"All Southerners are somehow, someway at least spiritually related to Elvis or damn sure believe this when they drink too much."
Doc Lawrence

 

Elvis in the 50's

Before fame and fortune, Elvis visited and performed in Atlanta in the early and mid-fifties. He dated local girls and went to places like The Varsity, just like other regulars of the day. My introduction was possible because my next-door neighbor was a musician who obtained my parents' permission to attend a country music concert at the long defunct Sports Arena, a wrestling venue off Memorial Drive about a mile east of Turner Field, which was regularly used for performances when the athletes were on the road. The attraction, I was told, was a young singer from Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride.

After several singing cowboys, a tornado climbed on the wrestling ring/stage, accompanied by a bass player and guitarist, calling themselves “Elvis Presley and the Blue Moon Boys.” He had a pink silk jacket, black trousers, white shoes and his blonde hair was in ducktails. For nearly two hours, I was acclimated to music new to my ears, and I can still remember the power of the black music he interpreted, the best being Arthur Crudup’s raw and raunchy “Baby Let’s Play House,” enhanced by Elvis’ on stage wickedness. A new and more exciting world was opened for me that night, just before I entered adolescence.

Like many other American boys, I bought an acoustic guitar, an old, rugged Martin, which I learned to play, trading it in for a Stratocaster and forming a decent rock band in college. We played the music Elvis opened up for us: great but then unknown songs recorded by Willie Mae Thornton, John Lee Hooker, Little Richard (I still think his “Slippin’ and Slidin’'" deserves to be Georgia’s official rock song), and Jimmy Reed. And, we played Elvis’ versions of “Mystery Train” and of course, “Baby Let’s Play House.”

My dream that I would emerge as the next Elvis was quickly put to rest by marriage and family, war, death and other things that just happen in life. Also, I wasn’t anywhere near as handsome as Elvis and my hair resisted training for acceptable ducktails.

I will forever be grateful for that magic evening in the Atlanta of my boyhood, and the wonderful interlude the King and his spectacular music gave me before all the horrors of adulthood.

Years after Elvis’ death, the daughter of Carole Joyner, the beautiful lady who co-wrote one of popular music’s all time hits, “Young Love,” told me her then teenage mom dated Elvis near the time I saw him, and Ms. Joyner’s mom chaperoned them on a movie and Varsity date. Elvis gave his date the necktie he wore which remains a family treasure. Carole Joyner died too young.

Two years ago, I bought a print of Rev. Howard Finster’s magnificent painting, “Winged Elvis.” Prior to his death last year, Rev. Finster was one of the world’s most exhibited artists and told me during a visit at his North Georgia home that he often saw Elvis in visions, but never as an adult or even a singer. It was instead the little boy Elvis he painted, with a farmer’s hat, coveralls and wings.

Rev. Finster inscribed the painting with a personal message. It is on a wall in my living room and it brings me peace.

Other pages:

Hank Ballard creator of The Twist

The Blind Boys of Alabama

Waylon Jennings - My Favorite Outlaw

Atlanta's Freddy Cole

The X-Miss Americas

Jazz Funeral of a Crescent City legend

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on tour

Opera Theatre in St. Louis

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