Elvis Week Blog 9 – Elvis and Ronnie Tutt: Back in the Building

BY JON WATERHOUSE

Elvis Week Brunch with Ronnie Tutt

From the late 1960s until the end of his career, Elvis’ live performances had an undeniable pulse. Certainly, Presley himself provided the electrical force emanating from the stage. The tangible heartbeat of the music came courtesy of drummer Ronnie Tutt.

Like D.J. Fontana before him, Tutt’s rhythmic skill not only provided the essential backbone for Elvis’ live sets, but his percussive instincts often deftly accentuated Presley’s improvisational movements. In turn, Tutt’s powerful drumming would fuel and inspire Elvis to physically intensify his performances and dynamically pull back the reigns when needed.

Elvis Week Brunch

Elvis Week Brunch

Tutt’s tenure in the TCB Band inspired fans to attend yesterday’s sold-out Elvis Week Brunch at the Guest House. Attendees noshed on a southern-centric buffet, but the event’s headlining entree was Tutt himself. The acclaimed drummer engaged in an extended chat with host Tom Brown, musing on his eight-year stint of recording and sharing the stage with Elvis.

“(His stories) are so heartfelt,” said Shantay Wood of Memphis, a brunch attendee. “You can see him thinking and delving deep into his memory and his heart to share that with the fans. …He still has that deep appreciation for Elvis. ..It’s like that continual love affair all of us fans have with Elvis, but Ronnie’s is so much deeper.”

Shantay Wood and her photo of Ronnie Tutt

Shantay Wood and her photo of Ronnie Tutt

Tutt’s connection with Presley had a life beyond the stage, a personal bond Elvis forged with his bandmates and their own respective loved ones. “He was very respectful to our families family when we’d bring (them around),” said Tutt, who recalled Elvis once taking time to make a Christmas phone call to Tutt’s mother. “(Family) meant a lot to him. …We became part of his family.”

The drummer shared a humorous 1970s-era story of an encounter between Elvis and his then 5-year-old son Ron Jr. According to Tutt, his son gave Presley an honest critique of a Las Vegas performance. “You stood in front of my daddy the whole show, and I couldn’t see him.”

Nate Pieper

Nate Pieper

The recollections continued, and afterward Tutt made his way to a ballroom table where he signed autographs for Wood and a long line of other fans. This included three generations of the Cooper family from Queensland, Australia, and 13-year-old Nate Pieper of Forth Worth, Texas. “He always put out such positive energy,” said Pieper, who counts Tutt as one of his favorite TCB band members.

The Cooper Family

The Cooper Family


Elvis Live in Concert

concert1

Nothing puts the finishing touch on Elvis Week like Elvis himself. With the help of video technology and concert production wizardry, Elvis took the stage virtually, entertaining the crowd at the Graceland Soundstage for last night’s recreation of a later-era Elvis show. Using footage culled from the concert film “Elvis: That’s the Way It Is” and the incomparable “Aloha From Hawaii” TV special, Elvis’ presence could be seen and heard on 27 songs. In-the-flesh stage musicians joined forces, playing along to Elvis’ isolated vocal track in synch with the film footage displayed on a trio of massive screens.

The Band

concert3

Olivia Newton-John, one of Elvis’ favorite vocalists, lent her seven-piece band for the occasion. Former members of the J.D. Sumner & the Stamps, who performed innumerable shows backing the king, made up four of the six supporting singers alongside the Newton-John group. The veteran gospel crooners –Bill Baize, Donnie Sumner, Ed Hill and Larry Strickland– delivered their signature layered vocals, often looking up at the onscreen image of Elvis. Ax man Kerry Marx put his own spin on some songs while replicating original Elvis guitarist James Burton’s licks on others. During the electrifying vintage footage, Elvis seemingly fixed his gaze in the direction of the real-life musicians.

Fan Reaction

Keri Hudson

Keri Hudson saved a copy of the show’s set list.

You would’ve thought Elvis was physically back at Graceland when hearing audience member Michelle Valdez of Sante Fe, Texas squealing at Presley’s onscreen moves. This tickled Valdez’ friend, Christina Holgate of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “We loved it,” Holgate said. “Seeing Elvis with a live band is always exciting.” That excitement touched all ages, including 13-year-old Keri Hudson of Atchison, Kansas. “It was just like seeing him in real life,” Atchison said. Celeste Spencer of Pascagoula, Mississippi said it was definitely the next best thing. “I thought it was fantastic,” Spencer explained. “I was just a toddler when Elvis passed away, and I truly believe this is the closest I can get to seeing him live. It was just a great show, and the perfect way to wrap up Elvis week.”

Ronnie Tutt

Jon Waterhouse and Ronnie Tutt

Jon Waterhouse and Ronnie Tutt

Toward the end of the show, the addition of TCB Band drummer Ronnie Tutt met with a booming crowd response. Tutt stepped behind the drum kit for the last four tunes applying his signature fills and touch. The military march at the beginning of “An American Trilogy” and the subtle accents of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” were classic, unmistakable Tutt, and the crowd’s end-of-show ovation echoed their approval. Later, Tutt beamed backstage among family, friends and fans.


2 Comments

  1. Diane Millican

    MY fav.moment regarding Elvis&Ronnie is when Elvis kissing all the women and walking through the crowd all the while Ronnies hitting his drums and watching Elvis in amazement!lol I start laughing E verytime I watch the videoRonnie you are still a cutie

  2. stephen stathis

    Ronnie is beating away on the song Patch It Up and Elvis looks back trying to keep up. Great song and moment in the film TTWII. Ronnie also missed the beat when doing Burning Love when they filmed Elvis on Tour and we hear Elvis kidding about Ronnie doing one thing and the back up singers another backstage.

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