By Gillian G. Gaar
Memphis, Tenn., is gearing up for what promises to be the biggest Elvis Week in history, featuring a glittering roster of guests including Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley, drummer DJ Fontana, early rocker Wanda Jackson, Colonel Tom Parker’s widow Loanne Parker, legendary songwriter Mike Stoller, photographer Alfred Wertheimer and singer José Feliciano. Wait — José Feliciano? Yes, even the “Feliz Navidad” singer has an Elvis connection these days; his upcoming release, "The King ... By José Feliciano," is an album of Elvis covers.
Elvis Week runs Aug. 10-18, 2012. Though some packages Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) offered are now sold out, there are still tickets available for most events. But don’t delay if you plan to attend; this year Elvis Week is expected to draw over 75,000 fans from around the world.
Elvis Week honors the memory and the legacy of Elvis Presley, who died 35 years ago on Aug. 16, 1977. And new releases of his work continue to appear on a regular basis. 2012 began with a reissue of “Elvis Country,” first released in 1971, and now packaged in a new “Legacy Edition” with the 1971 album “Love Letters From Elvis,” a nice updating of the material, but with no previously unreleased tracks. “I Am An Elvis” fan came out in time for Elvis Week, its 21-track lineup chosen by Elvis fans, again not featuring any unreleased material.
Fall releases are looking a lot more exciting. Most enticing is “A Boy from Tupelo: The Complete 1953-55 Recordings,” to be released on EPE’s Follow That Dream collector’s label. It’s producer Ernst Jorgensen’s long-awaited Sun Studios project, with the set’s three CDs featuring every known Elvis Presley Sun Studio master and outtake, as well as live material and the first acetates Elvis ever cut at Sun. Though much of this material has been released over years, the set will offer 10 previously unreleased tracks, and the usual lavish accompanying book.
And Sony Legacy has just announced the late October release of “Prince From Another Planet: 40th Anniversary Edition,” a two CD/one DVD box commemorating the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ concerts at Madison Square Garden in June 1972. The CDs will feature new mixes of the live albums “Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden” (the June 10 evening show, originally released in 1972) and “An Afternoon In the Garden” (the June 10 afternoon show, originally released in 1997). The DVD will have the June 9 afternoon press conference, and an hour’s worth of previously unseen footage of the June 10 afternoon show shot by a fan. The set’s title comes from the headline the “New York Times” used in its review of the concert.
The DVD’s footage will be screened at a free Sony Music Panel held during Elvis Week on Aug. 17, which will also be attended by Jorgensen, producer Roger Semon, and John Jackson, vice president of A&R for Legacy, who will all be available for questions.
You can expect to experience the usual roster of tribute artist contests, dance parties, film screenings, and panels with Elvis’ friends and associates at Elvis Week, though this year, the guest list is pretty extensive. The “Conversations on Elvis” panels will cover the topics of Elvis and gospel, and Elvis’ experiences in the movies and on tour. Priscilla Presley will appear at the “Behind the Camera” panel on Aug. 15, and daughter Lisa Marie Presley will be at the “Behind the Stage” panel Aug. 16. The “Elvis Songwriters Showcase” on Aug. 11 will feature appearances and performances by Mike Stoller (“Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” among others) and Mark James (“Suspicious Minds”).
The Memphis Boys, who backed Elvis during the legendary American Sound Studios sessions in early 1969, will be on hand for a dedication ceremony (they’ll be getting their own “note” on Beale Street), a concert, and to promote Bobby Wood’s book, “Walking Among Giants.”
The “Elvis Insiders Conference” on Aug. 13 is a day-long event that will feature appearances by Egil “Bud” Krogh, the Nixon aide who set up Elvis' meeting with the president; former girlfriends Dixie Locke Emmons and June Juanico; Allyson Adams, daughter of actor Nick Adams, one of Elvis’ friends, who will be promoting her father's posthumously published book “The Rebel & The King;” and Wanda Jackson, among others.
After Candlelight Vigils on the nights of Aug. 15 and 16, the week’s other big event is the Elvis 35th Anniversary Concert, which will be held Aug. 16 at the FedEx Forum in downtown Memphis. As in previous shows, film of Elvis is projected on a screen while live musicians (most of whom performed with Elvis) provide the music. This year’s guests include TCB Band members James Burton and Glen Hardin; DJ Fontana; Norbert Putnam (who recorded with Elvis in the ‘70s); and members of the Sweet Inspirations, the Stamps, and the Imperials, among others. Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley will also make an appearance at this event. And don’t forget about touring Graceland, which has unveiled three new exhibits this year: “Elvis on Tour,” “Elvis…Through His Daughter’s Eyes,” and “Icon: The Influence of Elvis Presley presented by Fender.” There’s even an Elvis Week app you can download for your mobile devices to help you keep track of everything going on (http://www.elvis.com/elvisweek/elvisweek_app.aspx). For more info on the events and ticket prices, go to http://www.elvis.com/elvisweek. And if you can’t make it to Elvis Week, there will be live updates on the site to follow.
Away from Graceland, there are plenty of other activities going on during the week as well. “Elvis International Magazine” will present a “Spirit of the King” late night concert event on Aug. 17, which features tribute artists Shawn Klush and Cody Slaughter, with Elvis’ own backup singers as guests, including Gordon Stoker and Ray Walker of the Jordanaires, and Millie Kirkham. Info: http://www.elvisthemagazine.com/. Radio DJ George Klein, a longtime Elvis friend, will MC an Aug. 14 fundraiser at WC Handy Park on Beale Street for Joe Esposito, proceeds to help pay the medical expenses for his wife, who recently died of cancer; Tony Orlando and T.G. Shepard, among others, are scheduled to perform. On Aug. 15, there will be two receptions at Vernon Presley’s home at 1266 Dolan Drive, around the corner from Graceland, from 1 to 3 pm, and again at 11 pm to 1 am, attended by friends of Elvis and hosted by former EPE employee Patsy Andersen. Info: http://www.elvisfansunited.com/patsy/. Speaking of George Klein, his Elvis Mafia Reunion dinner at Alfred’s on Beale Street is always a lot of fun. This year the event is on Aug. 11 at 5 pm; call (901) 525-3711 to make a reservation. Elvis’ nurse, Marian Cocke, will also be hosting her usual Elvis Memorial Dinner Aug. 12 at the Peabody Hotel. Info: EPNURSE@bellsouth.net.
The Peabody Hotel is also the site of the “Collecting The King Record & Memorabilia Show,” which will be held Aug. 12-15 in the Continental Ballroom, with free admission. Among the guests will be Barbara “Bobbie” Gray, revealed by journalist Alana Nash to be the “mystery woman” in the famous backstage shot taken by Alfred Wertheimer where Elvis and Bobbie playfully touch tongues. You’ll also be able to pick up the 2012 edition of “Presleyana VII: Elvis Presley Record and Memorabilia Price Guide,” with author Jerry Osborne in attendance. It’s the first hard cover edition of the book, which will also feature full color pages for the first time. Show info: http://www.collectingtheking.com/; Book info: http://www.jerryosborne.com/presleyana/index.html.
And don’t forget about Presley’s hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi, which will also has a number of Elvis-related events scheduled. A documentary about Shake Rag, one of the neighborhoods where the Presley’s lived in Tupelo, gets a free screening on August 9 at the Lyric Theater; that evening a new statue of Elvis will be unveiled in Tupelo’s Fairpark District as part of the “Down on Main” concert series. A gospel show and panel discussion will be held at the Lyric Theater on Aug. 10, and events will be held at Elvis’ birthplace site as well (Fan Appreciation Day is Aug. 9). Info: Birthplace activities, www.elvispresleybirthplace.com; Down on Main concert, www.tupelodownonmain.com; Tupelo, www.tupelo.net; Tupelo and Elvis, www.welovetupelo.com.
As for getting to Tupelo, we recommend Mike’s Memphis Tours (http://mikesmemphistours.com/; also on facebook under the same name), run by Mike Freeman, co-author of the excellent guide “Memphis Elvis-Style.” During Elvis Week, Mike is especially busy taking tours around Tupelo and Memphis, and his knowledge of the region makes his tours especially informative.
The media spotlight always shines brighter on Elvis during his birthday and Elvis Week. But interest in Elvis remains strong throughout the year. “Goldmine” will be reviewing the best of the new releases in the coming months.