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 Shreveports 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 Crudups
raw and raunchy Baby Lets 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 Georgias
official rock song), and Jimmy Reed. And, we played Elvis versions
of Mystery Train and of course, Baby Lets
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 wasnt 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 musics all time hits, Young
Love, told me her then teenage mom dated Elvis near the time I
saw him, and Ms. Joyners 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 Finsters magnificent
painting, Winged Elvis. Prior to his death last year,
Rev. Finster was one of the worlds 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 farmers 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.