Jan 272014
 

1956: Elvis Presley’s single, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ was recorded just two days after Elvis’s 21st birthday and released on January 27th by RCA Records, who had just purchased his contract from Sun Records for the then astronomical sum of $35,000.

The song sold 300,000 copies in its first week and would eventually sell over a million, becoming Elvis’s first Gold record. Elvis has had 150 different albums and singles that have been certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

In 1995 “Heartbreak Hotel” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 2004 Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”  Also in 2004, it was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”

Aug 282013
 

On this day, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the “I Have a Dream” speech, I’d like to bring my readers’ attention to another powerful speech by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  – “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

This was Reverend King’s final speech, given on the eve of his assassination in Memphis, TN. I make reference to this speech in my novel, as well as explore the consequences of Reverend King’s death on my character’s city and relationships.

Reverend King arrived in Memphis on April 3, 1968, to show his support for the Black Memphis sanitation workers who were on strike due to unfair pay and conditions. During this speech, it is clear that the Reverend knew his time was limited with his words:

But it really doesn’t matter with me now…I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

Watch the speech here:

Aug 212013
 

I arrived for class on Saturday afternoon about fifteen minutes early. Don greeted me and immediately asked, “Did you win first prize?”

“Nope.”

“Second?”

“No, nothing. There were some other good performances so…” I said to cover up.

“Well, you’ll get gold next time, kid.”

I didn’t want to get into the details with Don, so I just said thanks.

Carl Ray, with his bright smile and swagger, showed up a few minutes later. He asked me about the talent show as soon as we sat down. I told him the same thing I’d told Don, hoping it would stop there.

“Wish you’d grab first for the new song, you know, ‘cause you composed it,” Carl Ray said with a note of disappointment.

Not that I thought I was better than the ballerinas, but heck, I wanted some credit for being original. But that went out the window. I hadn’t been able to do it without Carl Ray, and my gut told me he deserved the truth.

“Well, that was the problem,” I said.

He looked puzzled. Then I relayed the dreaded details, and was ashamed to repeat the insults I had received. Carl Ray remained silent and unaffected at first, but when I told him I had been suspended, he finally spoke up.

“That’s just plain rotten, Junior, real spiteful of them boys.”

“Carl Ray, don’t worry, I’m not giving up the guitar or learning from you. You’ve taught me so much already…”

“Ah, I ain’t worried ‘bout that, kid. I know where your heart is. I’m proud that you made up your own song, real proud of you for that. But I shoulda expressed my worries ‘bout you playin’ it.”

“I got a hard head, Carl Ray. Would’ve done it anyway.”

“I like that ‘bout you. But you know, the whites ain’t ready for this music, they just ain’t. Oh, they’ll come ‘round, I s’pose…” I hoped he was right about that. “But I hate that them boys insulted you and your talent. And that you caught heat from your principal.”

“I’ll be all right,” I assured him.

“I know you will, Junior. Trust me, this won’t be the first time you’ll suffer for your actions, or for what’s in your heart.” Carl Ray wasn’t talking about guitar-playing anymore. “I seen you with your daddy and how you talk about your mama and your pals, and how you act with the fellas here. Your heart is true. You’re a fine young man, and you shouldn’t change no matter what.” I nodded my head. “People can be cruel, son, but you gotta stick to who you are.” I imagined he had suffered for who he was. I was surprised though, to hear the word son coming from Carl Ray.

During the couple months we’d been working together, Carl Ray never got personal with me. He encouraged me in his joking, but strict, fashion, but that was about it. In fact, I knew nothing about his life, except that his wi
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Aug 162013
 

Elvis Presley was the sweetest, most humble and nicest man you’d want to know. – Muhammad Ali

I wasn’t just a fan, I was his brother. Last time I saw Elvis alive was at Graceland. We sang ‘Old Blind Barnabus’ together, a gospel song. I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There’ll never be another like that soul brother. – James Brown

It’s rare when an artist’s talent can touch an entire generation of people. It’s even rarer when that same influence affects several generations. Elvis made an imprint on the world of pop music unequaled by any other single performer. – Dick Clark

Elvis was the only man from Northeast Mississippi who could shake his hips and still be loved by rednecks, cops, and hippies. –  Jimmy Buffett

There have been a lotta tough guys. There have been pretenders. And there have been contenders. But there is only one king. It was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear, and somehow we all dreamed it. – Bruce Springsteen 

When I first heard Elvis’ voice, I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail. – Bob Dylan  

The first concert I attended was an Elvis concert when I was eleven. Even at that age he made me realize the tremendous effect a performer could have on an audience. – Cher 

When I saw Elvis on television, I just fell in love with him completely. As a singer, I want to be able to relate to an audience like this man did. Of course, nobody can – he was the best there ever was. – Faith Hill 

Woman wanted him, men wanted to BE him, or just hang out with him. –  Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson 

Aug 162013
 

Thirty-six years ago, Elvis left the building. But even after so many years, his legacy and music is still alive and going strong. Visitors from all over the world visit Graceland during Elvis Weeks (Birthday in Jan. & Anniversary in Aug.) and all year long.

On August 15th, the eve of his passing, fans gather in front of Graceland for a candlelight vigil and walk through the gates and up the driveway to pay their respects at the grave, located in the Meditation Garden at the rear of the house. This video is just a glimmer of what I saw and experienced on my trips to Graceland. Long live the King!

Original photos by Margarita R. Kurtz, 2013.

Aug 072013
 

The next morning while I was having breakfast with my mother, we were both surprised to hear the phone ring so early.

“Maybe they need me to fill in at the hospital today,” said Mama as she got up to answer the call.

“Yes, this is Mrs. Paxton. I am Edward’s mother.” It obviously wasn’t the hospital. “Oh, good morning, Mr. Aldean.”

My heart stopped when I heard her say his name.

“Yes, we were there last night. My husband and I are quite upset about what happened.”

Whatever Mr. Aldean said changed my mother’s demeanor.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Aldean, I think you misunderstood. We are not upset with Edward. Those boys and their families were disrespectful to our son.”

After a long pause, my mother was even more distressed. “I understand, We must respect your decision in this matter.” He said something else, and my mother responded with, “Very well, Mr. Aldean. Edward will return to school on Tuesday, but you can also expect Edward’s father and myself at your office that morning too. Have a good day, Mr. Aldean,” She hung up the phone with a slam.

“What? What do you mean about Tuesday?”

“You’ve been suspended from school for a day. Monday.”

“Suspended?”

“It seems Mr. Aldean believes your performance last night was mischievous, although the man can’t even say the word correctly.” She rolled her eyes. “He said you were disrespectful to American music because you added the Negro touch with your fancy guitar playing. Those were his words, more or less.”

Head in hands, I said, “I’m real sorry, Mama.”

“Don’t apologize to me, Junior. You’re an excellent student, so it’s your school record I’m concerned about. And how your choice in music got you into trouble.”

“I know, but loving all kinds of music isn’t wrong.”

“No, it isn’t. And I won’t refuse you the thing that makes you most happy, but you still have to follow rules. I mean, there are no rules in regards to music, I guess, but you should’ve known something…”

“Yes, Mama, I shoulda figured. I just got too…”

“It’s call arrogance, Junior. And now you have to face the consequences.”

“I know.”

“And one of those consequences is apologizing to Mr. Aldean, face to face, whether or not you think he’s in the wrong.”

“Yes, Mama. And to Mr. Shelby. He probably got in trouble ’cause of me.”

“Your father and I will meet with Mr. Aldean and try to convince him not to put this suspension on your permanent record seeing how you are a good student, have perfect attendance, and haven’t given them problems before.”

“Thank you, Mama.”

“And…the other consequences are that the judges wanted to award you second prize for your other song and Mr. Aldean told them to give it to someone else. And… ” Oh gosh, another and. “You won’t be allowed to participate in next year’s show.”

Those consequences stung me harder than the embarrassment of a suspension.

“You can go to your lesson with Mr. Johnson tomorrow, but I think it’d be best if you stay close to home so you don’t run into those boys anywhere.”

“Yes, Mama. I don’t feel like doing anything anyway.”

“Call your job. Maybe they need your help today. At least you won’t be sulking around here all day.”

I chose to sulk and feel sorry for myself. I sat in the backyard flipping through some old comic books. I didn’t have the brainpower to read a real book. After lunch, my mother suggested we take the bus to the five and dime, but I said no. Then I moped around the house some more and dozed off for a while on the couch.

At the dinner table, my father addressed the situation with, “Son, we’re upset about what happened to you at the show, but you gotta accept the cost of your actions and the decisions of those in change. It’s one of the toughest things we have to do in life. You’re a good student and a good person and now you have to continue to prove that at school. Are we clear?”

“Yes, Dad, I’ll do my best.”

Jul 282013
 

The first press piece about then 19-year-old Elvis appeared in The Memphis Press-Scimatar on July 28, 1954, two days before his first major concert appearance in his hometown.

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Jul 242013
 

“Hi there, fellas,” Mr. Shelby said.

“Hello, Mr. Shelby,” I said, looking up from my spot on the floor.

“I’m sorry about what happened out there. It was cruel what those kids did to you. The truth is I feel responsible.”

“Mr. Shelby, no, it’s not your fault. How could you know? It was my decision to play that song, and then to show off with all the blues guitar stuff,” I said.

“Yes, I know, but when you performed it for me last week, I was impressed by your talent and disregarded the affect it might have. That music is not for everyone, certainly not in these parts. You really were terrific out there with your other performance though.”

“Thanks, Mr. Shelby.”

“I’ve got to get back and see what the judges have decided.”

“Let’s get outta here. We did nothing wrong so let’s go sit out there where we belong. I bet you’ll get a prize for your solo performance,” said Lonnie.

“Yeah, buddy, you sure were great,” added Vance.

We sat in the corner seats in the second and third row, and I avoided looking at the people around us.

Mr. Shelby walked on stage and got the audience’s attention. “Ladies and gentleman, our judges have reached their decisions. We’ll begin with third prize. Can we have a drum roll, please?” Coach Wyatt obliged and everyone laugh at his poor attempt. “The third prize goes to… Dixie and Dianna Snow and Percy Shelton!”

The acrobatic trio ran up, and all of them grabbed for the trophy.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you two more so you won’t have to share this one.” Percy did a cartwheel on the stage before he returned to his seat.

Lonnie whispered, “What a relief that they didn’t win first prize again. This is the third year they do that same routine. You deserve first prize. You got the most cheers.”

“The second prize goes to…Ginny Lewis for her wonderful opera performance,” Mr. Shelby announced.

Coach Wyatt played and extended and terrible drum roll before Mr. Shelby announced, “And the first prize goes to…”

Lonnie patted me on the back and whispered, “It’s gotta be you.”

“Everybody ready?” Mr. Shelby asked the audience. Most of the kids called out, “Yes!”

First prize goes to…Angela Ashton and Mary Lou Coon, the prima ballerinas!” The girls pranced up to the stage and did a pirouette, or whatever it is ballerinas do, for extra applause.

“I don’t believe it. You shouda got a prize,” Lonnie said.

“Mean Aldean probably told them not to give me anything,” I said.

Mr. Shelby thanked everybody for coming and there was a final round of applause.

“Hello, guys.” It was my father standing next to us.

“Hey, Dad.”

“You ready, son? Your mama and Vernie are waiting for us by the car.”

“Yeah, let’s get outta here.”

I said goodbye to Vance and Lonnie. My dad offered to carry my guitar for me and we walked out the side door to avoid glares from my non-fans.

We settled into the car and were quiet for a few minutes.

My father broke the silence with, “I know I say it for all of us. We’re real proud of you, son, and we’re sorry for what happened.”

“We sure are,” said Uncle Vernie.

“I just can’t believe those kids, and that man… I’m sorry, honey.” Mama looked back at me from the front seat.

“It’s all right, Mama. I guess I was asking for trouble.”

“You know who’s askin’ for trouble? Those punks. I wanna punch them stinkin’…”

“Vern, calm down,” Dad said. “We can’t go down to their level. They’re kids copying their parents’ behavior. Not much we can do about that.”

“Yeah, Vernie, please. I wanna punch those guys out too, but the truth is, I played something white people don’t like. I was just excited to do my own thing and to show off with the guitar. I wasn’t thinking.”

“Honey, you’ll see, all this will boil over. Thank the good Lord, the dreadful episode is done and that no one got hurt,” said Mama.

We had the next day off because of the Easter holiday, so I decided I would try to block out the humiliation until Monday when school resumed.