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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Elvis Week Day 2: Top 5 Things I Noticed on Guest House at Graceland Tour

By Jon Waterhouse Miracles happen at Elvis Week, and today I’m living proof. After a wonderful yesterday morning at Graceland, the next six hours panned out like this: A head-shaving accident and a cut that wouldn’t stop bleeding; leaving the doctor’s office and breaking down on Interstate 55; receiving help from Memphis’ finest; an expensive tow truck ride to a local mechanic; and no rental cars to be found. Alas, good fortune began appearing in the form of bountiful blessings, including no need for stitches and my survival on 55. And let’s not forget the only rental ride I could finally track down wound up being a bad-to-the-bone Mustang. Gunning those wheels down Elvis Presley Boulevard, with Elvis Radio blaring out of the rolled-down windows, a thought popped in my head: Presley would be proud. So, I’m finally back in front of the keyboard, going over the cool stuff that unfolded on Wednesday, beginning with my visit to the construction site at the Guest House at Graceland, the new 450-room luxury resort just steps away from the king’s castle, set to open on October 27. Back at Elvis Week 2014, I stood near Priscilla Presley during the groundbreaking ceremony, and I even got to hold one of the official shovels. An expanse of dirt and grass served as the surroundings. Fast forward to yesterday. I found myself standing in front of a breathtaking structure, echoing the design of Graceland itself, not to mention Elvis’ own flair for decor. The construction crew bustled around me, taking care of business. They whizzed by on forklifts, scaled ladders and slathered on coats of paint. I could see the Guest House coming to life before my eyes. The best example would be the dirt patch I noticed as I parked my car. When I returned, I found it covered by a blanket of sod. While taking the tour with Michael Pramshafer, the vice president of sales and marketing, I witnessed countless cool sites. Take a look at my Top 5. THE TOP 5 THINGS I SAW ON THE GUEST HOUSE AT GRACELAND TOUR The Guest House at Graceland Itself Walking up to the Guest House, I could imagine the strains of “Welcome to my World” playing in my head. Sure, it has the look of a world-class resort, but it’s distinctively Elvis. For the first time, us fans get the opportunity to physically...
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