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:

May 172013
 
Beale Street

Beale Street

I received the phone call I’d been waiting for. Joe Cuoghi, the owner of Poplar Tunes music store, had some good news for me.

“Eddie, my partner talked to a gentleman who plays at one of the clubs on Beale.”

“Really?”

“Yes. John says this man is willing to meet you.”

“Maybe he was surprised that I’m a white boy who wants to learn the blues.”

“You may be right. Anyway, he’ll be at the Purple Diamond on Beale this Saturday, and if you’re there around six before the crowds arrive, he’ll talk with you then. His name is Carl Ray Johnson.” He said the man’s name slowly.

“Ok. Let me write that down.” I scribbled 6, Sat., Purple Diamond and the man’s name in my composition notebook. “Thanks for arranging this, Mr. Cuoghi.”

“My pleasure, Eddie. Good luck and hope to see you at the store soon.”

My dad and I went to the club on Saturday night. I took my guitar with me to show Carl Ray. We approached the bartender and asked him to direct us to him.

“Hey, Carl Ray! Some guys here to see you!”

A Negro gentleman, around sixty, looked in our direction. “Give me a few minutes, guys,” he said to two other men who were also standing by the stage.

My dad and I walked closer to the end of the bar to meet him. Carl Ray was wearing a dark brown suit, a brown tie, and a bright yellow shirt. The handkerchief in his suit pocket was an even brighter yellow. He smiled widely as he walked over to us.

“Mr. Johnson, I’m Edward Paxton and this is my son Eddie.” My father shook his hand.

“Eddie, huh?”

“Yes, sir.” I extended my hand to him but he didn’t take it.

“You got another name? Like a real guitarist’s name?”

I was surprised by that question. “Well, sir, my family calls me Junior.”

“Junior? Yeah, that’s better.” He shook my hand firmly.  “Nice to meet you, Junior… What was it again?”

“Paxton.”

“Junior Paxton.” He rubbed his hands together and then straightened out his tie. “Getting better.” That’s when I noticed the thick gold ring with a large aqua gem on his right pinky finger. He reclined on the table next to us. “This here, your instrument?”

“Yes, sir. I practice a lot. But I wanna work with a professional.”

“That’s right, Mr. Johnson. I think my boy is good, but you know, he needs guidance.”

“Well, well, Junior Paxton, what have you got for me? Are you as good as your daddy says you are?”

I grabbed a chair from the table and sat down. Mr. Johnson straightened up and stood next to my father.

“First thing, you need a place to put your foot. You know, for balance.” He tapped on the bar and said, “Hey, Don, you got some phone books over there?”

“Sure do.” He bent down and placed two phone books on the counter.

Carl Ray grabbed them. “Here, put your left foot on these,” Carl Ray commanded.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Second rule. Don’t call me sir. We ain’t in no army. Call me…” He smiled widely. “Mr. Johnson.”

“OK, Mr. Johnson.” This guy was making me sweat.

“Ah, kid, I’m just foolin’ you.” He smiled that bright smile again. “If we’re gonna work together, we gotta be on the same level, you know. Call me Mr. Carl Ray.

“OK. Mr. Carl Ray. Sir.”

“Real funny, Mr. Junior Paxton, Sir.” He patted me on the back, and said, “Now let’s see what you’re made of.”

I took a deep breath and played my heart out. I strummed, and picked, and played the few blues riffs I knew.  I played for a little over one minute, the longest minute of my life so far. When I was done, some men at the bar clapped.

“Well, well, it looks like you got yourself some fans already.”

“I told them my father would buy them a beer if they clapped for me,” I teased.

Carl smiled. “Well, beer or no beer, you deserve some applause.”

I sighed with relief. The men clapped again, and this time, my dad joined in.

“You’re a little sloppy, here and there, probably your nerves, but nothing ol’ Carl Ray can’t help you with.”

“So, you’ll be my teacher?”

“Yeah, why not? You seem like a good kid. But I’m warning you, I’m gonna work you hard.”

“I kinda got that feeling. But I’m ready.”

“All right, rule number…” He scratched his head. “What number was I on?”

“That would be three. Foot and don’t call you sir,” I said as I counted on my fingers.

“Good, good. I was testing you. Well, this one’s the real number one.” He punctuated the second one with his ringed pinky. “You gotta practice every day.”

“Of course.”

“Now, don’t go skipping your schoolwork or nothin’. I don’t want you catching heat from your folks. But playing guitar is an art; you gotta work hard at it.”

“I know that, and I’m grateful for the chance.” I stood up and shook his hand.

“Now, I’m gonna talk money with the big Mr. Paxton here, and you…” he pointed at me with his gemmed finger. “Come back here next Saturday, five sharp. You know, before you go cruisin’ for chicks.”

“I’ll be here.”

“I’m gonna work you for about forty-five minutes or until your fingers bleed.” He finished the sentence with his big smile.

“I look forward to it, Mr. Carl Ray. Thank you and see you in one week. Sharp.” I pointed my pinky finger at him.

“You’re gonna need a fancy ring, you know.”

“I guess I’ll have to earn it, Mr. Carl Ray Sir.”

“I like you, Junior Paxton. I like you a lot.”

I grabbed my guitar and left with a smile almost as big as Carl Ray’s.

Blues City Cafe

Blues City Cafe

Dyers Burgers on Beale Street, fried since 1912.

Dyer’s Burgers on Beale Street, fried since 1912.

Find out more about this classic burger joint: http://www.dyersonbeale.com

Original Photography by Margarita R. Kurtz, 2013.
Apr 182013
 

Because of Elvis’s local success that summer, he was a frequent guest on the “Louisiana Hayride,” a live Saturday night country music radio show on KWKH. I didn’t hear his first performance, but my mother did, and a couple weeks later, he was on again and was going to be performing on there every week for a year. According to the host, this show broadcasted on almost two hundred stations in about twenty states, so I thought that would sure help Elvis become more popular outside the Memphis area.

I hadn’t run into Elvis in a while, so one afternoon after I finished my shift at Wonder Bread, I rode over to the Memphis Recording Studio. I walked in to ask if Elvis had been working on any new songs.

There was a woman sitting behind a wooden desk with a typewriter and a small black fan on it. She was on the phone and signaled to the chair in front of her desk. I sat down and looked around. There were three metal cabinets behind her; some plants were hanging down and there was a small black radio on top of one of them. To the left of the desk, there was a wide window, but from my spot, I couldn’t see what was on the other side. The nameplate on the desk read: Marion Keisker. She had blondish curly hair, almost to her shoulders, and was wearing a dark blue dress with a light brown sweater.

 

Reception Desk at Sun Studio.

“How can I help you, young man?”

I stood up. “Hello, ma’am. I’m Eddie.”

“I’m Marion.” She pointed to her nameplate and smiled.

“Nice to meet you, Miss Marion. Uh, I was wondering if the singer Elvis Presley has recorded any new songs. I’ve met him a few times, so I was just curious.”

“Interesting that you mention Elvis. While I was on the phone just now, I noticed you have quite a resemblance to him.  You’re younger, yes, but you have similar features.”

“Yeah, I’ve been hearing that lately, including from him. I like his singing and know he records here, so…”

“That’s why you’re here.”

“That’s right, Miss Marion.”

She took out a notebook from her desk drawer and scanned through some pages. “Well, I’m glad to hear you’re a fan. He’s a wonderful young man, unique in his style. As a matter of fact, I have him on the calendar for early next week. You see, he’s been on the radio show…”

“Louisiana Hayride,” I interrupted.

“Yes, exactly. And we’re thinking, I mean the producer here, wants him to get some new songs out there.”

“Glad to hear that.”

She looked me up and down, and continued, “You seem like a nice young man and as long as you don’t show up here with a herd of screaming girls, I can tell you the day.”

She waited for me to promise not to come with a fan club. “No I wouldn’t do that, Miss Marion. It would just be me, promise.”

She pointed at the day in her calendar and smiled at me. “Not sure about the time yet, haven’t confirmed all the guys, so… can’t say for sure.”

“I understand.”

I looked through the window next to her desk and could see drum cymbals right by the wall closest to us, a big microphone in the middle of the room, and in the far back, there was another window.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Well, yes. I was wondering how this recording thing works. I mean for a regular person like me.”

“It’s simple.” She stood up from her desk and pointed to the window next to her. “For three dollars and fifty cents, we will record you singing there in the studio.”

“I’ll be playing guitar and maybe singing.”

“Wonderful. So when we’re done taping, you’ll get an acetate recording of it to play at home.” She smiled and added, “And to show off to your family and friends, of course.”

“That sounds good. I still have to practice more before I do that.”

“Let me give you the number here so you can call me when you’re ready and we can make an appointment.”

She wrote the phone number and I put the paper in my pocket.

“Thank you, Miss Marion. You’ve been very helpful.”

I excitedly rode back home to start thinking about the tune I’d like to record.

ABMK_microphone2

Inside Sun Studio

Apr 042013
 

With the new guitar in hand, my dad and I stopped by Poplar Tunes music store  to look for a songbook. We also asked the owner, a man named Joe, about guitar teachers.

“I can’t think of anyone right now, but my business partner knows a few guys that play on Beale. Maybe he can find out if one of them will take you on as a student.” He handed me a scrap of paper. “Here, write down your name and number and I’ll call you or you can stop by next weekend.”

“Appreciate that, sir.”

“Well, hopefully, something will come of it.” He smiled at me, and continued, “By the way, there’s a young man who lives nearby and shops here a lot. He’s also interested in blues music. The reason I mention him is because you look like him.  His name is Elvis Presley and he recorded some songs recently. Maybe you guys are family?”

My dad and I chuckled. “We know who he is, but no, no relation, we don’t think so anyway,” Dad said.

“I’ve talked to him a few times and we saw him perform at the concert at Overton,” I added.

“Oh, yeah? He’s a nice young man, quite shy too. He had been coming here every week for a month before he spoke a word. After that, he’d spend hours asking me about music and listening to records in the booth.  He’s been coming here for years now.”

We thanked him for looking into guitar teachers for me, and we purchased a songbook and a guitar pick.

I wanted to learn more than just country songs, which is mostly what Uncle Vernie and I had been playing the last few years. No offense to the hillbilly music I grew up on, but since living in Memphis, it had become clear that in this town, country, gospel, and blues music flowed as strongly as the mighty river that surrounded it. And the blues, so driven by the guitar and raw emotions, was what I aimed to become good at.

I wasn’t a black fellow so this music wasn’t in my blood and I didn’t have enough years in me or suffer any hardship like the ones these guys sing about, but I sure was going to give this music a try.

Mississippi_Blue

Mississippi River

 

Mississippi_Steamboat-2

 

MississippiNight

Original photography by Margarita R. Kurtz, 2013.

Feb 282013
 

While I couldn’t tell for sure, I imagined Elvis was sweating from extreme nerves. I then focused on the guitarist and the bassist. They didn’t seem nervous, but they kept looking at each other. Maybe they sensed the singer’s anxiety.

They began with their first single “That’s All Right.” At first, Elvis seemed paralyzed but then he suddenly stood on the balls of his feet and shook his left leg. After about thirty seconds, his leg shook even faster. The teen girls in the audience starting applauding, and then they started squealing. The wild gyrations were causing an earthquake under his baggy pleated pants.

Frankie and I looked at each other and laughed, as two girls in front of us were beside themselves with excitement. My parents seemed a bit confused by what was going on, but seemed to enjoy the music, while the folks in the row behind us, some women older than my parents, said, “Oh my!”

Next, they performed “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and Elvis’s gyrations and the excitement from the girls continued. The bassist also stirred cheers from the crowd as he spun his large stand-up bass. As they finished that song and proceeded to leave, several girls sitting in the front section got up and stood at the edge of the stage. The three men bowed a little and walked backstage, looking a bit bewildered from the intense reaction they had just received.

When things settled down, I heard another comment from one of the ladies sitting behind us. “Doesn’t the boy in front of us look like that vulgar singer?”

I didn’t turn around, the same way I hadn’t reacted when the girl sitting next to Frankie gave me a funny look a little while earlier.

As the other acts performed, things calmed down tremendously. My mother was enjoying herself and singing along to her hillbilly favorites. During some of the slower songs, she’d grab my dad’s hand. When Slim appeared on stage, the audience got excited again, mostly the older folks. My mother and many other ladies stood up to applaud. Mama then looked through the binoculars to get a closer look.

Daddy teased, “Your mama wants to count the sparkling beads on his fancy jacket and see his moustache up close.”

“That’s right, Edward, that’s exactly what I want to do,” she responded.

I marveled at Slim’s left-handed guitar playing. It was so unusual to see. I also enjoyed his yodeling, and even though Frankie had scoffed at it earlier that day, I could tell he was impressed as well. The fans especially enjoyed his performance of his latest hit “Indian Love Call.”

After all the singers had performed, Elvis and his band returned. They sang the same two numbers again. I guessed that since this guy had just started recording, he didn’t have much of a song list. They received the same response from the audience. This time even teen boys, including Frankie and me, joined in with cheers. Hearing the songs one more time made me enjoy them more. He did his gyrating again, but this time, I could tell he seemed to be having a good time stirring up reactions.

After they finished performing “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” they seemed hesitant, but then nodded their heads at one another and began playing another song. This one, a tune called “I’ll Never Let You Go,” was slow, and Elvis wasn’t all shook up on the stage.

But the lack of exaggerated gyrations didn’t stop the young girls from expressing their newfound affection for this young man. Frankie, my folks, and me became fans that night as well. Plus, I wanted to be the guy’s friend.

It was on that night of July 30, 1954, that Elvis became the newest star in the Memphis sky.

The first time that I appeared on stage, it scared me to death. I really didn’t know what all the yelling was about. I didn’t realize that my body was moving. It’s a natural thing to me. So to the manager backstage I said, ‘What’d I do? What’d I do?’ And he said, “Whatever it is, go back and do it again. From a 1972 taped interview used in MGM’s documentary Elvis on Tour.

 

Watch Scotty Moore talk about the recording of “That’s All Right and the Sun Sessions.

Feb 202013
 

Dad got home around six, and as we sat around the table waiting for Mama to serve our supper, he teased her about how excited she was to go to the concert.

“Your mother got all dolled up for that Slim Whitman guy, did you notice?”

“Yes, you look real nice, Mama.”

“Yeah, Sissy. Blue sure is your color,” added Uncle Vernie.

The top of her dress was light blue with small white buttons down the front and the elbow-length sleeves had white cuffs. Her skirt was wide with dark blue and white thick stripes going down. Her thick black shoulder-length hair was curled and she had a white bow holding some of it back.

“Thank you, boys,” she said as she set our plates on the table.

“I gotta keep an eye out, you know. When we went to the market last week, one of the young men working there was making goo-goo eyes at her,” Dad said with a wink.

“Oh, Edward, please,” said Mama, as she placed her hands on his shoulders and leaned over to kiss his cheek. Then she began to swirl around the kitchen and sing, “The moon may be high but I can’t see a thing in the sky, cuz I only have eyes for you.”

Dad blushed as Vernie and I laughed.

“Watch out, Peggy Lee, Lauralee is gonna be on the hit parade!” Vernie announced.

“Not likely, Vernie,” Mama said.

Frankie arrived at our back door promptly at 6:30, even more excited than he had been earlier. I was surprised to see his hair slicked back. Even soon after a haircut, his straight chestnut hair was usually hanging over his forehead and out of control; it seemed to grow as quickly as weeds.

“Come on, let’s wait out front,” I said as I washed my hands at the kitchen sink.

“Oh wait, any of you boys have binoculars? I want to get a good look at all the singers.”

“Not me,” I said.

“I do, I mean, they’re my father’s but I don’t think he’ll mind. I’ll go get ’em, Mrs. Paxton.”

As we walked out of the kitchen, Frankie whispered, “Hey, maybe Trudy will be there.”

“I hope so, even if we just see her from far way.”

I hadn’t told anyone about Trudy. Frankie was the only one to figure out that I had the biggest crush on her. She had long light brown hair and large dark brown eyes. I had her in two of my classes last year. She didn’t even know I existed. I mean, of course she knew I existed because I used to sit in the row next to her in math, but she didn’t pay me much mind, that’s all.

I was sitting on the stoop waiting on my parents when Frankie returned with red plastic Davy Crockett toy binoculars hanging from his neck.

“Do you have a raccoon cap to go with that?” I teased.

“Maybe. These are my little brother’s, but these are my pop’s hunting binoculars.” He showed off an olive-green case he’d been hiding behind his back.

We all got into my dad’s two-door Ford Victoria. My dad loved this car. It was already three years old, but it still looked and smelled new. He polished the white leather seats religiously, and soon after we moved into our house, he built a carport next to it to protect the light green exterior from the heat.

Soon enough, we were on the tree-lined Poplar Avenue and about a block away from the entrance of Overton Park. Many cars were headed toward the park and lots of people were on foot. After parking, we walked on the curving path leading to the performance area. Frankie and I showed our tickets and rushed to get seats.

The Levitt Shell had four sections of seating right in front of the stage, each one with about twenty long benches. Then there were two more rows of six, more narrow benches, behind them. They looked like sun rays coming out from the stage area. The top of the stage looked just like a shell, with layered half circles getting smaller toward the back.

We found space for the four of us toward the rear of the front section and to the left side. I tested out Frankie’s toy binoculars but they blurred things a bit. His dad’s though, were the real thing. We took turns using them to spot kids from school. I was mainly looking for Trudy. I imagined that if she were there, she’d be with friends, at least three, since girls traveled in packs. I couldn’t find her, as more and more people rushed through the aisles scrambling for any available seats.

At 8 pm, Bob Neal welcomed everyone to the 7th Annual Country Music Jamboree. On that hot summer evening, hundreds of Memphians, maybe even a thousand, yee-hawed with excitement after the name of each of the performers was announced. And when the headliner’s name was said, lots of men in the crowd yodeled, trying to emulate Slim Whitman’s singing style.

“I want to use the good binoculars when my favorites come on later. OK boys?”

“Of course, Mama.”

Elvis Presley was to perform first. I was looking through the binoculars as he, the guitarist, and the bassist walked onto the white cement stage. I focused on Elvis’s face and I could clearly see surprise in his eyes as he looked out into the vast crowd. The stage wasn’t very high, about two feet up from the grass I guessed, and I wondered if it would scare a performer more seeing people almost at eye-level.

It seemed all of Memphis was there to witness Elvis’s first major performance.

Levitt_Shell_v1

Original photography by Margarita R. Kurtz, 2013.

Feb 122013
 

Good Rockin’ Tonight

July 30, 1954

“Junior, do you want to come to the Hillbilly Hoedown tonight?” Mama asked, as we both sat at the kitchen table after lunch on a Friday afternoon.

I looked up from reading Ernest Hemingway’s newest novel, The Old Man and the Sea. “Oh, isn’t that the one Elvis will be performing at?”

“Yes, at Overton Park. Your father’s taking me. Bob Neal from the radio is putting it together. He’s been announcing it on his show all week.” Mama’s eyes lit up with excitement.

She showed me an advertisement for it in the newspaper. It read: In person: the sensational radio-recording star Slim Whitman, and underneath in smaller print, with Billy Walker, Ellis Presley and many others.

I noticed they had misspelled Elvis’s name. It seemed this hillbilly concert was going to be better than I expected, now that I knew a young guy like Elvis would be there. One dollar to see these guys and many others seemed like a good price, so I agreed to go.

“Can I invite Frankie?”

“Of course, I don’t want you to feel like a square going out with your folks. I’ll be taking the bus to the Walgreens on Main in about an hour to get the tickets.”

I phoned Frankie, my front door neighbor, and he excitedly said yes.

About a week or so after “That’s All Right” got Memphis talking about Elvis, Sun Record Company released a new song to the local stations. It got even more attention, it seemed to me. I think it’s because it is a unique remake of a famous song, the biggest hillbilly song in my opinion.

Elvis Presley’s version of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass waltz “Blue Moon of Kentucky” is more of an up-tempo blues tune. Because of my fascination with music, and recently the blues, I was able to identify the instruments on this one pretty easily – rhythm guitar, electric acoustic, and a stand-up bass. I liked the echo effect of Elvis’s voice, but mostly, I liked the guitar riffs and the bass.

This young man’s lucky turn of events inspired me. This poor Memphis kid who grew up in the Lauderdale Courts housing project was getting a lot of attention and might become famous. Made me think this could happen to anybody.

So, even though I really didn’t think much about this concert at first, which was going to be Elvis’s first public performance in front of large audience, I got more excited as the afternoon went on.

Frankie and I rode our bikes to the Arcade Restaurant for milkshakes. He was a year behind me in school, but we had the same lunchtime my first semester at school and spent time at each other’s houses, so he was my closest friend here in town.

“By the way, I saw his picture in the paper. I wasn’t going to mention it, but…” Frankie said.

“Yeah, yeah, I know.”

“In about two years, boy, you could pass for his…”

“Twin,” I finished. “I’ve actually met the guy. Ran into him a few times.”

“You know he went to our school, right? Just graduated in ’53. Lots of kids at summer school are talking ’bout him.”

“Well, if this guy becomes famous, everybody’s going to be bragging that they were friends with him and all,” I said.

“You’re probably right. Anyway, Mrs. Emmons brought in the clipping to class. She seemed proud of him. And before I walked out of class, she asked me, ‘Don’t you think he looks like your friend Edward?’ and I said yeah. Anyway, I heard the guy used to bring his guitar to school and dress sort of funny, like in shiny shirts and suit jackets, and some guys would make fun of him.”

“You sure have the scoop,” I said.

“Sure do, and since you’re too smart for summer school, I gotta fill you in.”

“He seems like a slick guy to me so I hope he’ll prove those bullies wrong.”

“Yeah…curious to see him perform. My sister and her girlfriends are also going to the show.”

“Well, we’ll have our tickets, so we’re set. Just come around 6:30. My mother wants to get there early because she loves Slim Whitman and wants to get a good seat.”

“Don’t care much for that yodeler.”

“I think he’s all right. I liked that song “North Wind” enough. Mostly, I admire that he taught himself to play guitar left-handed. You know why?”

“Nope, but I bet you do.”

“He sliced most of his finger off in an accident.”

“Gross!” Frankie grimaced as if he was in pain. “Geez, you sure do know everything about them guitarists.”

“I gotta know. I wanna be one of them.”

Slim

Slim Whitman has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Walkway of Stars in 1968. Michael Jackson cited Whitman as one of his favorite vocalists. George Harrison named Whitman as an early influence, and Paul McCartney credited a poster of Whitman with giving him the idea of playing his guitar left-handed with his guitar strung the opposite way to a right-handed player’s.
Jan 302013
 

Mama called out, “Boys, come look at this!” She spread the Memphis Press-Scimitar on the kitchen table and pointed to a picture. “Doesn’t this young man look a lot like Junior?”

Elvis was staring back at me. In the photo, he’s wearing a western-style shirt-jacket with wide lapels and a clip-on bow tie. His hair is greased and sticking up in the front.

“Wow, that’s the guy you talked to at the restaurant the other night,” Vernie said.

“You know him, Junior?” Mama asked.

“Sort of. Seen him a few times ’round town.”

Mama read the article out loud. It told about how Elvis Presley’s two songs were selling well in this area,  how the Sun Record Company was receiving big orders from places as far as Atlanta and Dallas, and that he’d be performing here in town in two days.

Then I put all the pieces together. It seems that just days after I had spotted Elvis entering that studio, Dewey Phillips, a DJ from WHBQ, played Elvis’s song over and over again during his evening show “Red, Hot and Blue.” He even interviewed him later that night. The phone lines at the station apparently got jammed up from listeners asking about the new song and its singer. I recalled Dewey going wild over a song called “That’s All Right.” He exclaimed something like, “It’s going to be a hit, de-gaw!” But I had missed him announcing the artist’s name.

People got excited about this young man pretty quickly and said things like “He’s an original. He doesn’t sound like nobody else.” and “Wow! He’s a Southern white boy who can sing rhythm and blues.”

My first summer in Memphis had been uneventful until then. It was interesting that I’d met the twin people say we’ve all got and that the guy lived in my town, or rather, I ended up in his.

At the time, of course, it seemed more exciting than a mere coincidence. I simply had no idea that it might be a great deal more than that.

 

SunStudio RecordWall.2

Here’s what those early Sun records by Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others looked like. They are all over the walls of Sun Studio.

 

More Sun Record songs by Elvis:

Lawdy, Miss Clawdy 

I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine

Tryin’ To Get To You

I Forgot To Remember To Forget

 

 

Jan 232013
 

Arcade-Logo_bw_Web

About two weeks later on a Saturday evening, Uncle Vernie and I went for dinner at The Arcade, the oldest restaurant in Memphis. Been around since 1919 a waitress told us the first time we went, and I didn’t doubt it’d be around for many years to come because of the great food it serves, and boy, them milkshakes…

“Hi there, Junior.”

I turned to my right and was surprised to see my look-alike.

“Hiya, Elvis. Good to see you.”

I introduced him to my uncle, who was also surprised by our resemblance.

“How ya been?” Elvis asked.

“Doing all right. Actually saw you a couple days after you gave me a ride. You were going into the music studio on Union Avenue.”

“Oh yeah? Why didn’t you say hey?”

“You seemed in a rush so I didn’t wanna bother you.”

“That’s all right. It wouldn’t have been no bother.”

“So, you play guitar, too?”

“I’ve been strumming since I was eleven or twelve, but I wouldn’t say I’m an expert,” Elvis admitted.

Our waitress brought our food and she said hello to Elvis. “Good evenin’, handsome. Will you be sitting at your usual booth?” she asked.

“Of course, Nancy, I’ll be right there.”

As she walked away, she called out, “We’re gonna have to put a plaque that says The Elvis Booth on it soon since you won’t sit anywhere else.”

“Well, I’d sure like that. As long as you don’t charge me rent to sit there.”

“Can’t guarantee that,” the waitress teased back.

“We realy like this place, but I guess you like it more,” I said.

Elvis laughed. “Yeah, I like to sit in the very last booth.” He pointed to the other side of the restaurant where there were several booths under windows. “Kind of away from things. Can think while I eat, you know.”

A busboy passed by and Elvis was friendly with him too.

Elvis asked me how my guitar playing was progressing and before I could answer, a male voice called out, “Hey Elvis!”

With that, Elvis excused himself and left us to our meal to join two buddies who stood at the entrance of the restaurant.

My almost-twin sure was popular at that place.

 

Outside Arcade R_Web

 The Arcade Restaurant, 540 S Main St, Memphis, TN

Arcade_sideburns_web

 A gentleman, sitting at the Elvis Presley Booth, showed off his sideburns during Elvis Week, Aug. 2012. He admitted that sometimes he wears them all year long.

 

Original photography by Margarita R. Kurtz, 2013.