Today (August 16th) marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Elvis died of a heart attack on August 16th, 1977 at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 42-years-old. Thousands of fans have been gathered all week long at Elvis’ Graceland mansion for the annual “Elvis Week” celebrating the life and times of “King Of Rock N’ Roll” who would now be 82-years-old.
Newly released is A Boy From Tupelo – The Complete 1953-55 Recordings. The collection features “every known studio take, live performance and radio appearance ‘The King’ made in that three-year span and is packed with previously unreleased recordings, including a newly discovered live performance of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget'” from the Louisiana Hayride on October 29th, 1955.” The package features a 120-page book packed with rare photos and new and exclusive pieces on the tracks and the era they came from. As well as being available as a digital download, a single 12-inch vinyl LP, A Boy From Tupelo: The Sun Masters, will be made available featuring all 17 songs Elvis recorded bat Memphis’ Sun Studio.
Last year saw the release of the Way Down In The Jungle Room collection, which compiled Elvis’ final recording sessions. “The King” had temporarily transformed his legendary Graceland den — dubbed the “Jungle Room” — into a state of the art recording studio, and it was there over two sets of sessions in February and October 1976, that he recorded his final studio masters for RCA. The sessions featured the members of his longtime touring band — including guitarist James Burton, drummer Ronnie Tutt, keyboardists Glenn D. Hardin and David Briggs, bassists Jerry Scheff and Norbert Putnam, along with backing vocals by J.D.. Sumner & The Stamps. The original masters found their way onto Elvis’ two final albums, 1976’s From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee and 1977’s Moody Blue. Highlights from the sessions include: “Moody Blue,” “Way Down,” “Hurt,” “Pledging My Love,” “She Thinks I Still Care,” “It’s Easy For You,” “Danny Boy,” “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” and “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall,” among others.
In 2015, the Presley estate released the new album, called If I Can Dream: Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which was a significant success, peaking at Number 21 on the Billboard 200 album charts, Number One on the magazine’s Top Classical Albums chart — as well as going all the way to Number One in the UK.
The set includes a duet with crooner Michael Bauble on “Fever,” along with other tracks featuring guitar great Duane Eddy and vocal group Il Volvo. The album’s orchestral tracks were recorded in London’s famed Abbey Road Studios. Other songs featured in the set are “If I Can Dream,” “Burning Love,” “It’s Now Or Never,” “In The Ghetto,” Neil Diamond’s “And The Grass Won’t Pay You No Mind” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” among others.
The greater Elvis Presley community is mourning the loss of the legendary “Memphis Mafia” figure — and perhaps Elvis’ oldest friend, Red West — who died at age 81 on July 18th at Baptist Memorial Hospital of an aortic aneurysm. West, a football player at Memphis’ Hume High School, became one of Elvis’ early defenders during his teen years and was by his side through nearly all of his incredible career. In addition to his personal work with Elvis, West was also known for his cameos in 18 of Elvis’ films, along with parts in such small and big screen favorites as The Wild, Wild West, Black Sheep Squadron, Road House, the Walking Tall movies, Mani, The Six Million Dollar Man, Magnum PI. and The A-Team, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker — and Goodbye Solo, an acclaimed 2008 indie film that finally gave West his first starring role. His 2015 appearance on Nashville marked his final acting performance.
The ex-Marine, Golden Gloves boxer Red West was also a songwriter and co-wrote such Top 20 classics for Elvis Presley as 1973’s “Separate Ways” and 1975’s “If You Talk In Your Sleep.” West also wrote songs for such artists as Ricky Nelson, Pat Boone, and Johnny Rivers. Upon being fired in 1976 by Elvis’ father, Vernon Presley, West, along with his late cousin Sonny West, David Heber, and journalist Steve Unlay, published the devastating tell-all, Elvis: What Happened?, which was released in the U.S. two weeks before “The King’s” death — a book that many close to Elvis maintain broke his heart.
Elvis Presley was signed to Sun Records in 1954 and recorded pivotal singles for the label, including “That’s All Right,” “Good Rocking’ Tonight,” and “Mystery Train.” His Sun contract was sold to RCA Records in 1955 for $35,000. Although Elvis never performed professionally anywhere but in the United States, he went on to become the most successful recording artist of all time, selling over one billion albums globally.
He scored 18 Number One Hits, including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Love Me Tender,” “It’s Now Or Never,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and his final Number One “Suspicious Minds” in 1969. Despite all his success in rock n’ roll, all three of his Grammys were awarded for his gospel recordings.
In 2008, Elvis fans were up in arms over a change in Billboard policy which demoted “The King’s” ranking on the Billboard charts from being Number Three in the list of top acts of the rock era with 17 Number One hits, down to Number 14 — with only seven chart toppers. In the trade’s recent series of charts commemorating the past 50 years of Billboard’s weekly Hot 100 singles chart, the rock era has been pushed forward to start with the Hot 100’s first appearance on August 4th, 1958 — which excludes Elvis’ 10 Number One hits which predated the Hot 100’s launch.
Elvis starred in 31 movies between 1956 and 1973. Most of them were musical comedies like Blue Hawaii (1961), Viva Las Vegas (1964) with Ann Margaret, and Clambake (1967), yet several of his films, such as King Creole (1958) with Walter Martha, Flaming Star (1960), Charro (1969), and Change of Habit (1969) with Mary Tyler Moore, were dramatic pieces that proved him to be a serious actor with true talent.
Elvis also released two concert films. That’s The Way It Is chronicled the rehearsals and opening week of his July 1970 Las Vegas stint, while 1972’s Elvis On Tour featured footage from his U.S. Tour.
According to friends and associates, Elvis was approached to co-star with Barbra Streisand in her 1976 re-make of A Star Is Born, yet turned the role down when he was refused top billing over Streisand.
He also starred in several incredibly successful TV specials including 1968’s Singer Presents Elvis — more commonly known as “The ’68 Comeback Special” — which spurred a triumphant resurgence in his career, Elvis: Aloha, From Hawaii which featured him live in concert and was broadcast worldwide in 1973, and the posthumously-aired 1977 Elvis In Concert special.
ELVIS FAMILY LIFE
Elvis met future wife Priscilla Beaulieu in 1960 while he was stationed in the Army in Germany. Her father was an Air Force officer also stationed there. In 1963 Priscilla moved to Memphis to be with Elvis, first living with his father and stepmother while she finished high school, before eventually moving into Graceland with Elvis.
Elvis and Priscilla were married on May St, 1967 at Las Vegas’ Aladdin Hotel. The short eight-minute ceremony, which took place at 9:00 a.m., was officiated by State Supreme Court Justice David Sendoff. Following the vows, a special banquet was held below the hotel’s casino for around 100 guests who dined on “ham, eggs, Southern fried chicken, Oysters Rockefeller, roast suckling pig, poached and candied salmon, lobster, Eggs Mignonette, and champagne.” Following the banquet, the Presley’s held a press conference before flying out of Las Vegas.
The couple had one child together, Lisa Marie Presley, who was born nearly nine months to the day after their wedding. Priscilla has said that although they had been living together for several years, they did not consummate the relationship until they were married. Elvis and Priscilla separated in 1972, and divorced in 1973.
During his recent keynote address at Austin’s South By Southwest music festival, Bruce Springsteen spoke about the social change that Elvis sparked upon breaking on the national scene in 1956: “Elvis gave us full access to a new language, a new form of communication, a new way of being, a new way of looking, a new way of thinking about sex, about race about identity, about life. A new way of being an American, a human being, and a new way of hearing music. Once Elvis came across the airwaves, once he was heard and seen in action, you could not put the Jeanie back in the bottle. After that moment, there was yesterday, and there was today and there was a red-hot rockabilly forging of a new tomorrow before your very eyes.”
Photo Courtesy of RCA