Elvis Presley, King of Rock & Roll 1 of 2
Updated September 21, 2008 (first published November 20, 1999) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) –
The following is part 1 of 2 of the article “Elvis Presley: King of Rock & Roll.” The complete article is in the Music section of the End Times Apostasy Database at the Way of Life Literature web site. This is excerpted from the 430-page book Rock Music vs. the God of the Bible, available from Way of Life Literature.
Elvis Presley (1935-1977) is called the “King of Rock & Roll.” Alice Cooper said, “There will never be anybody cooler than Elvis Presley” (“100 Greatest Artists of Rock & Roll,” VH1). Bruce Springsteen testified, “Elvis is my religion.” John Lennon went even further, saying, “Before Elvis, there was nothing” (“The Boss,” USA Today, Aug. 16, 2002, p. 8D).
Presley produced 94 gold singles, 43 gold albums; and his movies grossed over $180 million. Further millions were made through the sale of merchandise. In 1956 alone, he earned over $50 million. He is the object of one of “the biggest personality cults in modern history.” An estimated one million people visited his gravesite at Forest Hill cemetery during the first few weeks after he died, before it was moved to the grounds of Graceland. More than twenty years after his death, 700,000 each year stream through his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee; and the annual vigil held to commemorate his death is attended by thousands of dedicated fans, many of whom weep openly during the occasion. Elvis Presley Enterprises takes in more than $100 million per year. When the U.S. Post Office issued a stamp of Elvis Presley and sold Elvis paraphernalia in 1994, sales exceeded $50 million. There are 500 Elvis fan clubs still active around the world.
More than any other one rock artist or group, Elvis symbolizes the rock & roll era. Countless other rock stars, including the Beatles, trace their inspiration to Elvis. The King of Rock & Roll changed an entire generation. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam observed: “In cultural terms, [Elvis’s] coming was nothing less than the start of a revolution” (Halberstam, The Fifties). When Elvis appeared on the Milton Berle Show in April 1956, he was watched by more than 40 million viewers, one out of every four Americans. Soon, Life magazine published photos of teenage boys lined up at barbershops for ducktail haircuts so they could look like their rock King. Elvis’ biographer Peter Harry Brown correctly noted that to the girls of that day, “Elvis Presley didn’t just represent a new type of music; he represented sexual liberation” (Down at the End of Lonely Street, p. 55). Elvis Presley stood for everything rock & roll stands for: sexual license, rebellion against authority, self-fulfillment, if it feels good, do it and don’t worry about tomorrow, debauchery glossed over with a thin veneer of shallow, humanistic spirituality. The rock & roll philosophy created Elvis Presley, and it killed Elvis Presley.
Elvis grew up in a superficially religious family, sporadically attending First Assembly of God Church in East Tupelo, Mississippi, then First Assembly of God in Memphis. His father and mother were not committed church members, though, and though Elvis attended church frequently with his mother during his childhood, he never made a profession of faith or joined the church. The pastor in Memphis, James E. Haffmill, says Elvis did not sing in church or participate in a church group (Steve Turner, Hungry for Heaven, p. 20). By his high school years, Elvis largely stopped attending church. Elvis’s father, Vernon, and mother, Gladys, met at the First Assembly of God in Tupelo, but they eloped a few months later. Gladys was 21 and Vernon was 17. Vernon, was “a weakling, a malingerer, always averse to work and responsibility” (Goldman, Elvis: The Last 24 Hours, p. 16). Vernon went to prison for check forgery when Elvis was a child. In 1948 he was kicked out of his hometown in Mississippi for moonshining, and the Presley family moved to Memphis. Soon after the death of Elvis’s mom, Vernon began dating the wife of a soldier in Germany, and after she divorced her husband, they married. Later Vernon’s second wife left him because of his adultery with another woman. Elvis’s mother was “a surreptitious drinker and alcoholic.” When she was angry, “she cussed like a sailor” (Priscilla Presley, Elvis and Me, p. 172). She was “a woman susceptible to the full spectrum of backwoods superstitions, prone to prophetic dreams and mystical intuitions” (Stairway to Heaven, p. 46). Gladys was only 46 when she died from alcohol-related problems. Elvis had a twin brother, Jesse, who died at birth, and both he and his mother were accustomed to praying to this dead boy. They talked to him about their problems and asked him for guidance. Elvis told his cousin, Earl, that he talked to Jesse every day, and that sometimes Jesse answered him (Earl Greenwood, The Boy Who Would Be King, pp. 30,32). When they moved to Memphis, Elvis told his cousin Earl that “Jesse’s hand was guidin’ us” (Greenwood, p. 78). Elvis was a mamma’s boy to the extreme, and to her death, she was jealous of any other woman in his life. She and Elvis “formed a team that usually excluded the father.” His mother “wanted to be everything to Elvis and wanted more from him than what was right or healthy to expect” (Greenwood, p. 116).
Elvis was a rebel. Even as a 13-year-old, when the other boys wore crewcuts, Elvis “boasted long, flowing blonde hair that fell almost to his shoulders” (The Boy Who Would Be King, p. 70). (Later he died his hair black.) Though he wanted to play football in high school, he refused to cut his hair in order to try out for the team. He cursed and blasphemed God behind his mother’s back, told dirty stories, and ran around to places he knew he should not visit. By the time he graduated from high school, he was spending much of his time in honky tonks and was living in immorality. This is the boy who became the King of Rock & Roll.
HOW ELVIS BECAME A ROCK STAR
There is a saying, “The blues had a baby and named it rock & roll.” Elvis Presley was an important figure in the birth of that baby. Elvis “spent much of his spare time hanging around the black section of town, especially on Beale Street, where bluesmen like Furry Lewis and B.B. King performed” (Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock, p. 783). Beale Street was infamous for its prostitutes and drinking/gambling establishments. Music producer Jim Dickinson called it “the center of all evil in the known universe” (James Dickerson, Goin’ Back to Memphis, p. 27). Elvis’s cousin Earl, who paled around with Elvis for many years before and after his success, said that he “adopted Beale Street as his own, even though he was one of the few white people to hang out there regularly” (The Boy Who Would Be King, p. 121). B.B. King said: “I knew Elvis before he was popular. He used to come around and be around us a lot. There was a place we used to go and hang out on Beale Street” (King, A Time to Rock, p. 35). Well-known bluesman Calvin Newborn (brother of Phineas Newborn, Jr.) said that Elvis often stopped by such local nightspots as the Flamingo Room on Beale Street or the Plantation Inn in West Memphis to hear blues bands. Elvis listened to radio WDIA, “a flagship blues station of the South that featured such flamboyant black disk jockeys as Rufus Thomas and B.B. King” (Rock Lives, p. 38). Elvis also listened to radio station WHBQ’s nine-to-midnight Red Hot & Blue program hosted by Dewey Mills Phillips. It was Phillips, in July 1954, who became the first disc jockey to play an Elvis Presley record on the air. Elvis’s first guitarist, Scotty Moore, learned many of his guitar licks from an old black blues player who worked with him before he teamed up with Elvis (Scotty Moore, That’s Alright, Elvis, p. 57). Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records, was looking for “a white man with a Negro sound and the Negro feel,” because he believed the black blues and boogie-woogie music could become tremendously popular among white people if presented in the right way. Phillips had said, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” Phillips also said he was looking for “something ugly” (James Miller, Flowers in the Dustbin, p. 71). That’s a pretty good description morally and spiritually of rock & roll. Sam Phillips found his man in Elvis, and in 1954 he roared to popularity with “That’s All Right, Mama,” a song written by black bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. The flipside of that hit single was “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” which was a country song that Elvis hopped up and gave “a bluesy spin.” Their first No. 1 hit single, “Mystery Train,” was also an old blues number. Six of the 15 songs Elvis recorded for Sun Records (before going over to RCA-Victor a year later) were from black bluesmen.
By 1956, Presley was a national rock star and teenage idol, and his music and image had a tremendously unwholesome effect upon young people. Parents, pastors, and teachers condemned Elvis’s sensual music and suggestive dancing and warned of the evil influence he was exercising among young people. They were right, but the onslaught of rock & roll was unstoppable. When asked about his sensual stage gyrations, he replied: “It’s the beat that gets you. If you like it and you feel it, you can’t help but move to it. That’s what happens to me. I can’t help it” (Turner, Hungry for Heaven, p. 21). Describing what happened to him during rock performances, Elvis said: “It’s like a surge of electricity going through you. It’s almost like making love, but it’s even stronger than that” (Elvis Presley, cited by James Miller, Flowers in the Dustbin, p. 83). Elvis correctly observed the licentious power of the rock & roll beat.
Between March 1958 and March 1960 Elvis served in the army, then resumed his music and movie career where he had left off. He had many top ten hits in the first half of the 1960s.
ELVIS’S ABIDING LOVE FOR SOUTHERN GOSPEL NOT EVIDENCE OF SALVATION
Elvis performed and recorded many gospel songs. In the early 1950s he attended all-night gospel quartet concerts at the First Assembly of God and Ellis Auditorium in Memphis and befriended such famous groups as the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen. When he was 18, Elvis auditioned for a place in the Songfellows Quartet, but the position was given to James Blackwood’s nephew Cecil. Later, as his rock & roll career was prospering, Elvis was offered a place with the Blackwood Brothers, but he turned it down. Even after he became famous, Elvis continued attending Southern gospel sings and the National Quartet Convention. In the early years of his rock & roll career, he sang some with the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen at all-night sings at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis (Taylor, Happy Rhythms, p. 117). Elvis told pop singer Johnny Rivers that he patterned his singing style after Jake Hess of the Statesmen Quartet (Happy Rhythm, p. 49). The Jordanaires performed as background singers on Elvis Presley records and as session singers for many other raunchy rock and country recordings. Members of the Speer Family (Ben and Brock) also sang on Elvis recordings, including “I’ve Got a Woman” and “Heartbreak Hotel.” The Jordanaires provided vocals for Elvis’s 1956 megahit “Hound Dog.” The Jordanaires toured with Eddy Arnold as well as with Elvis. They also performed on some of Elvis’s indecent movies. J.D. Sumner and the Stamps toured with Elvis from 1969 until his death in 1977, performing backup for the King of Rock & Roll in sin-holes such as Las Vegas nightclubs. Ed Hill, one of the singers with the Stamps, was Elvis’s announcer for two years. It was Hill who concluded the Elvis concerts with: “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building. Goodbye, and God bless you.” (During the years in which Sumner and the Stamps were backing Elvis Presley at Las Vegas and elsewhere, Sumner’s nephew, Donnie, who sang in the group, became a drug addict and was lured into the licentious pop music field.) Sumner helped arrange Elvis’s funeral, and the Stamps, the Statesmen, and James Blackwood provided the music. After Elvis’s death, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps performed rock concerts in tribute to Elvis Presley.
Elvis’s love for gospel music is not evidence that he was born again. His on-again, off-again profession of faith in Christ also was not evidence that he was saved. Three independent Baptist preachers have testified that Elvis told them that he had trusted Jesus as his Savior in his younger years but was backslidden. There was no biblical evidence for that, though. We must remember that Elvis grew up around churches and understood all of the terminology. There was never a time, though, when Elvis’s life changed. Empty professions of faith do not constitute biblical salvation. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Elvis liked some gospel music but he did not like Bible preaching. He refused to allow anyone, including God, tell him how to live his life. That is evidence of an unregenerate heart.
We agree with the following sad, but honest, assessment of Elvis’s life:
“Elvis Presley never stood for anything. He made no sacrifices, fought no battles, suffered no martyrdom, never raised a finger to struggle on behalf of what he believed or claimed to believe. Even gospel, the music he cherished above all, he travestied and commercialized and soft-soaped to the point where it became nauseating. ... Essentially, Elvis was a phony. ... He feigned piety, but his spirituals sound insincere or histrionic” (Goldman, Elvis: The Last 24 Hours, pp. 187,188).
The Bible warns that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4); and while we hope Elvis did trust Jesus Christ as God and Savior before he died, there is no evidence that he truly repented of his sin or separated from the world or believed in the Christ of the Bible. The book he took to the bathroom just before he died was either The Force of Jesus by Frank Adams or The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus, depending on various accounts. Both books present an unscriptural, pagan christ. Pastor Hamill, former pastor of First Assembly of God in Memphis, says that Presley visited him in the late 1950s, when he was at the height of his rock & roll powers, and testified: “Pastor, I’m the most miserable young man you’ve ever seen. I’ve got all the money I’ll ever need to spend. I’ve got millions of fans. I’ve got friends. But I’m doing what you taught me not to do, and I’m not doing the things you taught me to do” (Steve Turner, Hungry for Heaven, p. 20).
ELVIS’S DRUG ABUSE KILLED HIM
Elvis did not drink, but he abused drugs most of his life. He began using amphetamines and Benzedrine to give him a lift when he began his rock & roll career in the first half of the 1950s. It is possible that they were first given to him by Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, who helped popularize Elvis’s music by playing his songs repeatedly (Goldman, p. 9). The drugs “transformed the shy, mute, passive ‘Baby Elvis’ of those years into the Hillbilly Cat.’” He also used marijuana some and took LSD at least once. In her autobiography, Priscilla Presley says that Elvis was using drugs heavily by 1960 and that his personality changed dramatically. After the breakup of his short-lived marriage in 1973, Elvis “was hopelessly drug-dependent.” He abused barbiturates and narcotics so heavily that he destroyed himself. He died on August 16, 1977, at age 42 in his bathroom at Graceland, of a shutdown of his central nervous system caused by polypharmacy, or the combined effect of a number of drugs. There is some evidence, in fact, that Elvis committed suicide (Goldman, Elvis: The Last 24 Hours, pp. 161-175). He had attempted suicide in 1967 just before his marriage. Fourteen drugs were found in his body during the autopsy, including toxic or near toxic levels of four. Dr. Norman Weissman, director of operations at Bio-Sciences Laboratories, where the toxicity tests were performed, testified that he had never seen so many drugs in one specimen. Elvis’s doctor, George Nichopolous, had prescribed 19,000 pills and vials for Elvis in the last 31.5 months of his life. Elvis required 5,110 pills per year just for his sleeping routine. Elvis also obtained drugs from many other sources, both legal and illegal! It was estimated that he spent at least $1 million per year on drugs and drug prescribing doctors (Goldman, p. 56). Dr. Nichopolous’s head nurse, Tish Henley, actually lived on the grounds of Graceland and monitored Elvis’s drug consumption. In 1980, Nichopolous was found in violation of the prescribing rules of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, and he lost his license for three months and was put on probation for three years. In 1992, his medical license was revoked permanently.
After a protracted legal battle, Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie, inherited his entire estate, now valued at over $100 million. Graceland was made into a museum, and it is visited by more than 650,000 per year.
A SELF-CENTERED MAN
Elvis was self-centered to the extreme. Though he gave away many expensive gifts, including fancy automobiles and jewelry, it was obvious that he used these to obtain his own way. “But when his extravagant presents fail to inspire a properly beholden attitude, the legendary Presley generosity peels off, revealing its true motive as the desire for absolute control” (Goldman, p. 104). He could not take even kind criticism and was quick to cut off friends who crossed him in any way. “A little Caesar, he made himself all-powerful in his kingdom, reducing everyone around him to a sycophant or hustler” (Goldman, Elvis: The Last 24 Hours, p. 15). He was hypercritical, sarcastic, and mean-spirited to people around him. When Elvis first began touring with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, they traveled in the automobile owned and maintained by Moore’s wife, Bobbie. She worked at Sears and was the only one who had a steady paying job at the time. When Elvis became an overnight star and began to make big money, he purchased a Lincoln, but he never made any attempt to replace Bobbie’s car or to pay back what she had put into it for them. Elvis promised Scotty Moore and Bill Black, the members of his first band, that he would not forget them if they prospered financially, but he did just that. While Elvis was making tens of thousands of dollars by 1956 and 1957, Moore and Black were paid lowly wages and were finally let go to fend for themselves as best they could. Elvis never gave his old friends automobiles or anything of significant value. Reminiscing on those days, Scotty Moore says, “He promised us that the more he made the more we would make, but it hasn’t worked out that way. The thing that got me, the thing that wasn’t right about it, was the fact that Elvis didn’t keep his word. ... We were supposed to be the King’s men. In reality, we were the court jesters” (Moore, That’s Alright, Elvis, pp. 146,155). Elvis turned them “out to pasture like broken-down mules, without a penny.” Elvis kept up this pattern all his life. He would fire his friends and workers at the snap of a finger, and he “was not one to give his buddies a second change” (The Boy Who Would Be King, p. 197). Bobby West served his cousin Elvis faithfully for 20 years, and was rewarded in 1976 by being fired with three day’s notice and one week’s pay. Delbert West (another cousin) and Dave Hebler were similarly treated.
Elvis often exhibited a violent, even murderous, rage. He was “notorious for making terrible threats.” He cooked up murder plots against a number of people, including the man his ex-wife ran off with and three former bodyguards who wrote a tell-all book about him. He threw things at people and even dragged one woman through several rooms by her hair. He viciously threw a pool ball at one female fan, hitting her in the chest and injuring her severely. One of his sleep-over girlfriends almost died of a drug overdose he had given her and she remained in intensive care for several days near death. He never once went to see her or call and had no further contact with her. According to his cousin Earl, he never apologized for anything. He drew and fired his guns many times when he could not get his way, firing into ceilings, shooting out television sets. When his last girlfriend, Ginger Alden, attempted to leave Graceland against his wishes, he fired over her head to force her to stay. Elvis hit Priscilla, his wife, at least once, giving her a black eye. He also threw chairs and other things at her. Once he tore up her expensive cloths and threw them and her out into the driveway. He even mocked and flaunted her with his affairs. When his father remarried, Elvis treated him and his wife very badly. When he first learned of it, he “threw a tantrum of frightening proportions,” destroying furniture and punching holes in the walls with his fists. On one occasion he stormed around the dinner table and threw the plates full of food at the wall, cursing his father and stepmother and blaspheming God (The Boy Who Would Be King).
Elvis was a fornicator and adulterer. He had “a roving eye.” “His list of one-night stands would fill volumes” (Jim Curtin, Elvis, p. 119). He began sleeping with multiple girls per week when he was only one year out of high school and discovered the power of his music to capture sensual girls. His cousin Earl notes that the sleazy music clubs Elvis was visiting “satisfied more than his thirst for music—they unleashed Elvis’s sexuality” (The Boy Who Would Be King, p. 122). He slept with many girls before his marriage to Priscilla Beaulieu, and had multiple affairs after his marriage. Priscilla was only a 14-year-old ninth grader when Elvis began dating her in 1959 during his army tour in Germany. At the time he met Priscilla, he had an even younger girl living in his house (Moore, That’s Alright, Elvis, p. 162). Elvis corrupted the shy, teenaged Priscilla. He gave her liquor and got her drunk. He got her hooked on pills. He taught her to dress in a licentious manner. He encouraged her to lie to her parents. He led her into immorality and pornography. He taught her to gamble. He used hallucinogenic drugs with her. (These are facts published in Priscilla’s autobiography.) In 1962, the 15-year-old Priscilla moved in with Elvis at his Graceland mansion in Memphis (after Elvis lied to her parents about the living arrangement) and they lived together for five years before they married in May 1967. (The marriage was probably due to pressure put on Elvis by his manager, who was worried about the star’s public image.) Elvis and Priscilla had constant problems in their marriage and were divorced in 1973. Elvis had many adulterous affairs during his marriage, and Priscilla admits two affairs of her own. Scotty Moore’s second wife, Emily, said she felt sorry for Priscilla because of all of the women Elvis was seeing. Elvis seduced his stepbrother Billy’s wife, Angie, and destroyed their marriage. He then banished Billy from Graceland. Elvis’s cousin, Earl, who was his best buddy in high school and during the early years of his music career and who worked for him for many years after his success, describes how Elvis became addicted to orgies involving many girls at one time. Elvis cursed and profaned the Lord’s name continually in his ordinary conversation. Even during his earliest concerts he “told some really dirty, crude jokes in between his songs” (RockABilly, p. 120).
For the conclusion, see Part 2 of 2 of the article “Elvis Presley: King of Rock & Roll.” The complete article is in the Music section of the End Times Apostasy Database at the Way of Life Literature web site.
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