Instructor uses Elvis for music history

By CHELSI MOY of the (Billings) Gazette Staff

Celebrating Elvis Presley's birthday each year in her fourth-grade classroom at Canyon Creek School began as a fun way for Candy Holzer to teach students about music history.

Since then, the tradition has earned her a trademark and a tradition she can't seem to shake loose. "Just like Elvis, it never dies," said Holzer.

After 25 years of playing Elvis tunes during art classes and showing The King's movies once a year, she felt the annual celebration was getting a little out of hand. Over the years, she has had students give her so much Elvis memorabilia that she is running out of places to store it, she said.

She has had to dedicate an entire room in her house to Elvis. "That's how people remember me," she said. "They equate me with Elvis." It has been 50 years since Elvis Presley recorded his first song, "That's All Right." The album ignited his career and sparked a musical revolution, even though fewer than 20,000 copies of the album sold.

Yet, half a century later, the Elvis jive is still going strong even though most people in the Elvis generation are well into their 70s. The reason, as most Elvis enthusiasts would contend, is that no one since has done it better. "He can sing love songs that bring tears to my eyes and rock 'n' roll that makes everyone want to get up and dance," Holzer said. What is the reason for The King's longevity in the world of rock 'n' roll?

Longtime Elvis fan Del Henman, of Laurel, has one explanation: No one sounds like Elvis. No one has dabbled into so many music genres and performed them at the same quality as Elvis. And no one dared mix R&B, country and a little swing to give rock 'n' roll its image. "Sometimes the thing that saves me when listening to today's rock 'n' roll is knowing where it came from," he said. "Everything evolves. There are different styles of it."

However, people like Holzer and Henman are trying to preserve old rock 'n' roll and educate younger generations in an attempt to keep The King alive. "My students love it," Holzer said. "They ask for it." One of Holzer's fourth-grade students became so enthralled with collecting Elvis memorabilia that she would come to school and the little girl would want to trade Elvis posters and books like they were baseball cards, the teacher said.

When it came time for parent-teacher conferences, Holzer was going to apologize for getting their daughter hooked on Elvis. However, the little girl's mother said her daughter's new hobby has actually brought them together. "She told me they are closer now because when they go shopping, they share the same interest," Holzer said. "It almost brought me to tears." Henman has more than 9,000 vinyl records and an extensive collection of Elvis dolls, dishes and drawings. Most of the memorabilia he collects is unopened, to maintain its value. "I collect anything that might be worth something," said Henman, who admits that he is terrible with names but can remember the title of every record he owns.

Although he doesn't have space to display his extensive collection, he said, "it means more to me just knowing I have it." While Elvis is most popular among younger generations for his rock 'n' roll music like "Shake, Rattle and Roll," Henman said nobody sang gospel music like The King. "I get emotional just thinking about it," he said. "He could do it all."

Henman's youngest daughter, Vanessa, shares her dad's passion for Elvis' gospel music. The 16-year-old even named her dachshund Elvis. While Holzer and Henman are sparking newfound love for The King in younger generations, they were inspired by an older generation of music lovers. "I was not in the Elvis generation," said Holzer, 48. Just 22 years old when Elvis died, she said she used to sneak into her older brothers' rooms and steal their vinyl records. "I just thought he was so handsome," she said.

Twenty-eight-year-old Mike Beyl, the manager of Ernie November, a music store on Broadwater Avenue, said he remembers listening to Elvis for as long as he can remember because his mother and aunt were huge fans, he said. "It's kinda like Ricky Martin now," he said. "They thought he was sexy." Beyl considers himself a "huge music fan."

While he doesn't necessarily live and die by The King, he said it's important to at least appreciate his music. "If you like rock 'n' roll, you got to be curious at least," he said. "He's the first one to take country and make it rock 'n' roll." And if nothing else, his rein as The King of rock 'n' roll should be enough to interest younger generations in finding the roots of modern rock. "There are a lot of people that try to sound like him," Henman said, "but as they say, impersonation is the biggest form of flattery."

Copyright The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.