Elvis – Book Overview

Elvis Books to have

I have many many many Elvis books ranging from serious biographies, to gossip/tell all, picture books and a lot of in-between.

I started thinking about what books that I would recommend, so here’s my list and I am curious about what books everyone else has read that they would recommend and why.

There may be better ones out there, but I can only go by the 300 books that I own and have read. there’s over 2000 books about Elvis, so I have only made a small dent.

1. Peter Guralnick’s lastTrain to Memphis/Careless Love ( I count these 2 books as one since they are part 1 and 2)

I think this is a well researched and balanced pair of books that provided a lot of insight into the work Elvis put into his career and into the people who helped make – and unmake – him

2. Elaine Dundy’s Elvis and Gladys

Excellent research and detailed accounting of his childhood – one of the first books to really focus on this area – details several controversial subjects in a non-exploitative manner – you got a real sense of the time period and people Elvis came from and a real sense of Gladys as a person

3. Alanna Nash – Elvis and the Colonel

The most important professional relationship Elvis had as well as the most misunderstood and controversial.

Alanna is probably the only biographer of Parker and she digs very deep into his Dutch shadowy past.

Parker was a brilliant promoter who was determined to make Elvis the biggest star and the highest paid – and for many years, Elvis was the top earning singer and actor.

Parker and Elvis had a unique partnership, with Parker having all the business smarts and Elvis having the artistic smarts and neither one really understanding the other. A recipe for a disastrous success.

4. Word by Word – Jerry Osborne

Transcripts of all known Elvis interviews, press conference and public utterances. Even a reproduction of the only public writing Elvis did – an article for Motorcycle Enthusiast magazine in the 1950’s.

5. The Death of Elvis by Charles C Thompson II and James P Cole

This book contains details of the leaked autopsy, interviews with the medical team members, review of what the hospital did and didn’t do – not for the faint of heart

Elvis books to avoid

As for Elvis books to avoid, there’s actually a lot of them. Many Elvis books do little to advance any understanding or analysis of Elvis.

So, rather than specific books, here’s the categories of books that I would recommend avoiding:

1. anything by any member of the Stanley family.

If you’re familiar with Elvis’ story, you pretty much already know why.

If you’re not, the short version is that Davada “Dee” Stanley and her three sons, Bill, David, and Rick Stanley between the four of them have published about 10 books in various combination and solo efforts. Plus a terrible movie, Protecting the King.

In 1980, the four of them penned their first effort Elvis: We Love You Tender.

Dee was quoted to say that it would make the bodyguard book (Elvis What Happened) look like a kindergarten reader.

So, their books and various claims have all been launched from that poison pen.
2. By any woman claiming to have had his child or long term relationship but is unable to provide even a photo of herself with Elvis

Goes without saying – even that Vegas stripper Tempest Storm who claimed a one nighter with Elvis prior to his army induction had a photo with him.

3. Anyone who had a short term association or arms length employee relationship

Yet claims to now want to reveal the true Elvis, set the record straight or make right all the negative rumours.

They generally paint a worse picture of Elvis than the one they claim to be correcting – but really, how would a person who knew him a few months or in a narrow context know him better than people who were regularly around him at work and at play?

And incidentally, these arm’s length folks are pretty much never mentioned in any books by Memphis Mafia guys or serious writers who do research and interviews and put effort into their books.
4. Books by any person who didn’t know Elvis and didn’t do interviews with people who knew him and have no particular training in pop culture or music analysis

They tend based their book on a fantasy relationship and or a mystical connection

A big tip off for books in the third and fourth category is that if the book has photos, they are all publicity photos, concert images or fan taken candids.

Never anything that suggests an actual meeting took place and the writer certainly didn’t take the photo.
Anyways, that’s my rule of thumb for book buying.

On to more reviews!

Book Reviews: Best Man and Genuine Elvis

George Klein is one of the last remaining Memphis Mafia regulars to pen a memoir.

It stands out from the other MM Guy books in 2 important respects:

1. For the majority of his friendship with Elvis, George wasn’t on the payroll. This also meant that he wasn’t around 24/7, he wasn’t exactly Elvis’ celebrity equal, but it did allow him to be less dependent and beholden to Elvis.

2. Rather than just a collection of Elvis stories, George adds a career commentary and places Elvis against the events of the day.

These are two departures from the usual MM Guy books – because the other men spent most of their association being paid by Elvis and inhabiting his somewhat isolated existence.

For those of us who were kids when he died or became fans after, Elvis seems to stand outside of the events of the 60 and 70’s. It was disappointing for example to have all the 30 Year Anniversaries on CNN of the big summer of 69 culture events and have Elvis’ return to live performing completely left off the list.

The big controversy in the book is George’s claim that it was he that got Elvis to record at American Studios for that essential follow up to the 68 Special. Other books, if they go into the why, give that credit to Marty Lacker – who did a lot of work with that studio. I tend to lean towards Marty’s version of one on one cajoling, rather than George’s recollection with his rather frank suggestion in front of a group that included Parker and the music publishers.

I can’t see Parker allowing George to stick around if it had happened as told in the book’s opening.

I found the starting the book in 69 with that teaser and then jumping back to high school and continuing chronologically a bit odd. A bit too much like trying to make the book screenplay ready.

After Walk Hard‘s spoof of that Critical Moment in your life makes you consider your whole life that brought you to this critical moment, no one should do that scene anymore.

Especially when telling a familiar story about a famous person – we already know the ending and what that critical moment put in motion and what came of it.

Back to George’s book……

The aspect that I liked the best about the book, is that unlike other MM Guys, George doesn’t give the sense that he is inflating his place in Elvis’ life – he clearly says Elvis was his best friend, not that he was Elvis’.

George also is far more inclusive to mention other MM guys reasonably and evenly – when I first began to read MM books about Elvis, some of the guys were left out, others had their roles and importance rise qand fall depending on the relationship of the MM Guys in question.

It strikes me that they all say they were such great friends as a group, and yet, post Elvis, there are many factions and camps. The group’s friendship didn’t survive the loss of the central figure.

The only thing that jumped out to me as wrong was George’s not exactly claim, but an expressed belief that he is the only person who ever Emcee’d for Elvis and the Beatles.

This is not correct – Vancouver’s Red Robinson introduced Elvis in 57 and the Beatles in 64. George had intro’d Elvis in the 50’s and the Beatles in 66.

I doubt that Red was the only other one, but he was probably the first one to Emcee both. Red also has a book about his own career – Rockbound published in 1983.

Red is probably the only Emcee that John Lennon told to “get the F— off the stage” when Red had to break into the concert to tell the crowd to calm down or the show was over.  My Mom and Aunt were at that show – right up front!

Wow, two digressions in one review.

The book benefits from being written so much longer after the events, so there’s not really any axe to grind or agenda overwhelming the stories. It has a balanced feel with only the occasion self inflating embellishment tone.

That the book is chronologically arranged and more importantly, puts Elvis in context to the times. This grounds Elvis in the time periods and makes his 50’s work more exciting as to how this out of step young man took the country, the world really, and pop culture into uncharted territory of fusing musical styles and the 2 separate cultures of America.

George being in radio also met and befriended a range of artists who are quoted as being inspired by Elvis, as well as learning how many more celebrities Elvis had interacted with than previously known.

My only complaint about GK’s book is the constant “I was famous too” whine that runs throughout it. He was locally famous in the Memphis area, so anyone outside of that are who has heard of him, it’s because he was associated with Elvis, not his radio/tv work. Fame is a relative and fickle thing.

Who would enjoy this book?

I think everyone from hardcore fans to the Elvis-curious.

I consider it a good addition – with a grain or two of salt – to having a solid Elvis library.

___

The book was a lot smaller and thinner than I expected, so I don’t even want to give it it’s own blog review page.

Many of the quotes (it’s overly generous to call them stories when they mostly don’t go over a small page) weren’t from people who knew Elvis – they were often by people who just a meet or a wanted to meet Elvis.

No rare or new photos – and yes, there are new photos of Elvis surfacing all the time.

I couldn’t help but think that this was more about Ronnie and his paintings than Elvis.

If you’re a super hardcore collector, this is for you,  and a complete time waster for casual fans or anyone looking for an Elvis 101 introduction.

As a mere hardcore collector myself, this isn’t something I would have put on my shelf if I had seen it in the store first.  I consider it 20 mins of my life that I won’t get back.