Music News

Happy Birthday, Elvis Presley!

Simply stated, Elvis Aaron Presley was the greatest rock star of all time. He was also the first artist that could be considered a legitimate, mass appeal star when it came to the realms of rock 'n' roll. He set the standard all those that followed aspired too; everyone from the Beatles to Bob Dylan to Michael Jackson plotted to be as big as Elvis when imagining their own career goals. Sinatra notwithstanding, he was the first teen idol of the modern era, and for all those pretender that have come all since, it's likely there will never be another like him.

Elvis did it first. 

Born January 8, 1935, he was still a relatively young man when he died August 16, 1977, perched on the toilet, done in by an unholy combination of drugs, disease and a life of excess. Years later, Hendrix, Joplin, Jim Morrison and Michael Jackson would succumb to their own vices, but Elvis still set the standard when it comes to rock star excess. Despite all his accomplishments -- putting a single name stamp on the marquee, bringing Black music to the White masses, recording some of the greatest songs of all time, patenting a rock god presence, putting his stamp on popular culture, crowning himself as the once and future king of rock 'n' roll -- its likely the quirkier aspects of his persona will always remain a part of his massive and eternal legend.

Here then are some of the lesser known -- and more curious facts -- about Elvis's career: 

* Elvis was a black belt in karate, a skill he took up during his stint in the army in 1958. Speaking of which, how many other rock stars actually joined the army? John Lennon's portrayal of Private Gripweed in the 1966 film How I Won the War can't be included. 

* Despite his later partiality for prescription drugs, in December 1970, Elvis journeyed to the White House to ask then-president Nixon to make him a Federal Agent at Large in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Nixon presented him with his own special agent badge. 

* Presley had a posse way before the rapper crowd came along. His entourage was known as the Memphis Mafia and they sported diamond rings that were inscribed with a thunderbolt and the letters "TCB" - "Taking Care of Business." Part of their reward came in the form of Cadillacs which Elvis tended to give as gifts to his faithful. 

* In a sense, Elvis prefigured MTV by making movies that often served as little more than an excuse for him to sing onscreen. Nevertheless, the remarkable choreography that highlighted Jailhouse Rock set the standard when it came to the future of music videos. 

* If Elvis got pissed off at what he saw on television, he's shoot out his TV screen.

* Elvis's first public performance was at the Mississippi-Alabama competition Fair and Dairy Show while he was still a youngster. Dressed as a cowboy, he had to stand on a chair to reach the microphone. His performance of "Old Shep" by country singer Red Foley earned him second prize.

* Presley was the ultimate cover artist. He recorded over 600 songs and never wrote one of them.
* Elvis was blond up until his late teens. 

* For two years, Elvis ate only meat loaf, tomatoes, and mashed potato. However, all through his life, his eating habits were rather extravagant. He once told a magazine that he could demolish eight deluxe cheeseburgers, two bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches and three milkshakes in a single sitting. No wonder he blew up like a blimp. Later on he enjoyed a more modest peanut butter and banana sandwich. 

* Elvis had a twin - Jesse Garon Presley - who died at birth. 

* During his entire lifetime, Elvis performed only five concerts outside the U.S. - and all were in Canada. Despite his massive influence with the future English rockers, he only time he set foot on English soil was when he was in the military and his plane had a two hour stopover in Scotland on his way back from his base in Germany to the U.S. 

* Elvis received three Grammy Awards - but only for his Gospel recordings. 

* The last film Elvis saw at a movie theater - which he would typically rent out late at night for him and his pals -- was The Spy Who Loved Me. However, the day before he died, he had tried to get a print of Star Wars: Episode IV to show his daughter, Lisa Marie. 

* Michael Jackson wasn't the first artist to have a pet chimp. In the early '60s Elvis adopted a chimpanzee called Scatter. Elvos was particularly fond of Scatter's penchant for looking up women's skirts. 

* Elvis initiated rock star style with his tight pants and gold lamé jacket. All the more reason to forgive him for his later garb, consisting of jumpsuits, broad belts and mini capes. 

* In 1954, while cutting some early records at Sun Studios, he auditioned for an amateur gospel quartet called the Songfellows but was turned down. 

* Although he was known for his lascivious hip thrusts and twitching pelvis - Ed Sullivan famously ordered his shot from the waist up so as not to expose America's young people to the action taking place in his nether regions -- his stage stance actually developed by accident. During one of his first shows in Memphis in 1954, he was reportedly so nervous that his legs started to shake. The girls in the audience went wild, and Elvis decided to incorporate his shaky legs routine into future shows. 

* Elvis had a brief fling with actress Ann-Margaret who he met on the set of the film Viva Las Vegas. Every time she open in Las Vegas, Elvis would sent her a flower arrangement in the shape of a guitar. 

* Elvis a direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln's great-great grandfather, Isaiah Harrison, and also a distant cousin of President Jimmy Carter. 

* Elvis famously entertained other show business royalty. His meeting with the Beatles was an awkward affair, but supposed produced a brief jam session at the same time. When Led Zeppelin met him in 1973, he swapped his $5,000 diamond ring for bassist John Paul Jones' Mickey Mouse watch. In 1973, Elvis gave Muhammad Ali a $10,000 white robe with the words "People's Champion" emblazoned across the back, but after Ken Norton busted Ali's jaw during their initial encounter, he never wore it again. 

* Elvis himself wore a cross, the Hebrew letter chai, and a Star of David around his neck. "I don't want to miss out on heaven due to a technicality," he explained. 

* Perhaps he didn't need to worry quite so soon. Even now, some 35 years later, the rumor persists that Elvis didn't really die, but rather he just went into hiding. A new DVD entitled Elvis Found Alive details the entire controversy. Elvis fans can take heart; now known as Federal Agent Jon Burrows, he lives in Simi Valley California, and it's the Obama administration that's preventing him from going public. Take note, future Republican nominee -- there's another charge you can level at our current president.

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Lee Zimmerman