From: 68th Birthday Issue, January 2003
(When It Comes To Elvis Week concerts, Nobody Can Assemble Musical Friends of Elvis Like Publisher And Concert Promoter Darwin Lamm)
by Phil Arnold
The man at the head of this fine magazine is too modest to toot his own horn, so I will do it for him. It’s hard to imagine the 25th Anniversary celebration in Memphis without the concerts presented by Darwin Lamm – and the incredible list of people from Elvis’ past Darwin gathered together at these events. Elvis International, The Magazine sponsored three major concerts on August 13, 14, and 17, 2002.
First up was “The Legends” concert featuring Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana, and The Jordanaires. The fans packed the grand ballroom of the downtown Peabody Hotel, and they were treated to a night of outstanding music. You could feel the love and admiration of the crowd for these two pioneers of Rock ‘n Roll. DJ has played drums behind dozens of notable singers in Nashville for decades, but Scotty once went for 28 years without performing on stage. Fortunately, Darwin was able to coax him to play at this big event. Those familiar, classic guitar licks didn’t sound one bit rusty. Scotty was back in the groove.
Of course, it takes more than two musicians to make a band, so Darwin also presented a talented group of men who played on various Elvis recording sessions in the 50’s, 60’s, and the 70’s. On bass was Bob Moore, who played on 28 of Elvis’ sessions following the departure of Bill Black in 1958. Bob also wrote the theme song for the hit TV show “My Three Sons.” On keyboards was David Briggs, who played at eight of Elvis’ recording sessions and several live concerts. Second drummer duties were handled admirably by Buddy Harman, a studio musician who performed on nine Elvis movie soundtracks. Buddy’s career also included drum work with the Everly Brothers and the Johhny Burnrtte Trio.
Special guest treatment at the “Legends” concert was afforded to the only man ever to perform a saxophone solo on an Elvis hit – Boots Randolph. Boots, a hit maker in his own right, performed on twenty-one Elvis recording sessions in Nashville.
Of course, all these great musicians couldn’t put on a concert without somebody singing, and here Darwin scored big. The evening started with Lee Rocker, former bass player for the rockabilly band “The Stray Cats.” Lee pounded on a big old upright bass and did a great job on the vocals of almost every song Elvis recorded at Sun records. It was a great start for a long evening of favorite old songs.
Next up was Billy Swan, another rockabilly singer of note. Billy blended well with Scotty Moore, playing rhythm guitar the entire evening, but he shined when he took the mike to sing many Elvis songs from the 60’s. Billy had a hit in 1974 called “Let Me Help,” which Elvis later recorded. Billy also wrote the Clyde McPhatter hit “Lover Please” when he was just 16 years old.
During Billy Swan’s set, back-up singers of the first order were added. The Jordinaires treated the fans to their beloved harmonies on several songs that just wouldn’t seem the same without them. Fan favorite, Gordon Stoker, has been with the group since it first recorded with Elvis in 1956, and Ray Walker has been on-board since 1958. Joining the Jordinaires, as she did many times in the past, was Millie Kirkham. Millie sang back-up on Elvis recordings and in live performances for fifteen years starting in 1957.
Next up as lead singer was Stan Perkins, son of the legendary performer Carl Perkins, and a heck of a talent in his own right. Carl had been a regular fixture at the Good Rockin’ Tonight concerts Darwin Lamm presented at past Elvis Weeks, and Stan should be welcome at any future shows. His far-too-short set included three of his dad’s hits, and he really had the crowd hopping. Of special interest was his performance of a song containing only the names of Elvis songs as lyrics.
Believe it or not, there was even more talent to come. The final set gave the audience a taste of the next night’s main attraction, Eddie Miles. Eddie is without a doubt one of the very best Elvis tribute artists, and he did a few of the King’s hits from the 70’s to end the show.
SALUTE TO ELVIS
The fans walked away from “The Legends” happily extolling it as on of the most fun concerts they had ever attended. Many of these same folks were back in the audience at the Peabody the next night for Darwin second spectacular concert, “Salute To Elvis.”
This time, Eddie Miles headlined and proved why he has such a national following. All tribute artists have the costumes and the hair, and they sound like Elvis. But no one looks more like the King than Eddie Miles. More than that, he has a smile that connects with the audience. You just want to like this guy.
Backed by his own band, Eddie turned in superb performances on dozens of songs, especially those from the jump-suit years. However, Darwin gave the audience more, adding many additional faces to the normal Eddie Miles road show.
MC duties were handled for the second night in a row by Red Robinson, generally regarded as the first Canadian disc jockey to play Elvis recordings on the air. Robinson’s famous interview of Elvis on August 31, 1957 in Vancouver, BC is included in his narration of his concept album “Elvis – A Canadian Tribute,” featuring songs written by Canadian composers.
For most of the night, Eddie Miles also had the benefit of background singers with strong Elvis connections. Ed Enoch and The Golden Covenant, former members of JD Sumner and The Stamps, did a great job on many of the songs they helped Elvis record from 1972 to 1977 JD was missed, but Ed and the boys carried on in the Stamps tradition and added much to the feel of a live Elvis concert.
So too did Myrna Smith, another veteran of the 70’s touring years. Along with two other fine ladies, she provided the familiar female backing sound so generic to the ‘Vegas’ sound of Elvis’ later music.
The band and singers took short breaks when Darwin brought out two old Elvis buddies. Joe Esposito almost needed no introduction for Elvis fans, but he got one anyway: Army buddy, road manager, best man, and dear friend. He certainly is one of the fan’s favorites. Joe can go on for hours with Elvis stories, but time was short.
The other old buddy, Charlie Hodge, talked about Elvis, and he also sang harmony with Eddie Miles on two songs. Charlie is famous for handing Elvis his water and scarves on stage, but he did much more than that. Charlie was a guitarist and singer who recorded two duets with Elvis and complemented his vocals on stage. Charlie became an Elvis buddy in 1956, served with him in the Army in Germany, and lived at Graceland for seventeen years, supervising many musical and personal aspects of Elvis’ life.
When Eddie Miles sang the last song, the audience knew they had indeed seen a fitting 25th Anniversary Tribute concert. Darwin Lamm had presented a second night of great Elvis music — but more was to come.
THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY FAREWELL TRIBUTE
The fans had to wait three nights for the third and last of the Elvis International trilogy. After a fitting pause in deference to the midnight vigil on Thursday night and the huge 25th Anniversary presentation of “Elvis – The Concert” on Friday, August 16th, Darwin blew it out the following night. For the fans still in Memphis on Saturday night, August 17th, this was indeed the “Farewell Tribute Concert.”
The grand ballroom of the Peabody Hotel was crammed with wall-to-wall people, all anticipating a bang-up performance by the famous TCB band. They certainly were not disappointed. All four men were at the top of their game.
James Burton of course anchored the group as lead guitar player. James was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, joining Scotty Moore as the second Elvis Presley guitar player to be honored in the relatively new Sideman category. He was a member of the Louisiana Hayride house band in the mid-fifties and was requited for Ricky Nelson’s band in 1958. For the next eight years James recorded and performed with Nelson, including appearances in all the closing musical segments of the Ozzie and Harriet TV show. When Elvis asked James to form a new band, he professed watching the show every week to see him play. James organized the TCB band and toured and recorded with Elvis from 1969 to 1977.
Playing bass was Jerry Scheff, another original member of the TCB Band. Jerry’s association with Elvis goes back to 1966 when he played on the “Easy Come, Easy Go” soundtrack recording session. During the concert Jerry related a number of charming Elvis stories to the fans. We learned how he composed the song “The Fire Down Below” about Elvis’ determination to conquer his problems and get back to good health. Jerry is convinced to this day that Elvis was going to do it, but the tragedy of August 16, 1977 came first. Elvis had planned to record the song, but never got the chance.
Pounding out the ivories on the piano was Glen D. Hardin, a TCB member from 1970 on. Prior to his time with Elvis, Glen performed with the post-Buddy Holly Crickets, and subsequently performed in Emmylou Harris’ traveling band.
Providing the rhythm behind these bandmates was drummer Ronnie Tutt. Ronnie looked great, obviously recovered from the heart bypass surgery he underwent in 1999. After his seven years in the TCB Band, Ronnie backed Neil Diamond on tour for almost 20 years and recorded or performed with dozens of rock and country acts.
With a group of musicians this talented, Darwin had to come up with an equally great singer, and he did. Terry Mike Jeffrey is a renowned performer who has taken his show all over the country and numerous foreign countries during the past twenty years. His repertoire of songs is huge, but he specializes in Elvis material. In fact, Terry Mike has released three albums of Elvis songs.
Unlike Elvis tribute artists, Terry Mike performs without the jumpsuits, black hair and sideburns, and he makes no attempt to sound just like Elvis. But he can do a bang-up job singing the songs.
The show opened with the Terry Mike Jeffrey Band, including his wife and son. One notable substitution was DJ Fontana on drums for the first few songs. When DJ left to catch a plane, he got a rousing send-off from the appreciating crowd.
A short time late, Red Robinson introduced the TCB Band, and things got hot. Terry Mike handled the singing duties alone for while, but soon a cast of Elvis friends joined the action. Charlie Hodge was back to sing a few duets and tell stories..
Fan favorite Joe Esposito enlivened the proceedings on stage for a while, and there were two especially poignant moments. After being too ill to appear at the earlier shows, Sam Phillips came out this night to thunderous applause. Sam looked great in a spiffy white suit, and he delivered inspiring, but all too short remarks.
Darwin came up with something of a surprise for the audience with guest singer John Wilkinson. Best known as the TCB rhythm guitar player, John and James Burton were the only two musicians in every one of the bands performances with Elvis. Before that, John enjoyed a solo singing career and occasional fill-in duty with the Kingston Trio on tour. When Elvis turned the stage spotlight over to his bandmates, he had John sing the hit “Early Morning Rain.” In 1989 John suffered a severe stroke, ending his guitar playing days. But he did a great job singing at the Farewell Tribute concert.
To end the evening Darwin called on the legendary Al Dorvin to proclaim his famous words, “Elvis has left the building.” As the fans left the building, they knew they had witnessed an historic concert. If they had attended all three of Darwin Lamm’s productions, they had to be impressed with the wealth of talent he had assembled. It is doubtful that as many musical friends of Elvis will ever be together again, but if anybody can do it, Darwin will.
© 2003 Philip R Arnold