That’s All Right Mama, I’ll Get The Guitar: Elvis Presley’s Tupelo, Mississippi

By Ryan Hilligoss, January 2013

Very Humble Beginnings: From Small Things Mama, Big Things One Day Come

Born To Rock,The Alpha and the Omega. Little E in overalls and EP aviator shades,

The Alpha and the Omega. Little E in overalls and EP aviator shades

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde

Old Saltillo Road, Tupelo, Ms

Old Saltillo Road, Tupelo, Ms. Painting in Presley Birthplace and Museum

“All my life, I’ve always had a pretty nice time. We didn’t have any money or nothing, but we always managed. We never had any luxuries but we never went hungry.” Elvis Presley, 1956 when asked if he had a happy time as a kid.

‘Leavin’ Tupelo With a Guitar In His Hand, With a One Way Ticket To The Promised Land’

Statue of Elvis Presley, age 13. Elvis Presley birthplace site and museum, Tupelo, Ms

Statue of Elvis Presley, age 13. Elvis Presley birthplace site and museum, Tupelo, Ms


In the 1930’s, Tupelo, Mississippi was a small, bustling manufacturing and commerce trading center in the northern part of the state which drew people from the countryside with the promise of a better life. Two of those people were Vernon Presley and Gladys Smith. While they had hoped that by working in Tupelo they would earn a decent living, they quickly learned a decent life could hang in the balance by a few dollars.  The couple met in early 1933, dated for a short time and then eloped in June of that year. With very little money between them, Vernon had to borrow the $3 to obtain their marriage license. Learning that Gladys was pregnant in 1934, Vernon borrowed $180 to buy the needed materials to build a small home for his wife and newborn. The couple built their humble home in East Tupelo on Old Saltillo Road, considered by many locals to be “the other side of the tracks.”

Elvis Presley Birthplace, Tupelo, Ms

Elvis Presley Birthplace, Tupelo, Ms

In the early morning of January 8th, 1935, Gladys Presley gave birth to a still-born son whom they had named Jessie Garon. While Vernon sent off for the local doctor, the presiding midwife determined there was another baby still to come, another boy, and his parents named him Elvis Aron(Presley later had his middle name changed to the proper biblical spelling of Aaron.) Both parents were distraught over the death of the first-born, but felt something special had occurred with the birth of Elvis. According to biographer Pat Broeske in the incredible documentary, Elvis: Return To Tupelo, “On that morning, Vernon stated when he watched the sun come up that day, he saw a blue streak in the sky. And Gladys swore she saw rings around the moon and believed something special would come of her son and told Elvis this time and again when he was a boy.” After years of reading about Elvis, his life and music, I and my good friends Shawn Poole and Dawn Leinberger, traveled to Tupelo and saw the small house from which big things one day came.

Vernon and Gladys Presley's bedroom/family room

Vernon and Gladys Presley’s bedroom/family room

The Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum consists of the home, the Assembly of God Church the Presleys attended at the time, the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, and a museum among other items. The house itself measures roughly 15 feet wide by 30 feet long, without the front porch included, and has only two rooms consisting of a bedroom/family room and a kitchen/dining room. The house now rests in the same location it did in 1935, while the other surrounding houses were demolished over time. Just like many similar houses of the time, it is referred to as a shotgun shack because of the fact that the front and rear doors are directly in line with each other and with such a short distance between the two, it is said you could open the front door, shoot a shotgun through the house and out the back door before the shot spread enough to damage the insides of the home.

Kitchen and dining room

Kitchen and dining room

Bedroom and family room

Bedroom and family room

Guy Harris, a boyhood friend of Elvis’, states, “Vernon worked at a wholesale grocery warehouse and Gladys worked as a seamstress at the Tupelo Garment Co and each earned $2.50 a week for a 40 hour week.” Vernon and Gladys both struggled to maintain steady employment given the fact they were living through the Great Depression. Broeske states, “Gladys worked in a laundry, factory and picked cotton. Gladys took Elvis with her into the cotton fields which was normal at the time and pulled him along on her cotton sack. So, at an early age, little Elvis heard the field songs of the other workers, some blues, some gospel and some African, and absorbed it into his musical DNA.”

The Walk of Life, Elvis Presley Birthplace, Tupelo, Ms

The Walk of Life, Elvis Presley Birthplace, Tupelo, Ms

Outside the house is a concrete circle called the Walk of Life which contains granite blocks denoting key events that took place during Elvis life in Tupelo from 1935 until the family left in 1948 and are listed below verbatim:

– 1935- Birth of Elvis Aron and death of Jessie Garon

-1936- Family and house survive the great Tupelo tornado

-1937- Family began attending the First Assembly of God Church

-1938- Family receives commodities while Vernon was in prison

-1939- Home and car repossessed, Vernon released from prison

-1940- Family listened to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio powered by car battery

-1941- Elvis entered first grade at East Tupelo consolidated school

-1942- Family spent a lot of time apart due to Vernon’s work

-1943- Family reported income of $1,232.88 and paid $12.56 income tax

-1944- Elvis began singing “Specials” in church

-1945- Elvis sang Old Shep at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show

-1946- Elvis received a guitar for his 11th birthday

-1947- Elvis began listening to black gospel music

-1948- Family moved to Memphis seeking a better living

Elvis with Vernon and Gladys Presley, 1937

Elvis with Vernon and Gladys Presley, 1937

1938 brought heartache to the little Presley family, and according to many, caused mother and son to form an unusually tight bond that may have led to many events of the future. In that year, Vernon Presley and two friends sold a hog to Orville Beane, Vernon and Gladys’ landlord. Beane gave a check to the three men in the amount of $4 which he thought was a fair price. Feeling cheated, the three men decided to change the check to $40. Beane found out, had the men prosecuted for forgery and all were sentenced to three years of prison at the infamous Parchman state penitentiary. The governor of Mississippi described it at the time as a very efficient, well-run slave plantation. Almost every weekend, Gladys and three-year old Elvis would ride the bus for 5 hours to visit Vernon on his day off.

According to their neighbors at the time, Elvis took on an almost paternalistic role and called Gladys little baby and would say, “Does my little baby need anything?”, despite the fact he himself was only three at the time. Due to Vernon’s absence, Gladys couldn’t keep up with the house payments and Orville Beane repossessed the house and their car, forcing the family to move many times during their stay in Tupelo. Gladys worked tirelessly writing petitions and obtaining signatures from neighbors and eventually the governor pardoned Vernon in early 1939. During WWII, Vernon traveled to Memphis to work in a munitions factory while Gladys and Elvis stayed behind in the Shakerag section of Tupelo, one of two historic black districts.

I’m Gonna Lay Down My Burden, Down By The Riverside

Assembly of God Church, Tupelo, Ms

Assembly of God Church, Tupelo, Ms

Assembly of God Church placard, Elvis Presley Birthplace, Tupelo, Ms

Assembly of God Church placard, Elvis Presley Birthplace, Tupelo, Ms

A short walk from the house, sits the first church Elvis and his family attended, the Assembly of God Church. Originally situated one block away, the building itself has been moved several times and even was converted into a two bedroom residence for a time before being moved to its current location. According to one of the guides, the family who owned it was very reluctant to lose ownership of it but eventually donated it to the site for historical purposes. The Assembly of God Church was founded in 1914 in Hot Springs, Arkansas by white ministers in the African-American Pentecostal church. Based on the Jewish holiday of Pentecost, members and ministers believed in “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” During services, members were often moved by ‘the spirit’ to sing, dance and sometimes talk in tongues. Brother Frank Smith, the minster at the time, had a guiding hand in the development of Elvis Presley’s musical career by first allowing him to sing with the choir starting at age four and then teaching him the basic guitar chords of G, C, and D as well as how to play Old Shep.

Assembly of God Church, interior view, Tupelo, Ms

Assembly of God Church, interior view, Tupelo, Ms

The inside is very simplistic with six rows, two pews per row. It probably sat 50-60 comfortably during services. At the front is a basic altar with a bench in front for the choir to rest and a piano in the corner. Seeing the house itself was humbling enough, but to sit in the church that the Presley family attended and in which little Elvis Presley first began to develop his musical skills was altogether a different experience that raised goosebumps on my skin due to the efforts of the museum staff. Every 30 minutes, you can view a filmed recreation of a typical 1940s era service that was  in the building itself. As you sit in the pews, with a screen in front of you and screens on either side, you feel like you have been transported back in time and are sitting amongst the congregation as you watch Brother Frank Smith testify, sing and preach in front of you with members to either side. During the service, Brother Frank, played ironically enough by an actor named Memphis Jones, breaks into song several times and brings up young Elvis to sing. Having listened to Presley recordings for much of my life and having heard him sing gospel songs time after time, it was a moving, cosmic spiritual event. Like peeking through a keyhole in time, you can see young Elvis sing along on gospel songs like Just A Little Talk With Jesus, On The Jericho Road, I, John and most movingly, Down By The Riverside, songs that he would sing thousands of times over with friends, family and musicians, songs that formed the core of who he was.

Assembly of God Church, interior shot of altar and piano, Tupelo, Ms

Assembly of God Church, interior shot of altar and piano, Tupelo, Ms

It was also there in Tupelo that Elvis was exposed to  and absorbed the musical styles that would soon form the basis of rock and roll.  He heard the blues while living in the black Shakerag section of town. He snuck over to house parties on Saturday night and watched African-Americans sing and dance to rhythm and blues. He and the family listened to the Grand Ole Opry on the battery operated radio every Saturday night. And, while living in a mixed neighborhood on Green Street, Elvis befriended Sam Bell, an African-American. Speaking in the documentary, Bell says “There wasn’t no black and white thing doing, it was just us boys being boys.” As a boy, Elvis would go with Sam to tent revivals at the black Sanctified church in town. “He wouldn’t stay out of there, he’d be singing all the time. They welcomed him in and once the invitation was extended, he’d get right in the middle of everything. Man, we thought he was fanatical ’cause he liked to go so much. He’d say man, we got to get down to the sanctified church.” Finally, according Gordon Stoker, member of Elvis’s long time backing vocal group The Jordanaires, “Elvis loved black singers and thought God had made a mistake when he was born. He’d say ‘The Lord messed up on me twice. He didn’t make me black and he didn’t make me a bass singer.”

Tupelo Hardware Co: The Jump Start of Rock and Roll

Tupelo Hardware Co, Tupelo, Ms

Tupelo Hardware Co, Tupelo, Ms. Photo by Shawn Poole

For Elvis’ 11th birthday, Elvis and Gladys went to the Tupelo Hardware Co to buy a birthday present using money he had earned running errands for his family and neighbors. Being a young, country boy, Elvis had his heart set on a rifle. According to store employee and Presley raconteur Howard Hite, young Elvis and his mom walked through the front door of the store, strode by the rack of bikes and walked up to the display case with his eye on the rifles on the wall. According to Hite, the salesman that day, Mr. Forrest Bobo, let Elvis hold a rifle for a few minutes, but Gladys wanted Elvis to try something else and said no which caused the young boy to begin crying and carrying on. Bobo then handed Elvis a guitar, $7.75 plus tax, and said, “Why don’t you try this Elvis?” Elvis then played the guitar for a few minutes and Gladys said, “Elvis if you want the guitar, I’ll pay for the difference.” And Elvis responded, “Ok. Ok mama, I’ll get the guitar.” Hite jokingly said he wished Elvis had said, “That’s All Right Mama, I’ll get the guitar.” So in that single moment of time, Elvis and his family’s fate changed with a birthday wish, and an x on the floor marks the spot.

X marks the spot. Location where Elvis stood in Tupelo Hardware Co the day Gladys bought him his first guitar

X marks the spot. Location where Elvis stood in Tupelo Hardware Co the day Gladys bought him his first guitar. Photo by Shawn Poole

That moment was eerily echoed many years later in Freehold, New Jersey, when Presley acolyte Bruce Springsteen asked his mother for an electric guitar for Christmas. The Springsteen family often times was in financial straits, but Adele Springsteen saw the hope and desire in her young son’s eyes and bought a simple electric Kent for young Bruce who took that guitar and ‘learned how to make her talk.’ Gladys Presley’s decision that day speaks power to the love between a mother and her son. And that decision by a financially strapped young mother, made in a small storefront in a small southern town revolutionized the world.

Hite states, “I like to say the Presley house in Tupelo is the cradle of rock and roll, but the Tupelo Hardware Co was the jump-start of rock and roll.” According to Hite, the store gets visitors from all over the world on a daily basis who want to see the spot where Elvis stood. His favorite visitors include:

– Prince Albert II of Monaco- The Prince is apparently a serious Presley fan and travelled to Memphis to see Graceland and other sites, then went to Tupelo to the birthplace and walked into the store, looked around and said, “I’ve now seen it all. This is the end of my pilgrimage.”

Edison Pena, Chilean miner – One of the miners who was trapped below ground for months in 2010. Pena came to the United States to run in the New York City Marathon. Afterwards, he was asked by his guides if there was anywhere in America he wanted to go, and Pena, being a huge Presley fan, immediately said Graceland. He was shown all the sites on the Presley tour and upon coming into the hardware store said, “I want to live here, this feels like home.” You can see some of Edison’s appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in a link below including a totally improvised performance of Suspicious Minds, with music supplied by Paul Schaffer and the Most Dangerous Band in Television, with an astounded Letterman looking on.

– Joe Perry-  Aerosmith played a concert in Tupelo, and on the way out of town, lead guitarist Perry spied the store and demanded the bus driver pull over so he could come into the store. The driver asked what the big deal was and Perry responded, “Hey man, this is where Big E bought his first guitar.” Perry bought a sunburst acoustic guitar from the store’s selection and a dozen tee shirts.

Tupelo Hardware Co, guitar town

Tupelo Hardware Co, guitar town. Photo by Shawn Poole

Below is Howard Hite recalling much of the above in more detail and in his very colorful delivery.

Epilogue: ‘Someday You Will be The Leader of a Big Old Band’

1939 Plymouth, replica of vehicle used by the Presleys to move from Tupelo to Memphis

1939 Plymouth, replica of vehicle used by the Presleys to move from Tupelo to Memphis. Photo by Shawn Poole


In 1948, Vernon decided it was time to give up on Tupelo and left once more in search of a better life in Memphis, Tennessee. The family packed what belongings they could into a borrowed 1939 Plymouth and headed north. Elvis attended and graduated from Humes High School and while driving a truck for Crown Electric, decided to stop into the Memphis recording Service, located at 706 Union Avenue to record a demo for $4 dollars. While Elvis presented himself to Marion Keisker, Sam Phillip’s secretary, as recording a birthday present for his mother, he most certainly knew that Phillips, as head of Sun Studios, was recording some of the finest music of the time including BB King, Jackie Breston’s Rocket 88(many claim this as being the first rock and roll song), Howlin Wolf, Rufus Thomas, and many more. On that day in 1953, Keisker asked Presley who he sounded like and Presley responded, “I don’t sound like nobody.” Which was only partially true, for he sounded like an incredible, electric, door busting amalgamation of a lot of people he had heard sing over his lifetime, going all the way back to Tupelo, Mississippi. He gave the music all he had because all he had was the music. As Jimmy Lafave sings in his great song Elvis Loved His Mama,  Elvis ‘left the streets of Tupelo for Memphis and made that yellow Sun glow.’ And he rose to incredible heights of fame and fortune, and all the rewards and dangers that came with it. He earned critical and financial acclaim, but, always going back to his roots, he gave it all away to friends, family, charities, and strangers. For a man who dreamed of a ‘better land where all my brothers walk hand in hand’, what else could a poor country boy from Tupelo do?

I’ll leave the last words to Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie, “He was always giving. Sometimes he gave more than he kept for himself. He never forgot where he came from and what it was like to have nothing.”

Elvis Presley, Tupelo, Ms

Elvis Presley, Tupelo, Ms

Thanks for your time, thank ya very much

Thanks for your time, thank ya very much

More Pictures, Notes, Sources and Odds and Ends

Shawn Poole and Ryan Hilligoss and Little E, Tupelo, Ms

Shawn Poole and Ryan Hilligoss and Little E, Tupelo, Ms. Photo by Dawn Leinebarger

Pictures taken by Ryan Hilligoss, Shawn Poole and Dawn Leinberger

Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum:

In the Blessed Name of Elvis, Shawn Poole's Elvis spectacular article, Backstreets Magazine

In the Blessed Name of Elvis, Shawn Poole’s Elvis spectacular article, Backstreets Magazine, with contributions from Christopher Phillips and Paul Trimble

Elvis: Return to Tupelo, documentary. Written and produced by Michael Rose, narrated by Kris Kristofferson. A great film for any music fan and especially for any serious Elvis fan. Below is a link to their website.

Elvis: Return To Tupelo

Elvis Presley with Vernon and Gladys at Tupelo fairgrounds, 1956

Elvis Presley with Vernon and Gladys at Tupelo fairgrounds, 1956

Below you can hear Jimmy Lafave sing Elvis Loved His Mama and see some great pictures.

“At Sun Studio in Memphis, Elvis Presley called to life what would soon be known as rock and roll with a voice that bore strains of the Grand Ol’ Opry and Beale Street, of country and the blues. At that moment, he ensured-instinctively,unknowingly- that pop music would never again be as simple as black and white.” David Fricke, Rolling Stone

Guitar Man, here's one for my son, Graham Hilligoss

Guitar Man, here’s one for my son, Graham Hilligoss. Photo by Shawn Poole

James Brown. “I wasn’t just a fan, I was his brother. He said I was good and I said he was good; we never argued about that. Elvis was a hard worker, dedicated, and God loved him. Last time I saw him was at Graceland. We sang Old Blind Barnabus together, a gospel song. I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There’ll never be another like that soul brother.” Brown was one of the few entertainers allowed into Graceland for Elvis’ private funeral, held in the Music Room where Elvis and James had jammed on gospel songs in the past. Brown requested and was granted a few moments alone with Elvis’ casket and was overheard to say emphatically, time and again, “Why’d you do it Elvis?”

The Music Room, Graceland. The piano in back is the one Elvis and James Brown used on their jam session

Graceland’s Music Room decorated for Christmas. The piano in back is the one Elvis and James Brown used on their jam session

Edison Pena, Chilean Miner on Late Night with Letterman. Below is a clip of the interview Pena did with Letterman, and if you wait until the end, you’ll hear and see a little Suspicious Minds.

3 6 Mafia

In 1969, Elvis recorded several songs at the American Studios in Memphis with the help of producer Chips Moman. One of the songs recorded was In The Ghetto, which Elvis could empathize with much of the meaning of the song personally due to his own background. It became one of his first Top Ten hits in years. Years later, the song was used as the basis for the Memphis hip-hop group Three Six Mafia’s cover version of In The Ghetto with some new lyrics. Two members of the group have stated that they grew up in houses within a few miles of Graceland and their mothers used to listen to Elvis records when they were kids. Check it out for yourself below.

A Throne fit for a "King". Sun Studio mens room, Memphis, Tn

A Throne fit for a “King”. Sun Studio mens room, Memphis, Tn

Elvis Is Everywhere: Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and The Promise

A Lonely Life Ends on Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis Press Scimitar headline August 17, 1977

“There’ll never be another one like him. He was the king of everyone and especially of our people. He was the king of gypsies. He was ours.”


“Elvis Presley doesn’t die. I die, you die, but he doesn’t. And he damn sure did.”

By Ryan Hilligoss, August 2012

The Promise of Rock and Roll: 35 years burning down that road; A great American artist dies and a young American musician comes to terms with his childhood dreams and the reality of adult life

On May 28th, 1977, after a legal dispute that kept him from making records for over a year, Bruce Springsteen finally wrested control of his music and career by formally settling the dispute with former manager Mike Appel.On that same date, Springsteen attended an Elvis Presley concert in Philadelphia, and it was not one of Elvis’ better performances according to reviews and fan accounts, including Bruce’s own account, as he related it to Ed Sciaky…”that wasn’t a very good night.” Within days, Springsteen entered the recording studio for the first time in nearly two years and began recording material that would make up one of his greatest albums, Darkness on the Edge of Town, released in 1978.

During those sessions, Springsteen and the E Street Band recorded over seventy songs, of which only ten made it onto the Darkness album. Two of the new songs were given away to other artists. A partially completed version of  Because the Night was given to Patti Smith, who was also working on a new album at the time that was being produced by Springsteen’s then recording engineer, Jimmy Iovine. The song Fire was given to Robert Gordon. More than thirty years later, twenty-one more of those songs were released as The Promise: The Lost Sessions – Darkness on The Edge of Town.

At the time Springsteen was recording songs for Darkness, a tell-all book on Elvis Presley, Elvis: What Happened?,based on material presented by three of his former body guards, was being readied for publication. What many had been whispering about Presley for years regarding pharmaceutical drug abuse and sometimes bizarre behavior was soon to be affirmed as partial truth by those who knew him the best, including Red West who had been a high school classmate of Elvis at Humes High School in Memphis, a close friend, bodyguard and sometimes even a songwriter for Presley (“Separate Ways,” “If You Talk in Your Sleep” and “Indescribably Blue.”)

According to Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh, “Intrigued by the hero others saw in him, Bruce also took a closer look at his own role models. In July, soon after moving to the Record Plant, Bruce and the band found some advance copies of  Elvis: What Happened?, Steve Dunleavy’s muckracking book about Presley, in a bookshop around the corner. The influence of the King clicked back in, and for several weeks, the studio took on the look of an Elvis shrine. Bruce identified with Elvis’s career, the way it seemed totally in the artist’s control at one moment, and careening without guidance the next.”

Just a few weeks after the book was published and just as he was getting ready for yet another tour, Elvis Presley died on August 16th, 1977 at the age of forty-two. Elvis Presley was born on January 8th, 1935 to Gladys and Vernon Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi in a one room shotgun shack (Wrecking Ball “…from the shotgun shack to the Superdome”) The Presleys lived economically troubled and Vernon was actually sent to prison for three years for trying to forge a check to buy the family groceries. During his formative years living in mostly black, east Tupelo, in a part of town called Shake Rag, Presley was exposed to myriad musical styles: hard, rough blues, gospel at church every Sunday and country and western while listening to the radio. Presley then forged his musical tastes into a new sound that revolutionized American popular music which reverberated around the world.

As the keynote speaker this year at the South by Southwest music festival in Autstin, Tx, Springsteen said, “Remember, it wasn’t just the way Elvis looked; it was the way he moved that made people crazy, pissed off, driven to screaming ecstasy and profane revulsion. That was television. When they made an attempt to censor him from the waist down, it was because of what you could see happening in his pants. Elvis was the first modern 20th-century man, the precursor of the sexual revolution, of the Civil Rights revolution, drawn from the same Memphis as Martin Luther King, creating fundamental outsider art that would be embraced by a mainstream popular culture.

Television and Elvis gave us full access to a new language; a new form of communication; a new way of being; a new way of looking; a new way of thinking about sex, about race, about identity, about life; a new way of being an American, a human being and a new way of hearing music. Once Elvis came across the airwaves, once he was heard and seen in action, you could not put the genie back in the bottle. After that moment, there was yesterday, and there was today, and there was a red-hot, rockabilly forging of a new tomorrow before your very eyes.”

No one knows for sure exactly when, but sometime during the Nixon administration, Elvis lost the fire to give it his best effort and became lost in a fog of “nothing running through his veins”, loneliness and depression.  In 1976, Elvis told his recording producer Felton Jarvis, “I’m so tired of being Elvis Presley.” But the never ending carnival of constant touring, playing extended stands at Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, and recording low rent songs like Three Corn Patches and a self-parody, self-referential Raised on Rock, was the only way he knew to keep himself and those around him afloat financially. On August 16th, 1977, Springsteen’s first and most powerful rock inspirations, broke that promise in the most ultimate and final way. Elvis dreamed and sang about the ‘Impossible Dream’, but once he obtained it, or at least his own idea of the American Dream, he didn’t know what to do with it other than to give some of it away to friends, family and strangers in the forms of cars, houses and jewelry, or by renting out the local amusement park at night.The greatest lesson Springsteen learned from his idol was that “it’s easy to let the best of yourself slip away and dreams don’t mean nothin’ unless you’re strong enough to fight for them.”

If you listen to the Born To Run album and many of the songs on The Promise, they play as love letters to the nostalgia of musical influences of Springsteen’s childhood and early days of playing swim clubs and Jersey shore bars. Listen to these songs,  and you can hear the influence of Duane Eddy’s guitar on Save My Love, Roy Orbison’s It’s Over drum beat on Breakaway, Buddy Holly drum beat and rhythm guitar on Outside Looking In, and Beach Boy and The Crystals background harmonies on many songs. After Elvis died, the past was over and dark times were here in America and “calling out around the world” and Darkness was a refutation of those earlier sounds.

“When Elvis died, the event was a kind of explosion that went off silently in minds and hearts; out of that explosion came many fragments, edging slowly into the light and taking shape, changing shape again and again as the years went by,” wrote Greil Marcus in Dead Elvis. Springsteen, in many ways, both consciously and unconsciously, proved Marcus’ theorem true in the work he completed at the time of Darkness recording sessions which begat both Darkness on the Edge of Town and The Promise. 35 years later, if you listen hard enough to the music and the lyrics within that work, you can clearly hear the influence of Elvis Presley’s music and Presley’s death everywhere.

Rock and Roll as The Promise:Two things happened during Darkness: the punk explosion and Elvis died. It was the beginning and ending and a fascinating moment. Everything shifted at that moment.” Bruce Springsteen, 2010 E Street Radio interview with fans

It’s also hard not to hear the next comment from Springsteen, speaking in Thom Zimny’s film The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, as anything but a direct statement on Elvis’ death: “The success of Born To Run brought me an audience. It also separated me from all the things in life I had been trying to make connections to my whole life. And it frightened me because I understood what I had of value at my core was rooted in the place that I had grown up, the people I had known, the experiences I had. And if I moved away from those things into a sphere of just freedom as pure license, to go about your life as you desire, without connection. That’s where a lot of people I admired had drifted away from the essential things that made them great. And more than rich, more than famous, more than happy, I wanted to be great.”

Below, I’m going to describe some of the connections that I hear as an Elvis and Springsteen fan in the music that Bruce made during this very important period of his career, a period that also happened to coincide with the tragic death of his original musical inspiration. The beauty of any art, whether it be music, painting, photography, or literature, is that it is open to the interpretation of each and every individual. This is what I hear in my own head. It’s not necessarily what Bruce intended for listeners to hear, either consciously or unconsciously. It’s also not all that I think these songs are “about.” Of course, if you don’t hear the same connections or hear variations of the same, that’s okay, too.

The Promise: This song’s writing started in 1976 but was not completed until 1978 and the lyrics vary throughout the various recorded versions. Yes, it was partially written well before Elvis died, but again, these are the images that come to my mind as a fan of both artists.

The Promise is a song Springsteen described at a concert in March,1977 in Boston as “a song I wrote about a year ago and kind of a return to Thunder Road.”

Terry works in a rock and roll band

Searching for that million dollar sound 

The name Terry can stand as a metaphor for many American pop musicians, many of whom came from a background of hard lives. Musicians ranging from Elvis, Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Springsteen himself  and everyone in between. Rock and roll has become for both artists and listeners, a ‘Mystery Train’  steaming through a ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’.

Some nights I go the drive-in, some nights I stay home

I followed that dream just like those guys do way up on the screen

As a teenager growing up poor in Memphis, Elvis worked various jobs to help support the family, then living in the Lauderdale Courts public housing projects. One of those jobs was an usher at Loew’s State movie theater in downtown Memphis. He worked from 5-10, 5 nights a week for $12.50/week. He would watch the movies on the screen during showings and repeat the lines of his favorite actors like Tony Curtis and Marlon Brando and dreamed of being up on that screen one day ‘just like those guys do’.

Also, one of Presley’s 31 Hollywood films, not counting 2 full length documentaries, was entitled Follow That Dream, released in 1962 and contained a song of the same name. In the late 80’s, Springsteen began performing the song in concert, and his version had radically different lyrics including

Now every man has the right to live
The right to a chance, to give what he has to give
The right to fight for the things he believes
For the things that come to him in dreams

Watch Springsteen’s  live performance of his version of Presley’s Follow That Dream, , containing radically revised lyrics by using below link.

When the promise was broken, I cashed in a few of my own dreams

Well now I built that Challenger by myself

But I needed money and I sold it

Elvis built his “Challenger” by himself, i.e his version of rock and roll by incorporating all the various styles that formed early rock: rhythm and blues, blues, country, bluegrass, and gospel into one style. Elvis sold it by “selling out” his dreams by acting in sub-par movies, recording less than stellar material to meet demanding contracts from RCA and touring around the country playing, often times, half-hearted concerts. In the last four to five years of his performances, Elvis’ stage show played as pure paint by numbers with the occasional performance of a new song from the latest album such as Hurt, T-R-O-U-B-L-E, and Fairy Tales. If you listen to some of concert recordings released under the Follow That Dream label through EPE, you can hear the same songs, vocal stylings and arrangements from one show to another. While many bands have done this for years,  Elvis broke his ‘promise’ to his fans by forgetting the ultimate relationship all performers should have with their audience. This relationship is best summed up in Springsteen’s own words, “Part of what pop promised, what rock promised was the never-ending now. No no no, it’s about living right now. All of a sudden you were lifted up into a higher place of living and experience. There was this beautiful, ever-present now.”

Everyday it just gets harder to live

This dream I’m believing in

Springsteen said on jumping the wall at Graceland in 1976, “When I jumped over the wall that night, I didn’t know who I was gonna meet. And the guard who stopped me at the door did me the biggest favor of my life. I had misunderstood. It was innocent and I was having a ball, but it wasn’t right. In the end, you cannot live inside that dream.”

In an earlier version of The Promise, Springsteen sang, “Thunder Road, yeah I sit up every morning til it turns light, Thunder Road” in a plaintive, wail of pain.

Elvis’s “normal” sleep schedule was to stay up throughout the night and then sleep during the day. In hearing the wail of pain in Springsteen’s voice on this line, I can picture Elvis sitting up many nights, alone in his secluded room and imagining what his life and career could have become if he were able to play the movie roles he really wanted such as Robert Mitchum’s brother in Thunder Road which he was offered to play in 1958, or roles he was offered or wanted to play in films like The Rainmaker and A Star is Born. On the Born To Run album, Thunder Road was the road of hope, renewal and self-realization for the song’s characters. Elvis saw the role in the movie Thunder Road as an opportunity for ‘real acting” and developing his overall abilities as an artist. There Elvis sits in his bedroom, looking out the window off into the distance and yelling out Thunder Road into the dark of night, with no one to hear or help, as if him crying out could change anything, a dream deferred.

In the last live recorded version of The Promise before Springsteen and band entered the studio, the song contained the lyric,  ‘There’s something burning out on the highway tonight.’

The version of the song contained on The Promise album that was recorded after Presley’s death , has this revised lyric, ‘There’s something dying down on the highway tonight.’

Two things come to mind with searing power with this one line:

(1)Elvis’ recording of Long Black Limousine in 1969 which contained ‘There’s a long line of mourners driving down our little street/Their fancy cars such a sight to see/And now they finally brought you home/When you left me/ you said you’d be returning in a fancy car for all to see/Now everyone is watching you/You finally had your dream/Now you’re riding in a long black limousine‘. Also interesting to note that Elvis’ recording starts with ominous church bells and drum cymbal played in time that is very similar to drummer Max Weinberg’s time keeping rim shots during Racing in the Street that is supposed to signify the passage of time. On Racing’, the same time keeping is akin to Al Jackson’s drumming on Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness

(2)I have a “sound picture” of Elvis’s funeral procession with its’ long white limousine, as opposed to long black limousine Elvis sang about in 1969 recording, travelling down Elvis Presley Boulevard. Indeed, something is dying down on the highway tonight.

Elvis Presley’s funeral procession leaving Graceland past musical gates, August 18, 1977

I won big once and I hit the coast

Elvis “hit it big” with Sun Studio recordings of Mystery Train and That’s All Right Mama and then signed with RCA and recorded in New York City

Inside I felt like I was carryin’ the broken spirits of all the other ones who lost

Elvis often times told people that he felt like he was living enough for two people because he was carrying the soul of his still-born twin brother Jesse Garon.

Like when the truth is spoken and it don’t make no difference

Elvis: What Happened? being published and the truth being spoken of his drug use and bizarre behavior, but it didn’t help as he died within weeks of advance copies hitting the streets.

The Promised Land, echoes of Presley and Chuck Berry

In 1973, amidst his devastating divorce from Priscilla, Elvis recorded a cover of Chuck Berry’s Promised Land. Berry wrote his version in 1963, ironically enough, while he was serving time in prison. Given that Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” was given in August of 1963  in which he talked about making it to the “promised land”, it is very possible that Berry was influenced by King. Elvis Presley covered many of Berry’s songs, both in concert and in recording studio. Presley’s recording of Promised Land stands as one of his finest rock recordings ever, driven by the core of his touring band musicians, and was almost a telling of Presley’s own story of a poor boy making his way to the golden state.  Given the influence of both Berry and Presley on Springsteen’s own music, it is not difficult to assume, his own Promised Land may have been inspired by their versions. In Springsteen’s indelible farewell to Elvis Presley, Johnny Bye Bye, he references Chuck Berry’s song in telling Elvis’ story: He left Memphis with a guitar in his hand/On a way one ticket to the Promised Land.

In Springsteen’s Promised Land, he wrote:

Blow away the dreams that tear you apart

Blow away the dreams that break your heart

Blow away the lies that leave you nothing

But lost and brokenhearted

After Elvis died, many of the dreams he had inspired in millions including a seven year-old boy growing up in Freehold, NJ, were shown to be false; ‘you can’t live inside those dreams.’ Bruce Springsteen was brokenhearted at the death of Elvis and was inspired to include the above lyrics in The Promised Land, one of his finest songs of his career. He was also inspired to write the song The Brokenhearted which has a vocal style and phrasing very similar to Elvis. The song’s atmosphere reminded me so much of Heartbreak Hotel that a more fitting title might be Heartbreak Hotel, Part II.

From The Promise documentary, Springsteen said of his Promised Land lyrics, “You had to lose your illusions while still holding onto some sense of possibilities. But more so, your illusions of adult life and a life without limitations. Which, I think, everyone dreams of and imagines at some point. The song that needs to be sung is one about how to deal with those things and move onto a creative life, a satisfying life and a life where you can get through the day and sleep at night. That is what most of those songs were about.”

The illusion of the dreams Bruce had, inspired by Elvis, were shattered when Elvis died.

Graceland: The original Darkness on the edge of town

As has been reported and discussed many times in the past, Springsteen went to Graceland in 1976 after playing a concert in Memphis. He wanted to see if Elvis was home and jumped over the wall and made a run up to the house before being stopped by a security guard.

This is the version Springsteen relayed to Rolling Stone in 1977, “When we played Memphis, we decided we wanted to get something to eat after the show. We told the cab driver, take us some place quiet. He said, ‘Are you guys celebrities?’ Yeah. So he said he’d take us out along the highway by Elvis’ house. I said, ‘You gotta take me to Elvis’ house.’ He says, ‘Do you mind if I call the dispatcher and tell him where we’re going?’ So he calls the guy and says, ‘We got some celebrities here. We got…’ and he shoves the mike in my face, so I say, ‘Bruce Springsteen.’ They didn’t know who I was, but they were pretending to, you know? He told the dispatcher, we were going to Elvis’ house; he was crackin’ up because the dispatcher thought we were going to drink coffee with Elvis.”

In the novel, The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby would walk out into the darkness of his yard at night and stare off into the distance at a green light at the end of a far away pier that turned out to be the house of his long-lost love, Daisy. That green light symbolized his hopes and dreams of pure love for which he stretched his arms out in an attempt to make it real. In the novel, the green light plays a mysterious, recurring role and it comes to symbolize the American Dream itself. Jay Gatsby, originally from South Dakota, turned himself into a wealthy, cosmopolitan New Yorker. Gatsby’s life story and the green light created a new sense of identity in a new place reflected all individuals and the power of their dreams. On that night in April 1976 in Memphis, Tennessee, Springsteen said he saw a light in a room on the second floor and thought for sure that was Elvis sitting up reading and, just like Gatsby drawn to the green light, Bruce was drawn to Elvis’ light and his own dreams.

At the time of Springsteen’s magical run while chasing his dream, the physical surroundings of the area would have been dark at 3:00 am. And, Graceland is on a hill and it was out on the edge of Memphis at the time. Graceland is in the Whitehaven part of Memphis on the south edge of town, several miles from Memphis proper. At one time, Whitehaven was its’ own municipality, but has been annexed by Memphis as the area has grown since Elvis passed away. So, it’s not difficult to imagine Graceland as being in the darkness on the edge of town.

Now I hear she’s got a house up in Fairview

Written to give the impression that the “she” is doing financially well and living in a nice area with a style she’s trying to maintain. To Elvis, buying Graceland in 1957 constituted fulfilling the dream of a better life and taking care of his parents. But when you look at the house and see beyond the four columns out front, it’s really just a big house that pales in comparison to the houses celebrities and power brokers live in today.

Everybody’s got a secret, sonny

Something they just can’t face

Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it

They carry it with them, every step that they take

In the recording, there is a discernible jump in music level and intensity, and plays as the wish that Elvis could have shaken his secret of drug abuse and cut it loose because it dragged him down and led to his untimely and premature death. After the second verse, Springsteen exhales a series of grunts along with jangle of a tambourine that sounds like chains and gives the impression of someone tied with chains struggling to walk, like they are carrying the ghost of their past and their sins up that hill. When Elvis started recording music and made his way up the hill of Graceland, he did so while carrying a lot of chains: the chains of prejudice, the chains of poverty, and the chains of self-doubt.  Also, Sonny West was Red West’s cousin and fellow friend/body guard to Elvis who co-authored Elvis: What Happened?. Perhaps Sonny West can be taken as the “sonny” in these lyrics.

Some folks are born into a good life

Other folks get it anyway, anyhow

Springsteen could be writing about both Elvis’ and his own very humble background and how they both worked to grab the good life, the American Dream through the only means they knew how, rock and roll.

I lost my money and I lost my wife

Elvis’ divorce of Priscilla and paying money as part of legal settlement haunted him daily and led to him picking very telling songs to record such as Hurt, It’s Midnight, I Miss You, and For Old Times Sake.

Of special note, Elvis’ last studio recording album, Moody Blue, was released in July 1977, just weeks before his death, and the last track is titled, ‘It’s Easy For You’ The song, written by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, and recorded in 1976 amidst his traumatic breakup with long time companion Linda Thompson and the recent firing of long time friend and bodyguard Red West, contains lyrics that seem written just for Elvis. If you listen to the recording, you can hear Elvis’ voice literally cracking with emotion as he sings the story of couple’s breakup:

You might not mind that it’s over

But I’ve got a different point of view

Even though I am shattered

It’s easy for you

You don’t have to face the music

You don’t have to face the crowd

I had a wife, I had children

I threw it all away

I found it hard to leave them

The saddest thing I ever had to do

According to Ernest Jorgensen’s Elvis Presley a Life In Music, after the line “I threw it all away’ Elvis ad libed ‘I get carried away/Emotional son of a bitch’ Appears as self-effacing recognition of his own behavior and the effects it had on those closest to him. Listen for yourself by clicking on link below:

Tonight, I’ll be on that hill, because I can’t stop

On the night Springsteen jumped the wall at Graceland, he said to Steven Van Zandt who rode with him in the cab, while they were standing by the music gates looking up at the house, that he “just had to go up there and see if Elvis was home.”

I’ll be on that hill with everything I got

Lives on the line where dreams are won and lost(literally as in Elvis dying)

I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost

ie riding in a taxi with the meter running being the time and the cost is the fare for cab ride out to Graceland. Springsteen is singing about both Elvis own journey up that hill to Graceland, literally and figuratively, and about Bruce jumping the wall and trying to follow in Elvis’ footsteps.

For wanting things that can only be found,

In the darkness on the edge of town

Taxi Cab, Taxi Cab, City of Night: Let’s cross that river, to the other side

I imagine that in the sequencing of The Promise, Springsteen recognized a need to end on a more uplifting note than the second to last track, The Promise song. After the  rock bottom despair of The Promise and ‘something dying down on the highway tonight’, City of Night ends on a more hopeful note with the line, ‘Some people wanna die young and gloriously/ Taxi cab driver, well that ain’t me’ . The recording begins with a sound of whirring distortion, akin to the Beatles’ use of guitar reverb on I Feel Fine, which comes across as purposeful fast forwarding in time to a better place, a wrinkle in time. Sonically, the music is pure Stax studio, based in Memphis, and Springsteen’s nod to the great backing musicians in studio and recording artists that greatly influenced him, ie Otis, Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley. The music might as well have been played by Booker T and the MGs, including the Memphis Horns. This song plays to me as a coda, a light touch acknowledgment of riding in a cab to Graceland and one last love letter to the musicians who inspired him.

I got some money and I’m feeling fine

This is the post concert rush he was still coming down from at 3:00am when they took the cab ride out to the edge of town.

Some people want to die young and gloriously

Taxi cab driver, well that ain’t me

Springsteen is being ironic with Elvis Presley’s death as yes, Elvis was only 42, but it was not a glorious death.

Further Darkness and The Promise Elvis tie-ins: ‘I got my facts learned real good right now’


Poor man wanna be rich/Rich man wanna be king/and a king ain’t satisfied until he rules everything/ I wanna go out tonight/I wanna find out what I got

The first three lines are taken from Presley’s recording of King of The Whole Wide World from the Kid Galahad soundtrack.

Johnny Bye Bye , which appeared as the B side on I’m On Fire single, originally started as Come On(Let’s Go Tonight) and contains the lines

Hey little girl with the red dress on

There’s a party tonight down in Memphis town

I’ll be going down there if you need a ride

The man on the radio says Elvis Presley’s died

Echo of Elvis’ 1967 cover of Tommy Tucker’s Hi Heel Sneakers which includes the line ‘put on your red dress baby, cause we’re going out tonight’

Springsteen used the image of the red dress again on this years Wrecking Ball album on the song, Easy Money, with the line ‘Put on your red dress, looking real good honey’


Springsteen has stated he wrote it specifically for Elvis and wanted to try to get Elvis to record it. The song would have fit neatly among Elvis’ other ‘hot’ songs, Burning Love and Fever, Peggy Lee’s big hit. Springsteen’s Fire echoes the lyrics of Fever with use of Romeo and Juliet, but instead of Lee’s Captain Smith and Pocahontas, Springsteen inserts Samson and Delilah as famous lovers. The lines ‘My nerves all jumping acting like a fool’ and ‘Your kisses they burn but your heart stays cool’, while not directly from Presley’s earlier works All Shook Up and Burning Love’, are very similar in lyrics to Presley’s songs, but don’t directly borrow from them. Springsteen’s guitar solo in the middle of Fire is a very close approximation of how James Burton, Elvis’ regular tour guitarist in the TCB band and, often times, lead studio guitarist, would have played it if Elvis had recorded the song. In fact, the whole E Street Band is playing parts as if they were laying down a demo for Elvis’ band, as I can hear very distinct parts for how all of the TCB band would have played including bass lines of Jerry Scheff, Glen Hardin piano and Ronnie Tutt’s drums.

Wrong Side of the Street

Springsteen’s singing ‘darlin’ in line ‘We’ll bring an end darlin’ very similar to Elvis singing words ‘Oh my love, my darlin’ from Elvis’ version of Roy Hamilton’s classic, Unchained Melody. Elvis’ version was released on Moody Blue which came out in July 1977, weeks prior to death

Spanish Eyes

Has very similar sound and lyrics to Elvis’s cover of the Al Martino hit of the same title. Elvis recorded in 1974 for The Good Times release. Same Latin tinged samba beat, mariachi guitar and horns as other Presley songs such as It’s Now Or Never and Fools Rush In.

Be True: The Promise of Springsteen

In 1980, Springsteen told rock critic Robert Hilburn, “You can’t live on what you did yesterday, or what’s going to happen tomorrow. If you fall into that trap, you don’t belong on stage. That’s what rock and roll is: a promise, an oath. It’s about being as true as you can at any particular moment.” While Elvis began phoning it in on stage periodically in voice, mind and effort, and sometimes openly disdained his audience, Springsteen has been giving it all he can on stage, night after night. He pushes himself and the band, through three to four hours of non-stop performance which includes song after song rolling into each other with little to no break in between, jumping from pianos and amplifier stacks, and sliding across the stage from one side to the other. All the while, he sings, plays guitar and piano, leads the band, fires up the crowd and preaches to the congregation.

One of Elvis Presley’s biggest fans, Bruce Springsteen, has become one of the leading rock artists of his time, because he learned from all of his heroes throughout his life and career. Springsteen once said, “I believe that the life of a rock and roll band will last as long as you look down into the audience and can see yourself and your audience looks up at you and can see themselves, and as long as those reflections are human, realistic ones.” In 1965, Elvis met the Beatles  at his Bel Air home and the five of them spent  a few uncomfortable hours making small talk and playing a little music. Elvis was too racked with self-doubt and low self-esteem around the four Liverpool Lads who had stormed America, and the Beatles were in awe being in the same room with one of their idols. Springsteen has long played in concert with many of his inspirations such as Sam Moore, Darlene Love and Chuck Berry, and now, he is returning the favor to those who grew up idolizing him such as Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem, The Dropkick Murphy’s and Eddie Vedder to name a few. He allows those younger musicians an opportunity to make a human connection, to “make that dream real.”

That is the key difference between the two: Elvis’ artistry ended at a certain point in time, but Springsteen has continued to grow as an artist and as a performer. At the end of Elvis’ career, he could no longer look into the faces of his audience and see an accurate reflection because he could no longer see himself. Every night that he is on stage, Springsteen looks into the faces of his crowd and makes connections with the eyes and minds of his fans, brings fans onto stage to dance and sing, gets help on vocals from younger fans on Waiting on a Sunny Day, and in the penultimate connection, literally puts his body and faith in the hands of his people by crowd-surfing from the back of the pit area back to the stage.  Springsteen puts his faith in his fans, and as they pass him forward, hand over hand, they repay that faith and belief in the promise of rock and roll a thousand times over.

Long ago, Springsteen said of trying to meet Presley at his home, “Later on, I used to wonder what I would have said to him if I had knocked on the door and if Elvis had come to the door. Because it really wasn’t Elvis I was going to see, but it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear and somehow we all dreamed it.” Just recently, Springsteen told David Remnick of the New Yorker of his performances,”It’s theater you know. I’m a theatrical performer. I’m whispering in your ear and you’re dreaming my dreams, and then I’m getting a feel for yours. I’ve been doing that for 40 years.” The student has learned well from his best teacher.

(Coda) Elvis Presley: ‘A man with a vision, in search of a vision’

“It was like he whispered a dream in our ears, and then we dreamed it,” the Elvis acolyte Bruce Springsteen once said. What was in that dream was the best part of us, the best of the American dream- which by the last 20th century had become a big part of the world’s dream too. You could declare that dream an impossible fantasy or you could accept it as a challenge, but either way, you knew going that route would cost you as much as you had in you. Reality got in its way for Elvis, just like for you and me. Still, he dreamed that dream, and more than that, he shared it with everyone else. Like a child, the dream went places its creator could not have imagined, fostered alliances Elvis might not have liked, took on a look he could not recognize as his own. Elvis’s greatest gift to the world may have been allowing us to see so much of him in ourselves.” Dave Marsh, Elvis

Elvis is Everywhere, Mojo Nixon

When I look out into your eyes out there,
When I look out into your faces,
You know what I see?
I see a little bit of Elvis
In each and every one of you out there.

Elvis is everywhere, man!
He’s in everything.
He’s in everybody…
He’s in the young, the old,
the fat, the skinny,
the white, the black
the brown and the blue
people got Elvis in ’em too

Elvis Presley Sings The Promise

In an alternate space-time continuum, back in March of 1976, Elvis wasn’t in Tahoe and was sitting in his room reading and met his young, ‘crazy fan’ downstairs in the kitchen and shared some coffee and cheeseburgers while they talked music. One thing led to another and pretty soon, Elvis was back in the studio and singing some new songs written by a young upstart rock and roll singer named Bruce Springsteen. The following are the songs from The Promise Album that seem perfect for Elvis’ mood, song selections, arrangements, production styles and vocal phrasing and style at the time:

The Book of Love

  1. The Brokenhearted(Heartbreak Hotel Part II)
  2. Fire
  3. Breakaway
  4. Someday(We’ll Be Together)
  5. One Way Street
  6. Gotta Get That Feeling
  7. Save My Love
  8. Rendevous
  9. Spanish Eyes
  10. Candy’s Boy- “..there are pictures of her heroes(Elvis?) on the wall….”
  11. Outside Looking In
  12. The Little Things(My Baby Does)
  13. The Promise(Upon hearing Elvis sing this song, this writer’s head just exploded)

Quotes and notes

“There is something magical in watching a man who had lost himself find his way home.” Jon Landau after watching NBC’s Elvis (The 68’ Comeback Special)

Springsteen on Presley, “That Elvis man, he is all there is. There ain’t no more. Everything starts and ends with him. He wrote the book. He is everything to do and not to do in the business.” Mike Greenblatt, The Return of the Native Son, 1978.

Springsteen on Presley, “I could not imagine that guy dying. He was so incredibly important to me, to go on and do what I want to do. When I heard the news it was like somebody took a piece out of me.

He was not primitive, like people think. He was an artist and he was into being an artist. Of course he was also into rockin’ his ass, but that was part of it. Onstage, he encompassed everything- he was laughing at the world, and he was laughing at himself but at the same time, he was dead serious.

To me, he was as big as the whole country itself, as big as the whole dream. He just embodied the essence of it and he was in mortal combat with the thing. It was horrible and, at the same time, it was fantastic. Nothing will ever take the place of that guy.” Rolling Stone, 1977

Interview with Bruce circa 1988, heard on George Klein’s radio show.

Interviewer: You usually end your concerts with the line, let freedom ring. Do you think a big, strong musical message can make that happen?

Springsteen: I think so. I think Elvis did. You can look around and say there’s still a lot of trouble in the world, and there’s still so much injustice. But I think Elvis did and I think it helped a lot of people. I know it helped me. It made me a different person.”

“The world awaits the next Elvis. We’re hoping to find a flesh and blood superhero. A regular guy who changes the world and, in the process, shows us all how to change with him.”  Dave Marsh

In the introduction to the Darkness box set, Springsteen writes, “Post ‘Born To Run’ I was still held in thrall by the towering pop records that had shaped my youth and early music education. Echoes of Elvis, Dylan, Roy Orbison, the full-voiced rockabilly ballad singers of the Fifties and Sixties along with my favorite soul artists and Phil Spector, thread throughout. As I page through my 37-year-old “Darkness” notebook, I see a young man filled with ambition, a local culture/B movie fueled florid imagination, and thrilled to be a rock’n’roll songwriter. The nights of listening to Lieber and Stoller. Goffin and King, Barry and Greenwich, Mann and Weil, the geniuses of early rock’n’roll songwriting had seeped into my bones. Their craft inspired me to a respect and love for my profession that’s been the cornerstone of the writing I’ve done for the E Street Band and my entire work life.”


Lead quote from Presley fan Myrtle Smith, Rolling Stone 9/22/77. She explained to the journalist why she and 30 of her friends had jumped in their car upon hearing the news and drove to Graceland

Man with a vision- In The Promise documentary, Jon Landau stated that, “Bruce is a man with a vision, but at the same time, he is in search of a vision. And that is what each album is.”

Elvis doesn’t die- “I’ve never been through anything like that before. Myrna(Smith of Sweet Inspirations) broke down and cried as hard as I’ve ever seen a woman cry. We were all so shocked.” quote from John Wilkinson, Elvis’ TCB Band rhythm guitarist on hearing the news of Elvis dying while the band was travelling to Portland, Maine for the first show of a new Presley tour.

Two things happened during Darkness- Taken from Darkness special 11/2010 on Sirius/XM E Street Radio when a fan asked what Elvis’ death impact had on the songs during recording “….that’s very interesting question because I think people forgot that Elvis died. The two things that happened were the punk explosion and Elvis died. It had a big impact on me at the time. No one has asked me that question in all the interviews I have done. I don’t think it affected the album in any way. The song ‘Come on, Let’s Go Tonight’ is a song about going to Memphis for Elvis’ funeral. So, I did begin to write something about it. And that song turned into Factory.

Elvis Presley’s boyhood home, Tupelo, Ms