By Larry Backus
Two events in February shook my musical memory to its core. The first on a Tuesday evening in Gulf Shores, Alabama reincarnated Elvis Presley; the second event on CBS TV the following Sunday evening did the same for the Beatles.
I wrote a column published in the Glade Sun on April 20, 2005 entitled “Elvis Lives!” It was the third column I had written. The column chronicled a guided trip of three Fairfield Glade couples through the South; one couple, the guides, were natives of Shreveport, LA. During that trip I purchased a replica of Elvis Presley’s Tennessee Driver License – photo and all – at Graceland in Memphis. With my Elvis ID, I proceeded to elicit laughs, smiles and friendly banter from folks for the remainder of the trip and for many years thereafter.
Nearly 10 years later we had a moment of deja vu – doing the same thing, except I inadvertently left my Elvis license at home, and our destination was Orange Beach, AL. rather than New Orleans. I had not been a fan of Elvis in my youth; I grew up with the big band sound, The Beatles, Sinatra, Bennett, Rush and Motown. I do not believe I fully understood the smiles and the barriers Elvis’s license bridged until this trip to Gulf Shores.
The ladies of our entourage were the first to identify and purchase tickets for a charitable church fundraiser. The Methodists and Baptists of Gulf Shores, AL were combining their considerable musical talent to put on a show. Oh my, shades of White Christmas, Rosemary Clooney or Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland? Well, not exactly; the show entitled “Elvis Remembered” would feature an Elvis impersonator by the name of Shane Tucker, backup singers led by Shane’s wife, a great four-piece band, and Shane’s 16-year-old daughter. We learned that Shane and his family were active members of the Baptist Church and many of the band and production crew were members of the Methodist Church. I had seen Elvis impersonators before – some were good, some were not – Shane was exceptional, as was the entire ensemble.
Of Elvis’s 473 recorded songs, Shane had narrowed his repertoire to 50. He sang most of them that Tuesday evening with a powerful voice that sounded exactly like Elvis at his best – his smile, his banter, every movement reminded the audience of Elvis. The show would last for two and a half hours of great music, pure energy and fun. There was a break after the first hour; by then the audience realized Shane Tucker was talented, had genuine wit and charisma, and they were in for a great evening.
In his later years, a memorable part of any evening with Elvis was his gift of a sweat stained silk scarf to ladies who would cherish the token for the remainder of their days. Do not ask for an explanation; it is part of the mystique of Elvis that made him the King of Rock n’ Roll. It was a title that even the Beatles would recognize in a bow to his charisma. This evening Shane would bestow nearly 20 autographed scarves in various colors. There were probably 200 or more ladies in the audience. If I were a betting fellow, I would wager each and every lady would joyfully accept a scarf from Shane that evening. It was a show of true inter-regional benevolence when Elvis, the “Suthern” boy, chose two “Nawthern” ladies from Fairfield Glade to dance to a lively rock version of an Elvis favorite. They would each receive their autographed scarf. It is one thing to entertain; it is another to leave an audience with an indelible memory to last a lifetime. Tucker aspired that evening to a high level of entertainment and succeeded. He brought the very essence of Elvis to life. “The King” would have been very proud.
If you missed the Beatles TV extravaganza, you missed a spectacular event. It brought back my memory of meeting Ringo Starr. During my first career as a fashion footwear buyer for a large department store, I was returning to New York via London after a few weeks of travel in Europe. I had apparently confused our in-store travel agent to the extent that she inadvertently booked our three-person entourage on the Concorde. We had no clue until we found ourselves ushered into the posh Concorde waiting lounge. I added gourmet fruit and quiche to a small china Concorde plate and found a comfortable sofa with my Mimosa. Not five paces away sat a fellow with a recognizable grin. I had often seen celebrities in New York or Paris, even film and music stars shopping in my shoe salon. I had never asked anyone for an autograph.
In my hand was the Concorde gift package that included a Concorde pen and Concorde photograph post cards. With card and pen in hand I took those five steps and timidly stated my mission. “Mr. Starr, do you mind if I ask for your autograph?”
He replied in his familiar but distinctive voice, “Why not at all; what would you like me to say?” Numbly I replied, “Oh just sign your name.” He did so with a flourish and signature star dotted “i” in Ringo, as we engaged in a brief conversation. We were the same age and I was impressed with his congenial manner; this was a person comfortable in his being and willing to talk with a stranger. His parting comment was, “Too bad you were not here a bit ago, you just missed the Bee Gees.”
Arriving at Kennedy airport in New York I hurried to a phone, there were no cell phones in the dark ages, I called my 9-year-old daughter. “Guess who’s autograph I got for you; Ringo Starr!” There was a long pause until she replied, “Who is Ringo Starr?” It was the first time I realized I was aging; then again thank the Lord, Elvis and The Beatles will live forever.
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Larry Backus is a resident of Fairfield Glade. He may be reached at email@example.com