Suspicious Minds Explore Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll

Not too long ago, we shared the surprisingly little-known story of how Mick Jagger and Carly Simon collaborated on one of the more popular songs of all time. Now it’s time to shift gears and explore a few interesting facts about a different sort of rock icon. Ahh, the King. While he didn’t quite intersect with my own peak musical interest era, it’s hard for anyone to deny his impact on the genre of Rock and Roll. Just so we’re on the same page, we’re talking about Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. Now, how about A Little Less Conversation so we can get to the story?

A Gift for Mom

Growing up shy, Elvis Presley had a close relationship with his mom. His interest in music led him not only to learn the guitar while growing up but also to become a record shop groupie, stopping by Charlie’s Record Shop in Memphis frequently to listen to the newest music. Record stores are a gateway drug, especially for those with enough passion to learn instruments without lessons. Soon, Elvis upped his fixation to the Sun Records recording studio run by one Sam Phillips.

In August 1953, Elvis recorded a song called “My Happiness” as a gift for dear old mom. Over the months, Sam, while remaining largely unimpressed, hooked the future king up with a couple of other musicians, Bill Black and Scotty Moore. The trio recorded some songs, but nothing came of it.

Elvis Presley’s Literal Break

If you ever saw the movie That Thing You Do!, which documents the fictional discovery, rise, and fall of a 1964 rock group, The Oneders, you might remember the pivotal scene. Last-minute replacement drummer Guy Patterson forces the group into an on-stage faster and more upbeat tempo version of the ballad they intended to play for a local talent show. The improv version of the song, more “rock-like,” is an instant hit, and the group takes off.

Whether the movie draws from Elvis’s pivotal move is debatable, but his discovery followed a similar path. While the trio was on a break at Sun Records, Elvis sang an impromptu, faster and more “Elvis-like” version of a blues song called “That’s All Right.” You can guess the rest. Scotty and Bill join in with bass and guitar. Sam records the song, and a few days later, it’s on the radio. The rest is history.

The World’s Greatest Non-Song Writer

While the myth persists that Elvis Presley couldn’t really play the guitar, the fact is he was just kinda humble about his guitar skills. Not having formal lessons and learning his skills by ear, he almost always had a guitar by his side from age ten when he completed his first public performance.

Likely, the “I don’t play the guitar” story was supported by his various comments in interviews over the years. For example, during an October 28, 1957 interview in Los Angeles, when asked if he read music, Elvis responded, “No. And I can’t play the guitar, either.” When asked what he did with his guitar if he didn’t play it, Elvis responded, “I use it as a brace.”

Sorry, but now we have to check into the Heartbreak Hotel. There is some peripheral truth in here about Elvis’s musical talent. While the king of rock and roll recorded some 600 songs over his career, he never wrote one himself. Don’t Be Cruel; great performers are a legitimate art form on their own. The great Elton John maintains a lifelong partnership with lyrics songwriter Bernie Taupin. During that same interview, the topic was explored further.

“It’s all a big hoax, honey. I never wrote a song in my life. I get one-third of the credit for recording it. It makes me look smarter than I am. I’ve never even had an idea for a song. Just once, maybe … I went to bed one night, had quite a dream, and woke up all shook up. I phoned a pal and told him about it. By morning, he had a new song, ‘All Shook Up’.”

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