All because of Elvis…

Our name in lights! TraveLodge Motel, Pascagoula, MS 1974

Elvis fans have converged on Memphis and Graceland as they do this time of year every year.  Here’s an update of a previous post about the importance he had in my life.  I hope this will bring fond memories to those who may remember my musical start with “Les Kerr and The Blue Suede Band” as we barnstormed from Pascagoula High School all the way to Ocean Springs and even Biloxi!  From then until now, it was all because of Elvis.

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 from Jackson to Pascagoula, Mississippi on the Gulf Coast, not far from Mobile, Alabama.  To my absolute delight, Elvis was going on tour again for the first time in a decade and Mobile was on the itinerary. 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.

I did it his way

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. Other classmates learned songs by 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. Bandmember 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.

1972 w/Garry Downs & Butch Thompson, Jr. Civitan party

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

Doing my best moves at a pep rally, 1973

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.

Good Rockin’ Tonight

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.

Tickets for the three Elvis performances I saw and one for the scheduled Memphis show he never got to play.

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 can dream…

I did get to live a dream from my “Elvis years” thirty years later in 2002.   The Jordanaires, the vocal group who sang on so many Elvis records and appeared with him on the Ed Sullivan Show and other historic performances joined me in the recording studio.   They were nice enough to sing on four songs of mine for my Christmas on the Coast CD, including the title song, which is about Pascagoula.  They more than lived up to my expectations as vocalists and as gentlemen.

Recording with The Jordanaires, 2002

Before you’ve “left the building…”

If I could say one thing to Elvis today, it would be something he said himself many times: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Al Parker & Phil Howell "bop-bopping" while I sing lead, Beta Follies, 1972

Copyright 2011 Les Kerr

Visit Les Kerr’s web site at www.leskerr.com

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About Les Kerr

Les Kerr is a songwriter, recording artist, journalist and author originally from the Gulf Coast now based in Nashville, Tennessee. Learn More about Les at www.leskerr.com
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4 Responses to All because of Elvis…

  1. I so enjoyed this look back! Did Elvis have opening acts…or was it all Elvis?

    • Les Kerr says:

      Hi, Kathy – thanks for your kind comment. The Elvis road shows I saw were very much like his Vegas act – a comedian would open, followed by a short set by the female vocal group that would back him up later when he sang. Then, an intermission, so people could go buy photo books, etc., followed by dim lights and Also Sprach Zarathustra, the 2001 theme, and boom! Elvis was there.Very exciting shows.

  2. Hildred Waggener says:

    Certain entertainers remain popular throughout the decades. Elvis Presley is one such star. Since he died, there has only been a constant rise in his popularity. Today many people have a passion for Elvis memorabilia; it is a great way to enjoy every aspect of the great man’s life.^

    Our favorite blog page
    <,http://www.caramoan.co

  3. Josip Perčinić says:

    Good Evening from me Josip, Croatia!. I loved Elvis, Jordanaires, so, so much!. Sorry Dear Gods, but i am grateful for this page, every page who i am found. Cause just press one button, and everything is here, in arm. God Bless all!.

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