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Jon Waterhouse
2013 Official Blogger for Elvis.com
Entertainment journalist and lifelong Elvis fan Jon Waterhouse returns as the official blogger for Elvis Week 2013. With a journalism career spanning more than 20 years, Jon counts his Elvis-related projects as some of his all-time favorites. He’s interviewed some of the king’s closest comrades. Jon’s work regularly appears in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper and recently blogged for Bonnaroo 2013. Keep an ear open for Jon’s guest DJ specials on SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio.


AUGUST 18


At the end of last year’s Elvis Week, I compared the close of the celebration to the last day of summer camp. Sure, I’m chomping at the bit to reunite with my wife and kids, and crawl back in my own bed. Yet, there’s a tinge of sadness when the curtain shuts on an experience so incredibly entertaining and memorable.

For me the memories are already rich in my mind. I made new friends with the wonderful and dedicated staff at Elvis Presley Enterprises, and I connected with countless fellow fans. Tom Brown’s talk with Mother Dolores Hart was a landmark moment in Elvis Week history, and the 40th anniversary “Aloha” screening was even more powerful than I imagined. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Although it’s not my first Elvis Week rodeo, I’m walking away with an even stronger realization at the enormous and never ending impact Elvis Presley has on our culture. In my opinion, this year I noticed an arguably more diverse group of fans representing a wider range of ages, races and nationalities. What other figure draws such a sprawling demographic of fans and mourners 36 years after his or her passing? I can’t think of a soul.

After the Ultimate ETA finals, I was discussing this with Brad Birkedahl, the awesomely talented musician and Elvis Week 2013 online host.

“No other entertainer or historical figure inspires folks as much as Elvis,” I said. “It’s not like you see crowds of people dressing up like Abraham Lincoln.”


The latter was indeed a cheeky comment, but undeniably true. Elvis Presley changed the world, and he’s still doing it today.

See you next year!

TCB,

Jon Waterhouse

THE ETA FILES



The 2013 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest was nothing short of spectacular. The final five (Ben Thompson, Adam Fitzpatrick, Jay Dupuis, Diogo Leichtweis and Dean Z) had the audience roaring. Although Dupuis’s version of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and Thompson’s early Elvis elicited loud approval, it was Dean Z’s presentation of “Jailhouse Rock” that sealed the deal. I caught up with Dean onstage moments after he was presented with the $20,000 check, the shimmering gold belt and the Legends in Concert contract.

Dean Z
2013 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Winner



Q.: What part of the Ultimate ETA Contest really stood out to you?

A. The camaraderie backstage has been unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. All 29 contestants are all number one, and they’re all cool guys. We’ve sparked friendships, because of this contest, and they’re going to last for a long time. It’s all because of the mutual love for Elvis and the fact that he has brought all of us here together to sing his music. And I couldn’t any happier or more blessed than I am right now.

Q.: Almost every ETA I’ve spoken with this week has mentioned the camaraderie.

A.: It’s a brotherhood in the ETA world, because we all share that love. We all have this common thread running through us, and we all love his music and Elvis as a person. I heard Bruce Springsteen once say that Elvis was the first modern 20th century man and the first modern 20th century American. Elvis encapsulates America.

Q.: In the final round you chose to perform “Jailhouse Rock.” Why?

A.: “Jailhouse Rock” was the very first song I ever performed onstage as Elvis when I was 3 years old. It’s sort of become my calling card and signature song, because of the fact it changed my life. And [last night] “Jailhouse Rock” changed it again.

DONNIE SUMNER Q&A

Whether it’s his booming voice, quick draw wit, sharp fashion sense or colorful recollections, Donnie Sumner commands attention. As a former member of J.D. Sumner & The Stamps, Donnie sang alongside Elvis for many years, including at the legendary “Aloha From Hawaii” concert. He was even hired to be Elvis’s personal gospel jukebox, and would often sing gospel tunes for the king. Donnie’s stories are many, and he shared more than a few throughout Elvis Week 2013. He also joined Bill Baize and other former members of the Stamps onstage at the 40th anniversary “Aloha” event at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis.



Q.: What did it feel like stepping onstage performing and celebrating “Aloha From Hawaii” at the Orpheum for Elvis Week 2013?

A.: I felt like Doc Brown from “Back to the Future.” [Laughs] It was an awesome experience. I’ve watched it at home on television, and I’ll be sitting there watching myself standing there beside Elvis. Until this day, unless somebody tells me that that’s real, it still doesn’t seem like it is. I still cannot get used to the fact that was me up there standing beside Elvis. I asked Elvis one time, “Elvis, what does it feel like to be you? I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be you.” He said, “Donnie, sometimes when there ain’t nobody watching, I go in the bathroom and close the door and look in the mirror and [laugh].” He couldn’t believe it either.

Q.: When you were performing at the original “Aloha From Hawaii” concert, were you able to live in the moment and appreciate it as it was happening?

A.: I think I can speak for everybody else in the show. It was basically just another night for us. Elvis didn’t need anybody. He could walk out there with a stool and a guitar and have a worldwide satellite show with that many viewers and do it all by himself. We were just there to fill up the picture and add color. That’s all that we were for. We could’ve been naked and no one would’ve known it. Everybody was wanting to see Elvis. They weren’t wanting to see us. To us there was no pressure, there was nothing special. We were just going out there and scooby doo watching and boppity bopping. Elvis is the one who had all of the pressure. To us it was like just another night. And we really had no idea what kind of night we were having until after the fact when we realized what Elvis had done. And we were just poles holding up the tent. We didn’t add nothing to the show. It was Elvis who pulled it off. And now we have to get all of our excitement by viewing it from retrospect and trying to recall what it could have been like if we had known what we were doing. [Laughs.] And to see the response from the audience at the 40th anniversary show during Elvis Week and at other live shows, it kind of reminds us of what we didn’t get the first time around. We were so caught up in youth, fun and follies that we couldn’t capture the importance of the moment. But it was definitely an important moment. I will always be grateful that I had a chance to be a part of it.

Q.: What impressed you most about Elvis?

A.: Not to get religious, I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve, but I’m a very spiritually-minded person. I know what I’m talking about when I talk spiritual matters, and I’ve got the degrees to prove it. [Laughs.] There was an anointing on Elvis’s life to be a psalmist. And the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance, which means God never changes his mind when he makes up his mind. When he gave this gift to be a psalmist to Elvis, it didn’t matter if he sang country music or rock ‘n’ roll or gospel music. That God-given anointing --we call it the gift of music in secular terms-- prepared the way for everything Elvis would do for the rest of his life. If he drove a bubblegum truck, everybody on his route would know him, because the anointing draws to it itself. It’s kind of like a moth to a flame. If he had been a fireman, he’d probably have had the most well known fireman’s uniform in the whole history of fire fighting. Had he been a cop he’d have had every award there was, because the anointing makes way for itself no matter where it goes. And he had no choice in the matter. Whatever he did was going to be blessed beyond measure, because he carried that special God-given anointing that draws to itself. Even if he had not had long hair, if he had no talent, if he wasn’t handsome, if he was just ugly like me, he still would’ve made people stop and take notice when he walked into a room, because he was special. I wrote a little thing one time that said Elvis was born with singing, his life was a song, but he died in silence. If the music continues, then we’ve got to be the melody. Everybody give it your best shot.

ELVIS WEEK FOOD FIND



Throughout Elvis Week I tried out a few dishes fit for a king, including Presley-inspired recipes and legendary Memphis delicacies.

Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel
3677 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis
901-332-1000, Elvis.com


For my final Food Find I thought it would be appropriate to close the blog with Elvis’s signature sammy. This themed hotel just steps away from Graceland offers the classic creation in all of its sinfully simple glory. The buttery exterior of the pan-fried toast proves to be melt-in-your mouth delicious. Those two pieces of bread are the perfect bookends for the dream team of banana slices and peanut butter. Belly up to the Jungle Room bar and order a sandwich. You can grab one to go, or they can deliver it to your table in the dining room. I scarfed mine while watching “Elvis on Tour” on the dining room’s movie screen. Although there are many spots in Memphis to gorge on this particular delicacy, Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel is most definitely the top of my personal list.


AUGUST 17


Like most fans at Elvis Week 2013, I was running on fumes. With a head as mushy as oatmeal from only three hours of sleep after the Candlelight Vigil, I felt like the recipient of a combination punch from Kid Galahad.

Then one of those Elvis Week miracles took place. The opening of “See See Rider” was cranking through the sound system at Graceland’s Main Stage, signaling the beginning of the “Aloha From Hawaii” VIP Reception.



The cobwebs somehow disappeared as I heard the rumble of Ronnie Tutt’s drums. Instantly energized, I was suddenly tempted to start doing some kingly karate kicks right then and there. Luckily for myself and the innocent bystanders around me, I showed restraint.

This was the official pre-show party for the “Aloha from Hawaii” 40th anniversary screening, which would take place a few hours later at the historic Orpheum Theater downtown. And I wasn’t the only one getting in the mood.

More fans began filing into Main Stage, many donning vibrant Hawaiian floral prints, flowers in the hair and leis hanging from their necks. Some began partaking from the light buffet where bins of warm food sat among island-themed floral arrangements. Others gravitated toward the stage itself where a photo exhibit of shots from the famed concert were on display.




I made my way toward a gentleman who looked as if he had just flown in from the islands.  

“My name is Cino. Like ‘see no evil,’” he joked. “And when I go to Vegas, it’s ‘see no money,’”

Cino soon explained he had been at the real “Aloha” show all those years ago. He talked about the magic that was in the air, the energy Elvis delivered onstage and the explosive excitement the crowd gave back.

I grabbed a seat at a table and chatted with Mike Parsons fro Macomb, Mich. I had been running into Mike, his wife Sonia and daughter Jenna throughout Elvis Week. Last night we shared our enthusiasm for getting a chance to see the “Aloha” screening.

“Everyone who will be there tonight, we’re all Elvis fans,” Mike said. “We know that Elvis’s standard, in my opinion, was higher than your average entertainer. And ‘Aloha’ was one of the high points of his career so we know it’s going to be good.”



The gorgeous lobby of the Orpheum was filled with amped-up fans awaiting the show. Jack Soden mingled with folks, Brad Birkedahl chatted with members of the masses and guests donning celebratory Hawaiian duds showed off their fashions.

It production proved to be absolutely excellent. Uber emcee Tom Brown introduced the flick with his undeniable wit. The film is what fans saw back in January at Elvis Presley's Aloha from Hawaii, the 40th Anniversary Celebration in Honolulu. I was blown away and noticed some never-before-seen-footage in there. Some contemporary editing tricks gave the timeless concert a new sheen for the 21st century.



Just after intermission, former members of The Stamps, including Bill Baize and Donnie Sumner, took the stage for a gospel set. Elvis fans were definitely recognizing “Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” a favorite of the king. The quartet wrapped up the set with “How Great Thou Art.” That tune got the crowd on its feet and singing along. I could even see Tom Brown joining in from the side of the stage.

The remainder of the concert was no less spectacular. Yeah, it was a performance I’ve seen a million times. But watching a larger-than-life presentation of this larger-than-life concert in the majestic confines of the Orpheum with a packed house of kindred spirits was spellbinding.

It was like watching “Aloha” for the first time. Chills were shooting down my spine and my eyes got misty. At one point I couldn’t help but throw a few enthusiastic punches in the air. Kid Galahad would’ve been proud.

D.J. FONTANA


D.J. Fontana, the king's original drummer, will be taking the stage twice today. He’ll be chatting about this work with Elvis and performing with the Terry Mike Jeffrey Band. Here’s part two of a chat I had with D.J. a while back.

Q.: What was the most intimidating crowd experience that you can remember?

A.: We had one in Canada. We were playing at a huge football stadium. We were on a bandstand way down on the other end of the field. When Scotty hit that first note, about 10,000 to 15,000 people rushed that stage. I was scared, but we were lucky. They had a fence in front of the stage. The Colonel said, “Elvis, get out of here as quick as you can. Don’t do any tricks or leg movements.” He was afraid we were going to get hurt, but we didn’t. The crowd got to that fence, and they stopped and sat down. They just wanted to get a better view. But the crowd wound up getting so excited they turned the bandstand over. The bandstand was only about a foot high. Our stuff went everywhere. George Klein was with us, and we all got in the car. The fans started shaking the car like they were going to turn it over. George said, “D.J., Scotty, get this car moving!” I said “George, we can’t run over these kids!” He was scared to death. I said, “Settle down. Those kids will be OK in a minute. I’ll turn on the dome light and let them see that Elvis isn’t in here.” Once I did that, and they realized Elvis wasn’t in the car, they left.

Q.: I’ve heard you tell a great story about the ring Elvis gave you.

A.: Elvis had just gotten out of the Army, and we were in Nashville recording again. We were in the studio, and he was standing at the podium so he could read the lyrics. I saw his ring. There was 11 diamonds in it. I had never seen it before. So we finished the first take and I said, “Elvis, what’s that with the diamonds?” And he said, “Oh, man. This is my new ring I bought a couple of days ago.” I said, “It sure is a pretty thing.” He said, “You want to wear it a while?” I did, so he gave it to me. We always recorded all night. I told him I’d give it back to him in the morning. And he said, “OK.” When we got through I said, “Here’s your ring back.” He said, “You keep it. When I go broke I’ll call you.” I saw him about a year later at RCA again. I wanted working for him by then. He had a whole handful of rings. I said, “You got some pretty rings there, Elvis.” He said, “Oh, no. You got me once. You ain’t going to get me again.”

Q.: After you stopped working with Elvis on a regular basis, what was your favorite post-Elvis project?

A.: After Elvis? That’s it. What else could you do? That’s why I enjoy I doing events [like Elvis Week]. I know most of the guys in these bands. So we get together and chat a little bit. ...Way back when I could have never imagined something like [Elvis Week.] Nobody could. I know I couldn’t. Elvis was just like one of the guys, and we had a good time.

ELVIS WEEK FOOD FIND




As we prepare to wrap up Elvis Week, I’ve been noshing on dishes fit for a king, including Presley-inspired recipes and legendary Memphis delicacies.

Four Way Restaurant

998 Mississippi Blvd., Memphis.
901-507-1519

A short drive from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Four Way's soul lives in its food. Our waitress didn’t hesitate to guide us toward the fried chicken. A plethora of sides await, and an admirable shout-out go toward the flavorful black eyed peas. When it comes to classic southern meat-and-two sensibilities, the Four Way shines all around. But they really hit the mountaintop with the desserts. I was tempted to dive face first into the peach cobbler. And the lemon meringue pie had a distinctive blend of tang and sweet that proved instantly addictive.

ETA FILES


Although I have a fistful of ETA business cards, I wasn’t able to get a call back in time for today’s ETA Files. I thought I’d surely run into a performer or three at last night’s “Aloha” event, but I was out of luck. Everyone must be getting primed and prepared for tonight’s Ultimate ETA at the Cannon Center.

Sitting here looking at my ETA business cards, a lightbulb of inspiration pops above my head. I have some pretty killer contacts now, a host of ETAs at my fingertips. Maybe after Elvis Week I can contemplate a career move. Colonel Jon has a nice ring to it!


AUGUST 16



CANDLELIGHT VIGIL


My first experience immersing myself in the Candlelight Vigil took place last year. It’s one thing to watch it on TV or read an account online. But being a part of arguably the most unique pop culture phenomenon on the planet is something to behold. Clutching my candle, I stood there elbow-to-elbow with fellow fans. “If I Can Dream” was flowing from the loudspeakers. The heartfelt dedication coming from the mouths of members of the Elvis Country Fan Club was something I could relate to, and the bond linking myself with the rest of the crowd was overwhelming. No matter our respective nationalities, we all spoke the same language: Elvis. I still struggle trying to describe the mesh of emotions I felt last year, and it happened again last night. I can simply say the Candlelight Vigil not only remains the ultimate fan tribute, but also the ultimate testament to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

I’m sure the sights and sounds of last night would do a much better job describing the event than I can. Here’s an audio slideshow I put together of Elvis Week 2013’s Candlelight Vigil:



ELVIS WEEK FOOD FIND




Throughout Elvis Week I’ll be noshing on dishes fit for a king, including Presley-inspired recipes and legendary Memphis delicacies.



Cozy Corner

745 N. Parkway, Memphis.
901-527-9158, CozyCornerBBQcom.

There’ so much to fall in love with at Cozy Corner, from the motherly warmth exuded by owner, Desiree Robinson, to the fact the food rolls out of the kitchen with extra tender loving care. This barbecue restaurant has been garnering a stellar reputation since first opening its doors in August of 1977. “Elvis never had the chance to come here,” Robinson said. “But he would have loved it.” That most certainly goes for the king’s fans. Robinson says Elvis Week always attracts newbies who discover Cozy Corner by word of mouth. One of the house specialties is the Cornish hen lathered in barbecue sauce. It’s the stuff of Memphis legend, as are the tempting and tender ribs. But don’t stop there. They expertly execute the southern sweetness of banana pudding. A total of four generations work at Cozy Corner, and one of Robinson’s granddaughters recently created the Mississippi Mud, a decadent melding of cookies, nuts, chocolate, whipped cream and caramel. Robinson says the other worldly goodness of the sweet potato pie comes courtesy of Grandma’s Desserts on Park Avenue. The soulful soundtrack and ’70s decor set the tone, and Robinson is more than happy to bend an ear with Elvis stories. According to Robinson, Elvis hired her aunt to take care of his grandmother at Graceland. “My aunt loved that man,” Robinson said.

THE ETA FILES


Richard Wolfe
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada


Q.: What Elvis era do you prefer to perform?
A.: My preferred era is the movies. I like to do the songs from the movies like “Viva Las Vegas,” “Kid Galahad,” “King Creole,” you know, all of those good hits.

Q.: What’s your favorite Elvis bling?
A.: I got this [horseshoe bracelet] made by Lowell Hayes. So I went up to him and I said, “I have a really cool picture that I’d like to show you.” He said, “OK, sounds great.” I showed him and he said, “I remember that. Elvis wore that in ’57.” It was one of my favorite concerts that Elvis did. And Lowell Hayes made the bracelet especially for me. You can’t get it anywhere.

Q.: The dance moves from that era have to be very demanding. How do you study it?
A.: You have to really choreograph your own stuff, because there isn’t much footage from the ’50s to see what Elvis was doing. There are some clips here and there, but you can’t take a clip and turn it into a whole routine. So you have to make up your own stuff for your whole show. So I look at lots of things. I go to the movie years and get some of those moves and put them together with the ’50s stuff.

Q.: What’s the trick to getting your hair to look like Elvis in the ’50s?
A.: I use the exact same stuff Elvis used: Royal Crown and Brylcreem. You put it in your hair, and you blow dry it so you get a really thick and slick look. By the end of the show you’re hair is going all over the place, because you sweat it all out.


AUGUST 15


The anticipation in the air yesterday was both tangible and undeniable. Countless Elvis fans cite 1958’s “King Creole” as their favorite film in the Presley celluloid catalog. And many of them were part of a sold-out crowd at Graceland’s Main Stage, moments away from experiencing an extremely rare appearance by one of the king’s co-stars: Dolores Hart.

These days, however, she’s known as Mother Dolores.



Despite starring in a string of 10 hit movies alongside Montgomery Clift and other cinematic heavyweights --she was also in “Loving You” with Elvis-- Hart left Hollywood in 1963 at the height of her career. She felt a spiritual calling to enter a contemplative monastery, the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn. Now 50 years later, she serves as its prioress.

Mother Dolores’s unique story was the subject of last year’s Oscar nominated documentary, “God is the Bigger Elvis.” In May she co-authored her memoir, “The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows,” with longtime friend, Richard DeNeut. At Elvis Week 2013 fans heard from the woman herself.

As Mother Dolores took the stage, the typically vocal and enthusiastic Elvis Week crowd welcomed her with the up most respect. So did host Tom Brown, who sparked a conversation peppered with insight, humor and vivid recollections. For a fan such as myself, it was satisfying to hear she had the opportunity to witness the oft overlooked human and spiritual side of an American icon.  

Yet, most importantly was the sense of love, positivity, peace, serenity radiating through her eyes. Undeniably infectious, it seemed to effortlessly flow from the stage and into the crowd.

Prior to Elvis Week, I had an amazing chat with Mother Dolores Hart over the phone. Here she is in her own words:

On discovering Elvis on the set of “Loving You.”  

You probably won’t believe this, but I wasn’t aware of Elvis before “Loving You.” [Laughs.] I had been so immersed in my studies at the time that I hadn’t followed his career up to that point. If he would’ve walked up to me, I would’ve said, “Who are you?” So my own discovery of his talent took place on set. I quickly realized how talented he was and was drawn to it. Even if I wasn’t in a particular scene I took every chance I could to watch him being filmed. I would stand there and watch as he sang, and I listened to that beautiful voice. We had never heard anything like it before, of course. I was amazed. My appreciation for him unfolded right there.

On her first scene with Elvis:

The first scene we shot was the kissing scene at the end of the movie. Elvis and I kissed for a few seconds, and then Hal Kanter, the director, said, “Cut!” I had no idea what I had done wrong. How could I have messed up a kiss? Then the director said to the makeup supervisor, “Wally, go put some powder on Dolores’s ears. They’re turning red.” Then we did another take and another kiss. The director yelled, “Cut!” This time he said, “Wally, go put some powder on Elvis’s ears. They’re turning red.” So Elvis and I had a big laugh about that.

On filming “King Creole” in New Orleans:

The kids were everywhere, and there was one experience about Elvis that touched me very much. We got into one of the limousines, and Elvis was sitting right across from me. So a girl standing outside of the car saw Elvis and thrust her arm through the window. It was almost rolled up all the way. There was maybe three inches of space from the top. And at that point the car began to move and go forward. Well, Elvis immediately saw what was happening. He grabbed her arm and yelled for the driver to stop the car and for someone else to roll down the window. Well, I was in the monastery a number of years when I got a letter from this girl who told me how grateful she was. She knew if he hadn’t helped her in that moment of distress that she could’ve lost her arm. She could’ve been seriously damaged, and she felt that Elvis gave her the gift of life in his sensitivity and capacity to do the right thing at the right time.

On discussing spirituality with Elvis:

Often we had to wait in a particular hotel room between scenes, because we couldn’t go downstairs or out anywhere. And Elvis would inevitably get the Gideon Bible and randomly open it. He’d read it and tell me what he thought that chapter was about, and then he’d ask me to give him my interpretation. Or he would hand me the Bible and ask me to open it, read a passage and tell him what I thought of it. So I knew that he was very deeply and instinctively looking for a knowledge of Christ, the Lord or whoever was in the Bible as we opened it.  

On keeping in touch with Elvis after “King Creole.”

We didn’t keep in touch directly, but his cousin Gene [Smith] was often our go between. When actors go from film to film it’s very hard to keep a contact unless there’s a great love relationship that opens to marriage, which didn’t happen between us. But we were friends, and often Gene would be the contact between us. He’d write to me and tell me what was happening in Elvis’s life, and I would write back to Gene and tell him what was happening in mine. And when I entered the monastery Elvis sent me a message to let me know he supported what I was doing.



On her relationship with Elvis:

Frequently Elvis would come over and put his arm around me, and he would say, “How did it go? How are you doing?” He was a brother. I don’t want to diminish his romantic side, but we weren’t at that level as persons, but that didn’t inhibit him. One time we were taking a walk, and we were coming to a log. He would just whip me up and take me over the log. And those are just small things, but I think they mean something in a relationship. They meant a lot to me. First of all I was new to films, and I didn’t know what to expect from a co-star in a motion picture. But he just made me feel at home and at home with him.

On what’s she’s looking forward to the most about visiting Graceland.

As a member of the monastic community, I do experience a presence of persons who are dead as present to me in various moments. It’s not like I can turn it on. But when it’s given [to me from God], the presence of a person who has died is a wonderful and joyful reconnecting with the truth of that person. I feel that strongly, because both my mother and father died at 47 and 45. So a long time ago I began really praying for that experience of renewal and rediscovery of a person who was now in the new dimension. ...I don’t understand exactly what [life after death] means any more than anybody else does, really. I only know that it exists, and you can’t deny when you are taken by that reality, because of the presence of a person. There’s nothing that contacts us or calls us more deeply than the reality of someone you care for or love. You can turn your back, and you know they’re in the room. It’s that kind of reality. I hope when I get to Graceland that I will meet him again.

ULTIMATE ETA SEMIFINAL ROUND



Ducking backstage at the Cannon Center in the midst of the semifinals, I expected to feel a sense of heightened stress among the ETAs. After all, it’s their Super Bowl.



Instead the camaraderie many of them claim is their common thread was ringing true. Jokes, jabs and laughter intermingled with genuine support and encouragement among the competitors. I even managed to goof around with Sato Koichi, an ETA who traveled from Japan to compete.

At the end of the evening, however, only 10 performers were left standing, advancing to the Saturday’s final round.



Top Ten Finalists
Adam Fitzpatrick
Ben Thompson
Michael Chambliss
Cliff Wright
Matt Cordell
Jim Barone
Dean Z
Chad Collins
Jay Dupuis
Diogo Leichtweis


ELVIS WEEK FOOD FIND



Throughout Elvis Week I’ll be noshing on dishes fit for a king, including Presley-inspired recipes and legendary Memphis delicacies.

Gus’s Fried Chicken

310 S. Front St., Memphis
901-527-4877, GusFriedChicken.com

Some inside tips from foodie friends pointed me to the downtown location of Gus’s. Elvis had a soft spot for the southern staple, fried chicken, so it only seemed right to indulge in an ample portion. And indulge I did in a three-piece dinner, complete with slaw and baked beans. Back in the kitchen each piece of bird emerges from crackling peanut oil like a golden phoenix. Although Gus’s is mum on the details of its recipe, the spice found in the batter seems to have a bite of cayenne. For those who are a little shaky when it comes to spiciness, make sure and order something cold and wet on the side. Drinks come in plastic containers emblazoned with the restaurant’s logo, and you can take the cups with you.

THE ETA FILES

Jay Zanier
Guelph, Ontario, Canada


Q.: You made it back to the Ultimate this year. Is the backstage vibe any different form 2012?
A.: Actually it feels amazing. I haven’t seem a lot of them in many years. These guys are like family. Look at them, they’re all hugging each other. Every time we perform, we compliment each other. We’re here for one reason, and that’s Elvis.

Q.: You wore the “If I Can Dream” suit in the semifinals. What’s the story behind it?
A.: I had it made by this gentleman who lives in my area. His name’ is Gus. ...The suit is very comfortable. It’s made of cotton with a bit of polyester so it breathes right through. It’s fantastic. I’d rather wear this than a jumpsuit, but we have to wear jumpsuits, because when we do the Vegas era that’s what [fans] expect. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Q.: So is the “If I Can Dream” suit your favorite?
A.: My favorite outfit is the Aloha. It’s hot as hell [Laughs] and weighs about 30 pounds. ...It’s my favorite, because when I was growing up the first show I remember was “Aloha From Hawaii.” And that’s when I fell in love with Elvis’s music and the person himself. I always tell the new kids that Elvis lit the torch, and all we can do is carry it and pass it to each other.

Q.: If you were cast in the remake of an Elvis movie, what movie would that be?
A.: I couldn’t touch an Elvis movie. They’re all perfect. People criticize them, but he put his all into those movies. There’s nothing that can touch an Elvis movie.

Q.: When you’re competing, do you stick to any special diet?
A.: No way. We eat whatever we want. We’re in Memphis, and we’re eating the ribs. When we’re at home we eat vegetables and as little calories as possible. When in Memphis, we eat. Then we diet.


AUGUST 14


Gripping the steering wheel with one hand, I began pumping the other in the air to the beat. Elvis’s voice was gushing loudly from my stereo, and I moved my hips from side-to-side while sitting in the driver’s seat. I just couldn’t help it.

I had that feeling in my body, because I was lost in the funky groove of “I Got a Feelin’ In My Body,” one of the tracks from “Elvis at Stax,” the new compilation of cuts from the king’s sessions at the famed Memphis studio.

Yep, I was shaking my groove thing as I drove. Did I swerve? Well, maybe a little.

OK, maybe more than a little. I’m lucky I didn’t get pulled over by the Memphis heat. They’d have to come up with a new traffic violation: Driving Under the Influence of Elvis.

“I’m sorry for dancing and driving, officer,” I would say. “But have you heard that new Elvis album? It’s...AWESOME!”



Luckily I arrived safely at Soulsville USA, otherwise known as the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, just in time for the “Elvis at Stax” listening party. Located on the original site of Stax Records, the museum pays homage to the label’s groundbreaking artists with fantastic interactive exhibits and a jaw-dropping collection of artifacts and memorabilia.

Otis Redding, Issac Hayes, Booker T. & the MG’s, Rufus and Carla Thomas and a host of others were each fruitful branches on the Stax family tree. The hot buttered soul of Stax helped change the face of popular music, and in 1973 Elvis entered the famed hall to cut a laundry list of tracks.



Now it was my turn to enter a replica of that same studio in the exact spot where it originally stood. I arrived to find Stax Studio A overflowing with a conglomeration of Elvis fans. The diversity in the room showcased the king’s continuing impact. Jack Soden, the president and CEO of EPE, was hanging out and chatting it up with fellow fans.

So was 14-year-old Isabella Taylor Scott, the youngest Elvis fan club president in the world.



“My favorite thing about Elvis Week is just being able to be with such wonderful people who love Elvis like I do,” Isabella said, “and to celebrate the life and legacy of Elvis.”

The celebration of “Elvis at Stax” began with a round table interview put together by Sony representatives. Ernst Mikael Jørgensen, who’s been director of RCA’s Presley catalog for more than two decades, gave fans his incredibly informed perspective of the sessions.  



Outtakes played over the studio sound system, and Norbert Putnam, the legendary bassist who recorded with Elvis at Stax in December of ’73, treated the audience to his behind-the-scene recollections. Putnam says he remembers walking into Stax for the first time mesmerized by the fact this was the place where Otis Redding and other artists made impeccable magic.

“I looked around thinking, ‘I bet the king can light up this place,’” Putnam said. “The next day he came in and he did.”



The stories and insight continued, and afterward Putnam and company took their time signing autographs, posing for pictures and visiting with the Elvis faithful. I even managed to squeeze my way in for a quick Putnam photo op, goofily arranging my fingers as if I was thumping a bass guitar.

An unexpected surprise came when I happened upon Novella Smith, the former production chief at Stax. It was her job to supervise the studio’s engineers, and she was there the day Elvis and his crew set up shop. In fact she was the one who let them through the door.



“I had to make sure the studio was ready for Elvis and his team,” she said.

Novella shared more memories, and then escorted me to the Hall of Records, pointing out some of the Stax projects she worked on.



With the music of “Elvis at Stax” in the background, I moved through the rest of the museum. When I say moved, I mean moved. Yeah, I was dancing again. And the evidence was caught on film right in front of the fur-lined 1972 Cadillac El Dorado once owned by Issac Hayes.

A feeling in my body, indeed.


 

TOM BROWN


Today’s Conversations on Elvis event ranks as one of the most anticipated aspects of Elvis Week 2013. Country music great T.G. Sheppard, Elvis’s bassist Norbert Putnam and the king’s “Loving You” and “King Creole” co-star Mother Dolores Hart are among the guests.

Who do you enlist to wrangle such a line-up? Good thing EPE has Elvis aficionado Tom Brown on speed dial.  

I like to refer to the Tupelo, Miss. native as a walking encyclopedia of Elvis knowledge in blue suede shoes. At Elvis Week 2012, Brown conducted more than 40 live interviews across nine days. That’s enough to make the head of any Elvis expert explode from overload. This year mark’s Brown 13th anniversary as an Elvis Week host.


As vice president of original productions for Turner Classic Movies, Brown’s passion for Presley makes him the go-to-guy for the network’s Elvis related programming. Remember the 2009 segment featuring TCM host Robert Osborne interviewing Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling before a block of Elvis films? Tom produced and directed that one.

Among Brown’s other notable Presley projects was an after-hours private shoot at Graceland starring Osborne and George Klein. And it was the self proclaimed “Elvis fan on the inside” who encouraged Warner Bros. to finally release “Elvis on Tour” on DVD and Blu-ray in 2010.

On celebrating his birthday with Elvis:

My birthday is January 5, three days before Elvis’s. I was an Elvis geek. So when I was a kid growing up in Tupelo, I would always have a combination birthday cake. It would say: Happy Birthday Tommy and Elvis. I was about 7 years old when that started, and I did it until I was about 20.

On one of his greatest moments as an Elvis fan:

I was riding with George Klein up the Graceland driveway. And I looked at him and said, “I feel like I’m in the Memphis Mafia.” And George said, “With as much as you’ve done for Elvis, if he were around, you’d be in the Mafia.” I’m like, OK, greatest moment ever right there.

On hosting Elvis Week events:

A lot of these people you just get to know over the years. Everybody is so nice and friendly and unobtrusive and really respectful. And I’m a fan, too. So I’m there and hanging out. And I’m lucky enough to have become friends with a lot of the people who worked with Elvis. It says a lot about Elvis when you meet these people, the musicians, the bodyguards, his friends. They speak of him in such a way, and they’re all such incredibly nice people. You get a little bit of a sense of who he must’ve been if he surrounded himself with such sweet people.

On interviewing Elvis’s friends and collaborators:

Growing up as a fan of Elvis and working with these people [is surreal]. These are names you saw in books or in pictures. These were always the people standing around Elvis, either playing a guitar or walking with him out of a hotel or into a limo or something. You get the opportunity as a fan to talk to these people. They have great stories, and fans have a way of bringing up something that they haven’t thought about in years. So suddenly that memory is so fresh for them, and they get to relay it.

ELVIS WEEK FOOD FIND


Throughout Elvis Week I’ll be noshing on dishes fit for a king, including Presley-inspired recipes and legendary Memphis delicacies.

Marlowe's Ribs & Restaurant
4381 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis
901-332-4159, MarlowesMemphis.com

When juggling Elvis Week events an efficient and reliable meal is essential. A fan needs fuel, equal parts quality and quick. The award-winning ribs and pulled pork at Marlowe’s easily fits those categories. The powers-that-be at Marlowe’s are dyed-in-the-wool E fans who understand the rapid fire schedule of Elvis Week. Last year I frequently found myself gorging on the barbecue pork dinner in between Graceland Main Stage action. I would simply let the waitress know I was on a time table, and the pulled pork shoulder, creamy slaw and fist-size mound of baked beans would arrive in a Memphis flash. Some swear by Marlowe’s barbecue ribs, which are smoked for as long as 16 hours. Meals can be had amid a hodgepodge of Elvis memorabilia. Even the table tops feature images of the king. If you see a pink limousine cruising Elvis Presley Boulevard, chances are it belongs to Marlowe’s. The eatery offers complimentary limo rides to and from area hotels.

THE ETA FILES


Ted Torres
Orlando, Florida


Q.: Being an ETA requires some fancy footwork onstage. What’s your favorite pair of shoes to use?
A.: For the ’70s stuff he used those boots. I have to tell you that sometimes they do hurt your feet. For the ’50s the loafers are the way to go, in my opinion. They’re pretty comfortable.

Q.: Have you ever had a wardrobe malfunction happen onstage?
A.: Luckily not onstage. I hope it never happens. One time right before I was going onstage they were playing “2001” and the zipper on my jumpsuit totally came off. And this lady, I don’t know how she did it, put it back on temporarily. I was able to zip it up and keep it that way until the end of the show. That was a close call. [Laughs.]

Q.: What’s your favorite piece of Elvis bling?
A.: I’m really proud of my TCB necklace, because it was made Harry Levitch, one of Elvis’s jewelers here in Memphis. And it was the last TCB that he made. He made it from the original mold that he used to make Elvis’s, and he made it for me. So I treasure that piece of jewelry.

Q.: What’s your most cherished piece of Elvis memorabilia?
A.: Recently one of my favorite pieces that I purchased is an original scarf with make-up on it. That would definitely be one of the first things I would grab if my house was on fire, for sure.


AUGUST 13


I like to think I’m a man who can readily admit his shortcomings. Yes, at times I can be --ahem-- fashionably challenged.

So in preparation for last night’s Salute to Memphis Music at the Graceland Main Stage, I decided to get a makeover of the Memphis kind.

Now Memphis is not only the birthplace of rock, but one of the most legendary purveyors of original rock ‘n’ roll fashion. I looked no further than Lansky Bros., the clothier to the king, right there in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel.

It was the original Lansky Bros. location on Beale Street all those years ago that provided Elvis with some of his most iconic wear. When Elvis turned up his collar, it was likely one belonging to a shirt he bought at Lansky’s. Lansky styles made a fashion statement loud enough to be heard around the world. To this day folks from the four corners of the earth seek out Lansky Bros. for discerning and hip shirts, suave-yet-rocking jackets, cooler-than-cool footwear and replica Elvis clothing.



If I was going to wrap myself in Memphis cool, it had to be from Lansky’s. So I sought come consultation from Hal Lansky, a second generation fashion guru.



Before I could curl my lip, Hal helped me slip on a Jailhouse Rock sweater. Made in Italy out of merino wool, the blue sweater looks identical to the one Elvis wears when singing “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” in “Jailhouse Rock.” Although the air conditioning was blasting right down upon the sweater display, and I was feeling pretty darn cozy, outdoors it was Memphis in August. It was time to move along.



Hal suggested the Lansky classic 1950s saddle stitch sport shirt and the Hollywood jacket. The latter features stripes and a black velvet collar, which Elvis made famous while promoting “Jailhouse Rock.” He even wore it on the cover of the “Jailhouse Rock” EP.

Crowning me in a fedora he refers to as “the Vegas hat,” Hal escorted me over to the shoe section. Standing strategically a safe distance from me as I removed my shoes and socks, Hal tossed me a pair of black and pink guitar socks adorned with tiny guitars. Soon he was helping me slide into a pair of black and white spectator shoes, some ultra slick kicks with a vintage 1950s look.



“You gotta try this,” Hal said, handing me another shirt. “It’s brand new!”  

I shoved my arms into the sleeves of the Lipstick on Your Collar shirt, which is dolled up with black and white polka dots. It has a double collar, and the bottom collar on the left side boasts an embroidered lip print.



Hal insisted I put on the red Loving You jacket with the baby soft silk interior. We hit the halls of the Peabody lobby to take a picture and nearly knocked over a mailman carrying a basket of mail.

“Return to sender!,” Hal exclaimed, pointing at the postal worker. “Get it?! Return to sender!”

OK, so I didn’t look even a fraction as good as Elvis wearing those clothes. Again, I can admit my shortcomings. But man, IT FELT SO COOL!

ELVIS WEEK MAIN STAGE




It felt even more cool basking in the live performances found at the Salute to Memphis Music at the Graceland Main Stage. Brad Birkedahl and the Burnin’ Love Band lit the fuse with Elvis tunes including “King Creole” and “Patch it Up.” The seven-piece group also gave nods to other Memphis greats from the Mar-Keys to Charlie Rich. Brad’s wife Anna Marie channeled Wanda Jackson, and Brad’s vocals were nothing short of smoking. The audience roared in approval after hearing his booming lead vox on “Hurt” and “American Trilogy”



The electrically charged power trio that’s the Memphis Jones Band closed out the night with a high octane rocking set. It was a history lesson in Memphis music featuring great background information about the tunes from Memphis Jones. As always his comedic timing and yarn spinning skills are aces. The crowd was soon on its feet as the group turned Memphis classics up to 11. This included cuts made famous by Eddie Floyd, Rufus Thomas and, of course, Elvis. Sure the evening was an exercise in game changing Memphis music. Yet, both Brad Birkedahl and Memphis Jones proved they are amazing local talents in their own right.



ELVIS RADIO




Big thanks to DJ Argo for having me as a guest DJ on Elvis Radio yesterday. It’s always a blast talking Elvis with Argo while sitting my bum in the blue suede chair. My picks for the hour included the Mark James penned tune “It’s Only Love,” “If You Don’t Come Back” from the new “Elvis at Stax” release and “Crawfish” with Kitty White on background vocals. Check out my daily Waterhouse Update mornings during Elvis Week on Elvis Radio. And don't forget to join Argo tonight at the Main Stage following the 7 p.m. screening of "Viva Las Vegas" for an Elvis Dance Party.

ELVIS WEEK FOOD FIND


Throughout Elvis Week I’ll be noshing on dishes fit for a king, including Presley-inspired recipes and legendary Memphis delicacies.

Capriccio Grill at the Peabody Hotel

149 Union Ave., Memphis.
901-529-4199, PeabodyMemphis.com

Housed inside the iconic Memphis Hotel, this Italian steakhouse brings its Elvis Week celebration out of the kitchen and onto the tables. Both the lunch and dinner menus feature Elvis-esque delectables through August 17. On Monday I was fortunate enough to score the best fried pickles I’ve ever devoured. Fried just right, each dill slice retained the precise amount of juice and crunch. The king could appreciate the simple pleasure of a good BLT sandwich, and he’d likely give his approval stamp to Capriccio for its version. Each member of this trifecta gets equal billing on buttered toast, and you can taste the balance. Before I left the building I went for broke and downed a chocolate shake topped with house made whipped cream and a strip of chocolate covered bacon bling. Yep, I said chocolate covered bacon. More Capriccio Elvis Week Specials available throughout the week include fried chicken, barbecue ribs and tempura fried mahi mahi.



THE ETA FILES

Dwight Icenhower

Q.: What’s your favorite piece of Elvis bling?
A.: A couple of years back I got a TCB necklace from my good friend [fellow ETA] Irv Cass. Up until a few years ago I was buying all of the cheaper stuff, the costume jewelry. But he gave me a present, and I cherish it. It’s real nice.

Q.: What’s your favorite costume?
A.: I like a lot of the jumpsuits Elvis wore in the late 1960s and early ’70s; the “That’s the Way It Is” era. But one of my favorite jumpsuits isn’t from that era. It’s called the Raindrop suit. ...It’s one of those suits that’s still blingy, but it’s just enough. It’s not as over the top like some of the suits were in the late ’70s.

Q.: What’s the camaraderie like among the ETAs during the Ultimate? Is the competition fierce?
A.: All of these guys are great. When we’re upstairs in the dressing room at the Cannon Center, it’s so nice to see everybody helping each other out. If a guy forgets a belt, there’s always somebody to hop up and say, “Hey, I have a belt you can use.” ...It’s rewarding to just be a part of something with such talented guys. We’re genuine Elvis fans first. To me that’s a reward in itself; just to be in the company of other entertainers like that. It’s become a brotherhood.

Q.: If you were to star in a remake of an Elvis movie, which movie would that be?
A.: “King Creole.” He was just such a rebel in that one. I think it will go down as Elvis Presley’s masterpiece movie.

Q.: What do you do to keep your voice in shape?
A.: I work a lot to keep myself hydrated and rest, especially during a contest like this. You have to save the Beale Street partying until after when you’re celebrating. [Laughs.]


AUGUST 12


Back in the pre-Internet days, my pilgrimages to Memphis always involved detective work. To find off-the-beaten path Elvis sites often required some skill. Call it shake, rattle and sleuth.

Although technology makes it easier today, it’s always nice to have someone else do the heavy lifting, especially someone with a wealth of kingly knowledge you simply can’t find on a Website.



Enter Backbeat Tours, a sightseeing tour service that hits the high note when it comes to music related jaunts. Founder and owner Bill Patton fired up the engine in 2006 when he saw the need for something unique on the Memphis tourism scene.

Breaking the tour guide mold, Patton developed tours hosted by colorful local musicians. With a driver at the wheel, the bus rolls along its route as a musical host sits in a stool facing the seated guests. The guide, armed with a guitar and a microphone, plays and sings songs related to the sites. In between tunes he provides historical background and nuggets of trivia.

Backbeat offers several different tours, from those drenched in the city’s musical legacy to historical and haunted experiences. During Elvis Week they something special. The Presley-centric Hound Dog Tour features a roster of significant Elvis spots that trace the king’s life and career.

Yesterday I was invited to climb aboard for the sold-out Hound Dog Tour. Our guide was Elvis Week online host Brad Birkedahl. Like an Elvis laden mp3 player on shuffle, Birkedahl wrangled the tour, dispensing facts while performing a heaping helping of Elvis tunes.

As Brad ripped through “Rubberneckin’,” I found myself taking the song in the literal sense, gazing out the window at landmarks in Elvis history. A highlight was a stop at Overton Park, home of the Levitt Shell, the place where Elvis performed his first paid concert in 1954.

Everyone filed out of the bus, and Brad took them onstage to the spot where Elvis stood. While explaining how nervous the would-be king was all those years ago, Brad began shaking his leg illustrating the origin of Elvis’s trademark move. He then launched into “That’s Alright (Mama)” encouraging the tourists to sing along.



Another choice stop along the tour was the Presley’s apartment at Lauderdale Courts. Decorated in late 1940s style, the apartment’s kitchen radio even played retro music. Fans can actually rent the place by the night. When I found this out, I plopped down on the couch and soaked up the surroundings.

“Is that meatloaf I’m smelling?”



The most popular room among the visitors was obviously Elvis’s bedroom. One of its walls was smacked with female lipstick prints, a cue for some of the ladies to take turns leaving a smooch on the plaster.

The lipstick print tradition first began after a Scottish couple rented the apartment for their wedding night. The bride had postponed her wedding two years for the opportunity to rent the space. When the honeymoon was over, she didn’t want to leave. Declaring she wanted to move in, the bride turned and planted a kiss on the wall. From then on other women have been following suit.

A photo of Elvis posing in front of the apartment building sits on top of the massive radio in the den. We stepped outside to the exact spot where the photo was taken. A pair of blue footprints painted on the sidewalk showed me where to stand for a Presley photo op.

Back on the bus Brad handed tambourines and shakers to the riders. Everyone provided the percussive accompaniment as Brad picked up steam with “Mystery Train.”

The bus pulled up to a curb near Beale Street, and the tour came to a close. Brad hopped out first, and the exiting riders took turns shaking his hand, thanking him for the entertainment and rock ‘n’ roll detective work.

It was then I realized Brad looked the part, complete with fedora. The next time I’m in need of more shaking, rattling and sleuthing, I know who to call.

ROUND THREE LAST CHANCE RESULTS



Round three of the Hard Rock’s Last Chance Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest was next on my agenda. The big prize: the last remaining slot in the Ultimate ETA Contest taking place later this week.



It was practically elbow-to-elbow at the Hard Rock with most of the standing-room-only crowd pouring out enthusiasm and burning love. A pair of fresh faced young Elvises scored high marks, and judging by the reaction from fans, it looked as if Gino Monopoli had the contest wrapped in a bow. But it was Jeff Lewis who snagged the win.

ELVIS WEEK FOOD FIND



Throughout Elvis Week I’ll be noshing on dishes fit for a king, including Presley-inspired recipes and legendary Memphis delicacies.

Hot Fudge Pie and Dos Mex Hot Tamales
Westy’s
346 N. Main St., Memphis
901-543-3278, WestysMemphis.com

You can dive into decadence at Westy’s, a tidy bar and grill with late hours, open 365 days a year. Owner Jake Schorr brought his popular Hot Fudge Pie to life while operating his former eatery, Jefferson Square, in 1979. He says it’s a combination of his two favorite desserts: his mom’s chocolate icebox pie and the timeless brownie. A piping warm brownie gets crowned with a massive wad of French vanilla ice cream, drizzles of chocolate sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. Schorr’s love for tamales finds him turning the spotlight on a recipe he didn’t concoct himself. He remembers being 6 years old when he first experienced the treat at the now-defunct Rosa’s. Schorr managed to acquire the recipe, and today he contracts a local Mexican cook to craft them by hand.

I sunk my fork into the Dos Mex, a quartet of tamales wading in chili, and topped with onions and cheese. Several Elvis related artifacts adorn the place. One of the walkway arches from Elvis’s favorite roller coaster, the Zippin Pippin, hangs above the bar.

THE ETA FILES

Alex Swindle
Birmingham, Alabama


Q.: How do you prepare for a competition?
A.: I listen to a whole lot of Elvis. That’s the best way to get down the little inflections in his voice. I listen to what I’m going to be singing in certain contests over and over and over again until I can hear it in my head while I sing it onstage.

Q.: How do you keep in shape to pull off those 1950s dance moves?
A.: I’m a naturally hyper person. So I like to think that I don’t have to do too much to stay in shape to be able to do that kind of stuff. And you get a lot of energy from the crowd. The more energy they feed you, the more you can give out.


Q.: You’re 19 years old. When did you first get into Elvis?
A.: I was an actor at the Birmingham Children’s Theatre. And there was an Elvis spoof in the play I was in. Someone saw me doing that and invited me to a contest. So I competed in the youth division and won. One thing led to another, and I’ve been doing it for 10 years now.

Q.: What’s your favorite costume piece?
A.: The Hollywood jacket. I bought it at Lansky’s.

Q.: What’s the secret to your hair?
A.: Lots of hairspray, lots of patience and 10 minutes in front of a mirror.


AUGUST 11


With my foot pushing the accelerator of a ’56 powder blue Cadillac, I reeled and rocked along the highway from Memphis to Tupelo, Miss.

Well, not exactly. Full disclosure: I was driving my less-than-glamorous minivan. A guy’s gotta have a dream, right?

It’s true I was heading to Tupelo, the king’s birthplace, where his own dreams of stardom first began. Upon arrival I joined bunches of fellow E fans for Tupelo Fan Appreciation Day. It was an afternoon loaded with kingly sights and sounds, visits to Elvis landmarks and impromptu encounters with folks from around the globe.

Yesterday was all about the city of Tupelo giving back to the fans. But I returned to Memphis --yep, still in the minivan-- with an even greater appreciation for what Tupelo is all about. Here’s my personal short list of favorite Elvis related things to do when visiting Tupelo.


Elvis Birthplace Park


It’s, of course, the hub of all-things Elvis in Tupelo, complete with several things to experience just steps away from each other. The tiny two-room house built in 1934 still stands in its original spot and remains the centerpiece. It’s been restored and decked out with period furniture. That famous family photo of a 3-year-old Elvis with his parents hangs in the bedroom. (Legend has it he had a mouthful of peanuts in that shot.) Remember it’s just two rooms, so take your time; the tour guide won’t rush you. Exit the backdoor and hang a right to find the life size bronze statue of Elvis at age 13 clutching a guitar. A short walk across the park takes you to Elvis’s childhood church, which was eventually relocated to the park. The weathered wood-framed Assembly of God building, steeped in rustic southern charm, is the place where gospel music first oozed into his soul. The adjacent Elvis Presley Museum plays host to an intimate collection of memorabilia, from a replica of his first guitar to several pieces of everyday Elvis wear from the superfly 1970s. A gift shop is located in the same building, as is the event center. That’s where a theatre often hosts special events.



Yesterday the Tupelo Unity Choir raised the roof with blasts of gospel. Cliff Wright, an Alabama-based ETA, was up next and showcased his admirable pipes while dishing out Elvis tunes for a packed house. Parked just outside the event center, gift shop and museum sits a 1939 green Plymouth sedan just like the one the Presleys used to move from Tupelo to Memphis. Out back you’ll find the amphitheater where Ben Portsmouth, last year’s Ultimate ETA, and the Change of Habit Band took the stage last night.

306 Elvis Presley Drive, Tupelo, Miss. 662-841-1245, ElvisPresleyBirthPlace.com.

Johnnie’s Drive-In


You gotta apply the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it philosophy to Johnnie's. Tucked along a busy drag, the small 1950s-style diner, with its wooden booths and open kitchen, was one of Elvis’s Tupelo haunts. It remains a regular tourist pit stop. Barbecue sandwiches, burgers and icy shakes are popular picks, but its unique trademark is the Dough Burger (see today’s Elvis Week Food Find). Fans often indulge in Johnnie’s specialities while sitting in what the staff says was Elvis’s favorite booth. On Saturday a continual flood of fans were vying for the spot, including a group from the Netherlands. Anne and Willeke, a pair of young Netherlanders, sunk their teeth into chicken sandwiches while ingesting the Elvis-infused Americana. “I enjoy seeing a bit of history,” Anne said while wiping her chin. “Especially through the eyes of people who lived it.” Both locals and tourists continue living the Johnnie’s tradition, but don’t expect to do it on Sunday. A hand painted wooden sign near the door reads: Gone to Church.
908 E. Main St., Tupelo. 662-842-6748.


Fairpark and Tupelo Hardware Company


Take a left out of Johnnie’s parking lot, heading west down Main Street. You’ll soon see Fairpark on the left, which now lays claim to a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of Elvis, which was unveiled last year. Created by artist Bill Beckwith, it’s based on the famous 1956 photo by Roger Marshutz of Elvis performing his Tupelo homecoming concert. Just a little further west on the right is Tupelo Hardware Company. Need a hammer or some nails? Of course, they have it all and then some. But the store holds the distinction of being the place where Gladys Presley helped the young Elvis buy his first guitar. Owner George Booth says fans, including some famous ones, drop in daily. Members of Aerosmith, Nickelback and other rock outfits have been known to pay homage to the king with a visit. A guitar, hanging behind the same counter where Elvis bought his, is scrawled with the signatures of many, from country crooner Darryl Worley to Elvis’s original drummer D.J. Fontana. Employee Howard Hite, who Booth jokingly refers to as the shop’s vice president of tourism, guides Elvis fans through the store. Guests are encouraged to take a complimentary copy of a letter written by late employee Forrest Bobo, the clerk who sold Elvis the guitar. And yes, they still sell guitars.

114 W. Main St., Tupelo. 662-842-4637, TupeloHardware.com.

ELVIS WEEK FOOD FIND



Throughout Elvis Week I’ll be noshing on dishes fit for a king, including Presley-inspired recipes and legendary Memphis delicacies.

Dough Burger

Johnnie’s Drive In
908 E. Main St., Tupelo
662-842-6748

During Elvis’s childhood days in Tupelo, times were tight for some. Not everyone could splurge for a hamburger, much less one slapped with a slice of cheese. So Johnnie’s offered a penny pinching option: the Dough Burger. Johnnie’s still serves them today for less than $2 a pop. Each morning the cooks prepare the patties by cutting the ground beef with flour. It’s lighter than a typical burger without losing much of the flavor. It comes dressed with pickle, onion and mustard on a white bun.


THE ETA FILES


Travis Powell
Shelby, North Carolina


Q: If you could star in a remake of an Elvis film, which would it be?
A: “Speedway,” because I love racing and fast cars. My favorite is the Corvette. I drove one for the last week and a half before I came to Elvis Week. So I kind of fell in love with it.

Q: What’s your favorite Elvis accessory?
A: My favorite piece of bling is probably the “Aloha” ring, the big gold horseshoe with the diamonds. It’s an iconic piece.

Q: What’s your most comfortable ETA outfit?
A: The powder blue jumpsuit. It just fits well. I like it because it’s thin in the waist and kind of opens up in the chest area so you can move a little bit.  

Q: What’s your show stopper song?
A: “American Trilogy.” There’s so much feeling in it. When you sing that song live, especially during the breakdown part when the trumpets and orchestra come in, it gives you chills. For me, I just get a sense of what it might have felt like to sit in an arena and hear him sing that song live.



August 10


“You can make it,” I quietly said to myself as I glanced at my watch. “You got this.”

Moments after arriving in Memphis for Elvis Week 2013, I soon found myself hitting the ground running on my way to my first event. Hopping off of the trolley, I bolted toward the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street for round one of the Last Chance Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. The show would start in a few minutes.

That urgency of not wanting to miss a second of what Elvis Week has to offer was already kicking in. A Christmas morning like twinge of excitement was welling up, too, because I knew what I had in store. For the next eight days I’d be basking in the near limitless fun and camaraderie that can only be found at Elvis Week.


As my feet pounded the pavement of Beale Street and the vibrant neon signs lit up the night, I soon recognized the irony of the situation. It’s an irony thicker than the spread of a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

There I was walking along the very same sidewalks Elvis walked before he changed the world. From the cool cat threads he found at Lanksy’s to the soul stirring music he heard seeping from Beale Street juke joints, it was a place of inspiration that helped make Elvis the icon we know and love.



Yet, I was about to witness one of the infinite examples of the influence and effect Elvis continues to have on our culture. A group of guys, some traveling from faraway places, would be paying homage to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, channeling Presley’s trademark style.

I arrived just in time and grabbed a table. Looking around at the Elvis and Memphis music memorabilia adorning the walls of the Hard Rock, I also noticed the place was getting packed and that unmistakable Elvis related energy was permeating the air.

The show began and the crowd went gaga, having fun with it and even becoming part of the show themselves. When a performer sang “C’mon Everybody,” the fans snapped and stomped along. During a rendition of “What’d I Say,” the audience joined in during the song’s call-and-response section, proving that a choir of Elvis fans can be more powerful than a music venue’s sound system. The crowd went especially nuts when Gino Monopoli replicated Elvis’s fancy footwork while rocking through a version of “G.I. Blues.”



The judges proved equally impressed with Monopoli and the other ETAs. After each performer’s set, the judges took turns giving their comments a la “American Idol.” But there wasn’t a Simon Cowell in the bunch. In fact judge Pam Hetsel of the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum referred to herself as the “Paula” of the group. More encouraging than critical, the judges were obviously tapped into the same Elvis Week good-time spirit as the rest of us.

I left the Hard Rock with that spirit in tact. All of this Elvis Week elation must be contagious, because Beale Street was buzzing. Let’s hope some of those Elvis fans didn’t stay out too late and hit the snooze button this morning.

That’s because today is a biggie. Lots of Elvis Week visitors, myself included, are taking a day trip to Tupelo, Miss. for Tupelo Fan Appreciation Day. We’ll be checking out live music, taking tours of Elvis’s birthplace and making stops at Tupelo Elvis landmarks like Johnnie’s Drive-In and Tupelo Hardware. Ben Portsmouth, last year’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist, is set to perform at 8 p.m. at the outside amphitheater.

After a few hours in Tupelo, I’ll be driving back to Memphis and Beale Street for round two of the Hard Rock Last Chance Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest.

Whew! The whirlwind! Talk about sensory overload. That’s just today, and the hits keep on coming for eight more days.

How am I going to be able soak up all of the Elvisness I want to this year? Rubbing my TCB pendant for good luck, I head out my hotel room door and give it a shot.

I can make it. I got this.

TCB,

Jon Waterhouse

ELVIS WEEK FOOD FIND




Throughout Elvis Week I’ll be noshing on dishes fit for a king, including Presley-inspired recipes and legendary Memphis delicacies.

Here’s my first find:

The Blue Hawaii Burger


Hard Rock Cafe
315 Beale St., Memphis.
901-529-0007, Hardrock.com

Each Hard Rock Cafe location around the world has a locally inspired menu item, and the Beale Street joint is no exception. Joel Spencer, one of the cooks in the Memphis Hard Rock’s kitchen, created this hunka, hunka burger inspired by the Elvis flick of the same name. The tang of bleu cheese crumbles mingles nicely with the sweet zing of grilled pineapple and the crispiness found from thick curls of bacon. All of this and more, including pico de gallo, onion straws and barbecue sauce, sit atop a sizable ground beef patty housed within a cushy potato bun.


THE ETA FILES


Adam Fitzpatrick
Penticton, British Columbia, Canada


Q: What was your biggest surprise at Elvis Week 2012?
A: Being in the top 15 finalists of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition.

Q: If you could star in a remake of an Elvis film, which would it be?
A: Probably "G.I. Blues." It’s my favorite Elvis movie. I don’t sing those songs in my shows, but I’d figure it out.”

Q: What’s your favorite Elvis accessory?
A: The belts. It helps separate a one-piece suit. Nobody wore those except Elvis, so it’s a trademark.

Q: What’s your most comfortable ETA outfit?
A: My eyelet jumpsuit. It has a perfect fit, feels good and looks good onstage. When I put it on I feel alive.

Q: What’s your least comfortable ETA outfit?
A: I love the ’68 Comeback leathers, but they’re the least comfortable.

Q: What’s your secret weapon?
A: Charisma.



AUGUST 9, 2013


Aloha Elvis fans!

Honored and excited are at least two of the adjectives I can muster to describe how it feels to be back in the saddle as the blogger for Elvis Week 2013. Having been an Elvis fan from the moment I first swiveled my toddler hips to “Hound Dog,” working at Elvis Week is nothing short of a dream job.



This installment of Elvis Week is a dream for us king fans as a whole. The guest list and special events promise one of the most memorable and unique Elvis Week’s on record. From the first ever appearance of Elvis’s “King Creole” co-star, Mother Dolores Hart, to the “Aloha From Hawaii” 40th Anniversary Enhanced Screening, Elvis Week 2013 is gonna be a doozy. Just go to Elvis Week.com and click on the schedule.

I’ll be in the midst of it all, documenting the Elvisness on my daily blog at Elvis.com. That’s where you’ll find my personal accounts, audio slideshows and Q&As with special guests.



Speaking of special guests, I’m thrilled to know that D.J. Fontana, Elvis’s original drummer, will be back behind his kit this year. You can find him August 17 at the Elvis Week Main Stage. That prompted me to dig out a previous interview I had with D.J. himself. Here’s an example of what you’ll find on the blog throughout Elvis Week 2013.

Remember I love hearing from fellow E fans, so don’t hesitate to stop me if you see me running from one Elvis Week event to the next!

TCB,

Jon Waterhouse



Q & A WITH D.J. FONTANA


Q: Elvis was known for his sense of humor. What’s the first story that comes to mind?
A: We were in San Antonio, Texas one time. These kids were following us in their cars, and we were zig zagging trying to lose them. And we thought we lost them all. So we got to our motel and there must have been 10 or 15 cars behind us. I thought, “Oh, no. Here they are.” So they all got out of the cars, and they were nice kids. We were all talking to them. I was standing on one side of Elvis and Bill Black was standing on the other side. We were standing near the swimming pool. I nudged Bill and pointed toward the pool. So we shoved Elvis into the pool. The next thing you know all of those kids jumped into the pool. The lady who ran the place came running out of the office. She said, “Who the hell do you think you are, Elvis Presley?” And Elvis said, “Well, yes ma’am. I am.” And she said, “No you’re not.” She wouldn’t believe us. So Bill went running one direction and I went running the other. I thought, “If Elvis catches us now, we’re going in that pool.” So we all hid.

Q: Before you played drums with Elvis, you played in bands at burlesque clubs. You’d often use your drums to accent the moves of the dancers. Later on you did this with Elvis.
A: Yeah. So when he’d move a leg, I’d catch it with a cymbal or something. He enjoyed doing that, too. He’d say, “Catch me when you can.” And I’d say, “Well, somebody’s got to play a beat somewhere, Elvis.” Elvis was harder to keep up with than the [burlesque] dancers. The dancers had set routines of what they’d do. With Elvis, you never knew how he was going to move. It might be an arm one time, a leg the next time, he might fall. You just never knew.

Q: You were Elvis’s first drummer. Explain how you got the job.
A: I had heard his record. This promoter invited me in and said, “Listen to this record and see what you think.” I think it was “That’s All Right (Mama).” It was a great record. So I asked the promoter, “How many musicians are on that record?” He told me there were only three guys. I couldn’t believe it. It sounded like about six or seven guys. I said, “The guy’s good.” So Elvis, Scotty [Moore] and Bill [Black] invited me on the Louisiana Hayride. They wanted to know if I’d work with them. I said, “Yeah, that’s why I’m here.” And we lucked out. It worked out fine for what we were doing, and what [Elvis] was doing. But I just learned a lesson. I knew they had a good sound, and I didn’t want to get in there and clutter it up. I played it quiet and easy, and didn’t make noise with cymbals, just played straight ahead. I guess he liked it. I stayed with him for 14 years, I think, just catching his legs and arms. [Laughs]