Elvis Presley died 40 years ago today. Jonathan deBurca Butler asked some his best-known Irish fans what The King meant to them
He was the biggest influence on all of us. When I was a teenager we all wanted to be like Elvis; sing like him, dress like him and especially move like him. The first disc I bought was ‘Jailhouse Rock’ I think it was seven and six — that’s seven shillings and six pence.
The girls were all mad about him he was so good-looking. As far as I remember, when he appeared on TV they would only film him from the waist up so they wouldn’t show him wriggling his pelvis.
I remember the day he died very well. I use to do a radio programme on RTÉ at 11 o’clock each evening and just before I went on the air, the newsroom phoned me to tell me that Elvis had died. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke. I remember I shed a tear because Elvis meant so much to me and my friends.
To me he was the greatest pop star of all time. Nobody came near him and as long as pop music is played the name Elvis Presley will always be to the forefront.
It is hard for people that did not live through 1950s Ireland to understand the impact of Elvis Presley. Together with Jerry Lee Lewis he brought sex to music.
I have quite a few memories of Elvis in my life. I heard ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ when I was 15 and that’s what hooked me, I became a fan. But his later recording of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ is my favourite all- time Elvis track. There was another time, I remember in 1961 I was dating a German girl, not Ingrid, and I practiced my language skills using the German bit from ‘Wooden Heart’. So he was definitely a part of my life, but I have to say that his death had little impact on me as by then his music, his tours, and his movies had really become sub-standard.
MARK LEEN, Emerald Elvis
Elvis Tribute Artist
Elvis was in the right place at the right time. In 1954, Memphis was the home of the blues and Sun producer Sam Phillips knew that there was racism in music that would only be dealt with when a white man came along who sounds like a black man.
In Elvis Presley he got exactly what he wanted, the recording of ‘That’s Alright Mama’ is still one of the greatest classics in music history. It is raw, mean, and imbued with the heat of the Delta.
His looks, hair, dress sense, moves, the wonderful voice coupled with an ear for a good melody were all crucial in his meteoric rise to stardom. Even his smile is unique, he could light up any room with that smile.
I loved Elvis’ version of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, and songwriter Paul Simon agrees. Simon was asked which one of over 700 versions of the legendary song was his favourite and he said Elvis’s hands down. Just listen to it on the album Elvis with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I turn it up and feel the hairs rise on the back of my neck, while the blood rushes to my head at the unsurpassed quality of that choral finish in full voice.
Elvis was very special to me and obviously I have a lot of memories from my time as a tribute act, but one memory that stands out for me is my final tribute concert. I was asked by RTE to guest with the full Concert Orchestra at the Bord Gais Theatre in Dublin. I sang ‘CC Rider’, ‘Suspicious Minds’ and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.
After a standing ovation I went back to the dressing room alone, took off the jumpsuit and cried my eyes out. I had reached 42, the age Elvis died at and I knew this would be the last time I would ever step out on stage as an Elvis tribute artist. I made up my mind and I drove home to Kerry that night alone, in a silent car, my mind awash with years of memories and filled with gratitude for the journey I had been on, the people I met and places I had been thanks to a man I had never met, but loved with all my heart.
Writer and broadcaster
I’ve been a fan of Elvis since I was a child. His singing gave me a sense of transcendence and his life story made me feel I could achieve any dream, such as, say becoming a journalist.
In 1968, I heard a song of his, ‘If I Can Dream’, and made it my anthem.
The lines, ‘As long as a man has the strength to dream/he can redeem his soul and fly’ became my motto and it’s the inscription I want on my tombstone.
The core of Presley’s appeal was the spiritual nature of his singing, and being, that’s why his memory has lasted 40 years and will forever more.
I remember on the day he died, I was listening to a song of his called ‘Suppose’ when my girlfriend phoned and gave me the news.
The next day I suggested to Niall Stokes, of Hot Press, that no newspaper obituary I’d read captured how his death feels to a true fan like myself. I wrote three articles and my career began.
(Joe Jackson’s Conversations About The King was recently broadcast on RTE Radio 1)
I liked the way he brought that gospel sound into popular music. I started out in a choir too, so I guess we had that in common. He really was an icon of pop music in his time, and at some point or another, most guys in Cabra, where I grew up, wanted to be him or just like him. I really identified with his strong work ethic and admired him for it.
What I found inspirational, was that he was true to himself and his roots, and more importantly, he loved his family. I think Elvis had the complete package; he was humble, never forgot where he was from and loved his fans. This made him Mr Nice Guy, and I think he genuinely was. Then, add in the fact that he was good-looking and had a real talent and how could you not be special?
It is really difficult to pick out a strong favourite, there were so many. ‘Love me Tender’, for courting obviously, ‘Jail House Rock’ and ‘Hound Dog’ for dancing, and then those specific and original Elvis tracks like ‘In the Ghetto’. Just the other day I was listening to a remix of ‘A Little Less Conversation’ and was thinking how up to the minute it sounded.
When he died, I was in Spain, on holiday, and only heard the morning after. I couldn’t believe it, and thought it was a mistake, or maybe something lost in translation, so I rang my manager in Ireland to check. It was such a tragic end for this great legend and nice man.
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