The blue embroidered guitars with gold wings seemed to fly off the shirt in Lansky Brothers at the Peabody straight to me. I could almost hear some heavenly Memphis guitar licks as I viewed them on the shirt’s black background. They caught my attention, as did the numerous snap buttons, arrow-style pockets and large blue cuffs. If people know one thing about Lansky’s, they know that Elvis Presley was the store’s most famous customer. He befriended founder Bernard Lansky at the original Beale Street location in the 1950s and bought clothes there until his death. And here I was in Memphis in 2013 trying on a shirt and being personally tended to by Hal Lansky, Bernard’s son.
How could I resist, especially after my wife encouraged me to purchase the shirt. It would be perfect for an album cover photograph and for performances. But it wasn’t the right size. Mr. Lansky assured me that he could get one with the exact design that would fit as if it were made just for me and send to Nashville, where I live. “Thank you very much,” I said. “I’ll take it.”
When the shirt arrived, I slipped it on and snapped all nine buttons on the front. It fit me perfectly. Then, I started clicking the six snaps on each cuff shut and realized that the sleeves were too long. No problem, I thought, I’ll just have them shortened by someone in Nashville. Easier said than done. I took it to a very reputable clothier and the tailor was concerned that the cuffs may cause a problem. She called the store’s other tailor in to look at it and there was more concern. To their credit, they chose not to take a chance on forever ruining the shirt and referred me to another music clothing legend, Manuel.
Manuel is considered an artist and is well known for tailoring clothes for rock and country royalty. Nicknamed the “Rhinestone Rembrandt,” he has created clothes for Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones and other luminaries. He also designed Elvis’ famous gold lame’ suit. To my delight, he agreed to alter the shirt for me. In his retail location on Broadway in Nashville, he measured the sleeves himself, smiled, and was as gracious to me as he must be to his more notable clients. Like Mr. Lansky, his goal is to make his customers happy. When I picked up the shirt, I was pleased and grateful for the work both men had done and for how they treated me. Look for that shirt on an upcoming CD cover.
Not my first fancy shirt
I believe that Hal Lansky of Memphis and Manuel of Nashville would have been impressed with Mrs. Downs of Pascagoula, Mississippi, the first person who actually tailored a shirt for me. In 1973, I was the leader of a high school rock group called Les Kerr & The Blue Suede Band. We often practiced in the home of our lead guitarist, Garry Downs. As his mother, a talented seamstress, watched me try my best to imitate Elvis, she was inspired to make a shirt for me.
At one of our rehearsals, she surprised me with a shirt “fit for a king.” Although I couldn’t fit into it now if my life depended on it, I still have it. Mrs. Downs created a huge collar similar to the ones on Elvis’ Las Vegas-era jump suits. Speaking of sleeves, the cuffs each have three snap buttons that cause the puffed effect just above the wrist. Adding a scarf to throw during our pep rally and talent contest performances, I was taking care of business with a flash.
You can’t hear a shirt
I love the crawfish-designed shirts from my favorite little store in New Orleans, as well as the guitar and hot pepper images on my other stage shirts. I’ll continue to wear them and my new prize with the impressive Memphis to Nashville lineage. The key is to remember that the clothes may attract attention and add to the visual image but when it comes down to it, it is the music that counts. My goal is to live up to musical expectations, no matter what I’m wearing.
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Text and photos ©2013. Click here to visit Les Kerr’s web site.