Elvis Week Day 5: Dreams Come True at Elvis Week

By Jon Waterhouse Call it cliche, but dreams come true at Elvis Week. In fact, the whole shebang revolves around one man’s dream that reverberated into reality. And we’re still feeling the results of that dream today. Nowhere was it more apparent than yesterday at Graceland’s Main Stage. The Elvis Presley Fan Club Presidents’ Event centered around the charitable efforts of Elvis fan clubs, keeping the king’s dedication to giving in tact. Elvis Radio’s Argo hosted a chat with AP writer Linda Deutsch, who launched her writing career at age 12 by publishing an Elvis Fan Club newspaper. Jimmy Snow, son of country music legend Hank Snow, shared stories of performing on the road with Elvis. His last visit with the king took place in 1958 during a 10-day stay at Graceland when Elvis asked Snow to take a peek at a movie script he was offered. The film was “King Creole.” Arguably one of the most inspiring moments took place when Elvis fan William Bryan took the stage. He explained that thanks to Elvis fans from around the world, he was able to pursue a lifelong dream. Through a Kickstarter campaign, Bryan raised $15,000, enough money to produce an Elvis biopic. Fans were treated to the first look of “Nobody,” a 15-minute short film about Elvis Presley’s talent show performance in April 1953 at  Humes High School. Ironically, as we all gathered to celebrate the fruits of Elvis’ dream, we saw someone else’s play out on the big screen. Q&A WITH WILLIAM BRYAN, DIRECTOR OF “NOBODY” Q.: How did this project begin? A.: This whole thing started when I was about 14 or 15 years old when “Walk the Line” with Joaquin Phoenix came out. I realized there had never been a theatrically released Elvis feature biopic. And so I realized that day that was going to be my lifelong dream. I carried that idea with me through high school and film school in Chicago. Around sophomore year in film school, my film professor mentor  said to me, “When do you plan on making this feature film?” I said, “I don’t know. Maybe 10 years down the road.” He told me I needed to do something that I could go ahead and execute. He suggested that I take the George Lucas route where his final short film at film school ended up being his first feature. That way...
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Elvis Week Day 4: A Day in the Life of an Elvis Tribute Artist

By Jon Waterhouse Oh, the life of the ETA. They get to shroud themselves in the coolest of shimmering stage wear, bask in the warmth of adoring fans and take their Elvis appreciation to the stage. These guys have it made. Am I right? Not so fast, Lucky Jackson. What we fans don’t see are the grueling hours of prep, the mounting pressure and the unrelenting frustrations that can knock the wind out of your morale. So for Elvis Week 2014, I decided to pull back the ETA curtain at the biggest showdown of the year: the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. Yesterday I shadowed the semifinalists as they headed to their Super Bowl, or World Cup for those international guys. It was time to walk a mile in their shoes. Today’s blog is entirely dedicated to that experience. ORIENTATION The day began at 8:00 a.m. as the 21 ETAs arrived at the stage door of the Orpheum Theatre for orientation. Some filed in donning casual duds such as jeans, button-downs and T-shirts. However, most of them came decked out in Lansky-worthy wear in the spirit of Elvis’s street clothes. Think bright, chromatic shirts with wide collars, snazzy blazers and slick slacks. Of course, a majority of the guys had their pompadours at full mast. The first order of business was to get the lay of the land. It would be dark during the competition, so the performers were shown the entrances and exits. They were escorted on stage to get familiar with the layout, the location of the monitors and other logistics. “It’s beautiful,” said Gino Monopoli as he looked out from the Orpheum’s stage. The ornate movie palace dates back to the late 1920s. The king was known to watch movies there, and got his hair cut at the barbershop next door. “The acoustics are incredible,” the Canadian ETA explained. “And there’s something about old theaters and their history. It makes it special.” The group left the stage and gathered in a backstage waiting area. Gaggles of Elvi congregated around tables talking shop from hair tips to stage wear. When a specific performer’s name was called, he’d be whisked back for a quick conference with the show’s producer and band leaders. Song selection, arrangement, microphone style and other details were put on the table. In the meantime, the other ETAs continued hanging out, periodically erupting in pockets...
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Elvis Week Day 3: Where is Elvis in Memphis?

By Jon Waterhouse Memphis music history runs thicker than the barbecue sauce at Marlowe’s. Thankfully fans have the opportunity to sink their teeth into several historical music experiences and walk away with mouthfuls of blues, rock and soul knowledge. For Elvis lovers, there are plenty of kingly nibbles along the way. Yesterday I took to the streets to explore a trio of museums specializing in Memphian music lore. While I have a great appreciation and love for all of the music that sprang out of the Bluff City, it is Elvis Week after all. My Presley radar continues running full tilt. To help steer Elvis Week fans along the way, I’m listing my top three Elvis finds at each location. Sun Studio 706 Union Ave., Memphis 901-521-0664 www.sunstudio.com Thanks to its visionary original owner, Sam Phillips, the hallowed halls of Sun Studio captured world-changing music for the masses. The Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats tune “Rocket 88,” which many historians cite as the first rock ‘n’ roll song, was cut there. Phillips tracked blues icons Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas and others. And his label’s roster beamed brightly with the likes of Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Of course it’s where the world first discovered Elvis, who obviously made the most noise out of all of Sun’s alumni. The Elvis Display The Sun Studio tour begins upstairs where glass cases spotlight a collection of memorabilia. Elvis fans should gravitate to the back right corner of the room where you can discover a sizable shrine to the young king. You’ll find the black Lansky Brothers sports coat Elvis wore on “The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show” in 1956, as well as the guitar case, complete with cow hide interior, that he used. WHBQ DJ Booth Dewey Phillips, the groundbreaking Memphis DJ, was the man who spun Elvis for the very first time. His show “Red, Hot and Blue” aired on WHBQ, and his actual DJ booth was rescued from the now defunct Hotel Chisca. It now lives upstairs at Sun. Take a look at the turntables that changed the face of music. The Studio Step into the intimate recording studio that shook the foundations of popular music. Look to the ceiling, and you’ll see the same tiles Elvis saw that legendary night in 1954 when he recorded “That’s All Right” with Scotty Moore and Bill Black....
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Elvis Week Day 2: Experiencing Graceland and Memphis

By Jon Waterhouse While covering Elvis Night at the Memphis Redbirds game on Saturday, Graceland photographer Robert Dye succinctly described Elvis Week as a roller coaster ride. “We’re just now going up the hill,” he said. “And now the ride begins.” Yeah it does, and on Sunday I had my figurative lap bar securely in place, ready and eager for every dip, twist, turn and gasp-inducing Elvis Week moment. My day began with an hour-long guest DJ set on Elvis Radio alongside DJ Argo, the always welcoming and incredibly talented maestro of the mike. Soon thereafter I was whisked away in a Graceland tour bus for my first tablet tour. This brand new interactive experience had me at click and drag. Each Graceland guest receives an iPad and headphones. Actor John Stamos, best known for his lengthy stint on the TV sitcom “Full House,” narrates this journey through a different kind of full house, one loaded with memorabilia and rock ‘n’ roll majesty. As you explore the mansion and its grounds, an image of each respective room and area appear on the tablet’s screen offering a slew of additional content. Let’s say you’re passing through Graceland’s kitchen. A video icon appears on your screen giving you the option to watch a home movie of a young Elvis walking through that very room. The wealth of the tablet material is seemingly endless. When stopping in the Jungle Room the tablet offers a photo of a tiny Lisa Marie chilling on that tiki-tastic couch. Visit the display of Priscilla’s wedding dress, and you can use your tablet to simultaneously watch actual footage of she and Elvis exchanging vows. And that’s just a smidgen of what’s available on the tablet. Movie trailers, audio interview clips, Elvis TV appearances, live concert footage and more take the tour to unprecedented heights. Having chalked up many a Graceland visit, the tablet tour makes it feel completely brand new and totally immersive, while retaining the charm of the classic experience. It’s simply like visiting the Presley palace for the very first time. The new Graceland Archives Experience adds yet another dimension. Just when you thought it was over, those who opt for the Platinum or VIP tour get access to the Archive Studio. Housed in its own facility just behind the mansion, the theater-like setting allows guests the opportunity to get a close look at Elvis...
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Elvis Week Day 1: Elvis Night with Memphis Redbirds

By Jon Waterhouse Elvis Week was starting off on the good foot, literally. I’d only been in Memphis for a few short hours, and there I stood in blue suede shoes getting a kingly dance lesson from Dean Z, the 2013 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist winner. Just outside the Memphis Redbirds locker room in the belly of AutoZone Park, Dean passed along some pointers. It was Elvis Night at the Redbirds game and among the activities: an Elvis dance contest. In the interest of blog fodder, I figured I’d give it a shot and sign up. Either the blog would recount the thrill of Elvis Week victory or examine the agony of da feet. Dean instructed me to flip my collar, quiver my lip in a snarl and replicate his Presley choreography. He glided across the stadium floor effortlessly like he was skating on butter. Dean Z exemplified cool. Cool as ice. That’s when reality struck. What was I thinking? I couldn’t move like that. There was a good chance I was about to become the laughing stock of Elvis Week in front of 10,000 people. Dance like the king? More like the court jester. But there was no time for anxiety. I had to follow Dean Z on the field to watch as he threw out the first pitch. A mesmerizing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” followed courtesy of soprano Kallen Esperian, an opera singer known for having belted out vocals alongside Pavarotti. Thankfully the distractions kept coming. I struck up a conversation with Ben Thompson, a London, England-based ETA, who had never seen live baseball. “Back home we have sports,” he told me, “but it’s just the sport. Here there’s a lot of audience participation. And I love the tunes in between [the action] and the mascot running around. It adds a fun factor for people like myself who don’t understand the rules. It’s great!” Chatting with Ben helped calm my nervous, as did loading my belly with ballpark delicacies. Dance contest? What dance contest? Then the 8th inning came, and my escapism screeched to a halt. It was time to take the field and dance. Only one other person registered for the contest. Once I got a look at him, any sliver of confidence I may have had quickly fluttered away. Cody Giles, a senior at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., would be duking it...
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