Disciple of the king
How’d you get into Elvis?
I’ve always had a musical interest, a musical background, and was always a fan of Elvis as far back as I can remember, probably 5, 6 years old. I remember my mom got me an Elvis album, and I was already hooked before then, but that really cemented it. I studied his life all through my teen years.
Then about 10, 15 years ago—how I became an Elvis historian as such—was that I came home from work, and there was a national talk show [The Joe Mazza Radio Show], and the host was talking about Elvis. He was saying nice things, but he was getting a lot of facts wrong. So I called up. They put me through, and I told him you got this wrong, that wrong, and I told him some real facts and such, and he said, “Hey, that’s great! We’re going to have an Elvis-related show in a few weeks. Would you like to come back?” I said, “Sure.”
So I came back on. He started calling me his Elvis expert, and it went over so well that I just kept that as my title and its actually my email address. And it just went crazy after that. Other stations I guess heard that, and my name got around on the internet, and it’s really evolved since then. I’ve become friends with a lot of people that actually worked with Elvis—band members and bodyguards and family members. So a lot of what I talk about, I can get first-hand accounts of to verify and clarify stories, because there’s so much wrong information out there.
Any Elvis legends you’d like to set straight?
Well, one of them would be, you’ll hear a lot of times people will say that Elvis stole the black man’s music. That’s gone around for 50 years. First of all, if you just take that at face value, it would be really ridiculous because of the fact that, for one, Elvis grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, and then later Memphis, Tennessee. In Tupelo, he would go to a section of town called Shake Rag that was predominately black and had a lot of black musicians, where he would go because he loved the music. He also used to go to church and sing in choir. He also used to go to the gospel quartets. He loved that style of music. …
It’s because of him, as the old cliché says, that the door got opened … for black musicians to have their music be expanded from local and regional acts to international acts. Because people became more interested in that type of music and they wanted to hear more, and so it really opened the door for a lot of these people. You’ll hear B.B. King say that. James Brown used to say that.
Also, what happened, too, is that back in the ’50s there was a magazine called Sepia, and it was like a third-rate, knockoff of Ebony magazine, and they came out with this ridiculous story about Elvis saying, “The only thing black people are good for is to shine my shoes,” which was just absolutely bogus, wrong. Elvis never said it. He was completely heartbroken to find out that something like that was put out about him.
Tell me about Elvis’ Northern Nevada connections.
Elvis played in Reno on Nov. 24, 1976, at what was then called the Centennial Coliseum on Virginia Street, which is now the Reno Sparks Convention Center. He did just the one show. He was scheduled for a second show but was ill, so it was canceled. … At Lake Tahoe, he played at what is now the Horizon, but back then was the Sahara Tahoe. He played there in 1971, ’73, ’74 and ’76, for a total of 98 shows, and Elvis really enjoyed playing Tahoe because it was a smaller, and more intimate showroom than Las Vegas. … There’s not many audience recordings or sound boards, or audience footage or pictures or even stories, for that matter. There’s just not a whole lot from his time in Lake Tahoe, which is really bizarre to me because the only other place that Elvis played more than Lake Tahoe is Las Vegas.