The King’s Call

We are, sadly getting used to the idea that rock stars die just like everybody else.At the start of the 70’s we had a nasty wakeup call with the 27 club. The deaths 

of Morrison, Joplin and Hendrix are tragic even after all these years. They were 

young people who died accidently before any hint of a creative slump had been 

reached. We had had a foretaste of things to come when Blues and Jazz legends 

began to pass away. Oldish people with their best creative years now behind 

them. These were our first experiences of older musicians dying a reasonably 

natural death.

As a young man death was quite a stranger to me. My grandad had died in the 

late 60’s but overall our families seemed a fairly healthy bunch, my grandmother

lived to 99 and first introduced me to the concept that, sometimes, it’s always 

great to live that long.

The first death that really hit me was, of all people, Mama Cass. The ex-Mamas 

and Papas singer had been in London and I had listened to an interview with her 

on the radio just a few days before she died. I wasn’t really a fan but I can 

remember the shock of someone just disappearing, someone who a few days 

previously had been completely alive.

Among people a bit older than me there was always the ‘where were you when 

Kennedy was assassinated’ question. I do remember seeing ‘Kennedy ist tot’ 

headlines when walking around a town in Germany with my mother. This related 

to Bobby of course I can’t remember a thing about Robert at all.

The really big death we had to contend with in the 70’sof course was that of the 

King of rock and roll no less than Elvis Presley himself. I remember hearing of his 

death naturally. It had been a warm summers night and I had been to the pub 

(the Maid’s Head in old Catton fact fans) with my school friends Phil and Dunk. 

That’s as much as I can remember until I came home and my mum prepared me 

for some bad news much as she had when my grandad had died.

But the king’s death was not too bad, certainly not as serious as having a family 

member die as I had initially anticipated but also not as traumatic as Mama 

Cass’s passing.

The fact was that Elvis was of another generation and another country, tastes 

were pretty ephemeral in those days. My uncle David who was about 15 years 

older than me was an Elvis fan, his older brother John liked Paul Robeson. Elvis 

probably meant more to my mum than he did to me.

I must say that in theory at least I am a big Elvis fan, he looked great, he moved 

great and he invented rock and roll (discuss!). But, on the other hand there was a

lot of crap associated with him. Crap films, crap records,crap stage shows a crap 

fancy house and a crap manager. In the 70’s he was a bit of a joke, the people 

who really rated him (like John Lennon and my uncle David.) were all at least 10 

years older than me and that was a lot of time in the 70’s.

But. Going back to my initial purchase of 25 rockin and rollin greats I always 

maintained a soft spot for rock and roll. Chuck Berry was still cool as was Little 

Richard and possibly Jerry Lee. I always had just a little space in my heart for a bit of Elvis
In to 80’s when music got really bad I started to dig out the Sun Sessions stuff. 

As time progressed I developed a little love for his Vegas period but all this took 

time and effort. In the 70’s I have three memories of Elvis’s music which came to

me with no effort at all because he was a chart artist who was going to live 

forever. 

The first was ‘Way Down’, a gospel/swing/disco mashup which was his last hit 

before he died. The record grooves. I didn’t really want to like it but I did. I rate it 

as up there with his best but I am probably influenced by the fact that Legs and 

Co did a routine to it on Top of the Pops which was enough to sway any 

teenager’s musical tastes.

The second memory was ‘American Trilogy’. An overwrought piece of flag waving

which an awful lot of Americans seem to find irresistible. I was able to resist the sound as well as the

urge to dress in a sheet. I’m not saying Elvis was racist really and I quite liked the

way that he incorporated the gospel ‘all my trials’ into the performance but it 

didn’t say anything to me about my life. He was a hero to most but for this song 

he never meant shit to me.

The track that did count however came a bit earlier. ‘Burning Love’ encapsulated 

all the good things about 70’s Elvis for me. For a start it’s a really good rock 

song, the King sounds like he’s really enjoying himself on this one, it’s swampy 

and a little bit bloated just like the early 70’s. Around the time this was a single I 

had started going to disco’s at the Duke Street Centre in Norwich. I was 

discovering girls and coca cola in bottles. In the depths of my brain ‘Burning 

Love’ is linked to the infinite possibilities of growing up just as ‘Way Down ‘is 

linked to the lack of possibilities with Legs and Co.

As we now know, Elvis died on the toilet while full of drugs. He was 42, forty 

fucking two ! What happened there? 

My family where almost American. My Auntie Peggy finding herself pregnant 

after WWII headed to California to find the father, it didn’t work out but she 

found someone else and married him instead. She was followed by my uncle 

Brian and his wife Nancy. For much of my childhood I received parcels from the 

promised land and occasionally visits and stories about how great it was in the 

land of the free. My Dad never took the bait and the view existed by those of us 

left behind that our American relatives were a bit weird. Peggy was fine to be 

honest although rather brash and larger than life but there was a lot of weirdness

going on around her.

And it’s always seemed to me that anyone who takes the American dream too 

seriously is on a highway to hell. Elvis was a prime example, if he had lived 

longer surely someone would have tried to shoot him, instead he had a 

premature death as a drug addict.

And don’t get me started on the Beach Boys and their endless summer 

nightmare.

And with Elvis gone someone just needed to write a tribute song. Phil Lynott of 

Thin Lizzy was the man for the job, some call it romanticism some call it cheese but it was a dirty job and someone had to do it .

The Kings Call


And, irony of ironys, while I was writing this, news came in that Fats Domino had 

died, born before Elvis and survived him by 40 years. A very different career, his 

work has aged better simply due to the fact its a smaller body of work with a lot 

less duds there’s enough for a greatest hits LP which, of course, will be great. He 

was black and realised the American dream was a bit shit.

As Elvis said

‘A lot of people think I stated this business..lets face it, I cant sing like Fats 

Domino can. I know that’.

And if anyone asks me where I was when Fats Domino died I can can tell them I was writing an article about where I was when Elvis died 

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