"Bill E. Burk and Elvis"

In his introductory article for Bill Burk's Elvis World Online, "007" reflects on his nearly five decades of researching The King, "digging deeper" than most other journalists have ever done.

During the last 20 years of Elvis Presley's life, as a columnist for the old Memphis Press-Scimitar I wrote some 400 stories and columns about him.

I lived one minute from Graceland. At times I would visit Elvis in Graceland. On rare occasions, he stopped by my house.

I felt I knew quite a bit about Elvis at the end of that period. But in the past 19 years, in publishing ELVIS WORLD magazine and 12 Elvis books, and doing deep research into his life, I found that I really didn't know Elvis at all. Just the surface Elvis.

The "Elvis" I have come to know in talking to scores of his friends, classmates, teachers and neighbors since 1985 have greatly deepened my knowledge of Elvis and today I find I admire the man much more than I did during those 20 years we were neighbors.

And my continuing search for uncovered Elvis photos and stories, particularly from his early days, has provided me with more excitement than any other thing I've ever done -- well, maybe not as exciting as my one lone flying mission in a B-57 Canberra bomber with Australian Squadron 2 in Vietnam, but close. Take the Santa Claus photo I am now in pursuit of.

Some two months ago I learned that at closing time on Christmas Eve 1954, Elvis appeared at the door of a shopping center store and asked could he come in and do his Christmas gift shopping.

Even in 1954, in Memphis at least, he was famous enough that the manager of the store gladly let Elvis in and allowed him to leisurely shop for a long list of family and friends. During his shopping spree, he gladly posed for a picture with some of the employees, and then a second photo in which he jokingly sat on the lap of the store's female Santa Claus, who is said to have weighed so much she didn't need padding under the costume.

"Santa's" family told me of the photo. She is dead. Her ex-husband is thought to have the photos and/or the negatives. I asked the family to check with him to see if I could borrow either or both for my magazine and/or a luxurious coffee table book I am planning for January 2005. Little problem. The ex-husband has refused to talk to "Santa's" family since the divorce. They won't give me his name or last known address; they will only say he lives near Memphis in north Mississippi. So, my hunt is on. Each time I start down a lead like this, my excitement level builds to wild expectations.

Sometimes when you are hunting for A, you find B, which might turn out even better than A. Take, for instance, the questions:

(1) Did Elvis ever play in one of the nightclubs in Trumann, Arkansas, some 70 miles northeast of Memphis?; and

(2) if he did play, which club was it: C&R (Curly's)? Or the Cotton Club across the highway from C&R? I first started chasing that one down in early 1997 when I wrote my book, Early Elvis: The Sun Years. Even included a photo of the vine-covered, closed C&R in the book. My indications, though not totally proven at that time, were that Elvis had played at C&R.

Then, in June 2004, I was back in Trumann. I had found a woman there who had taken photos of Elvis before and after his appearance at the Overton Park Shell on 31 July 1954, just days after he had recorded That's Alright Mama at SUN. Those photos now appear on the front cover and in the centerfold of ELVIS WORLD #73, our current edition.

Trumann being a small town, then as now, folks grew up knowing generations of all the old families settled in the area. I asked the woman if she could help me settle the C&R or Cotton Club question. She made one phone call -- to the widow of the owner of the Cotton Club. This woman had kept all their old pay records and reported they had never paid Elvis to appear there.

The two clubs were owned by brothers-in-law. She called her sister-in-law to have her check paychecks. No Elvis. No story. But wait! The woman who was supplying me with photos got a call (while I was sitting there) from her brother. She asked his memories. He said that while Elvis never appeared at the Cotton Club, that one night on a flatbed trailer sitting along the US Highway 63 in front of the Cotton Club, the local musicians were jamming on the flatbed when Elvis happened by. Elvis, he said, stopped, got out his guitar, climbed up on the flatbed and joined in.

So, EW gained a story and ended a long search for the facts. Back in those days in the old Deep South (before McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc), each small town had its own ma and pa diner where everyone went to have a "meat and three" lunch, meaning one meat and 3 veggies.

On that same trek to recover the Overton Park Shell photos, I learned of Elvis stopping often in this small town's ma & pa restaurant. I was put in touch with the retired owner and she told me a cute, embarrassing story about Elvis and of a postcard he had written to her. As I write this, I have her searching all her stored things looking for that postcard. If found, it, too, will appear in either a future EW or in the planned coffee table book. And, again, on this same trip out, I learned of a woman who, as a young girl in 1954-55, followed Elvis all around northeast Arkansas taking scores of photos -- pictures the world of Elvis fans have never seen. I am, at the moment, trying to track this woman down.

As I said, the excitement of the hunt is sometimes greater than the discovery itself. In my book, Early Elvis: The Tupelo Years, I traced Elvis' family roots back to Andrew Presley in Scotland in 1745. The mayor and city council in Paisley, Scotland, erred and told the Paisley press that I had written Elvis' roots were in Paisley. When I called them to tell them their mistake, they wanted to argue with me about what I had written.

I had to FAX over photos of the actual pages of the book concerning this period. But since Tupelo Years was written, via an aviation source (and I have spent my Life both in journalism and flying), I am now comfortable in saying that Elvis' roots go far beyond Scotland, to as far back in the 1500s, to an area around the tiny town of Hochstadt, Germany, where the family spelled their name "Preslar" and were in the vinyard business. Today, you can still find Preslars in the Hochstadt area and still operating vinyards !

I looked up a road map of the area and noted that as Elvis drove his Army jeep from the Bad Nauheim area to maneuvers on the Czechoslovakian border, he had to have driven right thru the town of Hochstadt. So near to his family roots, yet so uninformed! Two more projects I am working on at the moment, for either the book and/or EW are finding a young girl Elvis gave a horse and trailer to when he owned the Circle G Ranch in 1967 (she was age 12 then) . . . and the owner of a Pure Oil service station where Elvis dropped in one night, unannounced, and bought 18 Cushman motor scooters. Neither of those stories have ever seen daylight, but I know them both to be true.

As I said, the hunt . . . Stay tuned.

If you are interested in subscribing to ELVIS WORLD, now in its 19th publishing year, send $23 to: BURK ENTERPRISES, Box 16792, Memphis TN 38186 USA or email Bill to pay by credit card.

We would truly enjoy building our reader base in both Australia and New Zealand. I have family in Australia that I spent 26 years finding, and someday soon, if you'd like, I'll write the story of that search in this space. The story involves some famous Australian and American people.

Contact: Bill E. Burk, Elvis World Magazine


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