The Official Blog of Graceland

Welcome to the official blog of Elvis Presley’s Graceland! You can take Elvis-inspired quizzes, get first-looks on events here at Graceland and how-to guides on everything you need to know about Elvis and his home. Like Elvis, we come with a little southern charm!

The King’s Jokers

How do you open up for Elvis Presley? How do you entertain a crowd who’s ready for none other than the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll? In the late 1960s and 1970s, a few comedians found out, when they were asked to be the opening act for Elvis. This was a pretty daunting task, to open up a show for one of the most celebrated entertainers in the world, but these guys took on the challenge – with a smile and a laugh. Elvis’ all-female backing vocal group, The Sweet Inspirations, also opened for Elvis in addition to performing during his concerts. But a few comedians also helped get the audience ready for Elvis’ concert. In 1969, Col. Tom Parker saw Sammy Shore open up for Tom Jones and thought the trumpet-playing comedian was a hoot. Shore was a showbiz veteran, having worked on TV shows and movies like “Accidental Family,” “Sandford and Son,” “Love, American Style” and “History of the World, Part 1.” Sammy opened up for Elvis from 1969 to 1972, and in 1972 Sammy helped found the legendary comedy club, The Comedy Store, on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Many comedians got their start at The Comedy Store or simply entertained fans there – including Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Amy Schumer and many more. Sammy continues to bring the laughs and his sons, Pauly and Peter, are both in entertainment – Pauly is an actor and comedian, and Peter worked as a director. Sammy’s ex-wife, Mitzi, continues to run The Comedy Store. After Shore left to run the venue, comedians Nipsy Russell and Bob Melvin stepped in to open up for Elvis. But then, Col. Parker spotted Jackie Kahane opening up for Wayne Newton, and knew Jackie’s family-friendly fare would go over well with Elvis and his audience. Jackie also worked with other stars such as Sammy Davis Jr., Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick and Tony Bennett. In 1961, he was named as one of Time magazine’s Outstanding Comedians, one of his highest honors. Jackie opened up shows for Elvis from 1972-1977, and he delivered the eulogy at Elvis’ funeral. He went on to start a production company and he produced TV shows like “Honeymoon Haven” and “Off the Wall.” Both Sammy and Jackie honored Elvis at the Elvis in Concert event in 1997, presented at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis on the...
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60 Years Ago Today: Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show

Sixty years ago today, more than 60 million people watched Elvis Presley perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Elvis’ first performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” took place on September 9, 1956. At this point in his life, he’d already performed on national television shows like the Dorsey Brothers’ “Stage Show” and “The Milton Berle Show.” He’d released his debut album and was filming his first movie. He had a few hit songs on the charts, like “Heartbreak Hotel.” He was still living on Audubon Drive in Memphis and wouldn’t purchase Graceland for another few months. Elvis was famous, and he was thisclose to becoming the most famous man in America. But of course, Elvis has not yet been booked on the country’s most popular variety show, “The Ed Sullivan Show.” And the show’s host had promised he wouldn’t feature the then-controversial young singer; Elvis had a reputation among conservative leaders and parents for his performances, which they often labeled as inappropriate or even dangerous. Elvis was simply unlike any other performer they’d ever seen, and they were concerned. It was a surprise, then, when Ed announced in the summer of 1956 that Elvis would perform not just once, but three times on his show. Ed had watched Elvis’ career blossom and knew he’d pull in high ratings if he allowed Elvis to perform. Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, negotiated hard, and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was to be paid $50,000 for all three performances – an unprecedented amount at the time. On September 9, 1956, neither Elvis or Ed Sullivan were in the studios that day for filming. Ed had suffered injuries in a car accident and was at home recuperating, while actor Charles Laughton filled in for him on the show. And Elvis wasn’t in New York City, where “The Ed Sullivan Show” was filmed. He was seen from Hollywood, where he was in the middle of filming “Love Me Tender.” Still, the show was a success – 60 million people, or 82.6 percent of the entire television audience, watched Elvis perform “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Love Me Tender,” “Ready Teddy” and a few verses of “Hound Dog.” “Love Me Tender” had not yet been released, so fans ate up the new single – which only increased the hype for the new movie and its soundtrack. Elvis returned to “The Ed Sullivan Show” – this time with Ed hosting, and...
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In the Studio with Elvis Presley

Fans saw Elvis on stage and on the big screen, but fans never had the chance to see Elvis work in one of his favorite environments – in the studio. And, really, the studio is at the heart of Elvis’ career. It was in studios in Memphis, Hollywood, Nashville and New York, where he cut songs that became No. 1 hits, songs that shook the foundation of American music, and songs that became fan favorites. Elvis had hundreds of recording sessions in many different studios, but let’s take a look at just a few of the special ones where Elvis recorded some of his biggest hits. ELVIS’ FIRST STUDIO – SUN STUDIO The very first songs Elvis recorded at Memphis Recording Service – aka Sun Studio – were “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” in 1953. But his recording sessions got interesting on July 5-6, 1954, when he recorded a little record you may have heard of – “That’s All Right” – as well as “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “I Love You Because.” During Elvis’ time at Sun, he recorded many songs that would go on to become classics, like “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Baby Let’s Play House,” “Mystery Train” and “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” (Elvis’ first No. 1 hit), all with Sam Phillips at the helm. In the spring of 2017, the new state-of-the-art entertainment complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, will open at Graceland and will feature a permanent Sam Phillips exhibit. HOLLYWOOD Two of the Hollywood studios Elvis used were the Paramount Scoring Stage and Radio Recorders. Here are some insights into just a few of the sessions that took place at these studios. On September 1-3, 1956 Elvis recorded a slew of songs at Radio Recorders – a studio used by most of the major labels – for RCA. On September 1, he recorded songs like “Love Me” and “How’s The World Treating You,” followed by “Long Tall Sally,” “Too Much,” “Old Shep” and “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again.” On September 3, he wrapped the session by recording “Ready Teddy,” “First in Line” and “Rip It Up.” Elvis was very familiar with “Old Shep” – he performed that song in a talent show as a young boy growing up in Tupelo (and only won fifth place). He performed the master recording in one take, but performed...
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Would You Rather – Elvis Presley Edition

Would you rather have been in the audience for the ’68 Special or the Aloha from Hawaii special? Would you rather sit down and talk with Elvis’ mother, Gladys, or his father, Vernon? What about having fun – would you rather ride motorcycles with Elvis, or ride horses with Elvis? This week on the Graceland Blog, we’re having fun with an Elvis version of “Would You Rather?” Check out how your picks stack up against other Elvis fans! Play the game...
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10 Reasons Why This Year’s Elvis Week Was The Best

By Jon Waterhouse During my Elvis Week 2014 blogging stint, the folks at Elvis Radio asked if I had a song that might encapsulate the event as it wrapped. My choice: “The Fair is Moving On.” Leaving Memphis after Elvis Week 2016, the bittersweet emotions return. Yeah, the fair moves on, but what a ride. I can honestly say, the 39th edition of Elvis Week ranks as one of my favorites, if not my all-time best. Why, you say? Below you’ll find 10 reasons in no particular rank or order. Now, keep in mind I didn’t have a chance to experience everything and see everyone. I always leave Elvis Week wishing I had a little more conversation and a little more action. Yet, out of everything I lived, these remain the memories pressing between the pages of my mind. Betty Harper This ultra-talented artist not only took time to talk with me over the phone the week before the festivities, we hung out together at the Heartbreak Hotel during her exhibit. The cavalcade of colors nearly popped right off of her artwork, encapsulating the image and personality of Elvis Presley in a such a way I believe remains incomparable. And the Nashville resident is a true sweetheart and rocks one heckuva cowboy hat. Elvis Radio We all need a soundtrack to Elvis Week, and thank God for these guys. T.Y., Doc Walker, Argo, Big Jim Sykes and the legendary George Klein deliver the audio goods. It’s an honor to be a correspondent and pop culture editor for these fellas, who take great care in keeping the sound and legacy of Elvis alive and well. The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition Regardless of how you may feel about ETAs, the love these men have for Elvis just can’t be denied. Neither can the talent the ETAs display on stage. Many carry on the triple threat Elvis so deftly displayed with the ability to sing, dance and act. Perhaps one of the more obvious embodiments of this would be Dean Z, the 2013 Ultimate ETA winner and the 2016 correspondent for ElvisWeek.com and Graceland.com. What a guy! And hats off to 2016 winner Dwight Icenhower. After participating in eight Ultimates, he snagged this year’s title. Way to go, Dwight! Jeff Lewis and Friends After-Parties at Hard Rock Cafe You have to hand it to former Ultimate ETA competitor Jeff Lewis for...
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Elvis Week Day 7 – Inspiring Moments at the 2016 Candlelight Vigil

By Jon Waterhouse It never fails. Even after attending multiple Candlelight Vigils, the annual fan gathering and tribute at Graceland on the eve of the anniversary of Elvis’ death, I become awestruck at the event. This year, collective emotions arguably higher than ever, the amount of love pouring forth like the unrelenting rain inspired me to no end. Fans of every color, creed and geographic origin imaginable came together, a visual answer to Walter Earl Brown’s lyrics found in “If I Can Dream,” which Presley sang on the “’68 Comeback Special.” “If I can dream of a better land/Where all my brothers walk hand in hand/Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true?” Last night, once again, that dream came true. INSPIRING MOMENTS AT THE 2016 CANDLELIGHT VIGIL The fans who came early Several hours before the official 8:30 p.m. start time, fans began camping in front of the Graceland walls along Elvis Presley Boulevard breaking out their folding chairs, coolers and more. Now that’s dedication. A short summer shower turned the Memphis air into a virtual sauna. “It’s a pleasure to see the traditions that have been established carry on, as you would expect from the Elvis fans who have been here year after.” said Walker McCutcheon of Clarksville, Tenn. who sat in Graceland Plaza with wife Judy until start time. Among the die hard fans, I saw Cino Torricer from Hawaii, who handed out inspirational cards to those around him. The memorials Just before the Vigil began, many memorials along Elvis Presley Boulevard could be seen, some glowing in the darkness. A Memphis gentleman simply known as Fite created a memorial with images of Elvis, each with a special significance to him. A giant ticket stub replica from Elvis’ final concert in Indianapolis, Ind. sat in front of a massive version of the “’68 Comeback Special” album cover. The Graceland staff Never mind the weather and other obstacles threatening to damper the evening. The staff at Elvis Presley Enterprises, from security guards and retail clerks to marketing execs, channeled Elvis’ positivity and optimism with style, grace and smiles. The rain sprinkling upon him, Kevin Kern, the director of public relations at Elvis Presley Enterprises, welcomed everyone from the top of the Graceland driveway, his speech broadcast down to a jumbo screen perched above the mansion’s walls. The fans who braved the rain The U.S....
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Elvis Week Day 6 – The Legends I Met Yesterday

By Jon Waterhouse As a dyed-in-the-wool king fan, the gift of being the Elvis Week blogger never goes unnoticed. Being the eyes and ears of the Elvis faithful means I get the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the people who not only helped Elvis change the face of music, but also had a personal impact on me. Yeah, I’m a lucky Peabody duck. THE LEGENDS I MET YESTERDAY Ray Walker of the Jordanaires Through the backstage door of the Main Stage at Graceland, my first visual of the day proved to be a roundtable of rock icons. D.J. Fontana, Elvis’ original drummer; Estelle Brown of the Sweet Inspirations, Elvis’ backup singers; and Ray Walker of the legendary singing group the Jordanaires sat together engaging in conversation. As each of them were awaiting their turn to chat with emcee Tom Brown during the Official Graceland Insiders Conference, I snapped myself out of fan boy disbelief and asked each for a photo for the blog. Making it over to Ray Walker, I quickly became aware of his quick wit and sense of humor. “Yeah, you can have a picture with me,” he said, “but no selfies. I’ve never taken a selfie, and I never will.” Later, Walker hit the stage with Brown, telling colorful Elvis stories, tossing jokes and jabs with ease, and even putting Brown through the same vocal lesson Walker gave Elvis. Brilliant. Estelle Brown of the Sweet Inspirations If a vocal group ever had a more fitting title, it would have to be the Sweets. Estelle Brown oozes peace, love and contentment. Her gorgeous smile, her warm handshake and eternal optimism proves contagious. And let’s not forget the glass-shattering voice that helped bolster songs like “Polk Salad Annie” and countless others. When Estelle made it onstage, she told Tom Brown that Elvis refused to be called “boss.” “I’m your brother,” Estelle said Elvis told her. And she quickly reminded everyone Elvis saw the world as one race, the human race. Estelle continues to remain ever-so-lovely, both inside and out. D.J. Fontana The quintessential rock drummer and one of the genre’s earliest architects, Fontana remains the last surviving member of Elvis’ first touring band. He provided the king’s backbeat for more than 14 years, laying down the rhythm on more than 450 cuts. Just sharing the same air as D.J. is a privilege. Sense of humor still...
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Elvis Week Day 5 – The Top 5 Coolest Things I Did Yesterday

By Jon Waterhouse A tornado of activity swirling around on Saturday had me all shook up, in a good way. The thrill of Elvis Week began hitting its peak. The excitement of fantastic events, the love and passion found in fellow fans, and unadulterated fun hit the fevered pitch of a Bill Baize high note. Now I sit in my hotel lobby noshing on breakfast reflecting on the day’s events. Man, I’m a fortunate son in this international Elvis family. Smack me, Kid Galahad, I must be dreaming. THE TOP 5 COOLEST THINGS I DID YESTERDAY The Elvis Fan Reunion Call it cliche, but Elvis Week does indeed resemble a family reunion. This inspired Elvis Week organizers to put together an Elvis Fan Reunion inside the packed Main Stage. Tom Brown, Joey Sulipeck, DJ Argo and Memphis Jones played the roles of the wacky uncles, interviewing fans, hosting games, giving away goodies and more. Seeing a sea of familiar faces from around the globe not only stoked my heart, but served as undeniable evidence of the impact Elvis continues having. And it was all sunshine and rainbows until I got busted peeking at Lesia Marcum’s answers during Elvis Trivia. Yikes! Meet ‘n’ Greet with Betty Harper I popped in at the Heartbreak Hotel to visit Elvis artist Betty Harper’s exhibit and get an eyeful of her work up close and personal. These inspired pieces nearly glow from their easels, and Betty’s created more than 20,000 Elvis-related drawings throughout her career. This includes the fabulous “Me, Myself & I” currently on silent auction at the Heartbreak Hotel. Auction proceeds go to the Bridget Chérie Harper Artist Scholarship Fund to help inspire the next generation of Betty Harpers. Getting suited up at Lansky Bros. Hal Lansky, owner of the clothier to the king, gave me a call, requesting my presence at his store. Upon walking inside, I hear the news I just missed Joe Walsh of the Eagles, who slipped in for some stage duds. Hal then told me he wanted me to look good for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Finals. Soon, I found Lansky wrapping me in a gorgeous blue vest to wear for the occasion. Thanks, Hal! Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Finals The energy level at the Orpheum Theatre downtown sizzled like a toasty frying pan in aunt Delta’s kitchen. Moments before the verdict, I sat backstage with the...
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Elvis Week Day 4 – Elvis 101

By Jon Waterhouse Somebody get me my cap and gown. I think I just graduated from the College of Elvis Knowledge. Yesterday morning I bee-lined to the Main Stage at Graceland for Elvis 101. Some of the top Elvis scholars on the planet, including author Peter Guralnick, Dr. Charles Hughes from Rhodes College, and John Jackson and Ernst Jorgensen from Sony, dispensed a wealth of information on the king of rock ‘n’ roll. I like to think I know my Elvis trivia more than the average roustabout. However, I don’t hold a candle, heck, not even not even a 50-cent lighter to these dudes. While hanging backstage, I asked several of the guys to give me some information I probably didn’t know. Elvis was self aware Dr. Charles Hughes, director of the Memphis Center at Rhodes College and professor of the course “Elvis Presley and America,” says Elvis clearly understood the part he played among our cultural landscape. “If you go back and listen to Elvis Presley in 1968 and ’69,” Hughes explains, “he’s talking about himself the same way we’re still talking about him in 2016. I think he was very conscious, and it was a sign of just how smart he was about himself, and how much he understood his own place in musical history and in a culture. In a sense, he was actually a really wonderful historian of himself. During the “’68 Comeback Special” era, the Vegas period and the touring period of the early ’70s when he was reintroducing himself to live audiences, he was doing so in a way that would help us not only appreciate him, but understand him to this day. He talked about his youth, he talked about his musical journey, all of those things. It was really striking to see just how conscious he was of setting himself into a story in a way that I think is still very important today.” The “Hound Dog” controversy John Jackson, the vice President of A&R and content development at Sony Legacy Recordings, oversees all audio, visual and packaging for releases, including those involving the king. Jackson’s hands touched the recently released “Way Down In The Jungle Room,” the ultimate collection of Presley’s final recording sessions. Backstage at Elvis 101, he had this about Elvis’ controversial 1956 TV performance of “Hound Dog,” which hadn’t even hit vinyl yet: “You think about when...
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Elvis Blog, Day 3: Elvis’ Style

BY JON WATERHOUSE In tandem with Elvis’ musical prowess and undeniable presence, his personal style and flair for fashion commands equal attention and influence. As bold and vibrant as the man himself, his style leaned toward chromatic colors, glistening bling and dressing to the nines, even when just hanging on the couch. Yesterday’s Designing for the King event found my pal, ace Elvis Week emcee Tom Brown, interviewing a trio of guys who helped Elvis with his kingly style. Hal Lansky, owner of Lansky Bros.; Lowell Hays, Elvis’ jeweler; and Bill Eubanks, Presley’s interior designer. Each of their tales had my eyes twinkling like the king’s rings, inspiring me to track down some of the best purveyors of a similar fashion sense popularized by Presley. Frannie Houston Houston, a Memphis native and sales associate at Lansky Bros. inside the Hard Rock Cafe Music Complex on Beale Street, says Elvis’ look, and his knack for style and trends, still resonates today. Channeling a bit of “Charro!” in this pic, Houston goes basic with jeans and cowboy boots. “Even just a little red bandana on an all-black day can make a difference,” she says. Robert Washington and Dwight Icenhower This pair of Elvis Tribute Artists began clowning around backstage at the Ultimate ETA Semifinals last night. In impromptu fashion, the pair found themselves replicating the famous Muhammad Ali-meets-Elvis photo. Obviously influenced by the King’s jumpsuit years, the duo gleamed in the backstage hallway. “Got to love the bling,” says Icenhower. Shirley Hodges and Melody Manning Talking about bling, you can’t lose Shirley Hodges (left) and Melody Manning (right) in a crowd. These two Elvis fans from Milledgeville, Ga. fashioned their own Elvis vests with a bevy of pins, and dolled up their nails to match. “It took me three months to work on one vest,” Manning says. They glue some of their pins on for extra reinforcement, and gather glittery enhancements wherever they can. According to Manning, one pin alone, a limited-edition acquired from Bradford Exchange, set her back $70. Gabby Gibson Gibson, from St. Clair Shores, Mich., channels the ’50s era with her classic poodle skirt. For Halloween 2015, Gibson dressed as the king. Throughout Elvis Week she poses as a first-generation Elvis fan, complete with bobby socks and saddle shoes. Although she may be rocking the 1950s, her favorite Elvis song jumps a couple of decades to 1973. “I...
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