Robert Van Beek Interview

Author of 'Elvis: Prodigy of SUN Records'

- EIN Interview by Piers Beagley - December 2022

In this new book hundreds of hours of research through digital libraries have revealed new facts and interesting anecdotes from Elvis' early life and career. From Old Saltillo Rd to the magic of SUN recording studios, the first Louisiana Hayride appearances and everything in between.
This book is filled with a string of never-before-seen photos dated from 1935 till 1955.

Many of Elvis' early childhood friends share their memories in these two books. Elvis' time in primary and secondary school is extensively discussed as well as his first loves (not only girls) and his roots for Gospel music. It incudes a collection of jaw-dropping photos and, of course, the near to complete story from Elvis' birth until his big break in 1955.

As the book hits the printers EIN is delighted to be able to talk with the author Robert Van Beek to find out more...

EIN's Piers Beagley asked the questions..

EIN: Hi Robert, the last time we chatted was over a year ago when you were working as the designer on the beautiful The Airplanes & The King book.

What made you then start working on this brand new 'Elvis: Prodigy of SUN Records' book? Did you approach Erik or was it a mutual idea?

Robert Van Beek: Hi Piers, first of all thank you for inviting me to this interview. Yes, it was not long ago we talked over, discussed about and worked on Carlos' book "The Airplanes & The King" and look where we are now. A whole year and a new project further along.

OK, this takes a little more time to explain and I don't want to bore you. Three years ago Erik asked me which Elvis project I would like to see released. To keep it very short and crystal clear: 1935-1955 (1956-1958 too!) This is the period of Elvis where my heart lies. Whammm ─ I knocked Erik out in 10 seconds of the first round, . . . Erik was in, although he did 'The Elvis Files Vol.1 1953-1956' years before but that one was far from complete.

EIN: How long have you been working on this book?

RvB: With breaks . . . about three years Piers. Including the title - logo, the promo cards, lay-out for the album and everything else.

EIN: The book is divided into two sections. Am I right in thinking that you wrote the first book? It has such a stunning cover with Elvis looking so young, and spotty! Did you have other contributors and how did you and Erik decide who would use what photos?

RvB: Correct, 1935-1954 is almost completely by me. Nearly 300 pages from my pen. All photos in my part have been collected and selected by undersigned. If there are any errors, this is entirely up to me and no one else’s. I am ultimately responsible. How beautiful is it Piers to turn a penned dream into printing reality? Hundreds of hours behind your PC and soon you'll be sitting with your first-born 6-kilogram baby on your lap. Erik helped me with the last part of 1954 after which he took on 1955. Together we created a beautiful project on paper. Erik is my Pops, whatever one may think of him his heart bleeds Elvis day in and day out.

EIN: What new material is featured in the 1955 second volume of the book?

RvB: Many newspaper clippings, dates and facts over recordings and photo’s of course, beautiful on and off stage candid fan pics in the best possible quality. Many of them have not seen the daylight, yet. Can you imagine Elvis walking out of the Blue Light Studio after a professional series of images taken? Elvis with Faron Young in Tampa, FL.?? Documents, flyers, reviews, agency correspondence, letters . . . etc. The list is a mile long. Erik turned every stone to complete this set with dignity.

EIN: There's plenty of images in the previews that I haven't seen.. including that neat Faron Young shot..

EIN: "Hundreds of hours of research" is mentioned in the publicity, what sources did you use to investigate Elvis' life before SUN?

RvB: Numerous Piers but the main sources are: Bill E. Burk, Elaine Dundy’s “Elvis and Gladys,” Kathleen Tracey’s “The Boy Who Would Be King,” “Baby Let’s Play House” by Alanna Nash, “YOU” by Piers , the Tupelo Elvis fanclub, Elvis Presley birthplace and several others.

EIN: Did you discover new stories or information about Elvis' early life that surprised you?

RvB: I learned a lot about Elvis’ mama, not all in a good way though. The Presley family is highly interesting to learn about and through friends and family you eventually get to a point where you ask yourself: is this reality as it was back then or a dusty thought from close relatives some 20-years later, an old uncle, distant cousin or a writer with a big fantasy who want to ride on the name Presley to make fame for themself?

EIN: Looking back from 2022 I think it's hard for a lot of people to realise just how poor the Presleys were, as well as the poorer side of Tupelo where they lived. Is Elvis' family background investigated in your book?

RvB: People have no idea how poor the Presleys were, there are several interviews in the book given by childhood friends of Elvis, relatives who were close to the Presley family. As well as a number of facts previously published by notable writers. Vernon was autistic all his life in terms of keeping income tax and expenses. From this we can deduce that it was a fact that they did not have much to survive on. Probably also the reason why Vernon was very fond of money later in life. He would never survive going back to those shabby days in Tupelo. The clothes Elvis wore give a good idea of ​​how bad it was. However, they did their very best to make a good impression.

EIN: I agree that it is so hard to know about people's recollections of distant memories, especially in Elvis' case. I knew Bill E. Burk from Memphis and always felt he could have provided some brilliant stories to a new book about Elvis' early years. Did you have any contact with him or get to investigate his archives?

RvB: No, I am sorry not to know the man. He sadly passed away in 2008 and I never used his legacy in writing about Elvis from Tupelo. Maybe my stubborness here, I wanted to do this on my own. Maybe my arrogance and pitfall but I wanted to do this from my perspective. Of course I reached out to those who were 5000 steps ahead of me.


EIN: Until now :-) - what was your favourite book about Elvis' early years?

RvB: Of course ABFT 1953-1955. Unfortunately this ultimate reference book doesn’t tell you the complete story from 1935 forwards, no other publication I know of does than ours - and that's what I'm proud of! Finally a complete book of the first 20 years of the life of Elvis, that shy boy from Tupelo.

EIN: I personally love the Baz Luhrmann ELVIS movie, I thought it perfectly captured the shock, excitement, colour and LOUDNESS of our hero. I know it played with timelines but that was ok for me. As a researcher on Elvis' early life what did you think of the film?

RvB: Fock the timelines Piers, only old-timers like us know . I have seen the film twice and will definitely buy the DVD. It is the best Elvis film adaptation since Kurt Russell was in his shoes. Kurt, jeez, he was really good back then. But who remembers that? I, of course, saw the film at least 7 times in all theaters in the Netherlands. Thanks to Baz Luhrmann's “ELVIS” I was lucky to add a few pages to my part of this project. Nothing but praise for the film and Austin Butler, I've never seen an actor who was so into Elvis' facial and body expressions. My Colonel’s hat off (Hurray for Tom too)!

Some new photos help capture the excitement of September 3, 1955 Big D Jamboree

EIN: A lot of keen Elvis collectors, me included, will have bought the FTD 530 page 'Boy From Tupelo' volume as well as Erik's marvellous "Elvis Files Vol 1" what extra material does this new publication offer to collectors?

RvB: Piers the answer is obvious, I think you've been working too hard . . . ! “ELVIS Prodigy of SUN Records” time line is 1935-1955, Ernst’s and Lorentzen's publications only cover 1953-1956.

EIN: Your book is described as a "day-by-day" travelogue, isn't that the same as Ernst's Tupelo volume?

RvB: No sir!

EIN: Ha Ha! You sure sound like Col Parker there! I think the preview pages you sent me actually answer that question better than your Tom Parker impersonation, they have a real impact..


EIN: You mentioned to me the story about Elvis and girlfriend Regis Wilson. Don't you think it amazing that shy young Elvis suddenly seems to have a swagger and sex appeal to him?

RvB: Elvis was a shy boy in high school, completely different from his fellow students. A face full of pimples, greasy hair and garish clothes. Don't you think there were girls, including Regis, who found that incredibly attractive? I was there 40 years ago Piers, believe me. I had sex appeal, too . . . still .

EIN: How many new or unseen photos will fans get to see in this huge book?

RvB: Many, so many. I can’t put a number to it but lots. A police mugshot of Vernon from 1938? Awesome Piers! And Erik has obtained some previously used photos but in new stunning high-res quality.


EIN: The book comes with a cool 10" vinyl release of Elvis' early material. Such a great "punk" cover... side one doesn't include Elvis' Sun singles while side two is LIVE material. It is a fascinating track selection. Who worked on this release?

RvB: I had a couple of favourite songs I'd like to squeeze onto this album: "Little Mama" and "Hearts of Stone." Both can be heard for the first time on ABFT, but now in a better sound quality. Erik chose the other eight numbers.


EIN: Red West was at school with Elvis, George Klein too. Do you think Elvis' years at Humes high school changed his outlook on what teenagers should be able to do?

RvB: No, not at that time, not even in later years. Elvis had a completely own identity. Influenced from Beale Street, the black part of South Memphis, ao. Elvis never imposed his will on others. He has developed a cultural revolution without even realizing it. His way of dressing is something personal. You and I would never go down the street dressed like Elvis, it doesn't suit us. This style was only for the 1 person - ok, maybe a few others too - but still... I think Elvis was unique.

EIN: It was good to see Marion Keisker getting a good mention in the recent film. How important do you think she was to Elvis' career?

RvB: Marion has been anointed as a saint in the world of Elvis fans and Rock ’n Roll heritage. Yeah, sure, without her there might never have been an Elvis Presley, especially since Sam Phillips thought that Elvis was a . . . well, a 'reasonable ballad singer'. Nothing special, not that white guy with a black voice that could make him a millionaire. Lucky that Marion was persistent and pushed Sam to record him. Finally Elvis, Scotty and Bill had that "Arthur Crudup" moment together. Marion had nothing to do with that, pure magical coincidence.


EIN: James Burton recently being in hospital is a shocking reminder that Elvis' key colleagues are all getting so old if they haven't already passed away. Did you ever meet Scotty Moore or DJ Fontana?

RvB: Scotty, unfortunately, not. But James, Ronnie, Glenn D., Dominick Fontana . . . The TCB band through the years through the Belgian fan club Elvismatters, yes. But there were no personal experiences that they shared I could use in the book.. DJ's memory was not too good, 1956 was like 1965 for him. Scotty Moore would have been a good source of information. Alas Piers, those people left me long before I started this book. Fortunately, we have the internet and the hours of interviews that can be researched via YouTube.

EIN: Today is December 6th, when will the book be sent out to fans and have you seen a genuine printed edition of the book yet?

RvB: The 12th of December, that’s a promise! I do not have a printed copy yet, not before the 10th . . . I really can't wait for that moment.

EIN: Someone requested that I ask about the VINYL print being delayed. Is this so? And if so does this delay the book?

RvB: Unfortunately the album is later than expected but the book set is almost ready. The vinyl album will be sent as soon as possible, free of charge, to everyone who has placed an order.


EIN: The journey from the young Elvis photos through to Elvis' RCA's photo session in December 1955 is so incredible. If you had a chance to be transported back to only one event that is featured in your book, which would you choose?

RvB: Darn Piers, wrong book. If I could transport myself through a time machine it would be the year 1956. I would have built a home on the vacant lot next to the Presleys on Audubon. To answer your question correctly: I'd like to be on Humes High and be Elvis' best friend. From there the friendship grows, just like with Red or George, to the last bit. What a fantastic journey that would be (keep on dreaming Robert . . . inventing a time machine is simply impossible).

EIN: How has the book been on pre-order? Will there be many copies left for fans to spend their Christmas money on?

RvB: A little over a thousand sold as we speak. 1250 printed with an option for 250/500 more asap.

EIN: I think it's a great project and I love the impact your and Erik's designs create with these impressive photos in all their fabulous Elvis glory... reminds me of the feeling watching Baz Luhrmann's recent movie..

RvB: Thank you for this opportunity Piers, always nice to chat with you. EIN is one of my most important guides to the Elvis world. Reliability is the key word here.

Interview by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN December 2022
EIN Website content ©
Copyright the Elvis Information Network.

Click here to comment on this INTERVIEW

Please note that the images used in this interview are only personal low-res screen grabs - so do not represent the image quality of the book itself.

Order NOW via The Elvis Files.


Unseen photos for EIN from 1954 and 1955

Interview 'The Airplanes & The King' with Carlos Varrenti & Robert Van Beek: As promised a few months ago, the extremely well-received spanish book 'The Airplanes & The King' by Carlos Varrenti is now being republished as an English version.
Not only that but it has now been expanded to an amazing 400 pages with a lot of unreleased material from Elvis Files' vaults!
The English version is printed as a High quality Hardback book.
Printed and distributed by The Elvis Files Team, EIN has seen some preview pages and it is an absolute stunner.

EIN is delighted to be able to talk with the author Carlos Varrenti - as well as Elvis Files designer Robert Van Beek to find out more.

We find out more about Carlos Varrenti's Argentinian background, how he came to be involved with designer Robert Van Beek and The Elvis Files for the expanded reprint, what highlights are in the book and what new stories fans will be able to discover within the covers.
Go here as EIN's Piers Beagley asked the questions..

(Interview, Source;ElvisInformationNetwork)

'The Elvis Files Vol. 1 1953-56' In Depth Book Review: The first volume of the Elvis Files story, chronicling Elvis' rise from his pre SUN discovery to becoming the world's biggest new sensation - nearly 600 pages & over 1,400 photos...
All ELVIS EVENTS in this Time Frame Period 1953-1956 are shown..
- Every Working Moment...
- The Early Tours
- Plenty of CANDID Moments.
- Elvis Interviews
- The TV Shows

There is an incredible impact to this book that can shock even the most blasé of Elvis fans who think they have seen it all before. The amazing amount of sensational images, interviews and informative articles gathered together within its 600 pages is stupefying.
Of all the books I have previously purchased about early Elvis none of them demonstrate the excitement and dynamic life of Elvis as well as this superb volume. No other series of Elvis photo-books comes close.

Click here to find out what it includes with lots of example pages, book extracts - plus great ELVIS photos
(Book Reviews, Source;EIN)

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