Category: Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley's Graceland: 30 years of myth-making

Graceland, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee
The Egyptian pyramids. Stonehenge. The Mayan temples. The Taj Mahal.

Graceland.

Thirty years ago, a mythic story once hidden behind security gates in a suburb of Memphis was born, one with meanings much larger than the physical edifice itself. On this day in 1982, the gates of Graceland, Elvis Presley's estate in Memphis, Tenn., were opened to the public.

In the years following its christening as the vessel of all things Presley, Graceland, a Georgian colonial-style estate built in 1939 in Whitehaven, Tenn., has become not only a tourist attraction, but the focus of pilgrimages, a holder of stories, a museum and a metaphor.

When Presley bought it in 1957 for $102,500, he gave an interview to the Memphis Press-Scimitar in which he bragged about his acquisition, and its potential: "This is going to be a lot nicer than Red Skelton's house when I get it like I want it," he said, as quoted in "Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley," the first book in biographer Peter Guralnick's essential two-volume tome. (His prediction proved accurate; how many classic Paul Simon albums are named after Skelton's home?)

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Have $100,000? Bid on Elvis Presley's crypt

PRESLE_CRYPT
It's not uncommon to find a treasure trove of music memorabilia for sale at Julien's Auctions. It is pretty rare, however, to find a rock star's formerly occupied tomb. And one formerly occupied by Elvis Presley? That's one of a kind.

Among the finds up for auction beginning June 23 is a crypt that briefly housed the body of Presley after his death in 1977. The crypt is located at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis, Tenn.,  and was home to Presley's body for just under two months, after which time he was moved across town to his final resting place at his Graceland estate.

Presley's stay in the mausoleum was limited as the family awaited permits to move the bodies of Presley and his mother, Gladys, to the gardens at Graceland. The crypt has remained empty since Presley's stay, and a statue of the king of rock and roll commemorates his time there. It is currently in the control of the cemetery.

A spokeswoman for Julien's Auctions has not yet responded to requests for more information, but bidding starts at $100,000, according to the item's page online, where one can also view more pictures. The crypt, according to press materials from Julien's Auctions, "lies within the granite and marble mausoleum," and winning bidders will also get a memorial inscription and use of Forest Hill's chapel.

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Could a hologram-like Elvis tour? If 'tasteful,' says Lisa Marie Presley

Elvis Presley
There's one question, Lisa Marie Presley says, that she's been getting from everyone, reporters and non-reporters alike: Did she see the projected image of the late rapper Tupac Shakur at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April?

It's a natural query. After all, the "Elvis Presley in Concert Tour" pairs original members of Elvis' TCB Band with a large image of the king of rock 'n' roll projected on a video screen. Tupac's "appearance" at Coachella, which was a projected 2-D image that was widely (and incorrectly) labeled a hologram by fans and the media, would seem to offer an evolutionary hint for the next step of the Elvis Presley in Concert Tour.

"I didn’t know about the hologram-thing until I started getting asked about it," Lisa Marie Presley said recently during an interview at her management's West Hollywood offices. "But I saw it a few nights ago and I was like, ‘Whoa!’ That technology is pretty advanced."

Presley said she would consider signing off on a similar projection of her father. Don't gasp -- the younger Presley has already cut a duet with her late father. In 2007, her vocals were added to a charity single of Presley's 1969 track "In the Ghetto."

"If they can come up with something tasteful, creative and classy, I wouldn’t object," she said. "That’s as close as people can get now. I don’t mind simulating as long as it’s not awful or degrading."

Of course, the decision to embark on such a tour wouldn't entirely be in the hands of Elvis' heir. Presley sold much of her stake in Elvis Presley Enterprises in 2005 to CKX, the company that also owns 19 Entertainment Limited, known best for the global "Idol" franchise.

Presley last week released her first album in seven years, “Storm & Grace,” a record that brings her back to her family roots. The collection pairs her dusty, robust vocals with moody country and blues accents made famous by the Sun Studio recording house that captured the voice of her father. The stripped-down affair is produced by T Bone Burnett, an artist with a reputation for possessing a reverential, encyclopedic view of the American songbook.

Currently living in England, Presley said she hopes to someday return to Memphis, Tenn.,  and live near her childhood home.

"I have the warmest, happiest, fondest moments when I’m there," Presley said. "I would like to get a home there. My family is there and my babies love it. Nashville gets all the glory, but Memphis is the blues. Memphis needs the light." 

ALSO:

Lisa Marie Presley tunes in to her roots with ‘Storm & Grace’

Dillard & Clark: Celebrating an unsung L.A. country rock classic

Library of Congress names new entries for National Recording Registry

-- Todd Martens

Image: Elvis Presley in concert at the Forum in Inglewood. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Lisa Marie Presley tunes in to her roots with ‘Storm & Grace’

With a little help from T Bone Burnett, Lisa Marie Presley gets back to bluesy-country basics in ‘Storm & Grace’ and breaks free from outside expectations.

Lisa Marie Presley
Lisa Marie Presley doesn’t seem to mind that everyone in the penthouse office of Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment in West Hollywood can see her when she extends both of her middle fingers in the direction of a reporter.

She used the gesture to exemplify how she felt about being asked to promote a “sexier image” at one point in her career. But for a woman whose life has been defined by public scrutiny, the move spoke volumes. Presley, 44, is done trying to live up to expectations that aren’t her own.

More proof? Her first album in seven years, “Storm & Grace” (out this week) finds Presley singing, “She got no talent of her own, it’s just her name,” on deluxe-edition track “Sticks and Stones,” her voice a painful wail while slide guitars whisk around her like unseen demons. In “Un-Break,” Presley wonders whether she was once a “backstabbing liar” and is only getting what she deserves against the sound of shuffling western-gothic grooves.

The album, her first for Universal Republic, may serve as a career reboot, but it also brings her back to her family roots, pairing her dusty, robust vocals with moody country and blues accents made famous by the Sun Studio recording house that captured the voice of her father. The stripped-down affair is produced by T Bone Burnett, an artist with a reputation for possessing a reverential, encyclopedic view of the American songbook.

It’s a far cry from Presley’s last album — a polished affair marked by glossy, Top 40 guitars and studio-enhanced vocals. “Yeah, I know,” Presley interrupts talk about the slick nature of her last release. “I was behind that. I tried to smooth it over, to hide behind it. I wanted louder guitars. I wanted the vocals tripled. All that.”

“I was insulated,” Presley says of that time, adding that she surrounded herself with a team of friends and employees who told her only what she wanted to hear.

“There was a scene woven around me that I had helped weave,” she says. “It was a personal scene -- employees, friends. It was an entourage. That’s all a big mistake. It’s all the stuff that happens to a typical L.A., high-profile…”

Presley trails off and waves her hand, palm up, as if to say, “You know, that scene.” But no one really does. After all, Elvis, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, had but one daughter, and it’s not many who see their childhood home in Memphis, Tenn., become an internationally renown tourist attraction. That says nothing of Presley’s penchant for dominating the tabloids in her late 20s and early 30s, largely due to her short-lived marriage to Michael Jackson.

After releasing and promoting “Now What,” Presley embarked on a research project: herself. While certainly not ignorant of what was said and written about her -- specifically the outside expectations of how she was or wasn’t living up to her last name -- Presley says she was shielded from much of it.

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Classic rock images to show at Annenberg Space for Photography

Max Vadukul's portrait of Amy Winehouse. Click for more images.Photographer Alfred Wertheimer’s image resonates like a classic Elvis song — a burst of emotion that leaves a dent long after the first impression has faded. The intimate 1956 photo captures a strikingly beautiful Presley snuggling with a woman backstage, lost within her face, his hair perfectly coiffed. In it, an entire emotional landscape reveals itself.

This image of Presley is one of more than 175 that will arrive at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City in June, when “Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present” arrives in its West Coast premiere. The show, which originated at the Brooklyn Museum in 2009, features 100 photographers and some of the most vital and important images of the rock ’n’ roll era — including classic work by Diane Arbus, Jim Marshall, Annie Leibovitz, Pennie Smith and Ryan McGinley.

“Who Shot Rock” was curated by author Gail Buckland and arrives in L.A. for a four-month run after showing in a number of art museums the last two years. It’s the most comprehensive traveling show of rock photography ever assembled, and it reinforces the notion that image is as important as music when conveying the message of rock ’n’ roll.

PHOTOS: 'Who Shot Rock & Roll' at the Annenberg Space for Photography

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Guitarist Billy Strange and the Elvis Presley years

Billy Strange works in the recroding studio with Elvis Presley in the late 1960s

Guitarist-arranger-songwriter Billy Strange, who died Tuesday at 81 in Nashville, was a fixture on the L.A. music scene in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, a good chunk of which the Long Beach native spent among the group of studio musicians who later would be known as the Wrecking Crew.

That was also the time that Elvis Presley was working extensively in Hollywood on his film career, during which he and Strange became good friends, and Strange landed the role of musical arranger on three of The King’s late-'60s films.

That relationship to Presley led Strange and lyricist Mac Davis to team up and write “A Little Less Conversation,” for the movie “Live a Little, Love a Little.”

“I remember playing ‘Conversation’ for Elvis and he seemed to have a great time with it,” Strange told the Washington Post in 2002. “The song’s not a world-beater, but Elvis loved it and he peformed it in his Las Vegas nightclub act for years.”

He was talking about a 33-year-old song in 2002 because it had returned to the charts again in a remix by Amsterdam DJ Junkie XL. That version made it only to No. 50 in the U.S.—still higher than the original recording’s chart peak of No. 69 in 1969 — but went to No. 1 in Britain, which earned it a bonus spot on the hits compilation “Elvis 30 #1 Hits,” released that year (but assembled before “Conversation” had reached the top of the pops overseas).

The song's return to the charts brought it a whole new fan base — thanks also to its appearance in the all-star remake of the film “Ocean’s Eleven.” Strange said, “I’m thrilled to have written a hit song so old it has whiskers, and now it’s vibrant and everybody’s loving it again.” The income bump from the increased songwriting royalties was good news too: “It’s going to help with the house payments.”

One reason there was room for Strange and other studio players at those movie music sessions with Presley was that his original guitarist -- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Scotty Moore -- was so put off by the pedestrian material that he bowed out of participating in many of them, Moore told The Times several years ago.

“Elvis’ records were always lesser than what he was vocally,” Strange said in the same interview. “He had more talent than he was ever able to show, particularly with the motion picture songs, which were not very good material. He was never happy with them, and therefore did not perform them well.”

RELATED:

Billy Strange dies at 81

Elvis Presley, the actor

Photos: Elvis on the big screen

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Billy Strange in the recording studio with Elvis Presley in the 1960s. Credit: billystrangemusic.com

Jerry Leiber appreciation: A songwriter who helped change pop music

Jerry Leiber, as the lyricist half of the Leiber and Stoller songwriting team, helped change pop music and set the template for future artists.

Jerry-leiber-mike-stoller-smoke  
It would be easy to fill an ode to lyricist Jerry Leiber, who died on Monday at age 78, entirely with stories culled from his and longtime writing partner Mike Stoller's songs. The volume of American classics that the team created over the years is astounding, but more impressive is the inventiveness, vision and laugh-out-loud love of language of the team's best work, as anyone who's ever sung along to the words "You're going to need an ocean of calamine lotion" understands.

Take the opening couplet from "Love Potion No. 9": "I took my troubles down to Madame Ruth / You know that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth?" Hearing the rhyme for the first time, how could you not be filled with glee as the narrator sips and starts kissing everything in sight, culminating in the wonderful kicker, "But when I kissed a cop down on 34th and Vine / He broke my little bottle of Love Potion Number Nine."

There's Big Mama Thornton's version of "Hound Dog," with the lewd brush-off, "You can wag your tail but I ain't going to feed you no more," or the Coasters' raucous hit "Yakety Yak," which transformed a parent's dismissive scold -- "Yakety yak, don't talk back!" -- into a defiant cry of rebellion, or "On Broadway," whose story of artistic yearning has become an archetype. Leiber's work with Stoller is so ingrained in the American psyche that it's easy to forget that they actually had to sit down and write the stuff. Hasn't Ben E. King's rendition of "Stand By Me" always existed?

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RIP Jerry Leiber: half of one of rock's greatest songwriting teams

Jerry Leiber-Elvis Presley-Mike Stoller 
Take the songs of Jerry Leiber, who died Monday at age 78,  and his longtime songwriting partner, Mike Stoller, out of the book of early rock ‘n’ roll and you’d be left with a Grand Canyon-sized hole.

The New York-based songwriting and production team was responsible for dozens, if not hundreds, of hits over the first decade of rock’s history, and their legacy continues to be felt more than half a century later.

Just the Leiber-Stoller songs that Elvis Presley recorded would constitute a cornerstone of early rock:  starting with “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” on through “King Creole,” “Don’t,” “Loving You,” “Dirty, Dirty Feeling,”  “She’s Not You,” “Treat Me Nice,” “Trouble,” “You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care),” “Bossa Nova, Baby,”  and even “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.”

They crafted hits for the Coasters (“Charlie Brown,” “Yakety Yak,” “Poison Ivy,” “Searchin’,” “Along Came Jones,” “Young Blood”), the Drifters (“On Broadway,” “There Goes My Baby,” “Dance With Me”) , LaVern Baker (“Saved”), Ben E. King ("Stand By Me," "Spanish Harlem," “Gypsy,” “I [Who Have Nothing]”), The Clovers (“Love Potion #9),  Peggy Lee (“Is That All There Is,” “I’m a Woman”) and Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood (“Jackson”).

As well-rounded musicians who also scouted and developed talent and produced recordings—well before the term “record producer” entered the lexicon—they landed what’s considered the first independent production deal with Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic Records. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

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Elvis Presley's 'Blue Moon' at 57: His best ballad?

Bluemoon

It's a bold statement, for sure, that Elvis Presley's interpretation of "Blue Moon" is his greatest-ever ballad performance. You could quibble all day long about which of those classic early sides show the King at his peak: "Can't Help Falling in Love," "Love Me Tender," "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" or any of the dozens of less known love and/or heartbreak songs Elvis offered over the years. But the one I always return to is "Blue Moon," recorded on Aug. 19, 1954, at Sun Studios in Memphis.

The song was written in 1933 by Rodgers and Hart for the MGM movie "Hollywood Party," but with different lyrics, and then reworked again for the 1934 film "Manhattan Melodrama." In this second version, the soon-to-be-classic opening verse -- "Blue moon/You saw me standing alone/Without a dream in my heart/Without a love of my own" -- isn't there. Instead, Rodgers and Hart approached the melody with different lyrics:  "Act one/You gulp your coffee and run/Into the subway you crowd/Don’t breathe, it isn’t allowed." The team wrote a third set of lyrics for another film.

The songwriters published the song with another -- now classic --set of lyrics in 1934. Twenty years later, Elvis Presley stood in Sun Studios with his backing band and laid down the song, trimmed to two haiku-like stanzas. He was 19 years old. 

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Elvis Presley and Rupert Murdoch: The King and Papa Paparazzi

Elvis Presley 1977 Providence-LAT file photo 
Music journalist Chet Flippo, editorial director for the Country Music Television cable channel and its website, CMT.com, tells a fascinating story in his latest Nashville Skyline column about embattled publishing mogul Rupert Murdoch’s role in the waning days of Elvis Presley’s life.

Now that Murdoch and his News Corp.  are embroiled in the cellphone hacking scandal that’s rocking the United Kingdom, Flippo revisits the period in the 1970s when the Australian media giant was lobbying to bring his gossip-mongering ways to the U.S. by acquiring two Texas newspapers -- the San Antonio News and the San Antonio Express.

“He later combined both newspapers as the San Antonio Express-News, but early on, he instructed the News staff to turn the paper into a ‘screamer.’ And the paper soon did so. With a vengeance,” Flippo writes. “The staff began introducing Murdoch’s patented tabloid formula of sensationalism, sex, celebrities, crime and corruption. The facts be damned."

Flippo notes Murdoch’s campaign against the Rolling Stones’ 1975 tour, the staging of which included a giant inflatable phallus, which succeeded in prompting the group to forgo that particular prop when the tour reached San Antonio -- the only U.S. tour stop where they abandoned it.

“That kind of institutionalized anti-rock company policy,” Flippo writes, “may well have been what led to the book that may have helped to kill Elvis Presley.”

He’s referring to the salacious 1977 book “Elvis: What Happened?” based entirely on stories told by former bodyguards Red and Sonny West and Dave Hebler, who recently had been fired by Presley’s father, Vernon.

"Objectively speaking, the book was a true Murdoch hatchet job," Flippo says. "It laid out all of Elvis’ dirty laundry that you didn’t want -- or need -- to know... It became a bestseller, and the profits went to Murdoch’s News Corp., not to the author. It was written by Steve Dunleavy, a hard-drinking, controversial Australian reporter greatly favored by Murdoch...

“For the first time,” Flippo writes, “the book revealed the full extent of Elvis’ complete and total dependence on a long list of prescription drugs. And it was not a pretty story. It was a virtual pharmacopia of drugs and other sundry and tawdry personal details about Elvis. Close Elvis associates have said the book had a devastating effect on Presley."

Flippo adds considerable detail from his own interviews with Dunleavy about his dubious ethical practices while working for Murdoch, which aren’t pretty either.

Near the end, Flippo points out a conspicious bit of timing: “The book was published in early August of 1977. Elvis died on the floor of his bathroom in Graceland two weeks later, on Aug. 16, 1977.”

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Nashville Skyline: Will Elvis Presley see revenge against media mogul Rupert Murdoch?

'Humble' Murdoch faces British inquiry

Rupert Murdoch  attacked at Parliament, appears unharmed

-- Randy Lewis

Photo of Elvis Presley performing May 23, 1977, in Providence, R.I. Credit: File photo.

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