Monthly Archives: March 2006

Watching Elvis in 'Walk the Line'

Although I’ve been only a modest Johnny Cash fan over the years, I am fully aware of his talent and immense contribution to American music.  So, his bio-pic “Walk The Line” was a must-see when it came out on DVD.  This is one movie you don’t want to miss.  Joaquin Phoenix did a superb job portraying Johnny Cash.  He was at least as good as Reese Witherspoon, who won an Oscar playing June Carter.


Because the careers of Elvis and Johnny Cash overlapped for a short while at Sun Records, I knew Elvis would have to be in the movie.  He was – in four different scenes — but I’m not totally happy with the way Elvis was portrayed.


The scene first occurred in 1954 when Cash was a struggling door-to-door salesman in Memphis.  He walked around a corner onto Union St. and saw two fellows unload an upright bass from their car and carry it across the street and into a small storefront.  Any Elvis fan would identify the young men as Elvis and Bill Black.  Cash looked in the window and could faintly hear music.  He walked around back, and through an open door he heard Elvis and Bill and Scotty playing “Milk Cow Blues.”  Soon Johnny Cash is back at Sun studios doing an audition for Sam Phillips.


Elvis’ next scene is at a concert in Texarkana, Texas in 1955.  Almost the whole gang from Sun Records was on the bill:  Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison.  This would have been a terrific show had it really occurred, but it never happened.  Jerry Lee’ history at Sun Records didn’t start until late 1956, and Roy Orbison came along after him.  This instance of playing loose with the truth should have sent me a warning that something worse was coming.


However, the actor playing Elvis has four lines of dialog in this scene, including “Sounded good tonight, Cash – real tight,” and “Want some chilli-fries?”  Elvis also makes two complimentary comments about June Carter, but parts of them were too mumbled to distinguish, even with repeated listens.


The movie jumps to a scene in a car, part of a tour caravan through Texas in 1956.  Johnny and June and Jerry Lee mention they are going to Tyler and that they had just played Austin.  Soon they stop in Calvert, Texas for the night, and all the fellows, including Elvis, hang around outside drinking beer.  One fellow has a baggie of something in his hand, and asks Cash if he wants some.  When Cash asks what is it, the fellow tells him, “It'll just make you want to drive all the way to Jacksonville — and enjoy yourself when you get there.”


Then comes the part that really bothers me.  The fellow tells Cash, “Elvis takes 'em,” and with that validation Cash agrees to try some.  The implication is that Johnny Cash’s downward spiral with amphetamines started because of Elvis.  This is a low blow.  Sure, Elvis had his problems with prescription drugs in the latter part of his life, but none of the references I’ve checked cite any use in 1956.  The earliest noted use of amphetamines by Elvis is as a soldier in Germany to stay awake during all-night maneuvers.  It just bugs me that the people behind the movie took such liberties with Elvis.


The last scene with Elvis in it is at a concert in Texarkana, Texas, later in 1956.  This time we get to see Elvis perform.  However, part way through the song, the camera shifts to backstage action by Johnny Cash.  While Cash has his first dalliances with groupies, we hear Elvis singing “That’s All Right.”  Is that a coincidence, or is the movie giving subliminal validation by Elvis for more bad behavior? 


It spite of these quibbles, I thought “Walk The Line” was a wonderful movie with superb acting.  At its core it is a love story with a happy ending.  Without June Carter, we would have lost Johnny Cash a lot earlier and America would have missed a lot of great music.


©  2006   Philip R Arnold


Elvis International magazine has a section called “Elvis Is Everywhere,” and it is filled with little articles sent in by the readers.  Collectively, these stories show how deeply Elvis is woven into the fabric of our culture.  Even non-fans would have to admit you don’t need to look very hard to find references to Elvis all around us.


My most recent experience with this phenomenon came last weekend at a show put on by the Black Watch Pipe and Drum Corps.  This is the marching band of one of the most storied military units in the history of Great Britain.  Two-dozen men, dressed in kilts and all their other regalia, performed about twenty songs with only bagpipes and drums, and it was wonderful.


Believe it or not, as the Black Watch marched out of the arena at the end of the program’s first half, they played an Elvis song.  No, it wasn’t “Jailhouse Rock,” “All Shook Up,” or anything like that; it was “Wooden Heart.”  I knew I’d have to do some research on this when I got home, and here’s what I found.


The Black Watch’s history of playing the melody goes back many years before Elvis ever recorded the song.  It is a traditional German folk song of unknown origin.  In 1960, it was adapted for Elvis to sing in the movie GI Blues, which is set in Germany.  From that point on, the facts about “Wooden Heart” could provide a lot of questions in an Elvis trivia contest.


For example:  What Elvis song went to #1 in England in 1960, but didn’t get released in America until three years later?  For some reason, RCA decided to release “Wooden Heart” as a single in England two months after the movie premiered, but not in the USA.  Sounds like a dumb move to me.


Here’s another good trivia question:  What Elvis song was covered by Joe Dowell in 1961 and reached #1 on the charts for him?  While RCA sat on “Wooden Heart,” Shelby Singleton, the savvy owner of Smash Records, released a single of the song by unknown Joe Dowell, and it sold a million copies.


And another question:  What 1964 Elvis single reached only #107 in America, but sold over a million copies in West Germany?  I guess the combination of Elvis and a beloved national folk song was a winner over there.


“Wooden Heart” is an Elvis trivia-lovers goldmine, providing these additional questions:

            What Elvis song featured a tuba and accordion?

            What Elvis song contains eight lines of the lyrics in German?

            What Elvis song had the re-release of Blue Christmas on the

            flip side?


And now, I have my own personal “Wooden Heart” trivia question:

What Elvis song does the famous Black Watch band perform on bagpipes all over the world?


Elvis really is everywhere.


©  2006   Philip R Arnold


This is not a primarily a news site, but it looks like the Elvisblog article on February 12 did indeed contain a “scoop.”  It reported the inside skinny that Robert Sillerman, new owner of 85 % of EPE, had purchased two blocks of property on the Las Vegas strip between The Harley Davidson Restaurant/Store and the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino.  This nugget of news came from the driver of courtesy bus for Elvis-A-Rama, which had also been purchased Mr. Sillerman (who plans to close it on August 15, 2006).


According to the bus driver, this land would ultimately be the home of a spectacular Elvis-themed attraction.  Now, all of this has been confirmed in a March 3 article in the New York Times.  According to reporter Julie Bosman, Sillerman’s company CKX Inc. “will open an interactive exhibit and Elvis-themed cabaret show on one of the two pieces of property on the Las Vegas strip.” 


Mr. Sillerman declined to say whether a hotel and casino would be added.  Let’s get serious.  What else would you think the second piece of property is for? 


©  2006   Philip R Arnold 



By the time this article is posted on Elvisblog, it will have been a week since Charlie Hodge died at age 71.  So, it’s likely all you readers have already accessed the big Elvis websites to read about the passing of one of Elvis’ best buddies.  They have done a good job of celebrating the life of this interesting and talented man, so that won’t be duplicated here.  It’s just a sad fact that another Elvis friend has joined him in heaven, and there will be more as the years go by. 


The only thing I can add on this occasion is a personal story that relates to Charlie Hodge’s main claim to fame.  In spite of his full life and many accomplishments, Charlie will forever be remembered as the man who put scarves around Elvis’ neck during concerts, so Elvis could pull them off and give them to the ladies in the audience.  Watch any of the Elvis concert DVD’s again, and you will clearly spot Charlie doing the scarf thing.


Back in 2002, during Elvis Week in Memphis, six lovely ladies from Ontario adopted me.  We all worked as volunteer ticket takers and ushers at three concerts presented by Darwin Lamm, publisher of Elvis International magazine.  After the shows we went out on Beale Street and drank and danced and had a bunch of fun together.  The six girls also adopted a pretty singer from Japan named Kathy Osawa.  She had a singing career back home and had occasionally performed in Japan and Canada as an Elvis tribute artist.  Kathy was in Memphis to scope it out for future performance opportunities, and she hung out with our group.


The next year, Kathy and I and our six friends reconnected at the Collingwood Elvis Festival in Ontario.  Kathy was there to perform in the competition (Professional Category), and to entertain at one of the outdoor beer gardens.  I volunteered to be sort of a roadie and carry all her stuff to the venues, but Kathy had one more job for me.


Before she went on stage at the beer garden, she brought out a bundle of scarves and explained that she needed me to come on stage during her closing number and drape them over her neck one-by-one.  It was kind of fun, and the men in the audience were more that happy to come up to the stage and get a scarf from Kathy (but no kisses – she kept on singing).


Later, as I returned to our group’s table, a girl I had met at an impromptu party in our motel parking lot spoke to me.  She said, “I saw you up there doing the Charlie Hodge thing.”


Well, I’m proud I could be like Charlie Hodge for just a few minutes.  Elvisworld has lost one of its most unique members.


©  2006   Philip R Arnold

Elvis' Best Album

2006 is the 50th anniversary of many things in Elvis’ history: his first hit song, his first TV appearance, his first album, his first movie.  It’s also the 30th anniversary of his best album, at least in the opinion of most music critics.  Can you name it?


Well, the year was 1976, so what came out then?  If you remembered Moody Blue, that’s a good guess, but wrong.  It may be his most unusual because of the blue vinyl, but it’s not his best.


Perhaps you are thinking Elvis’ best album should be Blue Hawaii, because it was certainly his best seller (over 5 million copies — and it stayed #1 on the charts for twenty straight weeks).  Or maybe it should be his first LP, Elvis Presley, which was the first rock & roll album to reach #1, and it completely changed the buying habits of America’s teenagers (who previously bought only 45’s, not long-play albums).  No, that’s not it either, according to most print and Internet music critics.


They say Elvis’ greatest album is The Sun Sessions.  Now you’re thinking, “You mean Elvis’ recordings at Sun Studios weren’t released on an album until twenty years after they were recorded?”  Strange, but true.  Here’s another strange fact.  The Sun Sessions was not released on CD until 1999, about fifteen years after compact discs took over as the dominant musical format.


So, who says The Sun Sessions are Elvis’ greatest album?  The most recent was Rolling Stone magazine in their list of the “500 Greatest Rock & Roll Albums.”  Overall, they treated Elvis’ albums rather poorly, but they did pick The Sun Sessions as #11.  They printed a mini-review after each selection, and this is what they had to say, “Bridging black and white, country and blues, his sound was revolutionary… In a tiny Memphis studio in 1954 and 1955, Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley created rock & roll.”


Three years ago, VH1 had a similar poll called “The Top 100 Albums of Rock & Roll,” and they declared The Sun Sessions the 21st best ever.  Elvis Presley had Elvis’ next highest album ranking on the Rolling Stone list, coming in at #55.  However, it did not make the VH1 list at all.  That’s no surprise.  Not one album from the 50’s made the list.  Not Here’s Little Richard.  Not The Buddy Holly Story.  Ridiculous.


Here’s one more interesting piece of trivia about The Sun Sessions.  According to Rolling Stone, it reached only #76 on the charts the year it was released, and total sales after 26 years are up to only 346,781.  However, if significant critical reviews keep praising it, The Sun Sessions should continue to sell for many decades into the future.  For my money, it’s not just the historical significance that makes it a must-have.  It’s a fun CD.  With the exception of two wimpy ballads on it (which I program the player to skip), The Sun Sessions is a delightful collection of fun, rockabilly music.  It gets plenty of play at my house.


©  2006   Philip R Arnold