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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Elvis Presley, Colonel Parker, Tom Hanks and Lida Keijzer

Elvis Presley remains front and center in the hearts and minds of millions of fans from around the world. 

GRACELAND

Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee consistently receives between 600,000 to 750,000 visitors a year over the last decade. In the four years prior to pandemic 2020, attendance was up roughly 35,000 visitors annually. A couple of years ago, Elvis Presley Enterprises opened 200,000 square feet of new exhibits, museums and performance space across the street at Graceland Plaza.

Jack & Dodie, Graceland June, 2020

The redevelopment was part of a $137 million master-planned overhaul of the Graceland campus, which began in the fall of 2016 with the opening of 450-room resort hotel The Guest House at Graceland. The economic impact of Graceland’s expansion has been estimated at more than $1.1 billion.

“My view is that Elvis, along with a few other people, started pop culture as we know it,” Joel Weinshanker, Graceland’s managing partner said before the pandemic hit hard. “We will have more visitors this year than we did in the first year Graceland was opened…It will be his best year.”

“Our largest specific demographic is 20-something women,” Weinshanker said. “That’s who’s interested in Elvis. Also, with the expansion, we’ve seen the number of children and families doubling. Young couples in their 20s and 30s, that’s a demographic we’ve had forever, but now with the hotel, they’re bringing their kids. And in the process, they’re fostering a new generation of Elvis fans.”

NEW MOVIE, COLONEL PARKER

A new biopic movie about Elvis and his controversial manager, Colonel Tom Parker is currently filming and is due to be released November 5, 2021.

To play the role of Elvis’ manager, Tom Hanks has shaved his head bald and admitted he doesn’t look anything like The Colonel.

The 64-year-old said: “Let’s just say the people who played gorillas in Planet of the Apes spent less time in the make-up chair than I did on this movie.”

According to the official synopsis, Elvis is “seen through the prism of [Presley’s] complicated relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The film delves into the complex dynamic between Presley and Parker spanning over 20 years, from Presley’s rise to fame to his unprecedented stardom, against the backdrop of the evolving cultural landscape and loss of innocence in America. Central to that journey is one of the most significant and influential people in Elvis’s life, Priscilla Presley.”

Colonel Tom Parker was born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk on June 26, 1909, in Breda, Netherlands.


At age 20, he came to America by ship and kept his identity secret. He worked for circus carnivals and joined the U.S. Army. Later, he launched a career as a country music promoter.

About 160 miles northeast of Breda, is Veendam, Netherlands where one of the most remarkable Elvis Presley fans of all time, Lida Keijzer lives.

LIDA KEIJZER, SUPER FAN

Lida Keijzer was born in March 1968, just three months before Elvis began filming and recording at the Burbank Studios in California for what is now known as his “’68 Comeback” television special. 

Lida has been a lifelong and devoted Presley fan. Little did her family realize the talented Lida would grow up to become one of the most loyal and steadfast fans in Elvis Presley history.

Beginning in May 2015, Lida began a meticulous project that has earned her worldwide recognition and the opportunity to meet Priscilla Presley and many others who were a part of the Elvis’ life before his death on August 16, 1977.

Her goal was to build a miniature dollhouse-like version of Graceland, the Memphis, Tennessee mansion of Elvis that he bought for his family in 1957.

Virtually every day for years–based on photographs and any printed material she could find–Lida began sawing, cutting, sculpting, sewing and painting an elaborate, detailed mini-Graceland.

Keijzer’s Graceland replica.

When I first wrote about her in 2016,  the articles took off like Elvis’ first release out of the army:  “It’s Now or Never,” a bullet racing up the Top Ten charts of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and Billboard. One of the articles was read by over a million people around the world in a matter of days.

In January 2017, through a GoFundMe account set up by Kathy Savelio, other Elvis fans and a friend, Lida was able to travel to the United States and visit Graceland, Sun Studio in Memphis and the Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi.

She met Elvis Presley Enterprise officials, musicians, singers, people in Elvis’ life and many fans she had been corresponding with through social media.

In Europe, she met Priscilla Presley during a concert tour with a live band and orchestra performing to a backdrop of Elvis singing on giant screens.

Lida didn’t stop with just the Graceland mansion. She expanded it to include the famous gates, guard house, and stone wall, landscaping, the drive, the swimming pool, Meditation Gardens and the burial site of the Presley family.

She sculpted the “Lisa Marie,” Elvis’s personal jet he named after his daughter.

Painting steps of Tupelo birthhouse.

Then, out of popsicle sticks, she built a replica of the Tupelo birth house.

More recently, Lida has built her detailed replica of Sun Studio and Vernon Presley’s (his father) office building, Lisa Marie’s swing set and the smokehouse-target practice room.

Replica of SUN Studio

Diehard Fans Will Enjoy New Book of Elvis Presley’s Teenage Fate With Sun Studio


 The recorded voice of Elvis Presley has been has been heard by more people than any other voice in history.

More photographs of Elvis have been taken than any other entertainer in history.

More articles have been written of Elvis than any entertainer.

More books have been written about Elvis than any other entertainer.

More people visit Graceland in Memphis and Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo than any American each year.

I’ve known and admired many Elvis fans since the early 1970s during the days of his record setting concerts across America. Some I classify as Superfans. Loyalists like Carol Nowell, Sherry Evans, Kathy Savelio, Vera Burford, Cissie Lowe Young are just a few that immediately come to mind as people I would nominate if there was an Elvis Fan Hall of Fame.

Charter members would include:

Lida Kiejzer, from Holland spent years, with painstaking detail, creating miniature replicas of Graceland and the Tupelo birth house.

Becky Yancey, who was Elvis’ secretary and a confidant from March 1962 to July 1974. I’m honored to be her Facebook friend. Her book “My Life With Elvis” was the first honest book I read about him in 1977.

Mindi Miller, a devoted girlfriend to Elvis since 1975 has remained steadfast in her love and remembrances through the years.

Don Wilson, who has hung out with and faithfully chronicled the life of Elvis friends, relatives, associates and other actors over the years.

There are so many to name and admire, but without reservation, the most intriguing are those aficionado types who study, research and nearly obsess about the life and mind of Elvis.

One such Superfan is Darrin Lee Memmer, who has written at least a score of books on Elvis. 

A few days before Dodie and I embarked on our month long roadtrip in June 2020, Darrin’s late book, a curiously titled “ELVIS, The Hand of Fate & SUN,” was published. I ordered it through Amazon, knowing I wouldn’t be reading it until our return home.

During out trip we visited many Elvis sites including his Killeen, Texas rented home in 1958 near Ft. Hood, his memorial at the home of the Louisiana Hayride, Circle G Ranch, Graceland, Audubon house, Humes High School, Lauderdale Courts, and SUN Studio.

When I mentioned we’d be going to Tupelo, both Darrin and Mindi Miller said they found it a different experience–more “spiritual” and “soulful” than Graceland. They were right. To get the same effect at the Memphis mansion, I had to walk away from the tourism and set alone in the back yard for a while.

I decided to wait until today, in fact, I began last night, the 43rd anniversary of Elvis’ death to read Darrin’s book. Like many fans, it’s our own “personal holiday” set aside for reflection, music and memories. I’m glad I waited until after I experienced some of these locations. It made the book even more meaningful.

I was somewhat surprised and humbled to be listed alongside the names of Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley, Mindi Miller, Scottie Moore, Kathy Westmoreland, TCB Radio Network, and others on page 14 as a reference in his research.

For the most die-hard fan, Darrin offers a detailed analysis into some of the most sacred moments in music history–especially the defining experiences of “Elvis Presley the teenager” during high school and into Sun Studio.

He actually interviewed some of Elvis’ classmates and neighbors that we are fortunate to still be around to provide intimate insight. The result is a analysis so detailed, Darrin compares the minute features of  lyrics between studio takes and other artists.

Just from reading this book (and scanning the titles of his other Amazon offerings) it’s obvious he takes on some of the misinformation and misinterpreted stories of Elvis’s life. In the Elvis World, there are occassional threads offering different and sometimes skewed opinions of history. Darrin is tenacious in weeding the tales from the truth.

Darrin shows his references in detail and describes his research including
“access to primary source materials, and interviews with those who were there at the time.”

It took me a chapter or two to jive with his writing style, but once I figured it out (he uses “your author” to describe himself or nicknames like “”Cat” for Elvis, for instance), it was no different than doing the same during opening scenes of a movie.

The book title threw me off, until I read it. He explains that it’s drawn from Marion Keisker, Rufus Thomas and Sam Phillips quotes. If you’re beyond casual fan level, you recognize those names.

“It was Elvis who said in a ’56 interview (by Louis F. Larkin, a piece called “God is my Refuge”) that his success in entertainment had to be “a Plan of God.”

Of special interest for me are the never-before-read eyewitness accounts of Elvis’ 12th grade Carnival Variety Show performance and Sun Studio recordings.

Marion Keisker’s account of Elvis’s first record being played on the radio.

“By the time the evening was over, we knew that we had a big hit,” she said. “I never saw it happen with any other record…by a complete unknown…that sounds so different and so packed with excitement–that before it even played one minute, the public reacted immediately. And I have always found that to be true, since then. Now matter how you feel about how you act to Elvis, you react.”

“It’s impossible to remain neutral about Elvis Presley and one of his performances. You feel something and you feel it very intensely…”

I will be ordering another of Darrin’s Elvis books today. 

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How Elvis Became a Guitar Man

Walking into Tupelo Hardware, I wondered how Elvis Presley felt when his mother Gladys took him there for his eleventh birthday, on January 8, 1946.

It wasn’t too long after his very first public performance, singing “Old Shep” at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair children’s talent competition the previous October 3rd.

October 3, 1945

Forrest L. Bobo, was working at the hardware store and remembered Elvis “wanted a 22 cal. rifle and his mother wanted him to buy a guitar.”

“I showed him the rifle first and then I got the guitar for him to look at,” Bobo wrote in 1979. “I put a wood box behind the showcase and let him play with the guitar for some time.”

Today, an X marks the spot where Elvis made the transaction. It was nice to stand and ponder how that location changed history.

“X” marks the spot.
Photo: Jack Dennis

“Then he said that he did not have that much money, which was only $7.75 plus 2% sales tax. His mother told him that if he would buy the guitar instead of the rifle, she would pay the difference for him.”

“The papers have said that the guitar cost $12.50 but at that time you could have bought a real nice one that amount. The small amount of money that he had to spend had been earned by running errands and doing small jobs for people.”

Elvis has pure raw talent and passion, but he needed help developing his musical gifts.

Enter Frank Smith. Local pastor, neighbor and guitar picker.

Smith would always remain humble about how much credit to take for teaching Elvis guitar.

“I would show him some runs and different chords (D, A and E) from what he was learning in his book. That was all: not enough to say I taught him how to play, but I helped him.”

“That was all.” What a striking reflection.

How many people played guitar within a three mile radius of the Presley house in East Tupelo in the mid-1940s? We’ll never know.

Here’s the better question. How many people took the time to teach a younger musician what they knew about playing guitar?

We know at least one did, and his name was Frank Smith.

One mentor’s “that was all” may be another person’s “that was everything.”

More Suggested Road Trips Opened for COVID-19 Season

American workers, happy to be returning to the travel, food and hospitality fields, are welcoming us back with open arms–only six feet away.

We had wonderful feedback after posting several articles about our recent 32-day, 4500 mile roadtrip from the Texas Hill Country through much of the South, Washington D.C. (for July 4th), to part of the Midwest and back.

We enjoyed Gatlinburg in early July.

Like so many travelers, we learned that our preconceived ideas manifested from mainstream news (and the continually changing regulations around COVID-19) were blown away with the reality we experienced.

Reader feedback confirms what we are seeing: routes and destinations are open to travelers, including campers with self-contained RVs,  virtually everywhere.

Except in the most restricted areas–as determined by local politicians–most restaurants and stores are open with COVID-19 restrictions varying by state, city and location.

We often have trip themes to help make planning and experiences fun.
For example, our “Elvis Presley Roadtrip” took us chronologically to the King of Rock n’ Roll’s rented house while in boot camp at Ft. Hood, Texas. In Shreveport, we stopped at his statue in front of the venue he played on weekends for the Louisiana Hayride radio broadcasts.

We journeyed up the Delta Blues Highway 61 in Mississippi to Memphis. Graceland, Sun Studio, his first house on Audubon Street and other sites chronicled his life at home. Tupelo, his birthplace, revealed much about his childhood and roots.

Per your requests and shared information, here are updates on more great RV, camper and biker road trips around the country.

East Coast Lighthouses

The Atlantic coast provides picturesque lighthouse themed road trip opportunities. With beautiful beaches and lighthouses dotting the coast, there are comfortably accommodating routes. Some of the best East Coast lighthouses locations include:

Cape Cod, MA

Assateague State Park, MD

North Carolina’s Outer Banks (Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Bodie Island)

Hunting Island State Park, SC

Tybee Island, GA

St. Augustine, FL

Maine also has several lighthouses, including the iconic Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park. But as of today, July 25, 2020,  Maine currently has a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for any visitors who are not New Hampshire or Vermont residents.

For the remainder of summer, lighthouses located in the Mid-Atlantic and South will likely be the most accessible.

Route 66 West

In our previous post, we offered information on Historic Route 66 in the Midwest, specifically Missouri through Oklahoma. We’ve since learned the Texas Panhandle through Arizona is fairly wide open.

Going West from Oklahoma, check out the Leaning Britten Water Tower on I-40 at exit 114 in Groom, Texas. The water tower, signage, and geography was the inspiration for the Pixar animated “Cars” movie series. The tower was deliberately constructed to lean to one side to catch our eye and get us to stop in Groom. 

Also in Groom, a giant Cross with statues depicting Biblical scenes is garnering much attention.

The Big Texan Restaurant in Amarillo is open. (7701 E. Interstate 40 Amarillo, TX 806-372-6000). With souvenirs galore, this famous steakhouse has been a Route 66 icon since 1960. It is home to the “Free 72 oz. Steak.” If you can eat their 72 oz. steak dinner in one hour, you’ll get it free.

After leaving The Lone Star State on the New Mexico border at Glenrio, Texas, Route 66 continued west in its original 1926 alignment, through Tucumcari, Cuervo, and Santa Rosa before turning north for Santa Fe.

From the capital city, it ran southwest thru Albuquerque and Grants to Gallup near the Arizona border.

In later years, it would continue west from the Santa Rosa area through Clines Corner on a more direct route to Albuquerque.

Arizona, always a favorite Route 66 destination, has many miles of original roadbeds still open–and minimal congestion on most segments.

The largest city on this route is Flagstaff, with only about 74,000 residents. Other stops along the way are smaller towns where excellent traffic conditions offer a great Route 66 theme drive in Arizona: Holbrook, Winslow, Flagstaff, Williams, Ash Fork, Seligman, Kingman and Oatman.

Some of today’s journey is on I-40, which parallels the old Route 66 in many places. Some RVers drive the segments of the original road where it still remains. Exits from I-40 onto Route 66 are marked in many locales.

Driving time non-stop from Lupton (near Gallup) at the New Mexico border to Oatman is about six hours. We usually split the trip up into at least two or three days, or more if we elect to camp for longer periods of time along the way.

At this point we usually try to carve out time to visit Grand Canyon National Park. It’s possible to visit South Rim with day passes at the southern entrances near Tusayan. Limited overnight accommodations are available, so book your campground reservations early.

I don’t have much personal experience with Route 66 in California, although about six years ago I did see an “End of the Trail” sign on the Santa Monica Pier.

American Mountains West

The motherlode of RV road trips for many, a usual America Mountains West tour begins in Colorado. There are good campgrounds all around Colorado Springs. Journeying outside Denver lets you visit Estes National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. The national parks may have timed entries, so advanced planning is important.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs.

We’re hearing Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is controlling the amount of visitors they are allowing and are busy. Good luck.

U.S. Grand Teton National Park, also in Wyoming, is following a phased reopening too, but one reader said it was fairly wide open in mid-July. She also mentioned Montana’s Glacier National Park is real good since they started increasing recreational access in early June 2020.

Due to the temporary closure of the United States and Canada border, visiting the Canadian or Alaskan portions of the Rockies may not be possible.

South Dakota’s Black Hills

Since President Trump visited Mount Rushmore on July 3rd, the area has welcomed more visitors.

The Black Hills in western South Dakota are good for experiencing a different set of mountains. It’s about a 6-hour drive (390 miles) from Denver to Rapid City. You’re also 7 hours (426 miles) from Yellowstone National Park to Rapid City.

Key Black Hills landmarks include:

Custer State Park

Spearfish Canyon

Crazy Horse Memorial

Mt. Rushmore

Deadwood

The Black Hills Wine Trail can be a relaxing way to see the Black Hills region. Many South Dakota wineries began reopening in late May. I’m told most are now open.

California

California is hit and miss and is gradually reopening for tourism. Others are telling us to stay away from San Francisco and Los Angeles for various reasons.

My personal experience has been driving from Napa Valley south along California Highway 1 (CA-1). It allowed us to drive on the lanes closest to the Pacific coastline. It actually is one of most scenic in the state, but I have to admit we drove it in a car, not an RV.

California’s Yosemite National Park is a must-see, but note that you currently need reservations. During the initial reopening phase, the park was issuing up to 1,700 day passes with limited operating hours. As of June 25, 2020, you can visit most of the key landmarks, including:

Yosemite Valley

Glacier Point

Mariposa Grove

Hetch Hetchy

Other inland California landmarks include the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. These parks can be a great option if you want to see more Giant Sequoias than what Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove offers. 

Final Thoughts

Although most states are RV-friendly this summer despite the coronavirus travel restrictions, there are a few cautions. We’ve heard Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, St. Louis, Milwaukee and New York City areas are not recommended.

Some states, including Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, are currently only open to regional residents.

Many state and private campgrounds began reopening in May or June. We highly recommend you make reservations to secure your spots. Unlike previous camping seasons, some campground shower and bathroom facilities may not be open, but since June 19th (in the South, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions) they were all available.

However some rest stops had restrooms closed and water fountains off. But they tended to be more open as we moved through July.  As RVs are self-contained, you should be okay in most places.

True Things We Didn’t Know About States Until We Visited Them

We left the Texas Hill Country on June 19th on a roadtrip through the South. On our 28th day (We’re in Oklahoma City), we sharing some interesting facts about each state we’ve learned along the way.

Louisiana

Louisiana has the longest coastline (15,000 miles) of any other state in the U.S.

Louisiana makes up approximately 41% of the wetlands in the U.S.

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway at 23.83 miles in Metairie is the longest continuous bridge over water in the world.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed and killed (Bonnie struck 53 times and Clyde struck 51 times) by Louisiana and Texas state police near Bienville Parish, Louisiana. Bonnie was married to another man and never divorced him. The Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland, Louisiana, is located a few miles away from their death site.

In 1977, Luisa Harris, the only woman in U.S. history to officially be drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA), was drafted by the New Orleans Jazz basketball team.

In 2010, the world’s record for the largest pot of gumbo was set by award-winning chef, John David Folse. The pot served 10,000 people. It contained 50 pounds of white crab meat, 85 pounds of oysters, 100 pounds of crab claws, 200 pounds of alligator meat, 450 pounds of catfish, and 750 pounds of shrimp.

Mississippi

In 1963 the University of Mississippi Medical Center accomplished the world’s first human lung transplant and, on January 23, 1964, Dr. James D. Hardy performed the world’s first heart transplant surgery.

In 1902 while on a hunting expedition in Sharkey County, President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt refused to shoot a captured bear. This act resulted in the creation of the world-famous teddy bear.

In 1884 the concept of selling shoes in boxes in pairs (right foot and left foot) occurred in Vicksburg at Phil Gilbert’s Shoe Parlor on Washington Street.

Guy Bush of Tupelo was one of the most valuable players with the Chicago Cubs. He was on the 1929 World Series team and Babe Ruth hit his last home run off a ball pitched by Bush.

Root beer was invented in Biloxi in 1898 by Edward Adolf Barq, Sr.

Tennessee

There are more horses per capita in Shelby County than any other county in the United States.

Davy Crockett was not born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, as the song says. He was born on the banks of Limestone Creek near Greeneville, where a replica of the Crockett’s log cabin stands today.

David Crockett

The capitol building was designed by noted architect William Strickland, who died during its construction and is buried within its walls.

Tennessee ranks number one among other states in the total number of soldiers who fought in the War Between the States.

The name “Tennessee” originated from the old Yuchi Indian word, “Tana-see,” meaning “The Meeting Place.”

Coca-Cola was first bottle in 1899 at a plant on Patten Parkway in downtown Chattanooga after two local attorneys purchased the bottling rights to the drink for $l.00.

Cumberland University, located in Lebanon, lost a football game to Georgia Tech on October 7, 1916 by a score of 222 to 0. The Georgia Tech coach was George Heisman for whom the Heisman Trophy is named.

Alabama

In 2004, Chad Fell of Haleyville was certified by the Guinness World Records for blowing the World’s Largest Bubblegum Bubble, Unassisted (without use of his hands) at Double Springs High School in Winston County. He used three pieces of Dubble Bubble gum.

In October of 1989, residents of Fort Payne built a cake to celebrate the city’s centennial. The 12-layer cake was 32 feet wide and 80 feet long and weighed 128,238 pounds. It was certified by Guinness World Records as the World’s Largest Cake.

The country’s first 911 call was made on February 16, 1968, in Haleyville. Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite went to City Hall and called U.S. Representative Tom Bevill, who was at the local police station. The red phone used is on display in City Hall.

The actors who portrayed Goober and Gomer, fictional cousins on the Andy Griffith Show, were both born in Alabama. Jim Nabors, “Gomer,” was born in 1930 in Sylacauga. He died Nov. 30, 2017. George Lindsey, “Goober,” was born in 1928 in Fairfield. He died in 2012.

Virginia

About 1/2 of all the people in the United States live within a 500 mile radius of the Capital of Virginia.

Over 1/2 the battles fought in the civil war were fought in Virginia. Over 2,200 of the 4,000 battles.

The first Thanksgiving in North America was held in Virginia in 1619.

Yorktown is the site of the final victory of the American Revolution.

The first English colony in America was located on Roanoke Island. Walter Raleigh founded it. The colony mysteriously vanished with no trace except for the word “Croatoan” scrawled on a nearby tree.

Mount Mitchell in the Blue Ridge Mountains is the highest peak east of the Mississippi. It towers 6,684 feet above sea level.

Washington D.C.

Herbert Hoover and John Quincy Adams had pet alligators in the White House.

To date, nobody has beat Jimmy Carter’s record of watching 480 movies in the White House movie theater.

Washington DC is missing “J” Street. It uses letters for streets traveling east to west. But numbers are also used for streets. I was told it’s because “J” and “I” look too similar on street signs.

There’s a crypt under the Capitol building that was made for George Washington. Although he was not buried there, the crypt still exists; they also had a viewing chamber built so people could go by and see him.

John Adams was actually the first president to live in the White House. George Washington never lived there; it was built after he died.

There are 35 bathrooms in the White House. There are also 132 rooms and 6 levels in the residence. Even more staggering are the 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases and 3 elevators.

There’s only one U.S. president buried in Washington D.C. Woodrow Wilson is entombed at Washington National Cathedral.

Missouri

The first successful parachute jump to be made from a moving airplane was made by Captain Berry at St. Louis, in 1912.

The most destructive tornado on record occurred in Annapolis. In 3 hours, it tore through the town on March 18, 1925 leaving a 980-foot wide trail of demolished buildings, uprooted trees, and overturned cars. It left 823 people dead and almost 3,000 injured.

At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Richard Blechyden, served tea with ice and invented iced tea.

Also, at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, the ice cream cone was invented. An ice cream vendor ran out of cups and asked a waffle vendor to help by rolling up waffles to hold ice cream.

The Arch has foundations sunken 60 feet into the ground, and is built to withstand earthquakes and high winds. It sways up to one inch in a 20 mph wind, and is built to sway up to 18 inches.

The most powerful earthquake to strike the United States occurred in 1811, centered in New Madrid, Missouri. The quake shook more than one million square miles, and was felt as far as 1,000 miles away.

During Abraham Lincoln’s campaign for the presidency, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat named Valentine Tapley from Pike County, Missouri, swore that he would never shave again if Abe were elected. Tapley kept his word and his chin whiskers went unshorn from November 1860 until he died in 1910, attaining a length of twelve feet six inches.

Situated within a day’s drive of 50% of the U.S. population, Branson and the Tri-Lakes area serves up to 65,000 visitors daily. Branson has been a “rubber tire” destination with the vast majority of tourists arriving by vehicles, RVs and tour buses. Branson has also become one of America’s top motor coach vacation destinations with an estimated 4,000 buses arriving each year.

Indiana

The first professional baseball game was played in Fort Wayne on May 4, 1871.

Santa Claus, Indiana receives over one half million letters and requests at Christmas time.

Deep below the earth in Southern Indiana is a sea of limestone that is one of the richest deposits of top-quality limestone found anywhere on earth. New York City’s Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center as well as the Pentagon, the U.S. Treasury, a dozen other government buildings in Washington D.C. as well as 14 state capitols around the nation are built from this sturdy, beautiful Indiana limestone.

In 1934 Chicago Gangster John Dillinger escaped the Lake Country Jail in Crown Point by using a “pistol” he had carved from a wooden block.

Comedian Red Skelton, who created such characters as Clem Kadiddlehopper, and Freddie the Freeloader, was born in Vincennes.

Arkansas

Alma claims to be the Spinach Capital of the World, but Texas knows Crystal City really is.

A person from Arkansas is called an Arkansan.

The state contains six national park sites, two-and-a half million acres of national forests, seven national scenic byways, three state scenic byways, and 50 state parks.

North Carolina

The Venus Fly-Trap is native to Hampstead.

The first miniature golf course was built in Fayetteville.

Babe Ruth hit his first home run in Fayetteville on March 7, 1914.

North Carolina has the largest state-maintained highway system in the United States. The state’s highway system currently has 77,400 miles of roads.

West Virginia

On January 26, 1960 Danny Heater, a student from Burnsville, scored 135 points in a high school basketball game earning him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Nearly 75% of West Virginia is covered by forests.

Outdoor advertising had its origin in Wheeling about 1908 when the Block Brothers Tobacco Company painted bridges and barns with the wording: “Treat Yourself to the Best, Chew Mail Pouch.”

Bailey Brown, the first Union solider killed in the Civil War, died on May 22, 1861, at Fetterman, Taylor County.

The first brick street in the world was laid in Charleston, West Virginia, on October 23, 1870, on Summers Street, between Kanawha and Virginia Streets.

Oklahoma

Boise City, Oklahoma was the only city in the United States to be bombed during World War II. On Monday night, July 5, 1943, at approximately 12:30 a.m., a B-17 Bomber based at Dalhart Army Air Base (50 miles to the south of Boise City) dropped six practice bombs on the sleeping town.

Sooners is the name given to settlers who entered the Unassigned Lands in what is now the state of Oklahoma before the official start of the Land Rush of 1889.

The world’s first installed parking meter was in Oklahoma City, on July 16, 1935. Carl C. Magee, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is generally credited with originating the parking meter. He filed for a patent for a “coin controlled parking meter” on May 13, 1935.

During a tornado in Ponca City, a man and his wife were carried aloft in their house by a tornado. The walls and roof were blown away. But the floor remained intact and eventually glided downward, setting the couple safely back on the ground.

Bob Dunn a musician from Beggs invented the first electric guitar in 1935.

Oklahoma has more man-made lakes than any other state, with over one million surface acres of water.

Kentucky

Cheeseburgers were first served in 1934 at Kaolin’s restaurant in Louisville.

Chevrolet Corvettes are manufactured in Bowling Green.

Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest cave and was first promoted in 1816, making it the second oldest tourist attraction in the United States. Niagara Falls, New York is first.

The song “Happy Birthday to You” was the creation of two Louisville sisters in 1893.

Daniel Boone and his wife Rebecca are buried in the Frankfort Cemetery. Their son Isaac is buried at Blue Licks Battlefield near Carlisle, where he was killed in the last battle of the Revolutionary War fought in Kentucky.

Boone Gravesite

The public saw an electric light for the first time in Louisville. Thomas Edison introduced his incandescent light bulb to crowds at the Southern Exposition in 1883.

The radio was invented by a Kentuckian named Nathan B. Stubblefield of Murray in 1892. It was three years before Marconi made his claim to the invention.

Joe Bowen holds the world record for stilt walking endurance. He walked 3,008 miles on stilts between Bowen, Kentucky to Los Angeles, California.

Miscellaneous

The most fun Dodie and I have experienced so far was riding the mile long Branson Sawmill Coaster. We were able to control the speed of our individual coaster pods.

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 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

Presley’s Cousin Harold Loyd Reveals Secrets of Young Elvis

In 1976, I spent a week in Memphis meeting and interviewing as many Elvis Presley fans, employees and family members as I could.

Lucky for me, I was able to actually have a brief interview with Elvis, which was not an easy task for a 20-year-old journalist from San Antonio.

One of the most memorable parts of my trip was spending some nights hanging out with Graceland gate guard Harold Loyd–Elvis’ first cousin. Their mothers were sisters.

Elvis 1957 at Graceland gates.

NOTE: This is from my original articles for newspapers and magazines published in 1994 (before Internet took off) around the globe and from posts and blogs in October 2015, now updated.

Now resting in peace, longer than he lived, the life of Elvis Presley is more than a nostalgic memory in the minds of his family, friends and dedicated fans. To some of the most devoted, it continues to be a fascination, pastime, or even a way of life.

For years after Presley’s death, surviving relatives would speak of him as if he were sometimes still alive. Revealed today for the first time, are little known secrets disclosed by a close relative of Presley who happened to work at the legend’s home for almost four decades.

“Elvis is good to his family and he is good to his fans,” Harold Loyd said it in a way that Elvis was alive in 1992, some fifteen years after his first cousin died on August 16, 1977. ‘He would love knowing that fans still come to Graceland. He loves his fans.”

In May 1976, I first met Loyd at the famous musical gates at the entrance of Presley’s home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee. Besides being a loyal cousin to the King of Rock and Roll, Loyd was obviously a dedicated ambassador to the fans who came daily to visit the mansion.

Loyd was generous with information and praise for Presley as he agreed to sit down at the Graceland gate guard shack for conversation and interviews each evening for a few days.

“Elvis first gave me a job here in 1961,” Loyd explained. “I worked as a groundskeeper, digging and planting flowers and shrubs, but soon I worked my way up to security and gatekeeper. I’ve been doing this ever since and I love it.”

“Elvis has always been very good to me,” Loyd continued. “Anytime I ever got into any kind of trouble or type of jam, he would always help me. He’d give me money-handfuls of money or write me a check—or he would send someone to pick me up if my truck wouldn’t start. Simple things. People think they might know Elvis as the singer and movie star, but I am here to tell you he is more generous and full of love than any man I have ever met.”

Loyd explained that his mother, Rhetha, and Elvis’ mother, Gladys were sisters from a family of eight siblings. During the interview, Loyd remained protective of Presley and would skirt around his answers to 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.

“Our grandparents, the father and mother of our mothers, were Bob and Doll Smith,” Loyd explained in 1992. “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 said. “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 she 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.”

Elvis cousins Billy Smith and Harold Loyd leading the first Candlelight Ceremony at Graceland.

“You see, Elvis and I loved comic books, and we would trade or swap out our comics with each other all the time,” Loyd told. “When we were younger and I’d come over to play or they would come to visit us when my mother was still around, Elvis and I shared and played with each other’s toys.”

“Elvis told me later that when his other cousins came over they would not take care of them and tear them up and not help put them away,” Loyd continued. “But with me, I took care of his toys as he did with the few I had—and we always helped each other put them up.”

In 1976, the public did not know about Elvis’ father, Vernon Presley being imprisoned for a while for a forged check. The information did not come out until after Presley’s death, as the few family members that did know about it kept it very quiet to protect his image. In 1992, meeting him again, 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 (their hometown, where Presley was born) jail waiting for a trial.”

“Travis Smith, the brother of mine and Elvis’ mother, 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.”

“Gladys lost the house and her and Elvis moved in next door to live with Vernon’s brother,” Loyd added. “We all lived near each other and they began to just hop around from family to family until Vernon could get out.”

“It was real tough on Aunt Gladys,” he continued. “You know, we were all just Mississippi dirt poor. Many times Elvis played with Black children. They were his friends. And sometimes he was babysat by their mamas or other Black ladies. It was natural and necessary. Where we lived, we were just neighbors. He didn’t learn prejudice. They were his playmates. A few times we’d go listen to the chorus rehearsing at the Church.”

“Elvis always remained friends and respected everyone,” he emphasized. “The music, the Delta music was full of gospel and blues. These were the main influences.”

“Elvis told me years later that I would never have to worry about money or a job,” Loyd continued. “He said he will always remember how kind we were to them and that he could always depend on us. Just thinking about how much Elvis cared for me and our family and how he took care of us—and he didn’t owe any of us a thing—well, I love him and I miss him every day?”

“When Elvis was in about the first or second grade–it was during World War II– Gladys was pregnant again,” Lloyd said. “Vernon had to go away for work with the WPA and one day Gladys had to go to the hospital. She miscarried that baby. That was two she lost because she lost Jesse Garon (Elvis’ twin brother, who died during birth on January 8, 1935). We were all real worried about her because she almost died when Elvis was born and they had to take them to the hospital then, too.”

“We always said that was why she was so protective of Elvis. When those two were together they were so close, they would pet each other and talk a different language that hardly any of us could understand. They were just remarkable in how much they loved and cared for each other. It was about the saddest day when Aunt Gladys died. I rushed as fast as I could to Memphis (from Mississippi) to get to Elvis that day.”

Vernon and Elvis on Graceland front steps after death of Gladys. 1958.