Elvis, The King Of Rock ‘N Roll, would have turned 77 on Sunday. Back in 1977, after a series of declining health issues, he collapsed in his bathroom of his Graceland mansion at the age of 42, and died. Some reports claim that his young daughter, Lisa Marie, was the first to find her father collapsed and alerted the other family members and staff.
First signed to Sun Records in 1953, record producer Sam Phillips claims that he never for one minute regretted selling the contract of Elvis to RCA Records because it gave him a cash windfall that allowed him to produce many other acts such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, that he made a lot of money on. But, RCA sure made a huge windfall off of Elvis who had far more hit singles than The Beatles by far. Elvis was a huge success on early TV such as THE MILTON BERLE SHOW and ED SULLIVAN as well, where censors only would film him from the waist up because they thought that his dancing was far too sexually suggestive. But, nonetheless, Elvis quickly became a huge sensation.
His good looks and ability to act, quickly loaned himself to a number of films as well TV specials, including his great special from Hawaii and his 1968 comeback special when he appeared in black leather, singing many of his old hard rock hits. In 1972, his single “Burning Love” was also a return to his hard rock days, and was a #2 hit on the charts. One of his last bigger hits from 1976, “Way Down,” hearkened back to his old pioneeering 50’s hard rock sound as well. Elvis was both a master of the ballad as well as the old 50’s version of hard rock. He was also one of the most soulful white singers of all time. At times, songs like “In The Ghetto” were able to a hit on the Soul, Pop and Country music charts all at the same time, an unprecedented achievement for any white performer. Elvis was that special.
Elvis had a total of 102 singles, 30 EPs and 70 albums on the RCA label alone along with a few more singles on Sun and several albums on the economy label Pickwick during his lifetime, as well as many more releases of additional material after his death.
What made Elvis such a musical revolution was how he would change music forever. Bill Haley was generally considered to be the first rock music act, however Elvis invented a new style that borrowed heavily from both his Southern background, combining country music with black R&B sounds. It created a new hard driving sound that many others such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard soon adopted as a style as well. For all intents and purposes, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard all helped to found the new hard rock sound and laid down the foundation blocks of the new sound basis for newer generations of future hard rockers. The British blues rock group, Ten Years After, took their name from Elvis, meaning ten years after Elvis. Elvis made it cool for the new white rockers to use a heavy black R&B influenced sound in their music. While The Beatles did a little Chuck Berry in the early days, as did many other early British rockers, The Rolling Stones were always much more of a R&B influenced sound act. And some early acts such as The Animals had a very soulful sound thanks to the excellent talents of Eric Burden on vocals. Dusty Springfield was often called a white soul singer because of her style. One early song by Steppenwolf, “Sookie, Sookie” was played on some black radio stations for a few days until the programmers realized that this white blues influenced hard rock act was’t black after all. Some white acts sounded just that soulful, mainly because of the influence of Elvis.
Elvis probably also greatly helped to advance the civil rights movement as well. He helped to break down the walls between white and black music. And he helped to make it cool to play black acts on stations that formerly played only white music. He broke down race barriers, along with musical ones. He might have had a lot of problems with declining health and heavy use of prescription drugs in his final years, but he was a religious and decent man much of his life. He even took time away from his career in music to serve in the military as well when Uncle Sam called. He was a true Southern gentleman much of his life. But sadly, both Elvis and Michael Jackson’s health declines and ultimate deaths were similar in many ways. Both had doctors who heavily prescribed drugs. It was once said that Elvis needed drugs to get to bed, and to get out of bed. It was so tragic.
Elvis does leave us with his this great musical legacy. A true gift.