Category Archives: Elvis Presley

The January 8 Birthdays

A number of performers were born on this date, such as Jose Vincente Ferrer (1912-1992), Larry Storch from F Troop (b. 1923), CBS Sunday Morning’s Charles Osgood (b. 1933), singer Shirley Bassey (b. 1937), singer R. Kelly (b. 1969) and actress Sarah Polley (b. 1979), not to mention scientist Stephen Hawking (b. 1942).

But there’s a “Big Three”. And two of them have an odd link.

Elvis Presley, 1956

Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977) would have been 75 today. Maybe IS 75, if you believe the sightings.

I found this question somewhere:

Which mega-popular rock band of the ’70s not only met Elvis but got along with him so well that its members were guests at his concerts and received gifts from the King?
a) The Who
b) Led Zeppelin
c) Eagles
d) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Answer below.

As I was quoted in the local paper back in 1997: My father hated Elvis. He resented this white artist stealing/exploiting/ profiting from performing black music. (But then half of the musicians in the ’50s and ’60s from Pat Boone to Led Zeppelin “borrowed” from black music). So I never owned any Elvis music as a child or teenager.

Still, I did like some of his songs (“Jailhouse Rock,” “Little Sister”). So I watched the ’68 “comeback special” and became grudgingly, a mild fan. [My father must not have been home, it occurs to me.]

When Elvis died, I thought, “Oh that’s too bad.” The Elvis cult that’s developed since 1977 I view with fascination and utter bemusement.

But I’ve discovered that I have more of an interest in The Pelvis than I thought. He shows up in this blog from time to time, whether it’s dissecting one of his tunes or noting his posthumous wealth, talking about his link with Joe Stalin, or reviewing a DVD of his performances on Ed Sullivan.

Bob Hope (L) with Soupy Sales (2nd R) and Shirley MacLaine (2nd L), their faces covered with remnants of cream pies, 1962

Then there’s Milton Supman Heinz (b. 1926). You might know him better as the comic actor Soupy Sales. I must admit that I didn’t watch his shows, but I always enjoyed watching him on several game shows such as Match Game, What’s My Line and the various permutation of Pyramid; go to YouTube and you’ll find dozens of examples.

Unfortunately he died last year. I happened to be listening to his Motown album A Bag of Soup this week. Among the jokey songs, there was a rather touching song called Though I’m A Clown (I Need Love Too). I couldn’t find it, alas, on the Internet, but I found it rather poignant.

David Bowie, 1983

The living member of this trio is David Jones. Since the musician did not want to be confused with Davy Jones of the Monkees, he changed his name to David Bowie. I won his Honky Dory album during my freshman year of college and I’ve been a fan ever since. He shows up in my musings quite a bit. This what I wrote two years ago when Bowie turned 60.

The local newspaper had a tournament of carols. It came down to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and the Crosby/Bowie Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth. Crosby/Bowie won!

Oh, the linkage: Bassist Tony Sales and drummer Hunt Sales are sons of Soupy Sales. Along with Bowie and Reeves Gabrels, the Sales brothers were in rock band Tin Machine.

And the answer to the Elvis question is Led Zeppelin. BTW, LZ guitarist Jimmy Page has HIS birthday on January 9 (1944).


T is for Three "Tender" Tunes

If you check only the Wikipedia post for the song Try a Little Tenderness, you’ll find the listing dominated by references to Otis Redding. While he did perform the benchmark version in the mid-1960s, a live version of which you can watch here, the song has a much richer history.

Here’s a version of the song, written by “Irving King” (James Campbell and Reginald Connelly) and Harry M. Woods, performed by Francis Albert Sinatra; click on the button on the upper right side of the page. Interesting that this version has an intro not generally used.

The Wikipedia notes a bunch of other folks who also recorded, including “on December 8, 1932 by the Ray Noble Orchestra (with vocals by Val Rosing) followed by both Ruth Etting and Bing Crosby in 1933.

But in my Top Pop Singles, under the Otis Redding listing for the song, it says: “#6 hit for Ted Lewis in 1933”, though the Wikipedia doesn’t note Lewis at all. Here’s the Ted Lewis version (song #8), with a lengthy instrumental before the lyrics come in.

Who IS this Ted Lewis? According to my Top Memories, 1890-1954 book, this song charted for him in February of 1933 for 10 weeks, getting up to #6. But he had 101 Top 20 hits between 1920 and 1934; Tenderness being the 92nd. Among his #1 hits:
When My Baby Smiles at Me (1920-7 weeks), All By Myself (1921-4 weeks), O! Katharina (1925-1 week), Just A Gigilo (1931-2 weeks; yes, the song later covered by David Lee Roth, formerly of Van Halen), In A Shanty in Old Shanty Town (1932-10 weeks), and Lazybones (1933-4 weeks).

Ruth Etting also charted with Tenderness on 3/18/33 for two weeks. She had 62 Top 20 Hits between 1926 and 1937, this being the 59th, with her biggest hit Life Is A Song in 1935 (2 weeks at #1).

Otis Redding’s version got to #25 in the pop charts and #4 on the rhythm and blues charts in December 1966. The song is listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is #204 in a list of Rolling Stone magazine’s greatest songs. Otis’ biggest hit, unfortunately, was posthumous: (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay in the winter of 1968, which went to #1 won a number of Grammy awards, as well as citations by Rolling Stone (#28), R&RHOF, RIAA, NPR and BMI

Before Otis, Aretha Franklin had a minor hit (#100 in 1962), and after Three Dog Night (#29 in 1969). But it has become a staple in the repertoire of many an artist.

Paul Simon’s second album after his breakup with Art Garfunkel was the eclectic There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, featuring songs such as Kodachrome and Loves Me Like A Rock. The 1973 collection also featured a lovely song called Tenderness, which Like Loves Me Like a Rock features the vocal stylings of the gospel group the Dixie Hummingbirds. (Unfortunately, all I could find is this cover version.) The album went to #2 and signaled a successful solo career to come, featuring albums such as Still Crazy After All these Years (#1 in 1975) and Graceland (#3 in 1986).

Paul Simon won the very first Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2007, succeeded by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney.

The 1956 Elvis Presley hit Love Me Tender had a peculiar songwriting history, explained here. Briefly, it was written as Aura Lee nearly a century earlier. The adaptation was credited to Presley and the songwriting adapter’s wife, neither of whom actually wrote it. It was the title song of Elvis’ film debut.

I learned Lee in grade school so found Love Me Tender as somehow peculiar. In fact, the school kids made up a song to Aura Lee, sung with the Elvis enunciation:

When you must take medicine
Take it orally
That’s because the other way
Is more painfully.

Orally, orally
Take it orally
That’s because…the other way…
Is more painfully.

Anyway, here’s the classic Presley tune, the fourth of a dozen and a half #1 hits in the United States. (The 31-song ELV1S album contained #1s in the US and/or the UK.)


Joe Stalin and Elvis Presley

March 5, 1953: Joseph (or Josef) Stalin died four days after what was considered to be a stroke, at the age of 74. Officially, the cause of death was listed as a cerebral hemorrhage… It has been suggested that Stalin was assassinated…In 2003, a joint group of Russian and American historians announced their view that Stalin ingested warfarin, a powerful rat poison that inhibits coagulation of the blood and so predisposes the victim to hemorrhagic stroke (cerebral hemorrhage). Since it is flavorless, warfarin is a plausible weapon of murder. The facts surrounding Stalin’s death will probably never be known with certainty.
(For a long time, I used to wonder about the correlation between Stalin’s death and my birth, two days later.)

March 5, 1965: A milestone in Elvis’ personal life. While driving to Los Angeles to begin work on his latest film, the singer tells Larry Geller that he feels their recent religious studies haven’t produced a bonafide religious “experience.” Not long after, Elvis pulls over and runs into the middle of the desert when he sees a cloud formation that looks like Russian dictator Josef Stalin.
As he watches, it turns into a face Elvis interprets as that of Jesus Christ. As Geller recalls it in Peter Guralnick’s acclaimed book Careless Love:
“It’s God!” Elvis cried. “It’s God!” Tears streamed down his face as he hugged me tightly and said, “…I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You got me here. I’ll never forget, never, man. It really happened. I saw the face of Stalin and I thought to myself, Why Stalin? Is it a projection of something that’s inside of me? Is God trying to show me what he thinks of me? And then it happened! The face of Stalin turned right into the face of Jesus, and he smiled at me, and every fiber of my being felt it… Oh, God. Oh, God,” Elvis kept saying. Then he paused and added a peculiar aside. “Can you imagine what the fans would think if they saw me like this?”
“They’d only love you all the more,” Geller said.
“Yeah,” he said, “Well, I hope that’s true.”
Visibly shaken, he resumes the trip, although most of the Memphis Mafia are skeptical about the validity of this “sign.”

There’s probably something pithy to say, but I don’t know what.

You may have seen this, but Pete Seeger slammed Joe Stalin last year.


Elvis Is Dead

My father hated Elvis. He resented this white artist stealing/exploiting/ profiting from performing black music. (But then half of the musicians in the ’50s and ’60s from Pat Boone to Led Zeppelin “borrowed” from black music). So I never owned any Elvis music as a child or teenager.

Still, I did like some of his songs (Jailhouse Rock, Little Sister). So I watched the ’68 “comeback special” and became grudgingly, a mild fan.

When Elvis died, I thought, “Oh, that’s too bad.” The Elvis cult that’s developed since 1977 I view with fascination and utter bemusement.

I swiped the above from REMEMBERING ELVIS RECOLLECTIONS OF THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF THE KING ARE SWEETENED THROUGH THE AGES FOR LOYAL FANS by Mark McGuire, Times Union, The (Albany, NY), August 16, 1997. But since I was stealing what I wrote at the time, I guess it’s OK. I’m sure I wrote more, but it was edited down. I probably wrote about feeling as though I were sneaking behind my father’s back listening to the music, and how I never actually owned any Elvis until Elvis died.

I remember being on a city bus a year or two ago listening to some kids dissing Elvis as old news. I wanted to cut in and tell them that Elvis made $37 million the year before, but chose not to. In 2006, Elvis was only the Second to the Top-Earning Dead Celebrity with $42 million, after being #1 for 2001 through 2005. He was supplanted at the top by Kurt Cobain with $50 million.

Anyway, here are the lyrics to the appropriate Living Colour song and the video.
Passing last month, Allan Pottasch, the creative guru of this: