Johnny Cash Over Elvis

Hier onder vindt u de bevindingen van Johnny Cash wat betreft de beginperiode van Elvis. De tekst is op ons verzoek geselecteerd door Robin Stevens, wie een ook voor Elvis fans zeer interessant stuk heeft weten te vinden…

There were a lot of white people listening to "race music" behind closed doors. Of course, some of them (some of us) were quite open about it, most famously Elvis.

Elvis was already making noise in Memphis when I got there in '54. Sam Phillips had released his first single, "That's All Right, Mama," with "Blue Moon of Kentucky" on the "B" side, and it was tearing up the airwaves. The first time I saw Elvis, singing from a flatbed truck at a Katz drugstore opening on Lamar Avenue, two or three hundred people, mostly teenage girls, had come out to see him. With just one single to his credit, he sang those two songs over and over. That's the first time I met him. Vivian and I went up to him after the show, and he invited us to his next date at the Eagle's Nest, a club promoted by Sleepy-Eyed John, the disc jockey who'd taken his name from the Merle Travis song and was just as important as Dewey Phillips in getting Sun music out to the world.

Sleepy-Eyed John didn't like Sam Phillips, though, so while he'd always put Sun singles on the air, usually he'd preface them with some disparaging remark: "Here's another Sam Phillips sixty-cyclehum record," or "This record don't belong on here, but you people asked for it- which was a sorry thing for you to do- so here it is."

I remember Elvis's show at the Eagle's Nest as if were yesterday. The date was a blunder, because the place was an adult club where teenagers weren't welcome, and so Vivian and I were two of only a dozen or so patrons, fifteen at the most. All the same, I thought Elvis was great. He sang "That's All Right, Mama" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky" once again (and again) plus some black blues songs and a few numbers like "Long Tall Sally," and he didn't say much. He didn't have to, of course; his charisma alone kept everyone's attention. The thing I really noticed that night, though, was his guitar playing. Elvis was a fabulous rhythm player. He'd start into "That's All Right, Mama" with his own guitar alone, and you didn't want to hear anything else. I didn't anyway. I was disappointed when Scotty Moore and Bill Black jumped in and covered him up. Not that Scotty and Bill weren't perfect for him- the way he sounded with them that night was what I think of as seminal Presley, the sound I missed through all the years after he became so popular and made records full of orchestration and overproduction. I loved that clean, simple combination of Scotty, Bill, and Elvis with his acoustic guitar. You know, I've never heard or read anyone else praising Elvis as a rhythm guitar player, and after the Sun days I never heard his own guitar on his records.

That night at the Eagle's Nest, I remember, he was playing a Martin and he was dressed in the latest teen fashion. I think his shirt came from the National Shirt Shop, where you could get something loud and flashy or something in a good rich black for $3.98 (I did), but perhaps by then he'd started shopping at Lansky Brothers on Beale Street. If he hadn't, it wasn't long before he did. I was in there myself two or three times in '55 and '56.

Elvis and I talked about music, but I never spoke to him about Sun Records or any other connection into the music business. I wanted to make it on my own devices, and that's how I set about doing it.

The "blacklist" didn't scare me, by the way. I never gave it a second thought. I didn't have to worry about it anyway- I was country, not rock 'n roll. No free Cadillac's, but no outraged guardians of public morality either. Elvis certainly took a lot of abuse from that crowd. He had his problems with gossip, too, and rumour and lies. He was very sensitive, easily hurt by the stories people told about him being on dope and so on. I myself couldn't understand why people wanted to say that back in the '50s, because in those days he was the last person on earth who needed dope. He had such a high energy level that it seemed he never stopped- though maybe that's why they said he was on dope.

Either way, he wasn't, or at least I never saw any evidence of it. I never saw him use any kind of drug, or even alcohol; he was always clear-headed around me, and very pleasant. Elvis was such a nice guy, and so talented and charismatic- he had it all- that some people just couldn't handle it and reacted with jealousy. It's only human, I suppose, but it's sad.

He and I liked each other, but we weren't that tight- I was older than he was, for one thing, and married, for another- and we weren't close at all in his later years. I took the hint when he closed his world around him; I didn't try to invade his privacy. I'm so glad I didn't, either, because so many of his old friends were embarrassed so badly when they were turned away at Graceland. In the '60s and '70s he and I chatted on the phone a couple of times and swapped notes now and again. If he were closing at the Las Vegas Hilton as I was getting ready to open, he'd wish me luck, that kind of thing- but that was about the extent of it.

I've heard it said that here at the end of the century, we all have our own Elvis, and I can appreciate that idea, even though my Elvis was my friend, flesh and blood in real life. Certainly, though, my Elvis wat the Elvis of the '50s. He was a kid when I worked with him. He was nineteen years old, and he loved cheeseburgers, girls, and his mother, not necessarily in that order (it was more like his mother, then girls, then cheeseburgers). Personally, I liked cheeseburgers and I had nothing against his mother, but the girls were the thing. He had so many girls after him that whenever he was working with us, there were always plenty left over. We had a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun in general, not just with the girls. It was nice that we could make a living at it, but every one of us would have done it for free. And you know, Elvis was so good. Every show I did with him, I never missed the chance to stand in the wings and watch. We all did. He was that charismatic.

Which is not to say that he always blew everyone else away. I distinctly remember, for instance, one night in Amory, Mississippi, when he had to take a backseat to Carl Perkins, even though he was the headliner.

At the time Carl hadn't yet had his big hit, but he'd had "Movie Mag," he'd played the venue several times before on his own, and they loved him. He went on first and tore the place up; the fans went absolutely nuts. When Elvis went on, he got a fabulous reception too, but he wasn't ever all the way through his song when half the audience started shouting for Carl. It was so bad that he only did one more song before giving up. He left the stage and Carl came back on to thunderous applause. I heard later that after that night in Amory, Elvis said he'd never word with Carl again. I didn't hear him say it myself, and to me it doesn't sound like Elvis- he wasn't that small-minded-but that's what some people passed along, and it's certainly true that Carl stole his show.

I went up to Carl after the show. "You did really good tonight, Carl," I said. "I've been to Elvis's shows and I've done a couple of them with him myself, and I'll tell you, I never thought I'd see anyone outshine him."
"Yeah," he replied, "but there's one thing missing."
"What's that?"
"He's got a hit record, and I don't."
There was no arguing with that, and it got me thinking. A little while later that night, I told Carl about C.V. White and the blue suede shoes. C.V. White was a black airman from Virginia I'd known in Landsberg- he told us the initials stood for "Champagne Vervet," but none of us ever knew the truth- and one night he said this one thing that really struck me. When we got a three-day pass we'd get out our best uniforms, polish our brass, and split-shine our shoes. C.V. would come by and say, "How do I look, man?" "Like a million dollars," I'd tell him, and it was true. "You look great, C.V. You look really striking." One night he laid the line on me at that point. "Well" he said, "just don't step on my blue suede shoes!" "They're not blue suede, C.V. They're air force black, like everyone else's." "No , man. Tonight they're blue suede. Don't step on 'em!"

I told Carl that story and how I'd thought it had a song in it, and he took it and ran with it. He didn't record it the way I'd been thinking. My idea had been to adapt a melody from a nursery rhyme( taking a leaf out of Jack Clement's book), but I'd say Carl's version worked out pretty well. A lot has been made over the years of a rivalry between Carl and Elvis, and of course the story of "Blue Suede Shoes" does lend itself to that interpretation. According to the story, after Carl was put out of action by a terrible car crash while his hit was riding up the charts, Elvis recorded it himself and capitalized on Carl's success. It's one of those "What If" questions. If Carl had been able to ride the wave of "Blue Suede Shoes" all the way and follow up on it properly, could he have become as big a star as Elvis, or even bigger? I don't think so. I believe that without the accident Carl could have become a real superstar in the pop/rockabilly world. However, neither he nor anyone else could have become the star Elvis was. Ain't nobody like Elvis. Never was.

Bron: Robin Stevens - CASH: The Autobiography,1997 by John R. Cash.(Fragmenten) - Elvis Today Tomorrow And Forever


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