Me and Elvis
A few Gig
Notes excerpts from our 50-Year
Musical Odyssey project
was raised on a farm in rural Manitoba, Canada. My window to the world
in the '50s was radio and I spent many hours surfing the radio dial. Our
local stations were fine through the day, but each evening I marveled at
the wonderful reception of radio signals from the American South . . .
all the way to Mexico with a multitude of points in between.
I looked forward to hearing the Grand Ole Opry
from WSM Nashville and enjoyed the many other stations specializing in
Southern music. In 1954/55 I picked up a Memphis station that played music
like none I had heard before. The singer was Elvis Presley with his band
Scotty and Bill - The Blue Moon Boys. Before long his record label - Sun
Records - was releasing similar music by other Southern artists. I
was hooked . . . and have been ever since.
My first record purchases were all the 78 singles
I could find by Elvis . . . and later by the other Sun artists: Johnny
Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, et al. Christmas '56 brought
a record player that would play LP albums and my first long playing record
was ELVIS - the second album.
My dad showed me a few things on his guitar
so that I could join in on the family jam sessions and try to strum along
with Scotty and Elvis. When I was forced to take piano lessons they were
made more bearable after I found the sheet music to Love Me Tender.
Since that time music has been a consuming
passion which was shared by my amazingly talented wife, Sue-On, after
we married in 1966.
We first visited Graceland in the early '70s
and of course we couldn't get past the gates at that time, although we
did travel on to Las Vegas where we saw Elvis at the International. We
learned of his death in 1977 while we were in London, just after finishing
our seventh record album and
a 6-week music tour of English
clubs. I managed to stock up on all the Elvis UK releases before we
flew home. I'm also a great fan of British rock artists, and interestingly,
many of them including The
Beatles also cite Elvis as a major influence.
We returned to Memphis in the late '70s to
take the Graceland tour -- and again in 2009 when these photos were taken.
My sister Bonnie worked for a travel agency
in the early '70s. When we told her we were planning to drive to Las Vegas
after our 1970 summer tour she obtained tickets to one of Elvis's shows
in the International Hotel. When we arrived in Tinsel Town we were suddenly
immersed in Elvismania. . . we soon learned that the whole town went through
this furor every time "The King" came to town.
On the night of the big show we queued for
the late night performance and naively followed the Maitre'd into the theatre
without tipping him. Everything about the show was fabulous from the opening
strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra through to the final curtain . . . even
though we had a rather dismal view of the stage. The somewhat arrogant
Maitre'd seated us near the back of the theatre, behind a post, and with
a table of over-excited Japanese tourists. Lesson learned. Ya gotta tip
the head waiter.
We attended a special early '70s Elvis show
in a much more intimate Vegas showroom setting than what was featured over
in the huge International. Instead of the King's big show band, with full
orchestra and large array of backup singers, this show featured the stripped
down band that had backed Elvis in the '50s: Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana and
Scotty, one of my guitar idols, played all
the famous Sun records echo guitar riffs. The Jordanaires sang the backup
vocals we had heard so many times on so many hit records in their perfect
gospel/pop harmonies. There was no Bill Black on doghouse bass -- he had
died back in 1965 -- but original drummer DJ Fontana and a fill-in bass
player kicked out the rhythms that had supercharged Elvis on so many tours
of the Southland, the Louisiana Hayride shows and his historic TV appearances
all through the '50s.
There were numerous authentic costume changes,
the vocals were right on for all the hits, and all the familiar moves were
there. For anyone who had come under Elvis's magic in the '50s this was
a dream come true -- a trip back in time to the glory days of rock 'n'
roll. There was only one small problem with this show. Elvis was played
by look-alike, sound-alike, move-alike tribute artist Rick Saucedo. . .
but. . . "It was a night oo-oo what a night, It was it really was
such a night."
the Hillman / Blues Connection
My greatest early musical influences were Elvis
and his fellow Sun Records artists out of Memphis. A few of the obvious
blues titles in Elvis's repertoire include: That's All Right Mama, Good
Rockin' Tonight, Milkcow Blues Boogie, Baby Let's Play House, Mystery Train,
I Got a Woman, Heartbreak Hotel, Money Honey, My Baby Left Me, Tutti Frutti.
Shake Rattle and Roll, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Hound Dog, Long Tall Sally, Mean
Woman Blues, One Night of Sin, Blue Christmas, Trouble, Reconsider Baby,
What'd I Say, Hi-Heeled Sneakers . . . these and many more of
their songs were
. . . the Blues.
Elvis's success launched the birth of a music
form that would change the world: rock & roll. This "new" music form
was really just a fusion of blues, country and gospel. Indeed the main
criticisms of this new R&R music were actually of the elements that
make a good blues song or performance: simple chord structure and words,
repetitive lyrics and hooks, heavy backbeat, "muh babee dun me wrong" themes,
racy lyrics full of double entendres, slurred southern accents, slang and
bad grammar, over-reliance on distorted guitars and pounding pianos, singer-penned
lyrics, gospel/blues screams, suggestive body movements, gospel choruses.
. . all characteristics that every blues aficionado looks for in
. . . the Blues.
THE KING IS DEAD
*** Excerpt from the Gig Notes section of our
book: "Bill and Sue-On Hillman: a 50-Year Musical Odyssey"
Following our second music tour of England
we had checked into a London B&B. On the last night we returned to
our B&B room just as a terrific storm hit which coincided at 10:30
with shocking news on the radio -- the death of Elvis Presley.
A surreal evening: the hotel keeper and roomers
were crying in grief, thunder and lightning crashed, the storm flooded
the streets and even closed down much of the tube system. To add to the
solemnity of the evening, BBC-TV reverently signed off with Elvis' How
Great Thou Art.
On the morning after the news of Elvis' death
we hit the streets of London early. Every newspaper displayed, "King is
Dead" headlines. We bought papers and all the English-pressed Elvis records
I could find before we took a train to Gatwick Airport.
. . .
Click for full-size collage poster