Elvis Week Day 7 – The Guest House and Shop-A-Thon, Part Two

By Jon Waterhouse During Elvis Week last year, I got a sneak peek at the Guest House at Graceland under construction. I was instantly impressed by its exterior design directly inspired by the Colonial Revival style of the Graceland mansion. Ever since, I’ve imagined what it would feel like crashing at a posh hotel fit for rock royalty. Now one year later, the 450-room Guest House serves as my home base for Elvis Week 2017. I’ve been soaking up the sights, sounds, and surroundings of Memphis’ largest hotel project in nearly 100 years. A combination of class and luxury, with just the right amount of kingly cool and Memphis flash, the Guest House has oodles to offer. Here a just a few of my favorite aspects of the Guest House at Graceland: The Decor Elvis’ personal fashion sense and flair echoes throughout the entire hotel grounds. From the lobby’s mirrored ceiling to the hallway light fixtures shaped in the letters EP, the Guest House oozes Elvis style. A massive couch in the Founders Lounge runs along a wall, not unlike the sofa at Elvis’ Palm Springs, Ca. abode. My favorite nod to Graceland’s interior would be the hotel’s mirrored staircase and blue velvet curtains. The Rooms As far as the accommodations go, the Guest House had me at double-headed shower. For Elvis fans, the hits keep on coming. Where else can you find television channels entirely dedicated to the iconic “Aloha From Hawaii” concert and the 1968  TV special? Elvis-related artwork hangs on the walls of each room, and mine boasts a stylistic shot of one of the king’s jumpsuits. For my next visit, I might spring for one of the 20 specialty suites, many of which feature design supervised by Priscilla Presley. A kingsize bed with a TCB headboard? I’m in. The Amenities Among the Guest House amenities you’ll find a large green space where guests relax on the adjacent patio, and play foosball and other games. Visitors gravitate to the nearby aquatics area where you’ll find a hot tub bubbling next to the swimming pool. While some swimmers splash about, others simply chill on a ledge while sprawling on one of several floating loungers. Even the bath house resembles Graceland’s architecture. An all-Elvis soundtrack can be heard poolside, as well as in the hotel fitness center located on the ground floor. Forgot your iPod? No sweat. Elvis...
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Elvis Week Day 6 – Elvis Comes Home, Super Fans, and Gladys’ Diner

By Jon Waterhouse ELVIS: THE WONDER OF YOU 40TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION CONCERT On Aug. 16, a massive crowd —I’m guesstimating more than 20,000— filled the FedEx forum in downtown Memphis for this celebratory concert, the closest thing to seeing the king back on the live stage. A live orchestra played in tandem with isolated Elvis vocal tracks, and accompanying live and archival video of the king on jumbo screens. In no particular order, here are my Top Three Takeaways of the evening: Priscilla Presley The live strains of the orchestra playing “If I Can Dream” behind her, Priscilla Presley hit the stage, welcoming audience members from Memphis and around the world. “We’re bringing him home again,” Priscilla told the crowd, who reacted with a collective cheer. Priscilla would return to the stage periodically throughout the evening. Midway through the show, she treated the audience to home movies, narrating the visuals herself. The footage included Elvis and Priscilla boarding Frank Sinatra’s private plane en route to their Las Vegas wedding; a playful road trip on the king’s custom bus; a Hawaiian vacation; an infant Lisa Marie’s arrival at Graceland; and more. The Music The show kicked off with a pulsing version of “Burning Love” featuring Elvis imagery from the “Aloha From Hawaii” TV special. More than 30 songs followed. A trombone solo provided a sultry intro to “Fever.” A rousing “Blue Suede Shoes” found the string section dancing, some waving their bows in the air. And “American Trilogy” pumped with power. To me, the suspension of disbelief worked best with “Suspicious Minds.” Using Las Vegas footage shot for the documentary concert film “Elvis: That’s the Way It Is,” the orchestra’s high energy and the audience excitement combined with just the right camera angles of Elvis. Together, it gave the sensation that Elvis had indeed returned to the building. The Fans The reaction from the crowd only heightened the concert experience. When Elvis would make certain movements on the big screen —a swivel of a hip to the curl of a lip— fans cheered with enthusiasm. During certain songs, including “Memories” and “If I Can Dream,” many members of the audience fired up their cell phone lights, providing a star field of illumination. Some fans sang, others danced, and some simply watched the spectacle in awe as beams of multicolored light cut across the arena. CONCERT FAN ROUND-UP Before the show, I explored...
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Elvis Week Day 5 – Epically Elvis

BY JON WATERHOUSE Without fail, something epic drops daily at Elvis Week. Yesterday, however, things hit a peak. The day began with computer glitches, which had me struggling to meet my blog deadline. Soon after wrapping, I found myself sprinting to the sold-out Conversations on Elvis: Elvis Family & Friends event at Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Unfortunately, I missed most of it. Host Tom Brown would later tell me Bill Medley’s appearance was not only monumental, but monumentally hilarious. After telling the audience the story of Elvis crashing the stage in the middle of a Righteous Brothers performance, Medley followed suit by walking across the stage in the middle of Jerry Schilling’s interview. I did, however, arrive in time to catch Priscilla Presley’s Q&A with Tom. She spoke about a variety of things, including the upcoming Elvis Exhibit at the O2 Arena beginning in November; Elvis’ personal search for spirituality; his love for road trips; and more. When chatting about his penchant for gadgets, she said, “I think he wanted to be James Bond.” Priscilla then commented on the fact Elvis was one of the first people in the world to have a cellular phone. As far as contemporary digital tech goes, however, she said she couldn’t have imagined Elvis taking a selfie. The conversation ended with Priscilla thanking the fans for their continued support. Backstage, she shook my hand before saying, “Keep on blogging.” My reply: “A blogging we will go.” Here are a few excerpts from Priscilla’s onstage conversation with Tom Brown: On seeing Elvis perform live for the first time: “I had never seen Elvis perform before until ‘The ’68 Comeback Special.’ You have to remember, he had only done movies. He was doing three movies a year, and he hadn’t (performed live) in 10 years. I was in the audience and saw him perform in the round. Mind you, this was a small studio set. So, I’m looking at him performing, and I think, ‘Oh, my God. I finally get it.’ He came out in that black leather suit, and I almost ran up to the front to give him a kiss myself.” On The Guest House at Graceland hotel: “With our new partners, we’ve been able to fulfill the dream that we’ve always wanted. When we started, Jack Soden and I always wanted to have a nicer and better place. We always wanted to have...
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Elvis Week Day 4 – Gold and Platinum Records, and Legends – Oh My!

By Jon Waterhouse If they gave badges for making mistakes in life, mine would be the biggest and shiniest. Yes, I slipped, I stumbled, I fell. Repeatedly. Yet, when you look down at your phone and see a text image of your 13-year-old son rocking the Elvis Presley Snapchat lens, you know you’ve done something right. Due to the proper exposure, our boy Levi was loving the king before he could walk. And while I was attending yesterday’s Official Graceland Insiders Conference at Elvis Presley’s Memphis, inspiration struck. Now I know what to bring home to him: CD copies of Elvis’s albums with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. While watching Priscilla Presley’s acceptance of a pair of gold and platinum record awards for “If I Can Dream” and “The Wonder of You,” respectively, I realized Levi didn’t have those in his collection. And he needs them. A gazillion Elvis fans can’t be wrong. Backstage after the acceptance, Priscilla, Jerry Schilling, Elvis Presley Enterprises’ CEO Jack Soden, and others mingled with record label staff. The framed awards sat nearby, propped up on chairs and shining beneath florescent lights. When Priscilla and the record company team posed around the awards for pics, I suppressed the urge to photobomb. The crowd began to disperse, and I noticed a familiar face entering backstage. Wanda Jackson, the queen of rockabilly and a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, made her way toward the dressing room. My inner fan boy threatening to explode from within, I managed to keep it at bay while smiling and shaking her hand. Wanda’s catalog —from 1958’s blistering single “Fujiyama Mama” to her contemporary albums such as 2011’s “The Party Ain’t Over”— stays in heavy rotation on my iPod. Wanda’s Elvis connection remains the stuff of legend. Her country music career began in 1952 while Wanda was in her teens. After graduating high school in 1955, she began touring with her father, Tom Jackson, who managed her career. She soon found herself on a bill with Elvis, and the pair became fast friends. They even dated briefly in 1955 and 1956. In fact, she cites Elvis as someone who pushed her to venture into rock ‘n’ roll. Today Wanda’s musical significance continues. An endless array of artists call her an influence, including Adele and Jack White, the latter producing “The Party Ain’t Over.” At the moment, Wanda is collaborating with producer...
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Elvis Week Day 3 – Rockin’ the Exhibits at Elvis Presley’s Memphis

By Jon Waterhouse If I had to choose one person to guide me through the new museum spaces at Elvis Presley’s Memphis —with the exception of Elvis himselvis— it would be Angie Marchese, director of archives for Elvis Presley Enterprises. And yesterday Angie gave me the grandest of tours. A large portion of the 40-acre entertainment complex consists of vibrant exhibit halls showcasing everything from the king’s shimmering stage wear to his fleet of slick rides and all points in between. In addition to overseeing and preserving the vast Presley archives in storage, and managing a staff of 26, it’s Angie who determines how the collection is displayed, right down to the paint that’s slathered on the walls. If you like the up-close-and-personal and take-all-the-time-you-want aspects of the new museums, you have Angie to thank. Not only does she have a comprehensive and detailed knowledge of the museums’ contents, Angie rocks Elvis trivia like a computerized databank. As we trekked our way around the grounds, Angie shake, rattled, and rolled off facts faster than my note-taking hand could write. The following are the highlights from my tour of Elvis Presley’s Memphis with Angie Marchese: The Country Road to Rock: The Marty Stuart Collection The complex has permanent exhibits and rotating ones, the latter which Angie and the staff refer to as “discovery zones.” These specific areas take a specialized look at different aspects of Elvis’ life and career. This one examines the country music and style that influenced a pre-fame Elvis. Country star Marty Stuart shares portions of his impressive collection of genre memorabilia, much of it from the Grand Ole Opry’s heyday, which seeped into Presley’s pores. Elaborate stage duds, like Hank Snow’s floral suit by legendary designer Nudie Cohn, certainly rubbed off on Elvis. The exhibit also shows Elvis’ own influence on country music entertainers. A pair of sunglasses Elvis gave to the recently departed Glen Campbell glisten beneath the lights. Mystery Train: The Sam Phillips Exhibit Across the hall from the Stuart collection, you’ll find the story of Sam Phillips, the groundbreaking record producer not only responsible for discovering Elvis, but for helping lay the groundwork for rock ‘n’ roll. At the helm of Memphis Recording Service, Phillips recorded Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and other African-American artists he thought deserved to be heard. One was Jackie Brenston, who many critics cite as cutting the first rock...
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