Interview: Rex Martin
Part 1: The Early Years.....
and the start of the Worldwide Elvis News Service Weekly
|February 8, 2013 - Rex Martin "super-fan" Passed away: While possibly not well-known to more recent Elvis fans, Rex Martin was a key part of the Elvis World history. Rex Martin and his legendary publication, the Worldwide Elvis News Service Weekly, were an integral part of how fans "got their Elvis news" in the late 1960s and 1970s. The Weekly News Service represented a fundamental shift in both the frequency and currency of fan's access to Elvis news around the world.
The weekly grew from being a small concern into a mass circulation publication recognised throughout the Elvis world. The importance of Rex's innovative publication cannot be underestimated (and a potent parallel can be drawn between the function of the Weekly then and the function of Elvis news today provided by the Internet!).
Rex Martin saw Elvis in concert more than 60 times and as one of the most influential publishers in the Elvis world he amassed an incredible photo and audio-visual library.
He wrote some incredible and informative articles over the years. Back in the mid 2000s EIN's Nigel Patterson finally tracked down Rex Martin who had been laying-low for a while. It was great that the two of them got back together after all the years - and Nigel did a long interview with Rex which helped inspired him to get back into the excitement of sharing Elvis stories with friends worldwide. Very sadly Rex Martin was found dead at his home in Blackpool, UK, two days ago.
RIP Rex Martin - Thanks for the marvellous memories - and with EIN's sincere condolences to his family and friends.
Your feedback appears after the interview
Introduction: Rex Martin and his legendary publication, the Worldwide Elvis News Service Weekly, were an integral part of how fans "got their Elvis news" in the late 1960s and 1970s. The Weekly News Service represented a fundamental shift in both the frequency and currency of fan's access to Elvis news around the world.
The weekly grew from being a small concern into a mass circulation publication recognised throughout the Elvis world.
The importance of Rex's innovative publication cannot be underestimated (and a potent parallel can be drawn between the function of the Weekly then and the function of Elvis news today provided by the Internet!).
In the first part of a fascinating interview, Rex talks, among other things, about:
- the early years of his life
- how he became an Elvis fan
- the Elvis network in the 1960s
- Albert Hand, Elvis Monthly, official British fan club and Jim Ellis
- his Elvis discos
- the genesis for the Worldwide Elvis News Service Weekly; and
- the late 1960s as a critical changing point in what and how Elvis related audio-visual material was available to fans
Rex's vivid narrative of life and technology in the 60s and early 70s paints a wonderful panoramic of the landscape in which his weekly Elvis news publication crystallised and grew. It is a slice of what was an often frenetic, challenging and very rewarding part of the Elvis story.
EIN: Rex, thank you for taking the time to speak with EIN today.
RM: My pleasure.
EIN: Let’s start with the obvious question. What have you been doing since the Elvis Worldwide News Service Weekly ceased publication?
RM: A lot of people think I faded away but this wasn’t really the case. I published the last issue of the News Service Weekly at the end of September 1978 and at the time was already working with pop promoters in England as well as doing my own shows. I was putting on film festivals all across Britain including in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. I was also involved with Elvis film shows which often involved Elvis discos, sometimes including tribute acts such as Heathcliff. I even did two events at Westminster Hall opposite the Houses of Parliament. From memory that was in 1979. I continued up until 1980 doing joint film festivals in Holland (with the It’s Elvis Time fan club) and Belgium. There were also a few events in Norway and France during that time. So things were pretty busy.
The rest of my time was spent in America. When Elvis passed away in 1977 I went three times to New York to watch the 3 hour Ann-Margret hosted special featuring The Comeback Special and Elvis Aloha From Hawaii. John Brus (It’s Elvis Time) and Pal Grunlund from Norway also went and we shared a hotel room for the CBS last concert tour US showing. When I was there I made a negative 16mm film with U-matic soundtracks and release prints of the specials. I also made many visits to America collecting films of Elvis. At one point I collected nine Sony U-matic ¾ inch high quality tapes of the ’68 Special outtakes and complete shows including a sit-down and stand-up show at different camera angles. I also obtained a professional ¾ inch tape of the Aloha rehearsal show. All of these I had scanned to negative film with Magnetic sound tracks and 16mm release prints; and later I arranged colour corrected copies.
It was a very costly exercise and took about four trips to the US in 1979 to do it all. Sony U-matic tapes cost me about $1,000 each and there were 10 of them, so that was $10,000 just there. The cost of making the negative film was about $35 a minute and the release prints and colour corrected prints were working out at $5 per minute. And you know how long all the ‘68 Special stuff is not to mention Aloha. I spent a lot of money and to pay for it I was working in Europe every few weeks doing some very big film festivals over there. And I also had the pop promoters in England wanting me to do Elvis film festivals so it was a very, very busy time, but it was worth it to have great picture and sound, perfect scanned film to show on 14 foot screens.
When I was in the States I had an English friend who had set up his own business on the East Coast and I used to trade various films with him and in exchange he would get me three Elvis movies went from three to 26 of the 32 out.
In 1979 I also worked with a friend on air freighting 5,000 Elvis art posters to Memphis. There were five large wooden crates and we cleared them at Memphis Airport and we broke them open on the grass next to one of the runways. Then I went and made contact with a guy who was supplying the independent shops opposite Graceland and I traded with him, getting a lot of the Elvis souvenirs he was supplying the shops.
Then we went to Nashville where we traded 1,000 of the posters with a magazine publisher. He had put out an Elvis tribute magazine with a flexi-disc on the front. I remember the weather was horrendous at the time; there were ice-storms all over the place. In fact, when we went to the Memphis Elvis Convention, only 50 people turned up because the weather was so bad.
Photo: Rex with Elvis' Gold Cadillac (1979)
As we had a few posters left I drove to Philadelphia to see Paul Lichter who took most of our remaining stock. And Paul’s wife actually bought the original painting from my friend, she liked it so much.
In July 1980 I opened a 100% Elvis shop in the seaside town of Blackpool. In 1981 I had to move out of that shop into bigger premises, almost twice the size. After three seasons in Blackpool I returned to Cheltenham where I had a hiatus for about a year. Then for most of the 80s I ran computer 8 bit and 16 bit software shows in towns within a 50 mile radius of Cheltenham. I would rent a hall and do all the advertising and promotion myself. It was a good way of keeping my life together at the time.
In 1989 I was going to move to the West Midlands. In fact I’d already bought a house there but in the meantime I’d had a short trip back up to Blackpool and a few hours before I was due to go, two guys came to see me. They were putting together the first video of the Blackpool Lights and Illuminations; no-one had ever done one before. Anyway they provided me with a flat and I helped them duplicate and promote the video. And then I met somebody in Blackpool so ended up staying.
In 1990 I was involved with Portland Films, a company originally based in London but who moved up to the northwest area. They did the next video version of the Blackpool Lights and Illuminations so I was still involved in that. Then in July 1991 I took a 12 foot section of a mini market shop to sell pictures and videos as a part-time thing through the summer. It wasn’t really Elvis although I did have a few Elvis pictures.
Very quickly I took over more areas in this shop as other people pulled out. From July to December I ended up with the whole building and the keys to the shop. So while I started out intending only to be there for a few weeks I ended up selling all the entertainment stuff, from my pictures and films to LP, tapes, CDs, t-shirts, picture frames, key rings and the like. A lot of holiday souvenirs. I would play Elvis music about 50% of the time in the shop. I had Elvis things around in the doorways and we’d get a lot of questions about him and the music we were playing.
We ended up opening the shop 7 days a week, year round, except for 10 weeks in January to March, when I used to buzz off to Florida enjoying the “snowbirders”.
After 12 years of running the shop 7 days a week, apart from my Florida trip in winter I decided it was time to close the shop. The building was due to be pulled down to be redeveloped. So I officially retired on the 1st of January, 2004.
EIN: Rex, going back to the beginning. How and when did you become an Elvis fan?
So There you have it, what I did after closing the News Service. I gradually faded away from what I was doing but if you had been in England you would have been aware of me because of the film shows, etc. Towards the end of 2005 I bought my first home computer and started doing something about Elvis on it most days. So
RM: I remember an auntie in 1956 bringing the single Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel to our home. I was in bed and I listened to it being played downstairs over and over. My dad loved the rock ‘n’ roll and pop and he played a lot of records. And of course, Elvis being such an important part of that time was a big part of what he played. I remember when Bill Haley & His Comets came to England my dad went to see them at the Odeon.
In 1958 my dad was posted to Singapore for three years and I went to an RAF school. The first thing I really remember there about Elvis was that a school fete in Singapore Jailhouse Rock was requested over and over again. It was amazing. In fact I still have an Australian RCA copy of the Jailhouse Rock EP my dad bought for me in Singapore. It’s looking a little bit tacky now given its age and the fact it was played endlessly on one of those old portable record players. I used to take it down the beach and that. I liked a lot of the other pop stuff but I liked a lot of Elvis as well.
My dad got a three month’s extension in Singapore and we came back to England and we stayed at one of my uncle's houses in Dorset. He bought Marie’s the Name of His Latest Flame/Little Sister. Someone said do you want to go out but I stayed in all afternoon playing it over and over. I must have almost worn the single out by the time they got back. After a short holiday we moved to Northern Ireland. We lived in Belfast and I went to a college there for two and a half years. It was in Belfast that I saw my first film, Girls! Girls! Girls! It wasn’t on initial release, it was a month or so after its release. I was sort of blown away. I hadn’t seen a musical film by anybody like it. By then I was totally hooked and I was ordering the Elvis Monthlies etc.
EIN: The early 60s was a long time before you started the News Service. Did you become involved in the fan club network?
RM: I became a Branch Leader when we moved back to England. I was branch leader for Gloucestershire in the late 60s and in 1967 put on my own first film show, independent of the fan club network. At the time Albert Hand was in charge but he was having a lot of medical problems.
The UK official fan club and Elvis Monthly were gradually taken over by Todd Slaughter.
EIN: Rex, the British fan club model was quite unique - a central governing body and a large group of regional branches. It doesn’t seem to have been replicated elsewhere in the world. How did it happen in the UK?
RM: I think it was happening in Europe but on a much smaller scale and most people probably weren’t aware of it. There were multiple clubs in some European countries. For some reason Belgium had two or three fan clubs and France had three clubs; while Denmark and Norway, with smaller populations, only had one.
I remember on a trip to France I did shows for two rival clubs on the one weekend! It was not only fun but they both paid expenses for me to get there.
Things really took off from the end of the 60s from the collector’s point of you. We’d just started film shows and the great Japanese albums were becoming known, as were the unique covers in New Zealand and Australia. So it was a very exciting time. And it really changed in 1969. You know you used to enjoy your collection by buying records and tapes of the soundtracks of the movies, the audio part. But with technological advancements I started plugging in a reel-to-reel to the amplifier of cinema projectors to get better quality than simply using an external microphone.
Meanwhile the “California Gate Followers” were getting odd bits of candid super 8 film and photos of Elvis going in and out of his home. At about the same time someone discovered that Chicago Police film and it was soon available all over Britain.
I stumbled onto a television projectionist at an all night Elvis party who had taken low colour, professional footage of Elvis in Tupelo in September 1957. A friend, Barbara Dobie in Canada, knew Red Robinson really well. Red had done the 26 minute Vancouver press interview with Elvis. Also from the source came the Herman’s Hermits interview with Elvis in Hawaii. That contact also led to Colonel Parker talking on the phone about the interview and saying it was OK to have it as long as he didn’t know about it. It was the first time we’d really seen and heard the Colonel’s type of humour. So, anyway, it was a case of little things happening.
And of course in August 1969 with Elvis’ return to live shows, the audience tapes started arriving and even some private live film of Elvis in concert starting circulating. So certainly my Elvis pen friend thing snowballed. Virtually everyone I contacted had a tape or snippet of Elvis or something that I just had to pass on to the next fan. And quite quickly I had had to print up a sheet of info every few weeks so that when writing to Elvis fans worldwide I didn’t have to keep typing the same thing in every letter. I could just drop in a printed sheet to my trade quest or whatever it was I was writing to them about.
The Elvis News Service Weekly in 1971:
And then fans who hadn’t heard from me for a while because the trade had been completed still wanted the info. So initially we came to an agreement that they could send a stamped self-addressed envelope for it. Some of those early sheets weren’t numbered and there probably were only 20 or 30 of them going out some weeks. But before long I was sending out several hundred free news sheets in stamped addressed envelopes. So really the Elvis News Service was born by accident because I had so many pen friends. And with my laziness of not wanting to type out each snippet of news and information 150 times, it meant I had to come up with a more practical way of getting the news to them.
At first it was bi-weekly, two page, foolscap, which is 13” by 8”. I used a stencil rotary printer at home which was really messy and horrible to do. The first 20 or so of those issues didn’t have numbers either. By 1971 after 4 to 5 seasons of Vegas and concert tours news was coming in at such a rate that the bi-weekly format had to be ditched. So I started more regular, weekly editions to keep up with things.
There were several major events which I covered in the weekly. That’s The Way It Is was one. We had pages and pages of information about it.
Word of mouth played an important part in demand for the Weekly increasing. We also had our address in a newsstand mag. The publisher had asked me for photos to go with his articles and as a result listings in the Elvis Monthly and the Official UK fan club magazine.
They (the British fan club) wanted to roll me into a new organisation they were thinking of, something like an Elvis info service. It would have include my Weekly News Service and Jim Ellis’s ‘El News’ magazine. It never really took off and there was a certain amount of controlling behind it. I was printing all the news before everyone else. In comparison with the Elvis magazines I would have four issues out before their monthly mag hit the streets and the fan club magazine was bi-monthly so they had issues in being current with the news.
Also, Jim Ellis’s magazine stopped publication around 1972. I really admired what Jim did. He put out a great magazine but I think he saw there wasn’t much point with weekly news getting to the fans through my publication. Jim was an influence on the News Service. It was a case that I was going much further than others. I was prepared to sit down and write articles virtually on a day to day basis to get the weekly issue out. You would write one day, post the weekly the next day and start the next issue the next day. It wasn’t like in seven days you’ve got to do one and then another seven days to do the next issue. It was ongoing and often the subsequent issue would go out 4 or 5 days after the previous one. The schedule was weekly or more often. That model made up for times like Christmas when things were a little slower or we were away for some reason.
EIN: Rex, did you realise at the time how important the Weekly was to fans?
RM: I did because of the people who were writing to me. I was getting almost instantaneous reactions back. If you didn’t think you were getting positive reaction why would you continue doing it?
Several Weekly News Service Elvis Booklets:
EIN: Tell us about your trips to the States to see Elvis.
RM: My first trip to the States was in August-September 1972. I had a week’s unpaid holiday to go and see Elvis in Vegas but stayed for three weeks. Instead of seeing only 14 shows I saw 27! When I returned home for obvious reasons I had lost my job. I actually sent them a telegram and resigned but they would have sacked me anyway. I wasn’t that bothered as I knew there was an offset-litho printing business about to start up. Actually this became very important in doing the weekly News Service because at the time typesetting printers were unionised so you couldn’t get in to work for normal printers unless you were part of a union.
When the offset litho people started they weren’t unionised. So I’d already talked to this guy in July before I went to Vegas. And when I got back I just went along to him and said I’d very much like to work in printing and I offered for him to try me out for a week without any wages. Anyway at the end of the week he offered me an ongoing job and even paid me wages for the week I’d just worked.
So for me that was a dream come true. I could now stay up all night preparing the news and in the morning take it into a printer where I could make up all the printing plates myself and get it printed the same day. For me the speed with which I compiled the news, got the Weekly printed and then posted was something I really wanted to get on top of. I didn’t want to be at the beck and call of some independent printer. I wanted to be able to print it when I wanted it printed. So by me actually working in a printer’s business meant I could actually control these things. At the time it was sort of unusual for any publication worldwide.
End of Part 1 of EIN's interview with Rex Martin
Comment on this interview
Go to Part 2 of Rex's Interview
In the next part of EIN's fascinating interview with Rex, he talks more about the early years of the News Service Weekly
; how he finally met Elvis; Rocky Barra (Strictly Elvis) and Jerry Hopkins (Elvis A Biography); more great photos from the Rex Martin Elvis Archives and a lot more!
And thanks to Rex we will publish rare photos of him with Elvis!
Read Part 2 of Rex's Interview
Rex Martin saw Elvis in concert more than 60 times and as one of the most influential publishers in the Elvis world he amassed an incredible photo and audio-visual library.
Below Rex's 10x8 photo with Elvis becomes full colour after two years working through various pohoto editing programs with many fantasy versions for a slide show project
(Three animated motion gifs are being prepared to share with EIN readers)
Comment on this interview
Interview conducted by Nigel Patterson in November 2008
Copyright EIN 2008
Do not re-post this interview without permission
Brian Quinn: Great to see that Rex has surfaced once again. I knew Rex for many years, subscribed to his GROUNDBREAKING Newsletter, and attended some of his film conventions which were outstanding. It's nice to hear that he has done well for himself and he comes within my definition of a 'REAL ELVIS FAN'. I sincerely hope that he will now remain on the scene as the Elvis Legacy needs him. I look forward to reading Part 2 of the Interview. Welcome back Rex.
Christopher Brown: I was a long-time subscriber of Rex’s news service, and have all but the first 25 issues, I think. It was wonderful getting weekly (and sometimes twice a week) news about Elvis, upcoming shows and recent shows with detailed reviews and newspaper articles. Many of my own show reviews were printed in his publication – a real honor, and a backbone to the two books I published, ON TOUR WITH ELVIS and ELVIS IN CONCERT.
I probably said it back then, but I’ll say it again – thanks Rex for all your work in getting Elvis news out. Your publication and with Rocky’s were the two essentials of Elvis information in the ‘70s.
Terry C: I was born after the era of Rex Martin's Elvis weekly. After reading the first part of his interview I wish I had been around. The guy was ahead of his time!! I can't wait to read more of Rex's memories. Keep it coming.
Christopher Tyler: When interviewing people who saw or met Elvis ask a lot more questions as to what their first impressions of Elvis were when he came on stage? What songs and performances from the concerts they saw stand out in the person’s mind. Of the 60 shows he saw, how consistent was Elvis etc?
EIN Comment: Chris, there is plenty yet to come from Rex in his multi-part interviews with EIN, including the questions you have asked.
Jenny: Thanks EIN for another fantastic interview. I was a subscriber to Rex's wonderful newsletter for many years and I always looked forward to it arriving in my letter box each week.
Frances Smythe: Before my marriage I attended a lot of Rex's Elvis discos and they were really fabulous. I had such a good time with all my Elvis friends. Thank you Rex for what you've done over the years for Elvis fans. You probably didn't get appreciated very often but you can believe me we DID appreciate all your efforts to bring us Elvis.
Jon-Jon: What a cool dude is Mr Rex Martin. Cool interview too.
Frank (Lancs): What a blast from the past! Rex Martin published one of my all-time favourite Elvis publications. It was always full of the latest news and reviews and it made me feel as though I was part of what was going on. Without the Weekly Elvis fans lives would have been much worse off, it filled an important space in the world of Elvis.
Penny Charles: I met Rex once at one of his discos. I used to go regularly with my friends Sue and Terry. Rex was a lovely person and his discos meant the world to us as young Elvis fans. I really enjoyed his interview and will be reading the next part with a lot of interest and memories of a great time in my life.
Garry Turner: I remember the Rex Martin newsletters as if it was only yesterday. I still have a large batch as part of my Elvis collection. Rex's newsletters were current and entertaining. It's good to read he's still around. I'm looking forward to part 2 of his interview with EIN.