Elvis Presley, Music in Black and White

Three Music Historians Open the Blinds of Truth on How He United People of All Races

With Over 40 Historical Photos

Presley fans across the globe realize that knowing the truth about Elvis Presley and the subject of racism requires knowledge about his early childhood and an exploration of the facts of his life throughout his career.

The great American musical pioneers of the 1950s were precise in their adamant characterizations of Presley being a uniting force. They often described him as the person who did far more for bringing blacks and whites together than anyone culturally.

According to three of the finest music culture researchers around the world, they all agree that Presley was a catalyst and powerful (as an individual human being and a worldwide example) influencer from the beginning and still continues to be.

Elvis with B.B.King, 1956

Some time ago, I reached out to three experts on the topic to set the record straight. Their cumulative research represents over 85 years of study, exploration and documentation in the field of culture, music history and Elvis Presley. These specialists are: 

  • Guillermo F. Perez-Argüello
  • Craig Philo (CP) is a music researcher and historian from Sheppey, in Kent, U.K.
  • Jay Viviano (JP) is a pop culture historian with over 20 years of experience in research of icons of the 50’s and 60’s, with a strong concentration on Blues artists.

Guillermo F. Perez-Argüello (GPA): “Critics and the uninformed should put themselves “in the position the 7-year-old Elvis Presley found himself in, circa 1942. He was white, but living in an area of Tupelo, Mississippi, totally surrounded by African Americans.

With an unerring ear and a photographic memory, he totally absorbed everything he heard, LIVE, at the gospel churches attended by African Americans. Now, this was not Georgia, Florida, New York, or Illinois, let alone California, Washington State, but Mississippi, a state which was then the poorest of the then 49 states of the Union.”

Craig Philo (CP): “Sam Bell, a childhood black friend in Tupelo, feared for his friend when Elvis made his life changing journey to Memphis at the age of 13 with his beloved parents. You see, perhaps old Sam knew a thing or two about human behavior, knew how his friend’s open and honest approach to all he came in contact with, driven into him by his mother not to hurt another’s feelings would someday hurt him, how right he was!”

Sam Bell

GPA: “Then, at age 13, with his parents, he moves to the second poorest, Tennessee, actually to Memphis, the crossroads of urban and city blues.

Forget about the ear and the memory as, by now, starting at age 16, we are talking about a human being who MUSICALLY loves and masters everything around him–namely R&B, the Blues, and Gospel of all denominations, plus European ballads, Country and Western, Opera, Neo-classical recordings, Pop, you name it, he masters it.

And to top it all, he is armed as well with the most eclectic and elastic voice in history. In 1954, it became the most important, which it remains to this day. And that is why BB King was so impressed when he first met him, a lad of 17. ‘He knew more blues and gospel songs than anyone I had ever met’ and years later added, ‘I understand why they call him the King.’ Nuff said, from the King of the Blues.”

Downtown Memphis

Jay Viviano (JV): “Reverend Milton Perry was an early Civil Rights activist in the 1950s. He had Elvis’ back just like many other great legends did. He published an open letter to Black America in a 1957 magazine that stated, after spending time talking to not only white people, but Black people in the R&B and Blues community, as well as African Americans that knew him as a child in Tupelo.

‘I found that an overwhelming majority of people who know Elvis speak of this boy as a boy who practices humility and a love for racial harmony,’ Rev. Perry wrote. ‘I learned that he is not too proud or important to speak to anyone, and to spend time with his fans of whatever color, whenever or wherever they approached him.’”

GPA: “Elvis stealing from black music? Tell it to BB King, Otis Redding, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Cissy Houston, Darlene Love, Jim Brown, Mohammed Ali, Jesse Jackson, Al Green, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Sammy Davis Jr. Count Basie, even Public Enemy’s Chuck D, who reconsidered his 1989 views in Fight the Power, and he did so in 2002, as well as to hundreds of other notable African Americans I have on record saying that was NOT the case with Presley.”

JV:BB King, bluesman Little Milton and Little Richard referred to Elvis as an ‘Integrator.’ And they both use the words ‘that guts it took for Elvis to do what he was doing’ in their own interviews.

Elvis ticked off mainstream racist white America when he came on the scene–especially the KKK and white Citizens Council members—by hanging out with black folks in public, speaking respectful of black artists and continually defending rock and roll, R&B and blues music to the point that young white American kids were paying attention and opening up their minds.

This drove their parents (meaning mainstream racist white America) to anger against Elvis. For his first two years on the scene he was public enemy number one. Little Richard in a later interview in his life praised Elvis passionately for his impact on young white America.”

CP: “In all my time on researching Elvis Aaron Presley I have never ever once come across any racial behavior or activity. Indeed the only stuff you will find was a slanderous lie that’s gathered mythical proportions through the years originally reported by Sepia magazine in April of 1957 and consequently torn to shreds by none other than the great Louie Robinson of Jet Magazine.”

GPA: “In fact Louis Robinson, the talented African American writer who Jet Magazine commissioned to go to LA and interview Presley on the MGM set of “Jailhouse Rock”, in 1957, to obtain his views on racist and other “copycat” remarks which appeared in SEPIA, a magazine geared towards the African American market in the US South. But unlike Jet and Ebony, it was owned by white anti-integrationist and based in Fort Worth, TX.

Robinson has just passed away. He unequivocally stated the rumors were false, so this mentioning of Presley as one who stole, or copied, from African Americans and coming from a prestigious magazine as Ebony tells me (that any writer who differs), well how can I put this, is ill informed.”

JV: “The truth though, which stands up to scrutiny, is that there simply was no other white man as famous as Elvis back in those days that took so many hits for proudly befriending the black community.


The ridiculous fact that people try to spread the opposite as ‘some sort of truth’ makes it paramount that this is handled aggressively.”

CP: “When actor Sidney Poitier and tennis great Arthur Ashe wanted to write books, they sought Mr. Robinson’s help.

‘Never in my life have I known a better man,’ Poitier said.

Yes, Robinson went and interviewed Elvis on the set of Jailhouse Rock. The fact Presley was never in Boston when the quote was reputedly made matters little to some. It was and remains a vicious lie concocted by a fearful white middle America as a weapon to try and cut down this brave and carefree spirited individual whose only crime was to record the music he loved and respected. And at all times in doing so paid reverence and respect to those black artists that he deemed did it better than he did. After all, there is no color in music!”

JV: “People need to get over their ignorance about American history. Elvis did himself NO favors back then by hanging out and letting himself be photographed with black folks. Racism was a common blatant practice of the day. It was these very things that made Elvis hated by many older white folks, yet respected by the black community.

Reverend Milton Perry concluded his statement by saying ‘Presley set an example of wholesome Brotherhood. I find something to admire in Presley and that is his attitude on the racial issue. And that it would be good if other people in the South in other parts of the nation emulated his attitude’.”

GPA: “Notice that, in the US, of all the early Blues, Country and Western, Gospel and R&B masters, the ones who sprang from them, namely Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Bill Haley, Little Richard and Ray Charles, let alone the ones who sprang from or appeared in the scene IMMEDIATELEY after them; namely Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and say Eddie Cochran, the only one whose MUSICAL palette was totally complete was Elvis Presley.

Otherwise, how can one explain that the top singer in the world, on December 4, 1956, should start, the guitar now firmly in his arms, the so called Million Dollar Quartet session with an Agustin Lara song from 1941, the classic “Solamente una vez.” Only Elvis, in this case with (his mother) Gladys’ music taste’s help, was destined to rule.”

JV: “Interestingly, not only did Elvis have the same Blues background as many blues men had, but also their same Country and Western roots. As so many Blues artists did indeed, in many of their interviews, state they had strong Country and Western music influences as well. 

Otis Blackwell had strong country and Western roots. Some in the Blues and R&B community accused him of being too country. That explains why he and Elvis were probably such a perfect fit right out of the gate for Elvis to end up doing a handful of his songs. I always thought these dynamics were interesting and things aren’t always cut and dry as people assume.”

CP: “Is it so farfetched or is it just simple logic that of the time in mid-50’s segregated America that it took a white kid to bust open the doors for all these truly great black artists?

Is it right that Presley gets lambasted and ridiculed by so many because he was that one?

People seem to forget the song that catapulted him to stardom in the south had on the backside of it ‘Blue moon of Kentucky’ steeped in Bluegrass/Country, until Presley spiced it up as he did with ‘That’s Alright,’ which is in no way a theft of any kind! Crudup is in there but so too are other influences. Presley was not a COPYCAT! A COOL CAT YES!”

JV: “I mean is there anybody that SERIOUSLY would say, if they could go back in time, they would tell Muhammad Ali, James Brown, BB King, Bobby blue Bland, Etta James, Sammy Davis Jr, Jackie Wilson and many others, they were wrong for proudly calling Elvis their friend and stating he was a help to black artists. 

Many of them said it wasn’t until Elvis got other white kids across America listening to rock and roll that it was after that, their own records started to skyrocket in sales. And if we go back and look at the physical numbers and sales charts we see this is true.

Even modern activists that have been around since the 1960’s civil rights movement have admitted they were wrong about Elvis. Nikki Giovanni there for the movement since the 1960s is a perfect example: ‘I’m glad to find out I was wrong about Elvis.’

Dret Scott Keyes when becoming aware of the integrity Elvis had, always pointing out the black music influence on him, just as he did the country and western and white pop artists, ‘Elvis was honest.’
And they’re certainly not the only ones.

The R&B community acknowledge him and inducted him into the R&B Hall of Fame the same year along with Little Richard, Bobby Rush and other legends that had publicly praised Elvis.”

CP: “When a reporter referred to Elvis as the ‘King of Rock ’n’ Roll’ at the press conference following his 1969 Las Vegas opening, he rejected the title, as he always did, calling attention to the presence in the room of his friend Fats Domino, ‘one of my influences from way back.’ He often paid homage to Fats recognizing no one could sing those songs like he did.

From close friends to the many, many black entertainers that he adored or merely those that met him briefly, have come out and said PROUDLY he was my friend. To quote Muhammad Ali, ‘Elvis Presley was the sweetest, most humble and nicest man you’d want to know.’ Sammy Davis Junior another also was quoted as saying “the only thing that’s matters, is that he was my friend.”

Fats Domino and Elvis

GPA: Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey was highlighted on a recent Black History Month television program and I the “mention of Mahalia Jackson and Elvis Presley having recorded the Reverend’s ‘Take my Hand Precious Lord.’ There was another song also penned by the Reverend which was, in fact, written for Mahalia in 1937 and which Presley sang live, on January 6, 1957, during his third appearance at the Ed Sullivan Show, at CBS.

The audience, estimated by Trendex, the precursor of Nielsen, at 50 million. As this may be the largest audience ever assembled on US television for a gospel song, ever, and that includes Obama’s swearing in which drew less than 50 million. It may be important to take note of what became of it.

Presley wanted to sing it, as he had promised his mother that he would do, but Ed Sullivan was initially against it. During rehearsals that same day, the decision to film Presley from the waist up only was taken by Sullivan, for other reasons, so eventually Sullivan eased on Presley’s request.

Elvis was allowed to sing it that night, immediately following Sullivan’s announcement that Presley wanted specifically for those watching to send their contributions towards the lessening of the plight of some 250,000 Hungarians fleeing the Soviet intervention of their country and which had taken place on both the 24th and 31st of October of 1956. Sullivan added that Presley wanted to dedicate the song to the Hungarians.

By the end of 1957, in the next 11 months, some $6 million were received as a result of Presley’s request. In 2010, the Mayor of Budapest honored Presley posthumously by making him a citizen of that city and naming a park facing the oldest and most beautiful bridge, the Margaret Bridge, after him.

Elvis Presley Park, Budapest

The song’s delivery by Presley was so earnest, that it brightened the hearts of the 50 million watching, and they in turn, as I said, sent the equivalent of $49.5 million in 2016 dollars (SFR 26 million at the 1957 SFR 4.31 to the US$ exchange rate). So, the Reverend’s song brought a happy ending, via Elvis, as the refugees settled for life in both Vienna and London.”

JV: “Just one example is Elvis being the ONLY white artist that bothered to show up at charity events for black folks. Google ‘Elvis Goodwill Review Memphis.’ Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Bill Haley and many other white artists, were NOT doing these things. And many of the black artist from those days have pointed this out, while making it very clear, Elvis WAS.

People need to get over the NEED to inaccurately, continue to portray Presley as just some ‘cold-hearted cultural bandit.’ We need to quit believing the lies and rumors that keep getting passed on over the decades as “truth” and to start respecting the words of our legends who said otherwise.

Elvis Presley With Sweet Inspirations Astrodome March 3, 1974

To even try to disagree with these things or argue against it only makes those that do look bad, and it’s a disrespect to our great black legends that have praised and defended Elvis.

There were white guys back then that were cheap imitations, just jumping on the bandwagon, like Pat Boone, and others that are guilty of appropriation, but James Brown, BB King, and many others said Elvis was NOT the one. They pointed out Elvis came from extreme poverty and humble conditions and new and respected the music he was singing.

The R&B community has done the research themselves in recent years and found out Elvis was incorrectly labeled ‘a racist and cultural thief.’ They have done their part trying to publicly honor Elvis in many ways the last few years and help clear Elvis name of slanderous claims of him being a ‘racist thief.’

Many have paid attention to many of our great black legends from the past who have defended Elvis in their interviews and in their own autobiographies, basically stating how much credit EP always publicly gave to black artists in his interviews and how much help he was to the black community ….especially when we consider the KKK is documented to have hated Elvis.”

CP: “For far too long accusations of cultural thief, racist and white trash have been disgracefully hung around Presley’s neck like a blinding Vegas neon sign. The time has come once and for all for this crap to be debunked–blown to smithereens. You can label it anyway you like, but purely and simply, isn’t it time the real truth was told?

Now telling the truth, researching the truth is far different from listening to rumor. If you think by cupping your ear to listen with intent to nasty whispers and needless tittle tattle in trying to dirty a man’s name is without shame, then continue. The real shame here is that actually that man stood for so much that was right with the world. Still, if that is OK and of noteworthy behavior to you then stand up and be counted and look like the fool you are. Do some reading! In all seriousness it borders on stupidity and ignorance of biblical proportions.”

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.

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The Most Fundamental Lesson Good Writers and Bloggers Must Know

It was fun interviewing and meeting performers (Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Clint Eastwood, Freddie Mercury, Kenny Loggins, Jim Messina, and Jackson Browne, to name a few).

In journalism school at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State) University, I started out as University Star Fine Arts Assistant Editor my sophomore year.

Especially rewarding were lessons I took away from writing reviews of concerts, theatrical performing arts, books and art. Committed to learning all I could to hone writing skills, I paid particular attention to Journalism and English professors who endured my thirst for knowledge in and out of class.

One of the more prominent lessons was the “Three Act Narrative.” Today, we have the Internet, but I wouldn’t trade the value of learning from brilliant teachers and good ol’ trial and error.

In screenplay writing, I’ve learned movie plots go by a formula called “The Hero’s Journey.” However, in practically every story you’ve ever read or seen has more in common than you think.

What if I said that a bloodcurdling horror movie with zombies and a Shakespeare play has the same building blocks? Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? But it won’t be once you understand what narrative structure is.

Plot vs Narrative

You may have heard of the word plot and the word narrative, but they are not one and the same.

🔹‘Plot’ refers to the summation of events in any given story.

🔹 ‘Narrative’ refers to the way the plot is structured and presented to the reader.

Detective novels involve the investigation recounting what actually happened in the mystery. While the plot would involve these details regardless of where they appear in the text, the narrative offers the reader clues along the way and saves the big reveal for the end.

By cursory glance, the structure may seem inconsequential. But in truth, the narrative is what makes every story satisfying.

As readers, we love to piece together the details of any story ourselves before its revealed at the end. We also love when the writer peppers foreshadowing throughout the novel, as it makes the ending that much more satisfying. Even twist endings make sense in some way. But why is that?

This is because of a concept most writers use called the three-act structure. The concept is simple; your story can be divided into three, clearly defined or not, acts, each serving a different purpose. At its simplest, a story must have a beginning, middle and end. But how the writer structures these three has a large impact on how the story itself is read.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theater

Act I: The first act has all to do with the setup. Also known as the expository act, this part of the story establishes everything we, the reader, need to know.

Where is this story set? If it’s not a real-world setting, what are the rules by which the universe operates? Who is our main character? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What is the main conflict our hero must overcome? These are all questions the first act must answer.

The first act also features an ‘inciting incident’ that sets the story in motion and slowly builds towards a major plot point.

Act II: The second act starts right after the first major ‘incident’ in a novel. In The Wizard of Oz, this would be when Dorothy reaches Munchin Land for example, and the first major plot point was Glenna the Good Witch telling her to “follow the Yellow Brick Road.”

The second act’s role is to build towards the big climax by adding additional details that will become relevant later and include a second major plot point. Some novels may even feature a ‘midpoint’ – this is where the protagonist is at their lowest or the farthest from achieving their goals.

Act III: The third act packs the biggest punch of all – the climax. But before the climax, there must be something called a pre-climax. This is the part where the protagonist is working towards the climax in which they face their primary conflict head-on.

In The Wizard of Oz, this would be the lessons learned along the way with Scarecrow, Tinman and the Cowardly Lion to be overcomed before Dorothy confronts the Great and Powerful Wizard.

The third act is usually the shortest act in any novel because it moves so fast. Following the climax, the novel quickly offers a resolution that wraps everything up.

Freytag’s Pyramid

The 19th-century German writer Gustav Freytag adapted the three-act structure into what is now known as Freytag’s pyramid.

According to Freytag:

🔹‘Rising action’ is where the stakes are continuously raised and the key to building a satisfying climax.

🔹‘Falling action’ is when the big conflict is conquered and the story either winds down for a resolution or resets for a sequel, as is the case with most children’s books.

The name ‘three act structure’ comes from the fact that most dramas, especially dramas in ancient Greece as well as most of Shakespeare’s play years later, followed the three-act structure almost religiously.

Aristotle, in his seminal work ‘poetics’, where he explains the mechanics of what makes a good story, explains the important way to keep a story moving is its “cause and effect beats”. Every scene in a story must feed into the scene that happens next and not seem like standalone episodes.

The three-act structure is especially important in cinema, which must fit a remarkable amount of plot points, rising action and character growth into two hours or so.

Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay writers rely on the three-act structure to help them pace their movie in a way that keeps the audience engaged as well. The three-act structure really took off in the film industry after Syd Field’s pioneering book ‘Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. This book has served as a reference for some giants in the industry like James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood and in writing their own movies too.

The three-act structure has become so prevalent that it has also influenced the way TV shows are written. You may have noticed that when your favorite television show ends on a cliffhanger, the next season quickly resolves the cliffhanger so it can move on to building up the story again.

A narrative that is just as intense throughout the story with no build rarely has a satisfying ending. So what these TV show creators are doing is something like a soft reset. They are slowly building conflict again so that the season finale can be the most exciting point in the season.

Once you realize the basics of the three-act structure, it’s not that hard to spot. Whether it’s in books, movies, or TV shows, the three-act structure is everywhere.

A common topic of discussion in our family after watching a movie or seeing a play include questions like Where did the writers go wrong? Was there not enough exposition? Was there too much exposition? Did they drag out the middle?

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Down and Out in the Heart of Texas With B.B. King and H-E-B

Recently meeting up with a friend I haven’t seen in over eight years brought back some old memories.

Jack Dennis and Greg Weaver.

In the early 2000’s, as the Director of Facilities Management for H-E-B Foods/Drugs, one of my employees, Greg Weaver asked me to accompany him to some acreage on Babcock Road in northwest San Antonio. The land would later become the location where a store is now.

Greg had been locking the front gate to our property, but someone had been repeatedly cutting the locks and chains.

When we drove in, there was a village of homeless residents, hidden from the street by trees and brush. They had created makeshift huts and tents. Old car seats were used as couches. There were empty wine, liquor, beer bottles, cans, trash and needles scattered throughout.

Particularly alarming were the innocent children playing in their back yards, oblivious to the 30 or so homeless neighbors separated from them by a six foot long cedar border fence.

From Weaver’s experience with them, they weren’t interested in leaving the property and had no use for rules or laws. This community had their own rules, hierarchies and a faux mini-government.

We ended up cleaning the acreage by clearing brush, thinning trees and eventually building a store.

Since 2017, New York’s Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) program has relocated over 5,000 of their families to other cities across the nation.

This has scattered their homeless to other cities to take on the associated burdens. Texas is discovering a new wave of homeless being bused into many cities with little to no notice for preparation.

With winter approaching, many southern cities are already overburdened with their resources.

San Antonio.

City Ordinances

In San Antonio, some citizen groups are sharing city ordinances as a guide to use when reporting violations to the police. These include:

1. Article 1, Sec 21-28: Makes it illegal to camp in a public place. (tent cities)

2. Article 1, Sec 21-27: Makes it illegal to urinate/defecate in a public place. Homeless camp sites have no toilet facilities.

3. Article 1, Sec 21-29: Aggressive solicitation (panhandling).

4. Article 1, Sec 21-26 Sitting or laying down in public right of way. Sleeping or hanging out on sidewalks, building entrances, public access areas. Soliciting on public streets.

5. Article 1, Sec 21-19: Washing windshield of motor vehicle on public street.

6. Article 1, Sec 29-03: Depositing litter, trash, or waste material on public land. (garbage at tent cities)

“If we intend to follow in the path of Austin, Houston, and other notorious cities with homeless camp sites, we only have to turn a blind eye,” said Unite San Antonio administrator David Moore. “We have a beautiful city; we need to keep it that way.”

“I use to volunteer for an organization that would help homeless people get themselves off the ground,” replied Gilbert Carrizales. “The unfortunate truth is that a vast majority of these people are drug addicts, have mental health issues or just don’t want to be helped. They have lost the ability to comprehend what it means to have a work ethic or motivation. It’s truly saddening, but that’s just what it is.”

For over four years, I lived above the Majestic Theater in the heart of San Antonio a block from the River Walk. I wrote extensively about the homeless for Examiner and other internet news outlets.

One interesting man I met playing saxophone for tips outside the Majestic was Conrad Joseph. He fell on hard times, had a minor stroke, but kept his positive spirit.

Joseph had played for such musical greats as B.B. King, Wilson Pickett and for a while was one of the touring Drells of Archie Bell and The Drells of “Tighten Up” fame.

When I had the opportunity to interview King in his tour bus before a concert at the Majestic, I mentioned Joseph.

Conrad Joseph and friend Don Ward. Both were residents of Haven for Hope.

Not only did B.B. King arrange to have Joseph be his guest at the performance (they hadn’t seen each other in over 25 years), but helped him get on his feet with some lodging.

More B.B. King Click Here

I interviewed many homeless, citizens, police, park rangers and visitors. A bold attempt, called the Haven for Hope program began at sheltered facilities just west of downtown.

Homeless individuals and families have to earn their way with chores, good citizenship and following their rules. I saw some good things happened, but I also witnessed much sadness.

Haven for Hope.

I was accosted with a knife by a homeless man on St. Mary’s Street just blocks from my home. Fortunately, I was able to manhandle the knife out of his hand and knock him down. Some city utility workers saw what was happening and gave chase as he ran away.

We flagged down a police officer on bike patrol and they found him later. Servers at the nearby Blanco Cafe, washed my scrapes and said he had been in their earlier acting strange and talking to himself.

Residents downtown came to realize it was better not to give the homeless money as usually they bought liquor, drugs or cigarettes with it.

Occasionally I would buy a couple loaves of bread and peanut butter to pass out sandwiches. A good 60 percent would thank me, 20 percent lashed out or acted angry and the remainder were basically silent.

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.

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

B.B. King, Others Knew and Defended Elvis Presley Against All Racist Assertions

Elvis & B.B. King and racism-Interview with Jack Dennis, 2010

B.B. King knew “the definitive truth about Elvis Presley and racism.” ‘.

‘Let me tell you the definitive truth about Elvis Presley and racism’, The King of the Blues, B.B. King said in 2010. ‘With Elvis, there was not a single drop of racism in that man. And when I say that, believe me I should know’.

A few years before Presley walked into Sam Phillip’s Recording Service at Sun Studios in Memphis, Riley B. King was beginning his recording career there in 1951.

King remembered when he first met the young Presley, it was obvious how respectful and comfortable he was around bluesmen. King, in his 1996 autobiography, said Presley ‘was different. He was friendly. I remember Elvis distinctly because he was handsome, quiet and polite to a fault. Spoke with this thick molasses southern accent, and always called me ‘sir’. I liked that’.

There has been some debate and speculation in the political world recently about Presley’s impact on music as it relates to race.

About 10 years ago, controversial lyrics from a then new Macklemore song called ‘White Privilege II suggested Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea and Elvis Presley were ‘so plastic, you’ve heisted the magic’ from the black culture.

Some suggest ‘race baiters’ or those with politically socialist agendas for America have been promoting and growing division between races.

In an Oct. 10, 2010 interview with this writer in his tour bus behind the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, Texas, King was particularly open in his comments.

(Perhaps it was because present was Hilton Conrad Joseph, a saxophone player for King in the 1970’s and 80’s that the writer helped arrange the two to see each other after more than 20 years).

B.B. King in San Antonio, 2010.
Photo: Jack Dennis

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King enthusiastically shared his thoughts about happiness, his famous guitar (‘Lucille’), musical influences and Elvis, ‘the other King’.

‘All of our (Presley’s and King’s) influences had something in common’, King explained. ‘We were born poor in Mississippi, went through poor childhoods and we learned and earned our way through music. You see, I talked with Elvis about music early on, and I know one of the big things in heart was this: Music is owned by the whole universe. It isn’t exclusive to the black man or the white man or any other color. It shared in and by our souls’.

‘I told Elvis once, and he told me he remembered I told him this, is that music is like water’, King pointed out. ‘Water is for every living person and every living thing’.

King raised his finger up as if Elvis was still in front of him, and profoundly declared, ‘Water from the white fountain don’t taste any better than from the black fountain. We just need to share it, that’s all. You see, Elvis knew this and I know this’.

‘Many people make the mistake of being wrong about all of this’, King continued. ‘If you ask anyone, I’m talking about people from all kinds of music – Blues, Soul, Country, Gospel, whatever – and if they are honest with you and have been around long enough to know—they’ll thank Elvis for his contributions. He opened many doors and by all his actions, not just his words, he showed his love for all people’.

‘People don’t realize that when ‘That’s All Right, Mama’ was first played (by Dewey Phillips in July 1954) no one had ever heard anything like that record’, King stressed. ‘It wasn’t just country. It was Rhythm and Blues. It was Pop music. It was music for everybody. This is important’.

King spelled out that there were two very specific music influences that he had in common with Presley.

‘I was barely 11 years old, when one of the greatest influences of my life, Robert Johnson, was recording just across the street from this (Majestic) theater recording his first ever songs’, he revealed.

King was talking about how, on the corner of Houston and St. Mary’s streets in San Antonio, at the Gunter Hotel, Johnson changed the music world forever. King grew up listening to the 16 songs Johnson recorded in the Gunter and ‘that had a lot to do with where I am today’.

‘Johnson came from the same dirt Elvis and so many of us did’, King submitted. ‘It was the world of sharecropping, and to survive that hard work bending over all day long, there would be plenty of singing. Elvis’ momma and daddy did their share of it – both the picking and the singing. It was called survival. It was called life. It was just as important to us as water. It was as important to those of us who had it in our souls as the water’.

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‘The other big influence was Jimmy Rodgers’, King said. ‘Some people want to say he was the Father of Country Music, but like Elvis, he was more than that. He was a big influence on not just me. I used to listen to my aunt’s records of Jimmy Rodgers and that was a real treat. I liked that ‘Mississippi Delta Blues’ and to listen to him yodel’.

‘I never did yodel’, King laughed. ‘But Jimmy Rodgers could sure yodel. He was very good at it. But yes, he influenced more than country music, he influenced Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters as much as he did Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson. See, Elvis did that too, but only much wider. Elvis influenced everybody’s music and it was for the good of all of us’.

‘Now, where did Jimmy Rodgers learn his music from’, King asked, before he gave the answer. ‘He learned it working alongside the black railroad workers and hobos. Elvis lived and played with black children back in (Tupelo) Mississippi. He told me that when he was just a baby and his mama had to work, he was cared for sometimes by his grandmamma, but mostly by a neighbor black lady’.

Rodgers turned out to be the first superstar in the country music field. Born in 1897, his mother died when he was barely seven years old. He spent his childhood residing with several relatives in southwest Alabama and southeast Mississippi. His father found him a job working for the railroad as a water boy for the railroad and Rodgers soon fit in among the rail workers and hobos. He enjoyed listening to gandy dancers, African American workers, who would sing hymns and work songs daily. He learned to pick a guitar from some of them.

‘People today will say things about Elvis they just don’t know about’, King commented. ‘They want to say this is black music, this is white music, this is country music. But when Elvis came along all that was suddenly washed down the drain’.

Elvis Presley and B.B. King backstage at the WDIA Goodwill Revue at Ellis Auditorium on December 7, 1956.
Elvis supported African-American
functions in Memphis despite local ordinances against it.


Elvis Presley & B.B. King backstage at the WDIA Goodwill Revue.

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“Before Elvis we had Little Black Sambo, separate black restrooms and water fountains, and colored events that kept us away from the whites,” King noted as he mention that Presley would attend events especially designated just for African-Americans.

In June 1956, Presley ignored Memphis’s segregation ordinances by attending ‘colored night’ at the local fairgrounds amusement park.

The following December, King was there as Presley opened up almost unbreakable racial barriers by attending and supporting the segregated WDIA black radio station’s annual fund-raising event for ‘needy Negro children’ at Memphis’ Ellis Auditorium.

King wrote in his autobiography that he ‘liked Elvis. I saw him as a fellow Mississippian. I was impressed by his sincerity. When he came to the Goodwill Review (the event WDIA fund raisers of 1956 and 1957), he did himself proud’.

‘The Goodwill Revues were important’, he wrote. ‘The entire black community turned out. All the DJs carried on, putting on skits and presenting good music’.

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‘When Elvis appeared (in 1956) he was already a big, big star’, King continued. ‘Remember this was the fifties so for a young white boy to show up in an all-black function took guts’.

‘I believe he was showing his roots and he seemed proud of those roots. After the show he made a pint of posing for pictures with metreating me like royalty’, King recalled. ‘He’d tell people I was one of his influences. I doubt whether that’s true but I like hearing Elvis give Memphis credit for his musical upbringing’.

In 1957, Elvis was being accused of singing “Devil’s Music and Rock n’ Roll should not be allowed in” Jersey City, New Jersey. A local minister, Rev. Milton Perry, counseled with the African American community and city officials. He did the research.

Perry solicited the opinions of African Americans and Caucasian (from) Memphis, on the subject of Elvis Presley.

“I found,” he concluded, “than an overwhelming majority of people who know him speak of this boy as a boy who practices humility and a love for racial harmony.

I learned that he is not too proud or important to speak to anyone and to spend time with his fans of whatever color, whenever and wherever they approach him.”

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‘Back in ’72, Elvis helped me get a good gig at the Hilton Hotel while he was playing in the big theater’, King acknowledged in 2010. ‘He put in a call for me and I worked in the lounge to standing room only. Elvis fans came in different colors but their love of good music was all the same. They were always a good audience’.

‘Many nights I’d go upstairs after we finished our sets and go up to his suite’, King confessed. ‘I’d play Lucille (his guitar) and sing with Elvis, or we’d take turns. It was his way of relaxing’.

‘I’ll tell you a secret’, King winked and laughed. ‘We were the original Blues Brothers because that man knew more blues songs that most in the business – and after some nights it felt like we sang everyone one of them. But my point is, that when we were hanging out in the Hilton in the 70s, Elvis had not lost his respect, his ‘yes sir,’ his love for all fields of music. And I liked that’.

At the same time ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ was climbing the charts in March 1956, Billboard magazine featured an article called, ‘Barriers Being Swept Away in C&W, Pop and R&B Fields. ‘Hard and fast cleavages between the country and western, pop, and rhythm and blues fields are rapidly breaking down’, writer Paul Ackerman penned. ‘Perhaps the most interesting example of the breakdown of categories, however, is the current overlapping of the country, rhythm and blues fields … The outstanding example of this type of performer today is Elvis Presley, recently with Sun Records and now on the Victor label’.

When Sam Philips, as Sun Records, released a Presley record, he made sure each bop/rock/pop song had a country tune on the flip side to appeal to both type of listeners. RCA took this innovation even further by marketing Presley in Country, Rhythm and Blues, and Pop fields. By May of 1956, Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ became the first ‘Double-Triple Crown’ in Billboard history.

In his autobiography, King said he held no grudges because ‘Elvis didn’t steal any music from anyone. He just had his own interpretation of the music he’d grown up on, same is true for everyone. I think Elvis had integrity’.

“If anyone says Elvis Presley was a racist’, charged B.B. King in the 2010 interview. ‘Then they don’t know a thing about Elvis Presley or music history.”

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Elvis Presley’s Personal Tribute to Arthur Crudup

Forefather of Rock and Roll Became a Moonshine Bootlegger

“If I had any ambition, it was to be as good as Arthur Crudup,” Elvis Presley once said of the man who wrote “That’s All Right,” his first commercial record release.

In a 1972 conversation in what is now referred to as the “Jungle Room” of Presley’s Memphis home, Graceland, he decided to honor Crudup during his live performances.

“I want to begin each show with That’s All Right Mama,” he announced to friend Charlie Hodge. “If it weren’t for Big Boy, I might not be here today.”

“Big Boy” was Crudup. Elvis had grown up in Tupelo, Mississippi and spent his teenager years listening to many of the Delta Blues singers of his youth.

It was common for Elvis to bestow on friends and relatives special nicknames, perhaps as ordinary as it was for Blues artists to be labeled by their industry.

Elvis and B.B. King, 1956

Riley B. King became B.B. King by WDIA radio, short for “Blues Boy.” Other examples include:

McKinley Morganfield = Muddy Waters
Ellas Bates McDonald= Bo Diddley
Chester Arthur Burnett = Howlin’ Wolf
Eddie Jones = Guitar Slim
Lizzie Douglas = Memphis Minnie


Arthur Dwight Moore = Gatemouth
Samuel Maghett = Magic Sam
John Luther Jones = Casey Jones
Booker T. Washington White = Bukka White = Washington White


Bernard Williams = Bunny Williams
Robert Walker = Bilbo Walker
Thessex Jones = Johnny Drummer
David Edwards = Honeyboy Edwards
Robert Potts = Dr. Feelgood


Richard Harney = Hacksaw Harney
Calvin Jones = Fuzz Jones
Curtis Williams = Mississippi Bo
George Buford = Mojo Buford
Gus Cannon = Banjo Joe


Joe Lee Williams = Big Joe
John Wesley Macon = Mr. Shortstuff
Walter Horton = Shakey = Big Walter
Walter Lewis = Furry Lewis

“During Elvis’s teen years in Memphis he could hear blues on Beale Street, just a mile south of his family’s home,” states the Elvis Presley and the Blues marker at his birthplace in Tupelo.

Elvis recorded two more Crudup songs: “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine.”

Replacing the introduction song “C.C.Rider,” with “That’s All Right” became as much of a fan pleasing  standard as ending each concert with “Can’t Help Falling in Love” until his final 1977 appearance.

Crudup, also known throughout his career as Elmer Crudup and Percy Lee Crudup, was 30 years old when Elvis was born in 1935. He died in 1974 at age 68, not long after Elvis honored him with his opening song.

Born into a family of traveling workers in Forrest, Mississippi, he returned to his birthplace at age 26 to sing Gospel music.

With lessons and mentoring by Papa Harvey, like many musicians from the Delta Blues region, he went to Chicago in 1940.

He’d been a singing member of the Harmonizing Four in Clarksdale, Mississippi and when they travel to Chicago in 1939, he became excited about the developing opportunities.

As a solo artist singing in the streets, record producer Lester Melrose discovered him just in time. Crudup had been living in a packing crate at the 39th Street L Train elevated track.

He was introduced to Tampa Red who advised him to “do what you can do. What you can’t do, forget about it?” 

According to Bill Dahl, a music biographer writing in the All Music Guide, Melrose hired Crudup to play a party one night at the house of Red, a celebrated bluesman from Georgia. The party was attended by other blues stars, including Big Bill Broonzy, Lonnie Johnson and Lil Green.

“A decidedly tough crowd to impress,” Dahl writes, “but Crudup overcame his nervousness with flying colors.”

Red signed him to a contract with the RCA Victor Bluebird label.

“That’s All Right,” along with “Mean Old Frisco Blues” and “Who’s Been Fooling You” became more popular in the South than in Chicago.

Elvis likely first heard “That’s All Right” at age 11, at is peak, in Tupelo. The Presley’s lived adjacent to African-American neighborhoods and often heard the sounds of blues and gospel streaming out of clubs, churches and various venues.

“The lack of prejudice on the part of Elvis Presley,” said Sam Phillips, the Sun Records founder who first recorded Elvis and many Black blues artists before him, “had to be one of the biggest things that ever happened. It was almost subversive, sneaking around through the music, but we hit things a little bit, don’t you think?”

Crudup stopped recording in 1954 before Elvis’s first single appeared,  realizing “I was making everybody rich, and here I was poor.”

Some in the business (and music historians) called Crudup “The Father of Rock and Roll,” others said he was “The Forefather of Rock and Roll.”

Working as a laborer to get by, he returned to the studio and touring in 1965. After royalty disputes, he went back to Mississippi and became a bootlegger.

Later he moved to Virginia to be with family. He worked as a field laborer, sang some and supplied moonshine to juke joints.

There were battles for his royalties the remainder of his life. By 1971, he’d collected about $10,000 in overdue royalties.

His last professional engagements, at blues festivals and college campuses, were with singer Bonnie Raitt.

Besides Elvis, others who covered Crudup’s songs include Rod Stewart,
John Mellencamp, Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, the Beatles. Slade, Led Zeppelin. Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton and Elton John.

“Down in Tupelo, Mississippi,” Elvis once told a white reporter for The Charlotte Observer in 1956, he used to listen to Crudup, who used to “bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”

Famous Celebrity Tour Buses Through the Years

The first celebrity tour bus I ever saw was outside the Municipal Auditorium in San Antonio. Virginia Grimmett, a dear family friend, pointed it out:

“Look Jackie, it’s Claude Kings and Don Gibson’s bus,” she gestured. “I think Minnie Pearl might be in there too.”

As a 7 year old, in 1963, it was incredible to see real Country and Western stars from the Grande Ole Opry stepping out of their own bus.

I remember Pearl greeting us from the stage with her signature, “Howwdy! So glad to be here” and Roy Orbison singing “Only the Lonely” and “In Dreams.” (“Pretty Woman” would not be out until the following year).

But I distinctly recall, after the Opry, standing out in the shivering cold with Mrs. Grimmett, her husband Jimmy, and my parents watching some of the entertainers returning back onto the bus.

What an exciting memory. Little did I know, as an adult I’d actually step inside (or just at the doorway) to meet such stars as B.B. King, Conway Twitty, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Freddy Mercury, Kenny Loggins Jim Messina, Randy Bachman (Bachman-Turner Overdrive), Jackson Browne, and Chubby Checker.

Others I interviewed in their buses included Whiskey Meyers more recently to Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids in the 1970s.

With this fascination and interest in mind, here are some of the most famous celebrity tour buses through the years.

Remembering B.B. King and Robert Johnson

May 14th marked the anniversary of the day B.B. King died during his sleep in Las Vegas in 2015.

On May 27, 2015 his body was flown to Memphis where a bass band marched in front of his hearse for the funeral procession down Beale Street. They played “When the Saints Go Marching In.

He lays in rest at the B.B. King Museum down Route 61 in his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi.

B.B. King, October 10, 2015, Majestic Theater, San Antonio, Texas (Photo: Jack Dennis)

I had the honor of interviewing King in his office/bedroom at the back of his $1.4 million tour bus behind the Majestic Theater in San Antonio.

Typically I interviewed stars in their dressing rooms or a separate room downstairs at the Majestic. When invited to come aboard his 45′ Provost Coach, I was delighted. It definitely added to the personal excitement of meeting King.

Before the greatest bluesman walked walked on stage that Sunday night, October 10, 2010, a gracious audience was already standing.

The B.B. King Blues Band warmed up the crowd to an immediate standing ovation and no one sat down until the King of Blues finally commanded it.

“Thank you San Antonio, please set down,” he grinned and hand motioned everyone down.

The 85-year-old performer remained seated throughout the concert but his voice boomed as strong as ever, even after over 10,000 concerts and 62 years of live shows.

Awarded his 15th Grammy in 2009 in the traditional Blues Album category for “One Small Favor,” King would weave in and out of various classics, like “The Thrill Is Gone,” “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” and “You Are My Sunshine” with a generous slower groove and back to an occasional take-charge seriousness.

“Come on man,” King turned around to his drummer who battled the beats to his licks on the beloved Gibson guitar, Lucille. “You know, I’m from Mississippi…and…I carry a blade!”

King was telling the appreciative audience about the ways of ladies when a woman from the audience seductively walked up towards the stage.

“I’m not saying a word,” King graveled in a half smiling tone. He pulled his head to the side and back–and just watched with intrigue. Fiercely, he blasted Lucille into another roaring blues lick.

Just an hour before, in his bus parked on College Street behind the theater, King told me about the time– a few years before Elvis Presley walked into Sam Phillips’ Recording Service at Sun Studios in Memphis– that he walked in as Riley B. King to begin his recording career in 1951.

When he was barely 11 years old, one of King’s greatest influences was working across the street from the Majestic Theater recording his first songs.

In 1937, a seed of Rhythm and Blues was historically planted on the corner of Houston and St. Mary’s streets in what some call the “Magical Corner” of San Antonio.

Far from the Mississippi Delta, were an unhappy Robert Johnson was unwilling to stay trapped in the sharecropper’s world of backbreaking work with such little return, the young man recorded sixteen songs in the Gunter Hotel.

Robert Johnson invented the Blues at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, 1937.

It changed the music world forever. Even today, artists like Eric Clapton and John Cougar Mellencamp pay homage to Robert Johnson’s contribution at that building. Some even come to record in the same room their inspiration did.

Young Riley King would listen to Johnson regularly.

“It gives me good feelings, just knowing I’m right across the street tonight from where he recorded way back then,” he smiled.

B.B. King, the most popular bluesman the universe has ever known, engraved the Blues in the solid rock of our American culture. His fifty-plus albums produced 15 Grammy Awards and earned him inductions in the Blues Foundation and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Note: I was so intrigued with B.B. Kings touring coach, I later did more research.

The plush motorcoach had over $200,000 worth of electronics inside. Superior Interiors of Nashville customized the inside and Digital Home Lifestyles of Phoenix installed electronics.

The bus too over 100 hours of design time and 300 hours of installation. He had over 20,000 CDs and 6,000 DVDs to access and enjoy at his whim.