Elvis Week Day 1 – TCB on the Dance Floor

By Jon Waterhouse

There was rain in my shoes, but it wasn’t of the Kentucky variety. I could feel it seeping into my Varvatos kicks, my socks quickly soaking up the moisture.

Moments before yesterday’s Elvis Fan Reunion Event at Elvis Presley’s Memphis, sheets of precipitation swept the parking lot as I splashed my way across it. Just like Elvis sang in “Kentucky Rain,” the stuff was indeed cold.

Arriving at the Fan Reunion, the chill was quickly replaced. I soon began feeling warmth from the inside out. Connecting and reconnecting with fellow fans at Elvis Week really does resemble a family reunion. Making my way through the Soundstage, that instantaneous, unspoken bond felt more alive than ever. The familiar faces, hugs and handshakes came quick, a unique byproduct of Elvis’ impact.

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Special guests, including ever-amazing Elvis artist Betty Harper and legendary TCB Band axeman James Burton, shared their stories with fans. Co-hosts Tom Brown, Memphis Jones, Argo, Dean Z, and Joey Sulipeck asked trivia questions, doled out prizes, and visited with their fellow inhabitants of Elvis World.

Joey, an ace Memphis meteorologist, eventually invited me onstage, giving me the chance to share my feelings regarding the Elvis Week fan connection. Carrying on my tradition of snapping selfies with Elvis Week celebs, I took one of Joey and I from the stage, before turning my camera on the crowd.

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MY MEAL AT VERNON’S SMOKEHOUSE
After the Fan Reunion, I decided to duck into a restaurant, those gray clouds threatening to drop more rain. The choice: Vernon’s Smokehouse, a quick-service eatery at Elvis Presley’s Memphis where southern comfort food wraps your taste buds like one of Granny’s cozy quilts.

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Guests can go for the meat-and-two concept with items such as fried chicken tenders and fried or baked catfish buddying next to a choice of veggies. Knowing Elvis’ fondness for meatloaf, I requested a slab with sides of collard greens and mashed potatoes. The loaf provided a flavorful punch of protein, and the chunks of ham hiding beneath the bed of collards brought just the right amount of smoke to the table. After shoveling spoonfuls of the gravy-soaked taters, the idea of jumping face-first into a creamy vat of it crossed my mind.

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Yet, I have to say the BBQ sampler stole the show. The gentleman at the carving station piled a plate full of ribs, pork, BBQ sausage, and beef brisket. At first bite, the latter nearly melted in my mouth. The entire conglomeration stays in step with Memphis’ reputation of being one of the country’s capitals of ’cue.

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As I took my last nibble of brisket, I looked out the windows to see the sun breaking through the clouds. That great ball of fire was shining and so was the well-balanced barbecue sauce still staining my lips. Before I left Vernon’s, I bought a bottle of the sauce to take home. Next time I’ll make room for some pecan pie or banana pudding.

ELVIS WEEK DANCE PARTY
Last night inside Graceland Soundstage A at Elvis Presley’s Memphis, throngs of fans hit the dance floor for this sold-out rave up. Argo of Elvis Radio spun grooves from the king’s catalog as colored beams of light whisked across the hip-shaking masses. The arguable highpoint came when “I Can Help” boomed from the speakers, causing most of the audience to participate in what’s become a Graceland dance party tradition. Some refer to it as the “clap dance.”

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Among the many dancers at the event, several stood out to me, including 14-year-old Kevin Hoffman from Jackson, N.J. An Elvis fan since he was 3 and a two-time “Elvis Quiz Show” winner at the age of 9, Kevin obviously has a passion for Presley. It was apparent on the dance floor as he shook with kingly swagger while wearing a leather outfit, a nod to Elvis’ duds from the “’68 Special.”

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Isabella Bergamasco traveled all the way from Sao Paulo, Brazil for her fifth Elvis Week. Wrapped in a homemade Elvis jumpsuit-style dress, Isabella, danced for hours. When asked which Elvis dance song was her favorite, she replied, “Todos!”

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You couldn’t miss the flashy moves from 9-year-old Brooklyn Brisco of Ontario, Canada. With grandmother Ruth Martin nearby, Brooklyn twisted the night away in a glittered skirt and matching shoes.

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A few steps away, Ramona Preiss and Anne Kathrin Barnbeck of Hanover, Germany shook off the jet lag from a 27-hour flight by dancing with John Strados of Vancouver, British, Columbia.

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JERRY SCHILLING Q&A
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In July of 1954, just days after Elvis’ debut tune “That’s All Right” first aired on Memphis radio, a 12-year-old Jerry Schilling found himself playing a game of pick-up football with the soon-to-be-star.

The game would change Jerry’s life, literally. The two forged a friendship. Years later, Jerry not only worked for Elvis in various capacities throughout the king’s career, but he became one of his closet confidants.

Jerry went on blaze his own trail behind-the-scenes in the entertainment industry. He found himself co-editing the 1972 documentary “Elvis On Tour” alongside a young Martin Scorsese. Throughout his 40-plus year career, Jerry has worn a variety of hats from film and TV producer to managing and working with the Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Joel and others.

More exciting projects continue percolating on Jerry’s horizon, which he’ll chat about during his Elvis Week 2017 appearance. In the days before Elvis Week, he took some time to share his thoughts on this year’s event, the new happenings at Graceland, and his memories of Elvis.

Q.: What does Elvis Week mean to you?
A.: Elvis Week to me is a huge celebration of my friend’s work and of his legacy. You see people from all around the world. From the Middle East to Japan to Europe and everywhere. Elvis Week keeps his spirit alive, and it just keeps growing. It’s very special.

Q.: Many liken it to a family reunion.
A.: It is a family reunion for me. I get to see a lot of people who are my friends, and we got to travel and work together. I live in California, so it’s a great opportunity to get back and see the fans, and talk about some of the things we’re working on for the future. It’s just a great celebration. I couldn’t go back the first two or three years. I just couldn’t do it. When I first heard about the Candlelight Vigil, I thought it was kind of strange. Then I went, and I was blown away to see all of those thousands of people paying their respects. It’s the type of reverence I remember when I was a pallbearer at Elvis’ funeral and how people lined the streets when we drove to the burial site. Just all kinds of people; policemen, bikers, black, white, young, old. Everyone there was just stopped dead. They either had their hand over their hearts or their hats off. I think Elvis’ vision was to be loved and accepted. That day I knew he had accomplished what he set out to do. And he’s still doing it.

Q.: Out of all of the new additions at Graceland, which do you think Elvis would’ve liked the best?
A.: I truly think he would’ve liked The Guest House. Elvis was a hotel person. When Elvis was alive, there was a little motel, the Howard Johnson’s, down the street from Graceland. Sometimes he would leave Graceland, and go down and check into the Howard Johnson’s. I remember one time he was playing Memphis. We had been on tour, and he got to Graceland. He felt he had gotten out of tour mode. So, he called me. I had a room at the Howard Johnson’s. It was one of the times I wasn’t staying at Graceland. He said, “Are there any rooms there?” I told him he could have my room, because it was the biggest. And that’s where he stayed during the whole Memphis engagements. Yeah, he loved hotels. And I think what Elvis Presley Enterprises has done with the Guest House is amazing, and Elvis would’ve loved it, too.

Q.: Can you explain?
A.: I think it has a real Priscilla touch. There are subtleties. What I mean by that is you’re not overwhelmed by Elvis’ pictures everywhere you turn. There may be a painting of the collar of a jumpsuit. You know it’s Elvis, but it’s subtle. You can go to that hotel, and you don’t have to be an Elvis fan. You’re still in a very nice hotel. There are some themed suites, and they’re done very beautifully. It’s very classy. It’s nice that it’s right beside Graceland. It has a nice peacefulness about it, and yet there are fun places in it. When you go to your room, it’s quiet, it’s first class. You can go downstairs to the restaurants. There’s a real fun, casual one —EP’s Bar & Grill— and during the opening event last October, we hung out there a lot and had a great time. I’m looking forward to getting back and staying there again.

Q.: Just across the street from the Guest House is the new entertainment complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Among other things, you’ll find the new Elvis Radio studio. If he would’ve had a chance to DJ, what would Elvis have played?
A.: I think it would be all over the board just like what he recorded. If you look at Elvis’ discography, there’s country music, blues, rhythm and blues, rock, symphonic music. I don’t think he’d be on a format. When you look at great singers and their discographies, they pick great music. They don’t just pick music from one genre. Even Dean Martin and Sinatra got music from all kinds of places. And that’s what Elvis did as well. He’d be a good DJ, because he liked playing music. Sometimes we’d be at Graceland, especially back in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and he’d play records all night, literally. Speaking of his diversity, the albums “If I Can Dream” and “The Wonder of You” with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have done great overseas. They’ve been number one in the U.K., Australia and Italy. It’s so popular that it spurred a very successful tour in the U.K., Europe and Australia. It’s been packing venues of 10,000 people in some places. You know, you would think Elvis was in the room. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays at the FedEx Forum in Memphis on August 16th. Priscilla hosted the tour in the U.K. and in Europe. She passed the baton to me, and I hosted the Australian tours. You had to see it. You go to a concert today, and you look at the big screen, because the venues are so large. This show has Elvis on this huge screen. You’ve got this 50- to 70-piece orchestra beneath. Live background vocals, live rhythm section. I saw people standing up and cheering, and crying at certain moments. It was wonderful to see. Priscilla will host it live in Memphis, which gives it a really nice touch.

Q.: When you look back on the summer of 1977, especially August 16, I can only imagine you’re hit with a barrage of emotional memories. What about your happy summertime memories of Elvis? Which stand out the most?
A.: There was a Christmas that went into a couple of summers. It was the late 1960s. Elvis and I were having breakfast at Graceland, and he said, “Jerry, I want to buy Priscilla a horse for Christmas.” Priscilla was his girlfriend and my girlfriend was Sandy. He said, “Can I buy one for Sandy? Then they could ride together.” I said, “Yeah, she’d really like that.” So, we went out looking for horses. I had to try every horse. Elvis had one run away from him. So, he was a little leery in the beginning, but he got over it. We went out and got two horses and brought them back to Graceland. The girls loved them. Then we went out and got two horses for me and Elvis. Then we started getting horses for the rest of the guys. We wound up with 38 horses and a ranch in Mississippi. At Graceland, we’d go out to the barn wearing cowboy hats and jeans, and sit around the fire. Elvis bought Graceland in ’57, and the barn had never been used up until we got the horses. We literally painted it. Elvis was painting, and he’d go out at night time and nail up the fences. We fixed all the stalls for the horses. We went out looking for a horse for his father. We were down in Mississippi at Lennox Farms, a very high-class, Tennessee walking horse farm. We were coming back to Memphis, and it was just getting daylight. We saw this beautiful piece of property. It was me, Elvis, Sandy and Priscilla, and Alan Fortas was driving. Elvis said, “Pull over.” He had Alan go and knock on the door. That’s how Elvis bought the ranch out in Mississippi. We had great times down there. We all lived in house trailers. We’d get up in the morning and go for a horseback ride, and have picnics down by the lake. Those are some of the real, fun great times we had sharing with friends. We were having such much fun that Elvis didn’t want to go back and do the next movie. In fact, he delayed it a bit. …We had a lot of special quiet times, too. The times I loved the most were sitting up all night talking about nothing and everything with Elvis. He was very interesting, fun and intelligent to speak with.


5 Comments

  1. Joanne Lortie

    I’m a huge fan from Ottawa,Canada…We have been to Memphis 3 times,unfortunately We could not make it for the 40th Anniversary of our beloved Elvis, but I want to thank you Jerry.,Priscilla and Lisa (God Bless you sweetheat) for sharing all of your private life with us his fans! I will have my candle burning for the vigil on August 15-16 remembering the best entertainer that ever lived!
    God Bless you Elvis and all of your family! Xxx

  2. Elainegarman

    Love the interview

  3. carol b.

    Elvis was a very giving individual who loved sharing the good life with his friends
    an family I have truly loved Elvis since I was 11. I am 73 now and will always love him Carol, Buffalo, NY.

  4. Pam Donkin

    So nice to read Jerry’s treasured memories of Elvis, Oh, how special those times must have been, lucky buggar Jerry. And thank you for posting Elvis week at Gracelands/Memphis. It would be fantastic to be able to attend. I seen you in Perth,Jerry & looking fwd to meeting Priscilla in November. All the best for Elvis week – party on.

  5. stephen stathis

    Always nice to hear stories from people like Jerry and Larry Geller:they humanize EP. Elvis’s entire catalog still moves me like it did in the Fifties. I can’t understand how I can listen to a multitude of songs over six decades and still find them moving and inspiring. His Hand in Mine followed by How Great Thou Art capture Elvis’s spiritual growth between those two releases. It’s there in his singing, his spirit not his flesh.

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