Elvis Presley is known throughout the world as the King of Rock ‘n Roll. Yet he transcended that genre, his musical genius and his magical voice conquering gospel, rhythm and blues, country, rockabilly and even pop. As if that wasn’t enough, he was also a major movie star. But Elvis always shied away from that title bestowed upon him by the world – the fans and the media.
One evening in 1965, as I was styling his hair upstairs at Graceland, Elvis and I were talking about certain aspects of his singing career and all the various styles and categories of music that he’s known for. All of a sudden Elvis leaned forward in his chair and said, “Ya know Larry, people call me the king, like I invented rock n’ roll or something. No way man, no way; that’s not the way it really is. Rock n’ roll goes back, way back to the days where it all started in the Deep South when the ol’ Negros were working in the fields, slaving their whole lives away. I mean those poor people; they really knew what pain an’ suffering was all about. They used to sing and pour out their hearts to God just to make it through the day. I mean it was their souls that were singing, crying out. When the sun came up to till it went down, they all sang, making up the words as they went along, in the cotton fields an’ plantations.
“Listen, that’s where most of our real gospel music actually comes from. What white people did was to copy them. Their slave music found its way right into their own churches; then white people picked up on it and began singing the slave songs in their own way in the white churches. Then their music began to change and went beyond the churches and grew into honky-tonk and Dixieland. It all happened around here, in the ol’ Mississippi Delta, then downtown in Memphis on Beale Street, and New Orleans. Then it spread north to St. Louis and Chicago where the blues, ragtime and jazz first took off; then right up into our times, when it all grew into rhythm n’ blues, then rock ‘n roll. I’ll tell you the truth Larry, I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time – and all I really did was to take their music and introduce it to a white audience.”
I remember one night in Las Vegas in December of 1976. We had just left Elvis’ dressing room and had gotten into the elevator on our way up to his penthouse at the Hilton International. Two girls rushed up and excitedly yelled out, “Elvis, Elvis, you’re the king!” As the doors were closing he smiled and pointed upwards. “There’s only one King. I might be in the saddle but I’m not on the throne.”