Hearse That Carried Elvis’ Body Destroyed In Fire

There is much emotion among many in the nation today as Graceland was opened this morning to the public for a memorial service for Lisa Marie Presley, the only child of Elvis. With powerful words and numerous musical selections, the program was a stirring reminder of the connection fans around the globe have for the man who changed music and culture. Elvis’ family has become a part of the national fabric the way the Kennedy family formed emotional chords of unity.  This phenomenon has been rather remarkable to witness going on for 50 years. Growing up as a teenager in the 70s I was drawn to the music and mood that was conveyed in performances ranging from Treat Me Nice to Its Midnight. From my rural and too-often redneck community, I found strength in Elvis having worn pink shirts and a ducktail in a direct middle finger salute to the norms of his time. His message was not lost on a kid from Hancock who was trying to bend the norms in his hometown, too.

While there are many stories and photos today of the program and the grief in Memphis, I want to take a different path with this post and in so doing add some trivia for fans that are always in search of another aspect to the larger story concerning EP they might not have been aware of previously.

What happened to the hearse that carried Elvis’ body in Memphis in 1977?

My name is Chuck Houston, President of Houston Brothers, Inc., a funeral car dealer in Marietta, GA. Around 1984, I was the last person to drive the hearse that carried Elvis to his grave. Our Company, then known as Crain S&S Sales which my father owned, bought, sold, leased and traded cars with SCI. He did so for many years. He originally sold the car new to SCI. We came back into possession of Elvis’s hearse when Memphis FH updated their rolling stock.We were loaning the hearse to a funeral home in South Florida until their new vehicle was ready for delivery. My father was reluctant to loan the car out. He wanted to hang on to it, the only car he ever wanted to keep in 50 years of business.The funeral home in Florida was one of his biggest customers and needed a white/white loaner desperately. Elvis’s hearse happened to be the only white hearse on the lot. Another employee and I, both of us about 21 at the time (we were going to drop off the car and then spend a few days of spring break in Ft. Lauderdale) took off toward Miami on I-75 around 7:00 pm.Around 10:00 we ran out of gas just north of Valdosta, GA. What was odd is that a tank of gas in those days would carry you from Marietta, GA to the Live Oak exit in Florida with gas left in the tank. That was based on the many, many cars my friend and I delivered to the south Florida area in the early ’80s. Therefore we never checked the gas gauge until we were in the vicinity of Live Oak.

abandoned funeral service car

After running out of gas, we walked about two miles to the next exit, bought a can and some gas and started back up the northbound return ramp toward Elvis’s hearse. Before reaching the highway a Lowndes County Sheriff stopped us, asked where we were going and called us a cab. We got her going again and headed for the gas station to fill her up. Heading south again, we were on our way. Just as the weigh station (the last one on southbound 75) came into sight the engine cut off. I dropped her into neutral while traveling around 65 mph and turned the ignition. When I did, fire shot out from under the hood on both sides. I eased her to the shoulder next to the weigh station return ramp and my friend and I jumped from the hearse as the fire engulfed the front end of the hearse.My friend and I met at the rear of the car and realized all of our possessions were in the rear of the hearse and the doors were locked. We couldn’t get back in the front to retrieve the keys due to the fire having already spread. A truck driver appeared with a fire extinguisher but it was too late. Neither of us wanted to get close for fear the hearse would blow up. So there we stood and watched as Elvis’s hearse went up in flames. A fire truck finally arrived and all they could save was the rear quarter panels, the rear door, and bumper.

Watched “Elvis”! Director Baz Luhrmann Deserves Oscar Nomination

Saturday night two wonderful friends asked James and Wisconsin’s #1 Elvis fan to their home to watch Austin Butler and Oscar winner Tom Hanks in the stunning new film, Elvis. The powerful and seamless way the story evolves is the product of phenomenal directing by Baz Luhrmann. I have to think there is an Oscar nomination for this directing project. The director had the film ‘feel’ like the 1971 “That’s The Way It Is” and the 1972 “Elvis on Tour” films. There was a modern feel with a story that took place decades ago.

I can be, admittedly a film snob, and so I can say it was not the topic of the movie that made the movie a joy, but the way the actors and filming allowed for the story of Elvis and Tom Parker to be told in a convincing and dramatic fashion. Costume design nod at the Oscars and without a doubt Hanks gets a Best Actor nomination.

I was struck, repeatedly by Austin truly having studied and watched scores of Elvis footage to get the small touches down and then incorporated into the film. Such as having small hand movements; as in the 1968 Black leather jumpsuit scene where he echoes the slightly shaky hand that Elvis has as he takes hold of the microphone.

And of course, I wore my version of the Gold Lame jacket from EP in the 1950s. With an Elvis scarf, which has s story. My best friend, Brad Kelly, decades ago attended an Elvis impersonator show with me, and as we were near the stage he grabbed a scarf worn by the performer. The guy was a bit taken aback, but I came home that night with a purple scarf. It has rested around the neck of a white teddy bear ever since. Tonight I knew our hostess, also an EP fan, should have it and so at the end of the night, just as in any concert in the 1970s, the last pretty woman near the stage got it. Near the door in this case, as we left their home I put it around her neck. And with that Elvis left the building! A grand night and thanks to truly nice people for thinking of us to join them to watch the movie.

Memory Of Elvis Presley As We Honor His Life On August 16th

Each year on this day Caffeinated Politics posts about the life and times of Elvis Presley. I try to do something different each August 16th, as with today’s song from his Promised Land album. It was spinning on the stereo system yesterday as I did some projects around the home. I noted, again, to James that Mr. Songman was a 45-rpm record I always tried to grab when I pulled several for my ‘on-air’ shift in broadcasting school. I liked the melody but loved the lyrics, as I knew them to be true from my years of listening to disc jockeys as a boy growing up in rural Waushara County.

Elvis died on this day in 1977 at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.

Promised Land was the twenty-first album by Elvis released by RCA on his birthday, January 8, 1975, when he turned 40 years old. In the US the album reached number 47 on Billboard‘s Top 200 chart and number 1 on Billboard’s Top Country LPs chart, as well as the Cashbox Country albums chart. In the UK the album reached #21.

Elvis In Concert, Live From Madison, At Dane County Coliseum On New 2-CD Set, RCA Recording Perfection

Finally, I have in my collection a live version of Blue Christmas sung by Elvis Presley. To make the smile a bit richer the recording comes from a concert in Madison at the Dane County Coliseum in 1976. Even better, that concert and the accompanying one from Pine Bluff, Arkansas were recorded by RCA, so the sound quality is nothing short of stunning.

Earlier this year Elvis Presley Enterprises made it known the 2-CD set was to be released this spring. My pre-ordered copy arrived via the mail and the stereo has been rocking as of late.

There are other concerts and recorded material that RCA has in their vaults. While I understand the commercial interests and focused releases of such music to coincide with larger events, such as the new movie in theatres about Elvis, starring Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, fans worldwide deserve more of these concerts and musical moments to hear and treasure.

You can own your copy of the above by clicking here.

Thank ya very much.

Letter From Home “Guitar Smiles” 4/29/22

It is often said that certain foods can transport a person back to memories of childhood or the first date with the love of a lifetime. Certain scents can bring back memories of mountain flowers, an ocean breeze, or corndogs at the county fair. Music is also perfect at conveying people to a softer place where smiles and laughs replace current woes.

And even the promise of music yet to unfold can bring a smile. Even tears of joy. Such as the case today at our home.

With truly spring-like temperatures finally occurring I put on shorts and started on my list of outdoor projects. First up, mulching a large flower bed. I was well into the effort when my husband, James, came onto the porch and said, “I found a way to get a guitar!”

I tossed off my gloves and walked over to hear what had transpired regarding one of his clients.

James runs his own guardianship business for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia issues. While there are certainly the usual phone contacts with living facilities, calls to doctors, setting up appointments, arranging for court dates, and at times making arrangments with a realtor for the sale of property he also makes sure the personal needs and better yet, wishes of his clients, are met.

One client, an 80-year-old man, was born into a Menominee Indian family in Northern Wisconsin. He, along with his seven siblings was split up as children and sent to live with eight other families in an effort to acclimate them into ‘white culture’. While I have read about this troubling and absurd policy, I have never before known anyone who personally was impacted.

As a boy and teenager, he did not fare well, was not a high school graduate, and soon found himself in the military. After spending much of his life in the South he recently moved back to Wisconsin for the final chapter of his life. The court system asked James if he could help, and the man became a client.

When in his teenage years he started to play and much enjoy a 12-string guitar. With the ups and downs of life that musical joy was not a constant part of his world. About a week ago he mentioned to a person at his facility that it would be nice to again play the guitar and hear the chords from his favorite songs.

James heard of this request and started looking for used guitars in the city, but also took the next step and started to arrange for some local friends who are also musicians to spend time with the man playing and singing.

One of those contacts, a guitar player and performer we have known for years, called back to say a friend had recently offered him a 12-string guitar. He had originally turned it down, but he had checked to see it if was still available. The guitar had belonged to an older woman who had died, and it was agreed the woman would want the chords to again be heard by someone most needing to hear them.

As I heard this news on the back porch tears came to my eyes.

That performer is picking the guitar up this weekend, will spruce it up, put new strings on where needed, and tune it. Then this coming week he will make a surprise visit to a man who likely does not think his desire for musical memories can become reality.

I trust the placement of the fingers and the chords plucked from the strings will transport that man to an inner place of contentment. Knowing the performer, his smile, and his kind personality I am sure there will be several others at the facility who will find themselves being transported back to fond memories through the chords of a guitar.

Maybe it is the headlines of the day that are gut-wrenching from Ukraine juxtaposed with the genuine kindness from a family we have known in the city for many years, who upon being presented with a need, simply said through actions ‘ let’s make this happen’.

Music remains the connector in life and through lives.

And so it goes.

Elvis Concert In Madison: 1976 Show Now Available On CD!

James saw the announcement of the new double CD package this weekend featuring Elvis Presley and his second-to-last Madison concert. After scanning through a local Facebook page, and without letting me know what had been found, he simply stated loudly, “Oh, you will need to have this!”

I am delighted with this recording as I am somewhat certain my respect and admiration for this performer are without parallel in the city. His music set a standard that recording legends decades later would still pay tribute to in word and tone.

His wearing of a pink shirt and sporting a ducktail in his early years, and getting roughed up a time or two as a result, only steeled my determination to walk in my own footsteps. He was in Memphis, I was in rural Waushara County. But his lesson about being authentic struck me as a kid. He was far older than me but what an impact on a life he provided.

The entertaining power he held when walking onto a stage was simply something that required being felt, as no words can completely convey the buildup or intensity within an arena as 2001: Also Sprach Zarathustra pounds from the band, and lights flash across the large stage.

So the news this week is truly grand.

The 1976 Elvis concert in Madison is now available and for fans of all ages, the magic and immediacy of the concert can not be denied.

As part of its ongoing live on tour series, FTD is pleased to announce the release of ELVIS: PINE BLUFF to MADISON ‘76. Released as a 2-CD 5” digi-pak, this set features two shows: Dane County Coliseum, Madison, Wisconsin October 19, 1976 – 8:30 p.m. / Pine Bluff Convention Center, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, September 8, 1976 – 8:30 p.m. 

It would be a year later that Elvis again returned to Madison, but his concert was only one part of the news he made.

While there are many interesting stories to tell I am quite certain that few can equal the imagery that is created by events that unfolded in 1977 when Elvis was on the way to his concert.  Elvis spotted a fight on the east side of the city and had his limousine pull over.  It was then Elvis made Madison history by preventing the beating of a young man

I also find this CD project interesting due to the second show being from Pine Bluff, Arkansas on September 8, 1976. Just 150 miles from where my mom was born in Ozone. As James said when ordering this item via the internet it is too bad that my mom and her sister Evie–who were Elvis fans, too–could not hear this newest release.

Given the volume, it will be played at our home…..I think they just might!

And so it goes.

From the Oct. 19, 1976 concert at the Coliseum.

Something Lighter: Comedy With Piano At White House As A President Plays

The headlines, images, and news articles are tougher to read each day due to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Therefore, I place this post on Caffeinated Politics that is truly funny, historic, and just uplifting…at a time we all need that feeling so very much. The video was recorded on this day in history at the White House.

This made me smile, laugh. Trust you have that same reaction. I know readers need the same uplift today, too.

“Elvis” From Memphis To Vegas And At A Theatre Near You!

Elvis fans are abuzz. Movie lovers are more than curious.

This past week a movie promo for an enormous production was dropped into circulation–it even aired during the Winter Olympic Games. Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama Elvis, stars Austin Butler as the singing legend and Oscar winner Tom Hanks as the controversial Col. Tom Parker. I watched the promo, and since we taped the games hit the rewind button to watch it–let’s just say ‘once more’.

Elvis is scheduled to be released on June 24, 2022. It was previously scheduled to be released on October 1, 2021, before being delayed to November 5, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tom Hanks became sick with the virus while filming this movie in 2020.

So buckle up, and booster up, so we all can safely attend what promises to be a summer blockbuster.

Thank ya, thank ya very much.