Two "Rock-N-Boppin'" Reviews:
Kay Wheeler: Personal Memories Of Elvis CD
As a voluptuous young gal, Kay Wheeler (a 1997 Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductee) founded the first National Elvis Presley Fan Club. A few months down the line, she sassily strutted her wildly dancing stuff in the classic 1957 rock'n'roll motion picture, "Rock Baby Rock It", and she later starred alongside Gene Vincent in "Hot Rod Gang". Most importantly (for all you Elvis-lovin' ladies out there in rockabilly la-la land!), Ms. Wheeler was Elvis' girlfriend during the frenzied height of the King's early brushes with success, fame, and fortune in 1956 and 1957. And that wild'n'woolly relationship is the prime, heart-thumping inspiration for this dandy and delightful lil' disc! In a sweet, tender, country girl voice, Kay provides a descriptively picturesque montage of remembrances about her special times with Elvis. She vividly details how she first heard Elvis on a Dallas-area radio station via a live broadcast from the Big D Jamboree. She fondly relates the events that led to her forming the aforementioned Elvis fan club. She breathlessly teases the listener with some sexy, heart-racing accounts of backstage kisses and flesh-tingling embraces with the mighty, hip-swiveling Big E! She even walks you through a cozy, charming visit to the Presley family household on Audubon Drive in Memphis, Tennessee, where Elvis kept a framed photograph of Kay on the nightstand next to his bed. The entire time Ms. Wheeler affectionately reminisces about her precious moments with the King, a jaunty array of classic Elvis songs, as performed by three different tribute artists, jubilantly emanates from the background. And the lip-smackin' icing on the cake: the folded CD insert contains a handful of intimate, never-before-published photos of Kay and Elvis. All in all, this is a professionally produced package prepared with the utmost of love, adoration, and tenderness, and it's sure to provide numerous hours of awe, envy, and joy for the most faithful of Elvis fans. (Kay Wheeler, P.O. Box 53042, San Jose, CA 95153 / www.kaywheeler.com) - Roger Moser, Jr. ("Rockabilly Revue")
Various Artists: Rock Baby Rock It Soundtrack CD
"Rock Baby Rock It" was one of those classic, black-and-white, low-budget movies that was essentially marketed to cash-in on the youth-driven rock'n'roll craze of the late 1950s. According to the liner notes of this soundtrack CD, "Rock Baby Rock It" was filmed entirely in a Dallas, Texas, hotel lobby in 1956, and it grandly debuted at a theater in the vast concrete wilderness of Big D in March of '57. Although the somewhat predictable plot follows the routine pubescent story line of all the other rock'n'roll-flavored motion pictures of that particular era, what really sets "Rock Baby Rock It" apart from the rest of 'em is its outstanding musical content (and Kay Wheeler's wildly wiggling dance acrobatics, of course va-va-va-voom!). There's the jumpin', swingin', jive-wailin' fury of The Cell Block 7; the boppin', upbeat, pelvis-shakin' splendor of Don Coates & The Bon-Aires; the lively, lovelorn, doo-wop glow of The 5 Stars; the gritty, smokin', late-night rhythm-and-blues strut of Preacher Smith & The Deacons; the virile, robust, juke joint-style R&B growl of Rosco Gordon & The Red Tops; the savage, wild'n'woolly rockabilly brashness of Johnny Carroll & The Hot Rocks; and the folksy, frolicking, Everly-like rural harmonies of The Belew Twins. In all, you get a grand total of 18 stellar tracks, and I'm here to tell you that there ain't one sour grape in the entire bunch! (Goofin Records, P.O. Box 63, 01601 Vantaa, Finland / www.goofinrecords.com or Kay Wheeler, P.O. Box 53042, San Jose, CA 95153 / www.kaywheeler.com) - Roger Moser, Jr. ("Rockabilly Revue")
Kay Wheeler Appears on
NBC Network News
Kay Wheeler, founder and president of the National Elvis Presley Fan Club appeared on Tom Brokaw's NBC nightly news network program on Friday evening, August 16, at 6:30-7:00 PM, ET.
Kay was called to meet with the news team in Las Vegas for the interview and to show her collectibles of Elvis to a nationwide audience!
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IS Elvis frozen in time?
Don't ask the fanatics at the Elvis Impersonators Convention & Showcase.
All That Glitters:
The Elvises have left the building - and returned to their time machine
JUNE 13, 2002, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - I am sitting at a bar at the Lady Luck next to a man with Elvis Presley sideburns from South Carolina who is explaining to me how it all went wrong for the King. "Music changed," he says. He is bitter. "It was the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and all that crap." No matter how many genres music fractures into, all types of performers remain obsessed with Elvis. "Will Elvis take the place of Jesus?" Jello Biafra asked on one Dead Kennedys song. Biafra meant the question satirically, but at certain scary moments it seemed that the Elvis Impersonators Convention & Showcase could be a beginning.
Throughout my career I've met many obsessed fans. Still, I can't imagine that even, say, hardcore Trekkers would turn out to see one of William Shatner's old girlfriends. And it's a safe guess that the King has more old flames than Captain Kirk. Yet the audience at this convention got to its feet with excitement, people leaning in to see, many even snapping pictures to memorialize the moment, when former Presley girlfriend Kay Wheeler was brought onstage to go-go dance to "Heartbreak Hotel."
Don't get me wrong; as impersonators, many of whom are professionals, these guys are among the best I've seen, and in covering entertainment in Las Vegas, I've seen more Elvis impersonators than I want to remember. This time out, though, it helped that there was no Elvis karaoke and that the live band was first-rate, as was the rockabilly performance from Glen Glenn. -By Richard Abowitz
Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC)
Features Kay Wheeler in "Elvis Special"
AUSTRALIA, August 14, 2002, - Kay Wheeler was interviewed regarding her association with the young Elvis Presley as his national fan club president in 1956. The program was aired nationwide in Australia as well as Asia and on the BBC. Kay's dancing performance in Las Vegas at the Elvis Convention held there June 9, 2002 was also shown as well as rare 1950s Elvis collectibles which belong to Kay. A follow-up program is scheduled for the Presley birthday celebration next year.
WGN Network Radio, Chicago,
Interviews Kay Wheeler Live
CHICAGO, AUGUST 14, 2002 - WGN-AM radio featured Kay Wheeler as the main guest on their 25th Elvis Anniversary program. Kay answered questions regarding the "Early Elvis", how the first fan club was started, and how it felt to be "kissed by Elvis". The station was interested in Kay's new CD "Kay Wheeler's Personal Memories of Elvis". A follow up program is scheduled to premiere Kay's CD and interview her further.
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THE DETROIT NEWS
Thursday, August 15, 2002
"Elvis is something for the girls. He is what every guy wants to be-a hunk, a hunk of burning love!" - Kay Wheeler, 1st Fan Club President.
By Susan Whitall - If you don't like Elvis Presley, find a cabin in the woods right away with no TV, radio, Internet access or newspaper delivery. Hide under the bed for good measure, and do it now, before the 25th anniversary of his death rolls around.
Because as intense as the coverage is now - the King can be heard on the radio singing the re-released "A Little Less Information" and seen on TV as the morning news shows crowd Graceland's gates - it's all going to grow to a crescendo of Elvis mania by Friday.
Since Elvis Aaron Presley's death on Aug. 16, 1977, millions of Elvis records have been sold, millions of people worldwide tour Graceland and there are so many Elvis impersonators they have an official organization. There are Elvis references in every part of our culture - postage stamps, black velvet paintings and jokes about Elvis sightings at Burger King restaurants. Why are so many of us still infatuated with the former truck driver born in Tupelo, Miss.?
Over the years, many have wondered why Elvis is the King of Rock 'n' Roll and why not Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry or Highland Park's own Bill Haley and the Comets, whose frantic song "Rock Around the Clock" still sends shivers down the spine when it kicks off the movie "Blackboard Jungle."
To fans and pop culture experts, Elvis is the ultimate riddle: an enigma cloaked in mystery. Yet his appeal abounds, because everyone has an opinion about what made Elvis so unique.
That includes Kay Wheeler, the feisty Texan who formed his first fan club back in 1956 before she hit it big as a wild, bop-dancing rock girl in movies like 1957's "Rock Baby, Rock It!" Wheeler, now a Realtor in Silicon Valley, Calif., travels the country giving talks on her memories of Elvis while demonstrating the bop, a dance she says would be considered X-rated today.
"Elvis will last as long as there are women around," Wheeler says flatly. She ought to know - she not only started up his fan club when she was 15, but she dated him as well.
"Elvis is something for the girls, and he's what every guy would like to be," Wheeler opines, "a hunka, hunka burning love. He really let go on stage, he made love to the audience. And there was more intensity in his little finger than anybody had in their whole body."
That intensity, and his wild shaking as he performed led to cameramen on "The Ed Sullivan Show" being instructed not to shoot Elvis from the waist down. Wheeler believes that Elvis is appealing because he blew right through the inhibitions most of us have.
"He didn't worry about body language, he just did it," says Wheeler, who also danced the bop in the Gene Vincent movie "Hot Rod Gang." "He was uninhibited, and it gives us a release to watch him."
According to a Harris Poll released this week, while Elvis' strongest fans are women 50-64 years old (45 percent), it's surprising how potent his appeal is with 18- to 24-year-olds, for whom there never was a living Elvis.
Thirty-nine percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have watched an Elvis movie, 38 percent have danced to a song by him, and 37 percent have seen an Elvis impersonator.
But for that age group, the fat, bloated Elvis of the Vegas years is a familiar joke figure, far from a real person. For them, and for that matter, anyone younger than 55, it's necessary to look back to the pre-Elvis 1950s through the eyes of those who were there.
Imagine a time when there was no youth culture, when teen-agers listened to Perry Como's "Hot Diggity Dog" with their parents and wore smaller sizes of adult-styled clothing.
"There was nothing for us," says Wheeler, 61. "It was a Donna Reed kind of world. So when rhythm and blues started in, it was an underground movement. If you listened to it, you were considered a dangerous teen-ager. The kids would sneak over the 78 records and we'd have bop parties when our parents were at work. We'd play Hank Ballard and the Midnighters' 'Sexy Ways' and 'Work With Me, Annie,' and the Clovers' 'Little Mama.' When I heard those records, I flipped! We learned how to dance and bop and do things way beyond what Presley was doing."
In Detroit, hometown of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, rhythm and blues was part of the radio diet for black and white teens. White disc jockeys would slip rhythm and blues records into their shows increasingly in the '50s, led by Mickey Shorr, because it was what the kids wanted.
Robin Seymour started spinning records in Detroit as a teenager on WJBK-AM, then moved to WKMH-AM. "As a kid, I didn't know what I was doing," he says with a laugh. "I played records by black artists on labels nobody heard of. The station, 'KMH, was in Dearborn, and management used to give me hell about it. But they were selling radio (ad) time, so they let me do it."
Detroit teens liked the way Elvis blended rockabilly with R&B and flocked to his 1956 shows at the Fox Theatre. Because of their devotion to Elvis, Seymour concocted a stunt to get their attention which backfired completely. Although he had espoused R&B for years, the DJ decided to "ban" Elvis records from his program, "Bobbin' With Robin," saying he thought Elvis was just a fad that would go away. The results were dramatic.
"Two hundred kids showed up on their bikes in front of my house on West Franklin in Dearborn," says Seymour, who now lives in Los Angeles. "They had signs, 'Ban Bobbin' With Robin.' The newspapers came out. It was tongue in cheek!"
Musically, Elvis delivered the potent excitement of R&B and rockabilly combined in a freewheeling way, complete with shaking hips abhorred by parents.
Bill Haley almost achieved it with ''Rock Around the Clock,'' but he wasn't as subversively photogenic as Elvis. Nor can one imagine anyone studying Haley in a comparative religion class.
Norman Girardot, a professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, uses Elvis as an example in his comparative religion class, along with Mao Tse Tung, of a person who is worshiped like a god. "Why Elvis?" Girardot ponders. "There are two primary reasons: Elvis was truly a charismatic figure. Whatever one thinks, he aroused emotion in people. He became a focal point of people's fears and hopes. Of course, there are plenty of charismatic folks around, why isn't Kurt Cobain or Jerry Garcia a god?
"He was also the right person at the right time," Girardot says. "American culture was at a crucial turning point in the '50s, even more so than the '60s.
"The transformation of American society is the great gift of African-American culture," he says. "It loosened us up! It made the whole culture realize that spirit is the most important thing, not petty hatreds. Sexuality was part of that, and when Elvis twitched his hips, thousands of teen-age girls realized that they were sexual creatures."
What truly makes Elvis worthy of study in a religion class, Girardot believes, is the mystery at the core of his appeal.
"The mystery, the ubiquity of the Elvis phenomenon -- how do we explain that? There's a kind of spookiness attached to it." And always, fans bring it back around to something simple. "Elvis made us happy," says his fan club president Wheeler. "You came back from an Elvis show on a real high. When you hear his music, you still feel happy. People need to feel happy."
San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, August 14, 2002
'Tribute Artists' Thrive on Elvis Resurgence
Matthew B. Stannard, Chronicle Staff Writer
LAS VEGAS - They arrive like pompadoured pilgrims at a great cathedral, settling into the leather chairs of the Lady Luck casino's karaoke lounge to wait for the ceremonies to begin. At first glance, they stand out little from the swirling crowds. But from time to time, a gambler looks twice at the dozen or so pairs of matching black sideburns and has that old rush of recognition: It's him. "What is this, an Elvis convention?" one man mumbles, a little incredulously. "Elvis has left the building." Indeed he has. Elvis Presley is dead, dead 25 years. But you know what they say: The King is dead -- long live the King. Or, in this case, the Kings.
Because yes, this was an Elvis convention: the first of the Professional Elvis Impersonators Association, recently founded by longtime impersonator Johnny Thompson. Thompson intended the convention as an invitation-only two- day showcase for some of the top Elvises - or Elvi, the plural of Elvis being the subject of some debate - from the United States, England and Japan.
Kay Wheeler of San Jose, sitting in the back of the convention crowd, understands the energy. She felt it in 1954, when she dropped a nickel in a Texas jukebox to hear "Good Rockin' Tonight" and ended up starting the first Elvis fan club with her sisters.
Wheeler eventually dated Elvis several times before dropping out of the fan scene when he changed his focus from rockabilly rebellion to Hollywood hype. Yet she renewed her interest in Elvis after he died, and agreed to be guest of honor at the convention.
Wheeler and her sisters have their own theory about why Elvis has remained popular. The world is ready for him again, they say; ready, after Sept. 11 and other modern-day shocks, to grab hold of something from the past that is simple and fun. And Elvis -- or at least a reasonable facsimile -- is there, waiting for them, they say.
"The thing that's kept Elvis alive -- as much as the music -- is the impersonators. Because you still have a visual," Wheeler says. "Each of them has a little part of it . . . but you've got to love them all."
Elvis in Texas
By Anne Marie Kilday
Authors Lori Torrance and Stanley Oberst gathered anecdotes and hundreds of others for their recently published book, Elvis in Texas, The Undiscovered King 1954-1958. The book details Elvis' early career when his performances on the "Louisiana Hayride" radio show made him a popular act at high-school fundraisers for class trips, money-makers for volunteer fire departments, car dealership openings and eventually, the Cotton Bowl...
Colonel Tom Parker gave Kay Wheeler of Dallas EP permits several times because she was such a devoted fan and headed up the first national fan club for Elvis. The 15-year-old black-haired beauty was so enthralled by her first meeting with Elvis at the Municipal Auditorium in San Antonio on April 15, 1956-- that she wrote an article for a teen magazine, titled "I Flipped Over Elvis." The article created an avalanche. Miss Wheeler began receiving about 1,000 letters each week. She bought all the pink stationery she could find and in 1954, created an Elvis Fan Club and newsletter.
Two years later, after graduating from high school, Wheeler was too busy with the fan club to work or attend college. She was on a mission to make sure everybody knew Elvis was a worthy idol. She openly criticized Waco as "the squarest town in America'' because only 5,000 people showed up for an Elvis concert at a venue that had room for 11,000.
Fearing a public relations fiasco, Colonel Parker sent an emissary to Wheeler, urging her to say she had been misquoted. She refused. More interviews followed. When one reporter suggested that Elvis' popularity was waning, she predicted the future: "Elvis will last as long as women are around."
Wheeler visited Elvis again after his Cotton Bowl appearance on October 12, 1956. Her fan club had organized the gigantic turnout of 26,500 teenagers at the Cotton Bowl. This concert had exacerbated the ongoing rivalry between Dallas and Fort Worth. Parker mistakenly booked him in both cities on the same day. Since the Cotton Bowl appearance in Dallas was going to be more profitable.
The Fort Worth organizers were not amused. They filed a lawsuit, and Dallas County deputy sheriff W.R. Price was charged with the unenviable duty of trying to serve the King with a summons to appear in court. Price sped to Dallas with sirens blaring and made several attempts to deliver the summons to Elvis' bodyguard, several members of the singer's entourage, and finally to Parker. Presley's manager eventually paid damages to the coliseum.
From 1954 through 1956, Elvis performed 131 concerts in Texas. Elvis once told a Dallas newspaper reporter, "I owe a lot to Texas. They're the ones who put me over the top."
August 15, 2002
Rockin' and Rollin' with The King at HOT Coliseum
By CARL HOOVER Tribune-Herald entertainment editor
Elvis Presley last performed in Waco on Oct. 12, 1956, and the galvanizing rock 'n' roller was red hot. His first appearance on the national "Ed Sullivan Show" had taken place a month earlier and the night before his Waco gig at the Heart O' Texas Coliseum, Presley had pulled 26,500 screaming fans - the second-largest crowd in his young career - to Dallas' Cotton Bowl.
A day later, Presley couldn't sell out the Heart of Texas (HOT) Coliseum. He brought a crowd of more than 5,000 shrieking fans to blissful, ear-shattering ecstacy, but 2,000 more seats went empty. Welcome to Waco.
The less-than-capacity crowd incensed 17-year-old Kay Wheeler, the Dallas-based president of the national Elvis Presley Fan Club, who publicly berated Waco as "the squarest town in America." "Why those people just sat on their hands while he sang," she fumed to the Associated Press after the show.
The Waco News-Tribune 's review described Presley, wearing a green jacket, black slacks and blue suede shoes, in action: "Presley went through his regular 'routine' of dancing all over the stage, pulling at his hair and having the appearance of being unable to control himself."
The squarest town in America, like much of mainstream America, was ambivalent about the new star and the rock čn' roll that he championed. News of his Coliseum appearance was carried low on the front pages of Waco's daily newspapers, below news that tickets were going fast for Baylor Theater's May production of "Hamlet" starring Burgess Meredith.
Elvis, after all, had been in Waco the year before as one of the featured artists of the Louisiana Hayride, which brought its country acts to the HOT Coliseum. Elvis took third billing on that night. The evening's headliner? Slim Whitman.