Susan Graham has worked on several Elvis projects including the production of the DVD & CD '200 Cadillacs' and is a regular visitor to Memphis. Go here for a previous EIN interview with her about her involvement with '200 Cadillacs' - a documentary about Elvis' generosity.
2008 was the first time in 10 years that EIN's special reporter Sanja Meegin could not make a trip from Australia to Memphis for Elvis week. So this year our good friend Seattle Susie, Susan Graham, has provided us with these three special reports looking at the highlights of this year's Elvis Week.
|George Klein with Ronnie McDowell who not only sang as Elvis for Dick Clark's movie "Elvis" but also had a 1977 hit with 'The King Is Gone'.
Ronnie McDowell commented, "Why does Elvis keep going on? I think it’s because of Elvis’ heart. He had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known."
Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, in 2001 with his memorial plaque at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
All the memorial services over the years have started with a "Phillips" and this year it is Knox Phillips.
Knox Phillips: The longer Elvis and friends would stay at our house, the better, as far as I was concerned.
Since Isaac Hayes just died this Elvis week has been a bit of a haze for me. He and Elvis were a little alike. Came from the same foundation, a great force in the music world. I was struck by the interviews with fans this year, especially when questions came up about Isaac. Isaac (who was a key force at STAX) and Elvis put Memphis on the musical map.
And my dad made it possible for so many people to do the things they did in music.
I loved it when Elvis would arrive at the door and say "Hi Mrs. Phillips, can we come in?" I loved the way he would play pool – he would "electrify" any room he was in. Elvis was always cool and kind to my brother and me. When Elvis was around he’d pay attention to us kids, the youngest in the room.
Knox: My dad would call and say come on down to the studio because there was something you might like to see. I remember I was around 12 and had the duck tail hair cut. I thought I was pretty cool. So one time I got that call and there was Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins - and he came over and hugged me and said "Stay with me, Knox, stay with me". It’s one of my fondest memories.
We thought we led perfectly normal lives but when we look back on it, not many people can say "I had grooming tips from Elvis when I was 12".
When we come together to remember Elvis, I say remember the totality of his music and all he accomplished and helped others to accomplish.
George Klein – Elvis told me one time about all the people who would put him down and tell him he wouldn’t make it. Sam gave me the best advice I ever got – don’t ever let them change you – don’t let ‘em put you into a country "bag" or a "movie" bag.. etc. And I never forgot that. Then one time at a session, in walked Chet Atkins. He walked over to Scotty and started giving Scotty some pointers. It took all the gumption he had to go over to Mr. Atkins and told him ‘we have our own style so please don’t tell my guitar player how to play". .
George Klein: Alan Fortas and I gave DJ the name "Sticks" Fontana. Elvis found him on the Louisiana Hayride. In Hollywood, Elvis’ band was called the EP Continentals and were supposed to record an instrumental album. But Parker wouldn’t let them do it. Scotty and Bill quit then but DJ stayed with him. Next up someone said "there’s Elvis Presley and his one-man band".
DJ Fontana; Elvis asked me how come I didn’t quit and I said "Elvis, you always done exactly what you said you would do, so I had no reason to quit". I stayed with Elvis for 14 years. He hired Scotty and Bill back. We worked 24 hours a day with Elvis. We travelled with Elvis, Scotty, Bill, sometimes George, sometime Gene. We said Elvis, get a bus! He said no, but then he started travelling on the train and we were still stuck in the car!
Once we were in the Hollywood Knickerbocker and bought a few shirts I thought were cool so I showed them to Elvis and he said "nice, where’d you get them? " I said ‘downstairs’. He then proceeded to rip all the buttons off the shirt. "Elvis, why’d you do that?" He said "Remember my shoes you threw out the car window? It’s payback time".
George Klein: Once they were at a hotel and Bill and DJ pushed Elvis into the pool. A woman complained about the chaos and said "who do you think you are, Elvis?"
Dr Nick: Elvis came to our house at 2-3:00 in the morning and scared the neighborhood because they thought the Hell’s Angels had arrived. There wasn’t anything wrong, but Elvis just wanted to talk. He tried to come into the house but there were clothes lines all over the place because our dryer had broken down. Elvis had to dodge all the sheets and clothing and finally found me. And he said "If you’re going to be my doctor, you ain’t gonna live like this".
He was just a great guy, fun to be around.
One Sunday afternoon Elvis wanted to see me, so I was driving there. On the way over, I got broadsided by another car. He offered me a big Seville to use until I could get a new car. I used it for months and finally one day he said "Are you going to give me that car back?" I said "I have to talk to my wife about it". She discouraged me. The next night I told him "I guess I’d better not take it".
He said "Just give me a dollar and you can buy the car". So I did. Elvis was such a giver. When he gave something, 10 others would want the same thing and I didn’t want to start anything. That’s why I didn’t want to take the car but he thought I was just a cheapskate and didn’t want to pay for it.
Right after Elvis died I took one of the doctors from the hospital to a Memphis State football game. He had had too much to drink and he kept saying "they shouldn’t have called that play"… Then he said ‘someone’s been throwing tomatoes at me". Turns out he’d been shot. Someone was trying to shoot me but he’d leaned over to say something. I was sure someone was trying to shoot me and I was looking behind me for a long, long time. I can understand why some fans would want to hurt me. But Elvis was one of my best friends and I loved him and I did everything I could to save him.
Dean Nichopoulos – Elvis really loved his fans. We were on tour and one night he wanted to get the crowd going. I used to put the bandaid on his fingers. Since it was slow, Elvis gave one of his rings away. About 3 songs later he gives another ring away and the audience is fired up. So I’m thinking – that’s about $30,000 worth of rings just to get the audience fired up. Then the TCB ring comes flying and it fell right to me. Afterward he mentioned he gave away 2 rings but accidentally lost the TCB ring. I took it out of my pocket and gave it back to him.
I taught him how to play racquet ball. One time I’m hitting balls with Linda Thompson. He doesn’t show up for 40 minutes. He comes in and says "what are you doing with my girlfriend?"
In Palm Springs he asked me if I wanted a motorcycle. I said no thanks. He said "you can ride on the back of mine". He gives me a pitcher of water and says "you have to hold this, wrap your hands around my waist and hold on". Now he puts a cigar in his mouth and we take off. We’re going 75 miles and hour. And he’s turning around talking to me and I’m saying "yes, sir, yes sir" But I didn’t know what he’s saying. We keep going faster and faster and I’m getting scared, we’re going so fast! When we got back to the house I asked him "what were you telling me back there on the bike?" He said "Do you want to go faster?"
We spend a lot of quality time together, watching TV, talking together in Lisa’s room.
One night on tour he called me around 3:00 in the morning. "I want to read something to you", he said. He had the Bible out and he wanted to read to me about earthquakes.
What do you give Elvis for his birthday? I had them make a toothpick with his initials on them. He says man, I really like that. Wow, I thought I’d done pretty well. He asked me to bring over the black box he carried his jewelry in. Opened it and there were 2 engraved toothpicks, just like mine. Thereafter he got a set of sweats for Christmas and his birthday.
He was a giver. He loved watching you get your presents.
Note: Dr Nick and his son mentioned their new book. It should be coming out in about 8 months.
Ray Walker – Elvis came in and introduced himself and I said I know who you are and he said "I know who you are".
Pat Boone and I have been friends since we’re 16 years old. Elvis opened for him a couple of shows. Elvis says hello, Mr. Boone". He says "call me Pat", and Elvis said "but your famous" Pat says "that’s ok, call me Pat".
Pat’s house was right behind Elvis’ and Elvis would sneak out of his house and go visit with Pat and his wife after he’d told the boys he was going to bed.
Elvis was the best listener I’ve ever seen in my life. He was the best-read reader of religions of anyone I’ve ever met. When he looked in your eyes you know you had his full attention. What a wonderful human being Elvis was. We were friends, more or less from a distance, which was probably a good thing. I still love him to this day. He called me a chameleon. I thought he was telling me I was a lizard. But I’d sing differently for each song.
On "Surrender" Elvis had already sung high note after high note. I’d told him it was great that he sang like he talked – talking with a melody. So we were rehearsing this song. He asked you teach voice. I want to hit that high note and I’m afraid I can’t make it. So I took him into another room and say ‘can you vomit?" He said "what?" Ray demonstrates the sound. He practiced with all the vowels. And then Elvis said "I’m ready, let’s do it". Someone just sent me all the outtakes on that session.
Go here for EIN's interview with Ray Walker
Larry Geller: I first met Elvis when I was in school. I grew up in So. Cal. The very first rock concert in So Cal was Elvis. I was still in school and my friends and I thought we were the coolest thing that ever happened. We had the look. We looked like little ‘Fonzies’. We didn’t buy tickets but we figured we’d get in to see him. The doors close and we’re not in. So we tried to get into the theatre from the side. No go. We went to the back of the building and we see Elvis!
He was with some of the guys. I said "come on guys, let’s go!" They froze. I ran over to Elvis and there was – that face. He had this inner glow, this vitality. I was awestruck. He stuck his hand out and said "Hi, I’m Elvis Presley". I couldn’t believe it. I shook Elvis Presley’s hand.
Time goes by, I became a hairdresser. I did the hair of Roy Orbison, Rock Hudson, Peter Sellers.. every star came to us. One afternoon Alan Fortas calls to tell me to come up to fix Elvis’ hair. Normally I wasn’t awestruck, but this was special. I drove up to the house. I walk in and Elvis comes up to me and says "Hi, I’m Elvis Presley".
Man, I’m having this flashback, but I didn’t tell him then about the first meeting. We went into his bathroom and started to talk. He wanted to know who I was, what I was about. When I told him what I was looking for, he said "I need to know what you know". He asked me to come to work for him.
Elvis was the greatest entertainer ever. He has more fan clubs now than any living performer.
We were making a film and Elvis’ choreographer was Norman Winters. We were walking to the sound stage and a guy was walking on the sound stage – a jeweller. He says "Elvis, I got it for you". Elvis looks at the ring, tries it on, it fits, it’s beautiful. Norman comes around and Elvis shows him the ring. Norman says it’s beautiful and Elvis takes the ring off his finger and gives it to Norman.
At the How Great Thou Art recording session we were getting ready to go. Elvis sent the others on and said "Larry, I want to talk to you. This is not just another commercial album. This is God’s music. And you know the Bible says God works in mysterious ways and I’m not going to utter a word until I’m ready to do this right, because you never know who will hear it". We meditated.
Ten years later we meet a big Elvis fan who says "Hi, Larry". He asks her "why do you love Elvis? What’s your story?" She said, well I had a terrible accident and it destroyed my legs. I knew I would never have a boyfriend, would never get married. I was going to take an overdose of medicine to kill myself. But the radio was on and I heard Elvis sing "How Great Thou Art" and I was filled with love and good feeling and decided to live. I told Elvis this story and tears streamed down his face. "Man," he said. "Did I need to hear that".
I had the overwhelming task to do his hair for his funeral. But when I walked in with Charlie Hodge and walked up to Elvis’s body and I looked at that gorgeous face – I stood about him for about 20 minutes. My heart ruptured. Like Niagara Falls all the memories poured over me. All of a sudden a memory from about 10 years earlier came to me.
I remember our routine was making 3 movies a year and we’d drive back to Memphis, stay for a few months, then drive back. Elvis would have me come up. I’d do his hair, we’d talk. He called me upstairs one day. Elvis is sitting at the edge of the bed, shaking his head and I knew something is up. He hands me a movie magazine and on the cover was a picture of Elvis in one of his movies, looking distraught. The headline was "Elvis still in grief over his mother’s death". It said his group hears Elvis crying in the middle of the night, etc.
Elvis said "do you believe that stuff?" "Grieve? I hope, Lawrence, you never have to grieve the way I did. In 1956 I came on the scene and all hell broke loose. I was on TV, I recorded and then I went to Hollywood to fulfill my wildest dreams. Everything was going my way. And then I got drafted. And then my mom died. The light of my life died. So my career was cut short, I was shipped overseas, and I was grieving. You know me, I want to know the reason for everything. Why me? Why did He take my mom?"
That’s what he was going through that day. He was constantly questioning why him, why Elvis that all this happened to?
Elvis said he knew what the Bible meant when it said It’s better to give than to receive.
(Note: Larry Geller tells more stories of Elvis' generosity in the DVD '200 Cadillacs')
Go here for EIN's in-depth interviews with Larry Geller
Marion: When Elvis was coming into the hospital Dr Nick asked me to come in on my day off to take care of Elvis. Elvis brought us all together and made us one family. He deserved all the honor and respect that he is getting this week.
Many of my stories have pretty much been told. But after Elvis died I was in Palm Springs. A lady who had made a movie with Elvis came up to me and said "I’m so-and-so and I made a movie with Elvis" and I said "I’m Marion Cocke and I spent the last 2 years of his life in Elvis’ bedroom".
I wanted to do something positive to honor Elvis. The first benefit dinner I did for Elvis was at the Peabody. Next year will be the 18th year of the dinners. We didn’t think many would come this year, but we had 330 and had to turn people away. So I’ll be doing it again next year, although I’m having such trouble with my memory I may forget to come!
I do appreciate the fact that you fans also do much charity work in Elvis’ name. And then I went to the vigil last night. And I watched the people come up the walk – young, old, healthy and infirm, and I remember when Elvis asked me "Mrs. Cocke, do you think my fans will remember me?"
Finally a cute little story from Mrs Hoffman (Elvis' dentist Dr. Lester Hoffman's widow)
Mrs. Hoffman – Knowing this man changed my life. After Lisa was born were invited to see her. Our visit lasted 45 minutes and it was a glorious time. He never stopped staring at Lisa. On the way down the steps he lit up a cigarette. I said ‘why do you smoke?" He said "why do you care?" I said "because you’re my friend". He told me I was going to become a yoga instructor, and that’s what happened. He helped me get my training and I’ve been a yoga instructor for 39 years.
We were in Elvis’ dressing room one night after a performance. I said "where’s Elvis?" He was showering. When he came out and hugged me and asked "was I any good? As the evening wore on, people would bring celebrities in to meet him and I said "Elvis, we should leave". He put his hand on my leg and said "they are them and you are us and don’t leave". My husband says "how long are you going to let him keep his hand on your knee?" And I said "til my leg falls off or he takes his hand away".
Other Elvis friends who told stories on the day were
Will "Bardahl" McDaniel (an early friend of Elvis')
Sally Wilburn (Sam Phillips’ companion).
Mark James (song writer of Suspicious Minds etc)
Go here for EIN's interview with Jimmy Velvet.
Bev Rook the producer of this event thanks everyone for coming.
She also reminds us of how The Elvis World lost too large a number of special friends this year.
Todd Morgan, Bobby McDowell, Isaac Hayes. Also JD Sumner’s brother and Hugh Jarrett (bass singer of Jordanaires), Elaine Dundy and Bill Burk.
Click here for EIN Elvis Week 2008 Spotlight Part 1 - The Insiders Conference
Click here for EIN Elvis Week 2008 Spotlight Part 2 - The Candlelight Vigil