Elvis Week Day 2 – Elvis Week Shop-a-Thon, Part One

By Jon Waterhouse

Fellow die-hard Elvis fans know the feeling. Our burning love for the king often blazes all the way from our hearts to our wallets. When it comes to Elvis merchandise, my hands start shaking, my knees get weak, and I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet. I just can’t enough. Is there a support group for this sort of thing? If so, sign me up. Let’s just wait until after Elvis Week.

For now, I’m shopping until I’m dropping. And there’s no better place to do it than at Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Yesterday, I began my spree, and came across gaggles and gaggles of goodies. Check out these super, awesome finds:

The Joe Petruccio Collection

When I pack for Elvis Week, I load the suitcase with my collection of Elvis T-shirts. But there’s always room for one or 10 more. This line of shirts featuring the art of Joe Petruccio beg to jump off of the shelf and onto my back. The styles are many, and each features one of Joe’s signature Elvis-inspired paintings or drawings.

“The Candlelight Vigil” Book

The Candlelight Vigil will always be the centerpiece of Elvis Week. It’s what started it all. This hardcover book tells the visual story with photos, newspaper clippings, and more straight out of the Graceland Archives.

“A Boy From Tupelo – The Complete 1953-55 Recordings”

Nothing quite compares to the raw, unbridled energy of early Elvis. This three CD set —it’s also available digitally— is the most comprehensive collection of early Presley material ever released. You get every known Sun Records master and outtake, live performances, radio recordings, Elvis’ self-financed first acetates, and more. A newly discovered live recording of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” has me going ga-ga.

The Elvis Presley Museum Collection
These framed artifacts from Graceland Authenticated are nothing short of amazing. You can take home a piece of Col. Parker’s Elvis stationary from 1956, a swatch of Elvis’ clothing, a target shot from the king’s Colt 45 pistol, and more.
Come back soon to the blog. I’ll be hitting the gift shops for round two.

If you can’t make it to Graceland, you can find some of these products and more at store.graceland.com.

Although Elvis loved a variety of musical genres, gospel rose to the top of his list. Last night, gospel music took the spotlight inside Soundstage A at Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Elvis Radio personality Argo served as emcee, and the show hit the ground running with the exuberance of a southern tent revival. The sold-out crowd waved their hands in unison and stood on their feet while soaking up the inspiration. Here are a few of the highlights:

Terry Mike Jeffrey
This longtime torchbearer of the Elvis catalog wowed the audience from the get-go with a solo rendition of “By and By.” Jumping from acoustic guitar to piano, Terry Mike journeyed through more than 10 tunes from the king’s gospel songbook. The bouncy “Let Us Pray” from the 1969 film “Change of Habit” provided a nice surprise, and it shared the set list with “Where Could I Go But to the Lord,” “Milky White Way,” “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” and more. Arguably the highpoint of Jeffrey’s set came when he invited vocalist Duke Mason onstage for an impromptu duet of “His Hand in Mine.”

Terry Blackwood and The Imperials

Blackwood, who sang background vocals for Elvis as part of the Imperials, brought his version of the trio to Elvis Week. The set included the rousing romp of “Bosom of Abraham,” complete with images of Elvis flickering on the massive screens on each side of the stage. The encore hit fans hard with a medley of Elvis favorites, including “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “The Wonder of You,” “An American Trilogy,” and “How Great Thou Art.”

Former members of J.D. Sumner & The Stamps Quartet

Bill Baize, Larry Strickland, and Donnie Sumner —who backed Elvis in the Stamps— were joined by Donnie’s son Jeff for stories and song. Firing one liners with the dexterity of a stand-up comic, Donnie led the charge. “Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” “Old Country Church” and more stacked the set. For the encore, Donnie invited Terry Blackwood and The Imperials, and Terry Mike Jeffrey back onstage. They then ripped into a show-stopping version of “How Great Thou Art” with the crowd on its feet, singing along.


strickland1In 1974, while his 20s, vocalist Larry Strickland’s booming vox attracted the gospel group, J.D. Sumner & The Stamps Quartet. As part of The Stamps, Strickland soon went from performing at churches and smaller venues to backing Elvis onstage in Las Vegas. Countless Elvis concerts followed —both in Vegas and on tour— with Strickland and his fellow Stamps providing their brand of harmonic, background vocal magic.

Last night, that magic returned as Strickland joined fellow former Stamps members Bill Baize, Donnie Sumner, and Donnie’s son Jeff for The Gospel Music of Elvis Presley Celebration Concert at Elvis Presley’s Memphis. Strickland brought that trademark boom to a capacity crowd, as his wife, country music icon Naomi Judd, cheered him on from backstage.

Q.: You’ve been to Elvis Week before. When you first came years ago, what did you think?
A.: I was blown away by all of the fans from all over the world who made the trip to Memphis. We were doing the big (20th anniversary) concert, and we performed along with Elvis’ video footage and vocals. The arena was sold out. It was amazing. Obviously, it was as close to doing the real thing with Elvis as you could possibly get. The energy level was the same as if he were there. We stood over and sang our parts with the same excitement and enthusiasm we had done when he was alive. It was like you were there again. It was so real. It was very emotional and exciting at the same time.

Q.: When you touch down in Memphis, I can only imagine it brings back a lot emotion.
A.: It brings back happy memories, but there’s a sadness to it. I got to spend quite a bit of time at Graceland, the house itself. We recorded two records there, which took several days. Other times I would just go there and hang out. I have so many memories, and it makes you long for the days when he was still there. Even though we were around him and saw him a lot, it was still very energizing to actually be with him and hang with him. It was a lot of fun.

Q.: Let’s take about those happy times.
A.: Being on tour were the absolute high points, because that was when Elvis was the happiest and at his best. Of course, the music was what motivated all of us. The best memories are those of standing onstage and doing that music with him night after night. Vegas was a highlight, because when you were performing there you got to work in the same room for eight or 10 nights straight. That made it a lot of fun, because you didn’t have to do soundcheck every night. You just walked downstairs to the showroom and did a show. The crowd was much looser there, and it was really exciting.

Q.: Are you surprised that people still want to talk with you about Elvis 40 years later?
A: It’s amazing. There’s still so much interest in his career and his image and that the fans are just as excited about him. It doesn’t seem to wane. Fans keep coming to Graceland and to Elvis events taking place all over the world. The really good tribute artists work as much as they want to work. We work with several of them every year, and they pack venues. The excitement never stops.

Q.: What impressed most about working with Elvis?
A.: Again, I think I’d have to go back to his performances. He worked hard at every show. He would never try and skate through a show. When he took the stage, it was like opening night every night. He went out and sang and entertained as hard as he could every night that we performed. I was really impressed with how dedicated he was, and how much of a showman and entertainer he was. He would give 100 percent every night, no matter how big the building was or how many fans were there. I never saw him let up.

Q.: Can you talk about Elvis’ passion for harmony vocals?
A.: That was one reason it was so much fun for us. So many of the arrangement that he put together for the songs involved us, the harmony singers, the background singers. That’s what we were all about was harmony and backing him up. Most of the songs were huge arrangements, and we had a big part in those arrangements, whether we were singing along with him or doing oohs and ahs. Just about all the songs were filled with harmony parts, so it kept us singing. We weren’t just sitting on stools. We were a large part of the show. That’s what made it so much fun.

Q.: What do you enjoy most about Elvis Week?
A.: Just seeing some of the fans and getting to sing with the old guys. (Laughs) We get so see each other several times a year. In fact, we just spent several days in the studio backing up one of the Elvis tribute artists from Australia. He did a whole gospel record and had us do the background vocals on it. So we were together several days in the studio. Just getting to sing that music again is great.

Q.: What do you think about all of the new additions at Graceland? Have you stayed at the Guest House before?
A.: Yes, and it’s beautiful. It’s really, really nice. I’m very happy they built the hotel and that they’re continuing to upgrade the whole facilities around Graceland. They’re keeping it updated and in great condition. They built a first class hotel. The rooms are great, and the service is great. It’s a four-star hotel, and it’s beautiful. I’ve stayed in hotels around the world, and we still travel a lot. The Guest House ranks very high.


  1. Jeanette Evans

    This is the one thing I want to do before I die is to visit Graceland,

  2. peter GRAHAM

    GLNES FALLs NY 12801

  3. stephen stathis

    Too bad EP never started gospel tours: RCA recording those tours with EP reading passages from his spiritual books and the Bible; even having Geller come out to talk. Would of been great and life saving. Someone needs to put out a book on Elvis’s spiritual readings, his underlinings, his own writings in the margins of the books.

  4. Howard Sparber

    Every time I listen to Elvis it brings back wonderful memories! In particular his Gospel songs bring a peaceful spirit to my soul! Long live the King!!!

  5. Howard Sparber

    Ever time I listen to an Elvis song it brings back wounderfu memories! His Gospel songs in particular brings a peaceful sense to my soul! May the King Rest In Peace for ever!!!!

  6. Oh, we share a bond,praise THE LORD for the gifts he gave each of us.

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