EDITOR’S NOTE: Graceland and the name, image and likeness of Elvis Presley appear courtesy of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.
Elvis Week 2007. Where do I start? It was the biggest Elvis Week ever, it was the hottest Elvis Week ever, and I packed in more than I thought possible.
It was an Elvis Week that also marked the end of an era. Word is the “Elvis In Concert” events, with “E” on a big screen accompanied by live musicians, will no longer be held. And the Graceland complex is due to be completely revamped, though Priscilla Presley assured those at the Elvis Insiders Conference it won’t become a “Disneyland” (i.e. no rides). I did hear that all museums will be moved onto the mansion side of Elvis Presley Boulevard — no more trips across the street in the shuttles. And that the mansion will be made to look more like it did at the time of Elvis’ death; the gold and platinum awards in the racquetball building, for example, will be moved into a museum.
I didn’t have to go far to encounter folks with Elvis connections. There was one right in my hotel lobby. Jimmy Velvet, a musician who knew Elvis, had what was the world’s biggest collection of Elvis memorabilia (outside of Graceland’s own archives) and is an ace photographer.
Jimmy was selling his book, “Inside The Dream,” which has a dazzling array of photos taken by him and of him with various celebs (http://www.insidethedream.net). We had many pleasant chats throughout the week, the highlight of my stay at the hotel.
But I didn’t stay there much, as there was so much else to do. My first stop was Tupelo for “Fan Appreciation Day” at Elvis’ birthplace. Fans packed the small grounds, so I never did get to see the museum, which has been redesigned since I last visited in 2002. But I did have a pleasant chat with Henry Dodge Jr., chairman of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation, who was lucky enough to have seen Elvis perform back in the ’50s. He pointed out that if you look right in the eyes of the statue of a 13-year-old Elvis on the grounds “He comes alive.”
And you know, he was right — it was downright eerie. A 13-year-old lookalike, Joshua Tomes, also was on hand posing for pictures, while in the Chapel, locals shared their own stories about Elvis, and musicians played elsewhere on the grounds.
I attended a few of George Klein’s events, including the Memphis Mafia Reunion Dinner. Klein, who attended high school with Elvis, went on to be a disc jockey and maintained his friendship with Elvis for his whole life. This year’s event had many familiar faces: “Mafiosos” Jerry Schilling and late arrival Joe Esposito; Marion Cocke (Elvis’ nurse); drummer D.J. Fontana; and Mark James, writer of “Suspicious Minds.” Most surprising was the appearance of Dr. George Nichopoulos (AKA “Dr. Nick”) and his son, Dean. Klein was quick to point out that Dr. Nick was the “good doctor,” who tried to curb Elvis’ bad habits, though Nick himself didn’t touch on any controversial areas. Mojo Nixon, composer of the stellar “Elvis Is Everywhere,” also was in the house.
Many of these same folks appeared at Klein’s annual memorial service, held Aug. 16 at the University of Memphis. It is undoubtedly the best deal at Elvis Week, as it’s free. This year, the service was preceded by another round-table discussion that included Jerry Hopkins, who&rs