Elvis Week Day 7 – Inspiring Moments at the 2016 Candlelight Vigil

By Jon Waterhouse It never fails. Even after attending multiple Candlelight Vigils, the annual fan gathering and tribute at Graceland on the eve of the anniversary of Elvis’ death, I become awestruck at the event. This year, collective emotions arguably higher than ever, the amount of love pouring forth like the unrelenting rain inspired me to no end. Fans of every color, creed and geographic origin imaginable came together, a visual answer to Walter Earl Brown’s lyrics found in “If I Can Dream,” which Presley sang on the “’68 Comeback Special.” “If I can dream of a better land/Where all my brothers walk hand in hand/Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true?” Last night, once again, that dream came true. INSPIRING MOMENTS AT THE 2016 CANDLELIGHT VIGIL The fans who came early Several hours before the official 8:30 p.m. start time, fans began camping in front of the Graceland walls along Elvis Presley Boulevard breaking out their folding chairs, coolers and more. Now that’s dedication. A short summer shower turned the Memphis air into a virtual sauna. “It’s a pleasure to see the traditions that have been established carry on, as you would expect from the Elvis fans who have been here year after.” said Walker McCutcheon of Clarksville, Tenn. who sat in Graceland Plaza with wife Judy until start time. Among the die hard fans, I saw Cino Torricer from Hawaii, who handed out inspirational cards to those around him. The memorials Just before the Vigil began, many memorials along Elvis Presley Boulevard could be seen, some glowing in the darkness. A Memphis gentleman simply known as Fite created a memorial with images of Elvis, each with a special significance to him. A giant ticket stub replica from Elvis’ final concert in Indianapolis, Ind. sat in front of a massive version of the “’68 Comeback Special” album cover. The Graceland staff Never mind the weather and other obstacles threatening to damper the evening. The staff at Elvis Presley Enterprises, from security guards and retail clerks to marketing execs, channeled Elvis’ positivity and optimism with style, grace and smiles. The rain sprinkling upon him, Kevin Kern, the director of public relations at Elvis Presley Enterprises, welcomed everyone from the top of the Graceland driveway, his speech broadcast down to a jumbo screen perched above the mansion’s walls. The fans who braved the rain The U.S....
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Elvis Week Day 6 – The Legends I Met Yesterday

By Jon Waterhouse As a dyed-in-the-wool king fan, the gift of being the Elvis Week blogger never goes unnoticed. Being the eyes and ears of the Elvis faithful means I get the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the people who not only helped Elvis change the face of music, but also had a personal impact on me. Yeah, I’m a lucky Peabody duck. THE LEGENDS I MET YESTERDAY Ray Walker of the Jordanaires Through the backstage door of the Main Stage at Graceland, my first visual of the day proved to be a roundtable of rock icons. D.J. Fontana, Elvis’ original drummer; Estelle Brown of the Sweet Inspirations, Elvis’ backup singers; and Ray Walker of the legendary singing group the Jordanaires sat together engaging in conversation. As each of them were awaiting their turn to chat with emcee Tom Brown during the Official Graceland Insiders Conference, I snapped myself out of fan boy disbelief and asked each for a photo for the blog. Making it over to Ray Walker, I quickly became aware of his quick wit and sense of humor. “Yeah, you can have a picture with me,” he said, “but no selfies. I’ve never taken a selfie, and I never will.” Later, Walker hit the stage with Brown, telling colorful Elvis stories, tossing jokes and jabs with ease, and even putting Brown through the same vocal lesson Walker gave Elvis. Brilliant. Estelle Brown of the Sweet Inspirations If a vocal group ever had a more fitting title, it would have to be the Sweets. Estelle Brown oozes peace, love and contentment. Her gorgeous smile, her warm handshake and eternal optimism proves contagious. And let’s not forget the glass-shattering voice that helped bolster songs like “Polk Salad Annie” and countless others. When Estelle made it onstage, she told Tom Brown that Elvis refused to be called “boss.” “I’m your brother,” Estelle said Elvis told her. And she quickly reminded everyone Elvis saw the world as one race, the human race. Estelle continues to remain ever-so-lovely, both inside and out. D.J. Fontana The quintessential rock drummer and one of the genre’s earliest architects, Fontana remains the last surviving member of Elvis’ first touring band. He provided the king’s backbeat for more than 14 years, laying down the rhythm on more than 450 cuts. Just sharing the same air as D.J. is a privilege. Sense of humor still...
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Elvis Week Day 5 – The Top 5 Coolest Things I Did Yesterday

By Jon Waterhouse A tornado of activity swirling around on Saturday had me all shook up, in a good way. The thrill of Elvis Week began hitting its peak. The excitement of fantastic events, the love and passion found in fellow fans, and unadulterated fun hit the fevered pitch of a Bill Baize high note. Now I sit in my hotel lobby noshing on breakfast reflecting on the day’s events. Man, I’m a fortunate son in this international Elvis family. Smack me, Kid Galahad, I must be dreaming. THE TOP 5 COOLEST THINGS I DID YESTERDAY The Elvis Fan Reunion Call it cliche, but Elvis Week does indeed resemble a family reunion. This inspired Elvis Week organizers to put together an Elvis Fan Reunion inside the packed Main Stage. Tom Brown, Joey Sulipeck, DJ Argo and Memphis Jones played the roles of the wacky uncles, interviewing fans, hosting games, giving away goodies and more. Seeing a sea of familiar faces from around the globe not only stoked my heart, but served as undeniable evidence of the impact Elvis continues having. And it was all sunshine and rainbows until I got busted peeking at Lesia Marcum’s answers during Elvis Trivia. Yikes! Meet ‘n’ Greet with Betty Harper I popped in at the Heartbreak Hotel to visit Elvis artist Betty Harper’s exhibit and get an eyeful of her work up close and personal. These inspired pieces nearly glow from their easels, and Betty’s created more than 20,000 Elvis-related drawings throughout her career. This includes the fabulous “Me, Myself & I” currently on silent auction at the Heartbreak Hotel. Auction proceeds go to the Bridget Chérie Harper Artist Scholarship Fund to help inspire the next generation of Betty Harpers. Getting suited up at Lansky Bros. Hal Lansky, owner of the clothier to the king, gave me a call, requesting my presence at his store. Upon walking inside, I hear the news I just missed Joe Walsh of the Eagles, who slipped in for some stage duds. Hal then told me he wanted me to look good for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Finals. Soon, I found Lansky wrapping me in a gorgeous blue vest to wear for the occasion. Thanks, Hal! Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Finals The energy level at the Orpheum Theatre downtown sizzled like a toasty frying pan in aunt Delta’s kitchen. Moments before the verdict, I sat backstage with the...
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Elvis Week Day 4 – Elvis 101

By Jon Waterhouse Somebody get me my cap and gown. I think I just graduated from the College of Elvis Knowledge. Yesterday morning I bee-lined to the Main Stage at Graceland for Elvis 101. Some of the top Elvis scholars on the planet, including author Peter Guralnick, Dr. Charles Hughes from Rhodes College, and John Jackson and Ernst Jorgensen from Sony, dispensed a wealth of information on the king of rock ‘n’ roll. I like to think I know my Elvis trivia more than the average roustabout. However, I don’t hold a candle, heck, not even not even a 50-cent lighter to these dudes. While hanging backstage, I asked several of the guys to give me some information I probably didn’t know. Elvis was self aware Dr. Charles Hughes, director of the Memphis Center at Rhodes College and professor of the course “Elvis Presley and America,” says Elvis clearly understood the part he played among our cultural landscape. “If you go back and listen to Elvis Presley in 1968 and ’69,” Hughes explains, “he’s talking about himself the same way we’re still talking about him in 2016. I think he was very conscious, and it was a sign of just how smart he was about himself, and how much he understood his own place in musical history and in a culture. In a sense, he was actually a really wonderful historian of himself. During the “’68 Comeback Special” era, the Vegas period and the touring period of the early ’70s when he was reintroducing himself to live audiences, he was doing so in a way that would help us not only appreciate him, but understand him to this day. He talked about his youth, he talked about his musical journey, all of those things. It was really striking to see just how conscious he was of setting himself into a story in a way that I think is still very important today.” The “Hound Dog” controversy John Jackson, the vice President of A&R and content development at Sony Legacy Recordings, oversees all audio, visual and packaging for releases, including those involving the king. Jackson’s hands touched the recently released “Way Down In The Jungle Room,” the ultimate collection of Presley’s final recording sessions. Backstage at Elvis 101, he had this about Elvis’ controversial 1956 TV performance of “Hound Dog,” which hadn’t even hit vinyl yet: “You think about when...
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Elvis Blog, Day 3: Elvis’ Style

BY JON WATERHOUSE In tandem with Elvis’ musical prowess and undeniable presence, his personal style and flair for fashion commands equal attention and influence. As bold and vibrant as the man himself, his style leaned toward chromatic colors, glistening bling and dressing to the nines, even when just hanging on the couch. Yesterday’s Designing for the King event found my pal, ace Elvis Week emcee Tom Brown, interviewing a trio of guys who helped Elvis with his kingly style. Hal Lansky, owner of Lansky Bros.; Lowell Hays, Elvis’ jeweler; and Bill Eubanks, Presley’s interior designer. Each of their tales had my eyes twinkling like the king’s rings, inspiring me to track down some of the best purveyors of a similar fashion sense popularized by Presley. Frannie Houston Houston, a Memphis native and sales associate at Lansky Bros. inside the Hard Rock Cafe Music Complex on Beale Street, says Elvis’ look, and his knack for style and trends, still resonates today. Channeling a bit of “Charro!” in this pic, Houston goes basic with jeans and cowboy boots. “Even just a little red bandana on an all-black day can make a difference,” she says. Robert Washington and Dwight Icenhower This pair of Elvis Tribute Artists began clowning around backstage at the Ultimate ETA Semifinals last night. In impromptu fashion, the pair found themselves replicating the famous Muhammad Ali-meets-Elvis photo. Obviously influenced by the King’s jumpsuit years, the duo gleamed in the backstage hallway. “Got to love the bling,” says Icenhower. Shirley Hodges and Melody Manning Talking about bling, you can’t lose Shirley Hodges (left) and Melody Manning (right) in a crowd. These two Elvis fans from Milledgeville, Ga. fashioned their own Elvis vests with a bevy of pins, and dolled up their nails to match. “It took me three months to work on one vest,” Manning says. They glue some of their pins on for extra reinforcement, and gather glittery enhancements wherever they can. According to Manning, one pin alone, a limited-edition acquired from Bradford Exchange, set her back $70. Gabby Gibson Gibson, from St. Clair Shores, Mich., channels the ’50s era with her classic poodle skirt. For Halloween 2015, Gibson dressed as the king. Throughout Elvis Week she poses as a first-generation Elvis fan, complete with bobby socks and saddle shoes. Although she may be rocking the 1950s, her favorite Elvis song jumps a couple of decades to 1973. “I...
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