elvis explained years later, the Presley’s packed what they owned in a 1939 Plymouth and moved the 80 miles northwest to Memphis, Tennessee.

Elvis Presley Birthplace Today

I had mixed feelings when we walked up to the park in front of the Tupelo City Hall to see the famous statue of Elvis entitled “The Hands.” Someone has climbed on top and tied a cloth mask around his head. We drove miles and I’ve waited since 2012 (when it was dedicated) to see it. If younger, and it hadn’t been raining so hard, I would have climbed up and removed it.

June 26, 2020 Tupelo

The Elvis Birthplace itself was a beautiful and touching experience. We returned again our second day to spend time around the small lake, waterfall “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and water fountains.

Dodie and Beefy on the bridge.

The area, at the end of the parking lot is called “Reflections.”

Other highlights of our Tupelo stay included visting Johnnies Drive In where Elvis enjoyed cheeseburgers and “ROC” colas, Tupelo Hardware where Gladys bought her son his first guitar and the Civil War Battle of Tupelo monument.

But despite the fun and enjoying ourselves, I still can’t get the image of the mask of that statue off my mind.

The Shrewd 11-year-old Who Wouldn’t Negotiate With Elvis Presley

Eleven-year-old Sterling Smith was keen at being idle and solemn about his watermelon business. Those two qualities worked together for the young boy during the hot Mississippi summer of 1973 when he noticed four cars parading toward his watermelon stand on Highway 51 going northbound one scalding afternoon.

“I would play a game with myself to pass the time away,” Smith told me in Pearl, Mississippi, twenty years later. “I would count the cars that were coming by. Every time the tenth car passed, I pretended that was my car.”

“When I saw a line of cars coming, I was getting ready to count but noticed they were slowing down and I thought maybe I was going to sell another one (melon),” Smith recalled. He mentioned his mode of operation was to “stay put so they would be more likely to buy one if they got out of the car because they walked all the way over to inspect them.”

“Sure enough, all of four cars pulled over and I thought, ‘yes’, I might sell four watermelons,” Smith laughed, with four fingers pointed upward. “Quickly, a man with sunglasses on got out of the first black car and it was Elvis Presley.”

“Can you imagine that? Elvis Presley was walking up to ME to see MY watermelons and I just sat there because I was being cool, while they were hot,” grinned Smith. “Some other men and women walked up to look them over too and give them a good thump. It was scorching, but I knew my melons were tasty.”

Smith believed he’d stay calm under the shade tree that canopied over his watermelons. Presley asked him if there was a discount available if he bought four. Smith didn’t budge from the price.

“No sir’, the boy replied. “They is three for a dollar but you can pick the ones you want?”

Sam Thompson, who later became to be a member of the ‘Memphis Mafia’, working security detail at concerts and Graceland, collaborated Smith’s story some years after Presley’s death in August 1977. Presley generally had his group of inner circle friends on the payroll to take care of business and personal affairs.

“One time my sister Linda, my wife Louise, and I had been down with Elvis to see the old Circle G Ranch in Mississippi and were on our way back to Memphis in Elvis’ Stutz Bearcat,” Thompson explained. “We passed a little black boy, maybe ten or eleven years old, by the side of Highway 51.”

“It was summer; it was hot – dust in the air,” Thompson confirmed. “The kid was caked in dust, sitting at a little watermelon stand. We had this entourage, about four or five vehicles, and Elvis was in the lead. As we go by Elvis pulls over. Of course, everybody pulls over after him.”

“Everybody jumps out – Red West and everybody,” described Thompson. “They’re looking around. This is in the middle of nowhere. This little kid – I’ll never forget his face. I know he knew who Elvis was, but he wasn’t gonna let Elvis know that he knew. He was a businessman, this kid. He sat there and waited for Elvis to walk up.”

Thompson remembered “Elvis had to initiate the conversation, ‘How much are the watermelons?’ A price was established. The kid was real tough and he wouldn’t come off the price.”

“If I would have sold any of those watermelons for less than a quarter a piece, my Pappa and Daddy would have blistered my butt,” Smith chuckled again. “There was no way the money was not going to match the right amount it was supposed to because they (his father and grandfather) knew how many watermelons were there that morning when they dropped me of off.”

“So finally Elvis just turned around and said, ‘We’ll take the whole stand. Pay him’,” Thompson revealed. “That’s the only time the kid’s visage cracked!”

“Elvis took one watermelon, the choice one, and put it in the back of the car,” continued Thompson. “Off we drove and left the entourage down there to settle up. Elvis bought the whole watermelon stand, bought all those watermelons, and took them back to Memphis.”

“Daddy wanted to know what the hell happened to all the watermelons,” Smith mused. “He thought somebody must have robbed me or something. But I showed him the money. He wanted to know who bought that many watermelons.”

“Elvis Presley bought those watermelons, Daddy,” answered Smith. “It was Elvis Presley.”

Smith winked and couldn’t remember if he told his father about the five dollar tip he received that day, but when he recounted the story in 1992, the then 31-year-old claimed, “every time I hear that song ‘Polk Salad Annie’, I smile.”

Then, with a smile of remembrance, Smith began to sing:

Down in Louisiana where the alligators grow so mean, lived a girl that I swear to the world made the alligators look tame … stealing watermelons out of my tow truck … Polk Salad Annie …’.

Roadtrip 2020 Day 5: Sun Studio & Memphis

In the history of rock ‘n’ roll there can’t be many more important places on earth than the modestly-sized red brick building almost on the edge of downtown Memphis.

706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee is the legendary site of Sun Studio, where Sam Phillips established his Memphis Recording Service back in 1950.

His purpose was poviding a recording outlet to black blues musicians. His result was producing gospel, blues, country into an evolving concoction of something new.

Sun recorded the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and BB King. Jackie Brenston, along with Ike Turner and the Delta Cats recorded what is now agreed to be the first rock ‘n’ roll record: ‘Rocket 88’ in 1951:

You may have heard of jalopies 
You’ve heard the noise they make 
But let me introduce you to my Rocket ’88 
Yes it’s great, just won’t wait…

Two years later a young Elvis Presley walked in to cut a one-off disc, supposedly for his mother Gladys. In 1954 Presley recorded his historical single, “That’s All Right.

Soon Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison recorded their early singles. Sun Studio can indisputably proudly claim to be the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.

My preconceived idea about visiting Sun Studio was different than the reality of the actual experience. Often, I’ve wondered what the black of the building looked like. So I went there first.

Back of Sun Studio.

Walking toward it felt much as the first time I approached the iconic Lincoln Memorial, strolled on Ellis Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, sailed a Maid of the Mist boat below Niagara Falls, or stepped to the edge overlooking the Grand Canyon.

I paused to take savor the moment, A personal bucketlist thrill.

The side of the building looked like a back alley, with pipes and electrical conduits climbing the wall. Several picnic tables for visitors waiting for their tour time slot to begin weren’t needed on this day. The Studio, like so many tourist attractions, were just beginning Phase 2 of a city ordinance allowing them to open with restrictions.

Turning the corner and stepping through the front door, we barely were in the vestibule when a voice called out, “Welcome to Sun Studio folks, y’all come on in out of the heat.”

At a podium to our left was a young, handsome man in his 20s with a cowboy hat peering above the bandana covering his face. He offered to let us join the group that was a 10-minutes into their tour.

I didn’t want to miss a minute. We waited about 50 minutes for the 4:30 p.m. tour.

Dodie and I walked bought our tickets ($15 each) and relished the extra time to explore the memorabilia, shirts, records and pictures.

One thing I didn’t realize was the side of the building we were in was not part of the original Sun Studio. It was a diner, Taylor’s Fine Food Restaurant, where Phillips held court and used as an ad hoc office. One can only imagine the musicians who’ve eaten there.

The former diner is now a gift shop-snack bar worked by the talented tour guides rotating each hour.

The tour first takes you upstairs above the gift shop to a compact, but remarkable display of period artifacts. My favorites included studio equipment, instruments and other historic photos and documents. A recorded message from overhead speakers provide insite.

Our tour guide then walked us downstairs and turning right into Marion Keisker’s (the first person to ever record the voice of Elvis) front office.

I wasn’t prepared for the lightning strike emotion that hit walking into the actual studio. Our guide did a fantastic job of talking us through the history and played segments of music, including that very first Elvis recording: ‘My Happiness’.

He picked up a guitar and used a dollar bill to play along (and sound like a train rolling around the bend with Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison.”

Our guide ended the tour by bringing out an original studio microphone from the control room, one that Elvis, Johnny, Jerry Lee, Roy Orbison and so many others had all sung into at the start of their careers.

He told us it was donated by Sam Phillips on condition that it wasn’t just locked away in a glass case but that visitors could pose and have their photographs taken with it.

I stepped up to the “X” mark on the floor where Elvis sang and proudly sang! You can’t get a better photo-opportunity than that and it was a great end to a magical tour of such a historic site.

Considerations and Tips For Elvis Presley Fans Visting Memphis

How are COVID-19 restrictions impacting Elvis Presley fans visiting Memphis? Here’s the very latest information and our tips for a safe trip.

Note: This data and suggestions are as of today, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Of course conditions could change at any moment. Our intent is to offer helpful insight for those considering travel. We elected to drive from South Central Texas.

First, know masks are required by Memphis City Ordinance #5751:

“Individuals should wear cloth face coverings that cover the nose and mouth in public settings where being in close proximity to others is anticipated and particularly where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain at all times.”

Six Feet Apart.

“Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.”

“A mask/face covering is not required after a person has been seated in a restaurant or bar or similar facility, but is strongly recommended when a person is ordering food or drink or otherwise interacting with workers or other customers at the restaurant or bar or similar facility.”

Every restaurant we’ve been to is strongly adhering to the ordinance.

Graceland Mansion tours are reduced to 25% capacity. The result is a much less crowded and stress free experience. We didn’t feel any rush and when interviewed by Graceland media, I said “this allowed a more intimate visit, almost surreal like. We could savor the quiet and reflective moments, especially outside and near the Meditation Gardens.”

Don’t bring anything you won’t need for the tour (you’ll be juggling headphones and an iPad as you wander the house).

Securing an earlier tour in the day offers time to enjoy a restful lunch, perhaps at Vernon’s Smokehouse. They offered Meatloaf, Catfish, BBQ plates and sides for $9 to $12 range. BBQ Nachos listed on menu were not available.

Gladys’ Diner was closed, but note that entering from inside the Ticket Pavilion gives access to a “Grab n’ Go” offerings such as Croissant Sandwiches (Turkey: $6.99, Pork BBQ:$8.99).

Vernon and Gladys dining are located at  Elvis Presley’s Memphis the complex, located across the street from Graceland. The museums opened there are Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, Elvis Discovery Exhibits, Elvis’ Custom Jets, and Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum. The ice cream stand was closed.

We’re staying at the beautiful Guest House at Graceland. Every 30 minutes their shuttle takes to and from the Graceland Ticket Pavilion. Be warned that Delta’s Kitchen, the bar, and the gift shop are closed.

Guest rooms are cleaned only upon checkout. There is a “Grab n’ Go” good and beverage setup at the Information Desk in the lobby. The Front Desk also provides a list of local restaurants that will deliver meals to you in the lobby. The bar television remains on and tuned to FOX News per popular requests.

Each night at 7 p.m., an Elvis movie shows (free) in the beautiful theater. Social Distancing is enforced, but easy to follow with limited attendance. Monday they presented Viva Las Vegas and Tuesday, the 68 Comeback Special. Love Me Tender, Elvis On Tour and others are shown.

The pool, open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. have a 30 person capacity limit. We saw couples and families enjoying outside patio and yard activities such as shuffleboard, ping pong and corn hole.

We enjoyed dining at Marlowe’s, about a mile south of Graceland. They offer free pickup and return at the hotel in a pink limo. It’s a fan favorite, not only because of their awesome BBQ, but they’re loaded with Elvis memorabilia, music, a gift shop and even movies on large screens. Marlowe’s has been featured on Food Network, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

For “Blues, Brews and Burgers,” Huey’s is a great option. This popular, family-friendly chain is often voted as having the best burger in the Memphis and DeSoto County. Some of the most popular options are the Senior Huey, the Madison Avenue and the Bluez 57. 

Coletta’s Italian restaurant has been open in Memphis since 1923, and they made the original barbecue pizza. Their famous barbecue pizza has a thick crust, barbecue sauce, and is piled high with pork and cheese. Elvis and the Memphis Mafia liked it.

Corky’s Ribs & BBQ is open, but seating is limited. They are worth a visit: #1 BBQ Sauce 4 years in a row by Southern Living magazine; Best BBQ 24 years in a row by MEMPHIS magazine; Best of BBQ by TV Food Network.

Sun Studio is open, with tours beginning every hour from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. This historical place is often referred to as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and is a must-see for music aficionados.

Former owner Sam Phillips helped launch many a music career, including that of Elvis, B.B. King, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. In recent years, the studio has been used by artists like Justin Townes Earle, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and The Walkmen, among others. On our guided tour, we heared stories about the legendary musicians who recorded there, listened to unreleased tracks and saw memorabilia from the studio’s heyday.

Beale Street is open and live music continues.

You can still watch the world-famous Peabody Ducks march daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. for free. The Peabody Ducks have never missed a day of work and have continued their daily red carpet marches even under the circumstances. 

Open Wed-Sun from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Rock ’n’ Soul Museum is offering half-price admission for Shelby County residents (with proof) through the end of June. With the discount, tickets will be $7.50 for adults and $5 for youth.

Open Wed-Sun from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Memphis Music Hall of Fame also offers half-price admission for Shelby County residents (with proof) through the end of June. Regular admission is $8.

Stax Museum of American Soul is open.

The National Civil Rights Museum will not be opened until July 1. Housed in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the museum features multimedia presentations on the civil rights movement.

The Children’s Museum of Memphis is open with new hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 9a-5p. Closed Mondays.

A Bicentennial Year Lesson in Memphis With Elvis

“If they gave out college degrees in Elvisology, you’d have a Master’s,” the DJ told me. That was at a radio station in downtown Memphis, April 1976.

I was being interviewed because there was much buzz (was that even a word, other than the sound a bee makes, in ’76?) about Elvis.

It was recently announced he’d be performing in his hometown later that summer. Months away and thousands of fans had been camped out for two days in line to buy tickets.

The day before, I drove by the Mid-South Colosseum and was astonished. People were in tents, sleeping bags, lawn chairs and on blankets waiting. Although it was hot and humid, they were happy.

Through the years I’ve found dedicated Elvis fans to be among the happiest people on the planet. They’re commoderie expands beyond man-made limiting boundaries such as race, politics, religion and sex. Generally, they’re united.

Two nights before, I gained quick notoriety among Memphis fans for gaining the “impossible dream.” I scored an interview with Elvis Presley!

As a young journalism student from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State), I did my homework. The stars were aligned:

🔼Local fans were not swarming around Graceland,

🔼It was a time sandwiched between Elvis’ mother Gladys’ birthday week (reasoned he may leave to visit her gravesite) and Mother’s Day. Yes, it was a long shot, but I was giving it all I could.

🔼With donuts, coffee and burgers from the Hickory Log cafe, I befriended Elvis’ cousin Harold Loyd and other Graceland gate security guards at night…and Uncle Vester Presley, Charlie Hodge and others during the day in between naps (Elvis was a night owl, so I had to be).

🔼The big card up my sleeve was the ace in the hole: I was President of the Texas Chapter of the official Elvis Presley Graceland Fan Club.

Invited to the radio station because of the spike in interest of the upcoming concerts and me landing the interview, the deejay began asking questions in rapid fire. I answered them as fast as he spit them out, but when he paused for a commercial break, I defaulted to my normal mode of operation–to engage in conversation rather than his Q&A approach.

Elvis’ Bicentennial Harley.

(Note: as I write this, it’s 5:02 a.m. at the Guest House at Graceland so I don’t have my notes with me. Seeing the Harley-Davidson today that Elvis was driving when I met him, brought back memories that have been stored away. If memory serves me, the DJ’s name was Ron Michaels from WMC-FM100. Hey, that was 44 years ago!)

He started taking live listener calls. It was compelling enough that he kept me on air for over an hour.

I was psyched, of course, but somehow all this excitement calmed my youthful ego. I was very thankful for meeting Elvis, but especially grateful for his kindness. When you hear or read how nice he was to fans, believe me, it’s was a very genuine brotherly warmth kindness.

Shaking the hand of the man my parents, my sister Bobbi and I would see on the giant screens of the Trail or Mission Drive-In theaters, watch on TV, or read about in magazines and newspapers, was a surreal and humbling experience.

Meeting Elvis taught me much, including the value of doing homework, being prepared, investigation and a more engaging approach to interviewing.

Most of all, it taught me to never let self imposed obstacles get in the way of my dreams.

Photos taken at Graceland exhibits on June 24, 2020.

Roadtrip 2020 Day 4: Memphis, Tennessee

With the phenomenal success of “Heartbreak Hotel,” Elvis’ popularity skyrocketed so much that he found a new place to dwell.

Before flying to Shreveport on March 3, 1956 with cousin Gene Smith, Elvis writes a $500 check for a deposit toward the purchase of a house for himself and his parents at 1034 Audubon Drive.

It would be the first house they ever owned and in a well-to-do suburban neighborhood east of downtown Memphis. While Elvis is on tour, on March 20, his parents move into the new house. Total cost was $29,500.

Gazing beyond the gate, necessary for his family’s safety, I realized how rapid his rise was. He outgrew this home fast.

This was a time of innocence, gracious southern living and the dawn of pop culture, as we know it today.

During their 13 month stay at Audubon, Elvis became a multiple hit recording artist with RCA and movie star. The money was rolling in, and although somewhat overwhelming for his mother Gladys, there were numerous additions and customizations to the property as designated by Elvis, which remain to this day.

They would have been comfortable there had their son not become the biggest show business sensation in the world. But it soon became apparent that 1034 Audubon Drive failed to provide privacy from an increasing army of fans who even started camping on the home’s front lawn.

Consequently, Elvis and his parents spent much of early 1957 in Hollywood where Elvis was filming “Loving You,” his second movie, which featured his parents as extras.

Music instruments still racked on the car, Elvis stands on the front lawn fresh from another tour.

While living at this address, the hard working Elvis literally changed music, youth culture, and defined the 1950s.

He earned his first gold record, first gold album, appeared on TV and made his first and second movies.

8-Year-Old Denise Sanchez Met Elvis Before She Died

When Colonel Tom Parker arrived from San Antonio to Albuquerque on April 19, 1972, he was greeted with news about Denise Sanchez, an 8-year-old fan from Santa Fe who was battling cancer (Leukemia) since the age of 6 and, like her mom was a huge Elvis fan.

Denise had already lost a leg and part of a hip to cancer, and doctors could do no more to help after it had spread to her lungs.

Elvis in Albuquerque.

Her mother, Trudy Sanchez in an interview, explained:

They found the cancer in my little girl Christmas time a year ago It started with a tumor on the leg. At the Anderson Medical Center in Houston, Texas, they tried desperately to save her by removing the leg and part of her hip. But just like it had been with her daddy, there seemed to be no way they could halt the awful disease.

The doctors told me that, with luck, I could have here for another year. Denise was then going on seven.

The next year was a nightmare of drug therapy and pain and hospitals as the doctors used every tool known to medical science to keep the cancer from ravaging my baby. But just last June it showed up in her lungs, and since that time, it has been relentlessly spreading through her.

At the beginning of this year, they took her off the chemotherapy, except for pain pills every four hours, and they let me take her home to Santa Fe. We just take it day by day. We don’t plan very far in advance.

Of course, I’ll do anything within my power to give her any little bit of happiness I can.

Elvis meeting fans during a break while filming “Jailhouse Rock.” 1957

Probably that’s because I’ve been an Elvis fan since he first started when I was turning into a teenager. I’ve always played his records, and we’ve gone to all the Elvis movies. From certain songs and certain movies, Denise just adores him. While she was under treatment at the medical center in Houston, we made friends down there who are really big Elvis fans, so her liking him just grew and grew.

Just after we got to Houston, she found out that Elvis had made an appearance there just a few weeks before and she was fit to be tied! Then last November, she was hospitalized there and he was going to give a concert on the twelfth. We had gotten the tickets weeks in advance and she was terribly excited at the thought of seeing him. But at the last minute, she was put on the critical list and there was no way I could take here. That poor baby was so disappointed! She’s incredibly brave about all the pain she suffers, but she just cried her little heart out over missing Elvis.

She pulled through the critical stage, thank god, and soon after, they stopped the chemotherapy and let me take her home. When we found out that Elvis was coming to Albuquerque, which is about an hours drive from our home in Santa Fe, I think I bought the first tickets they had on sale.”

Some suggested they go to the newspaper, ‘Albuquerque Journal’, and explain the situation.

“I told the editor, ‘Anything you can do will be greatly appreciated because we aren’t going to have her very long’. At the Journal they said they would do everything they could and the editor assigned a reporter, Grace Marie, Prather, to help us. She pulled it all together – and it was really something! We didn’t know until five o’clock the afternoon of the concert that we were definitely going to meet Elvis.

I talked to Miss Prather early that morning, before I left for work. It was Wednesday, April 19. So far she hasn’t been able to accomplish anything. She had a call into Colonel Parker and he was to call her back, and then she’d called me with whatever news, I went to work but my mind sure wasn’t on it.

I told Denise, ‘Honey, we’re really trying, but don’t get your hopes up, because I am not all that sure we’ll be able to meet him.

‘That’s OK Mom’, she said. ‘I’m still going to keep praying’. And by gosh she really prayed. She’s a very determined little girl. She wanted this so much she prayed her little heart out. She just asked to please be able to meet Elvis no matter what. That was all she wanted; that was all she cared about.

We had thought we might not be able to make it to the concert because a few days earlier she had a very bad day. But she said ‘mama, I’m going to go’, no matter what’. And she would have too. And I would have taken her.

By Wednesday, though, she was feeling much better, and now the big concern was, Would we be able to meet Elvis?

Colonel Parker at first indicated that it seemed pretty impossible because Elvis was coming to town right before the show and he would be leaving immediately afterward. Then I guess Miss Prather told him our story in detail, explaining how really important this was to Denise. The Colonel promised her he would do everything he could.

Albuquerque Hilton. We waited around in the lobby until Colonel Parker came in. Miss Prather introduced him to us and he patted Denise on the head and smiled and assured her, ‘You’ll get to see him’.

From there everything else was sort of an ecstatic blur.

Colonel Parker’s aids told Miss Prather and I to take Denise to the right side of the stage during intermission and they would take here into Elvis’ dressing room.

When we got to Tingley Coliseum, where the concert was to be held, there was another surprise. I had bought box seats, but Colonel Parker instructed the Coliseum people to build special seats for us in the middle of the aisle, right in front of the stage. That was Denise could see absolutely everything. I thought that was just wonderful, and something they didn’t have to do.

Finally, intermission came. Emma and Denise and Miss Prather and I made our way to the right side of the stage, as we had been instructed. Denise was on her crutches, she maneuvers very well with them. Berlinda stayed in the audience with Paula, who is six.

At first, they told us that only Denise and Miss Prather would be allowed into Elvis’ dressing room, but when we got to the backstage trailer that they have for the performers, they escorted me and my girlfriend in, too!

All I can say is Elvis was even more than I had expected – and I knew he would be marvelous. He was so warm and friendly with Denise – with all of us. It was just beautiful.

Denise and Elvis.

When Denise came into the trailer, he smiled at her – a real smile, not the take-a-picture kind, and he said, ‘Hello Sweetheart’, just as warm and friendly as if he’d known her all her life. Her little face lit up like I don’t know what.

He gave her a careful hug – obviously, they’d told him of her condition – and he kissed her on the cheek.

From there on, she was floating. She was so excited, she could hardly talk. But she managed better than I probably would have, under the circumstances. She had a huge poster of him that they gave us at the Hilton and she asked him to autograph it. He carefully inscribed, To Denise – Love you! Elvis Presley. Needless to say, that poster has a place of honor in our den.

She asked how Priscilla and Lisa were, and he said fine and made little chit-chat with her in this wonderfully warm, easy manner. We weren’t in there very long, but every second was a thrill for all of us.

Elvis turned to me, shook hands, and let me introduce myself. He seemed very interested in me, which was truly more than I had anticipated. You know big stars like that, you don’t expect them to have such a personal touch. He was just fantastic.

I only got a handshake -darn it! But my baby got a hug and a kiss, too … so that was an added thrill.

Before she left him, she asked Elvis if he could sing a song for her. She wanted ‘Love Me Tender’ or ‘Don’t Cry Daddy’, which are her two favorites. He said, Okay, I’m going to sing one for you, but it’s going to be a surprise.

It surely was. When he got to that number, he announced from the stage, The next song is for Denise, a very special girl I have just met backstage’. And then he sang ‘You Gave Me A Mountain’. And we all cried. It’s a sad song, but so fitting.”

“But this time, Lord, you gave me a mountain,
A mountain I may never climb,
And it isn’t a hill any longer,
You gave me a mountain this time.”

Denise passed away the following August

Roadtrip 2020 Day 3: Delta Blues Highway

Ever since I was fortunate to meet with B.B. King for an interview in his tour bus in 2010, my interest in the origins of American music grew immensely–especially in the Delta Blues region.

The proverbial “melting pot” accurately describes how the Mississippi Delta was fertile grounds to grow gospel, blues, country, and rock into the soul of American music.

Highway 61 Marker in Vicksburg, 6/24/20.

Combined with the selfish need to dive deeper into the roots that influenced Elvis Presley’s success, it was a natural like desire to want to see, feel and experience Highway 61.

Our trip exploring the legendary Blues Highway began South, right through the heart and soul of Vicksburg. The antebellum architecture, Civil War history and of course, the Blues music are just some of the highlights in Vicksburg.

Up the road about 2 1/2 hours was my favorite Delta Blues town, Clarksdale. Dodie and I agreed it was like time stood still. The 1930s-40s-50s was alive, steeped in history with rugged character to boot.

It’s no wonder Oscar winning actor Morgan Freeman co-owns Ground Zero Blues Club there because that’s exactly what Clarksdale is–the ground zero center for the Blues. It’s Blues to the bone.

Clarksdale is just forty minutes south of Tunica and is famous for the landmark that is said to be the site where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, it’s called “The Crossroads.”

B.B. King told me in 2010 the two biggest musical influences for him were Jimmy Rodgers and Robert Johnson, both absolute legends and pioneers of American music.

Clarksdale has lots of funky places to stay for music lovers and visitors. Even the Ground Zero has rooms available upstairs above the bar for overnight stays. A sign described the rooms perfectly: “…It Good.”

 Shack Up Inn is perhaps the most beloved, made up of restored sharecropper flats. It has its own restaurant and music venue and claims “The Ritz we ain’t.”

Tunica, which is home to the Gateway Blues Museum that also doubles as a visitor’s center. This museum is extremely well done and is really worth a stop. The front of the venue is constructed from a rustic train depot, circa 1895. Inside are beautiful Blues exhibits and artwork.

We found two good spots to consider for Southern comfort food. Back in Clarkddale, we saw “Baby Back Ribs and Hot Tamales” on the Crossroads northeast corner at Al’s Bar B-Q and the Blues since 1924. There is probably no better, or historic, place than Tunica’s Blue & White Restaurant. Also established way back in 1924, the Blue & White is situated right on Highway 61 and has served all the great Blues musicians over the decades.

Before we arrived in Memphis, we traveled through DeSoto County. Located due east of Tunica and just across the border from Memphis, DeSoto County is the home of Jerry Lee Lewis, John Grisham and timeless Delta traditions. Visitors will find the final resting places of blues greats, like Gus Cannon and Memphis Minnie.

A must stop for me was off the beaten path to the gravesite of Memphis Minnie.

Her real name was Lizzie Lawlars, and she rests besides her husband, Ernest Lawlars, who recorded under the name “Lil’ Son Joe.” They are buried in the New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Walls, Mississippi.

The headstone memorial unveiling took place on the morning of October, 13th, 1996 in beautiful fall sunshine and was recorded for radio presentation by the BBC of London.

The ceremony was next to the Memphis Minnie marker and the New Hope Baptist Church. It stands between Highway 61 and the Mississippi River, and cotton fields surround the church and the adjacent cemetery. The front of the monument has a small picture of Minnie and her birth and death dates.  

Ninety people attended, including Minnie’s sister Daisy and 33 members of her extended family, many of whom had no idea of their relative’s powerful musical legacy. Bonnie Raitt financed the memorial stone which bears engraved roses and a ceramic cameo portrait.

A plaque, one of many along the historical region, describes it best:

MISSISSIPPI BLUES TRAIL

Travel has been a popular theme in Blues lyrics, and highways have symbolized the potential to quickly “pack up and go,” to leave troubles behind, or seek out new opportunities elsewhere. Some of the most famous Mississippi artists who lived near Highway 61 included: B. B. King, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Robert Nighthawk, Sunnyland Slim, Honeyboy Edwards, Sam Cooke, James Cotton and Jimmy Reed, just to name a few.

The Mississippi Blues Trail road trip markers tell stories about Blues artists through words and images, about the places they lived and the times in which they existed—and how that influenced their music. The marker sites run the gamut from city streets to cotton fields, train depots, cemeteries, clubs to churches.

2020 Presidential Candidates flag/sign sitings, days 1-3:

Trump 36, Biden 0