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Elvis Presley News

April 2010
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early April
  • 'Hound Dog' writers were in tune with Elvis
    (, April 18 2010)
    Fact: Jerry Leiber has one blue eye and one brown eye.
    "It was a split decision from God," says Leiber, lyricist of the songwriting team Leiber & Stoller.

    It's also a perfect metaphor for a rock-and-roll duo that is - spiritually - equal parts black and white. Like Elvis Presley, who sang some of their greatest hits ("Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Treat Me Nice"), Leiber and composer Mike Stoller had an uncanny knack for absorbing black music, idioms and attitudes - and then recasting them with pitch-perfect accuracy in popular song form that appealed to people of all persuasions.

    "Smokey Joe's Cafe," the 1995 musical now at Paper Mill Playhouse that revisits such classic Leiber & Stoller tunes as "On Broadway," "Love Potion No. 9," "Kansas City," "Fools Fall in Love" and "Stand by Me" (co-written by Teaneck's Ben E. King), is - among other things - the story of the lifelong love affair of two urban Jewish kids with black music.

    "I guess that was unusual," Stoller says. "I just was always [into] it. I became familiar with the language and structure and poetry of the blues."

    Elvis was their moment of triumph, and tragedy. Triumph because he sent their song sales through the roof. Tragedy because they were never allowed to forge a true artistic partnership with this superstar who was also a kindred spirit a relationship that might have benefited both sides.

    "We kept getting ideas [for music] the closer we got to him," Leiber says. "But [manager Col. Tom] Parker wanted him to do the same dumb old things he always did, the things that appealed to the teenage girls. He didn't want anybody like us getting in there because we might go down a different road and get pretty funky."

    Like Elvis, both Leiber and Stoller were kids when they fell under the spell of black pop music. Leiber, who grew up in Baltimore, heard it on the radio - Louis Jordan, Josh White - and also from homes to which he delivered coal and kerosene from his mom's grocery store. "There was a black kid who was really sort of my mentor," Leiber says. "His name was Dunbar. He taught me how to box and a couple of other things, and I was very grateful to him. It was a very anti-Semitic neighborhood, and I was a mark."

    Stoller, who grew up in Queens, first heard R&B at summer camp. The one he went to, near Hackettstown, was integrated - unusual for the time. "I was 7, and I heard a black teenager playing the piano," Stoller recalls. "He was playing boogie-woogie. He didn't even know I was there. When he left I tried to make my fingers do what I'd seen his fingers doing. I was taken in by this wonderful music." Soon he was buying every record that said "boogie-woogie" on the label, and taking piano lessons from no less a jazz master than James P. Johnson (also a Queens resident).

    When Leiber met Stoller ­ both had relocated to Los Angeles - at age 17, it was kismet. "We shook hands and said we'd be partners," Stoller says. That was in 1950. Within a year, they began producing hits: "Hard Times" for Charles Brown, "Kansas City" for Little Willie Littlefield, "Hound Dog" for "Big Mama" Thornton. They became the presiding geniuses of the Brill Building, headquarters of New York's pop music industry, and home base for such talents as Ellie Greenwich, Neil Sedaka and Phil Spector.

    Then in 1956, something momentous happened. Two things, in fact. One was the Andrea Doria, one of the most famous sea disasters in history. Stoller was on it. The other was Elvis Presley.

    "Well, it was a sinking sensation," quips Stoller about his long hours on the listing S.S. Andrea Doria, struck on July 25, 1956, by the eastbound M.S. Stockholm, and left to sink with 1,706 passengers aboard. Forty-six lost their lives in the catastrophe. "It was pretty scary, let's put it this way," Stoller says. "We were in a broken lifeboat that couldn't be steered. The rudder was broken. ... We almost collided with a freighter that was standing by."

    Brought back to New York on the freighter Cape Ann, Stoller found Leiber waiting for him on the pier ­ with his own bit of front-page news. "I said, 'Man, have I got some good news for you,' " Leiber recalls. " 'We have a smash hit.' He says, 'Really, what is it?' I said, 'Remember that song we wrote for Big Mama Thornton ["Hound Dog"]? Well, Elvis Presley has a hit with it.' And he said, 'Elvis who?' "

    Presley was cut from the same cloth as Leiber and Stoller ­ a white kid with an uncanny instinct for black music. The three should have been best buddies. But Presley's all-controlling manager "Colonel" Parker made sure the songwriters kept their distance. "He guarded him like a guard dog," Leiber recalls.

    The climax came when Leiber and Stoller, knowing of Elvis' ambitions to be the next Marlon Brando, tried to line up a movie deal: a film of Nelson Algren's novel "A Walk on the Wild Side," to star Elvis, with Leiber & Stoller songs, and to be written by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan, the team that created "On the Waterfront."

    "We presented [Elvis' management] with this fabulous opportunity, and were told to wait outside," Stoller recalls. "We wondered what kind of praise would be heaped on us for bringing this project. We were finally summoned in, and the Colonel said, 'If you ever dare try to interfere in the career of Elvis Presley, you'll never work again in Hollywood, New York, London or anywhere else.' At that point, we pretty much stopped writing for him," Stoller says. ...

  • American Idol Dummies Fumble Elvis Presley
    By Jeff Prince
    (Forth Worth Weekly, April 12 2010)
    The nine finalists on American Idol showed their ignorance of Elvis Presley last night. Each got to pick an Elvis song to perform. Each is fighting for their professional lives. Each is in jeopardy of seeing the public turn on them, give them the thumbs down, and send them home.

    Believe it or not, Elvis himself was in this same position in 1968. Bad movies and lame records in the 1960s were making him a joke among rock fans that had moved on to the harder sounds of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc.

    So in 1968 a comeback TV special was planned to show fans that Elvis was still king. He donned black leather and prowled a small stage like a caged panther. He jammed on an electric guitar and let everybody know that, yes, he really could play. And he bucked advice from domineering manager Colonel Tom Parker and did something he'd never done before - he sat in an informal circle with his bandmates and performed live and unplugged. And he kicked ass doing it.

    But Elvis wanted more. He wanted to end the hour-long special with a statement. He wanted a gigantic, climactic, slap you upside the head kind of a song that would let everybody know his feelings on the world and, most importantly, let 'em know he was back and badder than ever.

    Walter Earl Brown was commissioned to pen this seminal piece of work. The songwriter worked Martin Luther King Jr.'s words of love and salvation into the lyrics. He wrote a gorgeous melody that simmers slowly, builds, and finally erupts into sheer power and jubilation.

  • Presley, Cash, Perkins, Lewis: Quartet of legends rocks 'n' rolls on Broadway
    By Michael Kuchwara
    ( / AP, April 12 2010)
    Put Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis in a Memphis recording studio and you're bound to make musical fireworks. Maybe even a Broadway show.

    That's the premise behind "Million Dollar Quartet," a fictional recreation of their celebrated jam session on Dec. 4, 1956, apparently the only time these music legends ever played together. This high-energy entertainment, which opened Sunday at the Nederlander Theatre, is part jukebox concert, part history lesson of '50s pop music and part cautionary tale about the ups and downs of show biz.

    If the story, fashioned by book writers Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, is elemental and often a bit awkward, the musical performances are not - a galvanizing collection of singers and musicians who deliver the songs with an explosive authority that really rocks the house.

    The original session was orchestrated by Sun Records producer Sam Phillips, the mastermind behind the early recordings of all four singers. He's the man who pushed them on the road to stardom.

    Phillips, played by Hunter Foster with good ol' boy charm, is also the show's nominal narrator. His story is an important part of "Million Dollar Quartet." "I didn't just wanna play the tunes. I wanted to record them," Phillips drawls early on in the evening.

    And what tunes, classics ranging from "Blue Suede Shoes" to "Folsom Prison Blues" to "Long Tall Sally" to "Great Balls of Fire." Particularly as sung and played by the four performers who eerily inhabit these musical giants in their younger, formative years.

    Lance Guest is an authentic, grade A Johnny Cash, looking and sounding amazingly like the country-western icon.

    As Presley, Eddie Clendening has the most difficult job - capturing the best-known voice in the show and the emotions of the shy, young man bewildered by the enormous attention he has received. Clendening does the King just fine.

    Rockabilly star Perkins is perhaps the most interesting character on stage. The singer is bitter because his version of "Blue Suede Shoes" was overshadowed by Presley's later take on the song. Robert Britton Lyons effectively portrays the man's hurt and anger, an anger that has an outlet in his furious yet fabulous guitar-playing.

    If there is a scene-stealer in "Million Dollar Quartet," it's Levi Kreis as the more than ebullient Lewis, whose confidence - and his piano-playing - can't be contained.

    There is also one other character, Presley's mysterious female companion, here called Dyanne, played by a sexy, red-haired Elizabeth Stanley. She holds her own with the show's other singers, especially on a defiant version of "I Hear You Knocking." Yet her presence is never fully explained.

    Eric Schaeffer, who runs the Signature Theatre in Washington's Virginia suburbs, has staged the show with a minimum of fuss. The book heads toward a glum confrontation between Phillips and several of the singers, who are leaving Sun Records for more lucrative contracts with larger recording labels.

    Yet the gloom is dispelled quickly when "Million Dollar Quartet" finishes up its curtain calls with high-voltage renditions of "Hound Dog," "Ghost Riders in the Sky," "See You Later Alligator" and the appropriately titled "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On." Of course, they get the cheering audience to its feet.

  • Local Elvis Impersonator Remembers Uncle Who Died in Mining Accident
    By Alison Flowers
    (, April 12 2010)
    Benny Willingham, 61, was among those who died in the West Virginia mining tragedy April 6. He worked as a miner for 30 years and was only five weeks away from retiring.

    His nephew, Rodney Hamrick, is a local realtor and Elvis impersonator. He returned Sunday from his uncle’s packed memorial service. Hamrick said Willingham was the king of their coal-mining family—-not rich, but provided for anyone he could.

    But he and his uncle bonded over another king, The King, Elvis Presley. Willingham especially loved Elvis’ gospel songs because he became a born-again Christian 19 years ago. “He loved it,“ Hamrick said. “What was so funny was he was a big Elvis fan. He couldn’t believe that I started doing Elvis shows.“

    Willingham and his wife, Edith, were planning several post-retirement trips. One was a cruise to the Virgin Islands, already booked. The other, a trip to Graceland.

    Hamrick described the emotional memorial service where people shared their stories and cried. Most of all, he noted his uncle’s generosity and kindness, something he hopes to take with him as he performs as Elvis, everywhere from Memphis to local nursing homes.

    “He taught me to be honest, to help others,“ Hamrick said.

  • Science, religion and Elvis collide in play: The apocalypse is near in the theater program's rendition of Deborah Zoe Lauferšs "End Days"
    By Anna Marum
    (, April 12 2010)
    In the theater program's latest production, Jesus and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking are one in the same, Elvis is alive, and the apocalypse is next Wednesday. Deborah Zoe Laufer's dark comedy 'End Days" opened Thursday in Daggy Hall. The play centered on a post-9/11 family preparing for the Rapture.

    The set featured a huge crooked clock placed against a sickly apocalyptic sky. The stage tilted downward, as if the props and actors were in danger of falling onto the audience. Rolling thunder and ominous bells heralded the imminent apocalypse. The soundtrack featured a medley of Lily Allen, Elvis Presley, They Might Be Giants and gospel.

    The cast was made up of six quirky characters. Rachel, the protagonist, is an angry goth teen who rejects everyone who tries to befriend her, except Hawking, who occasionally materializes to give her advice on existential questions.

    Her mother is a born-again evangelist who chats with Jesus when he pops out of the refrigerator. Rachel's father has not left the house or gotten dressed since he survived the 9/11 attacks.

    To top it all off, an obsessive, neurotic Elvis impersonator follows Rachel home from shcool. As the play develops, the audience sees the characters fight, kiss, annoy, help and ultimately save one another before Wednesday and the supposed Rapture. ...

  • Days the music died: Remembering Elvis Presley and John Lennon
    By Randi Druzin, Global News
    (, April 10 2010)
    With music fans around the world reflecting on the life of Michael Jackson, and sharing opinions on the tribute held in Los Angeles today, some fans' thoughts turn to other musical legends. Global News looks at the untimely deaths of Elvis Presley and John Lennon, two of the biggest names in rock music history.

    Elvis Presley
    Jan. 8, 1935 - Aug. 16, 1977
    Presley's girlfriend found him dead on the bathroom floor of his mansion in Memphis, Tenn. Frantic, Ginger Alden called three of his associates, one of whom was a doctor. They were unable to revive Presley.

    The Memphis Fire Department rescue unit arrived at Graceland and rushed Presley to nearby Baptist Memorial Hospital. Doctors performed CPR on the entertainer but he was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m.

    Medical examiner Jerry Francisco performed a three-hour autopsy on Presley and determined that he had died of heart failure. Many people pointed to a cocktail of prescription drugs as the root cause -- and there have been countless reports of his liberal use of such drugs.

    Hospital officials called the entertainer's father, Vernon Presley, with the news. Half an hour later, standing on the steps of Graceland, the grief-stricken father made the announcement. "My son, Elvis, is dead Š"

    Thousands of fans descended on Memphis in the hours and days after his death. With crowds growing quickly, U.S. President Jimmy Carter ordered 300 National Guard troops to maintain order.

    The day after Elvis died, his embalmed body was returned to Graceland for a public viewing. More than 30,000 fans paid their respects.

    On Aug. 18, a modest funeral service was held in the living room at Graceland. Several celebrities attended, including Elvis' former co-star Ann-Margret, singer James Brown and actor George Hamilton.

    A motorcade of 14 white cars, one of which carried Elvis' body, drove from the mansion to Forest Hill Cemetery. They passed thousands of fans, celebrities and journalists who lined the streets.

    After someone attempted to steal his body later that month, his remains were moved to Graceland, as were the remains of his mother.

  • Four for Friday: Elvis Presley, 'The Simpsons,' ratings and Alex Lambert
    (, April 9 2010)
    Ryan Seacrest and the American Idol judges will join The Simpsons on that show's season finale May 23 on Fox.
    • This week's performance show drew 20.8 million viewers, down 6 percent from the previous week's performance show. On Wednesday's, 20.2 million saw Michael Lynche get saved. This is the second consecutive week that ABC's Dancing With the Stars has pulled in more total viewers than Idol, says the Los Angeles Times.
    • Rumors are swirling online, in large because of a post at mjsbigblog, that next week's Adam Lambert-mentored theme could be Elvis Presley songs.
    • Alex Lambert sang Bob Marley's Three Little Birds during a covers session at the If I Can Dream House Thursday.

  • Hollywood mogul recalls Elvis, Sinatra in new memoir
    ( / Reuters, April 6 2010)
    For decades he has worked with everyone from Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra to Brad Pitt and George Clooney, but now it's Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub's turn to take centre stage and shine like a star.

    And as he promotes his page-turning memoir "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead -- Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man," the Bronx kid turned movie mogul is not lacking in confidence. Ask him his age, he says, "I'm 72, I look great for 72, right?" Tell him he has a nice smile and he quickly retorts, "You should see me when I get a check."

    Ask him what he would like inscribed on his tombstone and after a deep laugh, he says, "I was here and I did it." "I didn't miss anything, I'll tell you that," he adds.

    Published this week by Hachette Book's Twelve imprint, the memoir tells of a hard-working, plucky New Yorker who through persistence and charm hit the big time at age 26 by convincing Colonel Tom Parker that he was the right promoter to take Elvis Presley back on the road for a nationwide concert tour.

    "I have never heard the word 'No,' the only word I hear is 'Yes,'" Weintraub says of his business philosophy. As much as telling the story of his life, the memoir offers wisdom for others hoping to follow his path.

  • Bruce Lee remembered for more than his movies
    By Alex Ben Block
    ( / Hollywood Reporter, April 4 2010)
    When a lifelike figure of Bruce Lee was unveiled at Madame Tussaud's wax museum in Hollywood earlier this year, his only surviving child noted that he died shortly before the 1974 premiere of "Enter The Dragon," the movie that made him a global superstar. "I think my dad definitely dreamed he would make an impact like this," said Shannon Lee, who was three when her father died of a cerebral edema aged just 32. "I'm very sorry he didn't live to see it, but it's nice to see those dreams come true." Thirty-seven years after his sudden death, Lee's dream has been fulfilled not only in Hollywood but all over the world.

    The San Francisco-born, Hong Kong-raised actor has become an iconic figure alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and James Dean. His influence as an actor, fighter and philosopher has been recognized by stars like Jackie Chan and rapper LL Cool J, creators such as Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee, and movie directors John Woo and Brett Ratner. What is particularly interesting about the posthumous evolution of Bruce Lee is that he is not only remembered for the handful of movies and TV show in which he starred but also for breaking racial barriers, helping erase stereotypes and his contributions in such areas as mixed martial arts, fitness, health and a philosophy that recognized the commonality of all humanity. ...

  • Chicago tour brings inspiration for area charity
    (, April 4 2010)
    It was Dec. 12, 1976, and Jason Scheff was only 14 years old, but the passage of 34 years has hardly faded his memory of the sad sight he saw that night.

    As he sat an arm's length from the stage at the Hilton Hotel for what would be Elvis Presley's final Las Vegas show, Scheff watched as the king turned in his direction between songs and wiped the pouring sweat from his once handsome but now worn out bloated face.

    "The lighting hit him in such a way that I saw this look on his face, what had become almost bulldog-like jowls" Scheff recalled. "I interpreted it as him looking at his group and just asking for help. I'll never forget it. It was really sad because I saw something that wasn't right and wasn't healthy."

    Scheff, you see, had a personal stake in being there and a special connection to score such a prime seat for the concert. His father, Jerry Scheff, played bass guitar that night as he had for Elvis during two different stints of his still distinguished musical career - from 1966 to 1973, then again from 1975 to 1977. In fact, Jerry Scheff played in Elvis' last public concert, in Indianapolis on June 26, just seven weeks before he died at Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42.

    This is just part of a memory bank full of a fascinating musical heritage for a still young 48-year-old Jason Scheff, who exudes the same enthusiasm and energy he must have had back in 1985, when he became a member of musical group Chicago, which was already 18 years old then. ... Energy, you might imagine, is essential on Chicago's current 52-city tour that started March 25 and will end Aug. 25.

    April 11 will bring the tireless band to Texas A&M's Rudder Auditorium for a 7:30 p.m. performance that will wrap up a three-day Texas swing that has them in San Antonio on Friday night and Waco on Saturday. The concert at A&M will benefit Aggieland Pregnancy Outreach, a 13-year-old Christian agency that, among other services, helps people coping with unplanned pregnancies, provides outreach to teen parents, promotes Christian parenting and promotes adoption as what they call "a loving alternative." ...

  • 'One Night With Elvis'

    What: Donny Edwards 'One Night With Elvis'
    When: April 9th 7:00 pm
    Where: Perot Theatre, Texarkana 903-792-4992
    Donny is the most sought out Elvis tribute artist in the world. Recently, Donny was a finalist on ABC's 'The Next Best Thing'. This two time world champion tribute artist will be backed by the legendary band 'Fever'. Donny will take you through the early years and Elvis Presley's Las Vegas era. Opening the show will be Sundance Head, a 2007 finalist on FOX's 'American Idol'. Backing up both of these entertainers will be the legendary eight piece band "Fever". This Vegas style show is a sell-out wherever they perform, so get your tickets soon. To see, hear and watch Donny Edwards visit

  • New Elvis Presley memorabilia on exhibit from childhood to performance
    By Lynne Jones
    (, April 1 2010)
    Graceland celebrates the 75th anniversary of Elvis Presley's birth with new items belonging to The King going on exhibit. Andrea Lindenberg gets a close-up look at some of them [on video].

    One of the King's famed bedazzled performance capes, Presley's jewelry, even his grade school report card and crayon box, saved by Elvis' father, are now on display at Graceland. Andrea Lindenberg gives you a close-up look with Graceland's Director of Archives, Angie Marchese.

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