The first song recorded in 1954 at Sun Studios in Memphis by a 19-year-old truck driver was “That’s Alright Mama.” The world shook and the music world would never be the same. Some 59 years later, more than three decades after his death, it still tells the tale of why the world still loves Elvis.
Liking - loving - the music of Elvis Presley is very much a sensual thing... you either feel it, or you don’t. If you get it, no explanation is necessary. If you do not, then none is satisfactory. For those who still connect to the King, he lives in the hearts and souls of the faithful, tethered in ways that only they can experience. If you get it, you will never lose it. If you do not, you never will.
For about the past dozen years, I have been a fan of Steve Davis, the premier Elvis tribute artist. His show - “Memories of Elvis” - is touted as not just a concert, but an experience. This time, the hype is truth. The show is not an impersonation, but a re-creation. For the select few who actually saw Elvis perform , as well as those of us who have only the second hand memory of movies and TV, it satisfies. The difference - as it says on the website - www.memoriesofelivis.com - is in the details. Steve Davis BECOMES Elvis, down to referring to himself in the first person as a man who was “looking pretty good for being dead for 36 years.” It is this suspension of reality that brings in the crowds night after night, venue after venue. Such was the case on a Friday night in Alton.
Steve Davis, along with the Mid South Revival, rocked the Argosy Showroom to a sold out crowd on August the 16th, the anniversary of Elvis’ death. The crowd was there to be transported to another moment in time, when the magic of imagination, talent and devotion brings to life a genuine American icon, with a better seat than any of us could have ever gotten in real time.
The songs ranged from the early classics to the Las Vegas hits, all performed with a level of energy and enthusiasm that comes only from a heart of love, both for the work and the audience. Like the Man himself, Steve takes time to relate to the crowd, showing his genuine appreciation for their coming out that night, making the novice and the repeat afficionado feel truly welcomed. The ladies who come up to the stage and take away a scarf and a kiss are content to live, if ever so briefly, in a fantasy. It is a harmless indulgence that does the body good.
My history with the show has always been positive, from the foot stomping versions of “Burning Love,” the playful renditions of “All Shook Up” or “Teddy Bear,” to the permanent finale - “American Trilogy” - featuring a heart rendering “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the voice rings out, always clear and strong. One of my personal favorites was sung Friday night, another was not, but each has history. “How Great Thou Art” was the favorite gospel song of my paternal grandfather John Theis, whose name I bear but face I never saw, as he died before I was born. Whenever I hear the song, especially the Elvis way, tears flow. Friday was no exception. On a more positive note, some 5 or 6 years ago, there was a charity event featuring Steve Davis at a theater in Wood River. My wife Margaret was involved as the Chairwoman; I helped with some minor legal work. At the mid point, the show was stopped. Margaret was introduced by Elvis as his “producer” for the night.... and from the stage he pointed me out as his lawyer... a most certain career highlight. The next song was “ Viva Las Vegas,” always now connected to those most pleasant memories.
The magic of Elvis is the way he makes you feel... that it is all right, that you are fine the way you are. At the show Friday, no hints of pungent marijuana - replaced by the distinctive fragrance of Estee Lauder. But that’s all right. It’s fine to be fond of carbohydrates, as Elvis was himself. It's all right to have a few jiggling body parts when you rock on... just as long as you keep rockin’. We may not be perfect, but for this brief point in time, we’re all right, Mama. .. And for that we say, thank you, thank you very much.