Elvis's Stuff Rolls Through Houston
John Lennon famously said, "Before Elvis, there was nothing." But after Elvis, innumerable objects owned by or otherwise connected to the late King of Rock and Roll -- who recorded his debut single, "That's All Right," 60 years ago this July -- have come to rest at his Memphis mansion Graceland, which is still one of America's most popular tourist destinations.
Photo by Chris Gray Kevin Kern, Graceland's Director of Communications, in the Continental Club's backyard
Typically Graceland will reorganize its Elvis memorabilia to create a different exhibit each year. For 2014, reasonably enough, the theme is "60 Years of Elvis," featuring more than 200 artifacts like stagewear, musical instruments and plenty of the King's awards hardware. To drum up interest, Elvis Presley Enterprises sends representatives bearing a few items on media tours through key markets, many of them conveniently located within driving distance of Memphis. Charged with keeping Elvis' stuff safe through his Texas swing this past week was Graceland's Director of Communications, Kevin Kern.
"Elvis has a tremendous history with Houston in terms of performing at the Astrodome, and breaking some attendance records there," says Kern, a former TV reporter who has worked for Graceland for about ten years. "It's a very important market for us."
Interest in Elvis himself shows few signs of flagging. Kern says more than 600,000 people visit Graceland annually, from every continent but Antarctica, and that tour groups at the mansion can resemble a "mini-U.N." Six decades after "That's All Right," on Elvis' birthday (January 8) and the anniversary of his 1977 death (August 16), Kern says Graceland continues to receive various gold, platinum and multiplatinum certifications from Sony, which currently controls the King's catalog. One recent plaque to come in, Kern notes, was a diamond award commemorating ten million sales of 1957's Elvis' Christmas Album.
All other photos courtesy of Elvis Presley Enterprises/Graceland Part of the "60 Years of Elvis" exhibit at Graceland in Memphis
Every song Elvis ever recorded has been released at this point, notes Kern, but the vaults are aren't quite empty, either. The acclaimed Elvis at Stax, which captured a December 1973 session at Memphis' second most famous recording studio (aka "Soulsville"), was released last year to mark its 40th anniversary. And contemporary pop icons Bruno Mars, Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake (himself a son of Memphis) are all self-admitted Elvis freaks who have visited Graceland numerous times. If Elvis himself were alive today, Kern reckons he might still be a performer -- "if he were still able to do a good job" -- but would otherwise stay out of the spotlight.
"He wanted to be as normal as possible," he says. "The Elvis Presley of today would not be going to the grocery store just so he could be photographed by TMZ. He'd have a quiet life, far away from the camera.
When Kern and his assistant Danielle passed through Houston, Rocks Off met them at the Continental Club and Big Top so we could show them both the big Elvis sign in the backyard and the Big Top's own Elvis mini-exhibit. It's no Graceland, but they seemed impressed. Here's what they brought with them.
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