Me and Elvis
A few Gig
Notes excerpts from our 60-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
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
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 The Jordanaires.
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