Friday, 19 August 2011


ELVIS and the Memphis Mafia
by Alanna Nash with Billy Smith, Marty Lacker and Lamar Fike

Elvis Presley. Elvis Aaron Presley or is it Elvis Aron Presley? We’ll get to that later. Elvis is one of the top flights of cultural icons of the 20th Century that is instantly recognised by their first name alone. When someone says ‘Elvis’ you don’t think “oh yeah…Costello”, well unless you’re one of the .01% I suppose. There have been millions of words written about Elvis and sometimes you want to just let it be and let the music speak for itself. Although this is easier said than done with someone so interesting and yet so flawed it is hard to sit through a whole track without muttering a story or two to the person next to you… “I heard when this was made…blah, blah, blah”. After all the stories are now legend, part truth, part myth with a hell of a lot of pills, both legal and otherwise, thrown into the mix. The book I’ve finished reading here is ‘Elvis and The Memphis Mafia’, a book that has been put together and collaborated by three of Elvis’ closest friends in his entourage. The debate whether they were true friends with his best interest at heart or whether they were simply paid employees that looked to milk the golden cow dry, turning a blind eye to their employers path of self destruction and bad behaviour, but that’s one for their own consciences I guess.

Reading through the book, through the years and chapters it seems ironic that Elvis’ whole career was started when he recorded the song ‘My Happiness’ as a present for his dearly beloved Mother Gladys. Happiness seemed to be the one thing that he could never get, even with all the money, fans, adulation and many, many women on his arms. Boredom seemed to explain a lot of Elvis’ problems. It all came too easy to him. From the moment he opened his mouth in August 1953 to record his mother’s gift in Sun Studios to his final concert shortly before his worked. The voice that came out didn’t need hours of training, running scales, practicing breathing techniques, the sort of thing every artist and professional singer does as a matter of daily duty, this type of requirement doesn’t mean a thing when you’re Elvis Presley. You were firing on 10, 24/7. So what do you do to fill the gaps between studio dates, concerts and dodgy movies? Drugs and lots of em’. His dependencies lead to more than a few trips to the emergency room for ‘exhaustion’ when in fact it was detoxification. An average day (if you can call any day ‘average’) started with pills to wake him up, then it was another 2 doses/packets throughout the day, pills to calm him down, to boost his mood, muscle relaxants, pills to curb his appetite, pills to get him on stage, pills to help his weight, injections to calm him down after a show, pills to help him sleep. It is said that during the autopsy when then pumped his stomach the amount of pills that fell out into the pan sounded “like gravel”. His personal physician Dr. Nichopoulos (Dr. Nick, Simpsons fans) prescribed in 1975 1,296 amphetamines, 1,891 sedatives, and 910 narcotics. This was upped in 76’ to 2,372 amphetamines, 2,680 sedatives, and 1,059 narcotics. In his final year, 1977 he was personally prescribed 1,790 amphetamines, 4,996 sedatives, and 2,019 narcotics. It’s amazing to think that in 1970 he was made a ‘Federal Agent at Large’ for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (and given an official badge) by non other than President Richard Nixon (in an attempt to improve his own image to ‘the kids’). In return for this Elvis himself, blamed the rise in the drug culture of America and anti-war activism straight at the front door of four of his biggest fans. The Beatles. All you need is love…

Hindsight is wonderful for those who have lived through the dark times and can sit back and write a book that they know will sell due to the subject matter. However, reading between the lines the amusing anecdotes combined with old style dark Gothic and the greedy southern family members (sometimes swinging meat cleavers), you have a group of people that hung around with Elvis hoping some of the magic would rub off on them and they too would be the king, if only by association. Nobody had the balls to stand up and say the truth, the reason? Simple, they would have been fired, kicked out the club, possibly reinstated a month or so later but then told never to mention it again. Elvis was his own man, did what he wanted and had yes men and yes women around him from the age of 18, do you think at 40 he was about to start taking orders from people? He spent money like a tap running (fuelling his private jet so he could fly across the country for a sandwich is a great example) and although he made it back just as quickly thanks to constant touring and promotion, it never seemed to be enough.

Thanks to his ‘personal manager’ The Colonel (Tom Parker) the manager/artist split was hardly conventional or indeed ethical, in fact Parker was taking anything from 10 to 50 percent of Elvis’ earnings by the time of his death, as well as taking percentages from every other aspect of his earnings i.e. music royalties, movie appearances etc.

Elvis wasn’t a business man by any stretch of the imagination but one feels if he had taken even a passing interest in it, he could have been making a lot more for himself (if he’d bothered reading half the contacts he blindly signed). It has been said that in some cases Parker was earning more money per song than Elvis due to various shady business deals and backroom cash in brown envelopes i.e. sweeteners and perks to make sure Parker made the deal. It is reported that Tom Parker had a massive gambling addiction and would run up massive debts in Vegas, only bailing himself out by promising ‘another run of shows by Elvis’ to cover the debts being called in (mostly without Elvis’ knowledge or permission). This was another of Elvis’ shortcomings, his trust in people within an industry that is probably only second to boxing, for its backstabbing and low down dirty foul play regarding money and payment for the artists/acts being exploited. The quote by The Colonel to Elvis to explain their relationship “you take care of the music and I’ll take care of the business” was used until the last days.

A great read, a sad read and sometimes laugh out loud funny. A Greek tragedy in every sense about a complicated person who made it to the top of mount Olympus only to realise he could see everyone below having more fun with their normal lives. A prisoner of his own fame and a victim of good intentions and underhand doctors looking to pamper him and make sure the invoices kept rolling in.

Look past the white jumpsuits and dodgy karate moves, Elvis is the King of Rock and Roll, and like all kings in history was betrayed by those closest to him and finally by himself.

Favourite Elvis songs

20 Days, 20 Nights
Love Me
Burning Love
Viva Las Vegas
Are You Lonesome Tonight?
Can’t Help Falling in Love
American Trilogy
Suspicious Minds
(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame
If I Can Dream

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