Elvis fans have converged on Memphis and Graceland as they do this time of year every year. Here’s a recount of a previous post about the importance he had in my life. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing it again.
In 1956, Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley was released. That’s also the year I was born. I have heard Elvis music all my life. When I was nine years old, I saw him on the big screen for the first time in a movie called “Tickle Me.” That did it. Seeing him in a “Rock and Rollicking Storm,” as the movie poster proclaimed, was enough to make Elvis the person I aspired most to be.
Over the next few years, I saw all of his movies many times over. Back then, at the Lamar Theater in Jackson, Mississippi, you could pay the fifty-five cent admission once and sit through as many screenings as you wanted. With each Elvis movie, from the marginal to the magnificent, I became more enamored with the image of the star. Who could beat a life of traveling, singing and always ending up with the prettiest girl in the picture?
But it was September 14, 1970 that absolutely changed my life. We had moved to Pascagoula, Mississippi on the Gulf Coast, not far from Mobile, Alabama that summer and to my absolute delight, Elvis was going on tour again for the first time in a decade. Mobile was on the itinerary and Mom got tickets for me and my across-the-street neighbor Monte Childress to go and see the King in concert. Elvis was thin, agile, charming on stage and sang his heart out at the Mobile Municipal Auditorium that night.
1970 was also the year I began teaching myself how to play the guitar, as many of us did in Pascagoula High School. From the ninth grade until I was a senior, I tried to perfect every Elvis nuance, learn every song and even his famous scarf-throwing technique. My other friends were learning songs by the contemporary artists of the day – James Taylor, Cat Stevens, John Denver, and Janis Joplin. But not me – I was Elvis all the way, with a little Johnny Cash thrown in for good measure.
With other good friends who enjoyed music, my first band was born: Les Kerr & The Blue Suede Band. We played talent shows, pep rallies, Junior Civitan meetings and wherever we could get people to listen to us play Heartbreak Hotel, Don’t Be Cruel and Burning Love. Band member Garry Downs’ mother made a shirt with a very high collar for me to emulate tall collars on Elvis’ jumpsuits. I still have it. It’s lime-green (it was the 70s) with a subtle
floral design (right!) . It went well with my scarves.
We really thought we had hit the big time when we appeared on “Pas-Point Spotlight,” a 15-minute TV show broadcast on Saturdays on WLOX TV in Biloxi. Many of our high school friends watched me curl my lip, grab the microphone and wink at the camera as we sang Love Me Tender to the local TV audience.
I saw Elvis in concert two more times in Mobile in 1973 and 1975. While he gained weight over those years, he never lost the magic he had with an audience or his magnificent voice. The tickets from those concerts are among my most prized possessions, as is one unused ticket for an Elvis Presley concert scheduled for August 28, 1977 in the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee. I had bought that ticket while in college in North Mississippi and it broke my heart and the hearts of many around the world when he died before that show could go on.
In college, I got into bluegrass and the great singer-songwriter boom that was taking place. Then blues, New Orleans music and my own songwriting. However, I don’t think there are any pop, rock or country singers of my generation who were not influenced by Elvis’ performing style in some way, whether they admit it or not.
If I could say one thing to Elvis today, it would be something he had said himself many times before: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Copyright 2011 Les Kerr
Visit Les Kerr’s web site at www.leskerr.com