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Book Review:

Thirty Pieces of Silver:

The Betrayal of Elvis Presley

(Joyce Rochelle Vaughn)

(Reviewed by Nigel Patterson - August 2019)

Thirty Pieces of Silver: The Betrayal of Elvis Presley, Joyce Rochelle Vaughn, Justice Payne Publishing, USA, 2016, Hardcover (with d/j), 713 pages, Illustrated, ISBN-13: 978-0998270814

About the author: Joyce Rochelle Vaughn was born in Chicago, Illinois, to African American parents. She grew up on Chicago's Southside. In 1980, she joined and served honorably in the United States Navy. She presently resides with her son in Southern California.

Thirty Pieces of Silver: The Betrayal of Elvis Presley is her first published book.


The Review

Truth is not always easily detected. However, lies become transparent and easy to see because they always contradict themselves.

Contextual information:

Ms Vaughn starts the Preface to her book with the following statement:

When I was a very little girl, my aunt told me never to listen to Elvis Presley’s music. She asserted (forcefully, I might add) how Elvis (supposedly) said, “The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes.” My aunt also declared he stole black music.

She also asks the question: “Why would an African American woman defend a white man she was raised to hate?” (Ms Vaughn also succinctly and powerfully provides the answer)

Hands up those of you familiar with Joyce Rochelle Vaughn’s book, Thirty Pieces of Silver: The Betrayal of Elvis Presley? I suspect not too many are raising their hand. While this book has received brief mention on a number of online Elvis discussion groups and in at least one Elvis book, it appears to have generally slipped well under the radar in the Elvis world.

The author summarises her work, which is the result of 40 years of research, by stating that it is ‘a full study and complete unmasking of falsely reported news surrounding the life and twenty-one year career of Elvis Presley. In this publication, not only are the racial deceptions debunked, but an investigation into the allegations coming from Elvis: What Happened? [Red West, Sonny West and Dave Hebler as told to Steve Dunleavy] are looked at and quashed. The author also focuses on the many contradictions from Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business, which was published thirty years later by Sonny West.'

Why the title Thirty Pieces of Silver?:

The book’s primary title is derived from the biblical story (Gospel of Matthew 26:15, New Testament) where thirty pieces of silver was the price for which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus.

Before the Last Supper, Judas is said to have gone to the chief priests and agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for 30 silver coins, and to have attempted to return the money afterwards, filled with remorse.

Understanding this explains the “betrayal”.

The Narrative:
The text and author’s argument is presented in chronological order. In many respects the book also provides a detailed (but necessarily selective) biographical account of Elvis’ life and career. The author’s passionate disdain for the disciples who betrayed Elvis is clear throughout the book's impressive 713 pages.
I cannot detail all of the issues Ms Vaughn addresses, as not surprisingly over more than 700 pages there are far too many to list or discuss. The following are representative of the eclectic range of things you will find discussed and argued in Thirty Pieces of Silver:
About the infamous article in Sepia magazine (April 1957) – see 'Contextual Information' (above) for the quote which ignited the false, but enduring, rumor, that Elvis was racist:
Unscrupulous White liberals who owned media outlets like Sepia could make money exploiting statements and falsifying others because so many Whites during the era, openly made stupid remarks against Black people. So when a Black radio station decided to play Elvis’ music and Black people started acknowledging that they listened to and bought Elvis’ records, White liberals went into panic mode.

Ms Vaughn provides a detailed account of the Sepia article, investigation of it (the ongoing changing of the story by Sepia editors under scrutiny and presentation of the facts is galling), and its “debunking” in another Black American magazine, Jet.

About “The Battle of Grenada” (physical altercation post show in a diner as told by Red West):

The story crumbled from the beginning when neither Scotty Moore nor Bill Black were mentioned. Where are the Blue Moon Boys in all this rain and car pushing? After all, they were still traveling in the same car during those early years.

Another huge problem with the story is when Red claimed after the concert, Elvis suggested they go see a couple of girls he had met on an earlier trip. There is no other time before this date which showed Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys having performed in Grenada, Mississippi.

EIN Note: The author’s assertion is correct as none of the Elvis Day-By-Day records list Elvis being in Grenada before his show there on 20 April 1955

About Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding:

Sonny West did not hear about the wedding until the evening news. The same as everyone else in the country, proving just how close he was not to Elvis.

Sonny claimed they were so close, it was unlikely Elvis would have gotten engaged without telling them. He would never have kept that crucial news to himself because Elvis could not keep a secret.

Elvis’ lack of marital relations with Priscilla post Lisa Marie’ birth:

Could it be that he did not want to touch her while another man was doing so?

EIN Note: By all accounts, while Priscilla had first met Mike Stone in 1968 she did not encounter him again until mid-1971. Lisa Marie was born on 1 Feb, 1968.

Ms Vaughn includes a one page discussion of the effects of giving birth and how for up to six weeks post birth, doctors will usually recommend there be no sexual activity. EIN's understanding of the ‘absence of post birth physical relations’ between Elvis and Priscilla is that it was an ongoing issue, not a temporal one (with one notable exception).

Elvis What Happened? (the "Bodyguard" book):

Tom Parker did not stop the publishing of EWH. From an outside view, it gave the impression Parker may have acted quietly behind the scenes. No manager worth their salt would allow such a scathing pack of lies  to be told about their client. Parker was either in on EWH or he wasn’t the badass so many have represented him as being. Maybe Parker was intimidated and avoided bucking up against Rupert Murdoch.

EIN Note: Elsewhere in her book the author details negative experiences a range of people had with the Colonel.

Elvis' Black audience:

In reading Thirty Pieces of Silver I appreciated the author’s important discussion about how the American mainstream media purposely ignored Elvis’ Black audience. There are in fact numerous photos of African Americans at Elvis concerts and of Elvis with his Black fans. While Elvis was happy bringing Black and White Americans together, mainstream media was happy to reinforce a segregated view.

Some of the many other issues addressed in Thirty Pieces of Silver are:

  • the day in 1957 when Elvis pulled a (fake) gun on a group of Marines who tried to jump him
  • the age of consent in Germany was 14 years in 1959
  • the role of Colonel Parker in Elvis’ success
  • did Elvis really have a fear of large animals
  • the boils on Elvis’ backside (yes you can make an issue out of this)
  • Elvis’ friendship (true or not?) with Tom Jones
  • another reason why Elvis deteriorated post divorce from Priscilla
  • was Elvis’ Las Vegas season in January 1975 really postponed because he was very unwell? 

I expect that some readers will feel the author makes more out of some issues than is warranted. For example, contradictions in accounts (over time) around the circumstances of certain incidents may simply be due to the vagaries of one’s memory as they get older. It could also be that with later consideration of an issue previously forgotten information is retrieved, or becomes apparent when discussing it with others who also experienced the incident(s).

Certain issues, such as members of the Memphis Mafia blaming Elvis for them cheating on their wives or partners, are a subjective matter in that while individuals need to take personal responsibility, their perception and/or perceived influence of another, can color their judgment. Accordingly, while their claim can be seen to be, or may be wrong, it does not mean they were deliberately lieing.

An incident at Graceland in February 1967 also illustrates the point:

Red stated how Elvis had a compulsion for knocking things down or smashing something into pieces......

According to Red, Elvis got on a bulldozer he hired and knocked down a small house located on Graceland. Red claimed Elvis set the house on fire* after knocking it down.....

* confirmed by Priscilla in her autobiography

The author takes a different viewpoint on the incident, though I couldn’t help feeling she was automatically driven to take exception to what was being claimed:
There were several reasons why Elvis would want a non-occupied house removed off his property. He may not have wanted another residence on Graceland’s land. He may have been paying “real property” taxes on an empty house. Maybe the house was not up to code costing him more money. Maybe he may have wanted more space for his horses.

Ms Vaughn's use of “may” and “maybe” reflects conjecture on her part and Elvis being concerned about costs/money is not consistent with what other accounts, and his known profligate spending patterns, tell us about Elvis and money.

At another point, the author takes exception to Red West claiming it took Elvis two months (when in fact it was only two days) before Elvis dubbed his voice into the songs Indescribably Blue, I’ll Remember You, and If Every Day Was Like Christmas. Is this a major issue? To Ms Vaughn it (and other claims) are symptomatic of her theme that the Wests, et al:

 ‘.....attempted to assassinate the character of a man who liberated an entire generation of White teenagers from a repressive culture, while breaking down racial barriers.’

The author’s value laded approach to the antagonists at the centre of her book is further reflected in these passages (page 312) about Sonny West:

More than likely, Sonny did something else unquestionably stupid and wrong to piss Elvis off even more, and it’s not being revealed.

Thereupon, Sonny like other human males who’ve been emotionally defeated, skulked in his corner.
A reservation I have about Thirty Pieces of Silver is that, at times, the author goes off on tangents not directly related to the underlying issue. For instance, one section in the book is: The Punishment for Loving Someone. An Argument for Alimony Reform.
Another example is with the book's 12 appendices, which, while an intriguing collection, comprise titles such as:
  • Admissions Of Alcohol and Drug Abuse
  • 1960s Drug Abuse Songs
  • Black Slavery in the Cherokee Nation
  • Jews in the South
  • Jimi Hendrix’s Tours
  • Jim Morrison’s Arrest Record
  • False Rape Claims

The book also includes a Preface, two Introductions, 21 chapters, 12 Appendices, an 11 page Bibliography, a five page glossary, Description of Large Photographs, and a substantial 22 page Index.

The author provides page footnotes (source, page numbers, etc) for each of the issues discussed.

The Visuals:

Thirty Pieces of Silver features hundreds of photos, all presented nicely on the page (and many are full page images). Most of the photos are in b&w, many are familiar, and some are striking, for example on pages 456-57 we are treated to a great double page spread of Elvis ‘live” in Vegas, down on one knee, microphone to his mouth, his hairy chest exposed with his white jumpsuit open to just below his chest.

Other impressive images include:

  • a sultry portrait shot of the young superstar (page 58)
  • Elvis and an unidentified fan (page 117)
  • Elvis with his parents (page 228)
  • Elvis and singer Nancy Holloway (page 257 - shown below)
  • Elvis and Stella Stevens (page 328)
  • guitar strumming Elvis (in suit) serenading Ann-Margret (in bathing suit) in Viva, Las Vegas (page 348)
  • a wonderful full color publicity shot (for Clambake) of a relaxed Elvis (page 412)
  • full-page color images (page 526 and 576)

While the text tends to dominate the book, when you least expect it a great visual appears offering good balance between text and image.

The book also features various press clippings, other interesting archival material, and song recordings and concert lists.

The Book Design:

Thirty Pieces of Silver is a deluxe hardcover (with dust jacket) coffee table release (measuring 12" x 9" x 2"). It is also weighty, tipping the scales at over 7 pounds/3+ kgs and as already noted comprises 713 pages complemented by many color and b&w visuals. The paper stock is quality semi-gloss/gloss and the line spacing a visually comfortable 1.5. 

While some readers may feel there is too much use of white (and sometimes blue) space per page, given the weight of the book and the sheer volume of information it contains, I can understand the author’s decision (as it ensures ease of reading). The number of pages and weight of the book also necessitated larger than normal page borders at the book spine.

HOWEVER, a major issue with the book is that due to its size, weight and number of pages, the perfect binding is insufficient to securely hold the pages. I found that after only a few openings, pages (particularly at the back), started to come loose. This needs to be addressed.

The Price:

Thirty Pieces of Silver is not only a large, voluminous book, it also carries a hefty price tag (particularly if you live outside the US). It is independently published by the author (through her company, Justice Payne Publishing) and costs US$87.98. Postage plus tax appears to be between $11 and $16 (within the continental USA). International shipping is considerably higher. For example, USPS Priority Mail International Flat Rate postage to Australia is US$77.80 (almost doubling the cost of the purchase – circa 9 August 2019 the book plus shipping cost to Australia was around A$240).

Ms Vaughn’s sophisticated website allows you to calculate the postage cost at checkout.

Value added information:

In addition to the book, purchasers receive a key code allowing access to a supplemental website at no extra charge. This supporting website provides a range of additional information, live interviews, fake and mislabelled photographs, performances, and more.

Verdict: Thirty Pieces of Silver: The Betrayal of Elvis Presley conflicted me. On the one hand I appreciated the research and stimulating reading Ms Vaughn's book offers. On the other hand I was concerned about her antagonism towards those she considers to have betrayed Elvis, which at times I felt was too overtly stated and clouded her objectivity.

Having said this, Thirty Pieces of Silver is an impressive and comprehensive examination of important issues and claims made about Elvis. I don’t agree with all of Ms Vaughn’s views/conclusions, and at times she engages in conjecture - how would one know whether her view or the view of one of the Memphis Mafia is the correct one? As with many contentious things in life, perhaps the truth lie somewhere in the middle? However, Ms Vaughn has the right to state her views and undoubtedly she has written a powerful, engrossing and likely a contentious account of controversies, claims and misreporting about Elvis and his life and career. In my opinion, it is on issues like Elvis and racism that the author is strongest in her argument.

The book is likely to divide fans and if it does, this is a good indicator of its value in the Elvis literary canon.......challenging people’s perceptions and the myths that continue to plague the Elvis story makes us think and reconsider our position (putting our brains into critical mode is invariably a good thing). There is certainly plenty to think about in Thirty Pieces of Silver: The Betrayal of Elvis Presley.

I also challenge the reader to find another book (apart from a dictionary) that contains the word “floccinaucinihilipilification”!





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