Elvis Presley

On This Day in 1957, Elvis Bought Graceland

Located in Memphis, Tennessee, Graceland became Elvis’s home base. He lived there with his parents and his grandmother Minnie Mae Presley, and he conducted plenty of business there. He outfitted it with his favorite furniture and his favorite appliance: TV. There are TVs all over the place.

When Elvis died in 1977, Lisa Marie Presley inherited the estate. She preserved it exactly as it was, and opened it in 1982 as a tourist…

Orion, the Guy Who Would Be Elvis

The following article is from the new book Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.

He wasn’t Elvis, but he wanted to be…and a lot of people even thought he might be. Here is the bizarre story of Jimmy Ellis, or, as he was also known, Orion.

(Image credit: Shelby Singleton)

HEARTBREAK HOTEL

By the time he was a teenager, it was clear that Jimmy Ellis had two talents: singing, and inadvertently sounding almost exactly like Elvis Presley. In 1962, Ellis entered the Orrville (Alabama) High School talent show. He sang the gospel standard “Peace in the Valley,” which had been popularized by Elvis…and won. Then he entered a statewide talent contest…and won that one, too. That earned him $1,000 and an appearance on TV’s Ted Mack Amateur Hour. Unfortunately, despite a promising start and a television performance, Ellis did not become a pop sensation.

But he had other options. He rejected an offer to join the Milwaukee Braves, opting instead to go to Middle Georgia Junior College on a baseball scholarship. There he met a record producer named Jimmy Youmans, and the two men cut a single in 1964 called “Don’t Count Your Chickens.” It was released by a tiny Georgia label called Dradco, and it flopped. Reason: the disc jockeys said Ellis sounded “like a second-rate Elvis.” After transferring to a college outside Tuscaloosa, Alabama—where he frequently performed at nightclubs with a set made up almost entirely of Elvis songs—Ellis abandoned music for the second time. He returned to Orrville and took over the family business—breeding horses.

DEVIL IN DISGUISE

Around that same time, Mercury Records vice president Shelby Singleton was having a lot of success producing novelty records. He specialized in Southern acts, such as Brook Benton, with “The Boll Weevil Song,” and Ray Stevens, with “Ahab the Arab.” In 1966, Singleton left Mercury to form his own label, Plantation Records. The company’s first hit, “Harper Valley PTA” by Jeannie C. Riley, sold six million copies, enabling Singleton to expand his business interests. His first purchase: the back catalog of Sun Records, the legendary Memphis record label where Elvis had recorded his first singles, including “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Other acts whose early hits Singleton had access to: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Charlie Rich.

In 1972, Jimmy Ellis was once again bitten by the music bug. He called up a friend, Florida record producer Finlay Duncan, and made a demo tape. Duncan sent the record to Singleton, thinking an Elvis soundalike was a good fit for the label that had helped launch Elvis. Singleton was blown away by the demo, and thought that the smalltime Florida producer had somehow convinced the real Elvis to record a session. Duncan assured him that it wasn’t Elvis—this was a different guy entirely.

TREAT ME NICE

Singleton contracted Ellis to record two songs—two very specific songs: “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” the first two songs Elvis ever recorded back in 1954. But why would audiences care about an Elvis impersonator singing Elvis songs? Singleton knew they wouldn’t, without a proper hook. So Singleton released the two songs without Ellis’s name on the label, listing the artist as only a large question mark. With the Sun imprint on there, the combined implication was that these were lost recordings of Elvis from the 1950s. But the public still wasn’t interested because, by 1972, Elvis, in all his forms, had become passé.

However, the release did get some attention from RCA Records. RCA, the real Elvis home ever since it purchased Elvis contract from Sun in 1955 for $35,000, threatened to sue Singleton for what it thought was the unauthorized release of an Elvis song. It was only after the company hired a sound analyst to perform a “voice print” on the song and concluded that it wasn’t the King, that they dropped the allegations.

Singleton produced one more Ellis single, called “Changing.” While the first Ellis single was an imitation of early Elvis, the second was an original song performed in the style of 1970s Elvis—a big ballad with an orchestra. That one didn’t hit either, and Ellis left the building at Sun.

RETURN TO SENDER

He didn’t quit the music business, though. MCA Records signed Ellis to record one single, another 1970s Elvis-style song called “There Ya Go.” MCA heavily promoted Ellis, got the song featured in an episode of the TV drama McCloud, and got Ellis an opportunity to perform it on The Gong Show, but it fell through. He never appeared on the show. Convinced that stardom was, finally, just around the corner, Ellis moved to Los Angeles in 1976 and spent his life savings on stylists, choreographers, talent coaches, and other experts to help groom him into a star. But all the TV exposure and all the help still didn’t work.

So Ellis went back to the South, but not to his horse farm. He went to Macon, Georgia, and signed with tiny Boblo Records. Over 1976 and 1977, Ellis recorded five singles and two albums, one of them all Elvis songs called Ellis Sings Elvis. But 15 years of trying to make a name for himself as an Elvis soundalike was starting to take a toll. Ellis wanted to try something more personal, and Boblo president Bobby Smith let him. What did he…

Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes

Nearly 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n’ roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. On what would have been his 82nd birthday, here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

“It’s not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it’s who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ’em all over everything you do.”

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I’ve never written a song in my life. It’s all a big hoax.”

“I don’t know anything about music. In my line you don’t have to.”

“After…