Today (January 8th) marks what would have been Elvis Presley's 78th birthday. From his meteoric rise to fame in the 1950's, to his death at the age of 42 in 1977, to the present-day; the world is still fascinated by everything that is Elvis. After working as a movie theater usher and a truck driver for a Memphis electrical company, Elvis began singing locally as "The Hillbilly Cat," and signed to the late Sam Phillips' Sun Records, who then sold his contract for $35,000 to RCA Victor in 1955. Elvis went on to become "The King of Rock N' Roll" -- rock's first true superstar.
Elvis died of a heart attack on August 16th, 1977 at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. He remains among the highest earning dead celebrities.
Globally, Elvis has sold well over one billion records, more than any other artist. His American sales have earned him gold, platinum or multi-platinum awards for 140 different albums and singles. Elvis starred in 31 films, and made history with his television appearances and specials.
Over 60 years after breaking on the scene, "The King" is still a major force on the charts with the recent 21-track compilation, I Am An Elvis Fan peaking at Number 27 on the Billboard Country chart. Over 250,000 fans cast their votes at IAmAnElvisFan.com by selecting their Top Three choices from "The King's" catalogue in the specific categories -- "1950's," "1960's," "Country," "Movies," "Love Songs," "Gospel," and "In Concert."
The I Am An Elvis Fan campaign also asked fans to upload a photo of themselves to be used in an Elvis photo mosaic created by Elvis Presley Enterprises licensee Fan Mosaics. The mosaic, which was created from nearly 8,000 uploaded photos, was used for both the I Am An Elvis Fan album cover and a limited edition poster.
The tracklisting to I Am An Elvis Fan is: "Don't Be Cruel," "Heartbreak Hotel," "All Shook Up," "Jailhouse Rock, "Blue Hawaii," "Viva Las Vegas," "In The Ghetto," "Suspicious Minds," "Memories," "Can't Help Falling In Love," "The Wonder Of You," "Always On My Mind," "Welcome To My World," "Guitar Man," "Kentucky Rain," "An American Trilogy (live)," "Burning Love (live)," "Suspicious Minds (live)," "(There'll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me)," "How Great Thou Art," and "If I Can Dream."
Daughter Lisa Marie Presley was asked if since becoming a recording artist in her own right, her bond with her father has gotten stronger: "I think so, in that, I mean, I've always had the most, y'know, he's been, like, untouchable in my eyes in terms of idolized for what he did. But I think me going through -- on a much less scale -- what he had to go through, I think I have more, I'm more locked into him on that realm."
Elvis' lead guitarist and bandleader James Burton joined him in 1969 when he returned to live performances. Burton, who played every live show with "The King" between 1969 and 1977, first attained fame while working for Ricky Nelson and recalled Presley and Nelson's legendary football games in the early '60s: "Y'know, him and Ricky were friends anyway. They played football or softball together. Elvis had his 'Memphis Mafia' guys and Ricky would have a bunch of guys that would go over. But Ricky never won any games. So one Sunday, Ricky had set it up; he called his friends that played in the Rams. He said, (laughs) 'You guys, I need some help, and we'll play Elvis' team (laughs).' And he did, he took the Rams over, and Elvis said, 'Wait a minute! (Laughs) This is not fair.' (Laughs)."
Burton feels that going back to performing live in 1969 gave Elvis a new lease on life: "When he called me and asked me to put the band together, he said, 'I've done nothin' but movies for nine years and I don't wanna do any more movies, I wanna go out and play live. I wanna get my audience in front of me and I wanna go out and be there for the fans.' He loved the excitement from the fans, of people that loved him. It was just him, what he loves."
Dion, who grew up idolizing Presley, finally got a chance to meet him backstage in the mid-'70s after one of his shows in Las Vegas: "Y'know I was looking forward to meeting him. Y'know, it's funny, you like to say (that) you're right there in the present, but it's almost like I'm an observer (laughs) as I'm meeting him. Y'know what I mean? He was a little bigger than life, but I felt comfortable, 'cause we started out together. He liked my records and I liked his records. He liked 'Ruby Baby,' -- (imitates Presley) 'I like that song' (laughs)."
Lindsey Buckingham credits hearing Elvis in 1956 as the motivating factor that lead him to becoming a musician: "Like many people my age, y'know, I was quite young, I was always interested in music, and I was listening to what we all would refer to as our 'parents' music.' So, when my older brother brought home (the single of) 'Heartbreak Hotel' -- it's not a unique story, but it was just a mind-blowing revelation in terms of this kind of explosive spirit that just kind of washed over that whole generation."
Buckingham, like many other artists, literally cut his musical teeth on Elvis' early RCA singles: "It was the model for me to want to play guitar, and so I kind of got a chord book and basically spent hours in my brother's room listening to all of his 45's (and) learning the songs. So yeah, Elvis was a catalyst for me as it was for many, many people, I think."
Rocker George Thorogood still claims Elvis as one of his greatest influences: "Elvis Presley is probably the Babe Ruth of the whole thing. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, invented rock 'n roll. Elvis exposed us to it, there's no doubt about that, he brought it into our living rooms, he brought it on TV. He was the guy that really, y'know, woke us up. Wow. Here was the, not arguably, one of the great natural performers of all time. And great singing as well. He was so great, people didn't know what to think of him."
The Who's Pete Townshend says that he's amazed by Presley's guitar playing as featured in the expanded versions of Presley's '68 Comeback Special DVD's: "Y'know the offstage 'unplugged' thing that he did, well it's quite clear that this guy is a great acoustic guitar player too. Y'know, he did this long before anybody did 'unplugged.' He could play them, he delivered them, and it was just him -- just spectacular stuff. And it was never meant to be released."
Townshend believes that the enormity of pressures surrounding Elvis is what ultimately lead to his death at such a young age: "That's a terrible tragedy when you think what a decent kind of guy he seemed to be when you read the stuff. Y'know he came to pieces at the end. And it's easy to blame Vegas, but it wasn't about Vegas, it was just about the load."
Photo Courtesy of PRPhotos.com