"The Mysterious John Crow Recordings": Elvis disguised, or not?

Do you like a juicy mystery, a good detective story? One full of twists, inconsistencies and hard-to-believe incidents? Well if you do, you'll enjoy our examination of the very mysterious "John Crow" recordings.

In 1980 CMI Books released 'Elvis Disguised - The "John Crow" Recordings' (ISBN: 0936790008) by Harley Hatcher. The author had served in the US Army at the same time as Elvis and was stationed at Fort Monmouth while Elvis was at Fort Hood.

Fort Monmouth was an Army signal corps training school located 45 miles south of New York. Fort Hood was located in Texas. In July 1958 Hatcher encountered an Army recruit at Fort Monmouth who looked like, spoke like, moved like and sung like Elvis. However the GI's name was John Crow.

A former champion sportsman and aspiring musician, Hatcher struck up a friendship with John Crow and jammed with him on several occasions. At all sessions the songs sung were primarily Elvis songs!

On at least two occasions parts of the session were taped on Hatcher's TEAC reel-to-reel recorder. Hatcher re-discovered the tapes years later and so began his search to prove that John Crow and Elvis were one and the same.

On the first tape there were only three songs: I Want To Be Free and two tracks written by Hatcher - Remember and Let's Dance. The second tape however yielded John Crow singing no less than 16 tracks:

  • Heartbreak Hotel
  • Don't Ask Me Why
  • Hard Headed Woman
  • I Want You, I Love You, I Need You
  • Don't Leave Me Now
  • Baby I Don't Care
  • That's When Your Heartaches Begin
  • Young and Beautiful
  • Love Me Tender
  • Poor Boy
  • Hound Dog
  • Young Dreams
  • Be Bop A Lula
  • I Want To Be Free
  • Love Me
  • Alone & Blue (written by Hatcher)

Hatcher went to considerable lengths to validate his suspicion that John Crow was in fact Elvis Presley.

The audio tape was subjected to a voiceprint analysis at the Phonetics Laboratory, University of California. The lab technician conmpared the tape with various musical and spoken word recordings of Elvis. He concluded (a copy of his conclusions is included in the book) that the "...tape is probably the voice of Elvis Presley."

Another music expert, renowned record producer, Mike Curb (remember the hit song Burning Bridges by the Mike Curb Congregation) also listened to the tapes and stated "Harley, that is Elvis Presley on those tapes!"

Curb indicated to Hatcher that it was the vibrato in the singers voice that was the key. He said Elvis impersonators may sound like Elvis but none can duplicate the vibrato in his voice.

Hatcher also submitted a handwritten note to him from Elvis/John Crow to William Kaye, Examiner of Questioned Documents. Kaye compared the note to known writings by Elvis and concluded: "...it is my considered opinion and conclusion the questioned handwriting is that of Elvis Presley."

Hatcher engaged the services of a private investigator, Harry Benson, to try and establish a connection between Elvis Presley and John Crow. Benson apparently discovered that the Army was concerned that some nut might try to make a name for himself by kidnapping or killing Elvis. Allegedly there were threats made against him and if true it would lend considerable weight to the argument that his John Crow 'alter ego' was devised to protect the Army's prize recruit.

There could also have been another piece of corroborating evidence - a photo of John Crow and Harley Hatcher jamming together. Despite an exhaustive search the photo was never found.

The search for evidence linking Elvis and John Crow turned up some surprising things. Through his friendship with Mike Curb, Hatcher met Sean Morton Downey, a man who had been very active in the Democratic Party and had contacts in high places. One of these contacts was able to access a classified file on Elvis' Army stint. While the file did not mention Fort Monmouth or John Crow parts of its contents were allegedly blacked out!

Despite all of the above there is still one piece of the puzzle that threatens to derail Hatcher's theory that Elvis and John Crow are in fact one and the same.

The mystery deepened for Hatcher with reports of Elvis sailing to Germany on 22 September 1958. For he was still seeing John Crow at Fort Monmouth in early October that year!

As there was considerable media attention to Elvis's leaving the US and then disembarking in Germany, Hatcher felt John Crow couldn't have been Elvis Presley. But their likeness, that remarkable voice? Was this all part of an intricate, high level conspiracy? Hatcher confronted Elvis/John Crow about the issue and received this reply:

"After the boat left and got a ways, I was taken off."

Elvis Disguised is a remarkable read and raises as many questions as it answers. Could Elvis have been stationed at two forts in 1958 at the same time? If yes, why? And why was his identity hidden under the guise of John Crow? Was it to protect him and give him some space away from the prying eyes of the media?

It is on the public record how intently his daily Army life was scrutinised and reported on by the public and Army media. So what happened to the John Crow recordings? As they haven't been released (and therein lies a mystery) it must be assumed that they are still in Hatcher's possession.

Hatcher weaves a tale full of mystery and twists. His story will be dismissed by many as just a fanciful tale designed to sell books but for other fans it will be welcomed as a mysterious piece of the Elvis jigsaw puzzle.

Whether or not you believe it, 'Elvis Disguised' is a highly readable and engrossing book. While we may never know the truth behind this story it is certainly one of the more unusual in the Elvis world.

Interestingly, when Elvis Disguised was originally released it met with substantial acceptance among well known figures in the Elvis world.

Some of its reviews included:

"...an amazing revelation" - Darwin Lamm, Elvis International Forum

"An absolutely astonishing book...it's beyond anyone's wildest imagination" - Corky Mayberry, Host, The Elvis Historical Hour (nationally syndicated radio show)

"Well worth reading" - Emory Gordy, Elvis backing musician

This edition of Spotlight on The King was prepared by Nigel Patterson 2003.

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